Deuteronomy 27, Isaiah 54

Today, read Deuteronomy 27 and Isaiah 54.

This devotional is about Isaiah 54:9-10.

God made so many promises to Israel and, though he fulfilled many of them, many others were not fulfilled due to Israel’s unbelief and disobedience. After Jesus came and was rejected by most of Israel, God turned his attention to saving Gentiles. Although some Jewish people find eternal life in Christ by God’s grace, most are locked in unbelief, a judgment of God for rejecting their Messiah.

While God is busy saving Gentiles, does that men he is done with Israel? No. Most of God’s chosen people are unbelievers in this age, but God is not finished with his nation. Instead, this chapter re-affirms God’s plans to regather his people Israel from all over the earth and establish his kingdom among them, in Jerusalem, just as he promised.

Verse 9 of Isaiah 54 told us that, when God re-gathers his people Israel, that he will make a promise to them. This promise is like the one he made to Noah and his descendants (v. 9). Just as he promised never again to destroy the earth with water, he promised his people that, “‘I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” So does God have a future for the nation of Israel? Yes. he will gather them up, give them new life to believe in him, and then never cut them off in anger or judgment again. But verse 10e describes God as “... the Lord, who has compassion on you.” This is why Israel was not permanently cut off or rejected. God is compassionate and patient and gave them many opportunities to turn to him. Someday they will turn to him in faith and all will be right with the world.

Just as Israel struggled with unbelief, we too fail the Lord and need his compassion. God’s faithfulness to Israel and the way he repeated his promises to them should give us hope. None of us lives obediently to the Lord like we should. Sometimes that causes us to receive his discipline but it never causes him to withdraw his promises. If you feel defeated by your own struggles and failures, take hope. We are accepted and forgiven in Christ; therefore, God can say to us, “‘my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

May this promise fill you with peace and hope today.

Deuteronomy 26, Isaiah 53

Today the schedule calls for us to read Deuteronomy 26 and Isaiah 53.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 26 but if you’d rather read about Isaiah 53, one of the greatest passages (poetically and prophetically) in the Old Testament, then you can read my 66in16 devotional about that passage here: https://calvary-bible.org/blog/2016/6/21/deuteronomy-26-psalms-117118-isaiah-53-matthew-1?rq=Isaiah%2053

But, about Deuteronomy 26, yesterday I wrote about Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 and how it teaches us that God’s word has ongoing relevance to every believer in any age, even if if doesn’t directly apply to you. In other words, you don’t have to own oxen to be obedient to Deuteronomy 25:4.

As I mentioned yesterday, Paul saw the command in Deuteronomy 25:4 not to muzzle the ox as a specific instance of a universal truth: people who work should benefit from their labor. Specifically, he argued in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:9 that people who benefit from the ministry of apostles, evangelists, pastors, etc. should provide financial support to those church leaders. Today, in Deuteronomy 26, Moses commanded the people entering the promised land to bring 10% (a tithe, v. 12) of what the land produced and dedicate it to the Lord. This initial tithe was a thank-offering; they were to rehearse Israel’s history from Abraham to the present day when they brought it (vv. 5-10). It was an offering to God because it was called “the sacred portion” in verses 13 and 14. But, although it was an offering to God, it was given for the benefit and blessing of specific people. Namely, it was giving to “the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (v. 13). The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow were people who unable to provide for themselves so they needed to be provided for by others. This tithe was God’s way of doing that.

The Levites, on the other hand, did not have an allotted portion of land like every other tribe. Instead, they were scattered among the towns and villages of all the tribes in order to teach the Law of God to the people. They were allowed to own and farm land, but their primary responsibility was to teach God’s people his word and to minister at the tabernacle (later, the temple) during assigned times. God’s command was that the tithe would provide financial support to these ministers of his word so that they could serve the spiritual lives and needs of his people.

There are no commands to tithe in the New Testament and some believers are convinced that tithing is not for the New Testament age. In principle, I agree. We are not under the law so Moses’s command to tithe does not have the same force as it did for the people of Israel.

