Gods-word

Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and 45

Today’s OT18 readings are Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and Jeremiah 45.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 36 & 45.

Many years ago, I was writing an academic paper that I was supposed to discuss at a conference of scholars on preaching. I was more than 70% finished with the paper when the hard drive on my computer died. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how disheartening it is to lose all your work and have to start over.

Fortunately, I had backed up my hard drive the night before so I didn’t actually lose all my work; I only lost one day’s work on the paper, the pages I had written the day the hard drive died. It was frustrating and created some stress because the deadline was approaching, but it wasn’t as disheartening as starting over from scratch would be.

Here in Jeremiah 36, Jeremiah dictated a sermon to be delivered at the temple (vv. 1-4). Then, because Jeremiah was no longer allowed in the temple, he sent Baruch, the man who wrote down the message Jeremiah dictated, to read the scroll aloud in the temple (vv. 5-8). This message started a season of repentance in Judah (vv. 9-10). Then, some of Judah’s government officials were told about the message and they wanted to Baruch to read it to them (vv. 11-18). Finally, these government officials decided that the king needed to hear these words (vv. 20-21). Baruch and Jeremiah were told to hide so the king, Jehoiakim, had one of his guys read the scroll (v. 22). He was not nearly as impressed (v. 24) by the Lord’s words as the others were; instead, he cut off pieces of the scroll as it was read and burned Jeremiah’s entire message one piece at a time (v. 23). Like having a hard drive crash or having your forthcoming book manuscript burned up in a house fire, Jeremiah had to do the work of dictating the message all over again (vv. 27-30).

Few people would have the audacity to cut pages out of God’s word and burn them. This is doubly true for Christians; most of us don’t even know what to do with our warn our Bibles because we would never throw them in the trash can.

But, when we ignore sections of God’s word or reinterpret parts of it that are distasteful to us, we are doing something similar to what Jehoiakim did when he burned Jeremiah’s scroll. We are reading a heavily-edited copy of the Word, but the editing is done in our minds or in our choices of what to read rather than in real life. This is one reason, by the way, that I do verse-by-verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book expository preaching. Preaching the next passage in the Bible prevents me from ignoring the harder passages to interpret or avoiding the passages that might be painful or controversial.

Reading through the Old Testament like this also helps us to get exposure to all of God’s Word, not just the parts that we find comforting. But we can still do our own editing of God’s word by applying and obeying some parts of it while living in disobedience to other parts.

Are there any areas in your life where you are ignoring or avoiding God’s word?

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.

Leviticus 6, Proverbs 21, Psalm 93

Today’s readings are Leviticus 6, Proverbs 21, and Psalm 93.

This devotional is about Psalm 93.

Why should God’s word be trusted? Why do build our faith and our lives on ancient documents, especially since we have a much better understanding of the world and of human psychology than the ancient men who wrote these books?

The answer, simply, is that it is God’s word. Because it is God’s word, then we DON’T have a better understanding of anything than the ultimate writer of scripture, God himself, did or does. In this brief song, the Psalmist begins by describing God’s glory (v. 1), his eternality (v. 2), his power being greater than the seas (vv. 3-4). All these were mentioned to lead up to verse 5a: “Your statutes, Lord, stand firm....” The point, then, is if God is more majestic than anything we’ve ever seen, existing from all eternity, and mightier than anything we’ll ever experience in his creation, shouldn’t we depend on his word? Doesn’t everything we experience in creation call us to trust the word of our Creator? Haven’t we seen enough to know that obedience to his word will bring stability to our lives?

Let this song fill you with hope and strength and courage for whatever you’re facing today. If you live according to God’s word, your life is grounded on a firm foundation.

Psalms 111-113

Today you can prepare for our worship service by reading Psalms 111-113.

At times we can look at God’s word as a burden. It is filled with commands and obligations and we are called to obey it all. The scripture warns of great judgement for those who refuse to obey God’s word and, even when we find forgiveness in Christ for our disobedience to God, we often still suffer sorrowful affects of our sin. These things can make God’s word feel heavy to us and cause us to be fearful whenever we open the scripture.

What we need to remember, though, is that God’s commands are not burdensome. They are not tedious, meaningless regulations like sitting at stoplight when there is absolutely no traffic coming from any direction but you have to sit there because it is the law. That’s not what God’s commands are like. In fact, according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us. They are given to us to make us happy, not burden us.

