kingdom

2 Chronicles 26, Zechariah 9

Today read 2 Chronicles 26 and Zechariah 9.

This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

Israel and Judah were almost constantly at war. Solomon’s kingdom was peaceful but most of the rest of their history in the land was marked by combat with the surrounding nations. Here in Zechariah 9:9-10, God promised that Jerusalem’s king would bring peace.

The peace he would bring would not be a passive (or pacifistic) kind of peace. Verse 9 says he comes “righteous and victorious.” The word “righteous” describes his justice; he would deal properly with every criminal. The word “victorious” described his relationship with other nations. Like the Babylonians who imposed peace by defeating other nations, this king would bring peace by winning all his wars. Verse 10e says, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” This sentence defines the borders of Israel as God intended them to be. Under this king, God’s people would rule the world. Once the world was subject to him, however, the mechanisms of war would be unnecessary. Verse 10a-c says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” This king would not need to use force to enforce the peace as other empires, like Rome, did. Instead, his reign would end warfare on earth.

Despite all the military overtones in this chapter, verse 9 describes this king as “lowly and riding on a donkey.” The word “lowly” means “humble” and depicts a king who is not insufferable in his arrogance. The fact that he arrives in Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” is probably in contrast to riding on a powerful warhorse. The description of this king as both “righteous and victorious” but also “lowly and riding a donkey” teaches us that he will be powerful but approachable; just and loving at the same time.

You may recognize that Matthew (21:5) saw Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet Jesus only fulfilled part of it. The military victory of Jesus as well as the peace and justice he will bring await the literal kingdom that Christ will bring in eternity. This is our hope as believers in Christ. When you see injustice in this world, when you hear about the loss of human life through violence and wars, remember that these are symptoms of an unredeemed world. Christ will finish the work he began in his first advent. We can look forward in hope and eagar expectation to his return, then, even as we celebrate his birth this time of year.

2 Chronicles 22-23, Zechariah 6

Today we’re reading 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Zechariah 6

This devotional is about Zechariah 6.

We’ve already noticed that God spoke to Zechariah through highly dramatic, visual, symbolic visions like the flying scroll he saw in chapter 5. Here in chapter 6 he saw “two mountains” made of bronze (v. 1) and four chariots with horses of many colors (v. 3). These horses and chariots represented “the four spirits of heaven” going from the Lord throughout the earth (v. 5). The point of his vision was that the unrest with Babylon, which resulted in the Babylonian captivity of Judah, was over (vv. 8-10). God’s people are now returning to their covenant land and will be at rest.

In verses 10-11 Zechariah was instructed to get gold and silver from some of the exiles who had returned from Babylon and make a crown to put on the head of Joshua the high priest. Then Zechariah was to give Joshua a word from the Lord, “Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’” Our translation seems to imply that Joshua is the Branch and will serve as both priest and king. However, the Hebrew indicates something else. The translation “here is” is not meant to indicate, “Here, this guy, Joshua is the Branch.” Instead, it is meant to convey something like, “Look, Joshua here symbolizes one who is called ‘The Branch.’” The one who is referred to as, “The Branch” will give life to Israel by building the temple of the Lord, receiving the majesty of the king, and being Israel’s priest as well as her king (v. 13). Verse 13 concluded by saying, “‘And there will be harmony between the two.’” After years of struggle between kings--some of whom lived to honor the Lord and many more of whom did not--the Branch would unite the kingship and priesthood of Israel in one person. This is, of course, a prophecy of Jesus. He is our king, our Lord but also our savior, the one who made atonement for us.

Israel is still waiting for this priest-king to finish his work of unifying the nation politically and religiously and, since we have been grafted into the branch by God’s grace, we wait with Israel for this fulfillment as well. As we look forward to Christmas on Sunday, we remember not only coming of Jesus our Lord and Savior but also the promises he will fulfill when God’s time for them comes.

