Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Today’s readings are Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

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

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty but to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. To see his creation slaughtered in this way was not a delight to God; it should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered his people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals--jumping through religious hoops--is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

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

This, of course, refers to unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

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

Joshua 6:6–27, Psalms 135–136, Isaiah 66, Matthew 14

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 6:6–27, Psalms 135–136, Isaiah 66, Matthew 14. 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 66. 

This final chapter of the great book of Isaiah’s prophesies is one of the passages where the theology of salvation that is so clearly taught in the New Testament is revealed in the Old Testament as well. God begins in verses 1-2a by pointing out to Israel the impossibility of containing or housing him in any temple made by human hands. Yes, God had commanded Moses to create a Tabernacle for him and he allowed Solomon to replace that tent with the permanent Temple structure. And, it is true that God said his presence would dwell there and that his people could pray to him there. But this was all symbolic. God is everywhere present in the fullness of his being, so while he designated a place for worship on earth, that place was not a place to contain him or give him a home. Verse 2b describes those whom God received as true worshippers: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” Israelites who had these qualities would gladly bring the offerings and sacrifices, observe the feast days, and keep the law of the Lord from the heart. But those were evidences of God’s saving work in their hearts; they were not the product of obedience to God’s law. In other words, within the chosen people of God, there were people who really belonged to God. They showed it by their humility, their brokenness over their own sin, and their reverence for his word. 

By contrast, verses 3-4 says that those who conformed to his law outwardly were not accepted by him. That’s what “But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person…” and the other similar phrases mean. They mean that mere obedience to the symbols of worship were meaningless without a heart that desired God. When the end of verse 3 says, “They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations,” God is telling us that their lives were marked by sin despite the religiosity of their actions. Verse 4 described the judgment that would fall on these religious people. The reason?  “For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me” (v. 4b).

Nobody in the Old Testament bought their forgiveness through animal sacrifices or keeping the law. Rather, believers in the Old Testament were saved just as we are: God gave them a new (regenerated) heart which caused them to fear him, reverence his word, and obey him from the heart. It is helpful for us to remember this when we fall into patterns of heartless worship. Mere church attendance or giving or even reading of God’s word is nothing. For someone who has been rescued by Christ, these are methods of heartfelt worship and opportunities to grow. God gave them to us so that we could worship him and grow in him. But God is wholly unimpressed by these actions unless they come from a changed heart that loves and desires him. Remember, then, whenever you sit down to read these devotional passages that this is an opportunity to hear from God and to fellowship with him, not to impress him with your faithfulness and dedication. 

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.