PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a teacher of His Word, Senior Pastor at Calvary Bible Church of Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti, Michigan. I am a husband and father of three.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Bible, as well as Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

2 Kings 5, Daniel 9

Read 2 Kings 5 and Daniel 9.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 5.

From the time Elijah was taken to heaven in 2 Kings 1, God had been doing many miracles through Elisha. Widows, families who feared God, other prophets, and hungry people who were just standing around received the benefits of these miracles as we read about yesterday in 2 Kings 4.

But the king of Israel, Joram son of Ahab, had seen some of this miraculous power back in chapter 2 when God gave Elisha a message about how to defeat the rebelling Moabites (2 Ki 3). The overarching purpose of these miracles is always to show that Israel’s God is the true God. But, like most unbelievers in the Bible, the demonstrations of God’s power had no affect on Joram’s faith.

Here in 2 Kings 5, Naaman experienced the miraculous power of God through Elisha. God spoke through Elisha and gave instructions that healed Naaman’s leprosy. Naaman was an unlikely recipient of God’s healing grace in this chapter. He was an Aramean and a skillful fighting commander for the Aramean army (v. 1). This made him both an enemy of God’s people Israel and someone Israelites would have regarded as a “heathen.” Yet an Israelite slave girl loved him enough and believed in God’s power so much that she persuaded Naaman to seek God’s power for relief from his leprosy.

The contrasts of faith in this chapter are striking:

  • The slave girl had complete faith that Elisha would bring healing to Naaman (v. 3c: “He would cure him of his leprosy.”).
  • The king of Israel, however, freaked out when he heard what Naaman wanted (vv. 6-7) even though he knew Elisha (3:11) and how powerfully God was working through him (3:15-27). He had no faith that Naaman could be healed.
  • Finally, after Naaman reluctantly obeyed Elisha’s instructions, he came to believe in God and worship him alone (vv. 15-17) because he had experienced complete healing of a fatal disease.

Jesus seized on this story in Luke 4 to make a point about how God saves the unlikely: “And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Lu 4:27). People can see God working up close and directly yet, without the gift of faith, they will not come and worship him alone.

There are many people in our country who don’t believe in God or that he works powerfully in this world today. These people live near churches, know Christians, and some were even raised in Christian families but they are oblivious to the power of God changing lives around them. Instead, it is often the irreligious that God saves and, in national terms, people who live in places with little gospel witness. Many of these people are ready for the gospel and they will eagerly receive God’s grace when you share it with them or when a missionary comes to their land to talk about Christ.

Are there areas in your life where you are missing out on seeing the power of God work just because you lack faith and aren’t looking for God’s works? Are there any people in your life that you don’t share the gospel with because you’ve already concluded that they are heathens who won’t listen anyway?

What does this story in this chapter say about those attitudes?

2 Kings 4, Daniel 8

Read 2 Kings 4 and Daniel 8.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 4.

Ahab and Jezebel were both dead, relieving Israel of her two most evil influences. Their son Joram, who was now king, was not as bad as Ahab and Jezebel (2 Ki 3:2), but he was far from a godly man. He faced some political problems, too, as we read about yesterday when Moab rebelled against the tribute Ahab had imposed.

Meanwhile, though Israel as a whole remained idolatrous, the work God had been doing continued. Elijah was gone (though, not dead) but that was not at all the end of God’s activity in Israel. Instead, just as Elisha had asked, God blessed his ministry twice as much as He blessed Elijah’s works. Here in 2 Kings 4 we see God working miracles through Elisha:

  • God spoke through Elisha to miraculously provide for a poor widow on the edge of starvation (vv. 1-7).
  • God raised a dead boy to life again through Elisha, restoring a family that feared God despite the idolatrous times they lived in (vv. 8-37).
  • God used Elisha to cure a group of prophets who had eaten poisonous potluck (vv. 38-41).
  • God empowered Elisha to multiply loaves to feed a large number of people, foreshadowing a miracle that Christ would do many hundreds of years in the future (vv. 42-44).