However, as we saw yesterday, all of God’s word is written for us even though it was not written to us. God’s work still needs to be financially supported somehow and the New Testament (like the aforementioned 1 Timothy 5:18 & 1 Corinthians 9:9 but also Galatians 6 and other passages) commands believers to give financially for God’s work. The 10% rule is not commanded but God’s people are encouraged to give generously, to store up treasure in heaven. Think about this: do you think that Paul, who was raised in Judaism and taught to give 10% would think that a few hundred bucks, or 1% or 5% or anything less than 10% would qualify as giving “generously?”

So, God’s word does not require anyone in this age to tithe but it does command God’s people to give to provide for the poor and for the work of God’s ministry. Here at Calvary, our membership covenant requires tithing so, if you’re a member, you agreed to tithe to our church even if you don’t think tithing is for today. But beyond all of this, notice what Moses said would happen when God’s people brought a tithe to the Levites and the poor:

  • Verse 11: “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
  • Verse 12: “you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

These passages show the human benefit, the personal blessing that giving to God’s work and to the poor will bring. You will rejoice (v. 11) and so will the recipients (v. 11) because they will “eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

Do you tithe to our church? If not, do you think the Lord is pleased by your decision?

Deuteronomy 25, Isaiah 52

Today’s OT18 readings are Deuteronomy 25 and Isaiah 52.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25:4--kind of, but not really.

Lemme explain....

Deuteronomy 25:4 is a very simple command: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” I don’t know anyone who owns an ox. I’m sure I have some friend or acquaintance or friend of a friend who grows grain but I doubt that person uses an ox. So, on its face, this simple command seems to say nothing to any of us. It might be applicable to the Amish, but if you’re Amish, how and why are you reading this devotional online?

Anyway, this command looks like a dead instruction. It looks like a command that was relevant to God’s people for thousands of years but no longer. So, as people of God today, we can safely ignore it.

Right?

Not so fast. Paul quoted this passage in 1 Corinthians 9:9 and also in 1 Timothy 5:18, but 1 Corinthians 9 is the passage where he says the most about it. Here is his quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4 and a few verses of the surrounding context from 1 Corinthians 9:9-10:

9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.

This is an important passage because of what Paul’s handling of it teaches us about how to use scripture.

  • First, note that Paul ascribed the quote to Moses in verse 9a “...it is written in the Law of Moses....” But in verse 9c he attributed the verse to God when he wrote, “Is it about oxen that God is concerned?” This shows us that Paul and Christians in the New Testament believed that Moses’s law was God’s word.
  • Second, because it is God’s word, it isn’t just about oxen. Paul argued that point in verse 9c-10b: “Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us....” His argument is that a command of scripture like this one that has a very simple, straightforward meaning and application, still has relevance for people who don’t own oxen or grow grain. That brings us to:
  • Third, the command in verse 4 teaches a principle that applies in many different settings that don’t include oxen. That’s what Paul said in the rest of verse 10: “...this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.” His point is that the ox is working so that the harvest will be valuable and that ox has a right to some of the value for his work.

So the command not to muzzle the ox points to a greater principle: “Don’t take all the value created by the work of everyone for yourself; let the workers have their share.” Paul went on to apply that principle to himself in 1 Corinthians 9 and to elders in the church in 1 Timothy 5:18. His takeaway from Deuteronomy 25:4 was, “the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Note that it begins with “the Lord.” In other words, this isn’t just wise advice, like “measure twice, cut once” that you might learn from watching someone cut a board too short. No, for Paul, his application of Deuteronomy 25:4 WAS God’s word and must be obeyed.

I bring this up in this devotional because it is an important lesson for interpreting the Bible and for living the Christian life. None of the Bible was written TO us directly. There is no letter to the Ypsilantians in any copy of scripture I’ve ever owned. But all of the Bible was written FOR us and, as God’s creation and as his children by faith in Christ, what he wrote through Moses thousands of years ago is authoritative, instructive, important, and applicable to us. Our job is to interpret what he said carefully, to discern the larger principle taught in any scripture, then to apply it to our lives and live it.

This is what I’m trying to do in these daily devotionals. I hope it helps you to know God’s word better, live it more consistently, and learn how to interpret and apply it for yourself.

