The Well: August 4 – 8
August 4: 2 Samuel 21, 22
As we come to the end of 2 Samuel we encounter a common theme. God has brought famine to the land because of sin. Canaan has always represented God’s land, and the ability to live in, and thrive on, God’s land is dependent upon obedience. David inquires of God as to the cause of the famine and is told that Saul’s treachery in attempting to wipe out the Gibeonites (with whom covenant had been made: see Joshua 9:16).
David’s attempt to right the wrong brings about the death of 7 of Saul’s descendants, a common custom in those days that called for the descendents to atone for the sins of their fathers. But much more than a blood feud is in play here. The sin of the King has brought famine to the land. This episode is meant as a prelude to the plague David will bring upon the land in chapter 24.
Rizpah’s actions in guarding the bodies of her sons shames David into understanding that he had not honored Saul and Jonathan in their deaths. He retrieves their bones, and upon burying them properly and with honor, the famine is ended.
The chapter ends with several accounts of war designed to show that, while David had reached the age where he could no longer lead in battle, God had raised up others to be victorious over Israel’s enemies. In this case, four episodes where a descendant of David slays a descendant of Goliath is the narrator’s way of showing that God is going to keep his promise to prolong David’s dynasty even after the great King’s demise.
Chapter 22 is one of the best examples of David’s poetry. Its beautiful in its literary design, and also aptly portrays the heart for God that was a hallmark of David’s life. It is also an important argument in favor of the careful transmission of the Old Testament text in that it is paralleled almost exactly in Psalm 18. The significance of this comes from the fact that 2 Samuel and Psalm 18 are found in the works of different authors, written at different times, and yet preserved in such a state that the minor differences can be accounted for as intended by the authors rather than errors in copying or in the transmission of the text. This is just one of many proofs that God supernaturally has preserved his Word down to our time!
The psalm is place here by the author as a summary of David’s trust in God throughout his life, and particularly during times when opposition was overwhelming. The theme is the faithfulness of God to rescue those who trust him. David had faced wave after wave of enemies from within and without. His enemies rebelled against him, and so did his own family. Yet, in every situation, God proved faithful to the covenant he had made (see: 2 Samuel 7).
David ends with the powerful statement that, as he looks over the course of his life, it can be summarized as an evidence of God’s great salvation and steadfast love. He can be trusted, today and tomorrow, and for eternity.
Prayer: Great God of heaven, as this week lays out before me I don’t know all that I will face. I don’t know what the challenges or opportunities will be, but I do know that you are my God, and I am your child, and you will be faithful to your promises to me in Jesus Christ. Help me to live focused on your promises, and not led into doubt or despair by the circumstances that come my way. Make my life meaningful this week, by your grace, and for your glory, Amen.
August 5: 2 Samuel 23, 24
These chapters present the last words and work of David, God’s King. The “oracle” here is David’s last explanation for his life, and exhortation to those who will remain after he departs this life. It constitutes his final words of wisdom for his family, and his people.
David’s entire outlook flows from the “everlasting covenant” God made with him. This is the basis of his confidence. Yet, favor with God does not mean there has not been opposition from enemies and friends alike. In the midst of opposition, however, those who trust in God will prevail as “worthless” men are eventually “consumed with fire.”
The remainder of the chapter chronicles David’s mighty men. These were his personal protectors, many of whom had been with him from the time of his exile in the wilderness during the days of Saul.
Of particular note is honor with which David recognized his men. The story of three men who took it upon themselves to fulfill David’s desire for a certain spring’s water demonstrates that David considered his men to be like peers. He respected them for their prowess on the battle field, their courage, and their loyalty to the point that he felt unworthy to drink of the water.
The exploits of certain men also serve to show that these men were strong, and cunning and would have been a welcomed addition to any clan’s defensive force. Yet, they remained with David through it all. This underscores that, to the end, David was a King that was worthy to be followed.
Chapter 24 finds an elderly David looking for evidence that the kingdom was secure. Despite God’s command not to, David decides to number the troops. Such a census would have given him a greater sense of security, but it also would be a case of trusting in his own strength rather than in God’s provision and protection.
In response, God brings a plague down on the people. When David recognizes his sin as the cause of the distress he determines to offer sacrifices as a sign of his repentance, and obedience to God.
The whole purpose of this final episode in the life of David is to show how the land upon which the Temple would one day be built came to be owned by David. On the advice of Gad the prophet, David determines to build an altar on a high hill, and offer guilt offerings to God. He decides to buy the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When the land is offered to the King for free, David’s answer is important to note: “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” The story goes on to show how God was satisfied with David’s heart and sacrifices, and the famine was ended.
It is important to understand that David’s sentiment is vital today as well. Worship must always cost us something. The cost may be the denial of our selfish desire for comfort, or convenience. It may also mean that we have to recognize, confess, and repent of our laziness, pride, critical spirit, or animosity toward other believers. Whatever the case, engagement with a holy God (for that is what “worship” really is) is always dangerous, and expensive, and not something to be entered into with a frivolous or unprepared heart.
Prayer: Father, I realize that my every minute is to be a time of worship, as I live out my life before your face. May my heart truly engage you, and be conscious of you in every area. And may I recognize that your holiness and justice and sovereign goodness must always remind me of how great you are, how weak I am, and what a privilege it is to be your child, and come to you as Father, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.
August 6: Jonah 1, 2
Today we begin the marvelous story of Jonah. Perhaps no Old Testament story is as widely known as the miraculous encounter between prophet and the giant fish. But the story has significance beyond the obvious.
Jonah is introduced without explanation as a prophet called of God to bring a message of repentance to the great city of Nineveh, the city-state of the Assyrians. But Jonah will have none of it, and boards a ship headed in the opposite direction. But, God is in charge here, and orchestrates a massive storm that motivates the sailors to toss Jonah overboard, and into the stomach of the large fish God has sovereignly prepared to provide the prophet 3 nights’ waterfront lodging!
At first we might wonder at Jonah’s reaction. Why not just go and do what God asked him to do? It is necessary to understand that God’s command went contrary to everything he had previously commanded his people Israel regarding the nations that surrounded them. They were to stay away from them. They were not to settle among them, or take their daughters for their sons, or give their daughters as wives to foreigners. The foreigners posed a huge risk to Israel in that they were idolaters. God forbid his people to associate with the idolatrous nations of the area.
Further, God has never before sent his messengers to command foreigners to repent and turn to God. In that time, if you wanted to get to God, you came to Israel as a proselyte, placed yourself under the Law of God, and joined the nation in obedience to God. But now God was asking a Jewish prophet to extend the message of forgiveness to a pagan city! This was too much for Jonah, and he bolted.
But God was not about to alter his plan. Chapter 2 describes Jonah’s reflections as he lay trapped in what amounted to a watery grave. His situation was as though he was in Sheol, the place of the departed. The experience was as near to death as it would have been possible, making it the perfect metaphor for death later used by Jesus (see: Matthew 12:40), especially given that it was 3 days and 3 nights.
The time spent in the belly of the fish was God’s way of bringing the stubborn prophet into alignment with the reality that God, and God alone, is sovereign over salvation. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” was Jonah’s final realization. Jonah was mad at God for even considering that salvation could be extended to non-Jewish pagans. Jonah was incensed that the privilege given to Israel could be offered to the Assyrians. But Jonah learned an important lesson. God gets to decide who will be his children, who will be granted the grace of repentance and faith.
Prayer: Father, the story of Jonah reminds me that I also sometimes don’t understand your ways. I confess that there are times when I disagree with what you’re doing, and how you are ordering my life and that of those I love. Yet, I do believe that you are always doing what is right and best, and I trust you. Father, help me to trust you more, especially when the way ahead seems dark, and the path of obedience seems difficult. Increase my faith in you, my faithful Lord and Savior, Amen.
August 7: Jonah 3, 4
Having been delivered from the belly of the fish, Jonah is not given a second chance to obey the command of the Lord. This time he journeys to Nineveh, a very large city of more than 200,000 (see: 4:11). It is possible that the designation of Nineveh in vs. 3 describes both the city proper and the surrounding populated countryside. In any event, the story dramatically contrasts Jonah as a solitary voice for God in the midst of a huge, pagan people.
Vs. 4 gives what must have been a greatly abbreviated summary of Jonah’s message. That the people understood their responsibility to repent, and believe in God (Elohim) must mean that Jonah had informed of both their wickedness, and the fact that it brought them into conflict with God necessitating their repentance and obedience to him.
The response of the people is overwhelming. Even the King took part in the city’s repentance before God. But apparently this was not what Jonah wanted. While we pray earnestly for wide-spread repentance and faith in response to the Gospel today, we will see that Jonah was once more distressed over the situation.
In keeping with the King’s decree the people of Nineveh turned from evil (repented) and called out mightily to God (faith). In a wonderful preview of God’s promise that all the nations would one day benefit from his gracious salvation, God “relented of the disaster” he had threatened.
Chapter 4 describes Jonah as exceedingly displeased and angry. He knew from the first that God was merciful and gracious, and feared greatly that, instead of raining down judgment on pagan Nineveh, he would forgive and grant them blessing. And such was the case!
Jonah asks God to take his life, perhaps believing that he would forever be ostracized from his people once word reached them that he had been an instrument of grace to their enemies. But God replies with a question that we should often ask ourselves when we find ourselves at odds with God: “Do you do well to be angry?”
The question is not answered except in Jonah’s actions. He departs the city and remains distraught as he finds a viewing spot to see what will happen. But God will not leave him alone! God brings the harsh wind, and for a second time Jonah begs to die. But God has other plans. He raises up a plant to provide shade, and when it withers and dies, Jonah is forced to see the hypocrisy of his own heart. He cares more for the plant than for the souls of men, women, boys and girls of Nineveh. Jonah hates his enemies while God extends his grace to them.
The story ends with yet another unanswered question, and we realize that the author means for us – the readers – to answer it as the fitting summation of the story. “Yes, God, you should pity this sinful world, for it is against the backdrop of our sinfulness that your grace shines most brightly, and your glory is most wonderfully displayed!”
Prayer: Father, there is too much of a Jonah spirit in me at times. Forgive me for wishing evil on those who I consider wicked. Forgive me for caring more about my own comfort than the plight of those who do not yet know and love you. Forgive me for thinking I know better than you, and for disagreeing with your sovereign plan for my life and this world. Lord, I do love you, and long to have my heart more fully aligned with yours, for the sake of the gospel and your kingdom, Amen.
August 8: Psalm 31, 32
This psalm, from the pen of David, has been called “a magnificent psalm of confidence.” The theme once again is a reliance on God’s faithfulness during times of great danger and despair.
Written probably during the events of 1 Samuel 21, when David was running and hiding from Saul, the psalm may speak to David’s reflections as the inhabitants of Keilah are about to betray him despite his having rescued them from danger. If this is the case, then the “afflictions” spoken of were emotional and made up more of mental anquish and distress than physical affliction.
In any event, David reflects on a series of situations that seemed to go from bad to worse to horrible. He feels forgotten as one who is dead while on every side his enemies are whispering of schemes to take his life. There seemingly is no escape, and no opportunity to overcome the enemies.
But, time and time again, it is the promise of the nearness of God that guards David’s heart and mind. The situation could very well drive him to doubt and even denial of God’s blessing, but at his core, David knows that God can be trusted. Despite the presence of overwhelming adversity, David clings to the steadfast love of God that has been extended to him.
The psalm ends with an exhortation to everyone who would ever read it. Love the Lord! He preserves the faithful and will take down the proud. So, be strong whatever danger surrounds you. Take courage, and wait for the Lord. He will never disappoint.
Psalm 32, along with Psalm 51, represent David’s heart of repentance following his sin with Bathsheba. It is generally held that Psalm 51 represents David’s more immediate repentance while Psalm 32 gives us the fruit of much longer reflection as he looks back on his sin, and God’s undeserved forgiveness.
David begins with a summary statement. That man is blessed of God who no longer deceives himself or others regarding his sin. This is the man who has confessed and now lives under the wings of God’s forgiveness, where there is no record of his sin.
He remembers the agony of trying to hide sin, or rationalize it away, knowing all the time that he could never get away with it, or get away from its paralyzing effects. But when at last he confessed his sin, he found the freedom of being forgiven. It is this freedom, this release, this spiritual health that he now both enjoys and exhorts his readers to seek. All those who are godly should avail themselves regularly of God’s gracious gifts of love and forgiveness. They should not be like the horse or mule who lack understanding, and must be forced to go the right direction. Rather, the blessed one will recognize and run to the steadfast love of God that is available to all who will humble themselves, and trust in the Lord.
Prayer: O gracious God and Father, I know my sin, and my tendency to rationalize it away, and think that it is hidden from your eyes. But I also know that what displeases you also erodes my own joy, no matter how hard I try to deny it. Thank you for this reminder that it is always better to acknowledge my sin before you, recognizing that it is death to me. I confess right now that there are things I’m harboring, but now I give them all to you, and thank you for your steadfast love, and abundant forgiveness, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
The Well: August 11 – 15
August 11: Proverbs 1, 2
The Book of Proverbs is made up of several collections of proverbial sayings with the majority coming either from the pen or the collection of Solomon. The first 9 chapters see to be a “primer on life” for a young boy as he is growing into manhood.
Proverbs 1 sets out the theme of the book by illustrating the “way of wisdom.” This word – wisdom – meant the skill of righteous living. Wisdom was living in such a way that God was glorified and the community was benefited. “Knowledge” was the “stuff” of good decision making and character, but “wisdom” was – and is! – the putting of knowledge to work in thought and deed.
The starting point of wisdom is clear. It is the fear of God. That is, an understanding of God’s sovereign rule, and the correct response to that understanding being humility and submission to his Kingly reign.
The father instructs the son to watch out for those who will invite him to try out shortcuts to success. Three major areas are of particular importance in these first chapters. Sex, wealth, and power will naturally be enticing to his son. They are all to be enjoyed as gifts from God, but only within the boundaries God has set, and only in keeping with God’s heart. This is to walk the way of wisdom.
Those who turn to follow the folly of sinners will come to ruin. Wisdom will calls out to them, but in their arrogance they turn away. Their core problem is that they have come to hate knowledge and do not fear God.
Proverbs 2 furthers the father’s admonition to his son to treasure knowledge, and seek diligently for understanding. Those who fear God and seek to walk the way of wisdom will find they gain understanding and the protection of God himself. Knowledge brings discernment and discretion, and these will be necessary guardrails as the son grows and makes his way in the world.
In Proverbs 1 the temptation was to throw in with the criminal and find a shortcut to wealth. In Proverbs 2 a second theme is introduced: the forbidden woman. Here the temptation is to sexual fulfillment outside of God’s boundary of marriage. But, just as crime neither glorifies God nor benefits the community, so also illicit sexual fulfillment goes against God’s law and destabilizes the family and society.
The final admonition is to “walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” To do otherwise is to be cut off from the blessing of God.
Prayer: Great Father in heaven, you are the fountain of knowledge and the Savior of my soul. With all the information that rushes around me every day I confess that too often I don’t treasure your Word and reflect on your truth enough. Refresh my heart, Lord, with an awe of you, a deep desire for real knowledge, and a commitment to walk the way of wisdom, always seeking your glory, and the benefit of those in my life, as Jesus did for me, Amen.
August 12: Proverbs 3, 4
Proverbs 3 finds the father once again admonishing his son to find and keep knowledge. He must also think of love and faithfulness as regal medallions to wear about his neck as distinguishing marks of his character.
The fear of the Lord must bring a deep and abiding trust in the Lord accompanied by a radical determination not to trust in his own understanding of things. He must see life through the lens of wisdom rather than through his own selfishness, arrogance, or greed.
In this proverb we find wisdom once personified as a woman. In the previous proverb the son was warned to stay away from the “forbidden woman.” Here, he is to seek after, and listen to, wisdom as though she were a woman more precious than jewels.
In the last section of this proverb the 3rd main theme is exposed: power. Vs. 28 begins the father’s admonitions on how to treat other people. Here lies the temptation to use one’s personal or positional power inappropriately for self-interest. But such is not the way of wisdom for it neither glorifies God nor benefits the community.
Proverbs 4 finds the father telling his son about his own instruction at his father’s knee. He was told over and over to get wisdom and insight. Knowledge is precious, and is to be sought after throughout life and carefully guarded. From it will grow wisdom and a life that brings peace and safety.
The great temptation is to enter the paths of wickedness. They appear easier, and boast offers of much more success. But those who choose the way of sin do not find peace. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence, and dwell in darkness. This will characterize their lives.
In great contrast, the path of the righteous is like the dawning of a new day, filled with new life, healing, and peace.