2 Chronicles 7, Habakkuk 2

Today we’re scheduled to read 2 Chronicles 7 and Habakkuk 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 7

This chapter in 2 Chronicles 7 is a spiritually satisfying one to read. The temple has been built and it is a wonder to behold. Nothing man makes is truly worthy of the Lord but God was pleased to show his presence there (v. 1) because it was a structure built with love for him and it was done to the very best of human ability at that time. When God demonstrated his glory to the people, they worshipped him in thankful prayer (v. 3), animal sacrifices (vv. 4--5, 7) and music (v. 6). The people enjoyed a festival of dedication (vv. 8-9) and went home “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done.”

Then God told to Solomon that he would answer his prayer of dedication (vv. 11-16) and the Lord affirmed to the king that he would bless Solomon’s kingdom for as long as he obeyed the Lord (vv. 17-22). Verse 10 describes the fitting conclusion to this event: “On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel.”

I usually feel this way at the end of a good pastor’s conference or an encouraging retreat. Spiritual crescendos like the one described here leave me feeling like I have spiritual momentum to walk with God without ceasing. But it doesn’t take long before living in a sin cursed world with a sin nature drags you back to reality.

But days like this are a preview of what all eternity in God’s kingdom will be like. We will work in God’s kingdom and live in a society there but we will also spend much time learning about the Lord, praising the Lord, and fellowshipping with other believers in the Lord. These activities will bring us more pleasure than any entertainment or recreation we enjoy in this life. That’s because our sin nature will finally be eradicated and we’ll be perfect by the grace the of God.

Hopefully you’ve experienced something like what is described in this chapter. I hope our Sunday services feel this way to you regularly. Moments like these give us a boost in our walk with God and remind us what God has promised for us in eternity. So savor those moments and be encouraged! God has so much in store for us when his promises are finally and fully fulfilled.

2 Kings 3, Daniel 7

Today, read [2 Kings 3 and Daniel 7] (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+3%2C+Daniel+7&version=NIV).

This devotional is about Daniel 7.

The book of Daniel has two parts to it. The first six chapters which we've been reading the past few days are historical. They describe what happened to Daniel as an administrator in the foreign governments of Babylon and then the Medo-Persian empire. Daniel is given supernatural interpretaiton of dreams and visions, but those dreams belong to others--namely Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. The fulfilment of those dreams happened during Daniel's lifetime.

Here in Daniel 7, the second part of Daniel began. In this part (chapters 7-12) Daniel himself had dreams and visions. Those revelations were about the future, things that would happen after his life was over. God explained some, but not all, of what Daniel saw in these chapters.

This first vision is about four beasts (v. 3) and the horns on the fourth beast (v. 7-8). While one of the horns was bragging (v. 8), God ("the Ancient of Days") appeared on his throne and Christ ("one like a son of man") was given the right of rule and worship over everyone on earth (vv. 13-14). A general interpretation was given to Daniel (vv. 15-16) but the specific kings were not identified in this vision. The point of the vision was not to reveal what national powers would come next. The point of the vision was to show Daniel that there were still human kingdoms that were coming but then God would establish his kingdom and it would be "an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and... will never be destroyed (vv. 13-14, 27).

Would it be interesting to know what will happen politically and nationally in our world? How much longer will the United States remain a world power? What will cause the U.S. to lose its power? Which nation(s) will become powerful instead of the U.S. and for how long? What human leaders will direct these nations? These are all interesting questions but they are not necessary for us to know to walk with Christ and live for him. What we need to know is that Jesus will win and, when he does, a perfect kingdom will be established and it will never be destroyed. God's kingdom will not implode under its own debt or because of lawless people nor will a coup d' etat or a foreign army dethrone our Lord Jesus. Instead, when he establishes his kingdom, it will stay established. The eternity we long for in Christ will be fulfilled.

