justice

2 Chronicles 24, Zechariah 7

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 24 and Zechariah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’’

Karma is a Hindu and Buddhist concept that, at least here in the West, is interpreted to say that evil things you do will bring evil to you and good things you do will bring good to you.

There are certain precepts of scripture that are similar: • The law of the harvest: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7) • “He who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest--Zechariah’s father--was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death.

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order. King Joash did die prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19).

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

2 Chronicles 6:2-42, Habakkuk 1

Today, read 2 Chronicles 6:2-42 and Habakkuk 1.

This devotional is about Habakkuk 1.

Habakkuk, a prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was very upset with the Lord in the first four verses of this chapter. He saw so much sin and violence (v. 3) among the Lord's people but, when he called for God's justice, he got nothing (v. 1).

God may have declined to respond to Habakkuk's earlier complaints but he was more than happy to answer Habbakuk's questions in verses 2-4 with an answer in verses 5-11. And what was that answer? God would punish the violence and sinfulness of the Jews by delivering his peopel in defeat to the Babylonians (v. 6).

Now Habakkuk had a much bigger theological problem. He couldn't understand why God wouldn't judge his countrymen but, when God did promise to punish them, Habakkuk couldn't understand why he'd use a wicked nation like the Babylonians (v. 15). God is holy and eternal (v. 12a-b), so why would he use such unholy people? It made no sense.

We'll have to wait until tomorrow's reading of chapter 2 for God's response but, in the meantime, consider the problem of the sliding scale of righteousenss. Habakkuk knew God's people were doing evil (vv. 2-4) but the Babylonians were worse! Verse 13 asked the Lord, "Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?"

We can probably identify with Habakkuk's complaint. If you've ever felt outrage when a good person died young while evil men live into their 90s, you know how Habakkuk felt. If you ever cried, "Unfair!" when you were punished for something when someone else was doing something worse, you're using the same kind of reasoning that Habakkuk used.

The truth is that we are all guilty before a holy God. What Habakkuk said in verse 13a was right on the money: "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing" so his next statement could have been, "...so we deserve your punishment, no matter how it comes." But part of our sinful state is to demand that we be tested on a curve. "I am sinful, but not as bad as others" we reason, "so let God go after the worst offenders first! And, when he comes for me, I should get a much lighter sentence!"

But God's justice is always just; that is, he pays out the wages of sin according to the pricetag that every sin has---death--regardless of how many or how few sins we accumulate. Instead of complaining to God about our circumstances and wondering why he hasn't treated others worse than he treated us, we should take a very hard look at ourselves. We are guilty before a holy God. One violation of his law carries the death penalty so none of us has anything to complain about.

In fact, Judah had God's law, their own history, and prophets like Habakkuk. The Babylonians were wicked but they were also going on much less truth than Judah had. As Jessu told us, the more truth you have, the greater your accountabilty will be before God.

In God's great mercy, he poured out his justice on Jesus so that you and I could be saved from the eternal condemnation we deserve. God may allow the natural consequences of our sin to play out on this earth but at least we will be delivered from hell based on the righteousness of Christ. So we should be thankful for that.

But more than that, the awful cost of our sins that Jesus bore should teach us the truth about divine justice and adjust our expectations accordingly. So, have you found yourself complaining that you're paying too much for your sins why others are not paying enough? Then think about this passage and let it realign your understanding of justice accordingly.

We have nothing to complain about and everything--because of God's mercy--to be thankful about. Let's thank God, then, for his perfect justice and for the mercy that Jesus provided us with by taking God's justice for us on the cross.

1 Chronicles 29, Micah 6

Read 1 Chronicles 29 and Micah 6 today.

This devotional is about Micah 6.

I was named (unjustly) in a lawsuit once in my life and the suit was withdrawn a few days later after the two main parties worked out a deal. Those few days when I thought I was getting sued were stressful, especially since the plaintiff suing us was a lawyer.

