Judges 20, Ezekiel 9, Acts 2

Read Judges 20, Ezekiel 9, and Acts 2 today. This devotional is about Judges 20.

At the end of yesterday’s reading in Judges 19, each tribe in Israel received a piece of the dead body of a woman. Someone got her severed head, another received her right hand, and so on. Gross.

The people were naturally aghast at such a ghastly thing, so in today’s reading from Judges 20, they responded. Nothing unifies a nation like a dismembered body, I guess, so in verse 1 we read that “all Israel… came together as one… in Mizpah.”

One phrase that I omitted from that quotation was “before the Lord,” which describes a seriousness about the situation and a rare understanding from Israel’s leaders that their decisions were just a spiritually important as they were civilly. The first part of chapter 20 is an investigation. The people of Israel asked the man with the complaint, the woman’s “husband” to describe his grievance (v. 3). The tribe of Benjamin were aware of the ongoing trial, probably because they, too, had received one of the woman’s body parts. After listening to the man’s description of events in verses 4-6 and hearing the man call for a decision (v. 7), the leaders decide to prepare for a civil war on the entire tribe of Benjamin (vv. 8-11). While they prepared, they also sent messengers “throughout the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 12), asking the tribe of Benjamin to do justice and hand over the culprits who sinned against the Levite and his concubine.

There are perplexing aspects to this story. The most difficult one for me is why the Israelites suffered two defeats to the Benjaminites. The defeats happened despite the fact that Israel’s cause was just and they had submitted to the Lord’s will the decision to attack in both cases (vv. 17-18, 23). Maybe the Lord wanted to humble the Israelites and increase their sense of dependence on him (see vv. 26-28). I wish the Lord had given us more insight on this.

What I do know is that Benjamin paid a heavy price for refusing to deal justly with the men who brutally treated one of their sister Israelites. If they had handled the Levite’s case justly, this loss of life could have been completely avoided. If they had simply handed over, when confronted by Israel, the perpetrators (v. 12), they could have avoided this civil war. Their stubbornness, their loyalty to blood over the just application of God’s law, caused much greater turmoil for the whole nation than was necessary.

And then I think about how easy it is for us for us to excuse or defend our own sin or the sins of those we like and how hard it is for us to do the right thing when we are confronted and given the opportunity to turn and do the right thing. Although the consequences, thankfully, of our sins are not this sweeping and brutal, a passage like this reminds us how damaging sin and defensiveness about it, can be. If we think about this in terms of our own lives, hopefully we can be wise by learning from this brutal story.

Joshua 24, Jeremiah 46, Romans 8

Read Joshua 24, Jeremiah 46, and Romans 8 today. This devotional is about Romans 8.

In the previous chapters of Romans, we were taught much about the Law and its relationship to humanity. In chapter 7, we learned that God’s Law is great and holy; our problems with it are not with IT but with ourselves: “…the Law is spiritual but I am unspiritual….” Paul wrote of himself that he was, “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14) and his self-description applies to us as well.

As Christians, we are torn by our mental and spiritual desires to obey God’s law (7:21-22, 25b) and our sin nature which rebels against God’s holy commands and makes us subject to death (7:16-20, 25c).

What is the remedy for this spiritual dilemma?

Romans 8:1: “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are “in Christ Jesus” therefore the condemnation of the law has been removed from us. That removal took place through the atonement of Christ for our sins (vv. 2-3). The result of his atonement is that you are not guilty before God because God has credited to you the righteous life Jesus lived (his “active obedience”) and the atoning death Christ died (his “passive obedience”). Verse 3b-4 says that in these words, “And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Did you notice that phrase, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us….” If you are in Christ, you’ve kept the law fully. The law has no beef with you because Christ has fulfilled it all on your behalf. He’s met every standard spelled out there and paid every penalty for your failures (and mine).

