Joshua 5:1-6:5, Jeremiah 30-31, 2 Corinthians 12

Read Joshua 5:1-6:5, Jeremiah 30-31, and 2 Corinthians 12.

This devotional is about Joshua 5:1-6:5.

For decades God had provided manna for his people to eat in the desert. For most of the people in that generation, God’s provision was all they knew. Six days a week manna was waiting for them in the morning; on the sixth day, they gathered enough to feed them for the Sabbath as well. I wonder if it ever occurred to the younger adults in Israel that the manna would stop some day? Or, if they did ever think about that, if they thought it would continue until they had conquered some territory and were settled?

Regardless of what they expected, the manna stopped when they entered the promised land. They ate a Passover meal and the manna was no more (v. 12).

Yet God was not done caring for his people. The crazy instructions that the Lord gave to Joshua about how to conquer Jericho is proof of that. Instead of laying siege to this fortified city or doing a frontal assault, God just told them to march around it.

Day after day for one whole week, they played ring-around-the-rosies with Jericho. On day 7, they did that seven times and, boom, the walls of the city sang “we all fall down.” This strategy was designed to show Israel that God was in control of their conquest and that their victories were due to him fighting on their behalf. There would be more traditional battles in the future, ones where God’s people would use conventional weapons and warfare to take cities. But this conquest of Jericho was to show them that it was God’s might, God’s power, God’s promises that would give them the land, not their military prowess.

Isn’t the Christian life just this way? We look for God to provide for us and make it easy. Sometimes he does that to show us that he is with us. But, more often, God calls us to trust his promises and cultivate the land ourselves. God commands us to claim his power but show it by doing battle with our will, our sin nature. We get deeply disappointed with God for not causing holiness to descend into our lives like manna. We are thankful when he gives victory in our lives one day, but then calls us to do battle ourselves in faith that he is fighting with us and for us.

Israel’s failure to get everything God promised them was a failure of faith. Instead of learning the lessons of the manna and Jericho and boldly taking the rest of the land, God’s people became too satisfied too soon.

Don’t allow a complacent attitude to keep you from striving, from growing strong in Christ. Although this passage has to do with miraculous food and miraculous military victory, God works in the same way in all domains in life. Trust that the God who provided for Israel miraculously until they could reap his provision providentially will provide providentially for you, too, if you work at your life in faith. Trust that he’ll be there to provide supernaturally when you need him to, but that he’s already providing what you need through his divine providence. Claim all this by faith and do the hard work of daily Bible study, daily prayer, daily fighting the sinful impulses of the flesh, daily working hard at your profession and your relationships.

Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3

Read Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25.

This chapter from God’s law is about justice and injustice. It begins in verses 1-3 by describing how disputes would be handled in Israel. They would be heard by judges would be charged with “acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.” Verses 2-3 describe the punishment that the guilty should receive if the judge feels it is appropriate (v. 2a).

Verse 4 commands the farmer to treat his ox with justice. As the ox works for the farmer, he creates value through his threshing work. It would be unjust to deny him food while he works, so the law prohibits the farmer from muzzling him.

Verses 5-10 are strange to us but we need to remember how important the land was to God’s people. Due to war, farm accidents, and other factors, men tend to die before their wives. If a woman were to continue living, she would need to remarry as she would need a man’s work to provide for her. But if she did remarry, her husband’s family line would not continue and they would lose their family land. Over time, the tribes of Israel would start to look very different. To prevent that, God commanded a man’s brother to marry his widow so that she would be provided for, his land would remain in his family, and his family name would continue (v. 6). But some brothers would not want to fulfill this responsibility to a sister-in-law. If a man refused to obey the commands in this chapter, he was denying justice to his sister-in-law and hurting his own family. This passage specifies embarrassing social consequences to the man who refused to continue his brother’s family (vv. 9-10).

Verses 11-12 were designed to protect a man’s ability to continue his family line. Though you could see how a woman might want to protect her husband from having the tar beat out of him, it was unjust to damage his family so an equally damaging consequence was prescribed for a woman who did this.

Verses 13-16 command God’s people not to be unjust in their commercial dealings with each other. Each person was to pay a fair price for what he bought. The “differing weights” were designed to deceive the buyer and the  Bible her says that “the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly” (v. 16). People who make tax policy in this country should read and consider this passage. It is fundamentally unjust to require one person to pay more than another person does (v. 16).

Finally, God commanded his people to treat the Amalekites with justice for attacking Israel when they were defenseless as they left Egypt (vv. 17-18).