Until that comes, we have plenty to do with our lives. In the midst of earning a living, having relationships, enjoying experiences and so on, our mission is to live for Christ's coming kingdom. We are to put our hope there, not on any human ruler or nation. We are to put our treasure there, not consume every penny for ourselves. We are to increase the population of that kingdom by reaching people with the gospel of Christ. God sets forth these visions of eternity in the scripture to remind us of his promises and to cause us to realign our thoughts and actions with his plan.

Are you living for eternity or for this world, this existence, this kingdom? What would living for Christ's eternal kingdom today look like for you?

1 Kings 20, Daniel 2

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 20 and Daniel 2.

This devotional is about Daniel 2.

What would you do if you were a powerful leader but suspected that your spiritual advisors were making stuff up? You might do what Nebuchadnezzar did here in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a weird dream (v. 1) and he apparently believed that something was being communicated to him in it. Instead of describing it for his spiritual advisors, he tested them: could they tell him what he had dreamed and THEN interpret what it meant (vv. 2-9)? The key phrase in that passage is in verse 9: “You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” If they could tell him what he had dreamed that would be proof that they had genuine access to the spiritual realm. That would give him greater confidence in their interpretation of this dream and in their spiritual guidance in every other matter.

Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisors did not like the new terms of service he was imposing on them. They protested that what he wanted was impossible (vv. 10-11) which confirmed to the king that they were dealers of nonsense; Nebuchadnezzar therefore ordered them to be put to death (vv. 12-13). Daniel and his friends were apparently junior officers in the spirituality cabinet of Babylon at this point. They were subject to the same death penalty but had not been given the opportunity to advise Nebuchadnezzar about his dream (v. 14). Daniel asked for some time and urged his three friends to pray (vv. 15-18), and God answered their prayers, revealing the vision and its meaning to Daniel (vv. 19-45).

The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important because it predicted world events that would happen after his reign and would culminate with the kingdom of Christ (vv. 36-45). But for this devotional, I want to focus on how Daniel responded when God answered his prayers. Daniel was given a gift that, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s astrologers, was impossible: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” they said in verse 10. Daniel recognized that what they said was right. His ability to interpret dreams was a supernatural gift from God, not a natural skill he developed himself (v. 23). Daniel also recognized in this dream that God was at work in world events (v. 21). While we think that kings and leaders are chosen by natural events, political processes, and/or human manipulation, God’s providence stands behind it all. The rulers of this world think they are in control but their control is an illusion. God is using their ambitions to advance his will. While we should do what we can to influence world events toward righteousness, we need to recognize that the nations and political structures of this world belong to this world; they will be replaced by the kingdom Jesus came to establish (vv. 44-45). What seems so powerful, so permanent, so impenetrable to us now will be supernaturally—“not by human hands” (v. 34)—“broken to pieces and… swept away without leaving a trace” (v. 35).

Anytime we have an election, there are people who feel hopeful and people who feel hopeless. Regardless of your politics, you’ve been on the hill and in the valley of that roller coaster already in your life and you will likely experience that again. If our hope were in reforming this world and it’s rulers, we would have plenty to worry about, but our hope is in Christ. His kingdom may be right on the verge of appearing or it may be another thousand years away. Only God knows the timeline, but he has revealed to us the outcome. Look in faith to these promises and trust God to watch over us and use us in the meantime, just like he did with Daniel and his friends.

1 Kings 18, Ezekiel 48

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Kings 18 and Ezekiel 48.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 48:35b: "And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

This final chapter in the prophecy of Ezekiel described in detail the land God promised to a restored nation of Israel. The chapter reaffirms the land-based portion of the covenants God had made with his people. It states that the promise of land given to Abraham in Genesis 12:7b: “To your offspring I will give this land” will be fulfilled literally. The chapter promises again that the portions of land promised generally to the twelve tribes of Israel in Genesis 49 and more specifically in Joshua 13-19 would be given to those tribes.

