mercy

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.

2 Chronicles 2, Nahum 1

Today our OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 2 and Nahum 1

This devotional is about Nahum 1.

Ninevah was the capital city of Assyria, an empire that defeated and took captive the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They Assyrians were more than a mighty army and a world power; they were an incredibly cruel to the people they defeated. Their enemies, therefore, hated and feared the Assyrians more than they did other enemies.

The prophet Jonah was sent to preach judgment to Ninevah. He refused to go to Ninevah and had to be dragged there by God via the fish that we read about in Jonah 1-2. It was his hatred of the Assyrians and his fear that God would forgive them that caused Jonah to head for Tarshish instead of Ninevah. Sure enough, the people of Ninevah repented and God was merciful to them.

Here in the book of Nahum, God’s prophet had a second word for the Assyrians. Right out of the box in verse 2, Nahum said to the people of Ninevah, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.” Bad news, Ninevah, the forecast calls for judgment.

Verse 3 tempered the message of God’s wrath with the phrase, “The Lord is slow to anger....” This is part of what Jonah said to God in his complaint when the Ninevites repented: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger...” (Jonah 4:2e). Here, Nahum echoed that truth briefly in 1:3 but then continued, “...but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” This is the message about God that is missing in our culture.” Christians and non-Christians cling to the truth that God is loving-and he is! But the fact that God doesn’t dramatically judge sin with a worldwide flood or fire and brimstone in this age has lulled people into complacency about the wrath of God. Nahum’s warning for Ninevah was that God was very angry with them and that he would punish them for their sin. But within that message of judgment there was still the offer of mercy in the words, “The Lord is slow to anger” (v. 3a). Later in verse 7, Nahum returned to positive aspect of God’s character when he wrote, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,” but he quickly added, “...but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness” (v. 8).

God’s wrath and God’s judgment are not the core of our faith but they are important to our faith. Until people believe that God is angry and his judgment is coming, they will not repent and receive his mercy. As Christians, then, we can never soft-pedal or re-define sin, no matter how acceptable sins may become in our society or how much our society reacts against the truth of God’s wrath. The most loving thing you can tell a sinner is that God is angry and preparing judgment for them but that he will be merciful if people turn to Christ.

Look for ways to talk about that today with someone who is under the wrath of God.

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.

1 Chronicles 19-20, Jonah 3

Today, read 1 Chronicles 19-20, Jonah 3.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 19.

Chapter 19 began by describing the foolish decision of Hanun son of the Ammonites to insult and assault David’s delegation (vv. 1-4). That decision flowed from a cynical assumption about David’s motives (v. 3). We read about this incident back in 2 Samuel 10 and I wrote about the dangers of cynicism here.

But there is more to think about in this passage than just the conclusion that Hanun did something stupid. There were reasons to be cautious about a foreign king sending a delegation like this. Years after this incident Hezekiah received a delegation from Babylon and he showed them everything. God said that they would eventually come back and take all Judah’s wealth. See Isaiah 39 and/or 2 Kings 20:12-19.

So Hanun could have been cautious toward the delegation David sent but open about an alliance between the two of them. Being “open but cautious” is a wise approach to many things in life. Hanun’s approach, however, made him “obnoxious to David” (v. 6). Most of us have probably provoked that kind of reaction in someone else during our lives. What do you do then?

Hanun compounded his stupidity by preparing for war. He hired fighters from other nations (vv. 6-7) and still was soundly defeated by David’s army (vv. 16, 18). His cynical response to David was costly but that cost was compounded by what he did after insulting David and his men.

What should he have done instead? He should have admitted his stupidity to David and begged for mercy. Proverbs 6:1-5 counsels us to beg to be released if we foolishly guarantee someone else’s loan but the advice Solomon gave there is equally applicable here: “So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter (vv. 3-5).

We’ve all done stupid things that made us obnoxious to others but how have you handled those situations after you realized how foolish you had been? Did you lie about the situation? Make excuses for your behavior? Try to shift the blame to someone else? Just try to avoid the person? Wage war (metaphorically, of course) when you were ill-equipped to win?

We should take ownership of our bad decisions and beg for mercy. It is the right thing to do and the wise thing to do. It is a hard thing to do because it will hurt your pride but better a wounded pride than a dead army.