While some of the things specified in this chapter seem arbitrary and petty, they emphasize to God’s people that God is just. It is part of his fundamental nature and, as his people, we it should become important to us to treat others fairly, with justice.

So, how about it? Are there some people in your life who are getting less than what they deserve from you? If you have power over someone’s life in some way, do you treat that person with justice?

Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, 2 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, and 2 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 2 Thessalonians 3.

When I was growing up my pastor used to frequently say, “Some people are so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthy good.” That might be an apt description of the Thessalonians. The things Paul wrote about in 1 & 2 Thessalonians indicate a church that was focused on end time events–the coming of Christ, the arrival of the man of lawlessness, and the final judgement on earth were all topics Paul discussed in these letters.

Here in chapter 3, however, he urged them to pray for the spread of the gospel through his work (vv. 1-2). While it is good to be looking for the Lord’s coming, Christ has charged us with work to do here until he comes–namely reaching people for Christ and discipling them to obey him. Paul was more than willing to teach about the end times, but he wanted the churches to remain faithful in prayer for the gospel to keep growing.

In the meantime, it is possible that some of the believers in Thessalonica had quit working and were living on charitable giving from other members of their church (vv. 11-12). This might be because they were so convinced that Christ would return any moment that they lost motivation to work. Or, perhaps that was unrelated to their interest in eschatology. Regardless of the reason, Paul must have heard that there were loafers in the congregation. He wrote this chapter, therefore, to remind them of his own example and teaching when he was in Thessalonica (vv. 7-10), to instruct the unproductive people to get to work (v. 12), and for the obedient people in the church to be wary of the disobedient and unproductive members (vv. 6, 14-15).

These strong statements remind us that the Christian life is more than words; it is truth lived out in a holy and productive life. God created us to care for and make productive use of the earth. Now that, in Christ, we are seeking to be obedient to the Lord, we must realize that living a productive life is part of God’s will for us. These passages apply to those who are “unwilling to work” (v. 10), not those who are unable to work. Other passages of scripture show us that homemakers are living productively, so this doesn’t mean everyone must be in the secular workforce. Still, there are some believers today who could work or do something productive who instead are “idle” (v. 6) and even “busybodies” (v. 11). This chapter calls all of us to put our faith into practice by providing for ourselves and our families.

I think it goes further, too, and reminds us of our need to be good managers of what God allows us to produce. So many Americans are building mountains of debt and are one financial setback away from dependency.

Are you working productively? Keep it up. Are you living below your means and preparing for the future? That’s what God wants us to do, too.

Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalms 33-35

Read Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, and Psalms 33-35.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 4.

This chapter of scripture is not encouraging.

That is an understatement.

This chapter of scripture is bleak. It states in verse 1 that powerful people in this world used their power to oppress the weak and vulnerable. These victims “have no comforter.” Their lives are a miserable stretch of existence. From birth to grave, each day and night, they do what more powerful people want them to do and live in fear. What kind of fear?

  • fear of displeasing those powerful people
  • fear of more invasive abuse from the powerful
  • fear of starving, unable to provide a living for themselves because their abusers take so much from them

Although Solomon did not tell us how many were oppressed and how many were oppressors, the chapter may suggest that the vast majority were oppressed by a small minority. The way the chapter suggests this is in the words of verses 2-3. Those verses rank the happiest people from least happiest to most happy. The categories of people Solomon discussed were broad–the dead, the living, and the unborn. Those three broad groups include a whole lot of people. So who is the happiest?

  • The living are the least happy because they are oppressed (v. 1, 2c-d).
  • The dead are the next most happy because they are no longer oppressed (v. 2 a-b).
  • But the happiest people of all are people who never lived at all (v. 3). Why? Because they have “not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Bleak, right? According to Solomon, you are better off dead. But, you’re best off if you never made it out of the womb alive in the first place because then no one could use and abuse you.

Of course, not everyone is enslaved by others. Some people go out and achieve, making all their dreams come true. They must be happy, right?

No, Solomon argued, because “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (v. 4). Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. That can make you work hard but you won’t enjoy achievements because your envy will move on to someone higher on the achievement ladder. If you could just enjoy the living you make, modest though it is (v. 6a), you’d be better off than a wealthier person who is does nothing but work, driven by envy.

Even a person who had no wife, no siblings, and no children isn’t happy (v. 8). Solomon thought that a single, solitary man should be happy because he only has to provide for himself. He can work hard enough to get what he wants and then spend it all on himself with no guilt. A single man who makes $30,000 per year may be able to buy more pleasure than a man who makes $90,000 but supports a wife, five kids, a dog, and a deadbeat brother.

