ot18

1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5

Today, our schedule calls for us to read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5.

This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on.

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can do rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture.

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves. Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23).

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “...let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about ti? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things--church attendance, etc.--are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.

1 Chronicles 3-4, Amos 3

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Amos 3.

This devotional is about Amos 3.

Judgment is coming to Israel but in this chapter God tells his people that they shouldn’t be surprised when it arrives. The chapter begins by reminding Israel that God chose them to be blessed and rescued them from Egypt (vv. 1-2a). Then in verses 3-6, God’s prophet reminds the people that things happen for a reason. Specifically:

People don’t randomly walk side by side; the reason they walk side by side is that they have agreed to take a walk together (v. 3). Lions don’t roar when they are hunting; that would scare off their prey. The reason they roar is that they have caught something and want to keep others from trying to take it (v. 4). Birds don’t fly into traps; they get caught in traps because they are drawn there by bait (v. 5a-b). The trap doesn’t close on its own; rather, the reason it closes is that something has taken the bait (v. 5c-d). When someone sounds an alarm, people get scared because the alarm was triggered by incoming armies. When you have a live person blowing the trumpet’s alarm, you don’t get alarm malfunctions or need drills like we have. So people had a reason to be scared when they heard the sound of a trumpet.

So, things usually happen for a reason and the reason that Samaria would fall and Jerusalem would, too, later is that “the Lord caused it” (v. 6d).

The good news, though, is that God warns his people before he sends judgment on them. That’s the message of verse 7, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” The rest of the chapter goes on to tell the people, again, that God has warned them through his prophets. The implication, then, is that they should repent.

People don’t like messages of judgment. Who would? No fortune cookie will tell you that within a year you’ll be dead of cancer. Who would want to read that? Some people would complain to restaurant’s management if they got a fortune like that. But if you were dying from cancer and didn’t know it, that’s exactly the message you’d need to hear, like it or not. An accurate diagnosis gives one a chance to avoid the inevitable disaster.

God has left us in this world to make disciples but also to warn the world of God’s coming judgment. People complain and call us unloving when we talk about sin, judgment, and hell; they should understand that the message of warning is a gracious act of God. On the day of judgment no one will escape by saying, “I didn’t know I was guilty before God.” On the contrary; many will have as part of their condemnation the fact that they heard the warning of God’s word and ignored it.

If you are reading this and have not come to faith in Jesus, please listen to the warnings of God’s word and turn to him in faith and repentance now. If you’ve already become a Christian, please don’t avoid talking about God’s justice and the need that everyone has for forgiveness.

2 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 12

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Samuel 3 and Ezekiel 12.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 3.

David was a killer; a “man of blood” as some translations call him in 1 Chronicles 28:3. But look how horrified he was when Joab killled Abner here in 2 Samuel 3. He called on God to bring a perpetual curse on Joab’s family as a consequence of Joab’s sin (v. 29). He mourned the death of Abner, attending his funeral, crying for him, singing a lament for him (vv. 31-34), and fasting to demonstrate his mourning over Abner’s death (v. 35). Why would David, who killed so many people himself, be so horrified by the death of Abner?

The answer is that David’s killing was done in defense of his nation Israel. The Philistines, David’s most frequent opponent, were attacking Israel. Israel was not the aggressor in these situations; it was the victim of the aggression of its neighbors. While it is true that Israel attacked the nations living in Canaan, God made it clear that the command to attack them was not only to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant but also to punish these nations for their own sins (see Deut 9:5, 18:12). Just as God later used the Assyrians and Babylonians to judge Israel for her sins, he used the Israelites in the days of Joshua to punish the Canaanites for their sins. Having taken the land that God promised to them, Israel focused on settling and developing the promised land, not building an empire through never-ending attacks on other nations. War and the killing that it requires, the killing that David did, was done in defense, not because David was a bloodthirsty man.

Our nation’s leaders should consider the ethics of war. American foreign policy in the past few decades has involved attacking other nations that have not attacked us. While this might seem like a smart idea tactically, it is not morally justified. It is, in fact, murder on a large scale. There is a time for “just war” but the just ones in any war are those who are seeking to defend their people and property. Human life is sacred, as David’s response to Abner’s death demonstrates. Since it is sacred, one should never attack another nation or person. Neither you nor I should ever take another person’s life unless that person has attacked us first with potentially deadly force. David’s response to Joab’s murderous attack on Abner shows that he understood the difference between defeating an enemy who has attacked you and getting revenge on someone through murder.

