Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today. This devotional is about Psalms 75.

Psalm 75-76 sing praises to God for his sovereign justice.

As his chosen people, Israel praised God for his favor to them (75:1). In verses 2-10 the Psalmist explains that God’s justice happens in his time (v. 2) and that those he judges are powerless to avoid the judgment he brings (vv. 3-8). In the middle of Psalm 75, the Psalmist sings, “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (vv. 6-7). We think that military might or political success are matters of human strength and ingenuity; this Psalm mocks our foolish assumptions and tells us that God sovereignly and precisely rules over the affairs of humanity:

  • No one can become powerful unless God allows them to become powerful (vv. 6-7).
  • No one can hold on to power if God determines to take it away (vv. 3-5).

While obedience to God should cause us to do all we can to bring righteousness and justice in our world, God has his own plans and those plans sometimes involve exalting the wicked so that his will can be done. But justice will be executed in God’s time.

Given all this, does it make sense to worry so much about who who occupies the oval office, controls the House of Representative, or has a majority on the Supreme Court?

Yes, we want righteous leaders who will make righteous laws and enforce them justly, so we should vote biblically and conscientiously.

But what if God allows unrighteous, unjust, unscrupulous, and unethical leadership to be elected because of his own purpose? When that happens, can you join the Psalmist in singing, “As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob, who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up’” (vv. 9-10)?

Can we trust God—and praise him—even when we don’t understand why he allows troubling things to happen? Can we wait for him to do justice according to his will in the time that he chooses?

Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 65, Psalms 66-68

Today read Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 65, and Psalms 66-68. This devotional is about Psalm 66.

Psalm 66 opens in verses 1-7 by calling us to worship God based on what he has done. The command to do this worshipping is “all the earth” (v. 1) including every created person and thing.

The content of our worship is focused on what God has done. As verse 3 put it: “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’”

But what are those “deeds”? Some of them are described in the verses that follow. Namely,

  • God’s miraculous works in the past for his people (v. 6)
  • His present sovereign administration over the nations of humanity (v. 7).

But then the focus turns in verses 8-12 to reminding us of the Lord’s discipline. While we don’t usually think of God’s discipline as gracious, it is gracious because God uses discipline to refine us morally in holiness and purge out sins from our lives (v. 10).

In verses 13-15 the Psalmist stated his resolve to keep the vows he has made to worship the Lord in his temple. These vows were made when the Lord’s discipline was on him for, according to verse 14b they were made “… when I was in trouble.”

The Psalmist then testified to the grace of God in verses 16-20. Having promised his worship and obedience to God when he was under discipline, the Psalmist calls for all who “fear God” (v. 16a) to listen to the Psalmist’s story of how the Lord heard his prayer and rescued him when he repented (vv. 17-18).

Have you recently or currently experienced the painful consequences of sin in your life? Has it ever occurred to you that this may be God’s loving discipline, preventing you from wasting your life in disobedience and calling you to turn to him in repentance?

When we come before the Lord, turning from our sins and bringing him the worship he desires and deserves, we will find joy again in our worship (v. 20). Follow the example of the Psalmist and turn to God in repentance so that you can experience the joy of praising him.

Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Matthew 24

Read Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Matthew 24 today. This devotional is about Esther 9-10.

There are good, godly men who don’t believe that God cares about Israel as a nation any longer. They believe that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The Jews that exist today, then, are just like any other race of people on earth. There are some who are elect and will trust Christ by faith to become part of the church just as in every other nation. But, to those who believe that the church has replaced Israel, there is nothing special about national Israel.

I do not believe that.

I believe that God’s covenant with Abraham remains and that there are promises he made to Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. Those promises will be fulfilled by Christ and, when they are, Christians and Jewish believers will be united as one people of God in eternity.

There are several reasons I believe this but one is that Jewish people still exist with their ethnic identity in tact. Throughout human history, there have ben repeated efforts to extinguish their existence. You are aware of Hitler’s attempts to destroy the Jews and that they have enemies today who want to wipe them out as well.

But these modern enemies are only the latest in a long line of threats to the Jewish race. Here in Esther, we’ve been reading about how Haman wanted to eradicate the Jews from the earth. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, he placed Mordecai and Esther in Xerxes’s palace to thwart Haman’s genocidal intentions.

What’s so interesting about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned at all, not once in any form.

Esther became queen through immorality (chapter 2) and neither she nor Mordecai are portrayed as believers in YHWH or adherents to Judaism as a faith.

The closest reference we see in the book of Esther to God or faith in him is when Esther asked the Jews in Susa to “fast for me” and said “I and my attendants will fast as you do” (Esther 4:15-16). That’s it! She doesn’t even mention prayer with this fasting; just the fasting.