As the proverb closes we hear the father pleading with his son not to choose the wrong life path. Stay focused on the right way. Don’t be tempted to move to the right or left. Don’t be like the fool who has no idea where he is going. Rather, ponder the right path. Use the knowledge you have gained, and walk the way of wisdom. The result will be a life that God can bless, and man can appreciate.
Prayer: Father, help me to stay on the right path today. There are so many distractions and temptations in my life, and I too often go astray simply because I am not staying vigilant. Lord, help me keep focused on what is right and true and pleasing to you, not for my sake, but for your glory. And Lord, help me be a light of truth to someone today, and a blessing to all I meet, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
August 13: Proverbs 5, 6
All of Proverbs 5 is a father’s strong admonition to his son to stay away from the forbidden woman. Her pull will be strong on a young man as she offers him a shortcut to sexual fulfillment. But the pleasure will be short lived, and the bitterness and regret that will remain in his heart will be like the stabbing of a two-edged sword.
His advice is to stay far away from her house. Don’t dabble in those things that would draw you closer and closer to her and the ruinous ways of wickedness. Those who get snared in her web find themselves groaning in the end, and filled with remorse at their lack of knowledge and discipline. This is the way of the fool, and not the wise man.
The last half of the proverb gives God’s answer to sexual desire. The drive to find intimacy is a good thing, created by God. But God has also determined that sexual intimacy must be found within marriage and nowhere else. The wise man will not take shortcuts in this area but rather find delight and satisfaction in his wife. The wise husband will focus on his wife, rejoicing in her and being intoxicated with her love. This will leave no room for other, wicked desires that can lead him astray and ruin his life, his family, and his testimony for God.
Proverbs 6 takes up two themes that are necessary to understand and master if life is to be lived according to wisdom. First, the father exhorts his son concerning the world of business.
Wisdom is seen both in discernment concerning becoming a guarantor of another’s debt or security. Such decisions must be made carefully so as not to become “snared” in a bad situation. But if this occurs, the best approach is to deal with the problem directly rather than become hypocritical in your vow.
Diligence is also necessary if business is to be conducted in the way of wisdom. Those who love sleep more than effort will find themselves in poverty.
The father also chronicles the benefits of integrity noting that the worthless, wicked man will ultimately find himself overwhelmed with calamity. No amount of temporal success can make up for a life devoid of character. In summary there is a list of 7 things the Lord hates, all of which speak to the ethics of a man’s heart. Fearing the Lord, and walking in the way of wisdom is the much better choice.
The chapter ends with yet another impassioned plea to avoid the forbidden woman at all costs. But unlike the previous warnings, this one goes on to describe the nature of the man who would commit adultery along with the consequences of such action. Vs. 32-35 are some of the strongest verses in all of Scripture on this subject and are a powerful reminder that sexual sin leaves stains and scars that can never be fully remedied. God can forgive, but the residual harm to self, family, and society will never be forgotten
Prayer: Gracious God, it is continual apparent in these proverbs that the way of sin, that is so available and seems so wonderful, is truly the path to pain and great regret. Lord, keep me from walking away from you to follow the desires of my unredeemed flesh. Fix my eyes on you, and fill my mind with good things from your Word, that my life may bring glory to you, honor to my family, and great benefit to my world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
August 14: Proverbs 7, 8
Proverbs 7 is one of the more graphic portions of Scripture in describing the pull of sexual temptation. The previous warnings against sexual intimacy outside of marriage have all pointed to this section, and it remains one of the most important proverbs for use today.
The chapter begins with the familiar exhortation by the father for the son to cling tenaciously to the instruction he is receiving. He is to keep guard them as he would the very center of his eyes, and write them on the tablet of his heart. These metaphors speak dramatically to the point that knowledge, emanating from the proper fear of God and culminating in a life of wisdom, is the fountain of character and protection in this broken world.
The narrative here presents another style used by the writers of proverbs. The author moves from short, pithy sayings to a poetic story of one man’s descent into death. This descent is not sudden, but happens incrementally as he intentionally moves closer and closer to the forbidden woman. His overall course is seen as foolish, lacking sense, and gives evidence that, despite what may appear to be true in his life, in God’s eyes he is a simpleton.
He is soon taken in by the seductress whose smooth talk and alluring appearance overwhelm any reservations he had. He soon is enjoying what he has sought, only to realize too late that it will cost him his life. It may not be that physical death is understood here, but rather that collapse of his morality, and the prospect of forever being that man who was ruined by his own selfish pursuits.
In stark contrast to the death that lives in the home of the forbidden woman, chapter 8 presents wisdom as a woman that the young man should pursue and listen to intently. Whereas the words of the adulteress led to death, the instruction of wisdom will lead to life and peace and blessing.
By wisdom pride and arrogance are left behind. By wisdom kings and leaders are able to rule in righteousness, bringing glory to God and peace and wellbeing to those in their charge. The fruit of wisdom is better than gold and silver, and in possessing her there is no regret or shame. In the end we find that wisdom is God’s creation. He set her up from the beginning that mankind might know his ways and works, and delight in him.
The chapter ends with yet another summation. Heed instruction, and be wise. Don’t be a simpleton, or foolishly leave the way of wisdom to chase after shortcuts. Listen to truth, and live within its boundaries. If you do, you will find life indeed, as well as provide the world around you with a reason to look to God in fear and delight.
Prayer: Lord, may my heart be a welcoming place for your truth, and may your truth lead me to a proper fear and delight to follow your ways in my life. Keep me from chasing substitutes, and grow in me a true passion for holiness, righteousness, and love, for I know that what you have for me down the way of wisdom is always best for me, for my family, and for the watching world. I ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
August 15: Proverbs 9, 10
Proverbs 9 brings the first major section of the book to a close. It is the final exhortation of the father to the son regarding the way of wisdom.
Once again the woman “wisdom” is described. She cries to the foolish and the simple, imploring them to turn aside to her house rather than walk the way of wickedness and regret.
In vs. 7 we see a transition. Now the father is suggesting that “wisdom” actually calls out through all those who are wise. It becomes the responsibility of the wise to share their wisdom, to try valiantly to warn those who are heading for destruction.
Yet, they will find that fools despise wisdom. The scoffer would rather listen to the woman known as folly, whose seductive words and ways lead to death.
This final chapter in the “primer on life” is meant to leave the son with an indelible impression that there are two kinds of people in this world. First, there are those driven by their own selfishness and pride. The “lean on their own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). They are driven by their passions rather than the knowledge that begins with a proper fear of God. The second kind of person is the one who understands God’s exalted position as King, and submits to him is humility and reverence. This man hears and obeys the call of wisdom, and learns to walk according to truth rather than impulse.
Proverbs 10 begins a new section of the book that contains hundreds of short proverbial sayings written by Solomon. At times they are grouped around a common theme, but often seem to be disconnected from what comes before and after.
The chapter begins by stating that a son who walks in the way of wisdom brings joy to his father, but a foolish son makes his mother sorrowful. The subsequent verses in this and following chapters seem to further describe the ways a “wise son” can be recognized. Vs. 2-5 speak to the area of provision and material gain. From there the subjects range from personal integrity to the appreciation of knowledge, from industry in work to a righteous way of talking and listening.
Several proverbs stand out. Vs. 27 extols the fear of the Lord while vs. 29 declares that the “way of the Lord” is a stronghold to the righteous. This could fly as a banner over the whole chapter in that wisdom is understood to be the way God provides for, and protects his people as they live and work in this broken world. God does not often break dramatically into our personal story, but rather guides and provides, encourages and protects through the knowledge he grants us in his Word, and the application of that knowledge to life in walking the way of wisdom.
Prayer: Father, I have read here that those who heed instruction will walk the path of life. Lord, I want to be one who learns of you and from you every day. Help me to see this day as a seminar you’re teaching, as an opportunity to see the world the way you see it, and respond with the truth and love I have come to know in my Savior Jesus Christ, in whose Name I pray, Amen.
The Well: August 18-22
August 18: Isaiah 1, 2
Isaiah the prophet spoke the Word of God to both Israel and Judah from 740-700BC. His prophecy has been called the “Mt. Everest” of Hebrew prophetic literature. Two great themes are found in the book: Judgment (chpts 1-39) and Redemption (chpts 40-66).
Chapter 1 opens with an oracle describing the wickedness of God’s people. Like children that have rebelled against their parents, Judah has turned its back on God. They have forsaken the Lord preferring to live according to their own sinful desires. As a result, the land around them is desolate as invading armies have made inroads to Israelite civilization.
The religious rituals of the people are merely a façade behind which they are living out their sinful desires. Religion is not what God desire. Rather, he seeks the pure in heart who will love and serve him in sincerity and truth.
This description will permeate the first half of the book, and is always followed by a plea from the prophet to repent of their sin, turn from it to once again serve the Lord, and watch as his steadfast love renews them like the dawn of a new day. God is full of forgiveness for those who are “willing and obedient”, but will bring judgment on those who refuse and rebel. This is the great story of Isaiah’s ministry.
As we will see, Jerusalem symbolizes the plight of the nation. This city, where God had made his name to dwell, was no longer a light to the nations. The place of righteousness had become the home of murder and sexual perversity, where bribery and abuse of the poor and afflicted was common place.
What we are to realize is that God’s people have now become as wicked as the original inhabitants of the land. When God led Israel into Canaan he asked them to be the scalpel by which he would remove the idolatrous peoples from the land. Now it is clear that his own people have fallen into the same depths of depravity. God’s justice demands punishment, and Isaiah will be his mouthpiece. Yet, the steadfast love and mercy of God will continue to offer redemption to all who will turn to him.
Chapter 2 continues the theme, but adds yet another element. The wickedness of the land will not be the last chapter in its history. One day the Lord will ascend the mountain, and the nations will come to him in search of his truth and righteousness. This promise of the Kingdom of God must have been a great consolation to Isaiah and the remnant of faithful people in Israel. The nation had wandered from God, and would feel the judgment of God. Yet, the promises of God would one day be fulfilled, when Messiah would come and make all things new.
Prayer: Father, it is shocking to read that Israel – the people you showered with blessing and grace – could so easily forsake you to pursue their own selfish and wicked desires. Yet, I see the same thing in my life, and Lord, it reminds me that not a day goes by but that I see the great need of your grace in my life. Father, forgive me for my weakness, and help me to live in your strength today, for your glory, Amen.
August 19: Isaiah 3, 4
These two chapters foretell God’s judgment on the southern kingdom of Judah and its principle city of Jerusalem. The prophet continues to cry out to the people, enumerating their foolishness in offending Almighty God.
Their plight is simply awful. Notice the evidences of their downfall: infants rule over them; the people are turning on one another; infants are their oppressors and women rule over them. All of these and more are poetic descriptions of a once strong nation now made weak through its own sinful practices and disregard of their God.
Of special mention are the leaders of the people who have not only failed to lead the nation, but have instead preyed upon it. They have devoured God’s vineyard, and crushed the people, even “grinding” the face of the poor. These metaphors liken the leaders to those who crush and grind the grapes into wine only they are doing it with the lives of God’s people. It is a good reminder of the way God holds leaders accountable.
But the justice of God can not lay inactive forever. “In that day” refers to the day when God will bring judgment on his own people, replacing the finery of their lives with the horror and rottenness of oppression. An invading army will come, and battles will be fought, and Judah will be left to mourn and lament.
Chapter 4 continues the prophecy without interruption even as the theme turns from destruction to deliverance. Despite the fact that God must deal with Judah’s sin, he will never forsake his promise to them to be their God.
Deliverance in Isaiah is depicted in several ways, each a preview of the Messiah’s future deliverance of the righteous. Here it is pictured as “the branch of the Lord.” This redemptive, restorative work of God, accomplished through Messiah, will be like a branch that buds and brings forth fruit. These poetic phrases turn the reader from the brokenness of Judah’s sin and the discipline God will bring, to the promise that God will never forsake his people. He may cut them down, but he will raise them up again for his name’s sake, for the sake of his promise, and for the sake of his great love.
Prayer: Gracious Father, the faithfulness of your love continues to be a refuge for me. But, Lord, I must admit that too often I forget that your justice and holiness mean that my sin is really my intentional rebellion against that love. Father, forgive my shallowness, and help me to love you more, to trust you more, and to find obedience to you in every situation to be the path of greatest delight, through Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.
August 20: Isaiah 5, 6
In this chapter the people of Judah are pictured as a vineyard that God had planted on fertile land. In the ancient world a vineyard was a source both of revenue and the wine that made their festivals joyful. A man would take great pains to plant and care for his vineyard, and it would have become an extension of himself. Its beauty and success would have been a tribute to his hard work and careful nurture.
This text provides the backdrop for Jesus’ parable in Mark 12 where he describes the scene of a vineyard leased out to others to tend it. But when they kill those sent by the owner, he eventually sends his son, whom they also kill. As in this chapter in Isaiah, the vineyard represents the people of Israel who do not relate to the vineyard according to the best wishes of the owner.
In Isaiah’s day the “vineyard” had been put into the care of the religious leaders who had not protected it, or cared for it, and the result was wild, bitter grapes. The spiritual climate in Jerusalem was pictured in the same way. God had done great things for his people in giving them the Law, and the priesthood, to chart the path of righteousness. Yet, all of his goodness to them forgotten. So, in this text God is saying he will no longer protect the vineyard with the surrounding wall, but will instead allow it to be trampled under foot. The woes of the rest of the chapter further unpack the evidence for God’s impending judgment.
Chapter 6 is one of the most famous sections in Isaiah as it describes the prophet’s commissioning to the prophetic ministry. The first five chapters have already depicted the horrendous situation Israel finds itself in. They have left their God and are about to receive the discipline they deserve from his hand. Now God summons a messenger that will deliver his message.
The scene is the throne room of God. John 12:36-41 makes it clear that the vision Isaiah had of God was actually God the Son, in a pre-incarnate state. What strikes the reader first is the holy atmosphere that surrounds the One on the throne. The declarations of the angels are confirmed by the smoke that filled the room, representative of God the Spirit.
In great contrast Isaiah now recognizes his own depravity, and realizes that he is in great danger. A holy God cannot abide the presence of sin, and his is full of it, as are his people. But, God now takes steps to deal with his sin in such a way that his life is not ended, but begun anew. Now Isaiah recognizes the privilege of serving this One who has taken his sin out of the way. He responds to God’s call on his life, and is immediately given a rather hard commission. “I am sending you to the people with a message that they will not listen to, and will actually further harden their hearts so that when judgment comes, it will be seen as just. But, don’t worry Isaiah, I will preserve a remnant, a smaller group of people who are, and will remain, faithful to me.”
Prayer: Lord, so far reading Isaiah has been a recurring reminder that sin really matters to you, and it should matter much more to me. It offends your holiness, and it reflects a deep need in me to understand just how utterly wrong and harmful it is to live for myself instead of for your glory. O Lord, help me to see my sin as you do, and run from it, through the power of your Spirit, Amen.
August 21: Isaiah 7, 8
This chapter describes the attempt by the allied forces of Syria and Israel (the northern Kingdom, sometimes referred to as Ephraim) to conquer the southern kingdom of Judah. After reading that God would bring judgment on Judah, we might expect this attempt to be successful.
But the Lord has Isaiah deliver a message to his king that the plans of the invaders will not succeed. But Ahaz is not convinced, so God gives him a sign of his continued protection of Judah.
Vs. 14-17 are both very important and very difficult. It is important to understand it as Ahaz would have understood it first, and then recognize the fuller importance this passage has in regard to the coming Messiah.
Historically there are many ways to interpret this text, and many questions that must be answered. I feel it is best to understand it this way: The “virgin” must have been well-known, and thus probably royalty, perhaps in Ahaz’ family. Without knowing Isaiah’s prophecy she would bear a son and give him a name that symbolized God’s presence with his people. And, before the child was old enough to determine good and evil, the Assyrians would come to overthrow both Syria and the northern kingdom Israel. This, in fact, occurred in 732BC.
The “sign” then would confirm that God was sovereign in all the affairs of mankind, and could be trusted. Isaiah goes on to give a great prophecy of the day when the Lord would once again make Judah a glorious place. This Messianic prophecy is certainly what Matthew had in mind when he quotes the “sign” passage as now fulfilled in the supernatural conception of Jesus, and the virgin birth of our Lord (Matthew 1:23).
Chapter 8 chronicles the birth of Isaiah’s son which also is seen as a sign of God’s intentions. His name speaks of those who are quick to plunder and take spoil. The same army that would defeat Syria and Israel would also being judgment on Judah. The Assyrians are pictured as taunting God’s people in vs. 9,10 boasting that the God of Israel is now with them.
