Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, 1 Corinthians 16

Read Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, and 1 Corinthians 16 today. This devotional is about Deuteronomy 22.

Critics of the Bible often point to the punishments spelled out in a passage like today’s to show that the Bible is harsh, unreasonable, and unloving. Cross-dressers (v. 5), promiscuous single women (vv. 13-21), and people who commit adultery (v. 22-24) all get the death penalty for their sins, even though they were all “consenting adults.” Rapists also were to receive the death penalty (vv. 25-27) which maybe harsh by today’s standards of punishment but probably not an example critics would bring up. These punishments seem harsh only because of how comfortable we are with sin; in God’s sight, every sin is an eternal offense, so these punishments should teach us something about how our sins—and the desires that compel them—look to the holy eyes of God.

This passage is also a favorite of critics because some of these laws seem arbitrary (vv. 9-12).

But notice the other case laws in this passage. If someone else—whether you know him or not—is about to suffer the loss of his valuable property, you are supposed do what you can to prevent that loss (vv. 1-5). “Do not ignore it,” the scripture says in verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.

More interestingly, you’re allowed to take a mother bird’s eggs but not her (vv. 6-7). The promise of obedience to this passage is “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (v. 7b). But this act of conservation doesn’t benefit any Israelite person; it’s just good management of God’s creation. It teaches us not to be destructive just because we could be.

Verse 8 of our passage tells God’s people to make sure that they build reasonable safety precautions into their homes. Since people in these desert cultures used their roof to entertain in the evenings when the weather is more comfortable, God’s word commanded them to be careful to protect human life by putting appropriate fencing around the roof.

These laws show that God was not harsh or arbitrary at all toward people in general. He wanted to protect his nation from becoming a lawless culture full of promiscuity. The penalties spelled out in these passages were to protect the importance of the Jewish family and to emphasize important God’s holiness is to him. The laws against abusing birds and requiring Israel to watch out for each other’s property and protect each other’s lives show how much God values human life. They teach us not to be so self-centered that we look the other way when someone is about to lose their valuable property. Instead, we should watch out for others, showing them the kind of kindness and compassion that we would want others to show to us and that God himself does show for us. If we find a lost wallet or purse, a lost smartphone, or see a wandering child, God wants us to do what we can to help. We may not have a flat roof that needs to be fenced in but are we careful to clear our sidewalks of snow and ice? As people who belong to God, we should be conscientious and kind toward everyone, not just conscious of our own stuff.

Finally, the harsh punishments in this chapter remind us of the deep grace of God toward us. God hates sin and is uncompromising in how he wants sin to be punished. He is so uncompromising that he demands that every sin should be punished to the fullest extent of justice. Yet, because he loves his creation and is compassionate toward us, he did not look the other way when we wandered from his commands. Instead, he came in the person of Christ both to look for and find us when we were lost AND to bear the just punishment that our sins deserve. No sin is trivial in the sight of God but none is putrid enough that Christ’s death cannot cover it. The cross-dresser, the adulterer, the promiscuous, the self-centered one who never helps another in trouble are all savable, if God wills, through the atonement of Christ. The same goes for those who speak lies, who gossip, who break things and hit people in uncontrolled rage, who lust but don’t touch, who take the eggs AND the mother bird. No sinner is beyond the saving grace of God; if you’ve been redeemed from one of these sins—or from any sin at all—give thanks that God is uncompromisingly holy but also incredibly compassionate, loving, and gracious toward all of us who are unholy.

Judges 10:1-11:11, Jeremiah 23

Our OT18 readings for today are Judges 10:1-11:11 and Jeremiah 23.

This devotional is about Judges 10:16b: “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”

The book of Judges recorded God’s relationship with Israel in the Promised Land before the era of the kings began. Israel was settled in the promised land but they still struggled to trust God and live according to his word. The result of their struggle was a cycle that repeated continuously throughout the book of Judges including here in our reading for today:

  • Phase 1: Disobedience (10:6) to God’s word which led to:
  • Phase 2: Defeat & oppression by their enemies as an act of God’s judgment (10:7-9).
  • Phase 3: Repentance in which God’s people turned to him for relief from their enemies (10:10-16).
  • Phase 4: Deliverance in which God sent a judge to give them victory over their enemies (11:1ff).
  • Phase 5: Obedience (for a while) until they lapsed back into phase 1.

As the shampoo bottle says, “Rinse and repeat.”

Throughout all phases this cycle–and, in fact, at every stage in Israel’s history–God’s love for his people remained. He stayed committed to the covenant he had made with them even despite their disobedience and failure. Here in 10:11-14, God pushed back a bit on their repentance. He reminded them of all the times he had saved them after their repentance (v. 11) then told them to forget about it this time (v. 12) like a young girlfriend or boyfriend who says, “We’re never getting back together again.”

