Joshua 1-2

Read Joshua 1-2

Prior to moving into our most recent home, our youngest son had God’s command to Joshua printed on a sign that hung in his room: ”Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

After serving alongside Moses and witnessing first-hand many of the mighty works of God, Joshua had been handed the reigns. Make no mistake, God was still in charge, but Joshua would assume the authoritative position that Moses had vacated in his death. Those were some impossibly large shoes to fill. Can you imagine how intimidating of a moment that must have been?

God knew exactly what Joshua would need for the task: strength and courage. That’s why God charged Joshua to be strong and courageous not once, not twice, but three separate times (1:6-7, 9). But God wasn’t telling Joshua to search within himself to find some strength and courage hidden deep within. Quite the opposite, actually. Joshua’s strength and courage would come from outside of himself. More specifically, it would come from God’s promised presence with Joshua.

There’s a good chance you’re not taking over the leadership of a nation anytime soon, but there’s also a good chance that the Lord has called, is calling, or will you into something challenging or difficult. It might seem small and insignificant to others, but to you it might be downright intimidating. When—not if—that day comes, I hope you’ll be reminded of the words that hung over the dresser in our son’s room: ”Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Deuteronomy 3-4

Read Deuteronomy 3-4

“You do you!”

That’s a phrase that has become popular over the last several years. The point behind it is straightforward: do whatever you enjoy, whatever makes you happy, whatever brings you satisfaction and gratification.

While the phrase has grown in popularity over recent years, the spirit behind it is nothing new. It started way back in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve chose their own delights and desires in defiance of God’s clear command. From that point on, all of humanity would be born with a sinful, self-centered bent. Like a car with an alignment problem, humanity naturally drifts toward disobedience and rebellion. As it turns out, the only place “you do you” will take you is straight to the scene of the crash.

Moses knew this. That’s why his curtain call to the people of Israel was a call to obedience: “And now, O Israel, listen to the statues and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:1).

Moses calls Israel to obedience because he knew well the consequences of disobedience. It was his own “you do you” moment that would keep him from setting foot in the land that God was giving Israel (Numbers 20:10-13). Moses’ message was clear: “Obey the Lord! Not only are his commands good, they are for your good!

Moses’ message to Israel is a timely message for those of us living in a “you do you” world. Obey the Lord! His commands are good. They are not burdensome or restrictive (1 John 5:3). They are for your good, for your flourishing, and ultimately for your joy.

Numbers 13-14

Read Numbers 13-14

The temptation in writing a devotional on Numbers 13-14 is to focus on Caleb and Joshua as shining examples of what it looks like to display unwavering trust in the promises of God, specifically in the face of daunting circumstances. Be like Caleb and Joshua! That would be the easiest route to take—and while it’s not wrong, I’m not sure it’s the main thrust of the passage.

The truth is that we have far more in common with the grumbling Israelites than we do the honorable spies. We doubt God’s promises. We question his provision. We shun his providence. When his purposes don’t line up with our plans, we rebel. Just as the Israelites turned their eyes back to slavery in Egypt (Num. 14:2-4), in our rebellion we effectively turn our eyes back to slavery to sin and death, foolishly choosing our way and our will over God’s higher ways (Is. 55:9) and his good and perfect will (Rom. 12:2).

And here’s the hard truth: that never ends well. As previously mentioned, the thrust of this passage is not primarily “Be like Caleb and Joshua!”—the main point is that rebellion against God is met with judgment. Israel, as God’s chosen people, still felt the consequences of their sin and rebellion. We, as God’s children, still likewise feel the consequences of our sin and rebellion—after all, the Lord disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:5-6).

While we are not free from all of the consequences of our sin, praise God that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been freed from the penalty of our sin. As Moses effectively saved the Israelites by interceding for them (Num. 14:13-19), Jesus saves to the uttermost by continually making intercession for all who draw near to God through him (Heb. 7:25).

Leviticus 8-9

Read Leviticus 8-9.

The Bible is a bloody book and nowhere is that more evident than in the book of Leviticus. It feels like there’s some reference to blood in every chapter, and Leviticus 8-9 are particularly saturated (pun intended). There’s blood being sprinkled, blood being thrown, and blood being rubbed on ear lobes, thumbs, and big toes—which makes for an interesting read for the squeamish or hemophobic.

So what’s with all the blood?

A few thousand years later, the author of Hebrews answered the question: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

As with many things pictured in the Old Testament, the blood shed by the various sacrifices was not only commanded by God, it was also foreshadowing a better sacrifice, one whose blood would atone for the sins of the world once and for all.