Isaiah must have recognized the incongruity of the situation. His God was now empowering the enemy to use as a force of judgment and discipline on his people. In vs. 11 and following God instructs the prophet that his concern must be for the Lord alone, for his honor, and for his truth. In vs. 17 we see Isaiah’s response. He will wait for the Lord even as the people around him continue their downward spiral.
The end of the chapter must be connected with the beginning of chapter 9 in this way. The scene pictures the people of Judah turning to witchcraft and other forms of cultic practice in order to summon goodness from the gods. But this only bring distress and darkness, even the gloom of thick darkness. This paves the way for the theme of “light” in 9:1,2.
Prayer: Lord, it is true that our world is turning away from the light of your Word to wander in the darkness of myriad counterfeits. Forgive me Lord, for being attracted to that which, ultimately, cannot satisfy. Satisfy my heart with your love, and work in and through me to spread your truth and love in my world, by your grace, Amen.
August 22: Isaiah 9, 10
Coming out of chapter 8, with its depiction of anguish, deep darkness and gloom, the first verses of this chapter announce God’s intention that the darkness will not prevail. Despite the depravity of mankind, God will bring the light in the form of a son, the “he” of Genesis 3:15.
This text presents one of the strongest predictions of Messiah in the Old Testament. God’s promise of deliverance for his people, of delivering them from darkness and gloom, must culminate in the coming of the Son.
For the first time in our search for the “he” we learn that he will be divine, will sit on the throne of David, and govern all things in a kingdom that will never end. This promise, given to and through Isaiah, stands as one of the surest pillars of our security. God will send the One who will ultimately set all things to rights.
Vs. 8 brings the reader back to the days of Isaiah and begins an oracle pronouncing judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel. Their pride has hardened their hearts against their God, and even when oppression comes, it will keep them from turning in repentance to him. Their blindness is deep and expansive, and the only course God can take is to act in accordance with his justice.
Chapter 10:1-4 continues the pronouncements against Israel (Ephraim), the northern kingdom that broke away in 931BC and never had a godly king. Their ruin has been slow but steady, aligned with their consistent rejection of God and his law.
Vs. 5-19 finds God turning his wrath on Assyria. Here we see a difficulty. First, God determines to raise up Assyria to act as his vehicle of judgment on Israel, and then he determines to judge them for their arrogance. Such is the sovereignty of God over the nations of our world. At issue is always his glory, and his every action is focused on its display.
Vs. 20-34 returns us once again to the promise of God to retain and sustain a remnant of people who stay faithful to his name. They are the ones who do not lean on their own understanding (Prov. 3:5,6) but lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. He is their trust, their provision, their protection, and their secure refuge. One day the Lord will come in glory and power, to overthrow every wickedness, and bring reward to his righteous ones.
Prayer: Father, your holiness and justice are great, and are matched only by your steadfast love to those who rest on your promises. Lord, help me to rest in your love while still understanding that my sin is an affront to your holiness. Make me holy, Lord, in all I do and say, for the sake of your great name, Amen.
The Well: August 25-29
August 25: Isaiah 11, 12
In these two chapters we see the theme of the coming Deliverer once again raised. Much of Isaiah’s oracles have been about the wickedness of the people and the judgment of a just God. But the faithfulness of God to his mission of redemption is always seen, even in the midst of judgment. The central truth is Our God Saves!
The Messiah is here seen as rising from the faithful remnant of 6:13: “the holy seed is in the stump.” Now we see the stump is the line of Jesse from which a branch shall come forth to bear the fruit of deliverance and reformation.
This “righteous branch” will be the Messiah of God, endowed with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and most of all, the fear of the Lord. He will be a just judge, ruling with equity over the peoples.
His kingdom will be characterized by peace, even to the extent that the natural animosity between, wolf and lamb will no longer exist. This and other symbolic statements speak to the establishment of the Kingdom of heaven on earth. Messiah will reign through all those who are “in Christ”, including a re-established Israel, and his enemies will be banished.
Chapter 12 presents a short but beautiful song of praise that will be sung when the redemptive plan of God comes to fruition. It gives voice to the hope that Isaiah’s audience felt as they looked forward to the coming of their Deliverer.
Vs. 2 demonstrates that the future hope of Messiah can also be the foundation of trust and strength in the present day. The song provides a reason to persevere in trust and obedience to God, even when the circumstances surrounding us seem insurmountable. Even in the darkest seasons, the promise of God remains a light on which we must focus if we are to walk worthy of him in spite of life’s trials.
Vs. 3 returns the song to a future day when the longed-for salvation will have been accomplished. Songs of joy and praise will resonate from his people, going out to all the earth. God has kept his promises, and we are saved.
Prayer: Lord, Isaiah’s day was filled with all kinds of wickedness and violence, and yet the faithful kept their eyes on you, and filled their hearts with the hope of your promises. Today I need the same thing Lord, as I venture out into a world that is increasingly unpredictable, and even antagonistic to your words and ways. Father, give me courage, through your truth, so I too may give thanks, call upon your name, and let it be known that you have done glorious things for me, and will for all who turn in faith to follow Christ Jesus, my Lord, in whose name I pray, Amen.
August 26: Isaiah 13, 14
These two chapters are the first in a long section (13-23) in which Isaiah’s attention turns from the people of Judah to focus on the surrounding nations. It was God who had asked his people to live separated from the peoples of the world. Yet, this did not mean they lived in isolation from their. The land of Israel had long been an important trade route between Egypt in the south, and the lands of Mesopotamia. Consequently, Judah had contact with all the nations of northern Africa and the nations of the Fertile Crescent. In these chapters Isaiah describes the fact that, if God is bringing judgment on his own people, the surrounding pagan nations can hardly hope to escape a similar end.
Chapters 13 and 14 flow together as one massive oracle against the kingdom of Babylon. At the time of this writing, Babylon was among the many surrounding nations that were attempting to withstand the Assyrian army. Babylon even attempted to coax Judah into a coalition to go up against the Assyrians. In these chapters we begin to see that Babylon offered Judah an alternative to trusting in their God. But this would be folly, as the prophet declares. Despite Babylon’s power, and future dominance, the eventual end of the kingdom was certain, even in 701B.C.
Vs. 17-20 strangely brings the Medes in to the equation, and also predicts that Babylon will one day be destroyed, and never inhabited again. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, that great city would be utterly laid desolate. Historically, Sennacherib led the Assyrians against Babylon and the city was completely destroyed, in partial fulfillment of the prophecy. But it was quickly rebuilt, and became the dominant kingdom even conquering Jerusalem in 586B.C. The prophecy was finally fulfilled, though over time. Both Darius the Great and Xerxes devastated the city, and by the close of the first century B.C. the city was desolate, as it remains today.
Chapter 14 includes an interlude in the Babylon oracle. Vs. 1-4 speak of a “new exodus” and have many parallels to the Exodus from Egypt. Such is the depiction of that day when God will rescue his people. He will take them from their desolation and bring them to a new land where they will live in peace and adoration to the God.
Isaiah ends his oracle against Babylon with the taunting song Judah will sing to a fallen Babylon. Of special interest is the section of vs. 12-15 which is sometimes considered to be a biographical statement of Satan as he fell. In context it is clear that this is referring to Babylon who has fallen from her lofty heights.
The chapter ends with two shorter oracles declaring judgment on Assyria (vs. 24-27) and Philistia (28-32). Both of these countries were enemies of Judah. Assyria would be used of God to judge his people, but they would also pay for their violence against God’s people.
Prayer: Father, I am so glad that I am on your team, and safe in your arms. You do rule the nations! Help me Lord, to trust you more, even when the world around me seems out of control. All things are in your hands, and you always do what is right and best, and I can trust you fully, because of your faithful love, Amen.
August 27: Isaiah 15, 16
These two chapters are made up of Isaiah’s oracle against the nation of Moab. Moab, and its neighbor Ammon, descended through incest from the daughters of Lot, (see: Genesis 19:30ff) and were a constant irritant to Israel and Judah.
The prophet is deeply emotional at the plight of these distant cousins of Judah. Though they have acted wickedly, and deserve God’s judgment, nevertheless the reality of their destruction is haunting. Isaiah is not joyful over the death of the wicked. He hears their cries, and his heart cries out for them. His only consolation is that this is an act of Almighty God whose justice and holiness must be served.
The light of God’s judgment centers in on certain cities of Judah, to which the refugees have fled like fleeing birds, in chapter 16. The prophet pleads that they be allowed to find refuge, and shelter from those who would destroy them.
Vs. 4b and 5 appear to be Jerusalem’s reply stressing the need for Moab to recognize the lordship of the Davidic king, another reference to the coming Messianic king.
Vs. 6,7 reveal the sin for which Moab is being punished. Their pride has become legendary, and lies at the center of the desolation of their land.
Vs. 8-12 bring the oracle back to the theme of judgment and destruction. Moab is seen as a vineyard whose once luxurious vines are now trampled by those who have invaded them. Once again the prophet weeps at the truth that Moab, through her own arrogance and determination to forsake their God, has brought death and destruction upon herself. Her once fruitful land and people have become desolate.
The final description symbolizes the vanity of Moab’s attempts to gain help from her gods. The “high places” are the pagan altars of their idolatrous sacrifices. Moab’s prayers will not help for they are not directed at Almighty God. Moab will come to an end under the hand of God.
Prayer: Father, the Old Testament makes it very clear that you are holy, and just, and will never act contrary to your nature. I am so glad that you love me in Christ Jesus, for I know my heart often wanders away, and like Moab, I surely deserve your judgment. Yet, because I belong to Jesus, you view me with love, and accepting grace rather than as one destined for wrath. Thank you Lord, for drawing me to yourself, and loving me with an everlasting love, because of Jesus, Amen.
August 28: Isaiah 17, 18
Chapter 17 continues the prophet’s oracles against the countries that surrounded Judah. Here we see God’s judgment directed at Damascus and also Ephraim. Damascus was the great city of Syria, and Isaiah 7, 8 spoke of the fact that Syria and Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel) had been allies against Judah. It is for this reason that the text treats them as one.
(Remember: The nation of Israel was divided after the death of Solomon in 931B.C. The northern kingdom, called Israel, fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. At the time Isaiah was writing this, it appears that both kingdoms were still viable, but that the Assyrians were coming close to the north.)
The prophet repeats the phrase “in that day” several times showing us that he is speaking about the future day when God would settle the accounts with Syria and Ephraim. The phrase also has a future sense by which the prophet instructs his readers to see the destruction of Damascus as previewing the great day of the Lord when all the world would stand before the Almighty One.
The once-proud city of Damascus is the first object of God’s judgment. It will be reduced to ruin, “in that day.” The fortress to which Ephraim had looked – instead of to their God – would no longer have strength to protect anyone. The people of Jacob (Ephraim) will be struck down and scattered, but a remnant will be left. This was fulfilled in 722 B.C. as Assyria invaded the north, killing many, deporting many, and leaving many scattered and hiding in the land.
The reason for God’s decisive action is clear: Ephraim has forgotten the God of their salvation, the One who delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the land.
Chapter 18 is a pronouncement of judgment on the land of Cush. At this time in history Cush and Egypt were one kingdom, and the swarms of insects in the Nile valley are her used to describe the land as the land of “whirring wings.”
It seems that this country has sent out ambassadors to stir up rebellion against Assyria. The prophet commands them to return to their land, the land of “a nation tall and smooth” as the Cushites were known to be.
In the end, their mission was inappropriate. Assyria would be left to God. He would use them, and them deal with them according to his justice. All the political alliances of man were evidence that their trust ran to their own devices in times of trouble, instead of to trust in the God of heaven.
Prayer: Father, too often I run to my own schemes, to my own solutions, instead of quietly reflecting on your faithfulness and truth. Forgive me for thinking that I can guide my own life, and give me greater eyes of faith to see the path you have for me, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
August 29: Isaiah 19, 20
Chapter 19 takes up the land of Egypt, but more than that, gives an incredible picture of the expanse and depth of the Messianic kingdom when it comes in its fullness.
The first several verses are in line with all of the oracles that have come before. The Egyptians are idolatrous, and have walked the path of wickedness. This has not been lost on the God of heaven, and Isaiah pronounces certain judgment on them. At some point there will be a civil war, as Egyptian rises against Egyptian, and the end result is the rise of a tyrannical ruler over them all.
In the end, Egypt will be desolate, confused, and without recourse. But in vs. 16 the oracle takes an amazing turn. Once again the phrase “in that day” is the prophet’s signal that he is now looking further into the future. There is coming a day when the land of Judah will be strong and Egypt will acknowledge its superiority.
Even more astounding is the prophecy that an altar to the Lord of hosts will be built in Egypt, they will speak the language of Canaan, and swear allegiance to the God of Israel.
Isaiah predicts that, one day, the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and they will come to know him, and offer sacrifices and worship to him. For anyone who has read the Old Testament, this is truly astounding.
But the amazement is increased in the final verses where Assyria is joined with Egypt and Israel to signify the fact that God’s grace will one day turn enemies into friends and brothers. It is here that we see a major confirmation of the promise made to Abram that “in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”
Chapter 20 not only presents an oracle against Egypt and Cush, but also narrates the events that fulfilled it. Cush was at that time the kingdom in the land of the Philistines. Five Philistine cities had banded together to rebel against the tyranny of Assyria. The rebellion centered in Ashdod, and it was there that Sargon’s commander defeated the Cushites.
Isaiah was asked by God to become a “living parable” and walk around both naked and barefoot. This was to depict the way the Assyrians would take away some of the Philistines as slaves.
But, the truth that we are left with is a familiar one: those who were trusting in the strength of the Cushite army to deliver them from Assyrian rule had chosen the wrong refuge. All who had turned from trusting in God to find their security in human strength would now be left asking questions.
Prayer: Father it is apparent as I read these stories that you desire my heart to be fully set on you, trusting in you, and careful to walk in a way that is worthy of the salvation you have granted me in Jesus Christ. That is what I want too, yet I need your help and strength to obey your Word today. Keep me close to you Lord, as I live in this broken world, by your grace, and for your glory, Amen.
The Well: September 1-5
September 1: Psalms 33, 34
Psalm 33 is a rapturous celebration of God’s faithfulness. His word stands firm, and all he is and does can be trusted without hesitation. The only proper response must be unfettered praise, and sincere trust in our God.
By his word he made the heavens, and all creation. This alone testifies to the majestic power and intelligence of our God. We do no live in a random world where chaos reigns. Rather, we live in God’s world, where he reigns in justice and righteousness. His truth and love are unfailing.
God reigns over his world, moving the nations and their leaders around as best suits his perfect plans. He sees all that is done on the earth, and is never taken by surprise by the actions of his creations. Again, this brings great peace to those who find refuge in his sovereignty.
Our greatest joy is found in knowing that the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him. We are never out of his view. He promises to deliver our souls from death, and bring us to life everlasting. This is our great hope, and brings purpose to our lives. We are waiting for our Lord, and until he comes, we will be glad in him, trust in him, and rejoice in his steadfast love.
Psalm 34 recounts David’s praise and thanks to God for delivering him from the hand of the Philistine king (1 Samuel 21). It is also an acrostic poem, with each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
David begins with a triumphant declaration that the Lord is his security. The psalm is an invitation to magnify the Lord along with David.
David found himself in peril, but he cried to the Lord and was delivered. The “deliverer” motif is found throughout David’s writings. He, as King was God’s deliverer, but God was his deliverer, and the One through whom all protection for Israel would come. David knew his place, and here he declares his utter dependence upon the Lord.
He urges his readers to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” How often do we miss God’s goodness by failing to run to him? How often are we so focused in “tasting” what this world has to offer that we have no time to taste the good things God has for us through obedience to him?
David ends the psalm with the recognition that pain-free living is not to be expected. Rather, what the righteous understand is God will be with them through the pain, and ultimately delivers forever those who take refuge in him.
Prayer: O Lord, you are my refuge! I have tasted again and again of your grace and love. Yet, it is common for me to become too preoccupied with things in my life. As David saw your goodness during times of trial, help me to see your greatness and love in every part of my day today, that I may bring joy to your heart, through Jesus, Amen.
September 2: Psalms 35, 36
In Psalm 35 David the king is calling on God to stand with him as he battles against the opponents of his day. He understands that, as God’s king, those who stand against him are standing against God himself.
David does not mince words. He implores God to put his enemies to shame, to turn them back, to drive them like the chaff before the wind. He asks God to make their way slippery and dark. These are the ones who have spread lies against the king, and have brought him to a place of great suffering and anxiety.
David is in a terrible place. He cries out to God “How long?” He understands God is aware of the situation, and intimately acquainted with his king’s despair. Why doesn’t God move? Why doesn’t he come to the aid of his king?
