Day 220: A Strange Exchange

2 Chronicles 21-22; Romans 4

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 21:6b-7
And [Jehoram] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.

Romans 4:16
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all [Abraham’s] offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

After faithful Jehoshaphat died, his first-born son, Jehoram, was crowned king of Judah who then killed all of his brothers so that no one would challenge his throne. The royal line of David was dangerously thin – and lay in the hands of a murdering madman who rebuilt the high places and led the people into idol worship.

But it gets worse.

All of Jehoram’s sons were killed in battle except for Ahaziah – who took the throne upon Jehoram’s death. Ahaziah made an alliance with the evil son of Ahab and was killed by the same man who was ordained to destroy all of Ahab’s family. Ahaziah and all of his brothers were killed and there was no one to rule Judah!! So Ahaziah’s evil mother, the daughter of Ahab, took control of Judah and killed everyone in the royal family.

What??!!... The entire royal line of David was destroyed because of their alliance with Ahab’s evil family??  What about the promise that a Royal Branch of David would rule in peace forever??

Ah! We have to keep reading… The narrative continues like a Shakespearean play as we discover that Ahaziah’s sister (who was married to the faithful priest, Jehoiada) hid Ahaziah’s infant son from the royal mother’s massacre. There is one from the line of David who lives! And in tomorrow’s reading, he will take the throne in dramatic fashion!

This is the tragic history of Israel. Paul argues in Romans 4:15 that “the Jews, who had the written law, had even greater responsibility for their sin and as great a need to be saved from God’s wrath and justified by faith*.” The tragic events detailed in today’s reading definitely make it clear that all of Israel had a great need to be saved!

Paul teaches in Romans 4 that all people need to be saved by faith – that the Jews couldn’t trust in their possession of the law – or in their sign of circumcision – to save them. But that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised and before the giving of the Mosaic law (Romans 4:11).

Paul’s argument is clear. Heritage and Circumcision do not make you righteous. That is evident from the horror of today’s Old Testament passage! Rather, it was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness.

Paul says that we, also, can be counted as righteous when we “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (Romans 4:24).

We are given credit for being righteous – only because of our faith – not because of our actions. It is a strange exchange. It’s an exchange based on grace!

*quoted from note on Romans 4:15 from the ESV Study Bible, Crossway

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Day 209: The Substitute

1 Chronicles 20-22

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 21:17
Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.

1 Chronicles 21:26-27
And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

1 Chronicles 20 continues from the previous two chapters to show how David’s military victories prepared the way for Solomon’s peace and prosperity.

Chapter 21 recounts events from 2 Samuel 24… It’s a powerful story of sin, repentance, and redemption. David sinned by demanding a census and God sent a great plague on Israel as punishment for David’s sin. Then God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem.

Let’s think about this… Didn’t God just promise David that his son would build Him a house and He would establish his rule forever??!! Now God is about to destroy the “City of David.” It seems as if God’s covenant promise is in jeopardy because of David’s pride. 

God gave David the ability to see the angel “standing between heaven and earth and in his hand a sword stretched out over Jerusalem.” David realized that his sin had put all the promises of God at risk. He fell to his face and cried out to God…

Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people (1 Chronicles 21:17).

God did relent and spare Jerusalem…But – there had to be a substitute – something to receive the punishment intended for Jerusalem.

This story harkens back to Abraham lifting the knife over the body of Isaac – just in time, God provided a ram.

In this case, God commanded David to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at a specific place. The sacrifice would be the substitute.

And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath (1 Chronicles 21:26-27).

David’s repentance led to God’s relentance (yes, I just made up that word :)

But consider this detail in the text… In order to build that altar, David had to buy the land on which to build it. This piece of land would be the site of Solomon’s temple. Because of David’s repentance, God orchestrated the circumstances by which David bought the plot of land on which the future temple would be built.

Somehow, God redeemed a genuinely repentant heart and brought about a greater and more powerful good.

This story not only points back to Abraham and Isaac but points forward to God’s only Son. There must be a substitute. Our sin demands it. But thankfully… God’s goodness overrules our sinfulness!

Day 82: Intricacy and Goodness

Joshua 6-8; Luke 2:22-52

Key Verses

Joshua 8:1-2
And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king.”

Luke 2:28-32
Simeon took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

We have read of Abraham’s descendants moving to Egypt to escape the famine, of the people being enslaved by the Egyptians, of God’s amazing rescue mission. He indeed brought great judgment on Egypt and the people came out with great possessions. We’ve read of the giving of the law, of the building of the tabernacle, of the marching to Canaan, and of the people’s failure to enter the land. We’ve read in Numbers of the 40 years of wandering and we’ve listened to Moses reiterate the law in Deuteronomy.