There are good, godly men who believe that the promises God gave to Israel in his covenants have been fulfilled in us here in the church age. I do not agree with that interpretation and I don’t see how passages like this which are so specific could be fulfilled generally or “spiritually” in the church. The only alternative, then, is to believe that these promises have yet to be fulfilled and that they will be fulfilled in the time period we call the Millennium.

This is not the place to go into specifics about the Millennium or other prophecies in the Bible about the end times. The final verse of Ezekiel, however, sums up the great hope that all believers in every age have: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.” This is the realization of the promise lost in the Garden of Eden, that humanity will live under the loving rule of God, knowing him, worshipping, and fellowshipping with him constantly. When the Lord lives on earth among us, when his name is the name of the city because he is there, when we are free of our sin and shame and can worship him truthfully, fully, constantly and live completely for his purpose--then life will be everything it could be and should be but cannot be in this unredeemed state.

Is this a focus in your life? As you live each day, do you think about what it means to live for the glory of God? Do you think about Christ’s return ever and ask for him to come? Is there anyone around you today that you could speak to about their need for Christ and what Christ has done for them? This is how God wants us to live once we come to know him by faith. We live faithfully for him, obeying his word and trusting him while also longing for and looking for his return.

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Today’s readings are Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly. Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began--11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns--a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7). Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That worked somewhat but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership. When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other, overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges. But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail. The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 17, Jeremiah 30-31

Today we’re reading Judges 17 and Jeremiah 30-31.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 31:36, “‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.’”

There is a method of interpreting scripture that interprets the promises God made to Israel, the nation, as fulfilled in us, the church. The church, according to this interpretation, is a full replacement for Israel.

There are significant problems to that method of interpretation. A primary problem is the specificity of God’s promises to Israel. Note in verses 38-39 how specific the proper place names are: “... this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah.” How can these specific places be “spiritualized?” If you believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16), then why did God keep making these promises to the nation, including specific places in the Promised Land, if he meant them in some kind of spiritualized way?

The only answer that makes sense and takes these promises seriously is a literal interpretation of them. In the future, after Christ returns, God will re-establish the nation of Israel in the land on earth with Jesus as king. We Gentiles will take part in that kingdom because we’ve been grafted in (Rom 11:13-17) and because it was always God’s plan to include people from all nations, not because we have replaced Israel.

The fact that Jewish people still claim a unique identity is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to these promises. Someday he will make good on every promise. When that happens, his people will be redeemed spiritually (vv. 33-34) and everyone on earth will “know the Lord” (v. 34). Human life will finally be restored to the condition God created us in--holy, devoted to him, and perfect in our faith and obedience. All of this will happen, of course, only by the grace of God: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60.

This devotional is about Isaiah 60:21-22.

Why is it that only a few people will be saved compared to the billions of people who have or will ever live? One answer is given here in Isaiah 60:21-22. This chapter continued to hold forth for Israel the promise of God’s kingdom in the future under Messiah. Verse 21a promised in that kingdom that “all your people will be righteous,” indicating that only those redeemed and regenerated by the Lord will be there. Two phrases later in verse 21c Isaiah wrote, “They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands....” Picture this image: God’s kingdom is not like a great oak tree transplanted from somewhere else into the land of Israel. Instead, it is a weak little “shoot,” the tiny sprout of a plant that God himself planted but which grew into something great any mighty and, for the first time in human history, holy like God is. So God’s plan was to make something mighty out of something weak and insignificant. Verse 22a-b tells us that his kingdom will become mighty when it says, “The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation.”

But, again, why? Why choose insignificance and only save a few? Verse 21e says, “for the display of my splendor....” It glorifies God to take the weak, the humble, the insignificant and weak and make something great out of it. This is what God will do for Israel when his kingdom is established (again verse 22); and everyone who sees it happen will be amazed at the awesome power of God.

Although this chapter describes what God will do for and with Israel, it echoes a constant theme in Scripture: that God chooses the weak and lowly and insignificant and chooses that to bring glory to himself. This is why only a few are saved. If most people were saved, it would be a common, unextraordiany thing. When God chooses and uses insignificant things and turns it into something great, everyone knows that God is great.