If you’ve ever been sued or even been on a jury or served as a witness, you know how stressful lawsuits can be. But imagine being sued by the Lord! That’s what’s happening here in Micah 6. This is a covenant lawsuit brought by God against his people. Verse 1 commanded Micah to initiate the lawsuit with the mountains serving as the jury. The earth was created before humanity was, so the mountains were personified in this chapter as witnesses to all that the Lord had done for his people (v. 2).

In verse 3 God asks the people of Israel why they have broken faith with him. The question in the second line, “How have I burdened you?” is an interesting one. It assumes that God’s people looked on his laws as burdensome and felt that serving him was difficult. God responds in verse 4a-b by reminding them that he relieved them of a true burden--the burden of slavery in Egypt. He also reviewed how he sent them leadership in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (v. 4c-d). Then he told them again how protected them from the oracles of Balaam (v. 5a-c) and in their journey to the promised land (v. 5).

Israel responded in verses 6-7 like a defendant would in a lawsuit. The implied question of these verses is, “Okay, Lord; how much do you want to settle this out of court?” The offer kept escalating. Verse 7 says, “How about thousands of rams? No? Ok, how about 10,000 rivers of oil (v. 7b)? Not good enough? OK, then how about a human sacrifice (v. 7c-d)?”

Verse 8 responds that the Lord wants a few basic things from his people; namely • justice • mercy and • to walk with God.

Justice is about doing what is right and fair to others regardless of whether they are rich or poor, family or enemy. Mercy is about showing kindness to people who deserve justice but are repentant. It also means showing kindness to people in need even though you don’t have any legal or family obligation to them. Walking with God means loving him, worshipping him daily, and following in his ways.

The concepts outlined in Micah 6:8 are easy; living them out daily is hard. It is hard because of our sin nature; we like to favor people we like or people who can help us. We like to punish people who have mistreated us even if they are repentant. We also like to, sometimes, ignore people in need. Finally, walking with God is tough because we are, naturally speaking, enemies of God because of our sin nature.

This passage, then, describes the absolute need we all have for God to save us. We can’t save ourselves; we are guilty and unable to give our way out of the guilt. In Christ, however, we have both the forgiveness of sins that the gifts described in verse 7 could never buy for us and the ability now to walk with God by faith and to do justice and show mercy.

2 Kings 24, Joel 3

Today, read 2 Kings 24 and Joel 3.

This devotional is about Joel 3.

“How can a good God allow so much evil and injustice in the world?” This is one common question that opponents to our faith ask.

A big part of the answer is described here in Joel 3. Put simply, “God doesn’t. He does not allow any evil or injustice in the world” in the absolute sense. Instead, those who do any kind of evil or injustice at all are storing up judgment (Rom 2:5) for themselves. God is long-suffering and patient, so his wrath has not yet been turned on this world.

But it will be. Joel 3 describes one day in which God’s wrath will fall. Verse 2 says this to all the nations that abused Israel: “I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel....”

After this trial that God promised in verse 2, how many will find themselves guilty and receive God’s punishment as a result? Verse 14 says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” The Valley of Decision is not where people decide for or against God. It is the place where God dishes out what HE has decided; namely, the sentence of judgment he handed down to the guilty when he put them on trial in verse 2.

This passage specifically warns the nations that oppressed Israel but plenty of other passages in scripture show us that God will judge every sin and every sinner. The only escape will be God himself. Yes, the one who is angry, vengeful, and judging to those who oppose him will lay down his arms of war and open his arms of love. He will protect his people from the wrath poured out on the wicked. Verse 16d-e says, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” By grace God has grafted many Gentiles into the category called “his people.” By that same grace he not only rescues us from the coming wrath (1 These 1:10) but he pours out his love and provision on us instead (vv. 17-20 here in Joel 3).

All of the blessings of protection from God’s wrath and provision and prosperity for eternity comes to us through Christ. He bore God’s wrath for us so that, by grace, we could escape these terrible Day of the Lord events. Passages like this one remind us of what Christ has accomplished for us; they also remind us that God has given us the responsibility to spread this message of grace to the world until he comes.

