In my devotions last week I was struck by the juxtaposition of two very distinct chapters in the Bible: Numbers 14 and Hebrews 11. I have followed for a number of years Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. The plan he developed hundreds of years ago takes you through the Old Testament once in a year and the New Testament and Psalms twice. The plan leads one to read four chapters of the Bible daily in different Bible books.

Last week’s devotions took me through Numbers 14 after Moses had sent twelve spies into the Promised Land. The spies came back and reported on the land. Ten spies discouraged the people of Israel from believing that God would give them the land promised. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, believed that God would fulfill his promise. The result, fear overcame faith. The people rebelled against God. And God spoke judgment upon them. None of the adults who witnessed the miraculous redemption from Egypt (plagues, Passover, parting of the Red Sea, destruction of Pharaoh’s army, manna, water from a rock, etc.) would enter into the Promised Land. Instead their judgment would be 40 years of wilderness wandering.

In contrast, Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter of the Bible.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

The author of Hebrews lists example after example of faith in the Old Testament. Unlike Israel in the wilderness, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joshua, Rahab, and on and on, took God at his Word and believed. Their faith was commended, while the unbelieving Israel was judged.

The contrast between the two chapters is striking.

The contrast got me thinking about my own Christian life. Too often my faith (or lack thereof) is like Israel in the wilderness. I’ve witnessed God’s greatness, his redemptive work, his mercy, and his provision over and over again. Yet when faced with an obstacle or an opportunity, I have failed to believe.

As I read and thought about these two poignant chapters of the Bible, the Holy Spirit convicted me. He convicted me about my faith.

What we need to understand is that believing in God is not some sort of blind leap (like Kierkegaard proposed). God does not expect us to close our eyes, shut off our reason, and believe irrationally. No, God’s invitation to believe is based on his Word and his Works.

Consider Israel, they witnessed miraculous intervention after glorious miraculous intervention for weeks and months. Yet when God gave them the opportunity to believe and take the Promised Land, they failed to believe. It was not blind faith they lacked. Rather, they looked at their surroundings (the walls and the armies and the Canaanites) and feared what could happen. They did not look at God, nor what God had done, nor what God had said.

The great examples of faith in Hebrews 11 are different. They were not more holy or more deserving of God’s intervention. It was not their holy lives that were commended, though many did reflect their faith in acts of obedience. They were commended for their faith: their belief in God based on what he had already done and what he had said.

So in my next moment of crisis (obstacle or opportunity), here’s what I’m going to try to remember and what I’m going to ask you to remember.

  • Read what God has said about himself and about us. God’s Word is our primary source for God’s character, purposes, and interventions in our lives (his works and his words). Who God has always been is who God is today (see Hebrews 13:8).
  • Remember what God has done in your own life. Remember God’s redemption of your soul, how he’s protected, defended, helped, and cared for you over and over again. Look back at God’s work in your own life and let his faithfulness undergird your faith.
  • Reflect on God and on his Son. I’m convinced that my own failures in faith are because I’m looking around me or looking inside me. If I look at circumstances, I’ll fear. If I look at my own capabilities, I’ll faint. If I look at God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, then I’ll have faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Friend, this reminder is why we need God’s Word, prayer, and the gathering of believers in corporate worship. When we read the Bible, pray, and testify together in song and sermon about God and his goodness, we build our faith muscles.

Will you join me this week in exercising your faith?

March 2021. A year ago this month, the Covid-19 pandemic shut down society. Schools went remote. Churches stopped gathering. Remote school became a thing. Daily virus updates began. The list could go on. By now, we are very familiar with the changes that have affected each of us during this past year.

For many, the change in circumstances has been intensely personal and difficult. Some of us have dealt with sickness and disease. Some with Covid-19 and some with other illnesses. Some have lost loved ones. Some have experienced isolation. Some of us have battled demons we thought were long gone. Some of us have faced new temptations. Some of us have been devastated by our fears. But all of us have been affected.

In light of the circumstances of the past year God spoke to me through my devotional reading, and I wanted to share these thoughts with you.

I’m reading through the book of Exodus. One of the most powerful verses in the Bible comes from God speaking to Moses in Exodus 12.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 

Exodus 12:12

The people of Israel have been in Egypt for more than 400 years. Most of those years they were enslaved. God sent Moses back to Egypt from the wilderness to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. At this point in the story, Moses and Aaron have been back and forth in front of Pharaoh requesting permission to leave Egypt to worship God in the wilderness. Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to relent even after 9 devastating plagues on Egypt. So God promised a final plague of judgment on Egypt’s gods. Pharaoh himself was a god in Egypt, so the act of judgment against the firstborn is God’s judgment on the worship of Pharaoh. The truth of the text is that God executes authority over false gods. The LORD alone is sovereign.

What stood out to me was considering this text in light of how the people of Israel had to feel. They were enslaved, burdened, beaten, and treated poorly. They did not have freedom. They suffered greatly even after Moses’ arrival and promise of rescue. Israel’s experiences of suffering and difficulty kept them in a place of unbelief. From the rest of the Exodus account, it is clear that even God’s miraculous interventions and judgments were not enough to keep Israel believing in the Lord.

What is the most important lesson in this text? What is the best medicine for our circumstances in life?

It is the statement, “I am the LORD.” This affirmation is the name of God, Yahweh, that God gave Moses in an earlier conversation (Exodus 3:14).

The LORD, when used in all caps in the Bible is the personal name for God, Yahweh. It is literally, “I AM that I AM.” The LORD is. He alone is God. He is sovereign. He rules. He can be counted on.

In the context of Exodus 12, God is affirming his existence, reality, and sovereignty over the supposed deities of Egypt. And the LORD proved these through the plagues and judgments on Egypt.

The Psalmist picks up on this very idea as well when he pens the beautiful affirmation of the LORD’s love and goodness in Psalm 100.

Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3

The Psalmist uses the personal name for God, Yahweh. His point is the same as God speaking to Moses in the book of Exodus. The LORD is in control, and he wants us to know him and trust him.

Are you struggling with isolation? Know the LORD, and know that you are his. You are never alone.

Are you worried about powers, circumstances, and politics that have changed our lives so drastically? Know that the LORD is the one who defeated Egypt’s deities and rescued his people from slavery. The LORD alone is God.

Are you afraid of what’s going on around you? Know that the LORD is God. He cared for his people in Egypt, as they left Egypt, as the wandered in the wilderness, and as they entered the promised land. He will care for and keep you wherever you are.

Are you unwell and facing physical illness? Know that the LORD is Creator. He made you, and he is able to heal. And if he does, then you will be well. And if he doesn’t, then your illness cannot separate you from the Lord.

Are you confident in him today? Know that the LORD is with you. Remember that if you are his, he will never lose you or let you go.

Pause and thank God today that you know him. Pause and praise God today that he knows you. And trust that he is LORD.

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