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.