Deuteronomy 24, Isaiah 51

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 24 and Isaiah 51.

This devotional is about Isaiah 51:1-4.

Wanting to live for Christ and doing what is right in God’s eyes can be a lonely way to live. Those around you who do not know Christ will respond to you in various ways. Some people will respect your morals and convictions. Some will despite your morals and convictions. Others might feel that you are judging their (lack of) morals and convictions. But, unless someone shares your faith, they are incapable of glorifying God, even if they live relatively moral lives. So, you stand out as one who is different, and feel it.

Even professing Christians, sometimes, don’t want to be too vocal about what is right and wrong or about identifying with Jesus. So, you may know people who could and should walk with you as you walk with Christ but it feels like they do not. That’s a lonely way to live, too.

So what do you do about this?

Verse 1 was addressed to Israelites who wanted to live according to God’s righteous way. It says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord...” so anyone who wants to follow Christ today can identify with and apply the revelation that follows. And what is that revelation? It is to reflect on the past. Verse 1c through 2b point the godly person in this passage back to the man and woman who started the nation we call Israel.

When Abraham began, he had nothing but God’s promises. As verse 3c put it, “When I called him he was only one man....” Yet, he believed God, was called God’s friend, and did what was right in the sight of the Lord (for the most part). And what was the result? “I blessed him and made him many” (v. 2d). This look at the past was meant to encourage God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem an the Babylonian exile. God promised in verse 3 to return blessings and comforts to his people and their capital city of Jerusalem. Then, through his people, he promised to speak truth and light for all nations (v. 4).

Jerusalem was trashed after the Babylonians were through with it. Anyone who looked at it might say, “This city will never amount to anything again.” Yet God said that he would use the few, lonely people who sought him and pursued his righteousness to be a light for the world. Just as he turned Abraham and Sarah into a great nation, he would use those who follow him to bring about his will.

Do you feel discouraged and alone in your walk with Christ? Maybe there are no other Christians in your workplace or even in your home. Do you feel discouraged and wonder what good it is to follow Christ when you’re by yourself?

Then this passage is for you, because you are not by yourself. You have God. You have his word and his promises. So don’t give up or quit! Keep pursuing God and his righteousness and let him do the growing and multiplying.

Deuteronomy 23, Isaiah 50

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 23 and Isaiah 50.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 23:24-25.

The foundation of capitalism is the right to private property. The Bible affirms that right in the 8th commandment: “Do not steal” (Ex 20:15). So, any possession you have is yours, provided you acquired by righteous means such as building it, buying it, receiving it as a gift, or swapping it for something else of value.

Ownership and value are destroyed by theft so owners and producers of value have good reasons to defend what they own. But there is a difference between defending against theft and being stingy. A stingy person isn’t someone who defends what they have against theft; a stingy person is someone who hordes things for himself.

In this chapter, God specified some ways in which his people were to show generosity to each other. One of those ways was described in verses 24-25. If you’re hungry or just want a snack as you are walking by the vineyard or field of your neighbor, you may take some of what is growing there and enjoy it. That is neighborly generosity, according to God’s law. It is not stealing.

However, if you “put any in a basket” (v. 24c) or “put a sickle to their standing grain” (v. 25c), that is not allowed. That is stealing because in those cases, you would be helping yourself to a large share of their value without doing any work to plant or cultivate the vineyard or field. That violates another family’s private property, diminishes the value of their work and assets, and materially affects their livelihood.

The Lord’s intent here is to teach us to be generous to our neighbors, to share with them in ways that won’t substantially alter the living you make from your work. Maybe in your context, it means lending tools to someone who needs them. You might make your living with those tools but, in most instances, lending those tools to someone for a few hours to a day would be a generous thing to do. Another example, maybe, is helping a friend or another brother or sister in Christ fix or replace something in their home without charging for it, even if that’s how you make your living. This is particularly generous if the person you help is poor. If they call you every time something breaks and don’t want to pay, that is taking advantage of you and is tantamount to stealing. But, in smaller instances where we can help others, God wants us to be generous.