And now, finally…the people begin to possess the land. In Genesis 15, God prophesied to Abraham that his ancestors would be enslaved in Egypt and would not possess the land until the 4th generation. Why did God make them wait so long? Because the iniquity of the Amorites was not complete. You see, God used every circumstance and weaved each failure as he orchestrated the perfect plan to both bless His people and bring judgment on a very sinful people. If Israel had taken the land earlier, it would have not been fair to the Amorites (one of the main peoples who lived in Canaan) for “the iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet complete” (Gen 15:16).

God’s plans for the nations are intricate, complicated and good. But somehow God manages the same intricacy and goodness in His plans for individuals.

Consider Simeon in Luke’s passage. He is but one man. But like all people of faith, he was important to God. God had plans for him. Plans that included seeing the promised Messiah before he died. And God weaved and orchestrated so that Simeon, as an old man, would see Jesus as a 40-day-old infant.

And then God used Simeon, the individual, to prophesy God’s plan for the nations.

God’s ways are intricate and complicated. But most of all, they are good.

Day 79: An End and a Beginning

Deuteronomy 33-34; Luke 1:26-56

Key Verses

Deuteronomy 34:4-5
And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.

Luke 1:30-33
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Today we read of the death of Moses and the conception of Jesus. It is the end of the law-giver and the beginning of the law-Fulfiller. It is the end of the shadow and the beginning of the full-color glory.

The end of Deuteronomy marks the end of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). All the themes of the Pentateuch find their fulfillment in Christ.

  • The promises of the Abrahamic covenant, specifically “All the nations are blessed through Abraham and his descendants”Genesis 12:1-3), point forward to all nations being blessed through Jesus.
  • The climax of the Pentateuch, God coming down to fill the Tabernacle with His glory (Exodus 40:34-38), points forward to Christ coming to earth to reveal His glory to the world.
  • And finally, “Jesus is seen as the new and greater Moses. As Moses declared God’s law for Israel, so Jesus declared and embodied God’s word to the nations. As Moses suffered and died outside the land so that his people could enter it, so the Son of God died on earth so that his people might enter heaven” (from the article “Introduction to the Pentateuch” ESV Study Bible, Crossway).

Imagine if the people of Moses’ day could look forward and see the fulfillment of the promises in Jesus… It would have been beyond their imagination! Just as the ultimate fulfillment that Revelation describes is beyond our imagination :) It is no wonder that C.S. Lewis referred to our life on this earth as the “Shadowlands.”

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

Day 66: Israel’s Beginning and End

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:11; Mark 11:1-19

Key Verses

Deuteronomy 2:7
These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.

Mark 11:17
And [Jesus] was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

Today we begin Deuteronomy.  The ‘experts’ say that it is structured similarly to ancient treaty documents. (I’ve never read an ancient treaty, so I wouldn’t know!)

In any case, Deuteronomy is important because it contains the final words of Moses. We will watch as he recounts their history, reminds the people of the law and implores them passionately to obey all that the Lord has commanded. It’s a powerful book, rich in theology and insight into the character of God.

Deuteronomy begins with the people just east of the Jordan river. They are poised to cross the Jordan and take the land. The promised land. Moses begins his final treatise by recounting the last 40+ years – beginning at Mt. Sinai (Horeb) and following the Israelites through the wilderness, to their failure to obey and take the land – to their 38 years of wanderings – on to their recent victories over King Sihon and King Og.

It has been a long journey – a journey which began hundreds of years earlier with God giving the covenant to Abraham…

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

We are on the brink of all the promises being fulfilled…all except one: “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” We know that this promise is fulfilled in Jesus – the Savior that comes from Abraham’s family line.

In today’s reading from Mark, we see Him enter Jerusalem as their King. On the surface, it is a joyous entry, but His entry is a sad shadow of his future glory. He enters Jerusalem to find her spiritually dead. The fig tree, a symbol of Israel, has no fruit and Jesus curses the tree as a symbolic cursing of the fruitlessness of the Jews. He enters his temple to find it corrupt and defiled. He is King – but His people are unworthy. They need a savior – a priest to make peace between them and God. And only after the sacrifice is offered can the final promise be fulfilled – all the people’s of the earth are blessed because of Abraham’s family line – because of Jesus – our priest and King – who gave His life as a ransom for many!