These are questions we all often ask. Why doesn’t God move according to our desires? The answer is always found in knowing God’s ways are best and right. His purpose for our lives may involve some pruning, some cutting away of pride, some re-arranging of our priorities.
David ends the psalm declaring that when deliverance comes, as it surely will, his mouth will be unrestrained in declaring the greatness of his God. His tongue will sing the praises of the Lord forever.
Psalm 36 presents the stark contrast. On one hand are those who fear God, and have come to know and find refuge in his faithful love. On the other are those who have no fear of God, and are driven by the voice of transgression in their hearts.
The wicked plot against truth, utter words of deceit as a common course, and prefer the ways of evil to good. But those who understand the steadfast love of the Lord choose a different path.
It is the love of God that has amazed the righteous. It extends to the heavens, and along with it, God’s righteousness and justice are like the great mountains. These beautiful poetic images allow our hearts to rejoice in the magnificence of our God.
Our God loves his people, and provides both safety and nourishment to all who find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Of special note is David’s asserting that “for with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”
We are reminded here that all the world is in the darkness of sin. Only through the light of life found in Jesus Christ can we see the beauty and grandeur of God’s faithful love.
Prayer: Lord, too often I take your faithful, steadfast love for granted. I wrongly assume that you exist for me when in reality, I exist for you. Help me to love you as your angels do, as your deserve, and as my hearts longs to love. Clear away my pride and selfishness and let me walk joyfully and purposefully as your child today, through the power of my Lord Jesus, Amen.
September 3: Psalms 37, 38
In this psalm David offers several important principles for living in a broken world. He is mindful that the obstacles of everyday life can erode our trust in God, and our obedience to his word.
One reason our faith may wane is the prosperity of the evil ones in our world. Why to the wicked prosper? David sees it, but advises us not to fret over them. Rather, we should trust in the Lord. He sees all and will settle all the accounts in his time.
The smart play is to commit our lives to the Lord, to sincerely trust that what he asks and where he leads is always our very best option. At times this will mean being still, waiting, believing God will always work to bring about his purposes in our lives. God is never late, while we are often much too early.
David describes what we all know: there is a battle going on between the wicked and the righteous. The wicked seem to prosper, and have much. But David is clear. Better is a little when combined with righteousness than the fortune of the wicked. This life is not the final chapter. The wicked will perish while the righteous will dwell with God. We’ve simply got to keep our eyes on the finish line.
When all is said and done, it will be seen that the salvation found in our God is the stronghold now in time of trouble. We live now in light of the future, resting in the promises of God.
Psalm 38 gives us a portal into David’s soul, and his anguish over his sin. He declares “my iniquities are over my head.” He is overwhelmed with the reality of his own sinfulness, the depth of his own selfishness.
How long has it been since you felt the terror of your own sinfulness? It is a terrible thing to allow our hearts to be so hardened by sin that it no longer hurts us when we reflect on the way we live. David here models what ought to be a consistent thing in our lives.
It is important to note that David’s despair drives him to the Lord rather than away. Too often our sinful actions, and their painful consequences, become a reason to turn away from God, to belittle his love, and scoff at his promises. But, for the righteous, adversity turns our faces toward our God who alone can heal our brokenness. David confessed his sin, admitting his sorrow, and found God waiting to surround him in love.
Prayer: O Lord, I have become very good at rationalizing my sinfulness. I have made a place for pet sins in my life, refusing to acknowledge that they are arrows aimed at your loving heart. Forgive me Lord, for ever thinking I knew better than you do about what is the best way for me to live. Fill me up with your ways. Make my heart rejoice is what you love, and allow me to rest in the comfort of your truth, through the Spirit who dwells in me, Amen.
September 4: Psalms 39, 40
This short psalm begins with David’s resolution to guard his tongue. He realizes words can hurt, and can hinder his ability to reflect the glory of his God.
Not much has changed. We all regret things we’ve said, or the way we’ve said them. The tongue can start a huge fire with a small, unfiltered spark.
David’s remedy is to plead with God to show him just how fleeting life is. David realizes his life is such a short span, and he must use every day, every hour, for good purposes. He calls upon his God to guard him from sin, and allow him to make the most of the years he has left.
In our day we seldom contemplate death. We don’t like to think about the fact that our time here on earth is actually quite short. David was not like us. He realized one of the more powerful restraints on his tongue and other vehicles of sin was to understand just how short his life would be. It was this sobering thought that motivated him to take every thought and word captive, and use whatever time and means he had to testify to the greatness and glory of his God.
Psalm 40 describes David’s heart of thanks for the faithfulness and delivering power of his God. He reminds the readers of his recent past when he was in distress, as though in a deep pit. He cried out to God, and God heard and responded in rescue.
We read this theme often in David’s psalms. But it is not as though each one corresponds to a drastic military conflict. Rather, David seems to have been a man who wrestled with the obstacles of daily life. He had a heart for God, but was surrounded by the wickedness of this world with all of its distractions and temptations. These he pictured as spiritual battles, and it was from this vantage point that he cried out to his God constantly.
David can testify to the blessings enjoyed by those who makes the Lord his trust. This does not mean wealth and health are guaranteed. It does mean the Lord will accomplish his purposes in our lives. Remember, God has saved us, not to fulfill our desires, but to accomplish his glory in and through us.
At the end of his psalms David almost always comes back to this: No matter the situation, our best option is to say continually “Great is the Lord … You are my help and my deliverer!”
Prayer: Father, you are the great deliverer of my soul, and Lord of my life. And, while I too often go off on my own, pursuing the wicked desires of my heart, I do love you. Forgive my wandering heart O Lord, and strengthen my understanding of your truth so that I may walk well, for your glory before a watching world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
September 5: Psalms 41, 42
Psalm 41 is a short cry of the heart from a leader who has become despondent over his sin and its consequences. David cries out to God, reminding him of the promise to be near to those repent and return.
It may seem strange that the psalm begins with a reminder that God blesses those who consider the poor. In David’s day – as in ours! – sincere faith in God is evidenced by our relationship with those who are weak, and cannot take care of themselves. James 1:27 reminds us that true and undefiled religion is seen as benefiting the widow and orphan.
David admits his plight has resulted from his own sin. Yet, he has repented, and is now resting on the promises of God. His enemies are gleeful at his desperate situation, and David calls on God to right the situation.
The point of this psalm is the unconditional love of God for his own. He “delights” in them, and is near to the cry of the repentant heart. But repentance is hard! It demands humility, admission of guilt and weakness, as well as agreement with God that his ways are right and we’ve been wrong.
Yet, our God is a faithful God. He forgives because he has promised he would. He accepts, and reforms, and rejuvenates because he has promised he would. This is what it means when the text tells us God did something “for his name’s sake.” He is moved primarily by his own righteous character, and meets our needs as a result of his perfect integrity and faithfulness.
Psalm 42 is among the best known psalms in the Psalter. With this psalm the second of five collections that form the book of Psalms begins.
The poetic image of a deer finding water in the desert beautifully pictures the thirsty heart that longs for the water of God. Our souls are to thirst for him, recognizing that life itself depends on what he alone provides.
The author has been in torment. He has feasted on tears throughout the night longing to be refreshed by God. His soul is cast down, filled with despair. He likens it to be in the deepest of waters, with waves breaking over his head.
He has called out to God for help, for light, wondering why God has turned away and forgotten him. But has he? The psalm ends with a sharp command to his own heart. “Hope in God!” Never allow trials to turn your heart away. Rather, may they spur you on toward the heart of God.
Prayer: Lord, my life is good because of you. Despite the obstacles I face, I know you are my God, and my Savior, and my strength from day to day. Keep my near to you Lord, and guide me as I obey your truth, for your glory, Amen.
The Well: September 8 – 12
September 8: Isaiah 21, 22
In chapter 21 the prophet continues his various judgment oracles, this time against the mighty city of Babylon. In a very poetic description, he predicts a time when the destruction of the city would be visible. We see the scene through the eyes of a “watchman” whose job it is to describe the siege of Babylon, and it downfall.
The scene is so terrible that it brings pain to him. The judgment on Babylon will be so severe that the watchman will not only watch its end, but also be among the first to hear that fateful news that the city has fallen
Verses 11,12 describe God’s judgment on Edom. The text reads “Dumah” which literally means “silence” and is a word play on Edom depicting the fact that, when God is done, the land would be silenced. This Dumah
This short oracle is quite vague, but can be understood in terms of the word play mentioned above. Edom is in darkness, and they are calling to the watchman as to the time. When will this night be over? The answer brings them no satisfaction. Yes, morning is coming, but then night will come again. Perhaps the sense is, yes, Assyria’s oppression is ending, but another oppressor is coming upon you.
The chapter ends with an oracle against Arabia, where the descendants of Ishmael settled. Kedar, one of the areas of Arabia, is signaled out. It appears that the inhabitants of these areas were no match for the Assyrian invasion and have been forced to flee. God’s declaration is that ultimately, all the “glory” that once was representative of the region would be no more.
Chapter 22 shows that God does not overlook the sin of he own. When Jerusalem became as wicked as the surrounding cities and clans God turned his righteous wrath upon them as well.
This chapter divides into two sections: vs. 1-14, and vs. 15-25. The first declares Isaiah’s anger at Jerusalem for the way in which they responded to God’s deliverance from their enemies. The second focuses on two men who are leaders in the city.
The charge against Jerusalem here is their disdain for the deliverance God had given them. Instead of recognizing their own sin, which had brought about the danger, they ran up to the housetops for feasting and revelry. Isaiah understood that such behavior would only bring about the total collapse of the city at the hand of their enemies. This was fulfilled in 586BC at the hands of the Babylonian army.
The second section foretells fall of proud Shebna, and the honoring of Eliakim speak to the downfall of the proud – the secure peg – and the uplifting of those who honor God.
Prayer: Father, you are a just God, a holy God, who does not overlook our sin. I realize that, if I were to receive what I deserved, I would cease to exist. But in your grace, you have put my sin on my Savior, and through his death and resurrection I am freed from a horrible penalty, and ushered into life eternal. For this I thank and praise you, and commit my life to be a reflection of your love and truth, through Jesus, Amen.
September 9: Isaiah 23, 24
Chapter 23 describes God’s judgment concerning Tyre and Sidon. These cities, though small, had great influence in their day due to their ships, harbors, and commercial abilities. These two cities were the ports of the Phoenicia, a nation that bordered Israel and was consumed with idolatry.
Vs. 9 summarizes the judgment. God will defile the pompous pride of this pagan nation. No matter where they turn, they will not escape the judgment of God.
Vs. 12, 13 depict the severity of Assyria’s desolation of the coastal cities. If the Phoenicians fled to Cyprus, or even to Chaldea (Babylon) there would still be no refuge.
Surprisingly, at the end of the oracle there is a note of grace. There is an interval of 70 years between the first wave of judgment and the final destruction. It is here we see the providential care of God for his people. It was during this time period that the Phoenician ships were needed to supply the needs of the house of God in Jerusalem.
Chapter 24 begins a rather lengthy oracle of God against the whole earth. It runs through 27:13. These chapters are often referred to as “Isaiah’s Apocalypse.” They depict the world in cosmic terms while never losing contact with the events of the day.
Ultimately, God will judge the whole earth and its people. These verses speak directly to the accountability we all have toward our creator. One day God will settle all the accounts, and will as well deal decisively with the virus of sin that has infected the entirety of creation. But, the good news is, the righteous will dwell on the new earth, quite apart from any possibility of sin!
The description of God’s judgment on the earth is both beautifully poetic and devastatingly painful. Here we see a picture of what creation deserves because of pervasive presence of sin.
The idea that we are accountable to God, our creator, is fast becoming assigned to the area of myth in our day. But here we are brought back to the sobering truth that God is in charge, history is heading purposefully toward a goal, and God will one day make all things new. He is the judge of all, and only faith in Jesus Christ can assure that, when our day comes, we will stand and be welcomed into his presence for eternity.
Prayer: Almighty God, this chapter is a radical reminder that the earth belongs to you, as well as everything in it. Lord, I know I fall far short of your standards, your laws. And like the earth stand guilty before you were it not for the salvation you have granted me in Jesus Christ. May I live today as one brought out of darkness and into light. Help me to shine that light in my world, that all may see how you’ve changed my life, and come to love you too, through the gospel and the Spirit, Amen.
September 10: Isaiah 25, 26
In the midst of God’s pronouncement of judgment, the prophet takes time to thank and praise the Lord for his amazing grace.
Isaiah praises God for the plans and promises, made long ago, that are now being fulfilled. He has been a refuge for the poor, and a shelter from the storms.
The scene here is meant to be juxtaposed with the judgment detailed in the previous chapter. Yes, God will judge the sins of the world, but he will also bring rest and reward to his faithful ones. He will prepare a feast for them, of rich food and well-aged wine.
Of greater importance, the same God who brings death as judgment upon the wicked, will “swallow up” death forever on behalf of his own. No longer will tears, sorrow, or death plague those whose rest is in the Lord.
The great hope of the righteous will at last be fulfilled: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us!” And now he has!
The celebration continues in chapter 26. When God settles all the accounts, and brings eternal life to his faithful on the new earth, then the land of Judah will be a place of worship and praise. The people will wait on the Lord, fearing him, obeying him, and rejoicing in his presence.
Their trust will be in the Lord, and they will once again yearn for their God. This certainly speaks to the future restoration of Israel. God’s people will one day be purified, and will find the peace they are seeking, in the presence of their Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Vs. 20, 21 indicates that Israel will be enclosed safely in their chambers even as God goes forth to judge the nations.
This future restoration and reformation of Israel as a people for God’s own possession is consistent with Paul’s insistence in Romans 9-11 that God has not forsaken his people. One day Israel will be restored, in Christ, and join that throng of people from every tribe and nation under heaven who will spend eternity praising our God.
Prayer: Father, it is comforting to understand that, while judgment is certain, so also is deliverance. You Lord, are righteous and holy and cannot disregard sin. I know that one day you will return and when that happens, you will judge the wicked and usher the righteous into their eternal reward. O may you find me faithful when you come, Lord Jesus!September 11: Isaiah 27, 28
The restoration of Israel is continued in chapter 27. “In that day”, used twice, depicts the final day, the Day of the Lord, when the books will be opened, and every account settled.
The picture in vs. 1 is of God, the mighty warrior, winning a decisive victory over the monstrous enemies that represent sin. In contrast, vs. 2ff speaks of the pleasant vineyard of the Lord. The nation of Israel is often depicted as God’s vineyard in both Old and New Testaments. While to his enemies God is a fearsome warrior, to his own he is a tender vineyard keeper.
Israel will become a place that is holy to the Lord, where no idolatrous practices will be found. In the end, the trumpet calling people to worship will draw the dispersed from the far countries. The people of Israel will once again gather in Jerusalem, to worship on God’s holy mountain.
Chapter 28 uses the judgment of God on Samaria (Ephraim) as an object lesson to the people of Isaiah’s Jerusalem. Ephraim, one of the 12 tribes, settled in the north. As it became more and more prominent it became common for this tribe to be representative of the northern Kingdom, whose capital was Samaria.
The sin of Ephraim is illustrated by the phrase “proud crown of the drunkards” (vs. 1, 3). That they reveled in their sin, and took pride in their wickedness is the point. This stands in great contrast with the “crown of glory” (vs. 5) that the Lord is to his faithful ones.
The general corruption of the nation is illustrated by the fact that the priests and prophets stagger with wine. Their tables are “full of filthy vomit with no space left.” As a result, their ability to teach and guide is severely impaired.
Vs. 9, 10 are the statements of the drunkards. They are not meant to make sense. Those responsible for teaching and leading the people in the ways of God were unable to speak anything but nonsense. The Hebrew words here are akin to babbling of a child, or the slurred, unintelligible speech of the inebriated.
Drunkenness here is not understood as their main sin, but as a picture of those devoid of proper knowledge. They had rejected God and turned to live their own way. They were “drunk” with sin, and headed for destruction.
Vs. 14 turns the attention to Jerusalem. They are to take notice of Ephraim’s plight, and respond correctly. God is laying a foundation stone in Zion, a precious corner stone. This text is repeated in the NT referring to Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of the Church.
The only proper response is to turn from sin, to God, and not stumble over what God is doing.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for laying a cornerstone in my life, by drawing me to Jesus Christ. He is faithful, loving and true. Father, help me to model my Lord, to walk faithfully, act lovingly, and speak truthfully, that others might come to love you too, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
September 12: Isaiah 29, 30
Chapter 29 gives us yet another declaration of judgment against Jerusalem. The prophet uses “Ariel” to refer to Jerusalem, and more specifically to the “altar hearth” that stood at the middle of the sacrificial system. The denouncement of Jerusalem here is really centered on her rejection of true worship in favor of idolatrous practices.