Many Christians live with a feeling of defeat. We beat ourselves up for our sin struggles and our failures. If that’s you, please take heart today. If you’re in Christ, it’s all good. Jesus has done all that you will ever need to cancel the law’s condemnation over your life and to declare you perfect in the sight of God. “Therefore,  there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” so stop condemning yourself and live in the freedom of complete forgiveness!

Deuteronomy 15, Jeremiah 7, 1 Corinthians 11

Read Deuteronomy 15, Jeremiah 7, 1 Corinthians 11. This devotional is about Jeremiah 7.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 7:19b: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?”

The people of Judah had it made in the days of Jeremiah. They had divine protection from God because God’s dwelling place on earth, the magnificent temple built by Solomon, was in their capital city of Jerusalem. Nothing could ever touch them because God would Protect This House. After Israel, their blood brothers and neighbors to the North, were defeated by the Assyrians, the people of Judah did not fear. When the Babylonians came along and started whipping other nations, Jerusalem was unafraid. If they ever did feel concern, they would just point to that huge building on the horizon and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (v. 4). Reminding themselves and each other that they had the Lord’s temple made them feel secure about their lives. They could sin all they wanted (vv. 9-10) because the Lord would protect his temple (v. 10).

Yes, the people of Judah had it made!

Or, that’s what they thought, at least. Prophets like Jeremiah came along to tell them that things were far worse than they thought (v. 13). “I have been watching! declares the Lord” in verse 11c. Look at what I did to Shiloh, the first place where my house lived (v. 12), God said. You may have the temple, but you’re no better off than the Northern Kingdom of Israel was (vv. 14-15). So shut up already about the temple of the Lord (v. 8); instead, change your ways if you want to stay (vv. 5-7).

God was displeased by many sins in Judah (vv. 6, 9) with idol worship being #1 on his list of grievances (v. 9b, 18). Yes, he was angry (v. 20) but his people did not realize something truly important: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” (v. 19b). Sin angers God but, being all-powerful and everything, it doesn’t really hurt him in the sense of diminishing his power or glory. It does diminish us, however. It cuts us off from the blessings he promised for obedience and puts us under the curses he promised for sin. Sin provides us with temporary pleasure but it leaves permanent damage behind.

Jesus has rescued us from the eternal damage of sin by taking God’s wrath on himself. However, he does not give us a license to keep sinning without consequence. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” rhymes (conceptually, at least) with “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” but anyone who thinks, I can sin and be safe because, Jesus! does not understand what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.

What damage has sin caused in your life, even as a believer? What seeds of sin or sin habits are you sowing that will someday harvest real problems in your life? Are you saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as an excuse to keep sinning? Will you receive God’s grace in this rebuke and change your mind and your life by the power of the Spirit?

Deuteronomy 13-14, Jeremiah 6, Psalms 69-71

Read Deuteronomy 13-14, Jeremiah 6, Psalms 69-71 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 6:15: “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush….”

There are two kinds of shame–internal and external. That is, there are times you feel ashamed and there are times that others try to shame you. (They might even use the words “shame on you,” though it has been a long time since I’ve heard someone say that).

Anyway, external shame is about judging others. When someone tries to shame others, that person is using emotional and psychological pressure to get people to stay in line or get back in line. This kind of shame is rampant in our culture. Political correctness is external shame; so is “body shaming” someone who is considered unattractive because of weight or body shape or whatever. When it comes to morality, external shame can be appropriate. Shame on the person who takes another person’s life in murder or who kidnaps a child or who rapes or molests someone else. If these and other wicked behaviors are not considered shameful, human society is in big trouble. But there is a lot of inappropriate–even wicked–external shaming in our world; this devotional, however is not about external shame.

No, Jeremiah 6:15 is about internal shame. It is about the feelings of guilt that sinners should feel for disobedience to God’s holy commands. When Jeremiah prophesied, God’s people did not feel this sense of shame about their sins. Instead, they had “no shame at all.” Their idolatry, violence, dishonesty, greed, etc. did not make them feel bad.

Nor did they try to hide these sins from others; the praise, “they do not even know how to blush…” in verse 15 suggests that the sins God’s people were committing were known to others; those guilty of those sins were not embarrassed at all that others knew they had sinned in these ways.

Judging others and shaming them externally is often wrong; feeling shame internally, however, is a good thing. It is not valued in our world, but it is a good thing nonetheless. It is good because it shows that someone has a sensitive conscience. Someone who fears God and his word will feel shame when they sin. That shame can be the beginning of a better future because it can cause someone to repent and to cry out to God for mercy and grace. When someone is unashamed of his or her sin, however, that person can’t even see the need for God’s grace and mercy because they don’t feel the alarm bells going off to tell them that they are guilty before a holy God.

So who sins in these ways and does not feel internal shame? The answer is someone who has sinned that way so many times that they have dulled the voice of conscience. Like a callous on your hand that has become numb to friction or pain, we can weaken our conscience through repeated, unrepentant sin to the point that our sins no longer bother us.

Jesus is the only true solution to internal shame. We can numb ourselves to shame but only Jesus can take it away. He does so when we believe that he has died for our sins, standing in as our substitute to receive the wrath that we deserve from God for our wickedness.

What are you ashamed of? Will you keep burying it until you are desensitized completely to it or will you confess it and claim the forgiveness God will give you in Christ?

What aren’t you ashamed of that you should be? Will you ask God not only for forgiveness but to make your conscience sensitive to sin again?—

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, 1 Corinthians 6

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, and 1 Corinthians 6 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no.

They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty but to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. To see his creation slaughtered in this way was not a delight to God; it should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered his people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

The condemnation in these verses, of course, applied to unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means.

In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK.

It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants. Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Numbers 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1

Read Numbers 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11:

“So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away”

Isaiah 59:9-11

Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do.

Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God….” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and, therefore, we are separated from him (vv. 2-3).

Cut off from the Creator, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19).

Read those words; they are so gracious and hopeful:

“From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. And then God will save his people along with us: ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord.’”

Isaiah 59:19-20

This is another promise, another prophecy among the many we’ve read in Isaiah that Jesus will reign as king. When that happens, we will then live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord” (v. 21).

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

Numbers 15, Isaiah 39, Galatians 6

Read Numbers 15, Isaiah 39, and Galatians 6 today. This devotional is about Numbers 15:37-41.

In these final verses of Numbers 15, God commanded the people of Israel to sew tassels to the corners of their garments. HIs command was for the people do this, “Throughout the generations to come.” This part of the command reminds the people of God that this is not a temporary, situational command but a lasting marker for the people of God.

But these tassels were not ornamental like the little rivets on your jeans are. Numbers 15:39-40 describes the purpose of these tassels: “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.”

These tassels, in other words, were there to remind Israel not to sin particularly in the realm of sexual sins. At the very point of removing their garments, the tassels should have reminded them of God’s commands and that their covenants in marriage were made before God. It was one last emergency break before two of God’s people committed immorality. I wonder how many sins were stopped and marriages were saved by this simple reminder?

Of course, if someone doesn’t care about God, or really wants to sin, or has never read in God’s law what the purpose of those tassels was, the tassels will do no good. Rules and regulations can be safeguards to those who desire holiness and obedience but tassels are mere hassles to us when we decide to sin.

And we all sin in some way. Maybe we’ve never taken off our clothes to commit adultery, but there isn’t one of us who hasn’t ignored the voice of our conscience, a clear command of scripture, or some other safeguard that could have kept us from sinning.

Thankfully, God is merciful to those who call on him in faith seeking forgiveness. If this devotional reminds you of a specific sin you’ve committed, now is the time to change your mind. Seek God’s forgiveness and then seek to return to obedience to the Lord. It may require some painful conversations to make amends but God promises his mercy to those who confess and forsake their sins.