Seems logical; but it doesn’t work out that way. The single guy with no dependents still works really hard. “There was no end to his toil” (v. 8c) says but “his eyes were not content with his wealth” (v. 8d). He, too, was sucked into envy, unable to enjoy his life because he needed to prove to someone that he matters.

I told you this was bleak.

But all is not lost. The solution to this partnership. Verses 9-12 commends a partnership of two (v. 9) or even three (v. 12c). Partners who work together instead of envying one another can:

  • produce more as a unit and they could on their own (v. 9b)
  • give each other some time off when they are injured or sick or just tired (v. 10)
  • keep each other company (v. 11)
  • protect each other (v. 12).

So the man who makes $90k and has to split it up with others is happier than the single guy who makes $30k and can do whatever he wants with it. In fact, if the single guy made $90k or even $900k, the man with partners is happier because of the benefits that partners bring.

When God created Adam, he made the most capable man who ever lived–apart from Jesus Christ, of course. Adam, while he was still an unfallen person, had a greater mind and better body than any of us because he wasn’t afflicted by the curse of sin.

Yet God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He gave him a partner–even knowing that his partner’s (aka, Eve’s) weakness would lead him into sin. Having a life partner in your spouse or a business partner in your vocation can help you escape the hopeless life that the oppressed live. Even if you are oppressed, at least you have someone to keep you warm at night (v. 11).

Solomon was a powerful man who oppressed others. He taxed the nation so thoroughly for his own projects, pleasures, and luxuries that the people begged his son to lay off and then they revolted against him when he wouldn’t.

But Solomon seems to have been a lonely man, despite his wealth and power over others. If you have 1000 women in your life, can any one of them truly be your partner?

People can be the source of your greatest problems in life. They can make promises that they fail to keep or even intentionally break. They can see you as a rival when they should see you as an ally. If you have enough people-problems, you may be tempted to decide that isolation is better.

This chapter advises us to partner up. Share life generously with your partner–your spouse, your children, your business partner(s), your teammates. The benefits of companionship will outweigh the “freedom” that being alone promises. God created us to be teammates and the life he gave us is best enjoyed when it is shared.

If you have a partnership–a marriage and family, a business partnership, a ministry partnership, etc.–are you a good partner? Are you thankful for the benefits that partnership brings you or do you selfishly wish you had all the control and all the benefits to yourself?

If your partnership is broken, the answer isn’t to go off on your own; it is to become and build a true partnership rather than a rivalry based on envy.

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Matthew 12

Read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Matthew 12 today. This devotional is about Matthew 12.

God’s intention for the Sabbath was that man would take a day off from the way that he normally makes his living. It was to be a day of rest and a day to reflect on God, our Creator. So farmers would not plant, weed, water, reap, or do any of the normal activities that farmers do Sunday through Friday. The same was commanded for their wives and children and servants; everybody was supposed to get a break from their normal daily schedule.

This law was clear enough that it could be applied easily to most situations. Don’t farm your land, or fix your equipment, or type up those invoices, or make a fancy meal, or clean the house, or do the laundry. It was a day to rest, not to catch up on chores–work or personal. Do what needs to be done but keep it simple so you get a break and feel rested for a change. That’s the idea.

The problem with broadly-applicable commands is that it is not always clear how they should be applied. Obeying the command, “Do not work on the Sabbath” depends on how you define “work.” Is it work to make your bed? Tie your shoes? If you were a milkman who delivered milk by walking from house to house, that would clearly be forbidden on the Sabbath. But what if the milkman’s wife wanted to go for a long walk for recreation? Is that forbidden? The Pharisees hated ambiguity so they wanted every possible application of every law spelled out clearly. They specified how far someone could walk on the Sabbath to keep the milkman or his wife from doing “work” accidentally. This is one aspect of legalism.

Speaking of legalism, what exactly is it? It is a term that can be applied to at least two kinds of situations: First, anyone who thinks they can do good works to merit favor with God is a legalist. Second, anyone who thinks that his or her application of the Bible has the authority of the Bible itself is a legalist.

The Pharisees were legalists in both senses. They believed that their obedience to the law gave them favor with God. They also believed that they ways in which they applied God’s laws were as authoritative and binding as the law itself. That’s what’s going on here in Matthew 12:1-2. The disciples were not farmers. They were not working to earn a living by reaping. Instead they were getting a snack from someone else’s farmland. Taking small amounts of food from someone’s farm was allowed in God’s Law, so the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of stealing. Instead, they accused them of working on the Sabbath. Because they applied the Sabbath law to any kind of reaping at all, they concluded that the disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” (v. 2b).