Is there anyone out there who finds your obnoxious because of how you treated him or her? Humble yourself today and do everything you can to repair the situation.

1 Samuel 18, Lamentations 3

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 18 and Lamentations 3.

God punished Judah for her sins, particularly the sin of idolatry; Jeremiah was one of the faithful ones who:

  • worshipped the Lord only
  • prophesied on God’s behalf and
  • suffered for speaking the truth to his fellow Jews

Yet throughout the book of Jeremiah and here in Lamentations, we saw how the prophet Jeremiah took God’s punishment personally. Here in Lamentations 3, Jeremiah continued the personalization of God’s wrath. In verse 2, for example, he wrote, “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light....” Notice how many times in verses 1-21 how many times Jeremiah used the word “I,” “me,” or “my.” Just scanning these verses shows you how the invasion of the Babylonians felt to Jeremiah like a personal attack from the Lord God.

Starting in verse 22, the prophet changed his perspective. Despite all the traumatic judgment God had brought on his people, Jeremiah looked to the Lord for hope. He realized in verse 22 that his sins and the sins of the nation called for much greater judgement even than what they had received. He understood that being alive to greet any new day was an act of God’s mercy; as he wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23). This marked a major shift in his perceptions.

In verse 24-25, Jeremiah affirmed that the Lord was the only real answer to the problems and traumas he and his nations faced. He urged himself and anyone who would read these words to seek the Lord (v. 25b) and wait patiently (v. 24b, 26a) for him and his salvation. All of this hope was based on God’s goodness. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (v. 32).

While waiting for God’s deliverance, Jeremiah also recommended personal introspection: “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven’” (vv. 39-42). This is what the people of Judah should have done before the Babylonians invaded. Repentance would have brought God’s mercy according to his promises in the Law. But, having felt his wrath for their sins now, repentance remained the only right response for his people.

In Christ our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure. When we are in Him, God views us and treats as perfect because he has credited us with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Still, we are not fully redeemed in the sense that we continue to have a sin nature and we follow that sin nature with disobedience to God’s word. Although God does not punish us for our sins--those were punished on the cross--he usually allows the consequences of sin to play out in our lives and he will bring his hand of loving discipline into our lives to make us holy. That can feel like a personal attack unless we remind ourselves of God’s loving, gracious character as Jeremiah did in verses 22-26. If you’re experiencing some painful problems in life, have you looked to God’s character for encouragement and strength? Have you examined your life and expressed repentance for sins that may have brought these problems into your life?

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.”

Joshua 7, Jeremiah 1

Our scheduled Bible readings for today are Joshua 7 and Jeremiah 1.

This devotional is about Joshua 7 and originally came from my 66in16 devotional series

It really didn’t take very long, did it, before Israel’s great victory over Jericho gave way to a crushing defeat in Ai (vv. 2-5). God’s people lost all the confidence they had gained in Jericho (v. 5c) and Joshua questioned God’s wisdom (vv. 6-9). But the real culprit was Achan’s sin (v. 1). Once God revealed the true issue (vv. 10-11), he also affirmed that there would be no further conquest until the sin issue was removed (v. 12).

God could have revealed Achan’s name and made it easy for Joshua and the Israelites; instead, the Lord systematically led Joshua through the people, “tribe by tribe, clan by clan, family by family” (v. 14). My belief is that Achan could have come forward at any point and ended the interrogation, but he intended to keep his sin secret and hope that he would not be revealed. That’s often our tendency, too, isn’t it? Keep quiet and hope for the best.

My assumption, too, is that if Achan had confessed, there would have been mercy for his family and maybe for him. I base this assumption on Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If only we would listen to the conviction of the spirit and the voice of our guilty conscience and come forward when we sin instead of trying to get away with it. Not only would we receive God’s offer of mercy, we could, perhaps, spare others the misery of our sin. One thing’s for sure: if we would voluntarily confess our sin instead of waiting until we were caught, it would be a lot easier to forsake the sin before it became a habit.

