Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, 1 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, and 1 Thessalonians 3 today. This devotional is

Persecution was a factor in Paul’s relationship to the church in Thessalonica. First, they suffered persecution for their faith in Christ (vv. 3-4). We read a brief description of this in Acts 17:5-9 when a man named Jason and “some other believers” (v. 5) faced legal charges for letting Paul and his team stay in their home. Maybe there was more–possibly much more–trouble that the Thessalonian believers faced beyond what Luke described in Acts 17. Paul was concerned that this persecution would supplant the gospel and that those who had responded to Paul’s message would not endure (v. 5).

Paul himself also continued to experience persecution in some of the places he traveled and the good report Timothy brought about the faith of the Thessalonians encouraged him (vv. 6-7). That caused Paul to ask God to allow him to return to Thessalonica (vv. 10-11). In the meantime, he continued to pray for their spiritual growth and strength (vv. 12-13).

There are times in our lives when someone we love is physically separated from us. It might be a child away at college, a spouse away on a business trip, a brother or sister who lives in another state. We have phones and texting and other ways of communication that help keep those relationship bonds strong. But we don’t see the person we love, so we may wonder if they are dealing with temptations or giving into temptations we know they face. We may wonder if they are involved in a church and if they are continuing to grow in their faith by spending time in the word and prayer. These are all godly concerns but the best answer to them is to pray. Pray for God to protect the faith of those you love who are away. Pray that the Lord would keep them from temptation and strengthen them to do right if they are tempted. Ask God to give them a hunger for his word so that they keep growing in grace. This is the best way to exercise faith in a situation like this so let  your concern for a believer you love lead you to pray for that person often and specifically for his or her spiritual life.

Numbers 24, Isaiah 47, 1 Thessalonians 2

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 47, and 1 Thessalonians 2. This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. Balak assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings.

But we act this way ourselves sometimes, too. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, that bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, 1 Thessalonians 1

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, and 1 Thessalonians 1. This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13).

If this chapter was written before the Babylonian captivity but promised that exile would end with God’s people restored to the land, then what is the purpose of this prophesy?There were three purposes for this prophetic word:

  1. The first purpose was to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12). As with all of God’s warnings of judgment, the warning was an invitation to repent while there was still time.
  2. The second purpose was to teach those who would read this later, during that judgment, not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1).
  3. The third purpose was to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness….” That rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong ruler because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.” Any feelings of godliness these idol worshippers had were false. They were far from God, not walking closely with him.

As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e).

Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, Acts 18

Read Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, and Acts 18 today. This devotional is about Numbers 22.

Israel was tantalizingly close to the Promised Land. The forty years of wandering was almost over and verse 1 says, “the Israelites… camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” You know already that Jericho was the first city they defeated when they entered the land. So the events of this chapter and the ones that follow happen just before they received the land God had promised them.

God had blessed his people, enabling them to defeat the Amorites (v. 2) and to become a large nation (v. 3: “so many people”). Now the Moabites have come face to face with God’s people. Out of fear, they looked for a way to defeat Israel, but given that God was with them, what kind of “defeat” could they engineer? A military defeat was out of the question.

So they decided to try to win a spiritual war and found Balaam (v. 5). They asked him to curse Israel (v. 6) and Balaam asked them to wait overnight while he sought revelation from God. In verse 8 he said, “I will report back to you with the answer the LORD gives me.” The word “LORD” is YHWH, the covenant name of God for Israel; but why was Balaam using this name for God?

One reason is possibly that he himself was a worshipper of YHWH. Another answer is that he knew about many “gods” and that YHWH was Israel’s God so he waited for revelation from that God. It is hard to know from these chapters, but I think the answer is the latter.*  Balaam didn’t worship YHWH but he knew who YHWH was so he sought revelation from Israel’s God YHWH.

God did speak with Balaam and ordered him not to curse His people (v. 12). Balak sent a second delegation and asked Balaam to reconsider (v. 15). This time God gave permission for Balaam to go with them on the condition that he only speak the Lord’s word (v. 20). What happened next was strange; God had allowed Balaam to go (v. 20) but in verse 22 we learn, “God was very angry when he went.” Although Moses did not explain further, God’s anger at Balaam may have been anger at his eagerness to find a way to get paid for his prophecies against God’s people. In verse 22b Balaam encountered “the angel of the Lord” which refers to Jesus before he became a man. After the very unusual interaction with his donkey (vv. 23-34) Christ spoke to Balaam himself, directly and charged him again to “speak only what I tell you” (v. 35).

There’s more to this story that we’ll read tomorrow but here in this chapter we see God’s divine protection of his people. He would not allow his people to be cursed by an unscrupulous prophet.

Have you ever considered that maybe God’s enemies want to bring a curse into your life that only God knows about and that only he can prevent?

*See also Joshua 13:22 where Balaam was put to death for practicing divination.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59 today. This devotional is about Psalm 57.

If the superscription is correct–and it probably is–then David wrote this Psalm during one of the most fearful times in his life. The king that he attempted to serve was hunting him to take his life. David was separated from his family and living in caves like an animal.