Who could you reach out to with the grace of the good news this week?

2 Kings 9, Hosea 1

Read 2 Kings 9 and Hosea 1 today.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 9.

In God’s original plan for Israel, there was to be one nation ruled by a descendent of David. God decreed that Solomon’s sins would lead to a divided kingdom, but the rulers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not typically anointed by prophets as Saul and David were. So, when Elisha sent one of the prophets in his prophetic school to anoint Jehu king over Israel in this chapter (vv. 1-3), that was a highly unusual move. Furthermore, Jehu was not a godly man nor did he begin a great spiritual reformation in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He was just like every other king of the Northern Kingdom in the sense that he was an unbeliever who left in place the idolatry created by Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom.

So, then, why did God send a prophet to anoint Jehu? It was to bring Ahab, Jezebel, and their descendants to justice. Verse 7 says, “You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.” The violence that God commanded in this chapter and that Jehu carried out is difficult for us accept. Why would God anoint a man to wipe out another man’s entire family? Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, kings in this era of time had no legal check on their power. There was no legislature or court to bring Ahab to justice for his many sins. If there was going to be justice, it would have to be carried out by another king. Jehu’s killings in this passage were not acts of first degree murder; they were done to uphold the Law of Israel given through Moses which mandated the death penalty for the things that Ahab and Jezebel did.
  • Second, Ahab was warned repeatedly (1 Ki 20:41-43, 21:21-24, 22:17, 28) that his sins would lead to his death and the death of his wife and descendants. Although he expressed some remorse and received a merciful delay (1 Ki 21:25-29), he did not fundamentally change like he would have if he had truly repented.
  • Third, the descendants of Ahab were included in both the prophecy (1 Ki 21:21-24) and the fulfillment here in 2 Kings 9:8. It does not seem fair that they died for the sins of their parents. But the life of their son Joram shows a continuation of their godlessness and unbelief. Surely there would have been mercy for one of Ahab & Jezebel’s descendants if they had repented and followed the Lord. But even after they had been given the prophecy of Elijah that their would be justice for them, they continued in their sinful ways.

God is just and he established human governments to uphold justice and enforce the penalties of disobedience to his laws. The Bible says that unbelieving government leaders who exercise just judgment are God’s agents for good (Rom 13:4a). Jehu would answer for his own sins but, to the degree that he acted justly, he was doing God’s will.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 30

Read 2 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 30 today.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 23:3c-4: “‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’”

The writer of 2 Samuel has been wrapping up his account of the united kingdom of Israel in these past few chapters. There is still another important story about David to come in tomorrow’s readings, but this chapter began with “the last words of David” (v. 1).

In these last words David was conscious that God was speaking through him (v. 2) but, as with all writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, the human author was speaking just as much as God was. David, in this brief speech, reflected on what a godly leader is like. The main words of description for a godly leader is that he “rules over people in righteousness.” More simply put, he does the right thing. He is just in his judgment, not favoring his family, or the politically connected, or a special group, or even the disadvantaged. Instead, a godly leader seeks to do the right thing with impartiality, even if Satan himself was the victim of injustice and came seeking a hearing before the king.

What causes someone to rule in righteousness? Verse 3d tells us: a godly king rules in righteousness “when he rules in the fear of God.” Only a person who fears God will do what is right when he doesn’t want to, or when it is costly, inconvenient, or goes against a friend or family member. The “fear of God” teaches us that we are accountable to God for our actions and that we will answer to him if we deviate from his standard of righteousness. That’s what makes someone do the right thing even when he deeply wants to do wrong.

In verse 4 David described what life under a righteous government is like: “he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’” Notice the repetition of the idea of light: “he is like the light... like the brightness after rain....” A godly king brings light to his kingdom. He creates conditions where good things grow and thrive. Verse 4d says his brightness “brings grass from the earth.”

In a society where there is true, blind justice, bribes are ineffective. Governments pass laws that are applied equally without exceptions or “carve outs” for people or corporations who lobby effectively and make substantial campaign donations. In a nation with righteous government, contracts between people and parties will be honored because both sides know that the king will rule against them if they renege.