Unfortunately, Achan tried to cover his sin but God was not deceived. But notice that, when he was identified, Joshua said to him, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me” (v. 19). We hide our sins for various reasons: we fear the consequences of confession and/or we love the pleasure of our sin so much that we keep it a secret so that we can return to it. What may not factor into our thinking, however, is the glory of God. Is God glorified when we sin in private, keep it hidden, and pretend to be the good people of God on the outside? Of course not. But that’s not our instinct; our instinct is to believe that the outward appearance of godliness is better for God and for us than it is to admit our failings and fall upon the mercy and grace of God. Even when caught, however, the best way for Achan to glorify God was not to lie and continue to try to cover his sin; instead, the best thing to do was to own up to his disobedience, which he did in verses 20-12.

I wonder what would have happened in Achan’s life if he had come forward sooner—either when his conscience convicted him or when Joshua began working his way through the people. What about in our lives? Is there a sin that you’re hiding? Have you ever considered that God’s blessing might be withheld from your family or from our church or from something else because of the disobedience that you are trying to cover? Has it ever occurred to you that, having sinned, the best way to glorify God now is to come forward voluntarily to the appropriate person—the government, your spouse, your elders—make a full confession and ask God to glorify himself either in mercy or in punishment? If the Lord is convicting you of something right now, take the opportunity you have today to give glory to God. Confess your sin and fall on the mercy of God.

Deuteronomy 10, Isaiah 38

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 10 and Isaiah 38.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 10.

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Today’s OT18 daily readings are Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will--even when it is bitter--and follow him obediently.

Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalm 13

Today, read Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalm 13.

This devotional is about Genesis 14.

I wrote yesterday about the close relationship that Abram and Lot had. Although the wealth of each man, and the conflicts that wealth created, led to them to live separately (Gen 13), Abram still cared about Lot and his safety. It was Abram’s commitment to Lot that caused Abram to chase down Kedorlaomer and company when they won their war with Sodom and her allies. Verse 12 told us that Lot was already living in Sodom when this happened and that Lot was “carried off” by Kedorlaomer after they won the battle. Verse 14 said that Abram decided to pursue the victors when he “heard that his relative had been taken captive.” Abram was not interested in showing his military might or in plundering the victors. He wanted to save his nephew, giving Lot back his freedom.

In verse 21, the king of Sodom was in no position to negotiate. So, he asked Abram to let him and his citizens have their freedom. In the rules of their culture, Abram could easily have enslaved all of the people and kept their valuables as well. When the king of Sodom requested his freedom, he was actually asking for quite a bit.

Abram, however, refused to keep anything of value for himself. He took an oath (v. 22) before entering the battle that he would keep nothing for himself. Why? Verse 23 says, “so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”

If Abram had plundered the people of Sodom and their allies, eventually those people would have resented Abram. After their gratitude for being alive and free subsided, they would have considered how much they lost in that battle and would have blamed Abram for their economic depression. By not taking advantage of them--even though he had every right to gain handsomely for the risks he took--Abram demonstrated that he trusted in God. He was willing to let his wealth grow organically as God prospered him rather than artificially by plundering others. He considered it unrighteous to gain from the trauma and bad fortune of others.

Have you ever been in a position to profit from someone else’s pain? I can’t think of a situation where I have been in that position but, if I ever am in that position, I hope Abram’s example will guide my decisions. Abram took enough to cover his expenses (v. 24a) and to thank God for his blessing (vv. 18-20) but he would not impoverish his nephew and Lot’s neighbors in order to enrich himself. You know and I know that there are people in this world who will take advantage of you when you are desperate. A person like that shows what they value wealth over faith in God and service to others. If you love the Lord, it should translate into compassion for others and cause you to be merciful and help others when they have a need.

Revelation 18

Merry Christmas! Read Revelation 18 today.

The judgment that was prophesied for Babylon in chapter 17 was described here in Revelation 18. Nothing specific is detailed about her demise; instead, it was described by angels then mourned by men on earth. But, before he destroyed Babylon, God warned his people to flee it so that they would be delivered from his judgment (vv. 4-8).

There are unbelievers in our world who object to our message by pointing to what they call the genocide of the God of the Old Testament. What is often missed, however, is that God routinely warns the wicked before he brings judgment on them. He warned the world through Noah before the flood, he warned Lot and his family before Sodom was consumed, he warned Ninevah through Jonah, Nebuchdnezzar in Daniel, and so others. Although God is just when he judges humanity, even his justice is tempered by mercy because he warns people to repent and flee his wrath. Keep this in mind when people object to the gospel, particularly the doctrine of hell. God told us about hell so that we would fear him and receive his grace in Christ to avoid it.