Are you a person who is stingy? Do you love to give and help others in need or are you always counting the cost? Faith in God should lead us toward generosity to others. This is an act of faith because, in generosity, we trust that God will provide for us and bless us when we are kind and generous to others. What opportunity might you have today to bless someone with generosity, meeting a need in their life that will cost you little to nothing but mean so much to them?

Deuteronomy 22, Isaiah 49

Today’s OT18 readings are Deuteronomy 22 and Isaiah 49.

This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands... distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel....” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Deuteronomy 21, Isaiah 48

Today, read Deuteronomy 21 and Isaiah 48.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 21.

Earlier this week I wrote about the death penalty and the very high standards that had to be met before it could be used. Today’s chapter touches again on the death penalty in a couple of different ways:

  • An animal was to be executed as a substitute for the unknown murderer in an unsolved murder according to verses 1-9. The purpose of this law was to uphold the value of human life by making sure that there was some kind of life-for-life exchange if the killer could not be found.
  • A rebellious son could be executed if his parents charged him in the presence of the elders of the town in verses 18-21.
  • Verses 22-23 regulated the public display of someone who was executed. God’s law required burial for anyone who was displayed in this way “because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Let’s consider that last instruction in verses 22-23 today. In each of the death penalty cases we’ve come across so far, God’s word commanded the method by which the death penalty must be... um... executed. In every case that I can remember, God’s law required the method of execution to be stoning. Verse 21 of this very chapter, for example, commands, “...all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Stoning someone to death required binding that person’s hands and feet so that he couldn’t run away. Once bound, the person was thrown into a pit and the witnesses or the elders would throw large rocks at him until he died. Usually the first stone thrown would be a very large rock that would be dropped on the person’s head so that he lost consciousness immediately and possibly would even die from that strike. It is not the most humane way to die, but it was the only way available in their society that multiple people--representing the entire community--could take part together in the execution.

Now, since God’s word prescribed the use of stoning as the method of execution, why did God include these verses about someone who is executed and hung on a pole? This law did not require that the dead body be hung on a pole this way; it only regulated such a pole-hanging if it ever were to occur.

Also, why would the law say, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” but not anyone “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22a) is under God’s curse? In other words, why does the curse apply only to the one executed if he is hung on a pole?

One reason that the Israelites might hang someone on a pole is to publicly display the dead body. The purpose here would be to display God’s curse on the man who was executed and hopefully to deter others who might be tempted to commit the same offense. We don’t know enough about daily life in Israel to know if this was ever used but there is certainly no instance of it in the Old Testament historical books that I can think of.

The New Testament, of course, does provide an example that would fit this description which is our Lord Jesus himself. Although he was not “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22) personally, he came to serve as a substitute for our capital offenses against God. As our substitute, he was cursed by God (Isa 53:4c-d, Gal 3:13 so that we could be blessed with eternal life.

These two simple verses in Moses’s law, verses that may never have been relevant to any situation that Israel ever faced before Jesus’s death, remind us of the blessing of forgiveness we have in Christ. But they also show us how God foreshadowed the atonement of Christ for us in his word, thousands of years before Jesus was even born. This is one of many reasons why we can believe the Bible and know that it is God’s word.

Deuteronomy 20, Isaiah 47

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 20 and Isaiah 47.

This devotional is about Isaiah 47.

There have been many empires in human history. During their days of dominance, most people considered those empires impossible to defeat. In this chapter, Isaiah was inspired to speak against the Babylonian Empire, warning them that they were not as invincible as they believed. Verses 1-3 predicted Babylon’s humiliating defeat. Staring in verse 4, God explained that Babylon’s dominance was part of his plan to discipline Israel for her sins (v. 6). Their God-given domination seemed to them to be an eternal entitlement to rule (vv. 7-8) but God said that they will suddenly fall in defeat without knowing how it happened (vv. 9-11). The chapter ended with God mocking the religious practices of the Babylonians (vv. 12-15) and predicting that these prophets would not even be able to save themselves (v. 14c) much less the whole nation.

