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 1, Isaiah 26, Acts 11

Read Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, and Acts 11 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “… we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked. Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant. In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the miraculous working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise–let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Leviticus 1, Isaiah 1, Luke 21

Read Leviticus 1, Isaiah 1, and Luke 21. This devotional is about Isaiah 1.

This book of prophecy was written to the “kings of Judah,” the Southern Kingdom after Israel divided during the days of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. The Southern Kingdom was the “good” one of the two kingdoms in the sense that it had 8 kings that “did right” in the sight of God during their reigns. Three of those good kings, Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah (v. 1) ruled during Isaiah’s prophetic ministry. So, three out of the four kings who reigned over Judah did so during Isaiah’s life and ministry. Or, to look at it another way, 3 of only 8 kings who did what was right before God ruled during Isaiah’s ministry.

Yet, despite three good kings, Israel was a mess spiritually. Isaiah had very strong language condemning the people for their rebellion (v. 2d), for forsaking the Lord (v. 4e). Within these words of condemnation are also strong words of promise. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” As evil as the Judeans had become, God wanted nothing more than to forgive and restore them (v. 26). In fact, implicit in every judgment passage in the Bible is a call to repent. The terrible punishments that the Bible promises can be reversed because God is merciful. Nobody is too sinful to be outside the realm of God’s grace.

If you’re reading this but living in sin in someway, this is the promise for you. God will judge you for your sins and will punish you, but his mercy is there for the taking. Turn from your sin and ask God for his forgiveness.

If you’re walking with Christ today but fall into sin in the future, remember the lesson that God’s grace and mercy are there for you if you look to God in faith.

Exodus 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Luke 13

Read Exodus 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Luke 13 today. This devotional is about Luke 13.

Before radio and TV and cable news channels, world news was scarce and was mostly confined to events that related to your own community or, at most, your own nation. So the terror attacks in New Zealand last week would never have been known about in Israel during the days Jesus lived on this earth.

Some bad news did get around and Jesus was informed of some here in Luke 13:1. The incident in question was brutal and tragic, but it was also political. It involved “Galileans,” so those were Jewish people who lived in the region where Jesus spent most of his life and ministry, the northern part of Israel called Galilee. These men were in Jerusalem offering sacrifices and Pilate–the Roman governor or that area–had them put to death as they offered their sacrifices in the temple. These men may have been plotting against the Romans and Pilate may have chosen to make them a public example. Since Jewish people wanted Messiah to lead an insurrection against Rome, Jesus may have been informed of this situation to see if he would take on this revolt as the Messianic leader. Later in the chapter, in verse 31, Jesus was informed that Herod was plotting to kill him So there was a lot of political pressure swirling around Jesus at that moment.

Pilate’s actions were brutal but Jesus did not express moral outrage when he was told of this news. Instead, Jesus warned the people that the men who died were no more sinful than the average citizen of Galilee (v. 2). Jesus then raised the tension in the audience by speaking of eighteen who died in an accident when a tower in Siloam fell on them (v. 4). What about them? Did they deserve an untimely death because they were especially sinful? No, according to verse 3a. Whether one died by abuse of government power as in verse 1 or in accidentally as in verse 4, Jesus did not condemn the victims as being more sinful than anyone else. Instead, he used these incidents in the news to raise an uncomfortable truth: “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (v. 5).

There was a common superstitious belief that only the worst sinners died prematurely. That belief exists somewhat today in our culture when people talk about “karma.” But Jesus wants us to know that the only reason we are alive today at all is the mercy of God. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would live a rich, full, happy life. We are all sinners living on the wrong side of God’s laws so he is perfectly just anytime one of us dies, whether at a good old age or way too soon.

Christ has redeemed us who believe from the eternal curse of our sin. Some who believe in him will escape the curse of physical death by being alive when Jesus returns. But none of us is guaranteed anything; physical death is a curse that has been handed down to all of humanity because of the fall.

God’s plan for redemption from physical death is to let most of us die and to raise us from the dead physically at the end of the age. It is wise for us, then, to be thankful for today and to use it as best as we can for God’s glory. It is also wise for us to share with others what Christ has done for sinners so that they may repent and avoid perishing spiritually.

But the most important application of this passage is for any of you who have not turned to Christ for salvation. The only way to avoid the curse of sin is to turn to Jesus for salvation. Take the time you have today to do that; you do not know what God may allow into your life tomorrow.

Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, Luke 9

Read Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, and Luke 9. This devotional is about Luke 9.

At the beginning of this lengthy chapter, Jesus told the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet” (v. 5).

Toward the end of this chapter, Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village “to get things ready for him” (v. 52). I take that phrase to mean that Jesus was sending some of the people mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 to prepare for Jesus’ arrival because he was going to stay and teach in that village for a while on his way to Jerusalem.

According to verse 53 here in Luke 9, “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” Angry, apparently, that Jesus would only stay the night rather than for an extended time of ministry, the Samaritans decided they’d rather not have Jesus there at all.

James and John were incensed by this rejection. Claiming the supernatural power that Jesus had conferred on them in verse 1, these two brothers “asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”

Their question demonstrated the wrong spirit toward those who had rejected Jesus.

When Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet in verse 5, the reason he gave was “as a testimony against them.” It was for their warning and rebuke that Jesus commanded the disciples to do this, not because they were angry or ready to send judgment on the towns that rejected them.

So, instead of saying, “Great idea! Let’s torch ’em!”, according to verse 55 “Jesus turned and rebuked” James and John instead of praising them or encouraging them in their anger.

