Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, 1 Thessalonians 4

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, and 1 Thessalonians 4 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands… distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel….” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, 1 Thessalonians 1

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, and 1 Thessalonians 1. This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13).

If this chapter was written before the Babylonian captivity but promised that exile would end with God’s people restored to the land, then what is the purpose of this prophesy?There were three purposes for this prophetic word:

  1. The first purpose was to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12). As with all of God’s warnings of judgment, the warning was an invitation to repent while there was still time.
  2. The second purpose was to teach those who would read this later, during that judgment, not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1).
  3. The third purpose was to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness….” That rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong ruler because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.” Any feelings of godliness these idol worshippers had were false. They were far from God, not walking closely with him.

As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e).

Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, Acts 17

Read Numbers 19, Isaiah 42, and Acts 17 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 42.

Parts of this chapter in Isaiah are quoted and said to be fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. The chapter describes Christ one who brings justice to the earth (v. 1, 3b-4) yet is gentle toward the weak (v. 3a: “a bruised reed… a smoldering wick”).

In the middle of the description of Christ’s work on earth is the passage that says, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison  and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” This was a signal to Israel that they were not chosen by God to be the exclusive recipients of his saving grace; rather, through his chosen people Israel, God would bring the light of salvation to millions of people all over the world, meaning people like us who have not a drop of Jewish blood in our bodies.

Simeon may have alluded to this passage in Luke 2:32 as he held baby Jesus in his hands and gave thanks to God for him. Though thousands of years have passed since Christ walked this earth, God’s purpose for him continues to unfold as people all over the world see the light of Christ and come to him for salvation.

Take a moment today to pray for people we support in Thailand, England, Canada, here in the U.S. and areas where security is sensitive. They are bringing the light of Christ’s salvation to these areas in fulfillment of this passage. When that work is completed and the time has come, Christ will come to establish his kingdom for us.

Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, Acts 15

Read Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, and Acts 15 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 40.

The last verse in today’s reading from Isaiah, 40:31, is one of the best-known passages in the book of Isaiah for many people. It is a verse that gives encouragement to hope in the Lord when we are weak. Not surprisingly, then, many believers find it uplifting to read and recite when they are discouraged. That is an excellent use of the verse; even more so when you read the whole chapter.

  • The passage opens by offering comfort for God’s people who have suffered in judgment for their sins under foreign oppression (vv. 1-2).
  • Verses 3-11 tie this comfort to the coming of the Messiah:
    • Verses 3-4 were applied to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ
    • Verses 5-11 mostly describe the promises that Christ will fulfill when he establishes his earthly kingdom.
  • Verses 12-26 describe why the Lord will be able to bring such comfort to his people and fulfill these promises. He can do it because he is infinite. God eclipses everything we think is large on earth or the rest of the universe (v. 12).  God can also comfort his people because of his complete knowledge and wisdom (his omniscience, vv. 13-14). In the shadow of God’s infinity power, infinite wisdom,a dn infinite knowledge, other nations which seem so strong and imposing to us are insignificant (vv. 15-17).

What about other gods, though? Please; they are not worth mentioning in the same breath with the true God. Those idols were created by human beings who foolishly bow down and worship them (vv. 18-20).

But those who worship false gods should not act like they’ve never heard of him. God is everywhere—sitting “enthroned above the circle of the earth” (v. 22) and taking down powerful human rulers at will (v. 23).

There is no god like the true God. Nothing escapes his notice (v. 27) or is beyond his capabilities (v. 28). Faith in him, then, calls us to look to him for strength.

Are you trying to handle everything in your life on your own? No matter how capable you are, you can’t carry the weight of the world.

But God can and he calls to you to come to him and look to him for strength to live each day out for his glory (v. 31).

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37 Hezekiah the king of Judah showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If you’ve been praying for something, how would God’s giving you the answer you want spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.

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.

Numbers 8, Isaiah 33, Galatians 2

Read Numbers 8, Isaiah 33, and Galatians 2 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 33.

Our society has changed dramatically in the past few years. Actions that were once were considered immoral are now considered acceptable. In some cases things that were illegal are not only legal now but receive special legal protection.

Those who are advocating and legalizing these changes do so with much self-righteousness under the guise of civil rights, creating a lot of pressure on the rest of society to celebrate these changes, or conform to them or, at the very least, remain quiet about them.

If you have ever wondered why so many people have suddenly lost their minds, Isaiah 33:5-6 provides the answer. Verse 5 describes God’s exalted state and how his kingdom (“Zion”) will be filled “with his justice and righteousness.” But this world is not yet his kingdom; until Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, every human government will become unjust and every society will practice increasing unrighteousness. Why? Verse 6 says, “He will be the sure foundation for your times….” When people believe in God and bow to his definition of “righteousness,” they have this sure foundation on which to establish and right and wrong. Without faith in God, no sure foundation exists; instead, ideas of righteousness and justice will be (re)defined by the perverse and ever degrading notions of humanity.

But verse 6 of our passage continues by saying that the Lord will be “a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.” As believers who fear the Lord, we can be certain of what we know because it has been revealed to us by someone who knows all things. That was stated in the final line of our passage for today, Isaiah 33:6: “…the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” “Fearing the Lord” means so much in the Old Testament. It means reverencing God in worship, of course, but it also means understanding his greatness and awesomeness and how undeserving we are of anything from him. Fearing God causes us to reverence what he has revealed in his word and that leads to repentance and faith.

But fearing God and receiving his word also means accepting what his word says about the origin of all things, the end of all things, why some things are wrong, why we need salvation, etc.

Yes, it is true that unbelievers know many things that we believers do not and that believers do not know anything. But if you dig a little bit beneath the surface of an unbeliever’s knowledge, you will find assumptions rather than certainty. This is why right and wrong, which should be obvious to anyone, eventually become questioned and then denied in godless societies. When someone cuts himself off from God he will have no foundation to know anything. That means that anything could be true which causes people to believe in foolishness (see Romans 1:21, 28).

There is much more to say about this than I can write in this devotional. For a taste of more, check out this brief video by Sye Ten Bruggencate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM1AWO92Crc