This chapter reminds us again that nations are under God’s sovereign authority and control, too. They may desire strength and domination but they cannot achieve either apart from God willing or allowing it to happen. In Babylon’s case, God had decreed that, for his own purposes, God would allow the Babylonians to defeat and exile his people in Judah. They served God’s purpose and, when that purpose had been served, God moved on to other nations to exercise his will, leaving the Babylonians weak and exposed and ultimately defeated by the Persian Empire.

Here in the USA in 2018, we too feel dominant and that our power will continue for as long as American’s can imagine. But what if God has other plans? What will happen to your faith if God moves on from America and allows another country to dominate us? Would you lose your faith in God if Canada, our mighty neighbors to the North, ascended in power and brought us nationally into subjection? What about if Russia or Brazil subjugated us to their rule; would your faith be disturbed then?

God has blessed our nation and I’m thankful for the freedom and benefits we have. Nevertheless, this is not God’s kingdom and someday Christ’s kingdom will defeat and supplant every human nation and power on earth, including ours. That is, unless he allows some other powerful nation to take us down first. If that seems impossible to you read verses 7-11 again. The Babylonians thought they were incapable of defeat and they were... right up until God was finished with them. It is foolish for anyone to trust in human rulers or nations but this especially goes for believers. We belong to King Jesus; any other allegiance we have is far less powerful, important, or meaningful to us. If it isn’t, we are idol worshippers. Check your heart; is it with the Lord and his will or is it set on Americanism?

Deuteronomy 19, Isaiah 46

Read Deuteronomy 19 and Isaiah 46.

This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13). The purpose for this revelation was (1) to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12), (2) to teach those who would read this later during that judgment not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1), and (3) to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness....” This rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong stick because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.” As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e). Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 45

Here are your readings for today: Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

The early part of this chapter prophesied that Cyrus, king of Persia, would return God’s people to their Promised Land (vv. 1-13). This would happen despite Cyrus’s unbelief in God (v. 4e); he would serve as God’s chosen agent anyway (v. 13). This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1 around 539 B.C.

The rest of this chapter, starting around verse 14, looks further into the future. It envisions a day when nations all over the world will come to Israel seeking the true God (vv. 14-17). Although the nations say that God “has been hiding himself” (v. 15a) in Israel, God himself says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness” (v. 19). Instead, he has been revealing himself to humanity from the beginning of time as the one and only God, the only true person deserving of worship (v. 20). The Lord welcomes worshippers from every nation on earth. “Turn to me and be saved,” he said, “all you ends of the earth” (v. 22). Just as he created the earth to be inhabited (v. 18) he wants his kingdom to be inhabited with people from all over the world--and it will be, someday.

But when is this great day when people from different languages, cultures, and locations come streaming to Israel seeking God? Verse 23d-c says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear....” Paul alluded this verse in Philippians 2:10-11 when he wrote, “...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So this prophecy awaits us in the future still when Christ reigns on earth in his kingdom. Until then, we have been given the opportunity and responsibility of going to every nation to tell them that Jesus saves. As we deliver the gospel--ourselves and through missionaries around the world--God is appointing people to eternal life and marking them as his for that day when we will reign with him in his kingdom.

Do you see how important the task of world evangelism is? It is important because every person who comes to Christ has been saved for eternity from God’s wrath. But it is also important in the fulfillment of God’s word which prophesied that God would save people from all over the world, that they would come seeking to know him and become worshippers of his for eternity. This is why we send missionaries. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we witness personally to others about Jesus. When the world comes to bow before Christ and confess that he Lord, all will be right in creation again, finally. And all of this is, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:11, “to the glory of God the Father.”

Deuteronomy 17, Isaiah 44

Today’s OT18 readings are Deuteronomy 17 and Isaiah 44.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 17:2-7.

Do you believe in the death penalty? I do; God established it as the first principle of human government in Genesis 9:6 which says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Prior to this revelation, God dealt directly with human sin; he confronted Cain directly after Cain killed Abel and he send the flood during the days of Noah to punish the world for its wickedness--violence in particular (see Gen 6:11).

So, the death penalty, aka capital punishment, is a biblical method of dispensing justice. But is the way we practice capital punishment here in America biblical? If you think so, perhaps today’s scripture reading will be enlightening to you.