It is troubling at times to be in the kind of minority we find ourselves in as believers in this world. If only more people were believers, we wouldn’t feel so awkward and out of step with the rest of our society. Someday only the righteous will inhabit the world and we’ll fit in just fine then because we too have been justified and sanctified by the grace of God. Until then, we wait for him to glorify himself though us when his kingdom comes.

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 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.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, Psalm 139

The schedule calls for us to read Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, and Psalm 139 today.

This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

In yesterday’s reading, we noted the Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day...”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “... we wait for you....”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked. Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness...” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant. In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the miraculous working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Numbers 5, Song of Songs 3, Psalm 118

Today’s readings are Numbers 5, Song of Songs 3, and Psalm 118.

Some churches begin their services on the Lord’s day by saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Maybe you’ve said that to yourself when you need a little boost in the morning or when trying to drag a tired child out of bed.

That quotation comes from today’s reading, Psalm 118:24. And, theologically, there is everything right with saying that about any day.

But, Psalm 118:24 was not written to encourage us on any and everyday. That’s (maybe?) why the NIV translators went away from the translation you’re used to hearing and translated the verse as, “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” That translation should get us to look at the context and see that “this very day” is a reference to verses 22-23 which say, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” You may recall that Jesus quoted the words of verse 22, “the stone the builders rejected...” in Luke 20:17 and applied them to himself. In that context, he was referring to the judgment he would bring in the future on those who rejected and killed him (see Lu 20:13-16). What all of this means is that Psalm 118 is an end-times prophecy of Christ. It is a promise, a prediction, that God, in the person of Christ, will rescue his people (vv. 10, 14-17), establish his kingdom (with Christ himself as “the cornerstone” v. 22b), and bring them safely into that kingdom. THAT is the day the Psalmist looked forward to and called on his companions to rejoice about in verse 24. When that happens, our Lord will be worshipped, thanked, and praised by all of us that he has redeemed.

My understanding of this verse and these types of prophecies is that they were made for Israel and will be fulfilled literally for Israel but that we Gentiles, according to God’s eternal plan, have been grafted into the plan by God’s grace. This is the hope that we wait patiently for until Christ returns and begins the fulfillment of these words.

So, go ahead and encourage yourself by saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” But realize that any rejoicing you do today will be just a taste of what God has planned for us in eternity. On THAT day, when Jesus establishes his kingdom on the unshakable cornerstone of himself, we’ll have so much more to rejoice about!

Exodus 19, Job 37, Psalm 67

Today’s Bible passages are Exodus 19, Job 37, and Psalm 67.

This devotional is about Exodus 19 and Psalm 67.

The Old Testament is largely about Israel and God’s relationship with her. From the call of Abraham onward, God promised blessings to Israel and called the people of that nation to believe in him and obey his commands. God’s promises and commands to Israel were not for Israel alone, however. God’s plan was to work THROUGH Israel to reach people all over the world with the knowledge of him. Even here in Exodus 19, where God revealed his power and holiness in a dramatic way, he also emphasized the global impact that Israel’s faith was supposed to have. When God said in verse 6, “you will be for me a kingdom of priests” this is what he was talking about. Priests stand between God and humanity. They teach God’s word to his people and they make atonement for their sins. But Israel was to be an entire kingdom of priests. Why? So that they could mediate to the whole world God’s love and God’s truth.

This theme is also described in Psalm 67 which we read today. Notice:

  • “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (v. 2)
  • “May the nations be glad and sing for joy” (v. 4)
  • “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you” (v 5)
  • “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him (v. 7).

