2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, Psalms 124-126

Read 2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, and Psalms 124-126 today. This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.”

Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done. Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever.

Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring.

This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.” But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears.

God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are exceptional events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else?

Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore?

This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it.

Even if you’re crying while you do the work (v. 5), the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort!

So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

2 Kings 16, Nahum 2, Psalms 120-123

Read 2 Kings 16, Nahum 2, and Psalms 120-123 today. This devotional is about Psalm 123.

The songwriter of this song felt belittled. Verses 3b-4 say, “…we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” The problem he experienced, as described here, was less serious than many others addressed in the Psalms. Nobody was out to kill the songwriter the way that Saul and others tried to kill David. No army was attacking. This psalm appears to have been written before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. So the situation that gave rise to this song is unclear, but probably not life-threatening.

But it appears to have been more than just a personal issue between two Hebrew men. Whoever the “proud” and “arrogant” of verse 4 were, they were likely unbelieving Gentiles who were taunting and terrorizing many of God’s people.

The response of the songwriter was to look to God: “I lift up my eyes to you…,” he wrote in verse 1. In verse 2 he compared looking to God with how slaves look to their masters. This probably refers to the provision of food and other needs that masters provided to their slaves. Slaves were in a state of complete dependence on their masters. This is how the Psalmist thought of his and other Jewish people’s relationship to God–absolute dependence. The songwriter was not planning to attack his opponents with fists or swords or even words. Instead, he looked to the Lord for “mercy” (v. 2d, 3a). His reaction to the problem behind this Psalm, then, was a Godward reaction. It drove him to his knees in utter dependence on God; it caused him to plead with God for help.

This Psalm is a “song of ascents” as you saw in the superscription. That means it was one of a collection of Psalms the men would sing three times a year as they made their way from their homes to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory times of worship. I imagine that this Psalm had a slow, somber melody. The men singing it were leaving behind their homes and possessions to venture to Jerusalem. Given the presence of hostile people around them, who would protect their home and possessions while they were gone? The answer is the Lord himself, the one they were traveling to worship. The people looked to him for help and were completely dependent on his help since they would be unable to do anything to protect their stuff while they were gone. Looking to the Lord, though, provided them with a measure of hope and comfort. Surely God would keep his promises faithfully and watch over them and their families and possessions.

As our nation becomes more secular, attacks against our faith are becoming more frequent and more direct. Maybe there are people in your life–at work or in your family or neighborhood–who are taunting you because of your faith. Maybe they treat you with contempt, ridiculing you for your faith in God and devotion to Christ. Maybe there is little you can do about it; you can’t move, can’t change jobs, can’t disown your faith.

What you can do is look to the Lord in humble dependence. You can pray every day and every time you feel belittled, persecuted, or threatened. Do that, and may the Lord give you strength until he shows mercy on you and deals with the threats you face in answer to your prayers.

1 Kings 9, Hosea 12, Psalm 119:1-40

Read 1 Kings 9, Hosea 12, and Psalm 119:1-40 today. This devotional is about Psalm 119:1-40.

People have a hard time with rules—even ones they agree with—because rules are incapable of changing human desires. Our hearts long for the freedom to do what we want; we are deceived and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can sin without consequences. We tend to see God’s laws, then, not as lights to illumine our choices so that we know right from wrong, truth from error, or wisdom from folly; rather, we perceive God’s laws as fences that would seek to restrict our freedom to run.

The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 had come to think just the opposite way about God’s law. In verse 32 he wrote, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.”

This lengthy Psalm is an acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. The subject of this poem is God’s law; someone once called it a “love letter to God’s law,” and that is a good description.

Nobody in our culture writes 26 poetic verses—one for each letter of our alphabet—extolling the virtues of federal law but some inspired Psalmist did.

Why?

What made the difference between the vast number of Israelites who worshipped idols and disregarded God’s laws and its promised blessings?

The answer is a changed heart. The Psalmist who wrote these lines had experienced the new birth we call salvation. He had received regeneration—the gift of spiritual life to someone who is spiritually dead. One result of that regeneration was a changed attitude toward God’s word. Instead of experiencing God’s commands as fences that restrict freedom, the believer now sees God’s laws as a flat, smooth footpath that provides moral and spiritual guidance. He can “run in the path of your commands” like a child runs across the backyard—free, happy, and secure.