Verse 6 of Psalm 111 says, “all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” This is something to be happy about because they give us something solid on which we can build our lives. One of the scariest things about life is the uncertainty of it. There is no guarantee that the plans you make in life will succeed. There is no certainty that the market will want your product. Even if people want it today, something better might come along tomorrow. Even though you may feel completely healthy, things can change.

If our plans, our jobs, our health, and many other things are uncertain, then how can we ever really feel joy and contentment? The answer is by building our lives on what is certain rather than hoping in things that are very uncertain. What is certain are God’s precepts--his commands and teachings. Verse 8 says, “They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” You might lose everything, but if your life is built on God’s commands, they will uphold you when everything else falls apart.

Without Christ we cannot build our lives on God’s faithful commands because each of us has an unfaithful heart that leads us astray. But, in Christ we have a new heart that desires to obey God’s word and the Holy Spirit who leads us to walk in his ways. These are great blessings to God’s people for, as verse 10 says, “all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” It is only when God turns on the lights in our hearts through regeneration that we understand how wise it is to follow God’s commands in obedience. But when we obey God and experience a stable life because of his commands, we can’t take credit. Verse 10 ends the Psalm by saying, “To him belongs eternal praise.” This is why I wrote earlier that, “according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us.” It is God’s word that gives us insight on which we can build a stable life so all glory and praise go to him for his revelation and the blessed life that results from being built on it. This is something to praise God for as we gather to worship him today.

Luke 16

Today we’re scheduled to read Luke 16.

Except for verses 16-18, today’s chapter is all about money:

  • Verses 1-12 are about how the shrewd manager used his master’s wealth to secure his future after he was fired. The point of this story is that we should use whatever money comes our way for eternity (v. 9).
  • Verse 13 gave us Jesus’ most famous saying about money: You can’t serve two masters. The two masters Jesus had in mind are God and money.
  • Verses 14-15 addressed the Pharisees’ hypocrisy of showing love for God on the outside while inwardly loving money.

Then we learned about a rich man, unnamed, and a poor man named Lazarus (vv. 19-31). As rich people do, the rich man lived a comfortable life; conversely, Lazarus the poor man lived a painful, uncomfortable life. Despite his disadvantaged financial standing and the difficulties that poverty created for him, he trusted in God. When death came to both men, their previous situations were reversed. The wealthy man was in torment in hell (vv. 23-24) while Lazarus was in eternal bliss (vv. 23b, 25b). Unable to be blessed in any way while in hell, the unnamed rich man pleaded for Lazarus to be sent back to warn his family (vv. 27-38). At this point, some interesting thoughts emerge:

  1. The rich man knew Lazarus by name. Verse 20 told us that Lazarus was laid “at his gate.” These two facts suggest that the rich man talked to Lazarus at some point or at the very least had his servants find out about Lazarus. Yet, according to verse 21, the rich man gave Lazarus nothing, not even his leftovers. So the rich man had interacted with Lazarus but day after day ignored his horrible poverty.

  2. The rich man’s family knew Lazarus, too. That’s not stated but it is implied by the phrase, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” If the rich man’s family was unaware of who Lazarus was, they would have been unaware of his death and, therefore, unmoved by his resurrection from the dead. So they, like their brother it seems, had personal contact with Lazarus and yet did nothing to help him.

This gives us some insight into the selfish nature of the wealthy family portrayed in this story. Not only did they receive “good things” (v. 25) in their lifetime, they were stingy with what they had. Once in hell, however, the rich man became aware of how foolish his comfortable life really was. Unable to be saved or to save himself, the rich man called for a miracle to save his family.

The word of Abraham to this rich man in hell explains so much about our faith. Verse 31 said simply, "‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Why did so many people see the miracles of Jesus yet reject him as Messiah? Because unbelief is not about evidence; it is the outgrowth of our darkened sinful hearts. Why do so many people today believe that Jesus did miracles and rise from the dead? Because God’s word has supernatural power. It is not solid logic, or great evidence, or even supernatural displays of power that create faith. It is God who creates faith and he does so with his word. As Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

What do you need to be effective in evangelism? God’s word. That’s it. Be faithful in sharing God’s word when you can and ask God to use it to make faith in others.

1 Chronicles 13–14, James 1, Amos 8, Luke 3

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Chronicles 13–14, James 1, Amos 8, Luke 3. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Amos 8.