Ultimately, these promises came to fulfillment in Christ. Israel could never trust and obey the Lord enough to inherit these promises apart from Christ. But, by God’s grace, Jesus came into the world through the nation of Israel and now he is calling people all over the world to the faith in him that Israel never had. These promises will eventually be fulfilled when Jesus establishes his earthly kingdom. Until then, however, we are here to be part of calling the world to faith in him. This is why we send and support missionaries; it is also why we are called to make disciples ourselves, baptizing and teaching them to observe the commands of Jesus (Matt 28:20).

Are you giving to support the work of the gospel through world missions--either our missionaries or others? Are you looking for ways to begin conversations about Jesus with others?

Genesis 49, Job 15, Psalm 47

Today’s readings are Genesis 49, Job 15, Psalm 47.

This devotional is about Genesis 49.

The leadership power in Jacob’s family was about to pass from Jacob himself to his descendants in this chapter. Isaac had one son, Jacob, accepted as the covenant heir and the other son, Esau, rejected for that role but all of Jacob’s sons would receive the covenant blessing. Each would become the leader of one of Israel’s tribes. In this chapter, Isaac conferred that blessing of tribal leadership on them and made prophecies about each one.

Although it was customary for the eldest son to to receive the greatest blessing, God had bypassed that custom with Jacob. That was based on God’s free choice alone. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, forfeited his covenant blessing as the firstborn by having sex with one of Jacob’s wives (v. 4, cf. Gen 35:22). This was not the last time a man’s immorality caused him to lose political power.

The next two guys in line, Simeon and Levi, disqualified themselves with cruel vengeance far beyond what was justly warranted (vv. 5-7; cf. Gen 34:25). Although Reuben, Simeon, and Levi got to be tribal heads in Israel, they did not get to have a descendent become the king of Israel.

That honor fell to Judah. He had his moral problems, too (see Gen 38), but he was chosen to be the leader of the tribe that would bring Israel her king (v. 10). And, what a king he would be! Verse 10 says that, “he obedience of the nations shall be his.” This, of course, is a reference to Christ. Jesus came to be the Messiah, the king of Israel, but he has not fully assumed that role yet. When he reigns on earth in his Millennial kingdom, this prophecy will finally be fulfilled.

Verses 11-12 describe a time of massive prosperity. Vines and branches (v. 11) are fruit bearing objects; they have value. You wouldn’t tether a donkey or a colt to them because you don’t want those animals eating such valuable fruits. Unless, of course, there is so much fruit available that even the animals can enjoy it without it costing too much financially. Likewise, wine is valuable; you wouldn’t wash clothes with it unless it was so abundant that you didn’t fear “wasting” it. This is what life in the kingdom will be like when Jesus reigns. There will be no poverty, no lack. The world will be at peace under its true, perfect king and there will be prosperity like mankind has never enjoyed.

Isn’t it amazing to read such a detailed prophecy of Christ so many thousands of years ago? This prophecy has not been fulfilled, yet, but God has identified Jesus who will fulfill it and he has repeated the prophecy and given us even more information about life in his kingdom. Passages like this are one of many reasons why we know that the Bible is not just any book; it is God’s word. In it, God has told us what the future holds. The places where his prophesies have been fulfilled already give us greater confidence in one like this which we are still waiting to come to pass.

Trust the Bible; it is God’s word and he has proven it true over and over again.

Genesis 48, Job 14, Psalm 46

Today let’s read Genesis 48, Job 14, and Psalm 46.

This devotional is about Psalm 46.

The world is a dangerous place. The same natural environment that nurtures us with air, water, and food can drown us, poison us, strike us with lightning, and kill us in any number of other ways.

The people who live in this world can be dangerous, too. Although most people have no intent to harm, there are plenty who want to rob, rape, and even kill. Some of these people become world leaders which enables them to marshal resources to kill on a massive scale through warfare. Nations in this world, today, are at war or preparing for war. Innocent people will die because they were conscripted against their will into some man’s army or because that army will attack them and destroy their homes.

This is the world we live in. We feel secure most of the time, but that security is an illusion. If we paid attention to all the ways we could die, it would greatly increase our fears.