All of this miraculous activity happened despite the godlessness of the people of Israel. In fact, this is often how God works. His power is often displayed most directly in the most ungodly of times and situations.

So what do we do with this?

One thing we should do is not worry as our country and culture becomes more secular. Sometimes, the more godless the culture, the more God works in power.

We also should consider the situations we are in. Do you work in a godless company? Live in an unsaved family? How might God use you to pray for people and, in answering your prayers, reveal to those around you that God is real?

So look for needs that need prayer and offer to pray for people. Let them know that God is real and that he still is active and working, not only meeting human needs but–more importantly–saving people from their ungodliness and unbelief.

The most effective person I’ve ever met in personal evangelism begins most encounters with people by offering to pray for them and their problems. Have you tried that in your situation?

2 Kings 3, Daniel 7

Read 2 Kings 3 and Daniel 7.

This devotional is about Daniel 7.

The book of Daniel has two parts to it. The first six chapters, which we’ve been reading the past few days, are historical. They describe what happened to Daniel as an administrator in the foreign governments of Babylon and then the Medo-Persian empire. Daniel was given supernatural interpretation of dreams and visions, but those dreams belonged to others–namely Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. The fulfilment of those dreams happened during Daniel’s lifetime.

Here in Daniel 7, the second part of Daniel began. In this part, chapters 7-12, Daniel himself had dreams and visions. Those revelations were about the future, things that would happen after his life was over. God explained some, but not all, of what Daniel saw in these chapters.

This first vision is about four beasts (v. 3) and the horns on the fourth beast (v. 7-8). While one of the horns was bragging (v. 8), God (“the Ancient of Days”) appeared on his throne and Christ (“one like a son of man”) was given the right of rule and worship over everyone on earth (vv. 13-14). God gave a general interpretation of the dream to Daniel (vv. 15-16); namely, that the four beasts represented four kings. But, the specific names of these kings from the vision were not identified.

The point of the vision was not to reveal what national powers would come next. The point of the vision was to show Daniel that there were still human kingdoms that were coming, but then God would establish his kingdom and it would be “an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and… will never be destroyed (vv. 13-14, 27).

Would it be interesting to know what will happen in the future politically and nationally in our world? How much longer will the United States remain a world power? What will cause the U.S. to lose its power? Which nation(s) will become powerful instead of the U.S. and for how long? What human leaders will direct these nations?

These are all interesting questions but they are not necessary for us to know to walk with Christ and live for him. What we need to know is that Jesus will win and, when he does, a perfect kingdom will be established and it will never be destroyed. God’s kingdom will not implode under its own debt or because of lawless people nor will a coup d’ etat or a foreign army dethrone our Lord Jesus. Instead, when he establishes his kingdom, it will stay established. The eternity we long for in Christ will be fulfilled.

Until that comes, we have plenty to do with our lives. In the midst of earning a living, having relationships, enjoying experiences and so on, our mission is to live for Christ’s coming kingdom. We are to put our hope there, not on any human ruler or nation. We are to put our treasure there, not consume every penny for ourselves. We are to increase the population of that kingdom by reaching people with the gospel of Christ. God sets forth these visions of eternity in the scripture to remind us of his promises and to cause us to realign our thoughts and actions with his plan.

Are you living for eternity or for this world, this existence, this kingdom? What would living for Christ’s eternal kingdom today look like for you?

2 Kings 2, Daniel 6

Read 2 Kings 2, Daniel 6.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 2.

I wrote yesterday about how great Elijah was and how unappreciated he also was. That doesn’t mean, however, that he was totally unappreciated. His friend Elisha certainly appreciated him and so did “the company of prophets” in Bethel (v. 3) and in Jericho (v. 5).

But they valued him a bit too much, it seems. Elisha was glum about the fact that God was going to take Elijah away from him (v. 3c, 5c). And, when God did take Elijah, Elisha’s cry, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”seems to mean that the most powerful thing Israel had was now gone. Elijah was a spiritual father to Israel even though most did not receive his message. He was certainly a spiritual father to Elisha (“my father”) and the idea of “the chariots and horsemen” were an analogy to the strength and defense of a nation. Elijah meant more to Israel’s power and defense than all the nuclear missiles and bombs we have stored away for our national defense. So the idea of losing Elijah was a source of despair for Elisha and probably every other faithful Jewish person.

