2 Chronicles 34, Psalms 148-150

Read 2 Chronicles 34 and Psalms 148-150 today. This devotional is about Psalm 149.

I don’t get too excited when someone does what he or she has agreed to do. When I go to a store that carries an item I need and the item is there for me to buy, I don’t jump for joy all the way to the cash register. Of course they have it; why wouldn’t they? It bothers me when they run out of something I usually buy there, but it doesn’t thrill me when they have what I expect them to have. When someone meets our expectations, we may be thankful but we’re not especially impressed.

All of us have consistently failed to meet God’s expectations. The very best of us morally is far below what God created us to be morally and expects us to be. God in his grace redeemed us from the fall, but that doesn’t make our fallenness irrelevant or acceptable. If God were like us, he would not be impressed when we do what is right; he’d think, “That’s what you’re supposed to do; too bad you’ve failed me so many other times, though.”

Yet, that is not how God is. Psalm 149:4 says, “For the Lord takes delight in his people….” That’s a pretty astounding statement. Despite all the ways in which the people of God, either Israel or us, have failed him, yet God still looks on us with delight.

That delight is, of course, because of the perfect merits of Christ that he applied to us by faith. This is alluded to in verse 4b: “…he crowns the humble with victory.” It is our humility, expressed in repentance and faith, that causes God to delight in us. If you’re in Christ, do you believe that God delights in you? Do you understand that he is not frustrated or angry when you sin; that sin has been paid in full by Christ. And, God isn’t like an emotionally detached father who says, “Impress me;” Instead, he tells looks on us with delight, not because of who we are or what we’ve done but because Christ, his beloved one, did everything that was necessary to give God that delight.

Don’t live today under the burden or weight of guilt; understand that, because of Christ’s perfect life and his sacrifice, God is delighted with you. Your progress in becoming holy may be slow and frustrating to us at times, but nothing can separate you from God’s love and delight. Let this truth fuel you today as you live for him.

2 Chronicles 26 and Psalms 144-147

Read 2 Chronicles 26 and Psalms 144-147 today. This devotional is about Psalm 144.

Psalm 144 is a wartime Psalm. In verse 5 David wrote, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down.” This is not a reference to the coming of Christ because verses 5b-6 say, “touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot your arrows and rout them.” The visitation David wanted from God was not the incarnation of Christ but the direct military defeat of Israel’s immediate enemies.

Still, Israel’s enemies were God’s enemies because of the covenants God had made with Abraham, Moses, and David. Asking God to defeat Israel’s foes was in keeping with the promises he made to his people.

So was asking for God’s deliverance as David did in verses 7-8: “Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful.” Ultimately, Christ will return and defeat all of God’s enemies, so the requests in this song will finally be realized when Christ’s kingdom is finally established.

Jesus’s birth was the beginning of that kingdom; it was an invitation to believe that he was the promised king and that faith in him would cause someone to be included in that kingdom. So, just as David said in verse 9, “I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,” so we can rejoice and sing today that Christ will deliver us from this present evil age, will judge his enemies with justice, and will bless us with eternal life in his kingdom.

On Christmas day we remember the inauguration of these promises and we give thanks for God’s grace which extended these promises to us in Christ. We are his people, now, so as verse 15 put it, “Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.”

2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143

Read 2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143 today. This devotional is about Psalm 141.

In this song, David calls for God’s help again (v. 1), looking to Him to deliver him from his enemies (vv. 8-10). Although there were immediate threats that occupied his attention, they did not keep David from being concerned about his own moral development. In verses 3-5 he asked God to help him in a few specific ways:

  • First, he asked God to guard his mouth in verse 3. That was a request for God to help him learn to choose his words wisely and righteously.
  • In verse 4 he asked for help guarding his heart. This was a request for God to purify his mind and his desires so that he wanted to do what was right rather than longing for pleasures offered by sin.
  • Finally, in verse 5 David resolved to receive correction from other people well. He regarded a rebuke from another righteous man to be “a kindness,” a blessing like “oil on my head.”

When you pray, do you pray for yourself to grow spiritually? Do you think about the areas where you struggle with temptation and ask for God’s help in those areas?

Growing in grace requires obedience to God’s commands but we need God’s power to desire and to do those commands. It is our job to say no to sin and quit practicing it but only God’s grace will make us want to quit sinning and desire to do what is right.

We have the power of God through the new nature he gave us and the Holy Spirit within us but we also have God’s help available to us through prayer to assist us in developing a godly life. This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he said, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Even when we need God to work in our lives outside, it is important to remember to ask him to help us with our struggles within. Take time to pray now asking God to help you grow in obedience. Think about where your struggles are as a Christian and pray for God to help you.

2 Chronicles 8 and Psalms 136-139

Read 2 Chronicles 8 and Psalms 136-139. This devotional is about Psalm 139.

This song is a very personal meditation by David. It is personal in the sense that David considers how deeply personal God’s knowledge of him is. Plenty of people in the world believe in God but the “god” they believe in is impersonal, detached, abstract. They believe in a free-floating spirit, or a concept like karma, or a deistic deity who may have started the world but is more or less uninterested in humanity. And, to the extent that their god is interested in humanity, it is the powerful or the abundantly evil, they think, that he cares about.

There is also in our day a differing view of God, one that is hyper-personal. This view believes that God exists to serve me; he is the divine butler that brings about my every wish, my every intention, if I just reach out and ask him for stuff.

Both of these visions of God are completely distorted. Yes, God is transcendent, powerful, spiritual but he is also personal. David sang about God’s personal traits when he described in verses 1-6 that God has “searched… and known” him (v. 1). Verses 2-4 detailed this knowledge that God has of David. It includes David’s physical movements (v. 2a), his thoughts (v. 2b), his habits (v. 3), and his word (v. 4). Not only does God know all of this but his presence is always as close as a person who can touch you is (v. 5).

