Verse of the Day Devotion Isaiah 29:13 

“Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” –  Isaiah 29:13

In Isaiah 29, Isaiah is prophesying against Jerusalem and, by extension, the rest of Judah. He predicts judgment on the kingdom due to their sin, judgment that will come through invading armies.  “And I will camp against you encircling you, And I will set siegeworks against you, And I will raise up battle towers against you. Then you shall be brought low; From the earth you shall speak, And from the dust where you are prostrate, Your words shall come. Your voice shall also be like that of a spirit from the ground, And your speech shall whisper from the dust.“ Isaiah 29:3-4. However, the prophet also affirms that God is incredibly graceful and will restore Judah after bringing justice upon their enemies. “But the multitude of your enemies shall become like fine dust, And the multitude of the ruthless ones like the chaff which blows away; And it shall happen instantly, suddenly.” Isaiah 29:5.

In the middle of Isaiah’s prophecy, he diagnoses Judah’s problem of hypocrisy, which is bringing about their judgment: “Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,” Isaiah 29:13. In essence, while the Israelites were saying the right things, their hearts were far from God.

And unfortunately, they continued this during the time of Jesus.  “And he said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”  Mark 7:6-7.  Jesus, here, quotes this verse in an important confrontation with the Pharisees. They, too, had hearts far from God. The Pharisees pretended to care about God’s law by following outward acts like handwashing, but they did not care about God on the inside. When they met God in the person of Jesus, they tried to kill Him!  Then Jesus scathingly summarized their heart condition: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7:8. The Pharisees still did religious things but had forgotten the reasons behind their actions. They said the right things, but their hearts were far from God.

As Christians, we are tempted to do the same as the hypocritical Israelites. Sometimes, it is easy to maintain the outward appearance of obedience to God by following a set of rules yet lack any real relationship with God in our hearts. We can sing the worship and praise songs without focusing on who we are worshipping and praising. We end up going through the motions without growing in love for God or for others. We might faithfully go to church every Sunday but ignore God the rest of the week. Like the Pharisees and the ancient Israelites, faking it is not spiritually healthy, and it will eventually catch up with us.  The idea is that it is more important why we do something rather than what we do.  Two people can be singing at the same time with clapping and joy, but only one may be glorifying God while doing it.

Our focus verse is a stark reminder that rules and rituals, by themselves, cannot please God. God wants true righteousness and with that, true worship. God wants us to love Him and our fellow man with everything we are. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:30-31.  And finally, God tells us what He desires from us.  “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6.  Therefore, we must examine why we obey God.  Is it because we want to follow the rules, or that we want to show are love to Him.  If it is the latter, then our heart is part of our time with God.

William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.

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