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.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalms 27-29

Today., read Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalms 27-29. This devotional is about Exodus 14.

Humanly speaking, Israel was in deep trouble. Though God had delivered them using the plauges, Pharaoh quickly realized how much productivity would be lost when the Israelites left Egypt (v. 5). With “horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (v. 9), the Egyptian army pursued Israel. Despite all that God had done—inflicting horrible plagues on the Egyptians while simultaneously protecting the Israelites—Israel was terrified when the Egyptian army approached. And who wouldn’t be? Israel had no army, no weapons; they had the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them. It was a hopeless situation, humanly speaking. All they had was this promise: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v. 14)

That promise was all they needed: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore “ (v. 30). When Israel trusted God’s promises and obeyed God’s command, God saved them from certain destruction.

When we read a passage like this, there is a strong tendency for Christians to generalize the Lord’s work here and apply to any difficult situation. “The Lord will fight for us,” we think, when we are in a financial crunch or a personal dispute or some other unpleasant problem.

But that cheapens the miracle that God literally did for Israel; it treats God’s work like a myth or a fable, a story told to teach a lesson rather than a historical account of God’s work. So, instead, we should understand that God protected Israel because God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel and those promises were both unfulfilled and necessary to God’s larger plan to bring redemption through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.

But there is still truth here for us which is that God keeps his promises and preserves his people. While God may allow some of his people to be persecuted and martyred, he will protect his church—collectively—against the attacks of Satan (cf. Matt 16:18). He will even fight miraculously for them in the future (cf. Rev 19:11-21).

God’s promise to us is not that he will never allow us to be attacked or defeated but that he is with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). No matter what God allows in your life or to the church in general, we have the promise of his presence with us, whether in victory or in suffering. The truth to take away from this passage is the same one that Israel took from this incident:  “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (v. 31).” We should fear God and trust him, no matter what happens, because God always keeps his promises and works his will through the circumstances we face in life.

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Proverbs 2

Read Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9 and Proverbs 2. This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did this, “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here.

But this was stupid both times, even more so the second time after the close call back in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12:11, 13 Abraham told Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are…. say you are my sister.”

But think about how that would sound to man. “Hi, I’m Abraham and this beautiful women here is my sister Sarah.”

Well, if they were merely brother and sister and there’s no husband introduced, then it would be reasonable for a man to conclude that this beautiful woman was single and available for anyone who wanted her.

Predictably, that’s what happened; she was added to the harem of Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelek (here in Gen 20). In both cases, Abraham lost his wife and put God’s promises in jeopardy. In both cases, only God’s miraculous intervention preserved Sarah and allowed her to become the covenant mother that God had promised she would be.

So why would Abraham do this–knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men?

The answer–in both cases–was fear. Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11).

So he just lied and made Sarah available.

That was unloving to her and unnecessary. Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his servants were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

And, how often does it actually happen where a man kills another man to be with his wife? I know there are news stories where that kind of thing happens but I’ve never personally met anyone in that situation. If a man did that–killed another man to take his wife–the other men who lived around the killer would gang up on him and kill him.

So, Abraham’s fear was unspiritual, irrational, and far adrift from reality.

This incident shows what happens when we live in fear instead of faith in God’s promises; namely, we make foolish decisions. God protected Abraham because of his covenant promises that Abraham would become a great nation through the son born to Sarah. But God would have been just to allow Abraham to live through the consequences of the foolish, fear-filled decisions he made.

Are you living your life in fear instead of in faith? Do you use lies and deception to manipulate others instead of trusting God to care for you and provide for you? It is easy and tempting for us to fall into a similar trap as Abraham. Learn from his negative example in this instance and trust God instead of acting in fear.

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Matthew 3

Read Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Matthew 3 today. This devotional will be about Ezra 3.

The book of Ezra describes events late in the chronology of the Old Testament. God’s people, Israel and Judah, had been exiled from the promised land. After 70 years in captivity first to the Babylonians then to the Medo-Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great had allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. We read about the decree of Cyrus back in Ezra 1 on New Year’s Day.

Here in Ezra 3, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar has arrived (v. 1). This is the month for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 23:27). Without a temple, however, atonement cannot be made. Instead, God’s people rebuilt the altar of burnt offerings (v. 2) so that daily morning and evening offerings could commence while the temple was rebuilt.

They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. Notice, however, the words of verse 3: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord….” Isn’t it interesting that, despite the decree of Cyrus that authorized them to return, God’s people felt fear? Isn’t it interesting that the fear they felt was centered on their public worship of YHWH? Yet, how courageous these people were. Despite their fear, they sacrificed to the Lord anyway. Despite their fear, they began rebuilding his temple.

The fear they felt was from a real threat, too. The people surrounding them could attack them at any time. The edict of Cyrus might have caused consequences for their attackers someday, but there was no army was protecting them at that moment. They only thing they had to combat their fear was faith in God’s promises and hope in his covenant. That faith was strong enough to call them to obedience to God’s word despite the real threat of danger.

How often do we allow the fear to stifle our obedience to Christ? And, what do we fear? The possible disapproval of others. Not violence; just embarrassment.

Do we withhold the good news of Christ when the opportunity opens because we fear the disapproval of the unbeliever—the very one who needs to hear of Christ’s love?

Do we imagine that when we bow to thank God for our food in a restaurant, unbelievers around us stop chewing and look over at us in scorn? Or do we use that imaginary scorn as an excuse to keep us from giving thanks to God altogether?

