1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1

Read 1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1 today. This devotional is about Joel 2.

The locust plague described in Joel 1 was a devastation brought by literal locusts.

Here in chapter 2, however, many commentators see Joel using the locust plague of chapter 1 as a metaphor for the invasion of the Babylonian army upon Judah.

After describing how horrible the invasion of the Babylonians will be (vv. 1-11), Joel turned to urging his people to repent in verses 12-17. Verse 12 holds out the promise again that genuine repentance was still possible even with the Babylonian threat so close at hand. Verse 13 described the repentance God was seeking: “rend your heart and not your garments.”

It was not the symbol of repentance such as tearing their clothes or some other outward work that God wanted. Instead, God wanted a broken-hearted repentance, a complete turning away from the idolatry that was so common in Judah and a “return to the Lord your God” (v. 13). That was the way avoid the judgment of God that the Babylonians would bring.

Verse 13 also described the reason to return to God: “for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

We have read so much in the prophets about the promise of judgment and the delivery of that promise to Israel and then to Judah. It is easy to conclude, from those prophesies, that God is difficult, hard to please, and unreasonable toward his people.

The truth is just the opposite: God wanted nothing more than to be reconciled to his people. The judgment they experienced was due to their absolute refusal to be reconciled to him.

Although Judah did fall to the Babylonians, verses 18-32 hold out a promise of much greater hope. God would allow his people to be punished, but eventually he would bless his people with abundance (vv. 18-27) and with the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 28-32).

The Lord began keeping this promise on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-21) but the consummation is still to come. While we wait for Christ to return and finish fulfilling the promises, the promise for today is, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved….” This is why we are here and why the Lord has not returned. God is being reconciled to people as the Holy Spirit brings true conviction of sin and repentance and people put faith in Jesus Christ.

1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, 2 Timothy 3

Read 1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, and 2 Timothy 3 today. This devotional is about Hosea 14.

This chapter is yet another plea from one of God’s prophets to God’s people to repent of their sins (vv. 1-3) and serve God alone (v. 8a-b). Sandwiched between these two elements are the ardent promises of God to “love them freely” (v. 4) and cause the nation to blossom (v. 5b, 7c) and flourish (v. 7b). 

With promises like these, repeated over and over and over by God’s prophets, why didn’t God’s people at least try it? Why–with few exceptions–did generation after generation follow idols and forsake the Lord?

The answers are in verse 9: “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” The sinfulness, the rebellion that comes naturally to our human hearts causes us to stumble over God’s commands. We are unable to “walk in them” until we are righteous and only God can declare and make someone righteous. 

This is the BIG lesson of the Old Testament. God makes promises and teaches humanity his ways but humanity rebels against God and stumbles in his ways unless God breathes new life into our dead spirits. The Israelites should have read the words of these prophets and cried out to God for help to overcome the rebellion of unbelief. Instead, people rejected God’s word or tried to cobble together their own religion of Judaistic “good works” plus something else like Baal worship. Note that before God said the righteous would walk in his ways in verse 9 he first said in verse  4, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely….” 

If you find yourself trying to live the Christian life but failing, this is what you need. You need to cry out for the righteousness of God and the new life he gives through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This is what our kids need, our friends need, our neighbors need; it is what we all need. We don’t need to try harder to walk in God’s ways or reduce God’s ways to a list of requirements. We need  God’s grace and the righteousness of Christ given to us by faith. 

Then we will grow and flourish and blossom and show all the other signs of life and blessing that are described in this chapter. Then God will be glorified in us and we will bless us “like the dew” (v. 5).

Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, Romans 10

Read Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, and Romans 10 today. This devotional is about Judges 1.

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

Why not?

Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) but Israel still procrastinated when it came 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.

Do you ever do that?

God has made many promises to us. You’ve believed and acted on one or more of those promises. And, God blessed your faith with results. But, then, the challenge started to look hard. So, you quit and settled for less than what God promised.

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.

But, how much effort do you 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.

But how much effort do you put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for you?

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)? Why, yes, the Bible does say these things.

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 encourage generous giving to see God provide? Consider 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?

Joshua 16-17, Jeremiah 40, Romans 5

Read Joshua 16-17, Jeremiah 40, and Romans 5 today. This devotional is about Joshua 16-17.

These can be tough chapters to read, with names like “Ataroth” (16:2), “Mikmethath” (16:6), and others. So, the strange sounding names make the passage hard to read. Furthermore, these chapters describe places that are unfamiliar and hard to visualize unless you have an old map of Israel handy. The point of the passage is to make a permanent record of what are of the promised land was assigned to each tribe of Israel.