It may be true (it likely is, actually) that Esther and Mordecai were believers. But the author of Esther does not say so or detail for us what their walk with God was like. The purpose of this book is not to laud these two people for their faith, but to show how God was faithful to his covenant regardless of whether any of the Jews were faithful to him.

The book of Esther also shows us how God works through his divine sovereignty. There is not one miracle described in the book nor is there any divine revelation to help out the main characters. In the book of Esther, people acted rationally, with intention and in fear, at times, without any divine intervention or even any overt acknowledgement on God.

And yet, God still worked in their everyday lives to save his people from being extinguished. God may not be mentioned directly in the book of Esther, but his faithfulness to his covenant and his care for his people is demonstrated on every page.

Israel today lives in unbelief. There are Jews, of course, who have embraced Christ as Messiah and become Christians like we are. But the nation we call Israel was politically created and is one of the most progressive (in the moral sense; in other words, “liberal”) nations on earth.

Yet just as God protected and cared for his people in Esther, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, he is preserving his people and watching over them. There will come a day when they will turn to Christ in faith (see Romans 11 and most of the book of Revelation).

Jews who die before that day will perish in hell just like any other person who does not submit to Christ in faith. But God is faithful and will make good on his promises to Abraham, David, and others.

For us, the immediate lesson of Esther for our faith is to trust God. Things around us may look good at times; at other times, they may look bleak. God has ways of accomplishing his will even through unbelievers and he will do it. So hope and trust in him, not in people, governments, programs, or anything else.

Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, Psalms 4-5

Today read Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalms 4-5. This devotional is about Psalm 5.

In Psalm 5, David cried out to the Lord for help and waited “expectantly” for the Lord to answer (vv. 1-3). His reason for expecting the Lord to answer his prayer was God’s righteousness (vv. 4-6). He is displeased with wickedness (v. 4a), does not welcome evil people (v. 4b), won’t let the arrogant stand (v. 5a), hates all who do wrong (v. 5b), destroys liars (v. 6a), and detests the bloodthirsty and deceitful (v. 6b). In just a few verses there David cast a very wide net, ruling out answers to prayer for all kinds of sinners.

Of course, David was a sinner himself. So how could he be so confident that God would answer his prayers while refusing everyone else? The answer is in verse 6: “But I, by your great love, can come into your house.” Very simply, God had graciously chosen him. Because God chose to love David, David could come before the Lord in prayer and in worship.

God’s electing love was not restricted to David. It is the sole reason you want to know God. As you prepare to gather for worship and the Lord’s supper this morning, remember this. It is not your perfect performance of righteousness that causes God to hear your prayers, welcome your worship, or receive you at his table. In reality, you and I are as guilty before the Lord as any of the sinners David mentioned in verses 4-6. But, because of God’s great love, we are forgiven in Christ, welcomed in Him, and loved. Let this grace of God encourage you and prepare you to worship as we gather this morning before the Lord.

2 Chronicles 10, Zephaniah 2

Today’s readings from the Old Testament are from 2 Chronicles 10 and Zephaniah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 10.

We’ve read before about the foolish decision of Rehoboam to treat God’s people harshly rather than lighten the burden that Solomon put on them. What is interesting in this passage is the statement, “this turn of events was from God” (v. 15b). That phrase indicates that God willed that Rehoboam would “not listen to the people” (v. 15a). In other words, although Rehoboam made the choice, using his “free” will to make a foolish decision, his foolish decision was part of God’s foreordained will.

The reason God willed this was described in the next phrase of verse 15, “, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” That phrase reminds us that, while Solomon was still alive, God handed down judgment on him because of his idolatry. The judgment God handed down on him was a divided kingdom which was prophesied to Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s officials. You can read about all of this in 1 Kings 11-12.

So God ordained Rehoboam’s response in order to make his prophecy to Jeroboam come true. But how is that foreordination consistent with the idea of Rehoboam’s free will? Did Rehoboam really have a choice? If not, how could he be held accountable for the choice God made for him?

The answer to that question is that Rehoboam did have a choice and he made a choice to follow his sinful nature. The advice of his friends to be a difficult dictator (vv. 8-11) appealed to his pride and greed. He chose the decision he made because he was a sinner. His choice was consistent with his sinful nature.

God’s role in this was simply to allow him to do what he wanted to do. God could have been gracious to Rehoboam. He could have softened the king’s heart to listen to the wisdom of Solomon’s advisors (vv. 6-7) but, as the Sovereign Lord “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11), God let Rehoboam decide and act according to his sin nature. That decision accomplished the plan of God to divide the nation. It meant that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled by the free choice of King Rehoboam.