Unable to do anything about Elijah’s departure, Elisha wanted his power so that he could do ministry in the same vein as Elijah but with even greater effectiveness. That’s how I interpret his request to “inherit a double portion of your spirit” (v. 9c). His request was answered, but notice how he framed his description of it in verse 14b: “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” This was a test; would God actually use Elisha now in Elijah’s absence? The fact that the waters parted for him just as they had for Elijah (vv. 8 vs. 14c) demonstrated that God was indeed with Elisha. The fact of the matter is that Elisha did more miracles than Elijah did.

Was it really necessary for Elisha to see Elijah taken to heaven in order to receive the power of God? Of course not. Elijah was “a human being like we are” according to James 5:17. There was nothing special about him. The power to be a “father” and to have greater power than all the chariots and horsemen of Israel resided in God, not in Elijah. But Elijah had to go away in order for Elisha to trust God and do what God called him to do.

Great leaders, godly people, spiritual fathers and mothers are great to have and an important part of everyone’s spiritual growth and maturity. But people die; we should appreciate them while we have them and even mourn their passing. But we should not fear their loss in terms of the loss of God’s work. God is able to work powerfully in us if we actually trust him and obey what he commands us to do. Even our Lord Jesus said that whose who believe in him “will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (Jn 14:12-14).

Do you believe that God will use you to save people and change people’s lives? Are you looking to some person’s leadership when you should be looking to God for power?

2 Kings 1, Daniel 5

Read 2 Kings 1 and Daniel 5.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 1.

Sometimes greatness is recognized in people while they are alive. At other times, however, great people are not recognized until much later. Elijah is one of the great men of God in the entire Bible. He spoke God’s word with great authority and he called on God’s power to authenticate his message (such as here in 2 Kings 1:9-15). Elijah did not write any scripture, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, yet his ministry as a prophet of God was the pattern that John the Baptist followed (Malachi 4:5, Luke 1:17). Also, his prayer life is a model for us to follow according to James 5:17. So Elijah was a great man, a powerful servant of the Lord.

Yet Elijah was unappreciated in times. His odd appearance (v. 8) might have had something to do with it, but it was really more a matter of the deep unbelief among the people he served. He was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel (v. 2: “Samaria”) which had not one godly king among the twenty it had in its history.

In this chapter one of Israel’s forgettable kings Ahaziah had an accident and wanted to know if he would recover. So, he sought an answer not from Elijah or Elijah’s God YHWH, the God of Israel; instead, he sent a messenger to ask “Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron” (v. 2).

Although he did not consult YHWH, he got an answer from YHWH. God messaged Elijah (v. 3) and dispatched him to confront the unbelief of Ahaziah (v. 3). Elijah found the messengers that Ahaziah had sent and knew what information they were seeking from Baal-Zebub. Those two facts should have offered strong proof that Elijah spoke for God and that God had the power and answers that Ahaziah sought. But, perhaps because the answer was a negative answer of judgment (v. 4), Ahaziah did not respond in faith toward God and appreciation for God’s messenger. Instead, he sought to do harm to Elijah (vv. 7-15).

You can tell a lot about someone’s beliefs by looking at (1) where they turn for answers and (2) how they respond when they get an answer from God’s word, especially if that answer was negative and unsolicited. We have access to God’s word and many capable–even excellent–teachers of it unlike most people in history have had. Sure, none of us is Elijah, but we have a much greater amount of God’s revelation than Elijah had because we have Christ revealed and the scriptures completed.

Yet how often do we turn to secular sources–books, radio shows, podcasts, Oprah, whatever–for answers instead of to God’s word and his servants?

Are you looking outside God’s word for answers to your problems?

1 Kings 22, Daniel 4

Read 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it. The opposite is often believed, too; namely, the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27).