Contrast that to the way things are moving in our country. Things could be worse and are worse in other nations, but more and more our government favors certain [corporations(http://www.atimes.com/article/tariff-carve-outs-to-spare-apple-products-report/) or favors the government over the individual to cite just two examples. In our nation, legal documents are sometimes said to be “living” and “dynamic” allowing judges to read into them things that are not there.

I could keep going on, but I probably don’t need to go on for you to understand the point. David’s last words reveal what a good ruler looks like and what the results of his rule will be. But they also imply a warning that, when one rules over people unrighteously, darkness will pervade the land and, instead of flourishing, the society will wither and might even die.

What’s the answer to all this? One answer is to use the power we have--voting, lobbying, speaking out--while we still have it. But the better answer is to cry out for Christ to come and establish his true kingdom. Until Jesus is king, there will be unrighteous rule to some degree or other. This is why our hopes and dreams should never reside in any nation but only in the one true King, our Lord Jesus Christ. So live for him and pray for his kingdom to come.

2 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 26

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Samuel 19 and Ezekiel 26.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 26.

Tyre was an amazing place. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, the people who lived there excelled in sailing the Mediterranean (v. 17d). As a result, the inhabitants were both productive fishermen and explorers of other areas that boarded the sea. Their explorations of these areas allowed them to trade with the people who lived in these other places, so Tyre became a strategic port for shipping goods by water to and from the Middle East. The location of the city, then, set it up naturally for prosperity.

The city prospered even more due to an economic alliance the king of Tyre formed with David (2 Sam 5:11) and Solomon (1 Ki 5:1). Tyre benefited from the wealth God gave to David and Solomon because they were able to supply materials and services that the growing kingdom of Israel needed. Without necessarily realizing it, the people of Tyre were experiencing one of the promised results of God’s covenant with Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen 12:3).

As Israel and Judah gave themselves to idolatry, they declined in power just as God said they would. According to this chapter of scripture, Ezekiel 26, the people of Tyre looked at the defeat and destruction of Jerusalem as an opportunity to prosper even more. Verse 2 says, “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper....” They did not mourn the defeat of God’s people or recognize how the prosperity of Judah produced prosperity for them, too. Neither did they realize that Nebuchadnezzar’s growing power would be a threat to their way of life as well. Because of these thing, God prophesied through Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar (v. 7) and “many nations” would attack Tyre and destroy it.

Although the location of Tyre remained desirable, it never regained its former power and prosperity because its people tried to exploit Jerusalem when it was defeated. God does not look favorably on those who abuse his people or on anyone who tries to take advantage of the vulnerability of others. There may be short term gain to preying on the weakness of others but God sees and he promises justice. As Christians, we are called to help those who are weak, to have compassion on those who are vulnerable and to defend and assist them as we have opportunity.

Do you notice and seek to assist others who are in need? Is there someone within reach of you who could use your assistance today?

2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21

Today, read 2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 21:6-7: “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 7 And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

God is holy and God is just. God’s holiness means that he is separate from sin so he hates sin and loves righteousness. His justice means that every sin must be appropriately punished. All is right within his creation when sin is punished.

Despite these truths, we should not conclude that God enjoys the suffering that his judgment brings to people. Just the opposite is true; God is satisfied when justice is done but he mourns the pain and suffering that just punishment brings to his creation. In these verses, then, God commanded Ezekiel to groan and express sadness, grief, and fear for the judgment of God that was coming on his people.

Similarly, as Christians we should feel a sense of satisfaction when justice is done but also empathize with the sinner who experiences the pain and loss that come with judgment. That empathy can best be expressed through the gospel of Christ. In Christ, every bit of God’s wrath was poured out in justice but it fell on our Lord Jesus Christ rather than on us sinners. Because God’s justice has been satisfied, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are possible. When we groan and grieve for sinners, God’s love and the offer of forgiveness in Christ is expressed. If God is pleased, then, sinners can be saved.