Psalm 46 invites us to contemplate a different world. It calls us to trust in God as “our refuge and strength” the one who is “ever-present” to help us in time of trouble (v. 1). This kind of faith gives us confidence, not fear, no matter what disasters happen around us (vv. 2-3).

But the world that the Psalmist envisions here in Psalm 46 is not a present reality yet. When God dwells in Jerusalem on earth (vv. 4-6), then we will see him protect us (vv. 7, 11), stop the natural disasters that kill (v. 8) and the wars that claim so many lives (v. 9). Instead, he will command the nations, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (v. 10).

The vision of life presented in this song won’t happen until Jesus reigns on earth in his kingdom. When his kingdom has superseded all the kingdoms of this earth, when he has defeated his enemies, then there will be peace, prosperity, joy, and eternal life. But better than all of those benefits is the opportunity to know God (v. 10a). Everyone will know him and we will all worship him (“I will be exalted”).

This is the hope that God’s word sets before us believers while we live on this earth. We are citizens of that kingdom but in exile for now until he fully establishes that kingdom on earth. While we wait, Jesus gave us to the gospel to call people all over the world to know the Lord, worship the Lord, and wait for that coming kingdom with us.

If you are harassed, feeling helpless, discouraged by the problems of this world and wondering why life has to be so hard, be encouraged. Things are a mess because the rebellion against the true Lord of this earth has not been defeated yet. But, when that kingdom comes, the joys and pleasures of worshipping the Lord in it will far outweigh the problems we lived through to get there. So don’t give up your faith; it will be rewarded when the king comes.

Genesis 25, Esther 1, Psalm 24

Today we’re reading Genesis 25, Esther 1, Psalm 24.

This devotional is about Psalm 24.

This world belongs to God. Its majestic mountains, its powerful rolling ocean waves, its placid lakes, its glorious skies, the abundance of life in plants and animals, humanity and its cities, towns, villages, farms all exist under the Lordship of God the Creator of everything (vv. 1-2).

Yet, fellowship with God the Creator is impossible. Only the righteous can know him, fellowship with him, and receive his blessings (vv. 3-6) and none of us qualifies. God in his grace forgives those who trust in Him, but none of us deserves the favor of his presence.

When we know God, we realize that there is a strange tension between the fact that we belong to him but are unworthy to fellowship with him or receive his blessings. What hope is there of resolving this tension?

Jesus.

David didn’t know him by that name, but he did know and he believed that the true king would come to live among his people. Verses 7-10 describe the person of Christ and express the hope of his victorious coming. When Jesus, the true king, comes, he will defeat his enemies (v. 8) and enter his city victoriously (vv. 7, 9). David wanted to see “The Lord Almighty... the King of glory” not just own the earth, but to dwell on it among his people. This, too, is our hope. It is why Jesus commanded us to pray, “Your kingdom come.” It is why Jesus came the first time--to begin gathering citizens from all over the world into his kingdom by faith.

When the world is unjust, unsafe, ungodly, unsatisfying, and just plain weird, here is where we should turn our hope. Jesus, the king of glory, has defeated sin and death through his death and resurrection. When he comes again, he will defeat all the enemies who oppose him and establish the perfect kingdom we are waiting for. Let that hope carry you through the tough, unhappy times in this life. The pain will be worth it when the king of glory, the Lord Almighty, comes!

Revelation 21

Today’s reading is Revelation 21.

If you’re reading this, and it is December 28th, and you’ve read every other chapter in the New Testament, congratulations! You’re almost there!

Now that justice has been done and all unrepentant sinners have received their just penalty, God starts over here in Revelation 21. This fresh start is different than the one involving Noah and his family. Recall that God judged the world back in Genesis and started over with Noah, his family, and representatives of everything in the animal kingdom. It wasn’t long, however, before sin re-entered the world because Noah and his offspring were sinners. So, God’s efforts to start over with a flood were unsuccessful.