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experienced humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they.deserve. That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak. Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

1 Kings 21, Daniel 3

Read 1 Kings 21 and Daniel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 21.

There are two types of leadership: (1) positional leadership and (2) personal leadership. A personal leader is someone who is influential because of who they are. They have the right combination of characteristics that cause other people to follow them naturally. This kind of person is sometimes called a “natural born leader.”

A positional leader is someone who occupies a position that gives them influence over others. Your boss is a positional leader because he decides whether you keep your employment and pay, or get demoted or promoted. Even if you personally dislike your boss or wouldn’t follow that person (or any positional leader) if you didn’t have to, you have to follow him or her because they can help you or hurt your career.

Ahab definitely had positional leadership. He was the king of Israel. But when it comes to personal leadership, he seems to have far less of that quality than his wife Jezebel had. In this chapter of scripture, Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard and attempted to get it in a righteous way. He made Naboth a fair offer (v. 2) and accepted Naboth’s rejection, even though it hurt his feelings (vv. 3-4). Later on in this chapter, after receiving the Lord’s declaration of judgment for his sin (vv. 21-24), he responded with a degree of repentance (v. 27).

So if Ahab had a few principles, why was he said to be unlike anyone else “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 25)? One answer to that is his own idolatry (v. 26) but a key component was the personal leadership influence of his wife Jezebel. The last phrase of verse 25 told us that he did all this evil, “…urged on by Jezebel his wife.” It was was her personal leadership–her influence–that gave Ahab the confidence to follow some of his own sinful tendencies. Furthermore, we read in this chapter that it was her idea to frame and kill Naboth (vv. 7-14) in order to make it easy for Ahab unjustly to take Naboth’s vineyard (vv. 15-16). Jezebel led her husband into sinful actions that he (seemingly) would not have taken himself (v. 7).

One important lesson, then, is to be careful about who you marry and, generally, who your friends are. Relationships give people great power over the choices and decisions of others. If you’ve ever done something you were reluctant to do (or that it never occurred to you to do), you know how powerful personal leadership can be. So be careful to choose people who are growing Christians with high moral character to be the closest people in your life.

Even though it was Jezebel’s idea, Ahab was still accountable for what happened. Don’t ever let yourself believe that your sin is excusable just because you were following someone else. Ultimately we will answer to God for everything we do regardless of what led us to do it.

Who are the biggest personal influences in your life? Are those people leading you (influencing you) in godly ways or ungodly ways? Would making some changes in your relationships help you to make better, more righteous decisions?

1 Kings 20, Daniel 2

Read 1 Kings 20 and Daniel 2.

This devotional is about Daniel 2.

What would you do if you were a powerful leader but suspected that your spiritual advisors were making stuff up? You might do what Nebuchadnezzar did here in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a weird dream (v. 1) and he apparently believed that something was being communicated to him in it. Instead of describing it for his spiritual advisors, he tested them: could they tell him what he had dreamed and THEN interpret what it meant (vv. 2-9)? The key phrase in that passage is in verse 9: “You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” If they could tell him what he had dreamed that would be proof that they had genuine access to the spiritual realm. That would give him greater confidence in their interpretation of this dream and in their spiritual guidance in every other matter.

Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisors did not like the new terms of service he was imposing on them. They protested that what he wanted was impossible (vv. 10-11) which confirmed to the king that they were dealers of nonsense. Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to be put to death (vv. 12-13). Daniel and his friends were apparently junior officers in the spirituality cabinet of Babylon at this point. They were subject to the same death penalty but had not been given the opportunity to advise Nebuchadnezzar about his dream (v. 14). Daniel asked for some time and urged his three friends to pray (vv. 15-18), and God answered their prayers, revealing the vision and its meaning to Daniel (vv. 19-45).

The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important because it predicted world events that would happen after his reign and would culminate with the kingdom of Christ (vv. 36-45). But for this devotional, I want to focus on how Daniel responded when God answered his prayers. Daniel was given a gift that, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s astrologers, was impossible: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” they said in verse 10. Daniel recognized that what they said was right. His ability to interpret dreams was a supernatural gift from God, not a natural skill he developed himself (v. 23). Daniel also recognized in this dream that God was at work in world events (v. 21).