Do you empathize with criminals when they are found guilty and sentenced for their crimes? Or, are you happy in a vindictive way for their suffering? The people Ezekiel prophesied to were wicked people who deserved every bit of God’s judgment that they got. Yet God ordered his prophet to “groan before them with a broken heart and bitter grief” because God loves his creation. Are we developing that ability in our hearts? Do we truly “love the sinner but hate the sin” or do we secretly hate the sin and the sinner too?

1 Samuel 13, Jeremiah 50

Today we’re reading 1 Samuel 13 and Jeremiah 50.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 50.

This chapter continues Jeremiah’s prophecies against the Gentile nations around the Promised Land. This time Judah’s oppressors, the Babylonians. God had used them to bring the covenant curse on Judah for their idolatry and unfaithfulness. But they didn’t invade and capture Jerusalem because they wanted to do the Lord’s will; they did it for their own sinful, selfish reasons. God used them, yes, but providentially. That is, he allowed them to follow the course of their evil hearts. He did not protect Judah from their attacks because Judah had been unfaithful to him. Consequently, the attacks of the Babylonians became God’s method for bringing curses on his people.

Even though God used the aggression of the Babylonians for his purpose, they were still guilty of wickedness. They still attacked a city, killed people, and stole their stuff. This chapter, then, prophesies judgment for them as a result of their sins. And, because God still loved his people, he decreed in this chapter that he would use other nations to avenge the crimes of the Babylonians against his people. Verse 34 says, “Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon.” Because God is just, he promised to punish the Babylonians for their atrocities. Because God loves his chosen ones, he would be “their Redeemer” who would “vigorously defend their cause” (v. 34a, c).

God still has plans for Israel but in this age he is calling people from every nation to be his holy people. When the world persecutes us, when it speaks evil of us because of our goodness and walk with God, we need a redeemer to defend our cause and punish those who afflict us. This is what Christ will do when he returns to earth. He redeemed us from the penalty of our sins when he died on the cross for us. He will redeem believers from the oppression of Satan and his followers by rapturing those in Christ and by avenging those who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation.

We emphasize God’s mercy, love, and grace. We should do that; those are aspects of God’s personality and character. But we should also praise and thank God for his justice and, yes, even his wrath for those aspects of his personality and character guarantee that justice will be done and that those who oppress his people will be punished for doing so.

Have you ever thanked God for his wrath?

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22 which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Joshua 23, Jeremiah 12

Today, read Joshua 23 and Jeremiah 12.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 12.

Yesterday, in Jeremiah 11:18-23, the prophet seemed grateful that God had revealed a plot against him. He asked for God’s justice to punish those who sought to kill him and God revealed to Jeremiah that He would punish them.

In the early verses of this chapter, however, Jeremiah started complaining about God’s justice. God was telling Jeremiah to prophesy punishment for those who were sinning in Israel. But there was no punishment; these people were thriving, as far as Jeremiah could tell (v. 2a-b). Jeremiah was eager to see God’s judgment fall and was put out with God for not delivering already on the promised punishment (v. 4a).

How did God answer this complaint? By telling Jeremiah that he was way out of his league: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” The rest of this chapter reaffirms God’s promise to bring judgment, first on Israel (vv. 6-13), then on the nations that defeat Israel (v. 14). The final verses allude to the salvation of Gentiles (vv. 15-16) but the chapter ends with another promise of judgment (v. 17).

So what exactly was God’s reply to Jeremiah’s complaint? It was to tell Jeremiah that His ways were too high for Jeremiah to understand. God will do what he promised. When will he do it? Why will he delay? The answers to these questions belong to the Lord. Jeremiah needed to stop complaining and just trust him.

We can relate to Jeremiah, right? If God is sovereign and holy and just, then why is there so much sin and evil in the world? These and other questions bother us and sometimes even challenge our faith God. If we knew what God knows and were as wise as he is, we would understand. Lacking his omniscience and wisdom, however, leaves us asking questions we can’t answer and even accusing the only just one in the universe of injustice.