He could do that because “you have broadened my understanding” (v. 32b; see also verse 45). This is what God’s grace does; it teaches us to understand that God’s word is a blessing to be treasured, loved, and most importantly obeyed. A believer receives and obeys God’s word with joy because it frees him from the bondage of sin and its consequences.

It also holds out the promise that, if the believer does what God says to do, there will be rewards. Those rewards may be in eternity rather than this life, but they are guaranteed because God promised them.

That’s faith—obey first to experience blessings later.

This is not to say that the Psalmist never struggled with the sin nature any more. In verse 29, he begged the Lord to “keep my from deceitful ways.” In verses 36-37 he asked the Lord to turn his heart and his eyes away from sin and toward God’s word.

Your struggles with obedience are proof that God has not completed his work of salvation. Salvation is a fact if you’re in Christ; it is certain because it is based on God’s promises but it won’t be completed until we are with Christ. Until then, we need God’s word to guide us and we need to continually ask the Lord to give us the desire to obey his word as he changes us within by its power.

Some of you have been reading God’s word more faithfully than you ever have before this year. Keep showing up each day to read with me; much truth still awaits. But let’s be sure to do what the word tells us to do so that we can grow in our faith and be liberated to follow the Lord.

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 42, Psalms 108-110

Read 2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 42, and Psalms 108-110. This devotional is about Psalm 110.

This is a brief Psalm with mighty implications. It began with a superscript that says, “Of David. A psalm.” That could mean, “about David,” “by David,” or “for David” but it must mean “by David” for two reasons:

  1. The same wording, of David, in Hebrew is used before other Psalms, like Psalm 3: “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.” The clear meaning is that David wrote Psalm 3 and, therefore, he wrote Psalm 110 as well.
  2. Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1 in Matthew 22:43-45 and clearly specified David as the author: “He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says, ‘”The LORD said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'” If then David calls him “Lord,” how can he be his son?'”

This is important because of what Psalm 110:1 says which is, “YHWH (translated “the LORD”) said unto my lord.” If someone else, not David, wrote Psalm 110, then the meaning is, “YHWY said unto my Lord, David….”

But, since David wrote Psalm 110, who is his “lord”? Who was David writing about when he wrote, “YHWH said to my lord”?

Jesus explained that the Psalm should be read this way: “YHWH said unto David’s lord….” But who is lord over King David except for God himself?

That question suggests the important answer. Although the doctrine that we call the Trinity had not been revealed yet, David recognized that there was a coming king–Messiah–who would be distinct from YHWH in some sense but yet would still be Lord over David.

This Psalm describes Jesus in his current state: sitting at God the Father’s right hand until YHWH makes his “enemies a footstool for” his “feet” (v. 1).

At that point, YHWH will “extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies!'” (v. 2). Christ will “crush kings on the day of his wrath” (v. 5b), and “will judge nations” (v. 6a).

These are God’s promises to David’s greatest son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is already serving as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (v. 4, Hebrews 5:6, 10, 6:20, etc.). At the time of God the Father’s choosing, Christ will become the human king on earth over all the earth. This is when the kingdom age–what we call the Millennium and beyond–will be fully established.

Until then, Christ has called us to be citizens of his kingdom by grace. When we proclaim the gospel, we are calling people out of their sins, yes, but also out from under serving the kings of this world to pledge allegiance to Jesus, the coming king.

As we worship together this morning, think about these things. Over 1000 years before Christ, David was writing about him and about events that are still future to us. He did this “by the Spirit” (Matt 22:43).

God’s word has revealed what God is doing in the world (v. 1) and what he will do when the time comes (vv. 2-7). This is what we are waiting for. Are we living like were waiting for it?

1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, Psalms 105-107

Read 1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, and Psalms 105-107. This devotional is about Psalm 107.

This song begins by inviting us to “give thanks to the Lord” for his goodness and his eternal love and devotion to his people (v. 1). Verse 2 sets the theme for the rest of the song which is, “Who should give thanks to the Lord?” The answer is “the redeemed of the Lord” (v. 2). Verse 2 encourages anyone who has been saved by God to “tell their story” (v. 2a). Then the author gets into specifics:

In verses 4-9, the homeless who cried out to the Lord and received his provision should “ give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind…” (v. 8).