God’s compassion remained, despite his frustration and their suffering under the Ammonites got under God’s skin, too. As verse 16b put it, “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” Sin brings misery and suffering and, although God loves justice, he does not enjoy the suffering that his people endure for their sins. This is why he forgives us again and again and again when we repent. It is the infinite merits of Christ who lived as our righteousness and died as our sacrifice that keeps us in God’s good graces but it is also the incredible compassion of God that keeps him faithful to us as well.

Our sin struggles–meaning, our repeated failures despite good intentions–may cause us to wonder at times if God will ever stop forgiving us. That, in turn, may cause us to wonder if we should even bother repenting. This verse and many others in scripture teach us that God’s compassion and mercy is much greater than we can imagine. If you are in Christ, keep striving for holiness and don’t ever quit because you fear God’s displeasure. In Jesus we are accepted; his blood allows the ocean of God’s compassion to keep restoring us when we look to him.

So keep looking to him….

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Today’s readings are 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 might not be bad advice but to me it justified doing 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.

Deuteronomy 10, Isaiah 38

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 10 and Isaiah 38.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 10.

Moses’s history lesson ended here in Deuteronomy 10:11. The rest of the book will focus on teaching God’s laws again to this new generation and urging them to follow the Lord in faith and obedience.

To that end, Moses began with an exhortation to God’s people to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (vv. 12-13). Note that in verse 13 Moses said it was “for your own good” to fear, obey, and serve the Lord. Then in verses 14-22, he gave God’s people some reasons to follow God. These are all reasons based on God’s grace–grace that they had already received. Those reasons to follow the Lord are:

  • God’s electing love (vv. 14-19).
  • God’s miraculous power which he used on Israel’s behalf (vv. 20-21).
  • God’s preservation of Israel and how he prospered them with population growth despite being slaves in Egypt (v. 22).

As part of his discussion of God’s electing love in verses 14-19, Moses explained that despite God’s awesome greatness (v. 17), he is just and kind to those who are weak, specifically widows and foreigners (v. 18). Following God’s example, then, Israel was “to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Although few if any of us were literally foreigners like the Israelites were, it is also true that most of us were not very remarkable when God’s grace came to us in salvation. God was merciful and chose us even though we were ordinary or average at best. God’s compassionate nature toward the weak and exploitable as detailed in this passage should cause us to look out for and show compassion for the weak and exploitable people around us. We have some ministries in our church, such as our benevolence offering which we receive on communion Sundays or our food pantry, where you can help people in need. But God wants us to develop an awareness of others around us who have these kinds of needs. Some needy people are obvious but many fit into the background of our lives, overshadowed by our own needs, problems, and concerns. Let’s ask God to give us a greater perception of people who need help or someone to champion them in their plight. Then, as we see them, let’s do what we can to help. This is one way in which we emulate the grace and mercy of God our Father.

Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalm 13

Today, read Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalm 13.

This devotional is about Genesis 14.

I wrote yesterday about the close relationship that Abram and Lot had. Although the wealth of each man, and the conflicts that wealth created, led to them to live separately (Gen 13), Abram still cared about Lot and his safety. It was Abram’s commitment to Lot that caused Abram to chase down Kedorlaomer and company when they won their war with Sodom and her allies. Verse 12 told us that Lot was already living in Sodom when this happened and that Lot was “carried off” by Kedorlaomer after they won the battle. Verse 14 said that Abram decided to pursue the victors when he “heard that his relative had been taken captive.” Abram was not interested in showing his military might or in plundering the victors. He wanted to save his nephew, giving Lot back his freedom.

In verse 21, the king of Sodom was in no position to negotiate. So, he asked Abram to let him and his citizens have their freedom. In the rules of their culture, Abram could easily have enslaved all of the people and kept their valuables as well. When the king of Sodom requested his freedom, he was actually asking for quite a bit.

Abram, however, refused to keep anything of value for himself. He took an oath (v. 22) before entering the battle that he would keep nothing for himself. Why? Verse 23 says, “so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”

If Abram had plundered the people of Sodom and their allies, eventually those people would have resented Abram. After their gratitude for being alive and free subsided, they would have considered how much they lost in that battle and would have blamed Abram for their economic depression. By not taking advantage of them–even though he had every right to gain handsomely for the risks he took–Abram demonstrated that he trusted in God. He was willing to let his wealth grow organically as God prospered him rather than artificially by plundering others. He considered it unrighteous to gain from the trauma and bad fortune of others.