While we think that kings and leaders are chosen by natural events, political processes, and/or human manipulation, God’s providence stands behind it all. The rulers of this world think they are in control but their control is an illusion. God is using their ambitions to advance his will. While we should do what we can to influence world events toward righteousness, we need to recognize that the nations and political structures of this world belong to this world; they will be replaced by the kingdom Jesus came to establish (vv. 44-45). What seems so powerful, so permanent, so impenetrable to us now will be supernaturally—“not by human hands” (v. 34)—“broken to pieces and… swept away without leaving a trace” (v. 35).

Anytime we have an election, there are people who feel hopeful and people who feel hopeless. Regardless of your politics, you’ve endured the ups and downs of that roller coaster already in your life and you will likely experience them again. If our hope were in reforming this world and it’s rulers, we would have plenty to worry about, but our hope is in Christ. His kingdom may be right on the verge of appearing or it may be another thousand years away. Only God knows the timeline, but he has revealed to us the outcome. Look in faith to these promises and trust God to watch over us and use us in the meantime, just like he did with Daniel and his friends.

1 Kings 19, Daniel 1

Read 1 Kings 19 and Daniel 1.

This devotional is about Daniel 1.

This passage begins with a description of Judah’s Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). God allowed (v. 2) Babylon to overtake Jerusalem in fulfillment of God’s prophecies and because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry.

As we read these early chapters of Daniel in the next few days, we will see that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was a proud man. But he wasn’t too proud to believe that he and his Babylonian brethren had all the wisdom available on earth. In verses 3-5 we read that Nebuchadnezzar looked for, found, and cultivated the most outstanding young people he could find in Judah. Verse 4 told us that these young men had to look good but also show “aptitude for every kind of learning, [be] well informed, [and] quick to understand.” Nebuchadnezzar invested in the education and development of these men (vv. 4f-5) and expected them to contribute significantly to his administration when they were done with their training.

Judah was filled with godless idolators; that’s why they were taken captive by the Babylonians. The sons of Judah’s idol-worshiping men and women likewise cared nothing about obedience to God and their exile had not caused them to repent. Consequently, they had no problem falling in line with the worship, culture, and expectations of the Babylonians. I’m sure they mourned the loss of their parents who were killed when the Babylonians invaded. They may have missed Jerusalem and their old friends, too, but many of them may have been excited by this great new opportunity that Nebuchadnezzar had for them. If it meant conforming to Babylonian ways, they were happy to comply.

That was true for everyone except for Daniel and his three friends (vv. 6-7). These men were (likely) raised in homes that were faithful to the Lord. They continued to believe in God and his word despite the defeat of Judah. That defeat simply confirmed their faith because the prophets had been predicting it for years and they knew that God’s people had not repented. Their challenge now was to live obediently to God’s word in a place that was much more hostile to God than even Jerusalem in unbelief had been. Daniel and the guys determined from the very beginning not to compromise their faith. They promised to perform well if they were allowed to live God’s way (vv. 13-14). That was an act of faith and God met their faith with blessing (vv. 15-17).

The world wants to squeeze everyone into its mold but God commands us not to conform but to be transformed by renewing our minds (Rom 12:2). Daniel and his cohorts left an amazing legacy and example for all of us who want to live for God by faith to follow.

Your school, your government, your neighborhood, your friends, your family, the media you consume are all trying to squeeze you into a mold. Most–maybe all–of those influences are squeezing you into a godless form. Jesus wants to transform you into his likeness. His word, His church, His Spirit, and His grace are all operating in your life for that to happen, but it takes some determination on your part, a willingness to be different. Is there some way right now where you’re being squeezed? What would the Lord want you to do to emulate the faith and obedience of Daniel?