So, don’t worry about all that stuff and, instead, notice this:

“They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor.”

Joshua 16:10

…and…

“Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely.”

Joshua 17:12-13

At the end of chapter 17, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph’s sons) began complaining to Joshua. “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people, and the Lord has blessed us abundantly” (v. 14). They wanted to reapportion the land of Israel within the existing borders. In other words, they wanted to take land away from neighboring tribes.

Joshua was all for them having more land, but not at the expense of other Israelites. Instead, in verse 15, Joshua told them to enter the forests of the Perizzites and Rephaites, start clear-cutting, and defeat these people when they came out to defend their land. When I read the response of Joseph’s descendants in verse 16, it is difficult for me to hear anything but a whiny tone of voice: “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots fitted with iron…” But Joshua stood firm; there would be no changes to each tribe’s original allotment. If they wanted more land, they were to go and take it from these other Canaanites. Although Joshua conceded in verse 18 that “they have chariots fitted with iron” and “they are strong” he maintained that “you can drive them out.”

History repeated itself.

Their fathers–who died in the desert of Sinai–failed to take the promised land because they thought the Canaanites were too big, too strong, too entrenched to defeat. In other words, the people of Israel were cowed by what they saw instead of trusting in the faithfulness of God’s promises. Now, the next generation received the land but they, too, were intimidated by those around them. They got their land but not nearly as much as God wanted them to have.

Why?

Because they did not act as if they believed God’s promises. If they had trusted God, they could have had more land and could have utterly defeated the Canaanites. Instead, they chose through cowardice and unbelief to settle for less than what God wanted to give them.

How often do we settle for low-level living? Do we believe that Jesus has all authority as he claimed in Matthew 28:19? If so, why don’t we go make disciples of all the nations as he commanded us to do?

Do we believe that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us (2 Pet 1:3)? Then why do we let sinful habits remain in us instead of driving them out?

The answer is that these things are not automatic. God’s promises are true but they are only activated by faith. And faith is not just an inner belief; it is an inner conviction that produces outward actions that demonstrate true trust in God.

Where in your life are you refusing to go for all that God has promised to us in Christ? Let’s take encouragement from Joshua’s confidence in these chapters and live by faith in that area today.

Deuteronomy 11, Jeremiah 4, 1 Corinthians 10

Today, read Deuteronomy 11, Jeremiah 4, and 1 Corinthians 10. This devotional is about Deuteronomy 11.

Here in Deuteronomy 11, as Israel was just about to enter the promised land, Moses urged the Israelites to love God and keep his commands (v. 1). It should have been easy for them to trust the Lord because they saw with their own eyes God’s greatness and power (v. 2), his deliverance from Egypt (vv. 3-4), and his judgments on those who rebelled against him and his servants (vv. 5-7). If the generation who heard these words saw all these things but didn’t recognize from experience that there are immense benefits to obedience and high costs for disobedience to God’s word, then nobody would ever recognize these things. So Moses urged them to live in obedience to these commands (v. 8) so that they could enjoy all the blessings of obedience (vv. 9-12).

The generation to which Moses wrote these words did have a measure of obedience and did experience some of these blessings. Unlike their parents, they did not disobey when God commanded them to take the promised land. Instead, they marched in boldly, in faith, and defeated Jericho and many surrounding cities.

Yet they did not obey consistently because the were not able to drive out the Canaanites even though God promised he would do it for them if they obeyed him (vv. 22-25). Despite all the blessings and curses they had seen and all that God had promised, they did not serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Instead, the history of Israel in the promised land was one of enslavement to idolatry and struggle to survive, just as God had promised in verses 16-17.

So what led to the failure of God’s people to get everything that God had promised to them? It was a lack of genuine faith and new spiritual life. God’s laws are righteous and just and bring blessing to those who obey them, but without a gracious change of heart through regeneration, no one can obey them. Though the Lord urged them to know his word and keep it always before them (vv. 16-21), they had the same sinful hearts that you and I came into the world with and still struggle with today. Israel’s history demonstrates again and again how much all of humanity needs the saving power of God. Even when we know all that can come from obedience, our sinful hearts turn to unrighteousness automatically apart from the grace of God.

These passages to Israel, while encouraging in what they promise, should cause any reader (including the original readers) to cry out to God for help. On our own, without the grace of God in new life, none of us can live up to God’s righteousness laws and thus receive his blessings.

