Gods in Our Image

Scripture Focus: Acts 14.11-17
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Reflection: Gods in Our Image
By John Tillman

When people say that humans create gods in our own image, I agree with them.

Human-created gods are easy to spot. They are like humans we know. There are strongman gods like Zeus, trickster gods like Hermes, and a host of other “types.” They mostly look like, think like, and act like us. They aren’t more holy, moral, or wise than humans. They are just more powerful. And with flaws and weaknesses like ours, they are more brutal. One slight brings destruction and curses. One slip-up brings unrelenting pain and suffering.

In Lystra, Paul and Barnabus are mistaken for Zeus and Hermes. Commentor, Conrad Gempf mentions a possible motivation for the crowd’s reaction. According to legend, a nearby town had failed to welcome Zeus and Hermes when they visited. Angered by this, the gods destroyed the offenders. With this story in the background, the cry, “The gods have come down to us in human form,” (Acts 14.11) seems less like a joyful announcement and more like a fearful warning. With gods like these, who needs monsters?

The best we can hope for from pagan gods is a balance of blessing and suffering—some light in the dark. “Perhaps good will hold evil at bay for a season. Perhaps, if we are vigilant, we can avoid offense or quickly make amends.”

Paul and Barnabus deny that they are gods and announce the true God, who is different than any the people know, yet has cared for them all this time. Jesus is a God-man unlike any in mythology. When sharing the gospel, beware of copying mythological ideas.

Jesus did not pretend to be human. He was. He was not a pseudo-human trickster god, conning the Father into loving humans. God does love humans. We are made in his image, not the other way around. The gospel reveals and resurrects this nature in us.

We need to share the gospel by emphasizing the “otherness” of Jesus. Our God is not like humans or easy to understand. He is merciful and gracious, yet punishes the guilty. Our best sacrifices do not appease. Our greatest arguments cannot overcome his wisdom. His gospel promises something completely different.

Jesus does not “restore balance,” or “hold evil at bay.” He completely destroys evil and, in the end, his light will banish all darkness. He will do this ultimately in the universe, but he will start in our hearts.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm has he won for himself the victory. — Psalm 98.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 27 (Listen 2:16)
Acts 14 (Listen 3:54)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 28 (Listen 4:49), Acts 15 (Listen 5:43)
Isaiah 29 (Listen 3:55), Acts 16 (Listen 5:53)

Read more about Praising Christ’s Righteousness
Imagine hanging our hopes on a great leader, only to watch him or her fall…Most of us don’t have to imagine it. It has happened.

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
Our greatest temptation today is to worship the false gods of power, wealth, pleasure, and narcissism.

People of Two Cities

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 26.1-6
1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: 
We have a strong city; 
God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. 
2 Open the gates 
that the righteous nation may enter, 
the nation that keeps faith. 
3 You will keep in perfect peace 
those whose minds are steadfast, 
because they trust in you. 
4 Trust in the Lord forever, 
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. 
5 He humbles those who dwell on high, 
he lays the lofty city low; 
he levels it to the ground 
and casts it down to the dust. 
6 Feet trample it down— 
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor.

Reflection: People of Two Cities
By John Tillman

Isaiah describes a prideful city to be destroyed. 

Despite great effort and great pains of labor, the city birthed death not life, pain not blessing, oppression not freedom, and mourning not joy. God uncovers hidden bloodshed and violence in this city.

The Lord will leave his city to bring judgment. Despite dwelling on the heights, the wicked city will be brought low. Despite mighty walls, both walls and buildings will be leveled, not one stone upon another. Despite lofty leaders, their achievements become a domain of destruction.

The only signs of life in the wicked city will be the feet of the poor and the oppressed. The steps of those formerly oppressed beneath the feet of the powerful will stir the dust and ashes of their oppressors on a pilgrimage to a new city.

Isaiah describes the righteous, eternal city.

It is a city of people who trust God for their peace. It is a shelter for refugees escaping the wicked city. It is a haven for those fleeing the wilderness. It is a city of life for those brought back from the dead. The righteous city has walls built from salvation and gates eternally open to all who will trust and enter.

Which city do believers live in? We are people of two cities. Both cities are literal and physical. Both cities are metaphorical and metaphysical.

We are born in the wicked city and live there still. “Other lords” rule over us. (Isaiah 26.13) Many around us “do not learn of righteousness” and “go on doing evil.” (Isaiah 26.10) We are physically present in the wicked city now and when we are absent from it we will be present with the Lord in his city. (2 Corinthians 5.1-10)

We are born again into citizenship in the righteous city. Our new kingdom is from another place. (John 18.36) We are transferred from the domain of darkness to the city of light. (Colossians 1.12-13) Yet, we are not fully present there. We are “already but not yet” home. We are in transition.