Elsewhere in the gospels we learn that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for distorting God’s intentions. The Sabbath law was supposed to be a blessing from God, not a burden. It was God imposed a day off on everyone so that everyone could enjoy life for at least one day a week. By denying the right to snack on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were making the Sabbath something unpleasant instead of enjoyable. Their legalism was not an obedience that pleased God, it was a burden that robbed people of the joy he wanted them to have.

Here in Matthew 12, however, Matthew records a different emphasis of Jesus regarding Sabbath violations. Jesus pointed out ways in which people broke the law technically but they did so in a way that upheld the law’s intention. The first example Jesus cited was from David (vv. 3-4). He and his warrior-companions ate the temple show bread which was against the law, yet they were not condemned. The reason was that they were servants of God doing God’s work, just like the priests were. So, technically they broke the law but by taking and eating the bread, they were being served by the law’s intention–to provide for God’s servants. Likewise, the priests on the Sabbath were technically in a no-win situation. The temple duties allowed no Sabbath breaks for the priests but the priests made their living being priests. So, they were not allowed to let the temple activities lapse even for a day, but that required them to do the normal work of priests–a technical violation of the law. Yet Jesus said that “they are innocent” (v. 5b). Then Christ took things further; not only were the disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by picking up a snack, Christ himself asserted the right to rule or overrule anything regarding the Sabbath because he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He then pressed the issue further by healing a man deliberately on the Sabbath day to show his lordship over it (vv. 9-14).

The Pharisees’ zeal about the Sabbath wasn’t really about obedience to God; it was about control. They wanted to define everything so that there was complete uniformity; no ambiguity or exceptions were allowed. They could, then, define who was right with God and who wasn’t based on how well or how poorly everyone kept the rules.

Unfortunately, we sometimes do the same things. The “good guys” never wear denim on Sunday, or use the right translation of the Bible, or only buy American, or never listen to music that has a beat to it. But these (and other) rules are at best only applications of Biblical principles, not Biblical truths themselves. The Bible teaches us to accept each other in areas where there are genuine disagreements about application (Rom 15:7). You should never use someone else’s actions to justify doing something that your conscience bothers you about. And, if you are truly concerned for someone else’s spiritual life, I think it is good to humbly approach them to talk about how they are or are not applying a scriptural command. But let’s be careful not to judge and condemn each other based on our own man-made rules. Instead, each of us should submit ourselves and our actions to the Lord of everything–including the Sabbath–and do what we think is right in his sight based on the clear teachings of scripture.

2 Chronicles 9, Zephaniah 1

Read 2 Chronicles 9 and Zephaniah 1

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 9.

This chapter summarizes and wraps up the end of Solomon’s life but the chapter began by telling us about how the queen of Sheba came to visit and meet with Solomon (v. 1). The location of “Sheba” is debated, but it was not close or convenient to Israel. Jesus said that she came “from the ends of the earth” (Matt 12:42), so this was not an easy trip.

But it was a rewarding one. Verse 4 said, “she was overwhelmed” (v. 4) by her experience in Jerusalem. Her own testimony was that she “did not believe what they said” when she heard about Solomon until she “came and saw with my own eyes” (v. 6). She went from not believing the reports about Solomon to believing that the reports had been grossly understated. Verse 6 said, “Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard.”

Although her journey was difficult and costly (vv. 1, 6) it was financially beneficial (v. 12) and, I think the Bible suggests, administratively and spiritually advantageous as well. Other world leaders followed her lead and visited with Solomon, too, according to verse 23.

The lesson here is that wisdom and knowledge may be hard to get and costly but they are worth it. One of the best ways to solve a problem in your life or to move to a new level in your life is to find someone else who has excelled in that area, get with that person, and learn everything you can from him or her.

But you have to humble yourself to admit that you need help and that’s hard for most of us to do. If you were afraid to ask a teacher for extra help in school then you may find it hard to seek advice from others. Refusing to look for help from others may preserve your ego but it will also mean that you’ll be stuck at one level for a long time–maybe for the rest of your life.

Could you use a coach or a mentor in your:
• walk with God?
• parenting?
• use of money?
• physical health or fitness?
• career?

Then make like the queen and find someone who can help you! There maybe (probably is) someone in our church family who could help you or introduce you to someone who could help you.

Where do you need help? Who could you ask for help?

Judges 16, Jeremiah 29

Today, read Judges 16 and Jeremiah 29.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 29.