Verses 10-16 describes those who lost everything due to the consequences of their own sin (v. 11). When they cried out to the Lord for help “and he saved them from their distress” (v. 13), then they should give thanks to him for his love.

Verses 17-22 talk about those who became ill to the point of death “through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities” (v. 17). Like the others, “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave” (vv. 19-20). As a result, they should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (v. 21).

Verses 23-32 is about those who do risky work. These sailors saw God’s immense power revealed in nature (vv. 24-26) and were nearly obliterated by it but when they called out to God, he rescued them (vv. 28-30). They, too, should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

Verses 33-42 talk more generally about the acts of God for people. He provided prosperity for people (vv. 33-38) and brought recession and need into their lives (vv. 39-40) but ultimately he blessed those who needed him (v. 41). Verse 43 concludes by urging the wise to think about the loving works of God.

Everyone who knows God has seen him work in some way. It might be large and dramatic or it might be simple. It is easy to internalize these blessings or even to forget about them. This song urges us to go public and give praise to the Lord when he answers our prayers and rescues us from problems. So, what has God done in your life? Where has he met you when you were in a tough spot, had a deep need, feared for your life, or were trapped by the consequences of your own sin or foolish behavior?

1 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 28, Psalms 102-104

Read 1 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 28, Psalms 102-104. This devotional is about Psalm 102.

The superscript to this Psalm, “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord,” describes verses 1-11 very well. The person who penned this prayer cried out for the Lord’s help (vv. 1-2), then described what his current life felt like in verses 3-11. In verse 10 the phrase, “because of your great wrath,” coupled with verse 16 seems to indicate that the songwriter was writing in response to the Babylonian captivity. He is distressed, then, because God’s judgment has fallen on Judah. Although it was a national event, it affected the Psalmist in a deeply personal way. He was emotionally devastated when he considered his circumstances.

In verse 12, however, he turned his prayer from describing his circumstances to describing God. Despite what had happened, he was confident that God was still ruling the universe securely from his throne (vv. 12, 15) and that he would be merciful and restore the nation (vv. 13-20). Someday, God would be glorified in the land among his people again (vv. 21-22).

The beginning of that restoration was 70 years away, however, and would probably be outside the remaining lifetime of this writer. What hope, then, could he have?

Verse 23-28 answer that question. The Psalmist would not live to see the promises he wrote about in verses 13-22 but he still had hope. His hope was in eternity. Verse 26 told us that this world would come to an end but that would not be the end of God’s people. In verse 28 he wrote,

“The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.” – Psalm 102:28

Given that those words came after the Psalmist described the end of heaven and earth, it seems clear that he is describing eternity with God.

Life in this world can be disappointing, even devastating, but this is not the only reality that exist. When we hope in God and believe his promises by faith, we can be confident that a perfect future awaits us in eternity. Let this hope encourage you today no matter what you’re dealing with now or what may happen today. God is still ruling and when this age is over, we will live eternally in his presence.

Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, Psalms 93-95

Read Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, and Psalms 93-95 today. This devotional is about Psalm 93.

Why should God’s word be trusted? Why do we build our faith and our lives on ancient documents, especially since we have a much better understanding of the world and of human psychology than the ancient men who wrote these books?

The answer, simply, is that it is God’s word. Because it is God’s word, then we DON’T have a better understanding of anything than the ultimate writer of scripture, God himself, did or does.

In this brief song, the Psalmist began by describing God’s glory (v. 1), his eternality (v. 2), and the fact that his power is greater than the seas (vv. 3-4). All of these were mentioned to lead up to verse 5a: “Your statutes, Lord, stand firm….” The point, then, is if God is more majestic than anything we’ve ever seen, existing from all eternity, and mightier than anything we’ll ever experience in his creation, shouldn’t we depend on his word? Doesn’t everything we experience in creation call us to trust the word of our Creator? Haven’t we seen enough to know that obedience to his word will bring stability to our lives?

Let this song fill you with hope and strength and courage for whatever you’re facing today. If you live according to God’s word, your life is grounded on a firm foundation.