As we head into a season of more conscious and consistent gratitude and thanksgiving, let’s be grateful that we no longer have to keep up with the sacrificial system of the old covenant. We live under the new covenant, in which “he [Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

Exodus 28-29

I find the pace of the Bible to be fascinating. Here’s what I mean: in Genesis and early in the book of Exodus, it feels like everything is speeding along—there’s a lot of ground covered in each chapter. But once you cross the halfway point in Exodus, it feels like everything comes to a screeching halt. The narrative slows way down and all of a sudden the author spends much more time elaborating on the finest of details.

Such is the case in Exodus 28-29. The author spends an entire chapter expounding on the priestly garments—what Aaron and his sons were to wear as they fulfilled their duties. Following that is another chapter on the consecration, or setting apart of the priests for that duty. On the surface, the attention to detail feels a little extensive. Did it really matter what the priests wore? Was the whole consecration ceremony really necessary?

The short answer is yes.

The garments mattered and the consecration mattered because their role and responsibility mattered. It was the priests who would make atonement for the sins of Israel. That’s a task that mattered. And a priest that was not adequately prepared to enter God’s presence could not make the appropriate sacrifices required to provide atonement for the sin of God’s people. And where there was no atonement for sin, there was no forgiveness of sin. And where there was no forgiveness of sin, there was no hope of eternal life.

But as significant and weighty as all this was, it was but a shadow of a better priest to come: Jesus, the high priest who clothed himself not in fine garments but in humility. Jesus, the high priest who needed no consecration, for he knew no sin. Jesus, whose humility and sinlessness collided at the cross, where he made atonement for God’s people “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

Exodus 13:17-14

Free at last! After 430 years of slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh finally relented and released the Israelites. All that stood between them and the Promised Land was a two-week journey across what has been called the “Via Maris” or “way of the sea.” After all, the coastal highway was the most obvious escape route, nearly a straight shot to Canaan.

But God typically doesn’t take the most obvious and direct paths.

Instead, God rerouted the Israelites south, away from Canaan and seemingly away from his own promise. He led them deeper into the wilderness, in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He lead them right up to the banks of the Red Sea, even hardening Pharaoh’s heart all over again, ultimately provoking the Egyptian army to follow Israel in hot pursuit. And then, once again, God delivered the Israelites from the hand of the Egyptians. Moses’ staff was lifted, the waters were parted, and the people of Israel walked across on dry land.

But the journey still wasn’t over. For 40 more years the Israelites would meander through the wilderness. Could God have led them straight to Canaan from Egypt? Sure. God can do whatever God wants to do. That’s what makes him God. But God didn’t want to take the direct path. God didn’t want the trip to be free from troubles.

Here’s the takeaway: time and trials are where we learn to trust God. The best fruit takes time to grow. The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire. When God leads you on a longer and more difficult journey than you anticipated, find comfort in knowing that, while God’s way is not always the most direct way, it is always the best way.

Exodus 4-5

Have you ever felt like God wasn’t holding up his end of the deal?

I have. Whether you want to admit it or not, you’ve almost certainly felt that way, too. And my guess is that’s exactly what Moses felt at the end of Exodus 5.

God had called Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery. God had reassured Moses over and over again that he would equip Moses for the task he had been called to. Moses expressed some doubts, and God responded with some supernatural confirmations. Moses even tried to back out, so God sent in reinforcement in the form of Moses’ brother, Aaron. Clearly, God was determined to deliver the Israelites and was equally determined to employ Moses in that effort. Unable to get away from God’s call on his life, Moses heads back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. But instead of releasing the Israelites, Pharaoh dismisses both Moses and his God and doubles down by heaping even heavier burdens on God’s people.

It seemed like God wasn’t holding up his end of the deal. It seemed like Moses was justified in his frustration toward God: “For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Exodus 5:23).

But things are not always as they seem.

A few thousand years later, you and I have the benefit of knowing that God ended up holding up his end of the deal—in pretty miraculous ways, actually. But Moses didn’t have the benefit of knowing that in the moment. All he could see was that his efforts did not result in what God had promised to do.

Maybe that’s how you feel. You’re doing the best you can to walk in obedience to the Lord; you’re striving to remain faithful to what he’s called you to do and who he’s called you to be, but if you’re honest, you feel like you’re the only one holding up your end of the deal. It’s frustrating—Moses would agree.

Just hang tight, because “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s plan of redemption is still patiently unfolding—and while the end result may be unknown to you, it isn’t unknown to God. In time, he’ll hold up his end of the deal. He always has, he always does, and he always will.