In fact, part of the message of Christmas is that God came down into our world to warn us of his coming judgment and deliver us from that wrath in Christ. As we give thanks for Christ today, let’s remember to look for opportunities to warn others around us and show them how to escape God’s judgment through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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 14

Today’s reading is Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone. Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5; they were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c). As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

Revelation 9

Today we’re reading Revelation 9.

In chapter 8, Jesus opened the seventh seal. Then John told us, “I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (v. 2) and “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them” (v. 6). Four of those angels sounded their trumpets in Revelation 8; today we read about what happened when angels five and six sounded their trumpets. What happened was painful torture to those not protected by God’s seal (vv. 4-12) and death for 33% of the world’s population (vv. 13-19).

One would expect that this kind of devastation would cause people to cry out to God for mercy. Instead, those who lived through these horrific events “still did not repent” of their false worship and disobedience to God. Their stubbornness demonstrates that sin nature is deeply planted in us all as are the sinful habits that we cultivate. Neither God’s judgment on others nor the threat of it can cause a person’s mind and heart to change. It is only God’s gracious working within any of us that changes our minds and causes us to turn to God in faith.

Thank God, though, that he does this gracious work in the hearts of many, including in our hearts when we came to believe in Jesus.

Luke 13

Read Luke 13 today.

Before radio and TV and cable news channels, world news was scarce and was mostly confined to events that related to your own community or, at most, your own nation. So the terror attacks in London that happened yesterday would never have been known about in Israel during the days Jesus lived on this earth.

Still, some bad news circulated and Jesus was informed of some here in Luke 13:1. In the incident in question was brutal and tragic, but it was also political. It involved “Galileans,” so those were Jewish people who lived in the region where Jesus spent most of his life and ministry, the northern part of Israel called Galilee. These men were in Jerusalem offering sacrifices and Pilate--the Roman governor or that area--had them put to death as they offered their sacrifices in the temple. These men may have been plotting against the Romans and Pilate may have chosen to make them a public example. Since Jewish people wanted Messiah to lead an insurrection against Rome, Jesus may have been informed of this situation to see if he would take on this revolt as the Messianic leader. Later in the chapter, in verse 31, Jesus was informed that Herod was plotting to kill him So there was a lot of political pressure swirling around Jesus at that moment.

Although Pilate’s actions were brutal, Jesus did not express moral outrage against Pilate when he was told of this news. Instead, Jesus warned the people that the men who died were no more sinful than the average citizen of Galilee (v. 2). Jesus raised the tension in the audience by speaking of eighteen who died in an accident when a tower in Siloam fell on them (v. 4). What about them, did they deserve an untimely death because they were especially sinful? No, according to verse 3a. Whether one died by abuse of government power as in verse 1 or in accidentally as in verse 4, Jesus did not condemn the victims as being more sinful than anyone else. Instead, he used these incidents in the news to raise an uncomfortable truth: “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (v. 5).

There was a common superstitious belief that only the worst sinners died prematurely. That belief exists somewhat today in our culture when people talk about “karma.” But Jesus wants us to know that the only reason we are alive today at all is the mercy of God. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would live a rich, full, happy life. We are all sinners living on the wrong side of God’s laws so he is perfectly just anytime one of us dies, whether at a good old age or way too soon.

Christ has redeemed us who believe from the eternal curse of our sin. Some who believe in him will escape the curse of physical death by being alive when Jesus returns. But none of us is guaranteed anything; physical death is a curse that has been handed down to all of humanity because of the fall. God’s plan for redemption from physical death is to let most of us die and to raise us from the dead physically just as we all were raised spiritually when Christ saved us. It is wise for us, then, to be thankful for today and to use it as best as we can for God’s glory. It is also wise for us to share with others what Christ has done for sinners so that they may repent and avoid perishing spiritually. The most important application of this passage is for any of you who have not turned to Christ for salvation. The only way to avoid the curse of sin is to turn to Jesus for salvation. Take the time you have today to do that; you do not know what God may allow into your life. tomorrow.