God’s law commanded death for a number of moral infractions. In this chapter it was for idolatry (vv. 2-4) but the conditions for imposing the death penalty spelled out in this chapter would apply in an death penalty case. And what were those conditions? They are simple:

  • There must be two or three witnesses who testify against the accused.
  • Those witnesses must be the first people to use the lethal weapons that would kill the person they accused.

Those are simple conditions but they require a very high standard of proof. Two or more witnesses to any crime would be extremely difficult to find. The judge who listened to the case against someone would question and cross-examine them to be sure that their story was consistent and, therefore, true. Any serious inconsistency would be a reason to acquit the accused. This two or three witness standard is higher than our nation’s “reasonable doubt.” It would be difficult to convict anyone except for the most unapologetic sinner.

Furthermore, those who accuse a person must be “the first in putting that person to death.” If you were called as a witness in such a case, would you think more carefully about your testimony if you had to be the person who threw the switch to the electric chair, or had to push the plunger on a needle administering lethal injection? What if we required the jury that convicted a person to administer the death penalty? What if we made the police officers who investigated and arrested a person be in a firing squad to kill that person when he was convicted? What if he had to be the first to fire?

In our country, people are sentenced to capital punishment often by circumstantial evidence only. DNA evidence and programs like The Innocence Project have demonstrated that some convicts on death row, and others who were already executed, are not guilty. These cases are a serious miscarriage of justice and offensive to God who made us in his image. So, yes, the Bible teaches the death penalty but it was to be used only in the clearest of cases and only after great care has been taken to ensure justice. As citizens, we should expect our lawmakers, law-enforcement officers, and the justice system to follow biblical protections when biblical capital punishment is in play. If you find yourself on a jury in a capital case, remember that God holds you to a greater standard of proof than the legal system does and act accordingly.

Deuteronomy 16, Isaiah 43

Today read Deuteronomy 16 and Isaiah 43.

Today, read Isaiah 43.

In this chapter God calls his people to follow him. He promised his presence with them and urged them not to fear (v. 1). He said that he would preserve them through problems and trials (vv. 2-3). He told them he loved them (v. 4) and reminded them that they were witnesses to the world that he was the true God in opposition to other so-called gods (vv. 9-13).

Despite all of this grace, God bemoaned the fact that his people did not worship him (vv. 22-24). Instead of “burdening” God with worship, God told his people that, “you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses” (v. 24). All of this demonstrates how deep our depravity is. God pours grace after grace, promise after promise on us; instead of smothering God with praise, thanks, and worship, we prefer idols and weigh the Lord down with our sins.

Thankfully, verse 25 reminds us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This is the most immediately important promise for us in this life. Despite the weight and enormity of our sins, God graciously forgives them all. And why does he do this? Because of his love? Yes, but in the immediate context he told us that forgiveness is granted “for my own sake.” It is part of the immutable nature of God to be compassionate and forgiving. When God forgives us, he doesn’t demonstrate weakness; he shows us the enormous strength of his character.

What is the worst sin you’ve ever forgiven someone for? What about the worst sin that God has ever forgiven for you? Does God’s forgiveness open your heart to him in thanks and worship?

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship--their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them--while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you...” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more--a good thing--but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That might not be bad advice but to me it justified doing nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people like my wife are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

Deuteronomy 13-14, Isaiah 41

Today’s scheduled readings are Deuteronomy 13-14 and Isaiah 41.

This devotional is about Isaiah 41.

Verse 1 speaks to “you islands” and verse 5 also makes reference to “the islands.” Commentators say that the islands are a way of speaking about all the nations on the whole earth. If the islands are doing something against God, the argument goes, then the larger, more populous countries must have an equal antagonism against God, or worse. So this chapter challenges all the nations and people of the earth to a direct confrontation with God. As verse 1b put it, “Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.”

So how do the gods of the rest of the nations on earth fare against Israel’s God? Not well; according to verses 2-4, God has easily defeated the nations and their kings and, in verse 5, they fear God as a result.