1 Kings 18, Ezekiel 48

Read 1 Kings 18 and Ezekiel 48.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 48:35b: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

This final chapter in the prophecy of Ezekiel described in detail the land God promised to a restored nation of Israel. The chapter reaffirms the land-based portion of the covenants God had made with his people. It states that the promise of land given to Abraham in Genesis 12:7b: “To your offspring I will give this land” will be fulfilled literally. The chapter promises again that the portions of land promised generally to the twelve tribes of Israel in Genesis 49 and more specifically in Joshua 13-19 would be given to those tribes.

There are good, godly men who believe that the promises God gave to Israel in his covenants have been fulfilled in us here in the church age. I do not agree with that interpretation and I don’t see how passages like this which are so specific could be fulfilled generally or “spiritually” in the church. The only alternative, then, is to believe that these promises have yet to be fulfilled and that they will be fulfilled in the time period we call the Millennium.

This is not the place to go into specifics about the Millennium or other prophecies in the Bible about the end times. The final verse of Ezekiel, however, sums up the great hope that all believers in every age have: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.” This is the realization of the promise lost in the Garden of Eden, that humanity will live under the loving rule of God, knowing him, worshipping, and fellowshipping with him constantly. When the Lord lives on earth among us, when his name is the name of the city because he is there, when we are free of our sin and shame and can worship him truthfully, fully, constantly and live completely for his purpose–then life will be everything it could be and should be but cannot be in this unredeemed state.

Is this a focus in your life? As you live each day, do you think about what it means to live for the glory of God? Do you think about Christ’s return ever and ask for him to come? Is there anyone around you today that you could speak to about their need for Christ and what Christ has done for them? This is how God wants us to live once we come to know him by faith. We live faithfully for him, obeying his word and trusting him while also longing for and looking for his return.

1 Kings 17, Ezekiel 47

Read 1 Kings 17 and Ezekiel 47.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 17.

Yesterday in 1 Kings 16 we saw that Ahab was sold out to evil like no king Israel ever had before (1 Ki 16:30). Based on that description of Ahab, we might expect that Ahab’s reign in Israel was a dark time for the Northern Kingdom spiritually and morally. Our expectation is correct; the Northern Kingdom was always far from God both spiritually and morally. It was born in rebellion to God’s Davidic king, worshipped idols from the very beginning of its separation from Judah, and was led by 20 kings who all did evil in the sight of God.

In response to Israel’s sinful ways—particularly the evil leadership of king Ahab, God sent his prophet Elijah to proclaim judgment on Israel. Verse 1 told us that Elijah’s message was, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” This drought would naturally lead to famine which would ravage Israel’s farm-based economy and cause many people to suffer and die.

What’s interesting about today’s passage is that the focus is not on the devastation God brought on Israel, but on the provision God brought to his servant Elijah. At a time when food and water were scarce, Elijah just had to hang out near a water source and God miraculously brought him food carried by ravens (vv. 2-6). Then, when the drought caused the brook he depended on for water to dry up, God sent him to a person who could take care of him.

But the woman God sent to provide for Elijah was a very unlikely caretaker. Instead of sending him to a godly man of wealthy means, God sent him to a widow. This widow lived outside the land of Israel; verse 9 told us that he was sent to “Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” That town was located near the Mediterranean Sea and was a good distance north of the most northern tribes of Israel. Widows, typically, struggled to survive themselves, having no husband to work and provide for the family in an age and economy where everyone in the family had to work hard for the family merely to survive. God told Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (v. 9b) which suggests that she knew Elijah was coming beforehand. Yet when he arrived and asked her for food, she said, “As surely as the Lord your God lives… I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (v. 12).

Not exactly an ancient version of Costco, was she?

Yet Elijah believed the Lord’s word; he comforted her by telling her not to be afraid (v. 13a) but, instead, to trust the Lord’s provision by making food for Elijah first, then for herself and her son (v. 13b-c). This command was based on God’s promise in verse 14: “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” Amazingly, she believed the Lord’s promise and God provided for her, her son, AND Elijah day after day after day (vv. 15-16).

Then, as if her daily test of faith were not enough, it was tested again when her son died (vv. 17-19). She reacted as anyone would in this kind of tragedy. Why would God keep her son alive day after day from starvation only to see him die prematurely from illness? But God listened to Elijah’s prayer and restored his life (vv. 20-23).