What happened when God withdrew his blessing from people and brought the covenant curses he promised in Deuteronomy for their disobedience? Lots of things happened--defeat in war, drought & famine, and ultimately, exile. Our passage today highlights a lesser known but far worse consequence of God’s judgment: the loss of his word. Verses 11-12 say, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.’” Although God was speaking to Daniel and Ezekiel during the exile, they were in Babylon, not in Israel or Judah. The temple in Judah was destroyed so there was no reading God’s written word there and no priests to teach it and discuss it. 

The Bible indicates that this is how God typically responds when his word is neglected, disobeyed, and rejected. In a passage we’ll come to in my messages on Luke, Luke 8:18 says, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” When we respond to God’s truth obediently, we get more truth. When we don’t respond well to God’s truth, we get less. This is, perhaps, why it is easier than ever to find a church--maybe even a very large church--in America, but harder to find one that teaches God’s word. We have become familiar, complacent even, with God and his word but as a generation, it seems, there is less concern for personal holiness, less hunger for truth. The warnings of Amos and Jesus remind us to realize how precious God’s word is and to treat it preciously by desiring it, learning, growing and obeying it.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

2 Kings 16, Titus 2, Hosea 9, Psalms 126–128

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 16, Titus 2, Hosea 9, Psalms 126–128. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Hosea 9.

Israel had a unique relationship to the Lord. God chose Abraham and made an unconditional covenant with him. All of God’s promises are based on that covenant; many of Israel’s laws, particularly those that have to do with worship practices, are based on that covenant. The penalties, likewise, are based on that covenant. We need to remember these things and deal carefully whenever we are interpreting and applying passages from the Old Testament to ourselves. Our nation is not Israel or a new Israel; the church is not the same as Israel either.

Yet there are many commands, promises, and warnings in the Old Testament that can be applied to us indirectly if we handle the scriptures carefully. God’s nature is unchanging, so his moral laws are always the same and, as creator, are always binding on humanity. Human nature, likewise, is unchanged from the days of the Old Testament. 

Verse 7 of today’s reading in Hosea 9 provides us with a good example of the interpretation issues I described in the previous paragraphs. The verse begins by saying, “The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this” (v. 7a). Because the United State is not Israel, we cannot and should not apply this to our nation the way that Hosea applied it to his nation. God’s promise of punishment was for military invasion and defeat for the nation of Israel but defeat and exile are not promised to America for our sins. The principle embodied in this passage is still true—punishment is coming, but not necessarily to us as a nation in a military or political sense. In the end times God will punish every individual and every nation for sin, so the principle in Hosea 9:7a is true and applicable to humanity today but not the specific warning.

The second part of the verse is more immediately relatable to us: “Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired person a maniac.” In any culture where God’s word was once reverenced but is now ignored or ridiculed, it is the result of sin and hostility toward God. People may have a more secular mindset in general, deny historical facts that are biblical, despise the moral commands of the Bible, or laugh at the miracles in scripture but the greater the sin and unbelief, the stronger the negative reaction one will have to the commands of God’s word. 

The cure for this is not to emphasize the points where some unbeliever might agree with the Bible or show how wise advice from the Bible makes for better living. The cure is more of God’s word; that’s what God gave Hosea despite the fact that prophets were considered “fools” and “maniacs” in Hosea’s day. Although sinners try hard to suppress the truth of God’s word, God’s word is like a hammer that breaks hard hearts and fire that melts them down (Jer 23:29). 

The same is true for us believers. Although our faith in Christ inclines us to receive and believe God’s word, our sin nature at times may cause us to react to some of God’s commands as crazy. In those moments we need to immerse ourselves deeper in scripture, not sit in skepticism toward it. May God give us the grace to receive his word obediently ourselves, hold it out unflinchingly to the world around us, and find some who will believe it and obey it for eternal life just as we have.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 23, Psalms 112–113, Isaiah 50, Revelation 20

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 23, Psalms 112–113, Isaiah 50, Revelation 20. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Isaiah 50.

Picture a man who went hiking in the woods and somewhere along the way, lost his keys when they fell out of his pocket. The sun went down and he was left out in the woods groping around in the darkness to find his keys so he could go home. Poor guy, right?

But what if he had a flashlight with fresh batteries in the backpack on his back? How …um… bright could he be if he had the light—and knew it—but was too lazy or stubborn to take it out and use it?