Have you ever been in a position to profit from someone else’s pain? I can’t think of a situation where I have been in that position but, if I ever am in that position, I hope Abram’s example will guide my decisions. Abram took enough to cover his expenses (v. 24a) and to thank God for his blessing (vv. 18-20) but he would not impoverish his nephew and Lot’s neighbors in order to enrich himself. You know and I know that there are people in this world who will take advantage of you when you are desperate. A person like that shows what they value wealth over faith in God and service to others. If you love the Lord, it should translate into compassion for others and cause you to be merciful and help others when they have a need.

1 Peter 3

Today’s devotional reading is 1 Peter 3.

Defensiveness is a natural human response to fear. God created us with a self-protecting instinct. When we feel threatened, we become guarded about what we do and say, we get ready to run away or fight, and we look signs of increasing danger. These instincts are to protect us from physical harm but they are triggered when someone tries to harm us with words or with deception. If you’ve been hurt often, you are probably more defensive than you naturally would be and possibly more than others around you are. The same is true if you’ve been (or felt) threatened repeatedly. It is also true in any area of your life where you feel vulnerable. My math skills are abysmal so I feel anxious when I have to make change or do some kind of calculation in front of another person. I’m sensitive to criticism in that area and always feel like I’m being judged, so I can get defensive sometimes. [BTW: being open about my weakness there makes me less feel defensive about it].

Since you and I know that we have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we should realize that others do as well. When people surprise us by overreacting to something we said or did, we often react with defensiveness. They attack us orally so we hit back with words ourselves. The situation can often escalate from there into a full-blown argument. But if, in the moment, we realize that the other person is feeling defensive because they have a history of feeling attacked or a special sensitivity in that area, we have learned to “be sympathetic” at 1 Peter 3:8, which we read today, commands us to be. That gives us an opportunity to respond with love (v. 8c: “love one another”), to feel compassion for that person’s pain or weakness (v. 8d: “be compassionate”), and to swallow our pride (v. 8e: “be… humble”). That’s the internal process that growing in Christ creates in us.

The outward result of that internal process is stated in verse 9: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” If someone has ever blessed you with compassion, love, and kindness, you know what a blessing that is. How much would our families benefit if we husbands brought that kind of consideration to our wives (v. 7) and if wives realized how attractive submission to their husbands is (v. 5)? It is so much easier to be obedient to those commands when you begin by being sympathetic to what your spouse.

How much would our church benefit if we were humble enough to be sympathetic and compassionate to those around us? How would your workplace improve? Might God use your loving attitude toward others to open doors to witness for Christ (see verses 15-16)?

Deuteronomy 27:1–28:19, Psalm 119:1–24, Isaiah 54, Matthew 2

After we began this journey through the Bible in 2016, it was pointed out to me that the M’Cheyne reading plan we’ve been following actually has us read through the New Testament and Psalms twice. Somehow I missed that detail until after I had published the reading list, but at least I’m telling you about it now. And, as of Sunday, we have finished the New Testament. So, if you’ve kept up with the daily readings, you have the option of skipping all the New Testament readings and you can skip the Psalms, too, once we finish all of them on July 13. I will continue to publish all 4 readings here, in case you want to read through the NT and Psalms again or if you missed some and want to make sure you complete the whole Bible this year. But my devotionals will only be on the Old Testament passages that we have not yet read this year. So, if you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 27:1–28:19, Psalm 119:1–24, Isaiah 54. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Isaiah 54.

Yesterday we read Isaiah’s important and beautiful prophecy about Christ. At the end of that chapter, God declared that Christ would receive “a portion with the great… because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa 53:12). In today’s chapter from Isaiah 54, the results of Christ’s death are described. Verse 1 tells us that the emotional response from Israel will be joy. That joy is described further in verses 2-3 because the nation will grow and expand her territory. Verse 4 offers comfort to Israel, telling her not to be afraid of shame or disgrace; both “the same of your youth” and “the reproach of your widowhood” will be forgotten. Verses 5-8 explain why. First, God promises to be Israel’s “husband” and “redeemer.” Although God separated from Israel, in a sense, during their time in captivity (v. 7a), he “will call you back   as if you were a wife deserted…” (v. 6a). Verse 8b explains, “‘In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord your Redeemer.” Although this prophecy is for Israel and is still future to us in the Millennium, God is the devoted, compassionate God to all his people that he told Israel he was in this passage. While we sin and fail God constantly, he is compassionate and forgiving toward us in Christ. So don’t let sin keep you from the love and fellowship God wants to give you; when you sin, turn to him in repentance and claim the promises he made in this passage and others like it to find forgiveness in him.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.