Still, people don’t want to give up their false gods so instead of repenting, they redouble their efforts and try to psych each other up. In verse 6 they tell each other to “be strong” and in verse 7 the craftsmen who make idols encourage each other. Just to be on the safe side, they nail down their idol “so it will not topple” (v. 7e). Israel, on the other hand, has a special covenant with God (vv. 8-9) and, therefore, should not fear (v. 10). Their enemies will be defeated (vv. 11-12) because “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” This contest between the gods of every nation--including the islands--and God is no contest at all.

Although we are not Israel, we’ve been graced with Israel’s God as our God through adoption. The nations of earth are still every bit as hostile to God; their gods are still every bit as weak, too. Though the tides of politics and culture may have turned against us, God commands us not to fear. He is greater than all other gods; his plans cannot be foiled or defeated. So don’t let the hostility of unbelievers or of the world’s system in general scare you or wear you down. Trust in the Lord; lean completely on him. He will defeat his enemies and ours; we have nothing to fear.

Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Today, read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31). But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “...rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?

Deuteronomy 11, Isaiah 39

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

This devotional touches on both Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

In Isaiah 39 a delegation from Babylon came to visit Hezekiah. Their mission was was peaceful and was designed to create goodwill between the two nations (v. 1). Hezekiah was eager (probably too eager) to welcome them and he showed them all of the material blessings God had given him (v. 2) making reconnoissance easy for the Babylonians who would soon become Judah’s enemy. God used the occasion of their visit to send a message through Isaiah prophesying of the coming Babylonian captivity (vv. 6-7). Hezekiah was untroubled by the prophecy because it would be fulfilled after his death. As verse 8 said, “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” His viewpoint was self-centered and short-term in its focus. Instead of being concerned about Judah receiving the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel for many generations, Hezekiah only cared to know that there would be tranquility during his kingdom and lifetime.

Contrast Hezekiah’s attitude with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 11. While Moses was certainly concerned with the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the current generation (vv. 8-18), he also urged the current generation to pass on what they had seen and learned about God to the next generation (vv. 2, 5, 19-21). All of us who love the Lord here in the church age should think this way, too; unfortunately, many Christians do not and some of the common problems churches experience are the result of short-term thinking like Hezekiah’s. The more mature you are in Christ, the more you should care about the salvation and spiritual growth of young people. Of course the church should minister to every age group, but it should focus most on ministry to families. When you are a kid, a teen, a young adult, and a parent with children, the church should be optimized to to minister to you. As your children become adults, they should, by God’s grace, be moving more and more toward leadership and service in the church. Then, the older you get, the more your growth in Christ and personal maturity should point you toward reaching and discipling the next generation.

Often, though, there becomes inter-generational conflict in the church. This is where some of the “worship wars” come from but also the inability of the church to prune ministries that once were effective but are now no longer serving a good spiritual purpose. A church can easily be born, grow strong, and then decline (or eve die) in a 20 year span because it only ministers to one generation. People in that generation are content, even complacent, that the church offers “peace and security in my lifetime” (Is 39:8b) and so, like Hezekiah, they are unconcerned about what will come after them.

When you think about our church, are you looking to see if young people coming through our youth group stick around and get involved as young adults? Does it give you joy to see those young adults marry, have children, and raise them in our church? Are you praying that some of them will become elders in the days ahead? Are you looking to be involved in some of our ministries to children or young adults so that you can pass on what you’ve learned in your walk with God to others who haven’t seen what you’ve seen?

Deuteronomy 10, Isaiah 38

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 10 and Isaiah 38.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 10.

Moses’s history lesson ended here in Deuteronomy 10:11. The rest of the book will focus on teaching God’s laws again to this new generation and urging them to follow the Lord in faith and obedience.

To that end, Moses began with an exhortation to God’s people to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (vv. 12-13). Note that in verse 13 Moses said it was “for your own good” to fear, obey, and serve the Lord. Then in verses 14-22, he gave God’s people some reasons to follow God. These are all reasons based on God’s grace--grace that they had already received. Those reasons to follow the Lord are:

  • God’s electing love (vv. 14-19).
  • God’s miraculous power which he used on Israel’s behalf (vv. 20-21).
  • God’s preservation of Israel and how he prospered them with population growth despite being slaves in Egypt (v. 22).

