2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, Psalms 124-126

Read 2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, and Psalms 124-126 today. 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 exceptional 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 (v. 5), 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.”

Deuteronomy 27, Jeremiah 19, Proverbs 15:18-33

Read Deuteronomy 27, Jeremiah 19, Proverbs 15:18-33 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 15:18-33.

“It’s for your own good” is a phrase that people say when they are about to say something you won’t like. Oftentimes, they’re not really saying for your good but as justification for the verbal punishment they are about to let you have.

Every one of us hates criticism. It hurts to receive and often feels unfair. Yet the Bible says that wisdom comes through hearing critical feedback and changing your life accordingly. Verse 31, which we read today says, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.” If you receive criticism–even harsh, punishing criticism–and learn something from it, you will become a wiser person.

By contrast, verse 32 says, “Those who disregard discipline despise themselves….” We do ourselves no favors–and lots of harm, really–when we hit back at our critics and refuse to receive anything they say. The path of wisdom is found through correction; wise is the man who listens carefully to any criticism and tries to learn and get better from it.

Is that who you are? Ask God for the grace to grow through the negative encounters we have with others in our lives.

Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, 2 Corinthians 2

Read Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, and 2 Corinthians 2. This devotional is about 2 Corinthians 2.

One of the issues we have in interpreting 1 and 2 Corinthians is that there were letters exchanged between the Corinthians and Paul that we do not have. Paul also referenced visiting them (v. 1: “another painful visit”) but that visit is not discussed in Acts–though scholars have made a good explanation of where it could have happened. 

Some have compared reading 1st and especially 2nd Corinthians to listening to one half of a phone conversation. If you’ve ever done that, for instance when your spouse is talking on the phone in your presence, you know how confusing it can get. You listen to what your spouse says and then try to imagine what might have been said on the other end of the conversation, the one you can’t hear. At least, that’s what I do when someone is talking on the phone near me….

Anyway, we have these two letters, but there were other communications between Paul and this church that we don’t have. That means we have to speculate somewhat. We can still understand what the Holy Spirit was teaching through Paul, we just don’t know–for certain, at least–all the details.

It is true that Paul commanded the church to discipline a man from the church in 1 Corinthians 5:13. It is also true that, here in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul commanded the church to restore a man to fellowship who had been under discipline. Some scholars think, though, that this is actually a different case of church discipline than the one Paul ordered in 1 Corinthians 5. Whether the man referenced in the passage today is the same guy as 2 Corinthians 2 or not, it seems clear that the church had removed him from its fellowship (v. 6) and that he repented and sought to be restored to fellowship (v. 7a). But the Corinthian church was having a hard time with the forgiveness part. In verse 7 Paul commanded them to “forgive and comfort him” and in verse 8 he encouraged them “to reaffirm your love for him” (v. 8b).

Forgiveness is sometimes easy. When someone has sinned against us in ways that we also have done toward others, we might find it easier to forgive. When we don’t really feel like we’ve been harmed, it may be easy to forgive. When we empathize with why someone sinned, it is not nearly as hard to receive that person’s repentance. But those situations–the easy to forgive ones–are rare. Much of the time we wallow in the pain caused by the sin of others and we are tempted to return equal pain and then some more to the one who sinned against us. Imagine an entire church filled with people who felt that way. Imagine what it must be like for the repentant sinner not to be received. Forgiveness is rarely easy, but it is always right when there is repentance. If you are struggling to forgive someone, even though you know they have changed their minds about their sin, ask God to give you the grace that he showed to us when he forgave us in Christ.

Deuteronomy 18, Jeremiah 10, 1 Corinthians 14

Read Deuteronomy 18, Jeremiah 10, and 1 Corinthians 14 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Here we are, ten chapters into the prophecies of Jeremiah. There are many more chapters to go but what have we been reading about so far? Condemnation of sin and predictions of judgment, mostly.

Chapter 10 here is no exception. God spoke to his people (v. 1a) urging them to stop following the idolatry of other nations (vv. 2-5, 8-11) and instead to fear God (vv. 6-7) the true God (v. 10) and creator of all things (vv. 11-16). So, verses 1-16 hit the “condemnation of sin” button pretty hard.

Beginning in verse 17, the “predictions of judgment” began. You might as well pack up and leave now (v. 17), Jeremiah said, because you’ll be leaving one way or the other (v. 18).

After all this, Jeremiah cried out to the Lord in verses 23-25. He did not ask God to reconsider his plan for judgment or try to make a case that his people were undeserving of God’s wrath. Instead, he humbly submitted himself to the will of God (v. 23) and asked God to use the coming problems as an act of discipline, not anger (v. 24). Finally, he asked for God’s wrath to fall on Israel’s enemies for their sins against God’s people (v. 25).

What strikes me here in verses 23-25 is the tender-hearted humility of Jeremiah. Despite being a faithful prophet of God and a godly man, he knew that his own life was not perfect before God. Instead of asking God to focus on “the real sinners” out there first, he asked for God to bring the loving hand of discipline into his own life, breaking his will and his sin-patterns without personally breaking him apart (v. 24c).

Our natural inclination is to feel that God has treated us unjustly if something unpleasant comes into our lives. By contrast, Jeremiah’s attitude shows his reverence for God, a recognition of God’s absolute lordship over everyone (v. 23).

Is this the attitude you bring to your walk with God? Have you ever asked God to discipline you, to purge out from our heart and your life anything that displeases him? It is a scary thing to ask for because God’s discipline can be very painful. Yet, as a loving Father, we can trust him not to pulverize us as he does his enemies, but to deliver a healing wound, like a surgeon does. When the doctor cuts a person open to remove the cancer from his body, a painful wound results and, even after that heals, a permanent scar is often left behind. Yet we thank the surgeon for healing us instead of complaining about the wound and the scars.

So it is with our Lord. When he hurts his children, it is for our ultimate good, our spiritual growth, to strengthen us to live more holy lives. May we emulate the prayer of Jeremiah in those moments of pain.

Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 65, Psalms 66-68

Today read Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 65, and Psalms 66-68. This devotional is about Psalm 66.

Psalm 66 opens in verses 1-7 by calling us to worship God based on what he has done. The command to do this worshipping is “all the earth” (v. 1) including every created person and thing.

The content of our worship is focused on what God has done. As verse 3 put it: “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’”

But what are those “deeds”? Some of them are described in the verses that follow. Namely,

  • God’s miraculous works in the past for his people (v. 6)
  • His present sovereign administration over the nations of humanity (v. 7).

But then the focus turns in verses 8-12 to reminding us of the Lord’s discipline. While we don’t usually think of God’s discipline as gracious, it is gracious because God uses discipline to refine us morally in holiness and purge out sins from our lives (v. 10).

In verses 13-15 the Psalmist stated his resolve to keep the vows he has made to worship the Lord in his temple. These vows were made when the Lord’s discipline was on him for, according to verse 14b they were made “… when I was in trouble.”

The Psalmist then testified to the grace of God in verses 16-20. Having promised his worship and obedience to God when he was under discipline, the Psalmist calls for all who “fear God” (v. 16a) to listen to the Psalmist’s story of how the Lord heard his prayer and rescued him when he repented (vv. 17-18).

Have you recently or currently experienced the painful consequences of sin in your life? Has it ever occurred to you that this may be God’s loving discipline, preventing you from wasting your life in disobedience and calling you to turn to him in repentance?

When we come before the Lord, turning from our sins and bringing him the worship he desires and deserves, we will find joy again in our worship (v. 20). Follow the example of the Psalmist and turn to God in repentance so that you can experience the joy of praising him.

Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, Acts 9

Read Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, and Acts 9 today. This devotional is about Leviticus 26.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God.

But notice that God’s described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age.

We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship. If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

1 Samuel 18, Lamentations 3

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 18 and Lamentations 3.

God punished Judah for her sins, particularly the sin of idolatry; Jeremiah was one of the faithful ones who:

  • worshipped the Lord only
  • prophesied on God’s behalf and
  • suffered for speaking the truth to his fellow Jews

Yet throughout the book of Jeremiah and here in Lamentations, we saw how the prophet Jeremiah took God’s punishment personally. Here in Lamentations 3, Jeremiah continued the personalization of God’s wrath. In verse 2, for example, he wrote, “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light….” Notice how many times in verses 1-21 how many times Jeremiah used the word “I,” “me,” or “my.” Just scanning these verses shows you how the invasion of the Babylonians felt to Jeremiah like a personal attack from the Lord God.

Starting in verse 22, the prophet changed his perspective. Despite all the traumatic judgment God had brought on his people, Jeremiah looked to the Lord for hope. He realized in verse 22 that his sins and the sins of the nation called for much greater judgement even than what they had received. He understood that being alive to greet any new day was an act of God’s mercy; as he wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23). This marked a major shift in his perceptions.

In verse 24-25, Jeremiah affirmed that the Lord was the only real answer to the problems and traumas he and his nations faced. He urged himself and anyone who would read these words to seek the Lord (v. 25b) and wait patiently (v. 24b, 26a) for him and his salvation. All of this hope was based on God’s goodness. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (v. 32).

While waiting for God’s deliverance, Jeremiah also recommended personal introspection: “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven’” (vv. 39-42). This is what the people of Judah should have done before the Babylonians invaded. Repentance would have brought God’s mercy according to his promises in the Law. But, having felt his wrath for their sins now, repentance remained the only right response for his people.

In Christ our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure. When we are in Him, God views us and treats as perfect because he has credited us with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Still, we are not fully redeemed in the sense that we continue to have a sin nature and we follow that sin nature with disobedience to God’s word. Although God does not punish us for our sins–those were punished on the cross–he usually allows the consequences of sin to play out in our lives and he will bring his hand of loving discipline into our lives to make us holy. That can feel like a personal attack unless we remind ourselves of God’s loving, gracious character as Jeremiah did in verses 22-26. If you’re experiencing some painful problems in life, have you looked to God’s character for encouragement and strength? Have you examined your life and expressed repentance for sins that may have brought these problems into your life?