For much more on this, here is an article to read and consider: http://americanvision.org/9926/bahnsen-war/ or you can listen to a radio interview here that covers many of the same points biblically: https://huffduffer.com/jonesay/345975

1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 6

Today we’re reading 1 Samuel 27 and Ezekiel 6.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 27.

It must have been discouraging and exhausting to live like a nomad in the desert constantly on the run from Saul. The logistics of living like that are hard to imagine. Verse 2 told us that David had 600 men with him and verse 3 records, “Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives....” So the number of people involved in David’s nomadic group was at least 1,200 and probably many more assuming that these families had children. It was a big job, I’m sure, finding food and water for these people day after day plus a suitable place to camp when they needed to move to maintain their security.

On top of the difficulty of living this way, Saul’s hunt for David left Israel at risk from her enemies. Back in 1 Samuel 23, the Philistines attacked Israel while Saul was out chasing David (23:27-28). Maybe their timing was fortunate or maybe they knew that Saul was preoccupied with David; either way, Israel was not ready to defend itself while the king and his army was out trying to kill the next man who would be king.

In light of all of this, David decided, according to verse 1 here in chapter 27, to try living with the Philistines again. Remember that he had come to Achish king of the Philistines back in 1 Samuel 21:10 but that time he was alone (21:1) and vulnerable. This time, here in 1 Samuel 27, he was traveling with a large group of fighting men and their families; furthermore, it was now known that Saul regarded him as an enemy (v. 12). You’ve heard the secular, military proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Achish felt it applied in this situation. So David and his men were given asylum first in the capital city of Gath (v. 4) and then a more private and comfortable distance from Achish in Ziklag (vv. 5-6). This move allowed these families to settle down and lead a more peaceful life because Saul did not go looking for David in Philistine territory (v. 4).

What did David and his men do during this year and four months living in Ziklag (vv. 6-7)? One thing they did was make Ziklag part of Israel (v. 6b). This town was located in the territory God had assigned to Judah but God’s people had not obeyed the Lord and taken control of it yet. Now, through David’s actions, they owned this place God had promised to them.

In addition to Ziklag, David and his army invaded other nations south of the promised land that God had told Israel to conquer, namely “the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites” (v. 8). Again, God had commanded Israel to attack and extinguish these people because of their sins against him. Although David was evasive with his reports to Achish about where he was fighting (v. 10), he and his men were doing what Israel’s army was supposed to be doing.

So David and his men were at risk from their true king Saul and, for their own safety and well-being, were temporarily subject to a king who did not know God. They were subordinate to ungodly, disobedient leaders yet they had the ability to do the will of God anyway by attacking Israel’s enemies. Have you ever had a time in your life when you were accountable to an ungodly or maybe just an unwise leader and there was little you could do about it? Maybe you’re in that position now--you’re married to an unbelieving husband, have unbelieving parents, are trying to graduate from a school taught and run by unbelievers, or work a job under a foolish boss. What do you do? The answer is you do the will of God as much as possible. God’s commands provided the moral compass David and his men needed during this strange period in their lives. Let God’s word point you in the direction where you should go, too. Do what is moral and right and just in God’s sight with whatever freedom you have. Let the wisdom sayings of Proverbs help you do what will bring prosperity within the will of God. Put your hope in God and look for deliverance from that situation, but while you wait for the deliverance, do what you can to advance God’s interests and will.

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 1

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 21-22 and Ezekiel 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul. In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him. What possible reason could have justified David’s lie? It is possible that he was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul but the text gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed. This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul. Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed. Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful.

1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David. According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to prove to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing him still or if he was faithful to his word to Jonathan. Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie So what do we make of a passage like this?

First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” so that someone else will like us.

Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell.

It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance. But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.

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 21, Isaiah 48

Today, read Deuteronomy 21 and Isaiah 48.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 21.