This is how God always answers us when we challenge or question him. He doesn’t try to explain his ways; he reminds us that his ways are beyond our understanding. This is what he told Job and what he tells us. It is what he said to Paul when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” The lesson for us is to commit to God the things we can’t understand and be faithful to do what he’s commanded.

Joshua 22, Jeremiah 11

Today we’re reading Joshua 22 and Jeremiah 11.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 11.

The first seventeen verses of this chapter continued Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah but then verses 18-23 interrupted that prophecy abruptly. Some of God’s people were tired of hearing about his anger and coming wrath. Instead of heeding the message, they decided to kill the messenger (v. 19b). Jeremiah was completely unaware that there was a plot afoot against him (v. 19a) but God supernaturally revealed it to him (v. 18).

Jeremiah responded to this plot not by running away to some distant land. Instead, he called on God to deal with his enemies justly. He appealed to God’s righteousness and his knowledge of everyone’s hearts and minds (v. 20a-b). Then he requested in verse 20c-d that God bring his wrath on those who sought to kill him. God answered Jeremiah’s prayer and promised to “bring disaster” on his enemies (v. 23b). But that disaster would happen in God’s time--“in the year of their punishment” (v. 23b).

Note that Jeremiah’s request for God’s justice was based on truth. He mentioned that God is one who will “test the heart and the mind” (v. 20b). This shows that Jeremiah was not seeking an unfair punishment just because he was disliked by “the people of Anathoth” (v. 21a). He was not asking God to carry out his personal vendetta but was asking God to do the right thing as a perfectly righteous judge.

Although God divinely protected Jeremiah in this instance, he did allow Jeremiah to experience persecution at other times in his life as we will read about in future devotionals. God also allowed other faithful prophets of his to be killed. So God does not always promise or provide absolute protection for his people or even for those who are serving him in difficult circumstances. What God does provide is protection within his will and just punishment in his timing.

This should give us comfort when we hear of persecution of other brothers and sisters of ours in Christ and if or when we experience persecution for Christ. God is watching over your life and he will hear and answer your requests for help. But, as his servants, we must believe that he knows best about when and how to administer his justice.

It is also important to remember that God may choose to have mercy on persecutors. The very people you would like to see experience God’s judgment might be ones God chooses to save. Think about Stephen, for a moment, the first Christian martyr. He was executed for preaching Christ (Acts 7) and could have justly called for God’s justice on his persecutors. Instead, with his dying breath, he called out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60b). One of those who persecuted him and for whom he prayed as Saul of Tarsus (8:1). God allowed Saul to continue persecuting God’s children for a while, but then he saved Saul and used him to bring the gospel to the Gentile world.

All of us were guilty before God and deserve his righteous wrath; those of us in Christ have received his mercy despite our sins. It is appropriate to pray for God’s justice when someone persecutes you but it is also Christlike to pray for God’s mercy.

Is someone making your life difficult because you are a believer in Christ? Have you prayed for God to have mercy on them or to bring justice to them in his time and according to his will? Instead of holding anger and resentment toward others, these are the righteous ways to deal with persecution. As Romans 12:18-21 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59

Read Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59.

This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11: “justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away” (vv. 9-11). Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do. Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God....” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and we stand separated from him (vv. 2-3). Therefore, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19). Read those words; they are so gracious and hopeful: “From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.” And then God will save his people along with us: “‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord” (v. 20). This is another promise, another prophecy that Jesus will reign as king. Then we will live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord.”

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

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 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142

Today’s Bible reading passages are Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. This book is like a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

This chapter begins with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges. As Moses recounted the ordination of judges, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. Either they get what they want because of their reputation or they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Can you trust God to provide for you through the cost and disadvantages?

Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Psalm 125

Today’s readings are Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, and Psalm 125.

This devotional is about Isaiah 10:1-2.