In the middle of this desperate, unjust situation, however, David took time to praise God.

This song appears to have a chorus which is sung in verse 5 and again in verse 11.

In verses 1-4 David called out to God for mercy, looking to God for his refuge rather than the cave he was in at the moment. After the first chorus in verse 5, he began recounting his woes again, but then turned in verses 7-10 to praising God for his love and faithfulness.

This song illustrates the encouraging power of praise. David had plenty of problems that would be worthy of singing a lament. Instead, however, he laid his problems before God’s throne and chose instead to sing his praises. When the song was done, not one of his problems was solved, but I’ll bet he felt better emotionally and was strengthened and edified spiritually.

Try this for yourself the next time you feel discouraged and/or afraid. Choose a song of worship that lifts your heart and sing it out loud to the Lord. Sing it karaoke-style with your favorite recording or a-cappella by yourself. If you need to, get in your car and drive so you won’t be observed or overheard. Or take a shower if that’s where you do your best singing.

However you do it, harness the encouraging power of music and let it minister to your soul. It lifted David through some very serious problems that you and I will never face.

If it worked for him, it will probably help you, too. God created you with the capacity to make music both to glorify him and to encourage yourself so use this gift of singing to pray and praise the Lord for his glory and your good.

Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28 today. This devotional is about Numbers 20.

It is hard to read about Moses’ life and not identify with him. He faced one challenge after another. At one time or another everyone was against him, including his own brother and sister. Yet, despite the challenges, he kept leading, kept praying for the people, kept faithfully doing what the Lord commanded him to do.

Here in Numbers 20 he faced another crisis—a familiar one—the lack of water. Of course the people complained about it (vv. 2-5) and Moses, as he did so often in the past, went to God in prayer looking for the answer (v. 6) this time with his prayer-partner Aaron. God commanded him to “take the staff” (v. 8) which he had once used to strike a rock and bring forth water. This time, however, the instruction was to “speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (v. 8).

On his way to do what the Lord commanded (v. 9), the pressure of all this grumbling may have finally gotten to him. He and Aaron gathered the people (v. 10a), but then Moses made a speech. He called the people “rebels” and asked “must we bring you water out of this rock?” Hopefully God was included in that “we” but that’s far from certain because Moses’s next act was not to obey God by speaking to the rock as he had been instructed. Instead, Moses smacked the rock twice with his staff (v. 11). God graciously provided the water, but Moses and Aaron were judged for Moses’ disobedience (v. 12).

What caused Moses to disobey? “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites” (v. 12b). It was a lack of faith in that moment—not a lack of faith in God to provide the water, but the lack of faith to demonstrate the holiness of God to the people.

Had Moses obeyed God’s command to speak to the rock, God would have been exalted and revered when the rock gushed forth. But by striking the stone with his rod, Moses was acting in anger not in faith.

In the ministry, it is hard not to get frustrated and even angry with people when they disobey God’s word. It’s also hard not to become angry as a parent when our kids disobey. But, when we correct someone who is disobedient, are we concerned about them learning the holiness of God or are we mad because they’ve challenged our authority, exhausted our patience, or just disrespected us?

Any of these negative responses is sinful because they don’t come from a sanctified desire to show those we lead–and the world–the greatness of God. When we act in anger toward a godly purpose, we’re not acting in faith; rather, we’re trying to coerce obedience through anger or manipulation.

Anger, coercion, and manipulation do not honor God. When we act in these non-faith-filled ways, we should expect that God’s discipline. God wants to purge us of our disobedient ways and teach us how to lead in faith rather than anger or fear or any other motivation.

Have you been dealing with someone in your life out of anger? Have you been trying to get someone to do right by doing wrong in disobedience to God’s commands? Ask the Lord for faith to trust him as you speak truth in love rather than speaking truth in anger. Then watch to see if God chooses to work through you.

Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, Acts 17

Read Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, and Acts 17 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 42.

Parts of this chapter in Isaiah are quoted and said to be fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. The chapter describes Christ one who brings justice to the earth (v. 1, 3b-4) yet is gentle toward the weak (v. 3a: “a bruised reed… a smoldering wick”).

In the middle of the description of Christ’s work on earth is the passage that says, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison  and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” This was a signal to Israel that they were not chosen by God to be the exclusive recipients of his saving grace; rather, through his chosen people Israel, God would bring the light of salvation to millions of people all over the world, meaning people like us who have not a drop of Jewish blood in our bodies.

Simeon may have alluded to this passage in Luke 2:32 as he held baby Jesus in his hands and gave thanks to God for him. Though thousands of years have passed since Christ walked this earth, God’s purpose for him continues to unfold as people all over the world see the light of Christ and come to him for salvation.

Take a moment today to pray for people we support in Thailand, England, Canada, here in the U.S. and areas where security is sensitive. They are bringing the light of Christ’s salvation to these areas in fulfillment of this passage. When that work is completed and the time has come, Christ will come to establish his kingdom for us.