Do we tell people that we go to church each Sunday and even invite them to come with us or do we avoid getting too specific about our plans for the weekend when we’re asked?

God has done so much for us and promises so much more—both for us and to all who join us as his followers by faith. Yet, we are so easily ashamed of being identified with him and his people. Let the faith of these ancient Hebrews encourage you to live without fear in your public worship of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142

Today’s Bible reading passages are Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. This book is like a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

This chapter begins with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges. As Moses recounted the ordination of judges, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. Either they get what they want because of their reputation or they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Can you trust God to provide for you through the cost and disadvantages?

Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, Psalm 86

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, and Psalm 86.

This devotional is about Proverbs 14:2, 16, 26, 27.

Fear is feeling that motivates people to act in ways that other things do not. You may love America, for example, but I’ll bet you pay your taxes more because you fear being prosecuted than because you love America. These verses are linked by the concept of the “fear of the Lord.” The first two of them describes about how the fear of the Lord motivates people to do what is right:

14:2: “Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly….”
14:16: “The wise fear the Lord and shun evil….”

We often hear that “fearing the Lord” doesn’t mean being afraid of God but rather having a sense of “reverential awe” toward him. Reverential awe is good but there is more to fearing God than just being in awe of him. Someone who fears God is reverent because of who God is personally but a God-fearing person also respects his role as Lord and judge. Fearing God does not mean serving him because he’s angry and we’re terrified of being annihilated at any moment for doing or saying the wrong thing. It does mean, however, that we submit to his authority to make the rules and we obey the rules because we believe in him and all that he is, including that he is just. Verses 2 and 16 tell us that this kind of proper fear of the Lord causes someone to do right (“walks uprightly”) and avoid doing wrong (“shun evil”). These are the consequences when someone fears God.

Verses 26 and 27 show us, however, that fearing God is not negative at all; it is positive. Verse 26 says that fearing the Lord provides a person with “a secure fortress” and verse 27 says that it “is a fountain of life.” When you believe in God as the Bible presents him, it brings security (v. 26) and blessings such as joy and purpose to your life (v. 27). Why is that true? Because sin is dangerous! Verse 27 says that the fear of the Lord turns “a person from the snares of death.” Sin kills but fearing God will help you avoid it.

We need God’s grace to fear him and to live obediently because we fear him. That means extending grace, of course, to others who truly fear God but still give into the desires of the sinful nature within. But, please understand, we do ourselves and our loved ones no favors at all when we act like sin is no big deal because God’s grace in Christ covers it all anyway. Sin is a big deal! The wages of it “is death” (Rom 6:23). When we rebuke someone who is sinning because we fear God, we are not trying to cut them down personally; we’re trying to save them from the destructive effects of sin. If you’ve ever had a loving friend step in and help you avoid or extricate yourself from sin, you know what a blessing that is. Until we are fully redeemed by God (at death or Christ’s return), we are vulnerable to the deceptive lives of our sin nature, the world, and the devil. But if we fear God and his discipline in our lives, it will help us avoid sin and find the fountain of life Solomon described in v. 27.

Genesis 32, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Today we’re reading Genesis 32, Esther 8, Psalm 31.

This devotional is about Psalm 31.

During the Gulf War (the one in the early 1990s), U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf held a famous press conference that made him into a celebrity. In that press conference, he showed a video of a car in Iraq crossing a bridge. Shortly after the car crossed the bridge, the bridge exploded from a bomb that U.S. forces dropped on it. Schwarzkopf referred to the driver of this car as “The luckiest man in Iraq” because he narrowly escaped a death he had no idea was coming.

If luck were real, David was one of the luckiest men who has ever lived. He escaped death time and again–both in general when he went to battle and specifically when he was targeted by Saul and others. Here in Psalm 31 (as in other Psalms), we see past the brave warrior into the heart of this king. The dangers he faced were as stressful to him as they would be to any one of us (vv. 9-10). He dealt with these stresses by turning to God in prayer, pouring his heart out honestly to the almighty about his fears and pleading with God to be his “rock of refuge” his “strong fortress” (v. 2) and to deliver him (v. 1).

Because of the covenant God had made with David, God did deliver him over and over again. Although he was a skilled, prepared warrior, David’s success in battle and his longevity in life were more a matter of God’s protection and God’s will than anything else. David knew this, too. When he asked for God’s help and protection “for the sake of your name” (v. 3b) he was referencing the promises God had made to Israel and to him personally for Israel.

Even as he called on God for help, David knew that his days were determined by the sovereign will of God. When he wrote, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15a), he was humbly submitting to what God had determined for him. If God were to let him die in battle, that is his right as Lord. Yet David was not deterministic about it. Recognizing that God had already decreed when and how he would die did not prevent David from asking God to “… deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (v. 15b-c). He was bold in asking for God’s help and giving God reasons why he should help; yet he was humble and submitted to whatever the Lord had willed.

Until Christ returns, death is a reality for each of us. People we love will die and someday, so will we. Fearing death (and other things in life) is natural. Crying out to God and looking to him for help and deliverance honors him in those moments. So does recognizing that your time and mine will come when God wills. These are all expressions of faith. Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith asking God for help when we are afraid as well as trusting his will when the time comes for us to go. We don’t need luck to protect us. Faith in our God is a much better defense.

VIDEO: The Luckiest Man in Iraq: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AjCAuYkrgA