God taking us seriously
2Kings 22: I’m taking you seriously.
The clock is about to run out on Judah as the nation has drifted farther and farther from God. When the boy-king Josiah comes to power things have eroded to the point that even the priests at the Temple don’t know God’s Word to them. As Josiah grows up he wants to do the right thing even though he’s unsure of what the right thing is. Out of respect for God, he decides to renovate the Temple and it’s while that work is being done that Scripture is found. The message is not a pleasant, comforting one. Instead, its words declare the covenant made between God and Josiah’s ancestors. That covenant contains words of blessing but also states, in graphic terms, what will happen if they break that covenant. As Josiah hears these words the seriousness of the situation dawns upon him. He and his people are clearly candidates for the “curse” part of the covenant. He’s heartbroken and he’s frightened. He sends word to a woman of God asking for her intercession. The message she receives from God is both positive and negative. It’s negative in its confirmation that all the curses of the covenant will come true. Simply put, God will keep his word. It’s positive in that God is taking Josiah’s repentance and commitment to the Almighty seriously. Once again the curse is put on hold. As a result, Josiah will rule in peace throughout his life. Even as the Lord takes Josiah seriously he takes me seriously. That doesn’t mean my saying “I’m sorry” will stop events that are already in motion from happening. It does mean that the Lord’s willing to hear and forgive when I call out to him.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Deuteronomy 28: God’s blessing in your coming in, God’s blessing in your going out.
After reading the curses listed in the previous chapter I’m ready to hear some words of blessing! All the curses are related to the intentional breaking of the Laws of God. Once I get past them, I find myself in showers of God’s blessings. Moses tells his people that when they live in an obedient relationship with their God that he delights in pouring good things into their lives, blessing them in the city and in the country; blessing their children, their land, and everything about them. As a people of God they’ll be the envy of all the peoples of the Earth. I’m happy to dwell here among the blessings because I know that Moses is about to turn things back around again and restate all these blessings as curses that will come if they turn their back on the Lord their God. As a Christian I want to lay claim on all the blessings that are given to the ancient Israelites. After all, Christians have been grafted into the vine that is God’s people. However, I’ve concluded that I need to bridle in my enthusiasm at this point. While I’m sure God wants to bless his people I also have the balance of the Bible to read. Being a devoted follower of God can, at times land me, covered with sores, in an ash heap or I might find myself in prison asking my friends to be sure to send me an overcoat before winter comes. My conclusion is that God does bless his people (even those of us who have merely been grafted in). He blesses us with his presence in our lives and sometimes in big, unbelievable, material ways. I also conclude that these “here and now” blessings are only the tip of the iceberg of God’s good intentions for us. Ask any believer a million years from now about God’s blessings and I think you’ll hear a list that makes this one from Moses sound rather minor in comparison.
Take Away: The greatest blessing is God’s presence in my life.
Point of decision
Deuteronomy 11: I’ve brought you today to the crossroads of Blessing and Curse.
Free will is both a wonderful gift and a terrible burden. It’s a gift in that it sets us apart from all other creatures. We’re made in God’s image. It’s a burden because it’s possible for us to freely make foolish decisions, which God will allow us to make, and for which he will hold us accountable. The people Moses speaks to stand at a point of decision. On one hand, they have the route to blessing. On the other is the cursed route. Clearly, the Lord wants them to pick “Blessing Street.” However, he won’t force them to do so. Since I have the benefit of being able to turn the pages of my Bible and gaze into their future, I find that, while there are many “blessing stories” yet to be told, there are plenty of the others too; even to the point of near extinction of their race. In his Sovereignty the Lord grants Israel the right to choose. By his grace they’ve arrived at this place of choice and by his grace they’re allowed to decide the next step. However, their choice at this point isn’t without consequences. Some of those consequences are good, others bad. The ability to choose is a gift of God but it’s also a burden because choices have consequences.
Take Away: The exercise of free will can bring wonderful blessings into our lives. It can also be our downfall.
There’s bad news
Leviticus 26: But if you refuse to obey me
While I’d like to linger on the blessing side of Leviticus 26 I have to move on to the curse side of the chapter. God tells them, “If you obey…good things will come. If you disobey…the results will be unthinkable.” The list is filled with everything from disease to famine to war to cannibalism. While these horrible things are framed as divine retribution the last part of this terrible section makes it clear that all these things will come “because of their sins, their sins compounded by their ancestors’ sins.” With that clarification in mind I see that this passage isn’t about God getting them if they don’t behave but, instead, is a clear word of warning that people reap what they sow. I’m not saying that the Lord has nothing to do with some of the promised terrible things, just that if they remove themselves from his blessings this, in general, is what the real world looks like. Apart from the Lord’s provision and protection they’ll find the world to be a harsh, unforgiving place. As one generation after another shrugs off their connection to the Almighty they will fall deeper and deeper into a pit of despair and desperation. God doesn’t have to send bad things into people’s lives because we live in a world where bad things sometimes happen. While it’s beyond the scope of this short devotional, the truth is that bad things come into the lives of both the righteous and the unrighteous. However in this passage the Lord warns his people that if they reject his presence and grace, severing the special connection they have with him the result will be what’s described in this passage.
Take Away: The world is a dangerous place, especially for those who live outside the grace and mercy of the Lord.
Is it about what I’m getting out of it?
Job 1: So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?
While the audience Satan has with the Almighty is challenging from a theological viewpoint, I think it, and this question in particular, is the absolute key to the whole book. We tend to think that the book of Job focuses in undeserved suffering and how Job responds to it, but even more basic is the issue here. The Lord points out Job’s righteousness to Satan, says that Job is his friend, and is an outstanding servant. Satan, that old accuser, replies that the only reason Job lives right and loves God is for what he gets out of it. Certainly, God has blessed Job, delighting in bringing good things into his life. Is Job a righteous man simply because it’s good business, the smart thing to do, or is he righteous because he loves the Lord and chooses to serve him? What if Job wasn’t getting anything out of his service of God? What if, instead of blessings, curses are brought to his life? Will Job then turn his back on God and curse him? While the issue of undeserved suffering is a basic one I think this issue is even more basic. Why do I serve the Lord? Is it to escape hell and go to heaven? Is it so I won’t be plagued with guilt over my sin? What if all the “perks” are removed? Again, this is about as basic a question as there is.
Take Away: Why do you serve the Lord?