The purpose of these miracles was to authenticate the message of Elijah: “Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’” The point of this story was to show how God provided for those who trusted in him, even in a dark time spiritually for the nation of Israel. His provision required daily, constant faith, but God never failed to live up to his promise. And, like he did with Elijah, God calls us to trust him and live according to his word and his promises even when times look bleak spiritually and economically.

Every time we elect a new president here in the United States, the side that loses believes that the end is near. Let’s consider that: What if someday we elect the most ungodly person to ever occupy the oval office, someone determined to stamp out biblical Christianity?

Can God provide for us if we are ruled and even persecuted by unsaved and ungodly people?

Of course he can but we have to look to him in faith. Think about the possible anxiety Elijah might have faced. What if the ravens don’t show up with any food today? What if this is the day that the widow’s flour and oil run out? Each day was a test of faith for these people, but God was faithful. May we have the grace to trust him no matter what kind of trial of faith we face in the days ahead.

1 Kings 16, Ezekiel 46

Read 1 Kings 16 and Ezekiel 46.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 46:9-10: “‘When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate. The prince is to be among them, going in when they go in and going out when they go out.”

This chapter continued the lengthy vision Ezekiel received way back in chapter 40. That vision described how Israel should rebuild the temple and worship as a nation at some point in the future.

Here in chapter 46 the Lord described how the people should gather and worship each Sabbath and during New Moon feasts (v. 3). The prince of Israel was commanded to bring a burnt offering as described in verses 4-7 and verse 8 described where he was to enter and exit the temple area.

Here in verses 9-10 we read these strange instructions. When the people came to worship in the temple on the Sabbath and the New Moons, God commanded them to enter by one gate and leave by the other. These gates were on the north and south sides of the temple. If you came in through the north gate, you were required to cover the rest of the distance and go out the through the south gate. If you came in through the south gate, you had to keep going forward and exit through the north gate. Just so nobody was confused, the end of verse 9 said, “No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.”

Verse 10 included the prince in all of this. He was required to use either the north or south gate and he must go out using the gate  on the opposite side of the one he entered. He was not allowed to use some side entrance to avoid the people; the prince must travel in and out like everyone else did.

Why on earth would the Lord care about this?

We don’t know for sure because Ezekiel did not give any explanation for these instructions. But it is interesting to think about why the Lord might have commanded this. One commentator I glanced at said it was probably either:

  • for crowd control
  • or because turning around and showing your backside might be offensive to God
  • or because “every detail in the worship of Yahweh was ordered.”[1]

The first answer could be true, the second one is just weird and the last one makes decent sense. There were a lot of precise instructions given in these chapters; maybe this is just another one of those.

But think about it. You have two large groups of people. One came in from the North and is now facing South. The other came in from the South and is now facing North. They are facing each other and have to cross paths with everyone else on the other side to get out. To me, it seems like crowd control would be easier if everyone turned around and left the way they came in.

So it makes me wonder if God commanded this to make it harder for his people to avoid each other and for the prince to avoid the people. In any large group of people, there were bound to be some who were estranged from one another. There were some who may have sued each other, married and divorced each other, or just generally didn’t get along with each other. These instructions made hiding from people you dislike even harder to do. Remember Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” That could literally happen if you had to either walk in with half the crowd or cross paths with the other half of the crowd on your way out.

These commands also emphasized that the prince was just a worshipper like everyone else. He had greater responsibilities and recognition, but he was just a man before God like everyone else, a sinner allowed by God’s mercy and grace into his presence.

Do you ever try to avoid someone on Sunday morning when you come to church? If we only had two doors open to the building and they were opposite each other and we wouldn’t let you leave through the door that you entered, don’t you think you would see more people than you usually do?

We can’t really be the church without socializing with others in the church. Do you come late and leave early or immediately after the service just to avoid people? Do you think the Lord is pleased if we act that way toward our brothers and sisters in Christ?

[1] Daniel Isaac Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997–), 673.