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 31, Isaiah 54, 2 Thessalonians 2

Read Numbers 31, Isaiah 54, and 2 Thessalonians 2 today. This devotional is about 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued to discuss end time events in this chapter, telling the Thessalonians (and us) that “the day of the Lord” will not come until the “man of lawlessness” comes first, proclaiming himself to be God (v. 4), displaying great powers that will deceive many people into following him (vv. 9-12). Those who believe him will face God’s judgment because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10).

By contrast, those who trust in Christ do so because we have been set apart by the Holy Spirit and “through belief in the truth” (v. 13). These statements remind us again how important truth is to the Christian life. While faith in Christ is a supernatural gift of God’s grace given to us when we hear the gospel through the new birth, part of that conversion process is a desire to receive the truth. This means receiving the truth about ourselves–that we are sinners deserving God’s punishment and the truth about God–that he is just and will punish sinners but also loving so that he came in the person of Christ to take away our sins.

These truths were the means God used to save us; in addition to these truths, however, God gave us a love for all of his truth. That “love” breaks down our hostility toward believing in the supernatural or in doctrines that we find difficult to accept. Since God has removed our hostility to the truth, then, Paul commands believers to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (v. 15).

Doctrine is important and those who love Jesus love doctrine, too. While there are some disagreements among believers about how to interpret the scriptures in some areas, we should keep looking together at the scriptures and seeking to find the correct interpretation because we are people who love truth.

Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, Proverbs 10:1-16

Read Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, and Proverbs 10:1-16 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

This chapter is more about why God will punish his people for doing wrong than what will happen in the future. One of the many reasons for punishment in this chapter is that God’s people intentionally re-defined morality. They said that good was evil and evil is good. Instead of measuring what is moral by the character of God–the only true righteous standard there is–the people of Judah substituted their own opinions for the genuine will of God. The “woe” pronounced in verse 20 was a statement that God would judge them so they should feel a great sense of angst.

Calling good evil and evil good was not something that only Judah did. In fact, throughout human history people have been trying to substitute our own opinions for the word of God. The same is true today. All kinds of things that God’s word condemns as evil are called “good” by our society. Some examples might be: unmitigated materialism, lying in order to win in politics or business, “open” relationships, same-sex marriage and opposite sex cohabitation without marriage, and many others.

God pronounced a woe on his people here in Isaiah 5 because they had forsaken truth. That’s what the next two phrases in verse 20 say: “…who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” Since God is truth, he is the only true standard for what is true of false, right or wrong. When you reject God and his revelation, you are then left with only your preferences and thought patterns. Since each of us is a sinner, we have a strong tendency to try to rationalize our sins, leaving us with no light but only darkness. God provides us with the light of his truth. If we reject that, the best we can do is to try to redefine truth based on our own preferences. This thrusts us into the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. But, if we humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for his truth, he gives us the light of his wisdom to guide us daily.

It is very easy to point out the ways in which others all evil good and good evil but all scriptural application should start with ourselves. If we rationalize sin in our own lives, we are doing exactly what God pronounces a woe upon in this chapter. Maybe that means “saving money” by not giving to God’s work or using your faithful service in the church as a reason not to attend worship or small group faithfully. Maybe it involves calling gossip a prayer request or a warning to watch out for someone.

Are our lives consistently, even radically, aligned with God’s truth? Or do we re-define or re-interpret truth to relabel our own disobedience?

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and covenant-keeping.
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Matthew 7

Read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Matthew 7 and this devotional which is about Matthew 7, particularly verses 24-27.

As Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, he left us with a memorable image. Two homes were built. One was built on a rock foundation, the other was built on sand.

Both homes were beaten by rough weather.

The one founded on the rock remained; the one with a sandy foundation was not only damaged; it was completely destroyed.

Each house corresponds to a type of person. Both types of people heard the message of Jesus. It was not a question of ignorance versus knowledge. Both had the knowledge they needed.

No, the difference is that one type of person “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.” The other type of person hears the words, too, but never acts in obedience to them.

We need to be continually reminded of this warning because we deceive ourselves into thinking that knowledge is enough. If we know God’s word, we think our lives will be rock solid. Temptations may come, trials may blow, but knowing God’s word will carry us through, right?

Wrong.

We often succumb to temptation or lose our way in trials because we have not obeyed God’s word. Obedience to God’s word is what builds a stable life. Knowledge is important, but not enough.

Is there an area (or more than one) in your life where you are living disobdiently to God’s word? I mean a situation where you know what the right thing to do is but you won’t do it.

And day after day after day you keep choosing to do wrong or, at least, you keep choosing not to do right.

If so, please realize that you are building your life on an inadequate, unstable foundation. When life gets rough, your house will collapse.

Jesus said so.

Be wise and change your mind and your ways today.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 2

Today we’re reading 1 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 2.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time. This was the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was in decline and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians. The difference between them is that Jeremiah prophesied before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and after it fell where as Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell while he was with the other exiles in Babylon (1:1). Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile. Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). God’s people may have rejected his message, but God would not withhold that message from them.

What purpose was served by sending prophets to people who would not listen and repent? The answer is that it removes their excuse and renders them guilty before God (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it. Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can transform a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit. What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes. Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger. The only time we have failed to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 1

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 21-22 and Ezekiel 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul. In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him. What possible reason could have justified David’s lie? It is possible that he was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul but the text gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed. This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul. Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed. Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful.