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 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 20

Read 2 Samuel 13 and Ezekiel 20.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 20:32: “‘You say, ‘We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.’”

Peer pressure is something we warn teenagers about, but adults are far from immune to it. Marketers use a form of peer pressure called “social proof” to get you and me to buy products. Similarly, ideas and actions that the Bible label as sinful have become acceptable in human societies because a majority of people consider them OK. Sexual activity apart from marriage, homosexuality, and transgenderism would all be in this category, but there are probably many more things that you and I could list if we took some time to think about it.

These things are now proclaimed to be acceptable, within the range of normal, in our society. The Bible warns us Christians that we would be out of step with the world around us and that the world would pressure us (Rom 12:2) to conform. Just as God’s people in Ezekiel’s time wanted to worship idols because other nations did, we Christians will feel external and internal pressure to conform to the world around us. At some point–probably soon–some major evangelical figure will come out and say that homosexuality is acceptable as long as it is practiced in a marriage covenant of some kind. Though many believers will resist, many will jump on board and urge us all to change our understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

God warned his people of judgment here in Ezekiel and in all the other prophets of scripture for conforming to the practices of the world around them. Idolatry was the specific sin then but the desire to be like everyone else was the motivation then just as it is now when we abandon God’s word and practice or condone in the church what the Lord says is sinful. Let’s prepare ourselves, then, to be faithful to God’s word even as we fall more and more out of step with the world around us.

2 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 19

Read 2 Samuel 12 and Ezekiel 19.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 12.

Nathan the prophet showed up seemingly out of nowhere at key times in David’s life. He showed up back in chapter 7 when David desired to build a temple for the Lord. Although he gave David the go-ahead initially, Nathan had to go back to the king and tell him that God had revealed something different. I don’t know if Nathan found it difficult to tell David that God wanted Solomon, not David, to build the temple. But at least God gave Nathan the Davidic Covenant to reveal as well, so there was some good news to give the king in that instance.

Here there is no good news to reveal. Nathan’s job is a tough one. It is always unpleasant, uncomfortable to tell someone that they have sinned. Imagine doing so to the king—a king who had Uriah killed to keep his adultery a secret. Tough job, and a scary one as well.

Nathan wisely used a fictional story to begin the conversation in verses 1-4. Drawing from David’s background as a shepherd, he appealed to David’s inherent sense of justice. You would have to be pretty cold-blooded to read Nathan’s story and not be outraged by how calloused, how unrighteous, how absolutely abusive the rich man was toward the man who was poor. The story had the result that Nathan intended; “David burned with anger against the man” according to verse 5 and sentenced the man to death (v. 5b). David’s response was extreme; as much as the poor man loved his little lamb, it was only a lamb. The second part of David’s sentence, “He must pay for that lamb four times over,” described a more appropriate penalty. But David’s words reveal how deeply outraged he was that the man “…did such a thing and had no pity” (v. 6). Only then, when David was could see the injustice clearly and empathized with the victim, did Nathan lower the boom. This was not a story about a rich man, a poor man, and one little lamb. No, Nathan dropped the story and simply said, “You are the man!” The story was about David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murderous attempt to cover it up.

Nathan’s indirect approach was incredibly effective because it got David to see the objectively sinful and selfish thing that he had done. Had Nathan directly brought up the issue of Bathsheba with him, David could have denied it or tried to justify it. Or, David might have added Nathan to the body count in order to continue the cover up. But by appealing to David’s humanity and sense of justice, Nathan was able to elicit a full confession from David (v. 13).

It is amazing how wicked sin seems when someone else gets caught. Even when we are guilty of the exact same sin, it feels justifiable to us but indefensible when the perpetrator is someone else. This is why, sometimes, we need direct confrontation. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” may have been said in the context of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:31, KJV), but it is true concerning every sin. If we would listen to our conscience, if we were as ruthless in applying the Bible to ourselves as we are to others, our walk with Christ would be straighter and we’d be a lot less judgmental toward others.

That is why we need, sometimes, confrontation like David received from Nathan. When we have been lying to ourselves what we need most is someone who will tell us the truth. Although this kind of personal confrontation is always difficult and never fun, it is truly loving. Sin is always destructive, so the most loving thing you can do to someone entrapped in sin is to surgically apply the truth to their lives to help them extract the cancer of wickedness before it consumes them. This is what Galatians 6:1-2 means when it says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Or as James put it, “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (5:20).

The lessons are clear: (1) If someone confronts you about your sins, be wise and repent fully as David did here in 2 Samuel 12. (2) If you know of someone who is living in unrepentant sin, bring it prayerfully and lovingly to their attention so that they can repent and find forgiveness in Christ.

2 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 18

Read 2 Samuel 11 and Ezekiel 18.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 11.

The most famous passage in 2 Samuel stands before us today. There are several lessons to be learned from David’s sin but the one I want to focus on today is in verse 3: “The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” This answer was the result of David’s inquiry about Bathsheba; verse 3 says, “David sent someone to find out about her.” That statement is vague; what exactly did David want to find out?

He might have merely been seeking her name. If that’s the case, then all he needed to hear was “Bathsheba.”

He might have been seeking her marital status. David already had several wives (2 Sam 5:13) so he might have been willing to add one more if she were single. Given that Bathsheba did not yet have any children, she was probably still very young. The fact that the man who was sent to find out about her mentioned her father first in his report might be a clue that this is what David was after.

The most important bit of information that David got in verse 3 was the news that she is “the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” That should have ended the conversation right there. She was another man’s wife. It was therefore inappropriate for David to have any further contact with her and he knew it.

He also knew that her husband wasn’t home. David was usually out with his army and doubtless knew who Uriah was. It was unusual for a Hittite to convert to Judaism and fight in Israel’s army. He also was, obviously, a very loyal and righteous man (vv. 6-13). It seems clear that David knew her husband was away fighting the Lord’s battle which was David’s battle as well. The fact that David, having heard that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, immediately “sent messengers to get her” (v. 4) indicates that he saw the opportunity to sin and he took it. If her husband was at home with her or could be home soon from work or whatever, David would never have attempted to get with her. His sin was made possible by (1) not being where he should have been (2) being bored (v. 2) and not finding a righteous way to occupy his mind (3) acting on his lust when he saw something he shouldn’t have seen (4) ignoring the obvious boundaries (her marriage and her husband’s diligence in his duty as a soldier) (5) deciding that her husband’s absence was an opportunity to sin.

It seems clear that David did not intend to sin when he stayed home from fighting. It wasn’t his fault that he had insomnia or boredom. It is unfortunate that he didn’t respond by his boredom by spending time with one of his wives or playing his harp or going to the tabernacle (it was open 24/7/365) to read God’s word.

The fact that he didn’t do any of those things wasn’t a sin either. He probably didn’t intend to be a peeping Tom when he went out on his roof at night. People used their roofs in his time like we use a deck or patio today. As I mentioned, it wasn’t a sin for David to ask about Bathsheba since she might have been an eligible bachelorette. Temptation does this to us. It takes situations that we innocently wander into and presents us with opportunities we think we might be able to get away with.

There are a few lessons, then, to learn from this situation:

  • Be careful when you’re not doing what you normally would be doing.
  • Be careful about how you handle your boredom.
  • Be aware that temptation sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
  • Respect the boundaries God has put into place. They exist to warn you that danger lies beyond them.

Ultimately, though, none of us can avoid temptation. We carry around depravity in our hearts and it is easily aroused. Jesus saved us from the consequences we deserve for being sinners and for sinning but he also commands us and empowers us to live a holy life. We need to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” just as Christ taught us to pray because we are weak and temptation is so powerful. Let David’s compromises and sins cause you to turn to Christ for help each day.

2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 17

Read 2 Samuel 10 and Ezekiel 17.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 17.

God’s word through Ezekiel in this chapter came in the form of an allegorical parable about two eagles and one vine. The images in this parable are too intricate for me to explain in this devotional. But the main points are as follows:

  • The two eagles represent the kings of Babylon (v. 12) and Egypt (v. 15).
  • The branch that became a vine represents Judah’s king (v. 12). He’s not named in this chapter but we know historically that it was Zedekiah. He was planted like a seedling (v. 5) in the sense that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed him as a vassal king in Judah (v. 13). He had everything he needed to thrive under the rule of Babylon (v. 5: “fertile soil” and “abundant water”).
  • Although Zedekiah was thriving under a deal he made with Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 13) he reached out to Egypt (the second eagle in this story–v. 7) for help getting liberated from Babylon (v. 15).
  • Because his thriving was dependent on the deal he made with Babylon (v. 14) and reaching out to Egypt was a violation of the deal (v. 18) Zedekiah king of Judah would be punished severely by the Babylonians, ultimately dying in Babylon (v. 20).

This was a prophecy to Zedekiah but it speaks volumes to anyone about making oaths and covenants before God with other people. Zedekiah made a deal with Nebuchadnezzar but he made that deal before God. When he decided to break it, he was being unfaithful to God. Note verses 19-20: “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, I will repay him for despising my oath and breaking my covenant. I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare.”

So it is with us whenever we make a covenant. It could be the covenant you made with your spouse on the day you married. It could be a covenant you made in business or by becoming a member of this church. We make covenants with people but when we break them, we put ourselves under the judgment of God. The question, “Will it thrive?” (v. 9 and repeated in v. 10), is one that we should consider before we commit adultery, get divorced, change churches, or break business agreements unilaterally.

People break their agreements with others because they think they will thrive in a different arrangement. A “better” person comes along than the one they married, a cooler church entices them to visit and reconsider their decision to join Calvary, a more lucrative deal is presented to them than the one they’ve already made. People break their commitments because they think they can get a better deal but if God is displeased by your broken agreement, you should ask yourself, “Will [your new deal] thrive?”

  • Will your new relationship thrive if you’re cheating on your wife?
  • Will your remarriage thrive if you broke faith with your first husband to get with this new guy?
  • Will your family thrive in a new church if you left the last one for unbiblical reasons?
  • Will your business thrive if you won’t honor your contracts and keep the promises you’ve made to vendors or employees or shareholders or business partners or customers?

There are biblical reasons for divorce and for leaving a church. There are also biblical ways to address problems in covenant relationships and even biblical ways for seeking to be released from a bad covenant you’ve made. In my experience, though, people don’t want to do the right thing in order to get out. They just want to get out and enjoy that greener grass over on the other side of the fence.

Are you considering breaking faith in some way? Let this passage cause you to reconsider.

Have you broken faith already in some way? Let this passage cause you to repent.

Jesus died to remove the wrath of God from us for our broken commitments so there is forgiveness and relief available in Him. That’s good because none of us is perfect at keeping our part of a bargain. If you’re tormented by broken covenants, look to Christ for forgiveness and look to his word for ways to get back on a righteous path. This is how you can thrive again.

But if you’re in Christ, you should do everything in your power to keep the covenants you’ve made with others. That is the righteous thing to do and Jesus died not only to become our righteousness before God but also to teach and empower us to live righteously (see Titus 2:11-12 “in this present age.”)

So let’s be careful about the commitments we make and be conscientious about keeping them once we’ve made them.

2 Samuel 8-9, Ezekiel 16

Read 2 Samuel 8-9 and Ezekiel 16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 8-9.

It was a long, winding road for David from being anointed as king back in 1 Samuel 16 to becoming king of all Israel in 2 Samuel 5. After many days of adversity and danger, David was enjoying some success, finally, in the past few chapters of 2 Samuel. Chapter 8 of our reading today is especially positive. It describes military success (vv. 1-6), increasing wealth (vv. 7-12), and growing fame (v. 13). Verse 14 ends with this apt summary: “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.”

When someone is highly successful, that person may be tempted to become proud or merely complacent. The possibility of kicking back and enjoying the fruit of success can be high.

David, in chapter 9, went the other direction. When he finally obtained success he stared looking for ways to be an unselfish, kind servant. Verse 3 told us, “The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’” The answer was Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, “the lame lad of Lo Debar” (v. 4). David moved him to Jerusalem and Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table as if he were a relative (v. 13). David also provided him with servants who tended to his land (vv. 9-10). This was an incredibly gracious act by king David and it made a significant difference in the life of a man with physical limitations.

Are you in a season of life marked by success and stability? If so, have you looked for a way to serve?

2 Samuel 7, Ezekiel 15

Read 2 Samuel 7 and Ezekiel 15.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 15.

This short chapter in Ezekiel is based on a simple observation: Vines are made of wood but they are not useful the way that wood from trees is useful. The wood that makes up a vine is too weak to be fashioned into a useful product. It can’t even be used to “…make pegs from it to hang things on” (v. 3b). It’s greatest utility comes from the fact that you can burn it, so it can fuel your fire (v. 4). Other than that, it is essentially worthless. You can’t make furniture or homes with it.

In verses 6-8 God compared his people in Jerusalem to those grapevines. Just as the vines are thrown onto the fire, so God will burn his people for their disobedience (vv. 7-8).

The keyword in this chapter is the word “useful.” Just as wood from the trees is very useful for many tasks, so God wanted his people to be useful for Him. Sometimes people object to the idea of being “useful for God” or “used by God.” Shouldn’t God love us for who we are not for what we do that’s useful? Don’t we have value as people that is genuine value apart from any usefulness or uselessness in our lives? As someone said on a podcast, “You’re a human being not a human doing.”

As creatures made in God’s image, we do have intrinsic value. But, because God created us for a purpose–to glorify him–we are incomplete and unhappy when we are not being used. If your refrigerator had feelings, don’t you think it would be happier being useful than sitting in the garage, unplugged, gathering dust and useless? The most fulfilling thing in life is to be useful to the one who owns you.

If you’re dealing with unhappiness that doesn’t seem to have a cause, could it be that you are unhappy because your life is passing by but isn’t contributing much to your Creator? Assess your usefulness for God and how much you’re being used by God. If you conclude that you are not as useful as you could be, what can you do to become more useful for the Lord? And if you are potentially useful but not being used much, where could you apply your usefulness to be used by God more and more effectively?

2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 14

Read 2 Samuel 6 and Ezekiel 14.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 14.

Risk is a problem for many people, maybe most of us. While we think we may be right about something, we also know that we’ve been wrong in the past. The question, “What happens if I’m wrong?” haunts us when we feel that something is risky.

Because of this, people do things to try to eliminate risk or, at least, decrease the cost of being wrong. Buying insurance for on life, for your home, or your car, or anything else is one way to mitigate risk. You buy that insurance but hope that you never actually need it. Insurance is one form of risk mitigation that we all use. People who invest a lot of money have ways of mitigating risk; so do some people who gamble.

Ezekiel prophesied God’s judgment on Israel for their idolatry, and, here in Ezekiel 14:1, it looks like the elders of Israel were trying to mitigate their risk. Verse 1 told us that they came to Ezekiel and sat down in front of him. It doesn’t tell us what, if anything, they said but in verses 2-3 God asked Ezekiel, “Should I let them inquire of me at all?” God’s question, then, indicates that the elders came to seek God’s revelation about something, probably the disaster that Ezekiel was predicting.

God was not flattered or impressed by their attempts to reach him through Ezekiel. The reason was, “these men have set up idols in their hearts” (v. 3). In other words, they were not coming to God in repentance, genuinely seeking truth from the true God. They were hedging their bets, trying to mitigate their risk. They worshipped false gods genuinely, from the heart; their interest in the true God was self-interest only. They came to Ezekiel only to try to get a good answer the question, “What if Ezekiel is right and God really does judge us?” They were like large corporations in our day who make campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans so that whichever party becomes powerful will not treat them like the enemy.

The judgment that Ezekiel prophesied would become a spiritual heart transplant for God’s people. “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols” (v. 5). This is what God wants from people; a genuine worship, love, and devotion to him. Anything we do to try to appease him or “cover our bets” spiritually is offensive to him.

In Christ we have new life and a heart that genuinely desires to know and love God. Anyone who has an idol of the heart, be it materialism, pride, desire for admiration, or whatever, needs the spiritual heart transplant of regeneration that God spoke of in verse 5. That comes as a gift of God’s grace and has happened when someone follows God’s command to “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6).

Still, even as genuine followers of Christ, we are tempted by idols. A passage like this one calls us to reflect on our lives and consider which idols we may be flirting with in our hearts then repent and ask the Lord to purify us so that we “will no longer stray” from him (v. 11).

2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13

Read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel received a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority.

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it is a whitewash (vv. 11-12). It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace. Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread).

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” teachers who speak encouraging, motivating words but these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b).

The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

2 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 12

Read 2 Samuel 3 and Ezekiel 12.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 3.

David was a killer; a “man of blood” as some translations call him in 1 Chronicles 28:3. But look how horrified he was when Joab killled Abner here in 2 Samuel 3. He called on God to bring a perpetual curse on Joab’s family as a consequence of Joab’s sin (v. 29). He mourned the death of Abner, attending his funeral, crying for him, singing a lament for him (vv. 31-34), and fasting to demonstrate his mourning over Abner’s death (v. 35). Why would David, who killed so many people himself, be so horrified by the death of Abner?

The answer is that David’s killing was done in defense of his nation Israel. The Philistines, David’s most frequent opponent, were attacking Israel. Israel was not the aggressor in these situations; it was the victim of the aggression of its neighbors. While it is true that Israel attacked the nations living in Canaan, God made it clear that the command to attack them was not only to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant but also to punish these nations for their own sins (see Deut 9:5, 18:12). Just as God later used the Assyrians and Babylonians to judge Israel for her sins, he used the Israelites in the days of Joshua to punish the Canaanites for their sins. Having taken the land that God promised to them, Israel focused on settling and developing the promised land, not building an empire through never-ending attacks on other nations. War, and the killing that it requires, the killing that David did, was done in defense, not because David was a bloodthirsty man.

Our nation’s leaders should consider the ethics of war. American foreign policy in the past few decades has involved attacking other nations that have not attacked us. While this might seem like a smart idea tactically, it is not morally justified. It is, in fact, murder on a large scale. There is a time for “just war” but the just ones in any war are those who are seeking to defend their people and property. Human life is sacred, as David’s response to Abner’s death demonstrates. Since it is sacred, one should never attack another nation or person. Neither you nor I should ever take another person’s life unless that person has attacked us first with potentially deadly force. David’s response to Joab’s murderous attack on Abner shows that he understood the difference between defeating an enemy who has attacked you and getting revenge on someone through murder.

For much more on this, listen to a radio interview here that describes biblically what makes a just war: https://huffduffer.com/jonesay/345975

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 11

Read 2 Samuel 2 and Ezekiel 11.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 11.

In many of our readings this year, we’ve seen how God gave Israel his law. In it, he specified how obedience to the law would bring blessings and how disobedience would bring his curses on them. Time after time in Judges, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now here in Ezekiel, we saw God keep his word—he blessed his people in the rare times of obedience and he punished them when they disobeyed. Over and over again they disobeyed and he would allow them to be oppressed but not completely overrun. At the time Ezekiel wrote these words, however, God’s most painful punishment was falling on his people.

When I read about Israel’s failures and God’s punishments in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people never learned from their own history and lived obediently to God’s law. God’s law had some unusual commands to observe—don’t wear a garment made of synthetic materials, for instance. But for the most part, what God was really angry about was their idolatry. Why couldn’t Israel just serve the Lord? Why did they repeatedly turn to idols, even when bad times were the result?

Today’s passage in Ezekiel 11 answers that question. Specifically, verses 19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The reason that Israel could not obey God’s laws is that they did not have a new nature within. What people needed—what we still need—is the spiritual work of God called regeneration.

People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and all the prophets had been born spiritually. They didn’t love God and obey his laws in their own moral strength; they received the gift of eternal life. This is alluded to in passages like Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The difference between the few who obeyed God’s word and the many who worshipped idols and lived lawless lives was faith. The “faithful” believed God because God had given them the new spirit discussed here in Ezekiel 11:19-20. The “faithless” may have followed some of the symbols and ceremonies, the civil laws and some of the moral codes, but fundamentally they did not believe God’s word.

The same is true when Jesus lived. By that time the oppression of the Assyrians and the exile of the Babylonians had ended. Israel was under Roman rule, but Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Baal. God’s judgment of his people by the Assyrians and Babylonians was effective in stripping out overt idolatry from the people. But the Pharisees and many other Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not obey God’s laws from the heart; they were doing it to appear righteous to others and to obtain favor from God by their own good deeds. These are not acts of faith; they are acts of unbelief. Although they are not overtly idolatrous, they are not produced by love for God.

This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus; although he studied and understood the law and was as scrupulous as any other Pharisee about obeying it, he didn’t really “get it.” He knew that Jesus had spiritual reality and spiritual power that he did not have. So what did Jesus say to him? “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn 3:3).

People needed spiritual rebirth—regeneration—in the Old Testament and people need it today. This is a central idea of our faith. We are not calling people to moral reformation; we are calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. What sets you apart from your unsaved neighbors and family is not that you are a good person and they are not; what sets you apart is the gift of eternal life in Christ. This is the hope we have to offer people around us; not “be moral so God will bless you,” but “receive Jesus so that you can have the power to live a moral life.”

2 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 10

Read 2 Samuel 1 and Ezekiel 10.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 1

First Samuel ended with Saul committing suicide (31:4d) in order to escape torture at the hands of the Philistines (31:4c) after he was mortally wounded (v. 3c). Second Samuel began with David learning of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths (vv. 1-4). The man who reported their deaths claimed to have killed Saul at Saul’s command (vv. 6-9) which differs with the account given in 1 Samuel 31. What do we make of this difference?

The man’s account may be true. If so, then Saul did fall on his own sword in 1 Sam 31 but this Amalekite finished him off. This chapter, then, adds additional information to 1 Samuel 31.

Or, the man’s account may be false. In that case, then, 1 Samuel 31 described how Saul actually died. In this chapter, the Amalekite found Saul dead but took credit for killing him in a way that sounds compassionate. His reasoning may have been that it was merciful to end Saul’s suffering quickly and that David would approve of his actions as if he did the right thing. In other words, the Amalekite lied and brought Saul’s crown and arm band to David to ingratiate himself with the new king.

I tend to think the second explanation is the correct one, but either could be correct and we just don’t know. Regardless of what the actual truth is, David judged the man based on his words (v. 16). Instead of being grateful to the man, David was incensed that he would take the life of the man God had chosen to be anointed king (v. 14). What this passage reveals, then, is one of the character qualities that made David “a man after God’s own heart.” In this case, it was David’s submission to and respect for God-ordained authority.

We see David’s submission to Saul in two ways here 2 Samuel 1:

First, David referred to Saul as “the Lord’s anointed” twice (vv. 14, 16) and punished the Amalekite for killing Saul. By calling Saul, “the Lord’s anointed,” David was bowing to the will of God and the authority God invested in king Saul. Saul mistreated David wickedly, but David remained loyal to his king to the very end of his life.

Second, David eulogized Saul, even saying that Saul (and Jonathan) were “loved and admired” (v. 23). That goes against human nature; we tend to kick dirt on people who have sinned against us. It is even more delightful to our sinful nature when a leader we dislike falls. But David was genuinely sorrowful at the death of Saul because David loved and trusted in God.

David did some wicked things in his life but the absolute submission he showed to God’s will demonstrates that he was a man who walked with God. If you were tested this way, could you submit to God’s will? If you were asked to be a pallbearer at your boss’s funeral, would you be able and willing to do it? Could you stand by, availably, waiting for a long time before getting what you want?

1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 9

Read 1 Samuel 31 and Ezekiel 9.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 31.

Because of his disobedience, Samuel told Saul back in 1 Samuel 15 that the Lord had “torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). That was when God decreed that David would take over but it took years to reach the day when it happened. That day is the one we read about here in 1 Samuel 31, but notice that verse 2 in our passage says, “The Philistines… killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.” Eventually, Saul died too (vv. 3-5). As verse 6 concluded, “So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.”

Now, back in 1 Samuel 15, whose sin caused the kingdom to be torn away from Saul and his house? Saul. The answer is that Saul alone sinned.

Jonathan, according to everything we read about him, was a righteous man. His moral compass operated properly even when his father’s did not. Furthermore, Jonathan was more than willing to let David become king (1 Sam 23:17) so he was humble and eagerly surrendered to God’s will. Yet, as good as he was, Jonathan died in this battle along with his father and two of his brothers. There is something about that which seems fundamentally unjust. Saul sinned but the consequences for his sin affected more than just him. His righteous son died in the prime of his life through no fault of his own.

This story illustrates, then, an important truth to remember which is that our sins affect more people than just us. When we sin, often we alone are the ones who enjoy the sin but, when the wages of sin are paid, others–sometimes many others–suffer the consequences alongside us. Anyone who has lost a friend or family member to a drunk driver can attest to the truth of this. So can anyone who has ever been robbed, or had their reputation ruined when someone lied or gossiped about them. We choose to sin but the fallout of sin often affects others.

It is important to remember that in Adam, our representative, all died. Except for Jesus, not one of us has lived a perfect life so we all pay the wages of sin when we die (Rom 6:23). This goes for Jonathan, too. As great as he was, he was a sinner; it was not unjust, therefore, for the Lord to allow him to die in this battle. As a sinner, he would die sometime and justly so. That fact that he lived this long was a testament to God’s mercy; so is the fact that you are alive to read this.

But the point is not that Jonathan got what was just; the point is that he died because of his father’s sin. Makes you wonder, then, this: What kind of damage will my sin cause to others? The answer to that question is unknowable but it is worth thinking about nonetheless. If thinking about it deters you from doing the sin, then God has been gracious to you by bringing you his word.

Obey it and see what God does.