Day 11: A Royal Family

Genesis 25-28

Key Verses

Genesis 28:15
“Behold, I am with you [Jacob] and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

It was God’s plan from the beginning to preserve a family from which the promised savior would come. The entire world’s survival depended on this family’s survival… All seemed lost when Cain killed Abel – but God knew that the promise would continue through Seth. We follow this family, the royal family line, through Seth and then 10 generations to Noah. It goes through Noah’s son, Shem, and then 10 generations to Abraham. And the drama heightens as we see the very family that God had chosen to carry the blessed seed – threaten God’s plan with their faithlessness. Yet, God’s faithfulness overruled.

God’s promise passed from Abraham to Isaac:

“I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:3-5).

Then Isaac and Rebekah had twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Which son would carry the promised seed? Isaac wanted Esau, but God’s choice was Jacob. Family dysfunction took center-stage as Rebekah manipulated, and Jacob deceived so that Isaac’s blessing was passed to Jacob instead of Esau.

It’s always been a mystery to me how God uses imperfect people to carry out his good plan. God had always planned for Jacob to receive the blessing from Isaac. And God carried out his good plan in spite of Jacob and Rebekah’s deceit and manipulation.

Jacob, whose name meant “heel-grabber” or “cheater” had spent his life striving to receive this blessing. Nancy Guthrie writes in her book The Promised One, “Jacob wanted the right things. His desire was for the blessing of being in the line of the Promised One. But there was no sign he wanted God. There was no reaching out for God but only grabbing for God’s blessings.” God, because of His faithfulness (not because of Jacob’s faith), extended His original promise that He gave to Abraham – to Jacob:

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).

What do I learn from these chapters?

  1. God is faithful and good.
  2. Man… not so much.

Just like Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau, we are in desperate need of God’s grace. Thankfully, this family’s faithlessness could not thwart God’s plan to bring the promised savior. That’s good news to me…. because it teaches me that my faithlessness will not hinder God’s plans in my life – just like your faithlessness will not hinder His work in yours. He is the Lord.

Day 9: The Promise Continues

Genesis 23-24; Matthew 8

Key Verses

Genesis 24:7
The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.”

Matthew 8:16-17
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Yesterday, we saw the small beginnings of God fulfilling His two-fold promise of legacy and land to Abraham… Isaac was born and Abraham bought a well.

In today’s reading, we see Abraham purchase a full-fledged plot of land (in Canaan, of course) that contains a cave in which to bury his wife, Sarah. We also read of the miraculous way in which God provides a wife for Isaac. Rebekah is kind-hearted and full of faith. She is a good wife for Isaac. God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars and to give them the land of Canaan continues to unfold…

It’s fun to fast-forward in history to Matthew 8 where we see Jesus in action. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all of God’s promises. In this chapter, we read several stories of Jesus’ healings… First the leper, then the centurion’s servant, then Peter’s mother-in-law.

There is a scene painted in just one sentence that boggles my mind. Jesus is in the home of Peter and…

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick (Matthew 8:16).

Can you imagine the flurry of people scampering to Jesus to be healed? I would have been one of them. I would have done anything, anything, to get my brain-injured daughter in front of Jesus. I would have bowed low and begged him to heal my daughter. I know, because I do this every day.

In the very next verse, Matthew refers back to Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).

Just as he showed compassion to the crowds and healed their diseases, He has borne my grief and carried my sorrow. Even though He has chosen not to heal my brain-injured daughter immediately, he is still healing her – very slowly. Waiting on God builds godly character, and ultimately the healing of our souls is infinitely more important than the healing of our bodies. But we’ll talk more about that tomorrow :-)

Day 8: The Promise Begins

Genesis 20-22; Matthew 7

Key Verses

Genesis 21:1
The Lord was good to Sarah and kept his promise (Genesis 21:1 CEV).

Matthew 7:9-11
…which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

In these chapters of Genesis, we see the small beginnings of God fulfilling his promises to Abraham!

  1. First, we see the birth of Isaac, the first fruits of the promise that God will make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars.
  2. Second, we see Abraham purchase a well in the southwest region of Canaan (Genesis 21:31-37). This is significant because it is the first time we read of Abraham abandoning his nomadic lifestyle to become a land owner, and that small bit of land just happens to be in the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants.

God surely keeps his promises… which had to be Abraham’s only comfort as he made the agonizing trek up the mountain to sacrifice his son, Isaac, the promised son. And as Abraham showed his willingness to obey, God provided a ram in Isaac’s place …the blessed ram.

One morning, my husband, Eric, pulled our son aside and recounted the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He pointed out that Abraham was only able to obey because he trusted in the goodness of God. Then Eric asked our son, “Do you trust me?” Wide-eyed, our son answered confidently, “Yes, daddy.” And then Eric explained to our son that he was getting too big for his bike and asked him to give his bike to his little sister.