America is not Israel and the promises God made to Israel do not apply to any nation at all in this age. However, all of God’s laws teach some kind of principle and many of those principles are morals that transcend all cultures and would apply in any nation. God’s justice, for instance, is an absolute standard. Any nation, therefore, is responsible to create laws that are just and apply those laws justly.

An example is here in Isaiah 10:1 which says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.” The word “woe” is an expression of deep agony and it often is used of the pain that will come to those who fall under God’s judgment. Verse 1, then, is saying that those who make unjust laws will cry out in agony when they fall under the judgment of God.

Verse 2 gives some examples of unjust laws that Israel had made. Those examples are:

  • depriving the poor of their rights (to private property, to fair and righteous treatment)
  • withholding justice from the oppressed
  • taking advantage of widows and the fatherless.

These are all groups who have been weakened in one way or another. Being weak made them easy to take advantage of. Unscrupulous neighbors could take their property, for example, without fear of retaliation. Just laws, however, would stand opposed to that kind of theft and a just judge would apply that law justly and award damages to the poor person who was oppressed and taken advantage of by a rich neighbor.

Our American legal system, in theory at least, protects the poor and the rich alike. Both can have their day in court and, all other things being equal, should have a judge who will apply the law impartially.

But we have our favored and disfavored groups in this country, too. Christian bakers and florists, for instance, seem to find themselves at a disadvantage lately in court if they are sued when they refuse to be hired for a “gay” wedding. This is just one example; I’m sure you can scan the news and find others.

I wonder if it ever occurs to lawmakers or judges that they will give an account to God about whether or not they have governed justly? Again, we are not Israel but justice is an attribute of God’s character and he demands that all people with power use it justly. So God will hold unjust Americans responsible and they will know true “woes” when they stand before a holy God.

But this also applies to us. If you are in a position of leadership and show favoritism or practice injustice, God sees it and will hold you accountable. Since God is just, we his children by faith should strive to be just in all that we do. Woe to us if we refuse.

Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98

Today the schedule calls for us to read Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98.

This devotional is about Psalm 98.

The end of the world, at least as we know it, is usually thought of as something to be feared. The unbelieving world around us frets about the extinction of humanity through climate change, or an asteroid hitting the earth, or the sun exploding or dying. We Christians read the book of revelation and stand in fearful awe of the tumult that will precede the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Unbelievers have much to fear about the end of world, but not for the reasons that they think. The end of this world means accountability before God. The Bible tells us that each person who has ever lived will stand and give an account of his life before a holy God. Apart from the righteousness of Christ credited to us by God’s grace, none of us will have a satisfactory answer for how we’ve lived our lives. And, as he promised, God will punish everyone who died in their sins.

It is sobering--and very sad--to think about the billions of people who will be tormented for eternity for their sins. It is surprising, then, to read the Psalmist’s encouragement to sing “for joy” (vv. 4, 6, 8) because God “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b). And, how will that judgment be delivered? “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” according to verse 9c-d. In other words, when God’s judgment comes, he will give everyone exactly what they deserve.

So, given that everyone will get what they deserve and that, apart from Christ, each of us deserves God’s eternal wrath, why does the Psalmist encourage us to sing for joy? Two reasons.

First, those who die in their sins have no excuse. Verses 2-3 tell us that “the nations” and “all the ends of the earth” have seen “his salvation” (vv. 2a, 3d). No one who dies apart from Christ, then, can plead ignorance. God has revealed himself and humanity turned a blind eye to him.

Second, the world cries out for judgment and righteousness. Everyone who has ever been sinned against understands the pain that injustice causes. When Jesus “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b), he will be doing what is right. This world, which is distorted by sin, will finally be restored to what God created. If you’re in Christ by faith, that is a very good thing, something that should give you joy. When Jesus comes to judge, God will no longer be disregarded or questioned or mocked. He will restore the world to the state he created, a state where sin is punished and joy reigns because of righteousness. All the heartaches and problems that sin has caused in this world will be banished and, for the first time ever, a righteous society will exist. These are reasons for joy.