Luke 9

Today we reading Luke 9. Click here for that chapter.

At the beginning of this lengthy chapter, Jesus told the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet” (v. 5). Toward the end of this same chapter, Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village “to get things ready for him” (v. 52). I take that phrase to mean that Jesus was sending some of the people mentioned in yesterday’s devotional to prepare for Jesus’ arrival because he was going to stay and teach in that village for a while on his way to Jerusalem. According to verse 53, “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” James and John were incensed by this rejection. Claiming the supernatural power that Jesus had conferred on them in verse 1, these two brothers “asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”

Their question demonstrated the wrong spirit toward those who had rejected Jesus. When Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet in verse 5, the reason he gave was “as a testimony against them.” It was for their warning and rebuke that Jesus commanded the disciples to do this, not because they were angry or ready to send judgment on the towns that rejected them. That is why “Jesus turned and rebuked” James and John in verse 55. These men were not concerned about the lost souls of these Samaritans; they were ticked off at being rejected and wanted to show them some power!

Jesus surely will bring judgment on anyone who rejects him in this life. That is one of his promises and one of his roles when he returns. Until the day of judgment begins, however, Jesus calls us to show grace and mercy to his enemies, not to call for their destruction. We should keep this in mind when unbelievers mock our faith, or belittle us personally, or even persecute us. We should definitely testify to them about the judgment that Jesus will bring for these actions; that’s what he told the disciples to do in verse 5--testify against them. But we should be merciful and plead with them as we do this knowing that their eternal souls are at stake. So consider your heart and attitude toward those who are hostile to righteousness, to Christianity, Christians, or Christ. Don’t hope for and call for God’s judgment; tell them of God’s judgment but in a way that shows them how much we want to see God’s mercy in their lives.

2 Chronicles 24, Revelation 11, Zechariah 7, John 10

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 24, Revelation 11, Zechariah 7, John 10. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Zechariah 7.

During the 70 years that Judah was captive to Babylon, the Jewish people began a tradition of fasting in the fifth and seventh month of each year (vv. 3-4). The purpose of this fast was, on the surface at least, to beg the Lord to end the captivity, return his people to the promised land, and restore the temple. But the temple was now being rebuilt and many people were returning to Judah, so this delegation wanted to know if the fasting was still necessary.

Zechariah’s answer was long and did not conclude until chapter 8, but his entire answer challenged the questioners more than it answered the question. The Lord asked the people, “...was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?” (vv. 6-7). A fast of true repentance would have honored the Lord but a mere ritual that everyone observed as a matter of custom meant as little to the Lord as it did to the people observing the fast. Likewise, their “normal” days of eating and drinking were done without any regard for the Lord. They did not give thanks for the food he provided or enjoy it as an act of worship from grateful hearts. Both their religious observance and their daily habits were done for themselves, not as servants of God seeking to please him.

Instead, God wanted his people to live like him daily, showing justice, mercy and compassion by caring for widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor rather than using the vulnerabilities of these groups as levers to exploit them. This is the kind of worship God wants, not because he expected people to work to earn his favor but because these ethics were evidence of a truly changed heart.

Think about your daily choices--to eat or not to eat, to read God’s word and pray or not, to attend church or sleep in, to be kind and helpful to others or to ignore their needs. Does your walk with God drive the decisions you make on these (and other) things or do you choose what you will and won’t do based on your own personal motivations?

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

1 Kings 9, Ephesians 6, Ezekiel 39, Psalm 90

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 9, Ephesians 6, Ezekiel 39, Psalm 90. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Ezekiel 39.

This chapter prophesies military disaster for Gog (a man described as “chief prince of Meshek and Tubal” (v. 1b) and Magog (a place—v. 6). Identifying this person and place is a subject too complex for a simple devotional like this one. The chapters surrounding this one in Ezekiel as well as the use of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:8 locates these events in the end times after the Millennium. So, what is described here in Ezekiel 39 is still future to Israel and to us. 