Isaiah predicts a siege that will put Jerusalem in grave danger. Certainly this was pointing to the Assyrian invasion which devastated the north, and almost overwhelmed the south as well.
Had God not miraculously intervened, Jerusalem would have fallen. But he did intervene, in the days of Hezekiah (see: 2 Kings 18) and Jerusalem was saved. It is to this deliverance that vs. 5-8 refer.
But God’s deliverance was not a sign that the people were repentant. No, their sinfulness was rampant. It is described in vs. 13ff in a text quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15:8. Their worship practices were all merely external. They said and sang the right words, but it was not representative of their hearts. They were not devoted to God, but to their own forms of worship. For this they would feel the judgment of God.
Chapter 30 is God’s warning that his people should not flee to other countries in order to escape judgment. They are chastised for seeking alliances with foreign kings but remaining unwilling to ally with their own king, Almighty God.
The prophet proclaims that his people are rebellious by nature. They are unwilling to hear the truth of God! It turns them away, and they instruct their prophets and teachers to stop telling them the things of God. Imagine! Being so spiritually blind that the truth makes you sick. “Don’t tell us anymore about the Holy One of Israel” they say.
It is this total rejection of God and his truth that judgment will overwhelm them. Like the smashing of a clay pot the city and its inhabitants will be broken. This ultimately was fulfilled in 586BC as a result of the 3rd Babylonian invasion.
But, the destruction of Jerusalem will not be the final chapter. As we know, God sent his people into captivity for 70 years, but was faithful to his promise and brought them back to rebuild their city. This return becomes a preview of the ultimate escape from captivity which will be accomplished on the final day.
The national deliverance and return experienced by Israel becomes a preview, a model of the final deliverance by God of his faithful from all nations. Vs. 19-33 describe the beauty and rest and hope of such a deliverance.
Prayer: Lord, you are my song in the night, my Rock, the one who makes my heart glad. In the midst of a broken world, your steadfast love holds me together, and sets my feet on solid ground. Father, help me to look beyond my circumstances to see that all my moments are in your hands, and I can trust you with all my heart, because you have drawn me to yourself, in Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Well: September 15-19
September 15: Isaiah 31, 32
This short chapter is the word of God, through Isaiah, to those in Jerusalem who thought they could escape the judgment of God by fleeting to Egypt.
In the face of the Assyrian invasion, King Hezekiah had attempted to enter into a protective alliance with foreign powers instead of leading his people in repentance and trust in their God. He had failed to learn from history. The same strategy had not worked for his father Ahaz, and went directly against the stipulations for God’s king laid out in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
Vs. 1 states the problem. We are too prone to trust in our own devices rather than our God. Yet, it is their God who will bring disaster (literally “evil”) upon the land as judgment for their wickedness and sinful reliance on their idols.
But God will not forget his people. They have sinned, and his judgment is coming, but it will not be their end. The promise of future deliverance for the righteous, and protection for God’s own is never far from the prophet’s heart. The Assyrians will come, and there will be judgment, but God will prove faithful to his promises in the end, and it is always our best option to trust him, even in the dark.
Chapter 32 interrupts the string of judgment pronouncements to encourage the readers that all is not lost. God has not turned his face away forever. His promise to David, that one would come from him to rule (9:1-7), was not empty. One day the king would come.
This beautiful poetic chapter systematically goes through the list of things that are wrong in Jerusalem and shows how the righteous king will rectify them all. Error will no longer be called true. Folly will no longer be considered wisdom. Those who devise evil will no longer succeed but rather the noble and righteous will be lifted up.
If you are like me, you read this and long for such a day. It is often the case that we who follow Christ wonder if we have kept ourselves for God in vain. All around us error is offered as truth. Daily we are shocked by the depraved actions of those in our world. Morality seems to be a lost concept, along with honesty, nobility, decorum, and love.
But as this chapter did in Isaiah’s day, so it can do in ours. The promise of God to send the Deliverer has been fulfilled. We know Jesus is God’s son, the Redeemer, and Risen King. And one day the whole of this chapter will be a reality for us.
Let us find hope in the promise of vs. 18: “My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places.”
Prayer: Lord, I love you and trust you, and am so thankful that you are mine and I am yours. Hold be fast today, Father, lest my heart wander down to Egypt in search of strength. Keep me near to you, so that I may live out the truth and love that is mine as your child, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
September 16: Isaiah 33, 34
This chapter forms the final oracle of woe. It differs in that it is not directed at a nation or at God’s own people, but at the foreign power that will be used by God to bring judgment.
The prophet announces that the destroyer will one day also be held accountable. Here we have an amazing paradox. God indeed raised up Assyria to use as his vehicle of judgment on his people, and the surrounding nations. Yet, later he held Assyrian responsible for their violence against Israel and Judah, and brought about their destruction. This is evidence that our God has a plan, and he uses the nations as best pleases him. The result will be the declaration of his majestic glory, and the deliverance and eternal wellbeing of his righteous people.
This chapter also yields promises to those who, despite the adverse circumstances of the Assyrian invasion, remain firm in trusting the Lord. Too often adversity causes us to turn from God when the best option is to run to him. The prayer of vs. 2 is a good model for us as well.
During times of trial it is essential to remember that God is still in the heavens, exalted, and in charge (vs. 5-12). If we focus on the temporal things may look overwhelming. But, if we set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:1ff) we will see things through the biblical lens and find rest and hope.
Chapter 34 represents Isaiah’s bold proclamation to the nations that the Lord’s anger at their sin will one day be unleashed. We must remember that Isaiah was preaching this in Jerusalem. The nations he addresses (“O nations … O peoples … the earth … the world”) could not hear him. His purpose was to make sure all Jerusalem understood the sovereign position God held, not only over them, but over all nations.
Isaiah particularly mentions Edom. These people had descended from Esau, and had always been a thorn in Israel’s side. They were a marauding people, who would come from the east, across the Jordan, to raid and terrorize their cousins, the people of Jacob. Their treachery defined them, and meant they would always be objects of God’s jealousy for his people.
The place where the Edomites live will one day be the home of owls and hawks and wild goats only. Historically, this did come to pass. There minor prophet Obadiah, in only 20 verses, declares the end of Edom. There is some thought that the Edomites were among those who lived in Petra, who believed their fortress to be impregnable. Yet, ultimately they were defeated, and Edom passed away completely and is known no more.
Prayer: Father, today is laid out before me, and I am tempted to think that it is just another day. Yet, this day is a gift from you, and I will never have it again. Fit me for its opportunities, strengthen me for its challenges, but in all things, keep me near to your heart that my life may be a reflection of your truth and love, for Jesus sake, Amen.
September 17: Isaiah 35, 36
In the midst of Isaiah’s robust declarations concerning the certainty of God’s wrath, he also pens chapters like this one which gives comfort to those who trust in God.
The fact is, we live in a broken world that is riddled with sin. We can’t escape it’s effects and consequences. We must admit: even the righteous suffer. But how will we respond? Will we run away from God because life has not lived up to our expectations? Or will we re-set our expectations to align with God’s perfect plan for our lives and all human history?
Isaiah calls us to remember this world is merely a prelude to the next. And in the end, God wins. The glory of the Lord will fill the earth. All will see and have to admit his greatness and worth.
Vs. 10 sums up what lies ahead for all who trust savingly in God. The ransomed shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away! Can’t wait!
Chapter 36 is great history. We are placed inside the negotiations between the Assyrians and Hezekiah. The arrogance of the Assyrian leadership is acutely represented, as is their disdain for Hezekiah’s trust in the Lord.
We can’t help but feel the anxiety that must have permeated the people of Jerusalem. The news of Assyrian victories surely had reached them. Fortified city after fortified city had fallen as the massive invasion force made its way down from the north. The northern Kingdom of Israel had been decimated. Thousands had been taken captive, thousands killed, and thousands more forced from their homes to take shelter in the caves and canyons of the wilderness. And now Assyria was knocking on Hezekiah’s door.
This chapter gives us no mention of Hezekiah’s response. From previous chapters we are led to wonder if he still is trusting in some foreign alliance. The Assyrians mock Egypt, and it appears Judah is standing all alone. The chapter ends in suspense and pushes us to read further.
Prayer: Father, as I read this story I am reminded that there are times when I think the problems I face are insurmountable, that there are no good options left. In those times, Lord, hold me fast. Pull me tightly to your heart, and remind me with your truth and love that if I have you, I have all I need. May today be one of victory and joy, despite what it may hold, so that those who see me may understand that my trust is in you, my Savior and my God, Amen.
September 18: Isaiah 37, 38
Hezekiah proves to be a great model for us today. He is facing an adversary who has all the leverage, power, and opportunity to utterly destroy the city and all its people. Yet, the adversity pushes him to God rather than to his own cunning. He sends messengers to God’s prophet, Isaiah.
History records that the Assyrians had laid siege to Jerusalem. Vs. 3 indicates the people were in a state of famine, without strength. The siege had cut off food and the necessities of life, and those within the city were nearing death. The situation was critical.
The request was made to Isaiah for him to entreat God on behalf of the city. It seems Isaiah had already been in prayer, and had received an answer from the Lord. Despite what seemed apparent, Hezekiah was not to worry. God would deal with the Assyrians and save the city.
Hearing this, Hezekiah went to the Lord in prayer. The prayer, founding vs. 16-20, is simple, yet grand. The king pleads for deliverance so that the nations will know that Israel’s God is the only God, and Lord of all.
God’s response is direct. In attacking Hezekiah, Sennacherib has made war against God, and will not prevail. As the chapter records, God sent his angel, and decimated the Assyrian army. Sennacherib returned home, was murdered by his own sons, and the kingdom passed to Esarhaddon. So much for his big talk!
Chapter 38 describes yet another battle facing Hezekiah. Apparently, he had contracted a deadly disease and was certain to die. God expressed as much to him. Yet, Hezekiah chose to beseech God to heal him.
This is an interesting episode in the biblical story. Hezekiah’s plea reminds us of Jesus in the garden. Both men had been told that death awaited them. Both agonized in prayer for a different outcome. In Hezekiah’s case, God allowed him fifteen more years of life. In Jesus’ case, he walked the path of death that we might live.
Hezekiah’s prayer is a beautiful, poetic psalm. His confidence in the Lord surely came from the miraculous defeat of the Assyrians, but Hezekiah never became complacent, nor took the faithfulness of God for granted. When adversity hit, it drove him to his God in confidence and great trust.
Prayer: Lord, there are many things in this world that I don’t understand. Adversity, tragedy, evil … they all seem more and more common. Yet, I also know that you are working all things for my good; that is, for my progress in holiness and likeness to Christ. Father, take me, break me, and make me, in the image of Christ, that my life may be a glowing tribute to your grace, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
September 19: Isaiah 39, 40
These two chapters present a dividing line in the book. It has been recognized that the first 39 chapters largely present the themes of the Old Testament’s 39 books (God’s judgment, and promise of Messiah), while the remaining 27 chapter present themes found in the New Testament’s 27 books.
Chapter 39 gives the last story from Hezekiah’s life. It appears that his pride got the best of him, and he ended up allowing emissaries from Babylon to see the treasures of Jerusalem.
Isaiah takes opportunity to offer a prophecy that is important to the coming chapters. He tells the king one day all of those treasures, and all of Jerusalem, will be carried of by Babylonian captors.
The Babylonian captivity would happen over 100 years later, in 586BC. But this important historical marker is necessary if we are to make sense of the remaining chapter of Isaiah.
Chapter 40 begins that section in Isaiah with which we are most familiar. The final 27 chapters speak of the Servant Messiah, and flesh out the promises of God regarding deliverance and eternal salvation.
We see the change in vs.1 where “comfort” is pronounced. The messenger has come to Jerusalem bearing good news! The war is over, and iniquity has been pardoned. These pronouncements tell the reader that a new era has dawned. God’s promise of salvation will now be understood as guaranteed.
This salvation centers in the coming One, the Lord who is on his way. The proper response is to prepare his way so that his coming may be widely recognized and heralded.
The rest of the chapter begins to describe this deliverer. Unlike other created things, he will not fade, will not pass away. He and his word will stand forever. The promises of God are in no danger of passing away unfulfilled.
The sovereignty of God takes center stage. He sits above the nations, above the heavens. He alone holds the universe together, and orders it according to his plan. His people may rest secure in the knowledge that he is in charge. Neither the opposition of his enemies, nor the disobedience of his people can in any way derail his plan.
Compared with the transitory nature of every created thing, our God stands forever. He is secure. He is sovereign. His love is unfailing, and his will unbending. While youth may experience weariness, those who wait on the Lord, who trust in him with all their heart, will be like eagles. The prophet here speaks in terms of eternal life, which the Lord has promised to all who trust in him.
Prayer: Father, you are the fountain of life to me! Your love fuels my love, even as your truth guards my heart and mind. Help me, Lord, to wait on you, to rest in you, and to walk in your ways, all the days of my live, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
The Well: Sept. 29 – Oct. 3
Sept. 29: Isaiah 51, 52
In these two chapters Isaiah calls for the readers attention in a dramatic way. We are called to listen (51:1,7,21), awake (51:9; 52:1), look (51:1,2, 6), and finally to depart (52:11). The main theme is for the people of Israel to reflect on being God’s people, and ready themselves to leave Babylon for their return to the land.
You will also notice the many references to previous parts of Isaiah in these two chapters. 52:7 is especially recognizable.
Chapter 51 begins with a call to listen and look back to their origins as a people. They are to remember Abraham and Sarah, God’s miraculous love in providing a son, and the law of Moses which represents God’s righteousness to the nation. This law is to take residence in their hearts.
They are to remember the faithfulness of God during their journey from Egypt, as God dried up the sea. They are to look to the skies and remember the strength of their God, who put the stars in place and continues to keep all things in order.
They are to remember as well the wrath of God, and the judgment they have endured as a result of their sinful rebellion against his law. Their devastation and destruction has come without consolation. Yet, God has not forsaken his people! His steadfast love is never overruled by their disobedience for his will remain faithful to his own name, his promise, his covenant. Consequently, the cup of wrath is over for Israel, and now it will be poured out on their tormentors.
Chapter 52 is a short but beautiful poem calling Jerusalem to awake and prepare to welcome the people once again. Singing shall once again be heard in the city, as the Lord is about to deliver his people and once again establish them in the land.
The chapter ends with the declaration that the Lord will lead his people out of captivity, and back to their own land. Unlike their flight from Egypt, they will not leave captivity in haste. Rather, they shall go forth in victory, following their King and God.
The chapter division here is unfortunate for 52:13 actually begins the 4th Servant Song in Isaiah which continues through all of chapter 53. We will discuss these verses tomorrow.
Prayer: Lord, these verses remind me your promises are never empty, and your word can always be trusted. You have promised eternal life to all who trust in Jesus Christ, and I qualify! Father, thank you for eliminating my greatest fear by granting me a place in your family forever. Help me to live courageously for you today, resting in your great love, walking in your truth, and always thankful for your redeeming grace, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Sept. 30: Isaiah 53, 54
Beginning in 52:13, chapter 53 gives us the final Servant Song in Isaiah. All of these point us to Messiah, the Servant of God.
Taken in context, this Song answers the question the previous declaration must have raised. God was telling his people to prepare to leave captivity and return to the land. But such an undertaking would certainly demand the presence of a great leader. Historically, it was to be Zerrubbabel, who led the first contingent back and rebuilt the Temple. But he, along with Ezra and Nehemiah, were also previews of the Great Servant of God who would arise to lead all people out of their captivity to sin through his death and resurrection. It is this Servant who is now described in the Song.
The Song is unusually symmetrical. Made up of 5 sections, the first and fifth extol the Servant, while the middle three describe his intentional and sacrificial work. Paul uses this same structure in Philippians 2:5-11, beginning and ending with glory while describing the humiliation of Christ in the middle. Isaiah also places the whole thing in the past tense in order to underscore its guaranteed fulfillment.
Isaiah presents the career of the Servant. Messiah is great and lifted up, yet he will leave his exalted place to take on the great humiliation of incarnation and death. But this will not be without purpose, nor will it be without restoration. His incarnation will not be remarkable. He will not come as the most remarkable, but rather as one open to being despised as befits the sin-bearer. He will be despised and rejected. He will be charged, condemned, and crushed, but not because he in any way deserved. Rather, all of his suffering will be as a substitute for those “sheep who have gone astray.” In this way he will accomplish salvation for his people, for which he will be rewarded with restoration to his position in glory.