Earlier this week I wrote about the death penalty and the very high standards that had to be met before it could be used. Today’s chapter touches again on the death penalty in a couple of different ways:

  • An animal was to be executed as a substitute for the unknown murderer in an unsolved murder according to verses 1-9. The purpose of this law was to uphold the value of human life by making sure that there was some kind of life-for-life exchange if the killer could not be found.
  • A rebellious son could be executed if his parents charged him in the presence of the elders of the town in verses 18-21.
  • Verses 22-23 regulated the public display of someone who was executed. God’s law required burial for anyone who was displayed in this way “because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Let’s consider that last instruction in verses 22-23 today. In each of the death penalty cases we’ve come across so far, God’s word commanded the method by which the death penalty must be... um... executed. In every case that I can remember, God’s law required the method of execution to be stoning. Verse 21 of this very chapter, for example, commands, “...all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Stoning someone to death required binding that person’s hands and feet so that he couldn’t run away. Once bound, the person was thrown into a pit and the witnesses or the elders would throw large rocks at him until he died. Usually the first stone thrown would be a very large rock that would be dropped on the person’s head so that he lost consciousness immediately and possibly would even die from that strike. It is not the most humane way to die, but it was the only way available in their society that multiple people--representing the entire community--could take part together in the execution.

Now, since God’s word prescribed the use of stoning as the method of execution, why did God include these verses about someone who is executed and hung on a pole? This law did not require that the dead body be hung on a pole this way; it only regulated such a pole-hanging if it ever were to occur.

Also, why would the law say, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” but not anyone “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22a) is under God’s curse? In other words, why does the curse apply only to the one executed if he is hung on a pole?

One reason that the Israelites might hang someone on a pole is to publicly display the dead body. The purpose here would be to display God’s curse on the man who was executed and hopefully to deter others who might be tempted to commit the same offense. We don’t know enough about daily life in Israel to know if this was ever used but there is certainly no instance of it in the Old Testament historical books that I can think of.

The New Testament, of course, does provide an example that would fit this description which is our Lord Jesus himself. Although he was not “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22) personally, he came to serve as a substitute for our capital offenses against God. As our substitute, he was cursed by God (Isa 53:4c-d, Gal 3:13 so that we could be blessed with eternal life.

These two simple verses in Moses’s law, verses that may never have been relevant to any situation that Israel ever faced before Jesus’s death, remind us of the blessing of forgiveness we have in Christ. But they also show us how God foreshadowed the atonement of Christ for us in his word, thousands of years before Jesus was even born. This is one of many reasons why we can believe the Bible and know that it is God’s word.

Deuteronomy 20, Isaiah 47

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 20 and Isaiah 47.

This devotional is about Isaiah 47.

There have been many empires in human history. During their days of dominance, most people considered those empires impossible to defeat. In this chapter, Isaiah was inspired to speak against the Babylonian Empire, warning them that they were not as invincible as they believed. Verses 1-3 predicted Babylon’s humiliating defeat. Staring in verse 4, God explained that Babylon’s dominance was part of his plan to discipline Israel for her sins (v. 6). Their God-given domination seemed to them to be an eternal entitlement to rule (vv. 7-8) but God said that they will suddenly fall in defeat without knowing how it happened (vv. 9-11). The chapter ended with God mocking the religious practices of the Babylonians (vv. 12-15) and predicting that these prophets would not even be able to save themselves (v. 14c) much less the whole nation.

This chapter reminds us again that nations are under God’s sovereign authority and control, too. They may desire strength and domination but they cannot achieve either apart from God willing or allowing it to happen. In Babylon’s case, God had decreed that, for his own purposes, God would allow the Babylonians to defeat and exile his people in Judah. They served God’s purpose and, when that purpose had been served, God moved on to other nations to exercise his will, leaving the Babylonians weak and exposed and ultimately defeated by the Persian Empire.

Here in the USA in 2018, we too feel dominant and that our power will continue for as long as American’s can imagine. But what if God has other plans? What will happen to your faith if God moves on from America and allows another country to dominate us? Would you lose your faith in God if Canada, our mighty neighbors to the North, ascended in power and brought us nationally into subjection? What about if Russia or Brazil subjugated us to their rule; would your faith be disturbed then?

God has blessed our nation and I’m thankful for the freedom and benefits we have. Nevertheless, this is not God’s kingdom and someday Christ’s kingdom will defeat and supplant every human nation and power on earth, including ours. That is, unless he allows some other powerful nation to take us down first. If that seems impossible to you read verses 7-11 again. The Babylonians thought they were incapable of defeat and they were... right up until God was finished with them. It is foolish for anyone to trust in human rulers or nations but this especially goes for believers. We belong to King Jesus; any other allegiance we have is far less powerful, important, or meaningful to us. If it isn’t, we are idol worshippers. Check your heart; is it with the Lord and his will or is it set on Americanism?

Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, Psalm 91

Happy Easter Sunday! Today’s readings are Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, and Psalm 91.

Note: according to the schedule we were supposed to read Leviticus 2-3 yesterday but I only linked Leviticus 2. Today, we’re caught up.

This devotional is about Leviticus 4.

This chapter of scripture prescribes how the people of Israel were to atone for their sins. This isn’t the first time we’ve read The commands in this chapter are tailored to the type of person who sins:

  • an anointed priest who sinned was required to bring a young bull for his sin offering (vv. 1-12). His sacrifice was more costly than that of the other individuals in this chapter because he was guilty of “bringing guilt on the people” as their representative before the Lord.
  • if the whole nation sinned, they too were required to sacrifice a young bull as a sin offering for the whole community (vv. 13-21).
  • if a leader sinned, he was required to sacrifice a male goat (vv. 22-26).
  • if a everyday Israelite sinned, that person was to bring a female goat (vv. 27-31).

There are several things that are worth noting in this chapter, but let’s focus on this one: for all four types of people described in this chapter, the sinner (or his/her representative) was required “to lay his hand on its head” (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29, 33) just before it was slaughtered. Why? Because the animal was about to serve as the sinner’s substitute. When a sinner placed his hand on the animal’s head, he was symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal who would then die in the sinner’s place.

This gesture would remind the person offering the sacrifice how serious sin is. Because of his or her sin, an animal would die. Although the expense of animal life was bloody and costly, it was a merciful concession by God to allow the sinner to live by accepting another’s death as a substitute.

All of this pointed toward Jesus who died as our substitute on Good Friday. Animals couldn’t really be substitutes for sinful people; only another human could die in our place. But just as each animal had to be perfect (“without defect” -- vv. 3, 23, 28, 32), so only a perfect man could truly substitute for sinners. This is what Jesus did for us! As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus today, we can do so knowing that our sins are truly and eternally forgiven. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, stood in our place, accepted the guilt of our sins, and was punished by God as our substitute. This is why we are accepted by God and can worship him today.

Exodus 8, Job 25-26, Psalm 56

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 8, Job 25-26, and Psalm 56.

This devotional is about Exodus 8.

In Exodus 7, we read yesterday that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened after Moses did two incredible miracles. Part of his hardening, it would seem, was related to the fact that his sorcerers were able to turn their staffs into snakes and were able to turn water into blood. Although Moses’s snake ate theirs and Moses was able to generate a whole lot more blood, in Pharaoh’s mind, perhaps, he had access to as much supernatural power as Moses did.

Today, however, as we read Exodus 8, Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to make frogs just as Moses and Aaron did (v. 7). Still, there was something about the plague of frogs that affected Pharaoh in a different way than the previous plagues because even though “the magicians did the same things by their secret arts” (v. 7), “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away....’” (v. 8). Maybe the plagues were having a cumulative affect but, for the first time, Pharaoh looked to the Lord for relief.

He received that relief, too, but to emphasize to Pharaoh that this really was an act of God and not a mere coincidence, Moses allowed Pharaoh to choose the time when the frogs would go away (v. 10b). I don’t know why he said, “tomorrow” (v. 10a); I would have said, “Immediately! ASAP!” Just as he asked, however, the frogs all... um... croaked the next day (v. 13). Before the sun went down, however, Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (v. 15b) and would not let God’s people go.

Why exactly did he harden his heart? Verse 15 says it happened, “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief.” We do this sometimes, too. We suffer because of our sin or just because of foolish choices we make, so we get really serious about our faith. We cry out to God for help earnestly, with tears even, maybe. As soon as there is relief, however, we return to our unbelieving ways. I’ve seen this too many times to count in the lives of people I’ve tried to help. They come to me in pain and in fear, admitting that they’ve neglected the Lord and sinned against him. I pray with them and for them and try to encourage them but as soon as the pressure is off, they return to their routines and show no more interest in walking with God than they did before.

This is a symptom of unbelief. Pharaoh was an unbeliever which is why he responded to God’s work as he did. Unbelievers around us respond to God this way, too. We believers, however, are capable of nearly every sin that unbelievers do, including this one. We treat God like a spare tire, riding unseen and unthought about in the trunk of our lives until we find ourselves in an emergency. We turn to God when we need him, then return him to the trunk when life is back on track again.