Free will does not mean “free” in the absolute sense. I can choose to try to flap my arms and fly like a bird but my choice to try that did not change my nature. I don’t have the capacity to carry out the choice. Free will, then, means that I am free to choose according to my nature. As sinners, we choose what is selfish and wrong and destructive because of our sin nature. The choice was ours, it was freely made, so we are accountable for it.

What happens when we make good choices is that God is gracious to us. He brings wisdom or circumstances that change our thinking and he softens our hearts to receive that wisdom. The choice is still freely made but it is because of God’s grace.

So God’s sovereignty does not violate free will. Instead, God–according to his plan and purpose–either lets us choose according to our nature or he enlightens us by grace so that we make a better choice. This is how God accomplishes his will while still letting us exercise our wills. It is also why we are held accountable for the choices we make even though they were foreordained by God. Rehoboam did what he wanted; God just stood back and let him do it so that his sovereign plan would be accomplished.

The point for us is to ask for God’s grace to make good, wise, godly choices in life. Don’t let me do what I want to do, Lord! Instead, give me the grace to do what is right in your sight. This is the prayer of a godly person who wants to use God’s gift of free will in a godly way.

1 Kings 17, Ezekiel 47

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are 1 Kings 17 and Ezekiel 47.

Yesterday in 1 Kings 16 we saw that Ahab was sold out to evil like no king Israel ever had before (1 Ki 16:30). Based on that description of Ahab, we might expect that Ahab’s reign in Israel was a dark time for the Northern Kingdom spiritually and morally. Our expectation is correct; the Northern Kingdom was always far from God both spiritually and morally. It was born in rebellion to God’s Davidic king, worshipped idols from the very beginning of its separation from Judah, and was led by 20 kings who all did evil in the sight of God. In response to Israel’s sinful ways—particularly the evil leadership of king Ahab, God sent his prophet Elijah to proclaim judgment on Israel. Verse 1 told us that Elijah’s message was, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” This drought would naturally lead to famine which would ravage Israel’s farm-based economy and cause many people to suffer and die.

What’s interesting about today’s passage is that the focus is not on the devastation God brought on Israel, but on the provision God brought to his servant Elijah. At a time when food and water were scarce, Elijah just had to hang out near a water source and God miraculously brought him food carried by ravens (vv. 2-6). Then, when the drought caused the brook he depended on for water to dry up, God sent him to a person who could take care of him. But she was a very unlikely caretaker. Instead of sending him to a godly man of wealthy means, God sent him to a widow. This widow lived outside the land of Israel; verse 9 told us that he was sent to “Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” This town was located near the Mediterranean Sea and was a good distance north of the most northern tribes of Israel. Widows, typically, struggled to survive themselves, having no husband to work and provide for the family in an age and economy where everyone in the family had to work hard for the family merely to survive. God told Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (v. 9b) which suggests that she knew Elijah was coming beforehand. Yet when he arrived and asked her for food, she said, “As surely as the Lord your God lives… I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (v. 12). Not exactly an ancient version of Costco, was she? Yet Elijah believed the Lord’s word; he comforted her by telling her not to be afraid (v. 13a) but to do trust the Lord’s provision by making food for Elijah first, then for herself and her son (v. 13b-c). This command was based on God’s promise in verse 14: “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” Amazingly, she believed the Lord’s promise and God provided for her, her son, AND Elijah day after day after day (vv. 15-16).

Then, as if her daily test of faith were not enough, it was tested again when her son died (vv. 17-19). She reacted as anyone would in this kind of tragedy. Why would God keep her son alive day after day from starvation only to see him die prematurely from illness? But God listened to Elijah’s prayer and restored his life (vv. 20-23). The purpose of these miracles was to authenticate the message of Elijah: “Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’” The point of this story was to show how God provided for those who trusted in him, even in a dark time spiritually for the nation of Israel. His provision required constant faith, but he never failed to live up to his promise. And, like he did with Elijah, God calls us to trust him and live according to his word and his promises even when times look bleak spiritually and economically.

Every time we elect a new president here in the United States, the side that loses believes that the end is near. Let’s consider that: What if someday we elect the most ungodly person to ever occupy the oval office, someone determined to stamp out biblical Christianity? Can God provide for us if we are ruled and even persecuted by unsaved and ungodly people? Of course he can but we have to look to him in faith. Think about the possible anxiety Elijah might have faced. What if the ravens don’t show up with any food today? What if this is the day that the widow’s flour and oil run out? Each day was a test of faith for these people, but God was faithful. May we have the grace to trust him no matter what kind of trial of faith we face in the days ahead.

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Today’s OT18 daily readings are Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will–even when it is bitter–and follow him obediently.