Chapter 54 presents the appropriate response to the triumphant Song of Messiah. In that day, a childless woman would have nothing to sing about. Yet, the promise of Messiah, and deliverance would fill even the barren with joyful praise.
Israel is exhorted to put away their fear, and look forward to deliverance, freedom, and prosperity from the hand of their God. He promises to rebuild them with precious stones, with children, and with peace. He promises no weapon fashioned against his people will stand now that he had ended their judgment and brought about their deliverance.
In context these promises are directed at Israel as God brings them back to their land. Yet, in principle it is also true that those who have been delivered from bondage to sin through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ need never fear the weapons of spiritual warfare brandished by the Enemy. Our God stands with us, for us, and has surrounded us eternally with his power and love.
Prayer: Great God of mercy and love, you are my Savior and I am your child and joyful servant. May I serve you today in the way I live, love, walk and talk. Make my life an instrument of your grace today, through the Spirit you have made to dwell in me, Amen.
Oct. 1: Isaiah 55, 56
These two chapters contain a compassionate call to the needy along with a depiction of Israel’s irresponsible leaders who have failed to care for them.
Chapter 55 is, perhaps, unparalleled in the Bible for its demonstration of God’s great compassion for all who will come to him. Here we find the thirsty, the hungry, and the weak all called to “come” and find all they require and more from the hand of God.
The prophet uses physical things to illustrate spiritual need. The thirsty and hungry need water and food. Yet, they insist on using their money to buy those things which can never satisfy. So it has been with Israel. They forsook their God, the fountain of living water and nourishment, to follow after gods who had no power to sustain them.
But God has not forsaken his people. Isaiah implores his readers to “seek the Lord” before it is too late. To “call upon him” while he is still near to them. These actions will be validated as sincere to the extent that they also “forsake their wicked ways” and return once again to the Lord in joyful obedience.
In this chapter we see it is not merely the works of our lips but also the motives of our hearts and the actions of our lives that must be aligned with God’s Word. Our God can not be manipulated by confession for he sees every part of us.
In this chapter God promises rescue, renewal, joy and peace to all who turn to him. He is an equal opportunity God. He is a forgiving God. He is a rescuer and reformer who can take what is dead, bring it back to life, and reform it into a trophy of his grace.
Chapter 56 is God’s gracious reminder to the foreigner who has come to find refuge under his wings. He will never forsake his own, regardless of their heritage. Here we see a preview of the New Testament offer of salvation to the Gentile world through Jesus Christ.
The chapter ends with a description of Israel’s leaders who, looking out only for their own pleasures, have forsaken their responsibility to lead the people in the ways of righteousness. They are like wild beasts, like blind watchmen, and like silent watchdogs. The have position, but have never used their power for good. Chapter 57 will go on to describe the devastating effect this lack of leadership has had on the nation.
Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive me for failing to “call on” you, to seek you with all my heart. I admit there are too many times when I push you to the corners of my life instead of making my days a showcase of your love and truth. I repent of this today, Lord, and humbly ask for your strength as I live this day in light of all you are, all you’re doing in our world, and all you’ve done for me. You’ve forgiven me forever, and desire to use me for you glory. May it be so! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Oct. 2: Isaiah 57, 58
Chapter 56 ended with an apt description of the irresponsibility of Israel’s leaders. Chapter 57 describes the idolatry into which the people had fallen in part due to the lack of attention paid to God by those charged to lead the people in the ways of God.
The righteous will find peace in death, but the wicked will never find peace. So begins the denunciation of those who attempt to replace the true and living God with idols. Israel had foolishly and selfishly left off following God to run after other gods. The prophet sees this as spiritual adultery. They have loved the wrong things, acting in the wrong ways, and judgment has come upon the justly. Those charged with pointing them toward God, and declaring his truth and love to them have failed.
But again we see God’s faithfulness to his own promises. He will not utterly forsake his people. Yes, he will judge them, disciplining them as every good father does with his children. But he will restore them again to repentance, and deliver them from their captivity.
Vs. 18 presents God’s voice to the repentant. Those who turn from idols to once again serve the living and true God will hear his voice of comfort and feel his arms of forgiveness. While the wicked are thrown about on the seas of their sinfulness unable to know peace, those who trust in God will dwell in peace and safety because of God’s steadfast love.
Chapter 58 presents a prophetic oracle directed at God’s love for the needy, and his desire for social justice among his people.
Isaiah begins by exposing the empty rituals Israel has used to cover up their hardness of heart. They have fasted, and blown their trumpets in celebration. Yet, their actions cannot mask their true selfishness and refusal to act in righteousness toward the needy.
Are the rituals not for the purpose of reminding them to honor God rather than self? Should they not loose the bonds of wickedness, share their bread with the hungry, and provide shelter for the homeless? If these actions accompany their acts of worship then their hearts will be known as sincerely devoted to God. Then their delight will be in the Lord, and he will shower them with blessing.
Prayer: Father, it is so evident that my singing and praying are too often done out of habit rather than delight. Forgive me Lord! Renew in me the joy of my salvation, and occupy my mind and heart to day with thankfulness for your great grace to me, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Oct. 3: Isaiah 59, 60
Chapter 59 stands as one of the greatest descriptions of sin and its effects. The first few verses engage the question of sin’s effect on our intimacy with God.
Have you ever wondered why God seems distant? Why your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling? Isaiah gives the answer: “It isn’t that God has moved, but your sins have created a separation between you and your God.” Ouch! While in context this speaks to the reasons behind Israel’s captivity, in principle it also applies to us. While a Christ-follower can never be separated from Christ (See: Romans 8:35ff), it is true that our intimacy with our Heavenly Father can be dulled through our own sinfulness and selfish desires. We can harden our heart toward God by softening it toward sin.
Isaiah masterfully and poetically describes the utter sinfulness of sin in the rest of this chapter. He likens sin to a new batch of adders, or a spider’s web. Both present great danger.
The results of sin are seen beginning in vs. 9. A sinful society no longer understands or practices justice. Righteousness is no more. Like blind men, sinners go through life without purpose, ultimately finding only danger and despair.
Israel came to recognize all this. Their transgressions became visible, multiplying themselves before their very eyes. Their plight seemed without a solution.
God saw it all, and realized their salvation could never come from themselves. Vs. 16, 17 are dramatic. The fact that mankind could not save themselves is clearly seen in the fact that God himself had to fit himself for battle. He put on the breastplate of righteousness, and the helmet of salvation, and went out to win the victory for his people. (You will notice this verse as the source of some of Pauls’ “armor” in Ephesians 6). The salvation of sinners will be accomplished only through God as their Savior. Salvation is from the Lord.
Chapter 60 presents the future glory Israel will enjoy when Messiah finally reigns over all the earth. Out of the darkness will come the light of the Lord (see: Isaiah 9:2). The nations of the world will come to Messiah in praise and awe. The Israel of God will be on display, and the reign of Messiah will commence.
It is this glorious future that awaits all who turn from their sin to entrust their lives completely in God’s salvation. In context, Israel was looking forward to their return to the land, to Jerusalem, and to their way of life. But even this return was itself a preview of that far greater deliverance that yet awaits.
One day our Savior will return to end our captivity in this sin-drenched world. One day the Kingdom of God will once again overwhelm all creation. All of God’s promises will be fulfilled as the King gathers his people, to dwell with them in righteousness forever.
Prayer: Lord, you are my King, and the Savior of my soul. Fill my heart with a passionate love for you, and with an expectant hope focused solely on the promise of your return. And until then, use me as an instrument of your truth and love, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
The Well: Oct. 6-10
Oct. 6: Isaiah 61, 62
Much of Isaiah’s prophecy was dedicated to calling God’s people back to him, and away from their sinful ways. Their wickedness would necessitate God’s judgment, and yet, in the end, a faithful remnant would realize the promised reward always found in their covenant with almighty God.
Chapter 52 called Zion to waken and take her rightful place on the throne of nations. Chapter 60 assumes this has taken place and now Zion – God’s Jerusalem (see: Rev. 21:2) – is to shine forth the glory of God.
Chapter 61 lets us hear the exuberant voice of Isaiah himself. While some argue that this is a fifth Servant Song, it is more likely that it describes a man who is not anointed with the Spirit of God for the purpose of praising and proclaiming the long awaited fulfillment of God’s promise.
The first few verses formed the passage Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth (see: Luke 4:16-30). He treated Isaiah’s words as prophecy now fulfilled in his incarnational mission. Jesus was the anointed Son of God, sent to proclaim the good news.
This chapter is especially encouraging as it ends. Vss. 10, 11 can be the rejoicing prayer of all who have come to find rest and refuge in the arms of the Almighty.
Chapter 62 presents the prophet as a man of prayer. He has seen the future of Jerusalem and now prays fervently for that day to come. His heart is encouraged greatly by the fact that the Lord’s delight will once again be on the city, and it will be a place where the name of God is honored and held in great reverence. All Isaiah has longed for, prayed for, will come to pass. God will dwell with his people, and they will be holy. Jerusalem will no longer be recognized as forsaken.
Prayer: Father, I will greatly rejoice in your salvation, for you sought me when I wasn’t looking, and now have brought me gently and wonderfully into your arms of love, through the truth of Jesus Christ. Help me today, to live my live in a manner that is worthy of your call, your love, and your Gospel, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Oct. 7: Isaiah 63, 64
These two chapters present first, a picture of the great avenger who comes in judgment (63:1-6), and second, a psalm of praise and lament (63:7-64:12). Understanding this division helps makes sense of Isaiah’s material.
The previous chapters chronicled Isaiah’s great joy at the vision he had received of Jerusalem’s future. But before restoration and rejoicing would come judgment. The coming of the avenger is described in question and answer format.
Who is this coming in strength? It is the righteous one, mighty to save. And why are his garments red? Simply because he has been treading the grapes of wrath and now will bring devastating judgment on the earth.
This is a chilling reminder that God is perfectly holy and his wrath perfectly executed. His glory is offended by the sin of mankind, and one day his wrath will be kindled (see: Psalm 2:10-12) and all the accounts settled.
In great contrast to the judgment of with wicked is God’s steadfast love and mercy to those who trust in him. The psalm, beginning in 63:7, is a beautiful remembrance of the goodness of God, and his faithfulness to Israel.
The story is always the same. God is faithful to us, and we too often turn away to follow our own selfishness. Israel rebelled, grieved the Holy Spirit, and brought down on them the discipline and judgment of God. We must never think that a loving God is any less holy and just.
Vs. 16 is unique in its use twice of “Father.” What the prayer describes is the utter estrangement being felt by the people. They admit that their sin makes it unlikely that Abraham or Jacob (Israel) would claim them. Yet, they have a deeper relationship than even that. They see God as Father, as intimately linked with them despite their wandering.
Vs. 17 must be understood against the backdrop of the Law of God that presents the moral will of God and at the same time condemns, frustrates, and hardens the hearts of those who continually realize they cannot live up to its standards. Now they are pleading for God to return to them lest they continue to degrade as a people.
The psalm of praise and lament continues into chapter 64 with the poignant plea for God to once again come down. The quaking mountain, and the fire are reminiscent of the scene at Sinai when God came down and met with Moses (see: Exodus 19:16ff), and it is to this dominating event that the prayer now turns. Their plight is evident. They have become unclean, and as a nation they are fading. But, they are clay and are pleading for the Potter to reform them. What Israel needs is their God.
Prayer: Gracious God, when I read about how Israel so cavalierly turned from your love to follow their own selfishness it reminds me of my own selfish heart. Father, forgive me for taking your love for granted, and help me to live for you today, in every way, through the power of your truth and the Spirit who lives within me, Amen.
Oct. 8: Isaiah 65, 66
These final chapter so this “Mt. Everest” of Hebrew prophecy bring this magnificent book to its climax. But first, congratulations … you made it! Many Christ-followers have never read Isaiah in its entirety, and now you have. Way to go!
In these chapters we see the great promise of the new heavens and the new earth (65:17; 66:22). Here we find the final piece of the puzzle. Here we come to understand how the prophecies of the regal restoration of Israel and Jerusalem are to be understood as emblematic of what God will do creation wide.
The final prophecy begins with a review of God’s gracious approach to Israel when he chose them to be his people. Yet, despite his love and faithfulness, they turned from him to follow their own way. But God’s promise is never derailed, even by the disobedience of his people.
The promise of the new heavens and new earth is understood to be the final “redemption” of creation. One day all that sin has tainted will be redeemed, reformed, and ready to be inhabited by those who have trusted in God’s Messiah.
In 2 Peter 3:11, after just having described the day of the Lord with its consummating judgment, we read “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
Here is what the future holds: One day Christ will return to settle all the accounts. All his promises will be fulfilled. The righteous will at last find rest and refuge from the trials of this world while the wicked will receive the punishment their rebellion against God justly deserves. The created realm will also be redeemed (see: Romans 8:22,23), and out of the ashes will come the new heavens and the new earth. And it will be on this new earth – think Eden world-wide! – that all who are “in Christ” will dwell face-to-face with our God, quite above even the possibility of sin. Hallelujah!
Prayer: Great God and Father of the faithful, hurry the day when you send Jesus back to finally vindicate your people, to put things to rights, and to show forth your glory in both reward and judgment. And until then, strengthen your church to shine the light of your truth and love into the darkness, for your glory! Amen.
Oct. 9: Philippians 1, 2
Philippi, located just a few miles inland from the Aegean Sea in Macedonia, was named for Alexander the Great’s father. It was populated by many who, having distinguished themselves in battle, were rewarded with Roman citizenship. Paul visited Philippi and founded the church during his second missionary journey (see: Acts 16).
Chapter 1 begins with Paul’s heartfelt prayer for the church. His desire is for their love may distinguish itself with knowledge and the discernment that flows from it. The goal (vs. 27) it that the Philippians would have lives that display the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He insists this will mean their unity (vs. 27), a theme that carries over into the following chapter.
Paul’s situation sets the tone for the middle part of the chapter. He has been imprisoned in Rome, and his incarceration is not something his readers should be concerned about. In fact, it has been used of God to further the influence of the Gospel. As it always true of Paul, he views his circumstances through the lens of the privilege of serving Christ.
Some have taken undue advantage of his situation, and are now preaching out of envy, attempting to supplant Paul in the minds of the Roman public. Others are preaching Christ out of a new boldness arising from Paul’s imprisonment. It is interesting to note that a Paul is not concerned about motives as long as the message is Christ. Today we often get that backwards. We too often ignore error if we think the person teaching it has a “good heart.” What we learn here is this: the priority is always on the truth. While proper motives must also be our goal, it is the truth that matters most.
Chapter 2 is Paul’s magisterial declaration of the importance of humility. His call to the church to be “of one mind” is dependent on them turning from selfishness to count other as more significant than themselves. This is a tall order, so Paul begins to give human examples.
Of course, the primary example of humility is Jesus Christ, who humbled himself in taking on flesh and walking among his creation as one of them. But his humility led to the cross, and the cross brought about a victory for which he was highly exalted and given the highest name.
In vs. 17 Paul hints at his own willingness to give up his life for the spiritual progress of his readers. In vs. 19 we see the example of Timothy who “will genuinely be concerned” for the welfare of others unlike most who are pre-occupied with self. Lastly, Epaphroditus, one of Philippi’s own, is seen as a practical example of humility. He risked his life to bring the care package the church had assembled to support Paul in his imprisonment.
Throughout this chapter it becomes clear that humility is “joyfully giving up what we may have every right to hang on to, in order to serve others.” Of this, Jesus Christ is the greatest example.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I acknowledge my own pride and selfishness. I realize too often my feelings are hurt because others are not thinking of me first. The problem is too often I am thinking of me first and foremost. Forgive me Lord, and give me eyes to see the blessing of living my life in service to others, as Jesus has done for me, Amen.
Oct. 10: Philippians 3, 4
In chapter 3 of Philippians we find Paul’s autobiography. Having given his readers solid teaching on the necessity of humility and unity in the church, the apostle now warns them about another insidious threat: self-righteousness.
Paul can speak from experience. Raised in a strict Jewish home Paul (then known as Saul) came to put his confidence in his own adherence to the law. His parents did everything according to the law. They gave him the best education, and soon Paul was known for his rigid following of the rules. As an adult he joined the ranks of the Pharisees, and proved his allegiance to the Law by persecuting those who claimed to follow this heretic named Jesus. But when grace opened his eyes to the truth of God in Jesus as God’s Messiah, he found all he had previously relied on for standing before God was just so much rubbish.
Paul had found the value of knowing Christ to be superior to all, and worth everything. Why? So that his standing before God was due to the righteousness only God could provide, and the only righteousness he would ever accept: the righteousness of Christ that becomes ours as we are “in him” by faith.