We are semi-exiles, commanded to pray for the wicked city we find ourselves in and work toward its good. (Jeremiah 29.7) We are not expected to perfect it, but we are expected to represent the reality of our better city in this one.What are you doing to make the peace, light, and truth of our true city visible and tangible in your city?

From John: As I wrote this last line, I was thinking of a reader who has made a big difference in his non-Christian, urban neighborhood, simply by sweeping his block every morning and cleaning up the cigarettes, bottles, syringes, and other trash that accumulates overnight. There’s no such thing as a small act of service when it comes to the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be merry and joyful.
Sing to God, sing praises to his Name; exalt him who rides upon the heavens; Yahweh is his Name, rejoice before him!
Father of orphans, defender of widows, God in his holy habitation! — Psalm 68.3-5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 26 (Listen 2:58)
Acts 13 (Listen 7:36)

Read more about Paul’s First Sermon
We, like Paul, are responsible to respond to the world’s need for paráklēsis— for encouragement, comfort, and exhortation.

Read more about A Difficult Birth
Israel was supposed to birth goodness, salvation, and life into the world. Instead, they brought death, enslavement, and evil.

Clouds for Scorching Days

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 25.4-5
4 You have been a refuge for the poor,
     a refuge for the needy in their distress,
 a shelter from the storm
     and a shade from the heat.
 For the breath of the ruthless
     is like a storm driving against a wall
 5     and like the heat of the desert.
 You silence the uproar of foreigners;
     as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
     so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

Reflection: Clouds for Scorching Days
By Erin Newton

Summers in Texas are like sticking your face in an oven. July and August are our prime summer heat waves where the sun immediately bakes your skin.

Years ago, I spent a few weeks in Venezuela during a particularly warm summer. The heat radiated in the cloudless sky. I remember praying, “Dear God, send a cloud.” Intense heat can bring out the simplest of prayers.

Isaiah compares the suffering of the poor and needy to those who suffer under the scorching heat of the sun or the abrasive torrents of a storm. The “ruthless” beat against them like “a storm driving against a wall.”

It is a picture of oppression that is inescapable, too powerful to overcome, sapping all energy and life. People fight against the winds of the storm to no avail. It pushes them back against a wall. I imagine scenes of people desperately clinging to branches as the wind threatens to carry them away. I imagine scenes of sojourners in the desert, lips cracked and yearning for a drop of water. Isaiah shows the poor and needy in the deepest pit of their despair.

But God is their refuge. He is the “shelter from the storm” and the “shade from the heat.” Notice the rescue from God is not plucking them from this earth. They are not removed from living in the world. They are not suddenly transported to a paradise where nothing bad happens. They continue living in a world where oppression, persecution, and suffering threaten their existence.  
God provides a respite for their suffering. Within the dome of scorching heat—God sends a cloud. Under the deafening roar of the storm—God blunts the shrill winds.

Why do you think God does not eliminate the threat completely? I wish he would. I have been in the storm, and I have endured the blaze of suffering. Trials of great intensity wear down our energy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Under the clamor of life’s storms, we barely utter a prayer, “Dear God, help me.”

God sends us clouds and calms the winds. He is our refuge in life—but refuges are just temporary inns for respite. I want a permanent abode, far away.

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

Clouds and calm do we have now. Tearless eyes and eternal life shall we gain in Him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you. — Psalm 25.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 25 (Listen 1:59)
Acts 12 (Listen 3:49)

Read more about The Broken Power of Death
Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it does not have the final word in our lives but that does not mean we should not grieve it.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
 Help us keep bringing free and ad-free biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world. Donate today.


Scripture Focus: Isaiah 24.4-9, 21
4 The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth. 5 The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left. 7 The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan. 8 The joyful timbrels are stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. 9 No longer do they drink wine with a song; the beer is bitter to its drinkers.

21 In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below.

Reflection: Cursebreakers
By John Tillman

A curse consumes the Earth. This curse is related to other biblical curses. The first curse was “cursed is the ground because of you.” (Genesis 3.17; 4.10-11) Paul described the Earth groaning to be released from this curse that brings frustration, bondage, decay, and pain. (Romans 8.19-22) God enacts and announces these curses, yet holds humans responsible. Human actions trigger every curse.

Like other curses, Isaiah’s curse is the result of rebellion. In each case, humans have violated a covenant with God. Instead of filling the Earth with life, we have filled it with death. Instead of subduing and cultivating the Earth to bring blessing and benefit, we have abused and mismanaged the Earth. Instead of wisdom bringing harvests of joy, the Earth suffers foolishness that reaps the whirlwind.