In verse 6, David was overwhelmed emotionally with how perfectly God knew him and kept tabs on him. In verses 7-12 David detailed how impossible it was to escape God, even if he wanted to do so. Not even the darkest night or the blackest cave could veil David’s being from being known perfectly and personally by God. That’s because, according to verses 13-16, God created him and thus knew him when he was invisible to everyone in his mother’s womb. Again David was submerged in wonder as he considered how carefully God watches and thinks about him.

Although David was a key figure in the history of God’s people, there is nothing that is sung in this Psalm that is unique to him. There are over 7 billion people on earth right now and billions more who lived and died before now, yet God knows them all as intimately as he knew David. God is close enough to all of us to be touched if it were possible for a human to touch the living God (Acts 17:27-28).

This song ends with David asking God to act on what he knows about all people. First, he wished that God would rid the earth of the wicked (vv. 19-20), affirming that he personally hated the Lord’s enemies (v. 21). And yet he understands that he himself is not perfect before God, so he asks God to search his heart, test his faith, purge the wickedness from within him, and continue to lead him in righteousness by faith (vv. 23-24).

This is a fitting prayer for everyone who understands the holiness of God, his personal knowledge of us, and our own depravity. We don’t even understand the depth of our desire for wickedness, so it takes tremendous courage and faith to ask God to root the evil ways out of us.

God’s methods for making us holy are not delicate and delightful. Becoming like God is painful; it requires being honest with God and ourselves, seeking and finding true repentance, and pleading for the grace of God in our lives. But, when God has completed his work, we will be satisfied with the transformation he has accomplished in us and he will be glorified.

1 Chronicles 29, Psalms 133-135

Read 1 Chronicles 29 and Psalms 133-135. This devotional is about Psalm 134.

When I was a very young adult, I took on a second job to pay off some credit card debt. I worked as a night auditor at a hotel on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The work was easy and the hotel was usually pretty quiet but the hours were tough. I started work at 11 p.m. and my shift finished at 7 a.m. That was after a week of working full-time in another job and going to seminary. I was young but it was pretty hard on my body; fortunately, after about 10 months I had paid off the credit card debt and was offered a different job that paid better than my full-time job, so I was able to leave the overnight shift.

The song here in Psalm 134 is for the guys who worked the night shift in God’s temple. Leviticus 6:9c says, “The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Three times in that paragraph (vv. 9, 12, 13) the Lord said some variation of, “the fire must be kept burning continuously” and twice he said, “it must not go out” (vv. 12, 13). Someone needed to tend to the fire, then, and this song addressed those priests. It calls on them to “praise the Lord” (v. 1a, 2) and reminded them that they were “servants of the Lord.”

The night shift is unpleasant. You work all night then try to sleep during the day but I could usually only sleep for four or five hours, no matter how tired I was. I also had a low-grade headache while I was awake which made it even harder to concentrate than just sleep deprivation did. The priests who worked that night shift might not have been in much of a mood to praise the Lord. This little song was something they could sing to remind them that they were serving the Lord as they tended to the fire overnight. It called on them to ignore their circumstances and focus on the greatness of God and to praise him because of his greatness.

Do your circumstances make you grumpy? Do you feel like complaining rather than praising the Lord? Remember that we are his servants as we go about our lives and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord. So remind yourself of this passage when you don’t feel like praying or praising God; learn a song that you can sing to yourself to refocus your mind on God’s greatness and praise him accordingly.

1 Chronicles 9-10, Zechariah 5, Psalms 127-129

Read 1 Chronicles 9-10, Zechariah 5, and Psalms 127-129 today. This devotional is about Psalm 127.

Human beings are builders. We build houses, cities, gardens but also families, companies, and teams. There is something very satisfying about having an idea, formulating it into a plan, then step-by-step putting that plan into action until it is finished. Once it is finished, the thing you built needs to be protected from thieves, vandals, and natural disasters.

Solomon knew a lot about building; he built Jerusalem into a world-class city from the simple fortress town it had been when David ruled over Israel. Yet, as the wisest man who ever lived, he reflected on all his projects and realized something profound: If God is not behind your project, it will not succeed (v. 1a). If he isn’t defending it, all the elite guards in the world won’t be able to protect what is so important to you (v. 1b).

In verse 2 Solomon moved from general notions about building a home and defending a city to a more personal application to us all. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat….” People work themselves to death trying to achieve their dreams or trying to avoid being a failure; but Solomon claims that it is useless—“vain”—to spend so much time and effort on the projects in our lives. The reason he says this is in the last line of verse 2: “for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

The Hebrew in this verse is not 100% clear, so it could be translated, “…for while they sleep he provides for those he loves” as the NIV’s footnote says. I think that is probably what Solomon was saying because verse 3a says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord….” Verse 2’s “he provides for those he loves while they sleep” is a euphemism for the conception of children with your spouse.

People work so hard building a career, building wealth, building a company, creating whatever; then they go home and create what really matters—children—between the sheets. It is not hard work; it is a gift from God—both the intimacy that creates children and the children that result from that intimacy. Solomon says they are God’s “reward” for those whom he loves (v. 3).

Verses 4-5 explain that one of the benefits of your children is that they will defend you when you are old and others try to take advantage of you. Your wealth may diminish over time, your athletic achievements will be forgotten, you will someday retire from your stellar career, the hobbies that take so much of your time will someday bore you to tears. It will be your children that matter to you when you look back on your life; they will care for you when you get older. The implication, then, is: put your energy and effort there. You know God thinks children are important (v. 3), so why not build into their lives while you work on your other projects? God will bless you if you do.

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?