That is why Jesus came; if humanity could obey God, we would never need a savior. We would only need to hear his word and obey it.

But, lacking the ability to serve God on our own, the promises and commands in this passage should overwhelm people with their human inability and drive us to cry out to God for the grace of Christ to believe and obey his word despite all our human inklings against faith and obedience.

As believers, we have the changed heart within that most Israelites lacked throughout their history. God’s grace in salvation teaches us to reject the passions of idolatry and worship and serve God alone (Titus 2:11-14) and it also empowers us to do what God commands us to do in his word (Phil 2:13).

But since we retain our sinful nature even after trusting Christ, we need to be reminded again and again of all that God has promised us if we obey his word. Christ also need to be continually reminded that God made obeying his word possible through his grace on the cross. Since we have these things—everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)—let’s claim those promises by faith and receive the blessings God offers by living obediently to his word.

Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 61, 1 Corinthians 3

Today read Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 61, and 1 Corinthians 3. This devotional is about Isaiah 61.

Early in his preaching ministry, Jesus returned to Nazareth, the small town where he grew up. On the Sabbath day he stood up to read God’s word and the passage he read was our scripture for today, Isaiah 61.

Christ read verses 1-2a of Isaiah 61, then stopped before the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God….” Then he told his neighbors and friends from Nazareth, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

Although Christ will make good on the rest of the promises of Isaiah 61, it was not his intention (or God’s will) for him to do that during his first coming to this world. God still has a remarkable future in store for Israel, but it will not be fulfilled until Christ returns a second time. In the meantime, though, Christ is still proclaiming “good news to the poor” (v. 1c), binding “up the brokenhearted” (v. 1d), proclaiming “freedom for the captives” (v. 1e) and releasing prisoners “from darkness” (v. 1f).

This is the good news that Christ came to deliver. It is the promise he arrived to fulfill. Although all humanity is damaged and wounded by sin, Christ offers release from the penalties of sin and comfort from the damage that sin does in us and to us.

Remember this when the door opens to share Christ with someone: Jesus came to deliver people from the slavery of their sins, to patch up their broken hearts, and to shine light into the darkness where they are groping around looking for truth.

So let’s look for ways to tell people what Christ has done for us and what he will do for them if they bow before him in repentance and faith.

Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 51:1-4

Wanting to live for Christ and doing what is right in God’s eyes can be a lonely way to live. Those around you who do not know Christ will respond to you in various ways. Some people will respect your morals and convictions. Some will despite your morals and convictions. Others might feel that you are judging their (lack of) morals and convictions. But, unless someone shares your faith, they are incapable of glorifying God, even if they live relatively moral lives. So, you stand out as one who is different, and feel it.

Even professing Christians, sometimes, don’t want to be too vocal about what is right and wrong or about identifying with Jesus. So, you may know people who could and should walk with you as you walk with Christ but it feels like they do not. That’s a lonely way to live, too.

So what do you do about this?

Verse 1 was addressed to Israelites who wanted to live according to God’s righteous way. It says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord…” so anyone who wants to follow Christ today can identify with and apply the revelation that follows. And what is that revelation? It is to reflect on the past. Verse 1c through 2b point the godly person in this passage back to the man and woman who started the nation we call Israel.

When Abraham began, he had nothing but God’s promises. As verse 3c put it, “When I called him he was only one man….” Yet, he believed God, was called God’s friend, and did what was right in the sight of the Lord (for the most part). And what was the result? “I blessed him and made him many” (v. 2d). This look at the past was meant to encourage God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem an the Babylonian exile. God promised in verse 3 to return blessings and comforts to his people and their capital city of Jerusalem. Then, through his people, he promised to speak truth and light for all nations (v. 4).

Jerusalem was trashed after the Babylonians were through with it. Anyone who looked at it might say, “This city will never amount to anything again.” Yet God said that he would use the few, lonely people who sought him and pursued his righteousness to be a light for the world. Just as he turned Abraham and Sarah into a great nation, he would use those who follow him to bring about his will.

Do you feel discouraged and alone in your walk with Christ? Maybe there are no other Christians in your workplace or even in your home. Do you feel discouraged and wonder what good it is to follow Christ when you’re by yourself?

Then this passage is for you, because you are not by yourself. You have God. You have his word and his promises. So don’t give up or quit! Keep pursuing God and his righteousness and let him do the growing and multiplying.