As part of his discussion of God’s electing love in verses 14-19, Moses explained that despite God’s awesome greatness (v. 17), he is just and kind to those who are weak, specifically widows and foreigners (v. 18). Following God’s example, then, Israel was “to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Although few if any of us were literally foreigners like the Israelites were, it is also true that most of us were not very remarkable when God’s grace came to us in salvation. God was merciful and chose us even though we were ordinary or average at best. God’s compassionate nature toward the weak and exploitable as detailed in this passage should cause us to look out for and show compassion for the weak and exploitable people around us. We have some ministries in our church, such as our benevolence offering which we receive on communion Sundays or our food pantry, where you can help people in need. But God wants us to develop an awareness of others around us who have these kinds of needs. Some needy people are obvious but many fit into the background of our lives, overshadowed by our own needs, problems, and concerns. Let’s ask God to give us a greater perception of people who need help or someone to champion them in their plight. Then, as we see them, let’s do what we can to help. This is one way in which we emulate the grace and mercy of God our Father.

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises--his covenant love--for these people: v. 26b: “...your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed...”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us. Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?

Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 8.

I have heard people who are encountering difficult times in their lives refer to that difficult period of time as “wandering in the wilderness.” That phrase is a metaphor drawn from Israel’s 40 years of literally wandering in the wilderness. Moses talked about that here in Deuteronomy 8. In verses 2-3, he described the reasons for that wilderness wandering. Those reasons were:

  • to humble the Israelites (v. 2b)
  • to test the Israelites in order to reveal whether or not they would keep God’s commands from the heart (v. 2c).
  • to teach the Israelites to rely on God (v. 3d).

If we think of times in our lives as wilderness wanderings, do we think about these purposes? Many times when we suffer we think that our suffering is has no purpose or we have a vague sense that our faith is being tested. These verses would challenge us to think more deeply about these problems. While this passage was not given to say that every problem or trial in life is like this, God’s ways do follow similar patterns. So it is appropriate, when we are suffering, to think about God’s reasons for bringing this suffering into our lives along the lines described in verses 2-3--to humble us, to test us, and to teach us.

Let’s focus on that third one, “to teach us.” Verse 3d tells us that God wanted to teach a very specific lesson which was that “man does not live on bread alone but on eery word that comes from the mouth of God.” This phrase relates to God’s miraculous gift of manna (v. 3b). The point of the lesson was that God would provide for his people if they trusted him and obeyed his word, even if they didn’t know how he would provide. I am sure that it is hard to trust God when you have a credible fear of starving. With no food or access to the usual sources of food, a person may be tempted to curse God, to jettison faith, or to conclude that God does not exist. God and Moses wanted people to know that they needed to trust God to stay alive more than they needed everyday sources of food.

Israel wandered and suffered in the desert. Jesus also suffered in the desert. His suffering lasted 40 days rather than 40 years but he countered Satan’s first temptation by quoting this passage, Deuteronomy 8:3d. He knew well that it was more important to trust God the Father than it was to provide for his daily needs by any means necessary. When he refused to sin by turning stones into bread, he was depending on the promise that God the Father would provide for him if he trusted and obeyed God’s word.

Have you experienced a trial in your life that taught you to trust God and the promises of his word? If so, then you’ve seen him provide for you, not the miracle provision of manna but in some way showing himself faithful after you obeyed his word.

When we are tempted to sin, we need this message just as Jesus used this message when he was tempted to sin. Giving in to temptation might meet a need, relieve a problem, or satisfy a desire, but it is the opposite of trusting God. If you face temptation today, remember this--God has allowed this into your life to teach you to trust him. If you will trust him, he will provide for you just as he provided manna for Israel and angels to meet Jesus’s needs.

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148

Here are today’s readings: Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah encouraged his reader to encourage others who belonged to God but were old and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths, that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10) were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers in their camps. These truths could be used to give spiritual strength and stability to believers (v. 3).

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” and, when he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people. Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.