Our son, holding back tears, agreed to give away his most prized possession. Why? Because he trusts his daddy, and he knows that his daddy is good.

What our son doesn’t know is that Eric has been meticulously saving and an even bigger and better bike will be delivered in just two days. But think about how much more grateful he’ll be when he receives it, and how his trust in his daddy’s care for him will be deepened and enlarged in his heart. And hopefully, this experience will equip him to obey God when it’s hard and doesn’t make any earthly sense.

Day 7: The meticulous, kindness of God

Genesis 18-19; Matthew 6

Key Verses

Genesis 18:19
“For I have chosen [Abraham], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

Matthew 6:33-34
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

For the last few days, Matthew’s readings have been from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ sermon makes me very uncomfortable.

Jesus takes the Old Testament law – which was barely attainable – and makes it completely out of reach.

  • Old Testament says: Don’t kill anyone. Okay, I can manage that.
  • Jesus says: Don’t get angry at anyone because you’re committing murder in your heart. Uhhhh. That’s impossible.

Ahhh… the heart. Jesus is shining a magnifying glass on the state of the heart. Ultimately, He wants good actions to flow from the righteousness of the heart as opposed to performing good works to mask the darkness of the heart. Jesus wants us to be convicted… so we will turn to Him to do what we cannot do – NOT change our hypocritical behavior, but change trust Jesus to change our hearts.

Genesis 18 is the story of the Lord visiting Abraham and again promising him a son through Sarah. This time, however, many years have passed (since Abraham first heard the promise), and Sarah is past the age of child-bearing. Sarah overhears the promise and laughs, and God answers…

“Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Changing Sarah’s anatomy to open her womb was an easy task compared to changing the darkness of a sinful heart. But I ask you… “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Indeed, nothing is too hard for our God!

For me, this change has happened slowly… moment by moment, choice by choice, so that after years have passed, I can look back and see the slow work of grace in my life. The more God changes my heart from dark to light, my eyes are opened to even more darkness that resides in me. God is merciful and only shows me what will not send me into despair. For if I saw too much at once, I would become hopeless, and lose heart. God is meticulously kind. Thank God.

A great example of His meticulous kindness is seen in his conversation with Abraham about saving the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33). On first glance, it seems like Abraham is negotiating with God, but a pastor explained the passage the opposite way…. God is meticulously expanding Abraham’s heart to be more compassionate.

Abraham: would you destroy the city if you found 50 righteous men?
God: No. I will save the city for 50 righteous men.
Abraham: How about 45?
40?
30?
20?
10?

God conforms Abraham’s heart to be closer to His own. He makes Abraham more compassionate. He does it slowly. He does it meticulously. He does it kindly.

Day 6: Relentless help

Genesis 15-17; Matthew 5:27-48

Key Verses

Genesis 15:5-6
And [the Lord] brought [Abraham] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Matthew 5:44-45
“But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.'”

God made a promise to Abraham, and Abraham lived in the tension between faith and doubt – between belief and unbelief. Just listen to the narrative…

  • Abraham questioned how God would give him descendants since he had no children. (Gen. 15:3)
  • God promised that Abraham would have a son and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. (Gen 15:5)
  • Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:6)
  • Abraham waited for God to fulfill his promise of a son. He got impatient and slept with his wife’s servant, Hagar, and Hagar bore him a son. (Gen 16:2-4)
  • God reappeared to Abraham and reaffirmed his promise of a son from his wife, Sarah. He restated his covenant promise and instructed Abraham to be circumcised along with every male in his family as a sign of this covenant. (Gen 17:1-16)
  • Abraham “fell on his face and laughed to himself” at the thought of his wife, Sarah, bearing him a son. But he obeyed the difficult command of the Lord to circumcise his household. (Gen 17:17; 23-27)

Do you see the ebbs and flows of faith in Abraham’s life? I can totally relate. It reminds me of the father who cried to Jesus… “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

My life is filled with the responsibility of caring for a disabled child. This responsibility is relentless. It never goes away. It causes me to long for relief – to long for heaven. I need help from God to fulfill my responsibilities with joy and gratitude. Thankfully, God’s help to me… his grace toward me is also relentless. It never goes away. Even when my faith ebbs and flows, God continues to fulfill His promises to me. His promise to never leave or forsake me. His promise to work all things for my good. His promise to conform me more into the likeness of Jesus. His promise to give comfort and peace. His promise. His promises. They never fail. They are relentless.