As the chapter ends Paul warns his readers against those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” They have no place for a suffering Savior. They also have no place for any religion that won’t reward their self-righteousness. But Christ-followers are not like that. We know our “citizenship” is in heaven, and our hope lies in the promise of our Savior’s return.
Chapter 4 finds Paul speaks specifically to things in the Philippian church. He asks them to help two women to put their differences aside for the cause of Christ. He calls them to build a rejoicing mindset, and to foster it by intentionally setting their minds on that which is honorable, just, pure, lovely commendable and excellent.
Paul especially thanks the church for the care package they sent to him. In Roman prisons, the government did nothing to clothe, feed, or care for their prisoners. Prisoners were dependent on family and friends for their daily needs. Hearing their friend was in jail, the Philippian church gathered up much needed supplies and, entrusting them to Epaphroditus, sent them all the way to Paul in Rome.
Paul has received all they sent, and responds with the encouragement that God will indeed supply all their needs as well.
Prayer: Father, hearing about the dangers of self-righteousness calls me to examine my own heart. My pride often gets the best of me, and I confess I too often consider myself better than the rest. Forgive me Lord, for being proud of my self instead of resting completely in the righteousness of Christ Jesus my Lord. Humble me, Father, for your name’s sake, and for the glory of your church, Amen.
The Well: Oct. 13-17
Oct. 13: Ecclesiastes 1,2
Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon, is one of the books of Wisdom in the Old Testament. “Wisdom” is defined as the skill of righteous living demonstrated in doing those things that are pleasing to God and helpful for the community.”
Solomon had come to a place in his life where all his wealth and wisdom did not satisfy his soul. He had come to see that, in this world, everything ended up falling short. Things break. Pleasures end. Ultimately, all things are vanity, unsatisfying, unfulfilling, temporary, and futile.
Chapter 1 introduces the writer’s viewpoint. The world, while offering some pleasure and satisfaction, ultimately is unsatisfying. Lives come but life ends. Hard work will still leave many things undone. Ultimately, the work of a man’s life, along with all knowledge and wisdom, is merely striving after wind. There are always more things to do, more things to fix, more miles to travel. And those who come to understand these things, who gain this level of wisdom and knowledge, actually come to know great sorrow.
Solomon, having given his viewpoint, now begins to address the doubts of his readers. Perhaps you’re one of those who would say “yes, but if I had your money and wisdom, I would sure be satisfied!” Chapter 2 begins Solomon’s rebuttal.
First Solomon addresses the idea that pleasure can bring ultimate satisfaction. He had all the means to explore every pleasure, and he decided to do so. He made use of wine, built grand mansions and parks, gathered massive possessions, and took full advantage of the many physical pleasure this world offers. He got everything he wanted, and then some. But in the end, he was still the same man, with the same sadness, the same emptiness. All was vanity and striving after wind.
So, he turned to the opposite end of the spectrum and determined to live the life of wisdom, maturity, and great knowledge. He read and studied and surrounded himself with the greatest minds of the day. And he found wisdom to be more satisfying than folly, but ultimately even the wisest died and were no more. Their wisdom was soon forgotten, as were they. Solomon concluded that all that was known and accomplished under the sun was mere vanity and striving after wind.
He learned that all his toil was ultimately for nothing. All he built would one day belong to another, under his control. But in the midst of his reflection, Solomon began to understand the place God has in all this. He began to see toil as coming from the hand of God, and capable of satisfaction, but only if done so as to please God. Here we get a glimpse of his final conclusion that awaits at the end of the book.
Prayer: Father, Solomon’s viewpoint is not unlike so many today. We look at the world around us - broken, violent, always shifting and never secure – and we wonder what’s it all worth? Forgive me Lord for forgetting you have this world in your arms, and are working to accomplish the great plan of redemption. Forgive me for looking at this world through the lens of the human and temporal instead of through the lens of your eternal love. I love you, and entrust my wellbeing to you, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Oct. 14: Ecclesiastes 3,4
Chapter 4 expands on the principle introduced in the previous chapter. Toil may be vanity, but when it is seen through the lens of God’s place in our world, it can bring great satisfaction.
Solomon boldly declares God is in charge. He is sovereign. He has given everything its season, its boundary, its place. God has given to the children of men the gift of work to keep them occupied, and through it, he makes beauty. Consequently, there is nothing better than to be joyful in the work God has given them to do.
It was also a comfort to Solomon to realize that God’s control of all things meant God himself would ultimately settle all the accounts, and put all things to rights. The trials of life are there as God’s tests, to evaluate just how man will deal with them, for his response will most often cause him to understand he is not God, but is merely a flawed creation.
Chapter 4 takes up the evident presence of evil. Oppression is rampant. Tears are commonplace. Power is abused, the weak are threatened, and there is often no comfort or remedy to be found. Solomon can see this. He views the nations around him, and even the people of Israel and realizes man comes into this world broken, and must spend his life in toil. He supposes that those who have already passed on may be in the better situation given the sadness and pain of life.
He looks around and concludes that much toil and work is done out of envy, not from a desire to please God and be thankful. Solomon slips in a couple proverbs in 4:5,6. These punctuate the despair he sees in the world. Fools are lazy to their own detriment while those who work themselves to death would have better off to take some time to be quiet.
The rich are not any better off. They toil and gain and collect but ultimately often end up alone with no one beside them. The truth is two are always better than one. God designed man to be in relationship, in community. In marriage the two become a whole meaning that before they were, in some measure, incomplete.
The chapter ends with a short parable declaring a poor and wise youth to be more honorable than an old king who refused to take counsel. The first was elevated, while the destiny of the second is left unstated but known nonetheless. Yet, even the one who ascends to the throne will eventually pass on, and there will be few who remember him.
Prayer: Father, so often I think about what others will think of me when I’m gone. Forgive me for worrying about things I can’t do anything about. Help me to find my satisfaction - my legacy - in your promises. Help me to realize my true identity is in you, and that I will be most satisfied when you are most glorified in me, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Oct. 15: Ecclesiastes 5,6
Solomon has been chronicling his frustration with life. He has searched far and wide and found that few things ultimately satisfy. Yet, in the midst of his confusion he has found one small anchor of hope. It is only as the “under the sun” world is lived in light of the “over the sun” world (eternity) that this life comes to have meaning, purpose, and satisfaction. God is the variable that matters!
In this vein Solomon commends the practice of being quiet before God. In the loud and fast-paced world, times of silence and solitude can quiet the soul and remind us who we are, and more importantly, who God is. He advises us to listen, and let our words be few. After all, our God is here, and we are to live before him in awe and fear.
Solomon sees the vanity in politics, and advises the readers not to be shocked when the powerful abuse the poor, violating justice and righteousness. After all, the primary purpose of those in power is to have more power, not to help those under their charge.
Money won’t satisfy either, for those who have wealth will only want more. Those who have little sleep better than those with much for with much comes great concern on how to keep it and increase it.
Some, endeavoring to increase their wealth, lose it all through poor investment. They would have been better to be content with what they had rather than greedy for more.
Solomon uses these examples as proof that so much of life is merely vanity, and chasing after the wind. The idea is that you can never catch the wind, and if you did, you would still have nothing. This is a good picture of the vanity and futility Solomon recognizes as a central theme in human existence.
Chapter 6 begins with a discussion of the unfulfilled life. The example is a man who toils all his life to gain position, power and possessions, but ultimately it is his children who enjoy it. He has spent his life in vanity. He has chased after the wind, and never found the satisfaction he was pursuing.
In verses 10-12 Solomon summarizes the question that so often has plagued him. What is good? So much that we prize and strive to build will only decay and rot. Solomon seems to be equating “good” with lasting, and in this world, nothing seems to last. It is here that the wise reader recognizes Solomon’s intention to lead us down a path that seems to wind up in a dead end. Yet, already along the way he has left clues to a better ending. If this world, with all it offers, is all we have, we’re only going to inherit an eternity of despair or worse. But, if this life is merely a prelude to the next, and we see it and live it through the knowledge of our Creator God, eternal satisfaction awaits, and we’ll even enjoy some previews of it in this life.
Prayer: Father, I confess I often think that more money, more success, more opportunity would erase the despair and pain of this life. Yet, I know those who have so much more but don’t have the joy I have. Forgive me for thinking possessions can bring lasting meaning to my life, and help me to focus on being content with what you provide. And Lord, should you ever decide to grant me wealth and stature, please grant me character and spiritual maturity first, so that I can use all your gifts for your glory not mine, through my Savior Jesus, Amen.
Oct. 16: Ecclesiastes 7,8
Solomon uses several proverbs to give some basic advice for living life in a broken world. His theme is that obedience to God is our best option even when we can’t see the whole purpose God has for us in this life.
Vss. 1-6 speak dramatically to the superiority of a serious view of life. Solomon wants his readers to be serious, to recognize that all of life is meant to be preparation to die well. In this way, the day of death is better than the day of birth, for those dying have run the race, and finished well despite the trials of life. This is the goal.
Solomon writes counter intuitively in order to shock the reader. Mourning is better than feasting. Sorrow is better than laughter. He eschews the frivolity of the world around him as people go on with life without a concern for the serious tasks they must complete in order to live and die well, that is, in a manner pleasing to God. Piety demands a serious, reflective, and authentic appraisal of life and its challenges.
Vss. 7-14 give wise counsel to those who want to take life seriously. When all is said and done, restraint, patience, and wisdom will be the most valuable possessions one can have, and all are essential if we are to live lives focused on God.
The rest of the chapter commends moderation and wisdom in various areas of life. Vss. 21, 21 are especially insightful: Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
The chapter ends with Solomon’s nuanced mention of the deep pain illicit relationships can bring. The “woman” of vs. 26 is assuredly the prostitute of Proverbs 7, whose ways are like snares and nets just waiting to catch those seeking unrighteous excitement.
Chapter 8 describes the inevitability of death in vss. 1-8. But, those who fear God will be well after dying, while the wicked will not. In the end, our best option is to find joy in all God has given to us, using it, and appreciating it, not as an end it itself, but as means by which we can understand the goodness and greatness of our God, for whom we are to live every moment of this life.
Prayer: Father, I thank you today for all the good things you have given me. For life, and relationships; for your Word and your people; for your Spirit and your mission in which I am privileged to partner with you. Help me to live this life in a way that please you, and influences others to love and serve you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Oct. 17: Ecclesiastes 9,10
As Solomon continues his musings on the seriousness, and the vanity of life, he concludes that no matter who you are, no matter how rich or poor, everyone ends up the same. We die. Those who are hated, as well as those who are loved, all end up suffering the same fate. We die.
Solomon wants us to reflect on the certainty and seriousness of death, and not just death in general. He wants us to consider our own death, which is certain no matter how hard we try to push the thought to the far outer reaches of our brain.
Since death in inevitable, life it to be lived with great intention, great purpose, and great seriousness. In this, relationships are sees as supremely important. It must never be that possessions or ambition occupy us more than concern for, and enjoyment of, our relationships with spouses, parents, children, and friends.
Solomon advises us to celebrate often, enjoy our marriages fully, and do our work with all our might, for the grave knows nothing of these. Here Solomon is not so much teaching about eternity as he is pleading with us not to waste the good times God has given us in this life. What we will find later it the New Testament is that many of the joys of this life are previews of greater joys in the next.
Chapter 10 returns to the discussion of wise living. Solomon, ever the teacher, brings out his proverbs to give the reader a clearer view of what wise living looks like. The primary lesson is that wisdom is superior to folly. The wise will be known by their knowledge, restraint, patience, and humility while the fool is evident for his lack of sense. The fool is identified in verses 8-11 as the one who doesn’t understand risk, nor recognize the need to plan ahead. He also is known by the words he uses and the fact that, even in his many words, his meaning is obscure.
The chapter ends with more thoughts on wise living. The wise recognize the need to have a wise king while fools are ruled by children. Slothful rulers allow comfort to keep them from duty, and believe feasting and money can solve every problem. The wise will refrain from saying anything that, were it made public, would cast them in a bad light.
It is clear Solomon desires others to find satisfaction in a broken world, and having looked everywhere, he has found that living wisely in this life, aligned with the truth of God, is the only sure option.
Prayer: Gracious Lord, today is another day you have given me. Help me to live wisely, always seeking your ways, and displaying your heart. May I use this day in a way that pleases you and allows a watching world to see your love and truth in me, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
The Well: Oct. 20-24
Oct. 20: Ecclesiastes 11,12
As Solomon comes near to the end of his book, he begins to speak about the future. The initial 4 proverbs all speak about how to apply wisdom in light of an uncertain future.
Though we know who holds the future, we are not privileged to know just what or how God will act tomorrow. In the same way we don’t know how life begins, or how the bones of a child are woven together in the womb, so also we are in the dark about so much in this world.
Solomon’s advice, in light of an unknown future, is to rejoice today is what God has given, and refuse to participate in those things we know God will judge.
Finally, in chapter 12 Solomon gives us the conclusion he has been hinting about throughout the book. The world in which we live offers many counterfeits to success and satisfaction. It makes promises it cannot keep. It dangles things before us – power, wealth, pleasure, knowledge, wisdom – that cannot, in themselves bring the purpose, meaning, and satisfaction our souls crave.
So, what are we to do? If everything “under the sun” is merely vanity, and the equivalent of chasing after the wind, what is the wise person to do? Solomon has spent the book, and his life, attempting to answer this question. He has tried everything his amazing resources and intellect could possess. And in the end he has found something we all need to know.
He states it simply: Remember your creator. This is the starting point, to understand that this world and all it contains, has been brought into being by God, and exists by his power, and for his purpose. Meaning in life is only to be found in understanding the Creator of life.
Solomon was a man of words, very wise words. Yet, he admits that the writing of books and the gaining of knowledge and wisdom alone can never satisfy the soul. What is needed is perspective.
Everything is vanity under the sun. That is, if this “under the sun” world is all there is, life is, and always will be, unbearably sad. But … if there exists an “over the sun” realm, a life after this one, then meaning now will be found in living this life in preparation for the next. Meaning now will come only as we live our lives for God, seeing all things through his lens, and understanding that, ultimately, we were never meant to find completion apart from an intimate relationship with our God.
Prayer: Father, thank you for preserving the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes. So much of what he learned is contemporary to what I need to know today. Wean my heart from dependence on the stuff of this world, so that I may set my heart and mine of “things above” and live this life for your glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Oct. 21: Psalms 43, 44
It is thought by many that Psalm 43 is the fitting conclusion to Psalm 42. The ending admonition “Hope in God” seems to lead necessarily to the plea in 42:1. That the two psalms are to be taken together is also evident from the repetition of the admonition in 42:5, 11 and 43:5.
The author takes his hope in God from the theoretical to the practical and calls out for help. God is the only one who can vindicate him, and provide needed refuge.
The psalmist has found spiritual refuge in his God, but now the need seems to be acute. The oppression of the enemy is heightened and the cry is for the light of God to become the beacon leading to safety.
Refuge will also become worship as the author expects to surround the altar of sacrifice with songs of lyre. Hope in God is always a reason for worship to God.
Psalm 44 is another of the musical offerings composed by the Sons of Korah, a guild of musicians from the tribe of Levi who were active in the worship in the Temple (see: 1 Chron. 6:7, 22; Numbers 16:1; 26:8ff; 2 Chron. 20:19).
The psalm is set in the plural indicating it was intended for corporate use, though at certain points (e.g. vs. 4, 6) a soloist is used. The theme is the historical faithfulness of God in rescuing his people Israel, and the seeming incongruence of the present peril.
Vss. 9-22 present the problem around which the psalm is built. God has always proven himself faithful to his people. Only when they have rebelled against him, and wandered from his Law have they suffered at the hands of their enemies. But now they find themselves “as sheep to be slaughtered” though they have remained faithful.
“All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant” (vs. 17). At once we are struck with echoes from the plight of Job. It is apparent the psalmists here believe tragedy and adversity are only to be found where sin has overwhelmed righteousness. Job’s friends certainly were convinced that Job’s pain was directly related to his sin. But, as in Job’s case, there must be another reason here.
We are not given God’s view. We only know that Job eventually said it was only right to accept both good and ill as from God’s hand. Perhaps here God intended to purify his people through suffering. We do not know. But what we do see is the steadfast faith of the people. In times of trial they did not forsake God, but rather ran to him with cries for help. He had been faithful in the past, and could be counted on to be so again.
Prayer: Great God, I confess I often believe that my faith in you should mean trials and tragedy should never come my way. Lord, forgive me for thinking I can learn all I need to without trial, without testing. And fit me Lord, to be strong in my faith should circumstances come my way that stretch me. I love you. Help me to rest in you even when the waves become high and strong, through the strength of my Savior, Amen.