But two items in this prophecy are helpful for us today in our walk with God. First, in verses 7-8 God explained why his judgment will fall on Magog so severely. Verse 7 says, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.” It is God’s holiness that causes him to judge humanity and bring punishment on people. God is not angry with humanity for no reason and he is not unreasonably brutal toward people. People deserve God’s wrath because we profane his holy name. People do this when they use his name in vain, when they use it to curse others, when they mock biblical standards of righteousness, when they try to deny God’s existence or explain away his word. Our biggest problem spiritually is that, apart from Christ, we hate God. That’s why we disobey his word and try to live life on our own terms. Humanity’s antipathy toward God causes people to speak against him and live in violation of his word. God has been very merciful and patient; allowing humanity thousands of years to enjoy life on earth and the gifts of creation God gave to us. Despite his mercy and patience, humanity has become more evil, more depraved over time. God’s patience will run out and, as he promised, his wrath will fall, and everyone who experiences his wrath more than deserves it. 

We recoil from passages that describe God’s wrath because we are human. We can identify with the pain and horror of human beings suffering the wrath of God. But, in addition to being human, we are also sinners so most sins are not nearly as evil or offensive to us as they are to a holy God. 

A second item in this prophecy that is helpful to us is the reassurance in verses 25-29 that God is compassionate. This is specifically applied to Israel but we know that Christ came and died not only to redeem Israel but also people all over the world. So although it is true that God will punish his enemies, his punishment is not unjust nor is it applied without mercy. God is merciful to those who look to him in faith; indeed, Christ himself came to bear the punishment for the sins of all whom God has chosen to be his children. 

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

Joshua 7, Psalms 137–138, Jeremiah 1, Matthew 15

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 7, Psalms 137–138, Jeremiah 1, Matthew 15. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read  Joshua 7.

It really didn’t take very long, did it, before Israel’s great victory over Jericho gave way to a crushing defeat in Ai (vv. 2-5). God’s people lost all the confidence they had gained in Jericho (v. 5c) and Joshua questioned God’s wisdom (vv. 6-9). But the real culprit was Achan’s sin (v. 1). Once God revealed the true issue (vv. 10-11), he also affirmed that there would be no further conquest until the sin issue was removed (v. 12).

God could have revealed Achan’s name and made it easy for Joshua and the Israelites; instead, the Lord systematically led Joshua through the people, “tribe by tribe, clan by clan, family by family” (v. 14). My belief is that Achan could have come forward at any point and ended the interrogation, but he intended to keep his sin secret and hope that he would not be revealed. That’s often our tendency, too, isn’t it? Keep quiet and hope for the best.

My assumption, too, is that if Achan had confessed, there would have been mercy for his family and maybe for him. I base this assumption on Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If only we would listen to the conviction of the spirit and the voice of our guilty conscience and come forward when we sin instead of trying to get away with it. Not only would we receive God’s offer of mercy, we could, perhaps, spare others the misery of our sin. One thing’s for sure: if we would voluntarily confess our sin instead of waiting until we were caught, it would be a lot easier to forsake the sin before it became a habit.

Unfortunately, Achan tried to cover his sin but God was not deceived. But notice that, when he was identified, Joshua said to him, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me” (v. 19). We hide our sins for various reasons: we fear the consequences of confession and/or we love the pleasure of our sin so much that we keep it a secret so that we can return to it. What may not factor into our thinking, however, is the glory of God. Is God glorified when we sin in private, keep it hidden, and pretend to be the good people of God on the outside? Of course not. But that’s not our instinct; our instinct is to believe that the outward appearance of godliness is better for God and for us than it is to admit our failings and fall upon the mercy and grace of God. Even when caught, however, the best way for Achan to glorify God was not to lie and continue to try to cover his sin; instead, the best thing to do was to own up to his disobedience, which he did in verses 20-12. 

I wonder what would have happened in Achan’s life if he had come forward sooner—either when his conscience convicted him or when Joshua began working his way through the people. What about in our lives? Is there a sin that you’re hiding? Have you ever considered that God’s blessing might be withheld from your family or from our church or from something else because of the disobedience that you are trying to cover? Has it ever occurred to you that, having sinned, the best way to glorify God now is to come forward voluntarily to the appropriate person—the government, your spouse, your elders—make a full confession and ask God to glorify himself either in mercy or in punishment? If the Lord is convicting you of something right now, take the opportunity you have today to give glory to God. Confess your sin and fall on the mercy of God. 

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