So is everyone who knows God’s word but makes decisions and lives by what is acceptable and promoted in society, or by their own human ingenuity, or by the tenets of some false religion. Here in Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah called to the people of God and asked for those who trusted Him to reveal themselves. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?” he asked in verse 10a. Then he said, “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” The implication is that darkness is the result of living by our own human reason. In contrast, for those who believe the Lord, who take him at his word, the light of God’s revelation is available to them. Trusting “in the name of the Lord” relying “on their God” means living as if you believe God’s word is true. That’s what faith is! It is accepting what God says and living accordingly, believing that you will be better off because God’s word is true. Verse 11 contrasts the one who lives in the light of faith with those who try to manufacture their own light through human wisdom: “But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.”

These are trying times we live in; things that were accepted as universally-held facts in the past are now questioned, attacked, even ridiculed. Every choice, every “lifestyle decision” is considered valid in our culture (except for living by faith in God’s word, of course). But God warns them that they will “receive from my hand” pain and judgment (v. 11). “You will lie down in torment.” the Lord promised at the end of today’s chapter.

I’m glad you show up here everyday to read God’s word and consider its teachings with me. But do you live by the things you are learning there? Do you take the light that God’s word offers us and walk by it in your own life or do you put it away in your mental backpack and grope around looking for the keys to life on your own, by the light of a makeshift torch? The difference between God’s blessings and his punishment is faith in his word which is evidenced by obedience. What area of disobedience has God brought to light in your life recently? Will you accept the light that God’s word offers and live by faith in that area?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 16, Psalm 19, Proverbs 30, 1 Timothy 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 16, Psalm 19, Proverbs 30, 1 Timothy 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalm 19.

Someone* once said that God has given us two books: Scripture and nature. This is not a perfect analogy, but it is a useful one. Psalm 19 explores these two expressions of God’s revelation. Verses 1-6 describe the book of nature; verses 7-13 describe the book of scripture. Verse 14 gives a benediction to conclude the passage. 

First the Psalmist writes about nature (also called “general revelation”). It tells us of the glory of God—what makes him great, unique, magnificent (v. 1a). This quality of God is revealed by “the heavens” (v. 1a) and the “skies” (v. 1b). These aspects of creation bear witness to the craftsmanship of God. Rather than products of random chance, they speak powerfully of a God who created. Day and night, according to verse 2, they shout to humanity about the existence and magnificent power of God. They do this wordlessly (v. 3) but effectively in a way that testifies to all people no matter where they reside on earth (v. 4a-b). In verses 4c-6, the Psalmist focused his meditation on the sun. It resides in the sky which God created to be its home (“a tent,” v. 4b) and emerges each day with brilliance and energy, like a man whose wedding day has finally arrived (v. 5a) or a sprinter who is ready to run for the gold medal (v. 5b). The movement of the sun sheds light on the entire earth so that no one is unaware of its existence or deprived of its benefits (v. 6). This testifies to the goodness of God; even those who reject him receive the gracious benefits of his creation. Many have tried to use science to disprove the existence of God but the more we learn about our world and universe, the more we see how finely tuned this world is to support life. All of this testifies to the power and goodness of God, but it does so wordlessly. Since it is wordless, it cannot tell us of God's holiness, righteousness, justice, grace, etc.

Scripture (also called “special revelation") is, therefore, more helpful and revelatory for knowing God. It is perfect (v. 7a), trustworthy (v. 7b), right (v. 8a), radiant (v. 8b), “pure” (v 9a), “firm” and “righteous” (v. 9b). These terms are piled up by the Psalmist to emphasize how much greater and more powerful the scriptures are than nature in revealing God. They are also more beneficial to the spiritual life of humanity as indicated in the phrases “refreshing the soul” (v. 7b), “making wise the simple (v, 7d), “giving joy to the heart” (v. 8b) and so on.

While creation is magnificent and draws the heart of the believer to worship, it is not nearly as valuable for our spiritual life as scripture is; this is why the Psalmist says they are “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (v. 10). Specifically, they warn us about sin and its consequences (v. 11a) while promising blessing to us for obedience (v. 11b). Yet the Psalmist knows that, in our own natural state we are unable to live obediently to God’s perfect, pure, priceless Word, so we need God’s grace in forgiveness and sanctification (vv. 12-13). He concludes this meditation on divine revelation with a prayer that God would be pleased with it as an act of worship (v. 14). 

What an incredible gift the scriptures are to us; they provide everything we need to know God in his personality, character, will, and ways. This is why we read his word daily and why I try each week to explain and apply it to your life. There are many insights that come from studying nature, but the insights that transform lives for eternity come from God’s word alone.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

*According to this article it was Francis Bacon. While I agree with the author’s criticism of the "two book" claim, Psalm 19 shows that the concept is a biblical one if the differences between these two revelations are understood.