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Plan A through Z
by Karen Burkhart
The context for today's Bible reading is a sobering one--the nation of Israel was in the midst of a great drought brought on by their willful disobedience to God. Israel had had every opportunity to be the recipients of God's great blessings simply by obeying His voice, but instead she disobeyed. God then, being faithful and true, had no choice but to make good on His promise to overtake Israel with the curses He had warned them about (see Deuteronomy 28).
Unlike human inclination, God doesn't punish to be vindictive but to get attention for redemptive purposes. Drought, in particular, has a compelling way of getting people to look up, especially in an agrarian society. When the land is parched and the cisterns empty, life comes to a grinding halt and that's when stiff-necked people are most inclined to cry out to God and beg for His forgiveness. That's exactly what we see the prophet Jeremiah doing on behalf of Israel in Jeremiah 14:20-22.
When the prophet Jeremiah saw the connection between Israel's sin and the drought, he didn't waste breath trying to justify Israel before God. He didn't whitewash Israel's sin or recount times past when she walked in obedience; Jeremiah simply cried out for the mercy of God and appealed to His honor and His promise. Jeremiah knew God could have justly abandoned and scorned Israel and kept rain from falling because Israel had broken her side of the covenant, but Jeremiah also knew that God is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. With a God like that, there's always a chance He will relent and allow His blessings to pour again (see Joel 2:12-14).
For many of us today, we are uncomfortable with the idea of a God who punishes; we prefer to focus on God's attributes of grace and kindness. When we read the Bible, we tend to camp out in The New Testament and speed through stories like the one about Ananias and Saphira whom God struck dead for lying. Though it's true that Christians are no longer under the law of the Old Testament, it's important to know that God's nature and character did not change between the Testaments. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Holiness and obedience still matter to God.
So what can we learn and apply to our lives from today's Scripture and its context? First, when we find ourselves in overwhelmingly difficult circumstances we should at least consider if God may be wanting to get our attention and call us to repentance. Then, if we acknowledge we have wandered from God's ways, we should repent and cry out to Him for mercy. We can have full confidence that God will not despise the plea of a humble and broken heart (Psalm 51:16-18).
A second application of today's Scripture is to follow Jeremiah's example by placing ALL our hope in God alone. You see, God doesn't want to be our contingency plan--He wants to be our plan A to plan Z. That's not to suggest when we place all our hope in God that everything will work out favorably for us here on earth in all ways and at all times, but it does mean it will ultimately be well with our soul.
Spoken Prayer: Out loud, pray for God to speak to you through your reading of Psalm 23 today. Praise God for giving us His word. Ask the Spirit to help you read with faith, and to live out what you hear from God through the passage.