Genesis 44-45

When it comes to traveling, some people prefer the scenic route. Some people enjoy taking in the picturesque landscape, particularly during this time of the year when the changing leaves add a warm hue. Some people have no problem adding miles and minutes to their trips in an effort to stop and steep in the beauty of God’s creation.

I am not some people.

My objective is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Maybe it’s because I usually have a van full of impatient children. Maybe it’s because I used to drive racecars. Either way, no scenic routes for this guy. I want to get from here to there as quickly as I can (sometimes quicker than is allowed, as my driving record would attest).

Unlike me, God doesn’t seem too concerned with speed—after all, to the eternal Creator of the universe “one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8). God works on an entirely different timeline than we do and perhaps that is nowhere more obvious than in the story of Joseph and his brothers, which culminates in Genesis 44-45.

We were introduced to Joseph and his family in Genesis 37 and, from there, we’ve watched their story unfold slowly and, at times, painfully. Abandonment, deception, false accusations, false hope, despair—all these and more mark the story of Joseph and his family. The journey from Genesis 37 to Genesis 45 has been a long and twisted one, to be sure. But when all of it is sprawled out in front of Joseph, he can confidently say, “God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5). As long and drawn out as it was, it was all God’s doing.

Take heart! You’re on a journey as well and, as much as you’d like to get from point A to point B as quickly and painlessly as possible, God is almost certainly taking you on a scenic detour through a multitude of moments and experiences that are shaping you in profound ways. As John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” But in the end, you will find that all the extra mileage has been worth it. You’ll look out over the landscape of your life and be able to spot all the moments where God was with you and he was at work.

Genesis 33, 35

It all began when Jacob leveraged a bowl of stew to gain his brother Esau’s birthright, but the birthright wasn’t enough. Jacob continued his scheming, even to the point of stealing Esau’s blessing from their father. Family tensions were palpable:

Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself…”I will kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41).

After fleeing for his life, Jacob lived up to his namesake by continuing his life of deception—but it was about to catch up with him:

And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him (Genesis 33:1).

The reports were true—Esau was coming and he was bringing reinforcements. Certain that Esau had come to deliver on his promise to kill his brother, Jacob split up his estate to avoid a total loss in the collateral damage.

Jacob made his way toward his brother, hindered by that nagging limp (Genesis 32:24-31). I imagine him rehearsing his plea with each step, hoping to somehow persuade Esau to spare his life. As Jacob looked up, he saw that Esau was now advancing quickly. It wouldn’t be long now. It’s conjecture, but it’s not unreasonable to think that Jacob’s life flashed before him—a life marked by sin and deception had finally caught up with him.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept (Genesis 33:4).

Yes, Jacob’s deception had indeed caught up with him—but rather than being met with Esau’s wrath, he was met with Esau’s kindness. And, in many ways, it was that kindness that led Jacob to repentance.

Having received such extravagant grace and mercy, Jacob limped away from the encounter a profoundly changed man—in fact, God would signify Jacob’s transformation with a new identity:

And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10)

What a glimpse into the heart of the gospel. Though we have lived lives marked by lies, deception, and rebellion, in Christ we are met not with condemnation, but with kindness. And it is God’s kindness—his grace and mercy lavished on us—that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). In Christ, you have a new identity—no longer an enemy of the cross (Philippians 3:18), but instead an adopted son or daughter of your Heavenly Father (Galatians 4:4-5).

Genesis 24

The first 11 chapters of Genesis covered a lot of ground: creation, the fall, the flood, the Tower of Babel. But as soon as you hit Genesis 12, the camera seems to go from wide-angle to a zoom lens. Whereas the first 11 chapters of the Bible covered several names and faces, the subsequent 12 chapters are focused primarily on God’s promise to one family—Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac.

Beginning in Genesis 12, we saw Abraham called out from where he was to the land that God would show him. We heard God’s promise to make Abraham a great nation that would bless all the families of the earth. We saw God doubling down on his promise when Abraham expressed his doubts. We read about Abraham’s and Sarah’s impatient attempt to fulfill God’s promise apart from God’s plan. Despite their subversive scheme, we once again saw God triple down on his promise to give them a son. We read of God finally making good on his promise in the birth of Isaac. Emboldened by the Lord’s faithfulness, we saw Abraham’s trust in the Lord on display in his willingness to sacrifice his son.

In Genesis 24, we come to the end of a deep dive into the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. And where does the story end? Nearly right back where it started. God’s promise in Genesis 12:2 was to make Abraham “a great nation,” and that promise is echoed in the blessing spoken over Rebekah, Isaac’s soon-to-be wife: “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands” (Genesis 24:60).

And that’s exactly what she would do because, as I wrote in last Thursday’s devotional, God makes good on his promises. Therefore, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)