The reason Jesus rebuked them was that James and John were not concerned about the lost souls of these Samaritans; they were ticked off at being rejected and wanted to show them some power!

Jesus surely will bring judgment on anyone who rejects him in this life. That is one of his promises and one of his roles when he returns.

But, until the day of judgment begins, Jesus calls us to show grace and mercy to his enemies, not to call for their destruction. We should keep this in mind when unbelievers mock our faith, or belittle us personally, or even persecute us. We should definitely testify to them about the judgment that Jesus will bring for these actions; that’s what he told the disciples to do in verse 5–testify against them.

But we should be merciful and plead with them as we talk to them about God’s judgment because we know that their eternal souls are at stake.

So consider your heart and attitude toward those who are hostile to righteousness, to Christianity, Christians, or Christ. Don’t hope for and call for God’s judgment; tell them of God’s judgment but in a way that shows them how much we want to see God’s mercy in their lives.

2 Chronicles 2, Nahum 1

Today our OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 2 and Nahum 1

This devotional is about Nahum 1.

Ninevah was the capital city of Assyria, an empire that defeated and took captive the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They Assyrians were more than a mighty army and a world power; they were an incredibly cruel to the people they defeated. Their enemies, therefore, hated and feared the Assyrians more than they did other enemies.

The prophet Jonah was sent to preach judgment to Ninevah. He refused to go to Ninevah and had to be dragged there by God via the fish that we read about in Jonah 1-2. It was his hatred of the Assyrians and his fear that God would forgive them that caused Jonah to head for Tarshish instead of Ninevah. Sure enough, the people of Ninevah repented and God was merciful to them.

Here in the book of Nahum, God’s prophet had a second word for the Assyrians. Right out of the box in verse 2, Nahum said to the people of Ninevah, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.” Bad news, Ninevah, the forecast calls for judgment.

Verse 3 tempered the message of God’s wrath with the phrase, “The Lord is slow to anger….” This is part of what Jonah said to God in his complaint when the Ninevites repented: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger…” (Jonah 4:2e). Here, Nahum echoed that truth briefly in 1:3 but then continued, “…but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” This is the message about God that is missing in our culture.” Christians and non-Christians cling to the truth that God is loving-and he is! But the fact that God doesn’t dramatically judge sin with a worldwide flood or fire and brimstone in this age has lulled people into complacency about the wrath of God. Nahum’s warning for Ninevah was that God was very angry with them and that he would punish them for their sin. But within that message of judgment there was still the offer of mercy in the words, “The Lord is slow to anger” (v. 3a). Later in verse 7, Nahum returned to positive aspect of God’s character when he wrote, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,” but he quickly added, “…but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness” (v. 8).

God’s wrath and God’s judgment are not the core of our faith but they are important to our faith. Until people believe that God is angry and his judgment is coming, they will not repent and receive his mercy. As Christians, then, we can never soft-pedal or re-define sin, no matter how acceptable sins may become in our society or how much our society reacts against the truth of God’s wrath. The most loving thing you can tell a sinner is that God is angry and preparing judgment for them but that he will be merciful if people turn to Christ.

Look for ways to talk about that today with someone who is under the wrath of God.

1 Chronicles 3-4, Amos 3

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Amos 3.

This devotional is about Amos 3.

Judgment is coming to Israel but in this chapter God tells his people that they shouldn’t be surprised when it arrives. The chapter begins by reminding Israel that God chose them to be blessed and rescued them from Egypt (vv. 1-2a). Then in verses 3-6, God’s prophet reminds the people that things happen for a reason. Specifically:

People don’t randomly walk side by side; the reason they walk side by side is that they have agreed to take a walk together (v. 3).
Lions don’t roar when they are hunting; that would scare off their prey. The reason they roar is that they have caught something and want to keep others from trying to take it (v. 4).
Birds don’t fly into traps; they get caught in traps because they are drawn there by bait (v. 5a-b).
The trap doesn’t close on its own; rather, the reason it closes is that something has taken the bait (v. 5c-d).
When someone sounds an alarm, people get scared because the alarm was triggered by incoming armies. When you have a live person blowing the trumpet’s alarm, you don’t get alarm malfunctions or need drills like we have. So people had a reason to be scared when they heard the sound of a trumpet.

So, things usually happen for a reason and the reason that Samaria would fall and Jerusalem would, too, later is that “the Lord caused it” (v. 6d).

The good news, though, is that God warns his people before he sends judgment on them. That’s the message of verse 7, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” The rest of the chapter goes on to tell the people, again, that God has warned them through his prophets. The implication, then, is that they should repent.

People don’t like messages of judgment. Who would? No fortune cookie will tell you that within a year you’ll be dead of cancer. Who would want to read that? Some people would complain to restaurant’s management if they got a fortune like that. But if you were dying from cancer and didn’t know it, that’s exactly the message you’d need to hear, like it or not. An accurate diagnosis gives one a chance to avoid the inevitable disaster.

God has left us in this world to make disciples but also to warn the world of God’s coming judgment. People complain and call us unloving when we talk about sin, judgment, and hell; they should understand that the message of warning is a gracious act of God. On the day of judgment no one will escape by saying, “I didn’t know I was guilty before God.” On the contrary; many will have as part of their condemnation the fact that they heard the warning of God’s word and ignored it.

If you are reading this and have not come to faith in Jesus, please listen to the warnings of God’s word and turn to him in faith and repentance now. If you’ve already become a Christian, please don’t avoid talking about God’s justice and the need that everyone has for forgiveness.