Here in Revelation 21, God made a new heaven and new earth AFTER he redeemed people to live in it (v.7). God unveiled his new created world and city only after creating a new society of people through the redemption of Christ to live in it. Then--and only then--will :God himself will be with them and be their God” (v. 3).

And what a God he proves to be! Instead of enslaving his people and demanding our worship--which he has every right to do--God moves to “wipe every tear from their eyes” (v. 4) to make us his “children” (v. 7b) and to cause the victorious to “inherit all this” (v. 7). Although God’s kingdom is for him--he’s the king, after all, he generously shares it with us and serves us in it even though he is the exalted king. When we arrive there, we will worship God but God will honor us, enlightening us with his glory (v. 23) and comforting all of troubled hearts.

Are you looking forward to that day? Or are you consumed with the things of this world, trying to build yourself a mini-kingdom instead of seeking first God’s kingdom? The eternity God has prepared for those he loves is beyond the ability of even an inspired writer like John to describe. Live for this; it is the only home that lasts forever.

Revelation 19

Today’s reading is Revelation 19.

In Revelation 18 God defeated Babylon. At the end of chapter 19 (vv. 11-21) Christ returned to personally defeat the Beast.

In between these two victories, we read verses 1-10. Have you ever been to a sporting event--a football game or basketball game--where the cheering was so loud and so intense that it muffled every other sound? Verse 1 describes the worship of our Lord in similar language when it says, “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.’” It was “the roar of a great multitude in heaven.” Verse 6 echoes this when it says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.’”

It is difficult for us to imagine what eternal life will be like, so language like this helps us get a picture to look forward to. The most exciting game you’ve ever witnessed and cheered for will not compare to the excitement and joy and loud shouts of rejoicing that we will make for our Lord. The most enthralling musical concert you’ve ever witnessed will sound like an out-of-tune middle school band recital compared to how we’ll sing and shout the praises of God.

Eternal life will not be boring; it will be infinitely better every moment than the greatest highlights of your life. This hope of eternal life can carry us, it can help us “hold to the testimony of Jesus” while we wait for him to return. When your life is disappointing or worse, remember what God has promised to us in Christ. Then, sing a song for worship and thanks to him as an expression of hope and faith for that coming day.

Revelation 5

Today’s reading is Revelation 5.

Yesterday, in Revelation 4, John described to us his vision of God, in heaven, on his throne, being worshipped. Here in Revelation 5, John saw that God is holding a scroll (v. 1). However, the scroll was sealed with no one worthy to open it (vv. 2-4). No one, that is, except Jesus who appeared in verse 5.

It is interesting to contrast the description of Christ in verse 5 and John’s description of his appearance in verse 6. In verse 5, one of the 24 elders we read about in Revelation 4:4 described Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” This description, plus the statement that he “has triumphed” leads us to expect someone whose appearance is fierce, majestic, and powerful. Instead when John looked at him in verse 6 he saw, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” As if lambs aren’t weak and defenseless enough, this one looks like a dead lamb--one that died violently--hardly someone you would expect to be worthy to open the scroll of God’s revelation.

And yet, that’s what he began to do when he took the scroll from God the Father’s hand in verse 7. Why was he able to do this? The elders and living creatures told us in their “new song” in verses 9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain.” The appearance of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb did not disqualify him from opening the scroll; it qualified him TO open the scroll. Why? Verse 9b: “...with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The triumph (v. 5b) that qualified Jesus was not that he defeated all enemies in battle but that he gave himself to rescue us from God’s wrath for our sins.

The result of his sacrifice was stated in verse 10: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” This is why Jesus came. To create a new kingdom, composed of people everywhere that Christ redeemed, to enjoy ruling with him in his kingdom on this earth.

Are you thankful for your salvation? Do you understand that forgiveness of sins is just the first of many blessings that Christ secured for you by his death on the cross? Are you waiting expectantly for his kingdom to come and preparing for it by storing up treasure there?