This Psalm, then, calls each of us who believe in Jesus to rejoice in our hearts and sin with joy from our lips because of God’s salvation (vv. 1-3) and because of his judgment (vv. 7-9). Do you rejoice in these truths?

Revelation 16

Today we’re reading Revelation 16.

Have you ever wondered why people who are dying don’t just pray the “sinners prayer?” After all, if God will save everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, then someone could live a completely selfish, sinful life and be saved just before they reach eternity. So, why don’t more people do that?

One answer is that becoming a Christian is not just about praying some words, like a magic incantation. Receiving the gospel starts with changing your mind which is the act we know theologically as “repentance.” That change of mind requires a work of God in someoane’s heart which causes them to want God instead of sin. If you genuinely want God, you’ll turn to him as soon as you realize that you want him, not wait until the very end of your life. Although there are exceptions, the longer people live, the more hardened they usually become in their sin and rejection of Christ. To receive Christ is to renounce your pride, to admit that you’ve been living wrongly your whole life, and to fall on his grace alone because you’re unable to fix yourself or your situation. Apart from the grace of God, human pride keeps us from such repentance.

This is why the people described in today’s chapter “refused to repent and glorify him” (v. 9, and similar wording in verse 11). Instead of calling for God’s mercy, then, people cursed him for his justice (vv. 9, 11, 21). This is the natural response of humanity to the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

This is why we must pray for God to open hearts and change minds so that people will turn to God for grace instead of cursing him for his justice.

Revelation 15

Today’s reading is Revelation 15.

Verse 1 of today’s chapter celebrates the end of God’s wrath but, before it is completed, there are seven bowls of wrath that will be poured out on earth in the form of plagues. The end is in sight but many horrors would come before the end did.

In verses 3-4, however, the believers who “had been been victorious over the beast” (v. 2b) sang stanzas from Old Testament songs. Why? To remind us and all the world that these expressions of God’s judgment are not acts of cruelty inflicted on innocent people. Instead, “just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (v. 3b). The painful, destructive acts of God are the just payment for disobedience against him.

We need to be reminded of this again and again. When we recoil from the destruction described in these chapters, it is because we are too familiar with sin and too used to excusing it in ourselves and others. While compassion for sinners is always a godly characteristic, so also is a firm commitment to the holiness and justice of God. God’s judgment, then, is something to rejoice over---not because of the pain it brings people but because it points to God’s glory and calls everyone to worship him.

Revelation 11

Today’s reading is Revelation 11.

In this portion of John’s vision, God appointed and empowered two witnesses who prophesied. We are not told what they said but verse 10 tells us that they “had tormented those who live on the earth” so it was probably a whole lot of warning about God’s punishment. Their message was not received and they were killed then raised from the dead and received into heaven. Following this, seven thousand people died in an earthquake in Jerusalem. Those who survived the earthquake “were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” That’s what happened on earth in this chapter.

In heaven, however, voices in cheered the coming of Christ’s kingdom (v. 15) and thanked God for beginning his rule (v. 17). What were they so thankful for? The judgment of God: “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

The idea that God judges sinners and rewards the righteous has never been popular. In our culture however, it is construed as a black mark on God’s name, something that Christians try to explain apologetically. I understand that as a fellow-human; nobody wants to see people suffer.

But those who are judged and suffer for it do so because of their own moral choices, not because God is looking for excuses to torture his creation. If we condemn God for not being merciful to someone, we are actually condemning ourselves for not loving his holiness and longing for his justice. Of course we want God to be merciful to other sinners like we are but, if he chooses not to show mercy, the people who die outside of Christ are receiving the just penalty for their sins.

Do you love the justice of God? It was God’s justice that caused Christ to die as our substitute in order to rescue us from God’s judgment. By punishing Christ for our sins, God was able to be both just in the way he dealt with our sins as well as merciful and loving in forgiving us. We should give thanks and praise God for his justice--not because we want to see anyone perish but because we love God and want his glory to be fully shown. Take some time today and give thanks for God’s justice; then ask him to show mercy to other sinners that you know.