Oct. 22: Psalms 45, 46
This unique psalm weaves together a typical marriage ode with a hymn of praise for God, the King of Heaven. It may be this was composed for the marriage of one of Israel’s kings, and later used as well to praise the heavenly king.
Verses 1-5 extol the beauty, majesty and strength of the king as he readies himself for marriage. Decked out in the finest robes he is handsome. His sword and arrows are symbols of his prowess on the field of battle. And as he rides, his armor of the day are the character traits of truth, meekness, and righteousness. He is deserving of great praise!
But there is still one greater! The psalmists declare that the eternal throne is occupied by God himself. Human kings may rise and fall but the throne of God is forever. The marriage ode is interrupted briefly to extol the Great King.
Vs. 10 brings the psalm around to the bride, the princess whose beauty is enhance by the royal robes and gifts that surround her. With great pomp she is led to the king amidst the proclamations that their union will be greatly blessed, as evidenced by the birth of sons, and the promise that the family name will be remembered in all generations.
Psalm 46 is a well-known hymn of praise. It appears to be the heart-felt exaltation of God from those who have only recently been rescued from great peril by their covenant-keeping God.
Regardless of the circumstances, be they quaking mountains or roaring waters, God can be trusted. While we do not know the exact event that brought about this hymn it is clear that it was life threatening. Their fear was great and the only reason they can give for not having been vanquished is the strength of their God.
In great contrast to the roaring waters of vs. 3 is the river that flows through the city of God. Here God sits securely, watching the nations and kingdoms of the world rise and fall. He opens his mouth, and utters his voice, and the earth melts. This is a poetic way of saying nothing on earth can in any way oppose God when he determines to act.
The psalm ends with an invitation to “behold the works of the Lord.” He is the one who moves mountains, makes wars to cease, and deals with men according to his will. The best response? “Be still, and content yourself with knowing I am God.” For those who trust in him, he is a constant refuge in the day of trouble.
Prayer: O Lord, you have been a refuge for me so many times, and yet I still find myself anxious about so many things. Lord, forgive my doubts, and strengthen my faith, so that I may live boldly for you despite the circumstances of life through the power of the Spirit you have made to dwell in me, Amen.
Oct. 23: Psalms 47, 48
In Israel, the king was considered God’s representative, for in truth, God himself was Israel’s king. This psalm was composed to remind the people that their true king was the Lord Most High.
We are immediately struck by the exuberance of this psalm. Praise to their King is accompanied by clapping hands and shouts of joy. The nature of the King, and the record of his mighty acts was to bring forth these spontaneous actions from those who recognized their King’s great worth.
But even as they praise and honor their King they are to fear him. This fear is not a sense of panic, but rather a steadfast awe that recognizes the holiness and might of their King. He is the great King, and he reigns not merely over a country or a city or a clan, but over the whole earth. Peoples and nations are under his command, but from all the nations of the earth, he has chosen Israel to be his people.
Psalm 48 is a companion to Psalm 47. The first psalm extols the King, and this one extols his city, the location of God’s holy mountain. The picture is of a high, lofty, fortified citadel from which God reigns over all the earth. The psalmists’ intention is to remind the people that their King is secure, will never be moved, or overcome. The brokenness of the world will never pose a threat to their King. He will never be pushed aside or forced to yield to another. He is the sovereign of all creation, and they are his people.
Unlike many kings who are known for their ruthlessness and abuse of power, Israel’s King is known for his steadfast love. He is a covenant-keeper, whose hand is filled with righteousness. He can be trusted. He will never deal in treachery or abuse his people. Yet, while he is good he is not tame. He cannot be domesticated or manipulated.
This psalm would have given the people both a means of praise and a reminder of the sovereignty of their God, their heavenly King. It would also have given them great security to know that this God would be theirs forever, ever present to provide, protect and guide his people.
Prayer: Great are you Lord, and greatly to be praised! Father, may my life today be a hymn of praise to you. Thank you for making me your child, for being my Great King, and for surrounding me with your steadfast love, all because of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Oct. 24: Psalms 49, 50
This psalm invites the people to join the psalmist in considering the faithfulness of their God.
The author proposes a proverb, a riddle in the form of a question: Why should I fear in times of trouble, when I am surrounded by those who trust in wealth? The remainder of the psalm gives the answer: Those who trust in God need not fear the wealthy, nor any circumstance that is adverse to them, for God is the wealthy one, and he will ransom the soul, even from the power of death.
The psalmist must have been in a situation where those with money were taking undue advantage of him. They were using their wealth for wicked purposes, and thereby putting him in dire circumstances.
He replies that wealth is no sure thing. The rich still die, and with all their pomp and possessions, their end is the same as those who have nothing.
Those who trust in their possessions exhibit a foolish confidence. Secure in their possessions they reject God, and unknowingly are headed for judgment, like sheep heading to slaughter.
But those who trust in God will rest secure, for their God will ransom them even from death. The only wealth that really matters is God’s!
The final exhortation is to not be afraid of the rich. Their power will not last, for their lives will one day end and he will carry none of his wealth away with him. Those without God are no better than the beasts that perish.
Psalm 50 is authored by Asaph about whom little is known (see: 1 Chron. 15:17, 19; 2 Chron. 29:30). There is enough information to suggest he may have been a talented Temple singer during David’s reign.
The theme of the psalm appears to be the hypocritical confidence that is too often produced through reducing true worship to legalism. The psalmists first extols the perfection of God in Zion. He calls from the heavens “gather my faithful ones who are in covenant relationship with me.” God is calling his people to worship.
But, their worship has deteriorated into legalism and formalism. They are content to offer rituals but not their hearts. They perform, but they do not worship. Consequently, God will not accept their offerings, nor will he put up with their continued hypocrisy. Their lives show that their worship is a lie. In the end, God will not stand for it. He will reward the righteous, but will be swift to judge the wicked.
Prayer: O Gracious Father, you know my heart. You know my motives and my desires. I freely confess that, at times, my worship is more about me than you. Forgive me Lord, and help me hold you high, to offer you the simplicity of my heart’s devotion, without compromise, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
The Well: October 27-31
October 27: 1 Peter 1, 2
Peter was one of the 12 disciples called by Jesus, and it appears he took a leadership role among them. Peter’s famous denial of Jesus, and the Savior’s subsequent forgiveness and commissioning of him, turned this disciples’ life around. He became a powerful witness of Christ among the Jews, especially those in Rome and scattered throughout the Empire.
Peter exhorts his readers concerning the privilege they have of being in the family of God. He has “caused them to be born again”, and not to a life that will end in death, but to a “living hope” that will culminate in enjoying an eternal inheritance in the presence of God.
This “salvation” was the stuff of great study by the Old Testament prophets. They carefully considered just when God would fulfill his promise to send Messiah. Peter’s readers now know the answer the prophets were seeking! Jesus has come, and his resurrection has validated all he claimed to be and do.
Consequently, those who follow Jesus must live out the privilege they have been given, with the primary attribute being holiness. This call to holy living is to be motivated by an amazed and triumphant love as they remember the price Jesus has paid with his own blood. Through his word they have been born again, and they will never be the same.
Chapter 2 continues on with Peter’s exhortation that the lives of his readers must demonstrate the powerful transformation Jesus Christ has brought about in them. Peter reaches back to the Old Testament to find labels for this new people of God comprised of both Jew and Gentile, in Christ.
2:9 is a crux verse. In it, Peter declares that those who are in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” To the Gentiles he gives the potent reminder that they “were once not a people, but now are the people of God” along with the Jewish believers.
Peter goes further to explain that the call of God on their lives has a specific purpose in mind. They, who have been called out of darkness, are now to take the light of the Gospel back into the darkness. They are to proclaim the excellencies of their Savior to those yet in their sins.
Their call to evangelism encompasses every area of their lives. In fact, it is the platform of an obedient, submitted life that allows for the authentic proclamation of the Good News. The rest of the chapter, and on into chapter 3 finds Peter emphasizing “submission” within the various authority structures believers find themselves in everyday.
Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, it is a marvelous thing that you have done for me, making me your child. Lord, strengthen my faith, and my courage, and my love, so that I may live this life with a passionate resolve to reflect your grace and truth to all I meet, through the power of your Spirit who dwells in me, Amen.
October 28: 1 Peter 3, 4
Chapter 3 finds Peter focusing in on the marriage relationship. He carefully reminds wives and husbands that God has designed a structure by which marriage can not only be satisfying to them, but also glorifying to him.
Wives are called upon to honor their husbands, even if the husbands are unbelieving. It may well be that the Lord will use the respectful behavior of the wife to soften the husband’s heart to the truth of the Gospel.
Husbands are also to understand their wives, to respect their position as fellow-believers, and grant them honor.
Peter’s call to unity extends beyond the marriage relationship to the entire believing community. They are to seek peace and unity among themselves, and as well, live at peace in the greater society.
Such peaceful living will not be easy given the fact that persecution is upon them. Peter exhorts them to trust that God will be with them in the trials. He points them to Christ whose sufferings, while real, were not without great benefit for them. Jesus is the model, who suffered for doing good, that he might bring them go God.
Vs. 18-22 are best understood as Peter’s description of the ministry of God the Son in the Old Testament. In the realm of the spirit, he “preached”, probably through Noah, to those who remained unbelieving before the flood, whose spirits are now being kept for the day of judgment. Yet, as horrible as those days were, and as persecuted as Noah and his family were, God prepared an “out” for them. The Ark preserved them from the water even as the water preserved creation from the wickedness of that God-less generation. In like manner, the water of baptism symbolically “cleanses” us from the sin of this world through our union with Jesus Christ.
Chapter 4 finds Peter reiterating his major themes: First, believers are to live holy, pure lives, apart from all wickedness. Second, we are to love one another earnestly and serve one another with joy. Lastly, we must be ready to suffer for the truth of the Gospel and the church of Jesus Christ, for always for doing good not bad, and always with a knowledge that this world is not our home.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Almighty God, I must admit I don’t like the thought of having to suffer for my faith. Lord, help me to understand your love for me in a deeper, fuller way, and fill my soul with delight to follow you courageously, regardless of the obstacles. And Lord, prepare your church for whatever is in store for us in this broken world, that we may stand strong in the storms, and glorify your name, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
October 29: 1 Peter 5, Judges 1
In chapter 5 Peter gives some final instructions to the church leaders, and to the general congregation.
In one of the most important passages on church leadership Peter describes a plurality of elders into whose hands Christ has entrusted the care and leadership of the church. This is one of only a couple places where the three words for the one church leadership office are used. Elders are to shepherd (pastor) exercising oversight (verbal form of “overseer”). In this we see the one office described in terms of at least 3 functions.
Church leaders are to be “among the flock” as well as men of great character. They must recognize that Jesus is the “Chief Shepherd” and that they are only under-shepherds through whom Christ is still actively ruling over his church.
Peter exhorts the young men to give due honor to the Elders recognizing that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Our task is to pursue humility and leave any exaltation up to God. As well, all the worries we carry are to be handed to our God who cares for us, and will always do what is best and right for us, as measured by his purposes for us.
Though the Devil continues to prowl around like a lion, he can be resisted. This is good news for Peter’s readers who are suffering persecution. Regardless of the situation, we can rest in the sovereign love of our Heavenly Father who has promised to rescue us one day from this broken world, when Jesus returns to set all things to rights.
Judges: Today we finish 1 Peter and begin the book of Judges. After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel were finally at home and at peace. Yet, without a centralized government “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” They had God’s law, but no one to enforce it, and soon the people lapsed into complacency, compromise, and finally idolatry.
The years of the Judges lasted from 1390bc (death of Joshua) until the coronation of their first king in 1051bc. Over these years Israel was greatly decimated as a nation. In fact, they did not act as a nation, but as a group of interconnected tribes made up of family clans. Their disunity made them easy prey for the marauding nations and clans that surrounded Canaan
Israel’s problems began with their reluctance to complete the conquest of the land. After the major battles were won, the people longed for rest. They did not drive out all the smaller pagan clans, and this residual of idolatrous society would plague Israel for the rest of their days.
Prayer: Father, help me today to resist the Devil and the temptations this world puts before my eyes. Help me to remember that obedience to you is always best, for you always know what is best for me. Give me eyes to see, and ears to hear, and a heart filled with love, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
October 30: Judges 2, 3
Chapter 2 chronicles the cycle of disobedience that is described 7 times in the book. Israel would follow the Law of God and find rest and prosperity. But this would lead to complacency, and compromise, making it easier for successive generations to mingle with the idolatrous nations that surrounded them. They would fall deeper and deeper into wickedness and rebellion against God. God, in turn, would bring discipline down on his people using famine, drought, and even the armies of neighboring clans. In their distress the people would cry out to the covenant-keeping God, who would hear them, and send a deliverer. 12 of these deliverers are described in the book as “judges” who acted in the power of God to rescue and reform the nation.
The book of Judges chronicles 7 of these cycles while mentioning 12 different judges. It must be noted that judges did not rule over the whole nation. Most were active among a few tribes, and only for a time. Some of the judges were noble, but many were scoundrels, with Samson and Gideon as prime examples.
Chapter 3 reminds us that God used the surrounding nations to test (“discipline”) his people. The Philistines and the Midianites were especially hard on Israel and we see them used by God time and again.
The first judge we meet is Othniel. Over time the people turned away from YHWH to serve the gods of the land. Baal was thought to control the rain and wind and the land. Those who lived off of their crops had to do business with Baal, offering him sacrifices to appease him lest the rain stop and the earth produce no food. Israel fell prey to the temptation and God punished them by putting them under the thumb of the Mesopotamians. But n their distress, Israel cried out to God who empowered Othniel to lead the army in victory, freeing the people to live in peace for 40 years.
Ehud’s story is particularly interesting in that he committed murder in order to free the nation from the hands of the Moabites. Beginning with this story we begin to see that the time of the Judges was barbaric. We are meant to understand that this whole period of time was a picture of what happens when people don’t follow the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We are also meant to understand that, just because God delivers from trouble, it does not mean hearts are changed. What God desires is obedience from the heart, flowing out of great love and honor for God. The overall story of the Judges is that we honor God when we need him, forget him when times are good, and too often fall into complacency, and then compromise, and then into the discipline of God.
Prayer: Father, I see complacency in my own life. When things are good, I live as though I don’t really need you every day. But, Father, I know you have called me to be yours, and have granted me the privilege of your Spirit, and your Word. Lord, forgive me for thinking you work for me when really my whole life belongs to you! Use me Lord, fill me with your love and truth, that I may stand against the temptations of this world and reflect your grace and glory until you return, Amen.
October 31: Judges 4, 5
The story of Deborah and Barak is very interesting and exciting. We meet Deborah who was considered by the people of her day to be a prophetess. In her case, “judging” included listening to legal cases presented by the people. She would hear both sides, and render a decision.
When it became clear that the king of Hazor meant to make war on Israel, Deborah called on Barak to lead the army in defense of the nation. Barak, recognizing Deborah’s stature with the people, enlisted her help. Deborah agreed but warned that her presence would mean Barak would not be able to take credit for the victory. Together they mustered the troops and set out against the army of Hazor.
The two armies drew up in battle formation, but only Israel had God on their side and he gave them the victory. The enemy’s commader – Sisera – fled the scene but was ironically put to death by a woman while he slept, just as Deborah had prophesied.
Chapter 5 presents the beautiful poetic song of Deborah and Barak. This is evidence that the presence of wisdom literature played an important part in the life of Israel. We are reminded of the Song of Moses (Exodus 15), the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2) and others, including New Testaments examples such as the Song of Mary (Luke 1) and the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1).
The song presents the fact that both the leaders and the people were united in the effort to protect the nation. But ever more, the battle belonged to the Lord. It was the Lord who went out to battle, and it was the Lord who won the victory.
The song reminds the people that God had gone before them long ago, back at Sinai, when the heavens quaked and the mountain smoked. It was the same God who raised up Deborah as “a mother in Israel”. The battle was waged, and the commanders led valiantly so that the triumph of the Lord was evident.
The song goes on to describe elements of the battle. The kings came and fought, with horses hoofs beating and chariots racing. Some of Israel’s tribes joined the fight while others stayed home.
In the end, the battle was won, and special praise goes to Jael who struck down Sisera. But highest regard is reserved for the Lord, and for those who are his friends:
“May all you enemies perish, O Lord! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might!”
Prayer: Father, these stories seem so distant, yet I know deep down that my heart is often no different from those of the Israelites so many years ago. Lord, thank you for your care for me, for your loving guidance, and for the wise instruction of your Word. Increase my desire, Lord, to walk in your ways, and appreciate all you are and are doing in my life, through the Spirit who lives within me, Amen.