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.

Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, Galatians 4

Read Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, and Galatians 4 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), and through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Amidst all this prophecy about the future, verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah told his readers to encourage others who belonged to God but were weak and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths–that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10)–were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers among them.

In Hebrews 12:12 the author of Hebrews referred here to Isaiah 35:3 as a concluding thought to his teaching on God’s discipline. Discipline is always painful but it is productive for spiritual growth so we should not be discouraged but rather should encourage each other.

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” (v. 4 c-d). When he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people.

Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off in following Jesus. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

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 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10 today. This devotional is about Genesis 15.

Genesis 14, which we read yesterday, described how Abram and his men battled and defeated four kings who had beaten five other kings and had taken Lot captive. Scripture gives us no indication here of how that battle affected Abram emotionally but it is possible that, even though he won, Abram was traumatized by the experience.

If Abram was traumatized by that battle, it is not surprising to see God giving him comfort in the opening words here in chapter 15. In verse 1 God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield….” That phrase indicates that God was the one who had just protected Abram in battle and would protect him in the future, too.

But God went on to tell Abram that knowing God was worth more than all the wealth and power that Abram refused at the end of chapter 14: Verse 1e says, “I am… your very great reward.” 

Abram had received other promises like this from God so in verses 2-3 he questioned God about this promise. Specifically, he wanted to know how God could keep this promise given that he and Sarai had no children. 

Questioning God is a spiritually-risky thing to do. God is sovereign; he is creator. We have no right to question his will because we are his creation.

But questioning God is not always a sin. In fact, there are two types of questions. Sometimes we ask questions to understand what God has said. At other times, we ask questions to undermine God and suggest that his promises are not worth trusting.

Abram’s question was not an attack on God or his word, it was a sincere effort to understand what God said and how it would be accomplished when it seemed so unlikely.

God answered Abram’s sincere question with his word. Notice that verse 4 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.” God and Abram had already been talking so why was this phrase necessary?

The point was to remind us who is making the promise. God graciously gave Abram a clarification (v. 4) and a re-affirmation of the promise (v. 5). Though God’s answer may not have been totally satisfying, Abram accepted it in faith anyway (v. 6a).

Then verse 6b recorded one of the most important statements in the book of Genesis: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abram to be a righteous man. That declaration was not based on something Abram did to create or demonstrate his own righteousness. Rather, God considered Abram to be perfect based on his faith, not his obedience.

The lesson for us is that living by faith means trusting God’s word even when God doesn’t answer all our questions.

God commands and calls us not to be perfect on our own, but to believe; to fall in total dependence on God’s promises. 

Do this when obeying God seems risky or you are afraid or you doubt God’s goodness or wonder if God’s promise really applies to you. Fall in total dependence on his promises and watch God keep his word.

1 Kings 3, Ezekiel 34

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?