Does that describe your walk with God? If so, learn from Pharaoh the difference between true repentance, which makes you want to know and glorify God, and the kind that only looks to God in emergencies. Ask God to give you true repentance and faith and learn to cultivate your faith in bad times and good times.

Genesis 43, Job 9, Psalm 41

Today’s readings are Genesis 43, Job 9, and Psalm 41.

This devotional is about Job 9.

Because of the strange supernatural ways in which Job’s life had collapsed, there were no easy answers for what happened to him. If a tornado levels a family’s house, leaving only one survivor and a stock market crash on the same day wipes out their life’s savings, that’s bad. But in that case the tornado probably destroyed and damaged other homes in the area and other people for sure would have lost money in the market. Those people might think God is out to get them but the reality is that God allowed some painful tragedies to happen to many people.

By contrast, Job’s life was surgically detonated--like a skillfully imploded skyscraper that levels the target building while leaving the others around it unaffected. His friends came to show their support but they couldn’t empathize with him because they hadn’t experienced even part of Job’s traumas. The strategic nature of his calamity, and the thoroughness of it, would cause anyone to think that God was out to get them. It was designed to strip Job of every blessing. Then his theology--his understanding of God--would be exposed, like tearing the bricks and siding off a house so that you can see the framing beneath it.

We see that theology--the infrastructure of Job’s faith--here in Job 9. In verses 2-13, he lauded the Lord’s wisdom and power as unparalleled in the universe. As I read those verses, my heart was moved to awe at the majestic massiveness of God, particularly in verses 4-10. Then, in verse 11, Job points out that God is invisible so we are unaware of his presence even as he goes about blessing or wrecking our lives. Job’s theology revolves around the greatness of God and it is rock-solidly biblical. Because he understood God so well, he was painfully aware of the futility of challenging God. Consider:

  • “How can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? Though they wished to dispute with him, they could not answer him one time out of a thousand” (vv. 2b-3).
  • “If he snatches away, who can stop him? Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” (v. 12).
  • “How then can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy. Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing” (vv. 14-16).

Job was right and, as a result, we’re all in big trouble. Although he was a very righteous man, he was not perfect in his righteousness. If Job knew that he could not stand before God, then none of us has even a ghost of a chance.

His good theology and his terrible circumstances, however, led Job to an important conclusion: “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot” (vv. 33-35). This is where Jesus comes in. He came to do what Job knew that he needed someone to do. He came to “mediate between us.” And he did more than Job could have expected. If Jesus came to mediate for us based on our own righteousness and good behavior, he would have nothing to argue. By becoming our righteousness, however, Jesus could make peace with God for us and he did. This is our hope. This is the core of our faith. This causes us to worship God thankfully, not fearfully. Although we are guilty, our advocate made peace with God for us.

Genesis 8, Ezra 8, Psalm 8

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 8, Ezra 8, and Psalm 8.

This devotional is about Psalm 8, specifically verses 3-9.

We look back at people who lived in Old Testament times and think they were primitive. They didn’t have electricity, indoor plumbing, or climate controls. The tools they had were crude and they spent an inordinate amount of time just trying to stay alive by providing for each day’s needs for themselves and their families.

Secular people think they were even more crude than this. They think these people didn’t understand mathematics or natural laws like gravity. They think that David and his contemporaries didn’t even know what the sun and moon were and some people in this time even worshipped those heavenly bodies as if they were gods.

Here in Psalm 8, we see that David had a much better understanding of the physical world than we might expect. He knew that the sky he looked at in the night was showing him the “heavens” (v. 3a) and that the lights he saw in those heavens were celestial bodies in the heavens just as the earth was. In other words, he saw that the earth was not like the set of a movie with everything above being an illusion or a prop. He knew that God had created a vast universe of which the earth was just one planet.

Now that we have telescopes and satellites, we see how vast the universe really is and how small we really are in comparison. But David had a sense of it which is why he marveled, “...what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” With so much stuff in the material universe, why would God care about humanity as a group, much less the individuals in it?

I just googled the earth’s population and it is estimated at 7.6 billion people. I can’t even begin to visualize that number, much less think about knowing each person’s name, story, thoughts, and so on. Yet God knows it all and cares about each of us individually. That’s why David concluded this Psalm with, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Nobody comes anywhere near his majesty.