After decades of idolatry, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar (v. 1). Jeremiah and other prophets had predicted this defeat as God’s punishment, but his people did not repent. Many Israelites were killed and many were carried off to Babylon to live as exiles in a foreign land. God’s promised land still contained some of God’s chosen people, but they existed in the land as vassals to Babylon.

Here in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the people who survived and were carried off to Babylon (v. 1). The gist of his letter was, “Thrive in Babylon as much as you can and in as many ways as possible (vv. 4-6) because you’re going to be there for 70 years (v. 10) and then I’ll bring you home.” They were to make Babylon home even to the point of praying for it, its peace and prosperity (v. 7) which is surprising, given the godlessness of the Babylonians.

The point of these instructions was to teach God’s people that this exile would not be over quickly. Imagine if you were a 30 years old or older and read that this exile would last for 70 years. Your life would end in Babylon and your children would probably not live to see Israel again, either. The only hope offered to these Jewish people is that in the future God would redeem and restore them (vv. 10-11) in conjunction with their spiritual renewal (vv. 12-13). This is hopeful in the sense that the people would understand that God had not abandoned his promises to Israel.

This passage can be applied to us in a couple of different ways, at least, but the one I want to highlight in this devotional is one I learned from Dr. John Piper. I would link to the source, but I think it was in some old sermon tape that someone gave me two decades ago.

Anyway, Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ….” We are citizens of heaven but we live here on earth until Jesus returns. In a sense, then, we are like exiles living in a place that is not our home. How should exiles live? Jeremiah 29 tells us. It says that we should “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

This world will never be our promised land but, until Jesus returns, this world is where we are planted. We should not love this world or its system but we should live a God-glorifying existence here by living a productive life. Your work matters to God, your family life matters to him, and so does the place where you live. So put effort into these things not because they are worth living for but because God is glorified when we live for eternity while also making the most of our lives here within his will and for his glory.

Judges 1, Jeremiah 14

Read Judges 1 and Jeremiah 14.

This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land of promise, but not completely. Their territory was larger sometimes and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied everything God promised them.

Why not? Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) and Israel was still procrastinating when it comes to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later. Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots.

In other words, they were willing to follow God to a point but when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage. God makes promises. God’s people believe and act on those promises and succeed until the challenge looks hard. Then they quit and settle for less than what God promised.

Do we ever do that? Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has. How much effort do we put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has. How much effort do we put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for us?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament (of all places) encourage generous giving to see God provide: 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?

Deuteronomy 22, Isaiah 49

Read Deuteronomy 22 and Isaiah 49.

This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands… distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel….” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, may have felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Read Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship–their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them–while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you…” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more–a good thing–but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That was sufficient justification tome to do nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people, like my wife, are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, Psalm 134

Read Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, and Psalm 134.

This devotional is about Psalm 134.

When I was a very young adult, I took on a second job to pay off some credit card debt. I worked as a night auditor at a hotel on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The work was easy and the hotel was usually pretty quiet but the hours were tough. I started work at 11 p.m. and my shift finished at 7 a.m. That was after a week of working full-time in another job and going to seminary. I was young but it was pretty hard on my body; fortunately, after about 10 months I had paid off the credit card debt and was offered a different job that paid better than my full-time job, so I was able to leave the overnight shift.

The song here in Psalm 134 is for the guys who worked the night shift in God’s temple. Leviticus 6:9c says, “The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Three times in that paragraph (vv. 9, 12, 13) the Lord said some variation of, “the fire must be kept burning continuously” and twice he said, “it must not go out” (vv. 12, 13). Someone needed to tend to the fire, then, and this song addressed those priests. It calls on them to “praise the Lord” (v. 1a, 2) and reminded them that they were “servants of the Lord.”

The night shift is unpleasant. You work all night then try to sleep during the day but I could usually only sleep for four or five hours, no matter how tired I was. I also had a low-grade headache while I was awake which made it even harder to concentrate than just sleep deprivation did. The priests who worked that night shift might not have been in much of a mood to praise the Lord. This little song was something they could sing to remind them that they were serving the Lord as they tended to the fire overnight. It called on them to ignore their circumstances and focus on the greatness of God and to praise him because of his greatness.

Do your circumstances make you grumpy? Do you feel like complaining rather than praising the Lord? Remember that we are his servants as we go about our lives and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord. So remind yourself of this passage when you don’t feel like praying or praising God; learn a song that you can sing to yourself to refocus your mind on God’s greatness and praise him accordingly.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”