Under God’s blessing the land should yield wine, milk, honey, and branches of vines and fig trees under which humanity can feel safe. (Micah 4.4; Jeremiah 32.22) Under our rebellion, the Earth is dried up, resources are wasted or consolidated, and people’s food, financial, and emotional security are threatened. We live fearful and frantic lives instead of resting in God’s peace.

Everyone on Earth suffers these curses, but, according to Isaiah, God holds two groups to a greater level of accountability: the powers in the heavens and the kings on the Earth. (Isaiah 24.21)

We know that, ultimately, Christ is the curse breaker. His fulfillment of the covenant and death for our rebellions secures God’s blessings for us and cancels every curse. But in the meantime shall we carry on in sinful, harmful management of Earth’s resources? By no means. (Romans 6.1-2) Would we go on in greed, or lust, or lying, or violence so that “grace can abound?” Of course not. Why then would we continue in practices that harm the Earth?

Some practices that “harm the Earth” can be debated and some may change with scientific advances or discoveries. However, in our hearts, let us desire cultivation rather than destruction and let the science catch up to us.

God let us groan with the Earth and work towards easing the curse’s burden.
Help us cultivate cleaner water, air, and land.
Help us cultivate food security and safety and ecosystems that are healthy and thriving.
Let us reduce waste and improve efficiency.
Cursed is the ground because of us.
Reversed is the curse because of Christ.
God, make us cursebreakers.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The Lord is my shepherd and nothing is wanting to me. In green pastures he has settled me. — The Short Breviary

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 24 (Listen 3:11)
Acts 11 (Listen 3:52)

Read more about The Curse Reversed
Even as he speaks the curse of Eden, God purposes and promises to break it. Scripture describes a God constantly working to reverse the curse

Read more about Reversible Blessings and Curses
The curse of Eden is written to be reversed. Within its words, a hero is promised who will break it. Jesus is that hero.

Kingmakers Unmade

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 23.8-9
8 Who planned this against Tyre, 
the bestower of crowns, 
whose merchants are princes, 
whose traders are renowned in the earth? 
9 The Lord Almighty planned it, 
to bring down her pride in all her splendor 
and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.

From John: Today we return to this post about “kingmakers” from 2022. There are always “kingmakers” around trying to convince us to build the kingdom of one or another of various kings or groups. We must be wary of listening to or acting as kingmakers unless the king is Jesus and the kingdom is not of this world.

Reflection: Kingmakers Unmade
By John Tillman

Until Alexander the Great built a land bridge to destroy the city 300 years before Christ, Tyre had been an island beloved by kings. It made its fortune and gained power by trade across the sea in many luxurious items.

Tyre was a city-state that, historically, was friendly to Israel. Tyre’s king, sent gifts to David and his son sent gifts to Solomon. Tyre remained on friendly economic terms with Israel. Historians partly credit the vast power, influence, and wealth of Tyre to its strategic location and its partnership with the most powerful kings Israel would ever have.

Isaiah called Tyre “bestower of crowns” and they were connected through trade to royalty across the Mediterranean and throughout the region. “Tyrian purple” was traded with Egypt and Israel and the color remained a mark of royalty and wealth through the New Testament and the Roman Empire.

The term “kingmaker” refers to those who through wealth, power, guile, or all three elevate someone of their choosing to a position of power. You probably know the names of some modern kingmakers. They don’t usually want to be the king. That’s too much work. They just want to pick a king of their liking. Their wealth and influence afford them the opportunity to shape the world.

This is not necessarily bad. It is part of the Edenic command to “subdue” the earth and create growth, blessing, and abundance. Originally this meant agriculture, but economic growth is just agriculture of a different kind. Historically, however, the wealthy and influential tend to end up like Tyre.

Jesus wasn’t joking when he said how hard it was for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. Wealth has unique and difficult dangers that can poison us. Long before the rich young ruler sadly walked away from Jesus, Tyre was given as an example to the world that God would end the pride of those who elevated themselves.

Tyre is a universal warning to all people but even more so to those of us blessed with even moderate wealth. Theoretically, wealth is a neutral tool—neither evil nor good. But in practice, as we shape our world with this tool, it is exceedingly rare that it does not also shape us. 

We should take care that our hearts are shaped by Jesus’ warning and that we use our resources to shape a world that testifies to his kingship.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.
A fire goes before him and burns up his enemies on every side. His lightnings light up the world; the mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. 
The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. — Psalm 97.1-6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Isaiah 23 (Listen 2:5)
Acts 10 (Listen 5:49)

Read more about Urgent Desire for More
The wealthy young man wasn’t ready to give up earning and he didn’t yet trust what he would stand to inherit.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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