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.

Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Psalm 32

Today’s Bible readings are Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, and Psalm 32.

This devotional is about Esther 9-10.

There are good, godly men who don’t believe that God cares about Israel as a nation any longer. They believe that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The Jews that exist today, then, are just like any other race of people on earth. There are some who are elect and will trust Christ by faith to become part of the church just as in every other nation. But, to those who believe that the church has replaced Israel, there is nothing special about national Israel.

I do not believe that.

I believe that God’s covenant with Abraham remains and that there are promises he made to Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. Those promises will be fulfilled by Christ and, when they are, then Christians and Jewish believers will be united as one people of God in eternity.

One reason I believe this is why Jewish people still exist with their ethnic identity in tact. Throughout human history, there have ben repeated efforts to extinguish their existence. You are aware of Hitler’s attempts to destroy the Jews and that they have enemies today, such as the PLO, who want to wipe them out as well. But these modern threats are only the latest. Here in Esther, we’ve been reading about how Haman wanted to eradicate the Jews from the earth. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, he placed Mordecai and Esther in Xerxes’s palace to thwart Haman’s genocidal intentions.

What’s so interesting about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned at all, not once in any form. And, Esther became queen through immorality (chapter 2) and neither she nor Mordecai are portrayed as believers in YHWH or adherents to Judaism as a faith. The closest reference we see in Esther to God or faith in him is when Esther asked the Jews in Susa to “fast for me” and said “I and my attendants will fast as you do” (Esther 4:15-16). That’s it! She doesn’t even mention prayer with this fasting; just the fasting.

It may be true (it likely is, actually) that Esther and Mordecai were believers. But the author of Esther does not say so or detail for us what their walk with God was like. The purpose of the book of Esther is not to laud these two people for their faith, but to show how God was faithful to his covenant regardless of whether any of the Jews were faithful to him. This book also shows us how God works sovereignly. There is not one miracle described in the book nor is there any divine revelation to help out the main characters. In the book of Esther, people acted rationally, with intention and in fear at times without any divine intervention or even any overt acknowledgement on God. And yet, God still worked in their everyday lives to save his people from being extinguished. God may not be mentioned directly in the book of Esther, but his faithfulness to his covenant and his care for his people are demonstrated on every page.

Israel today lives in unbelief. There are Jews, of course, who have embraced Christ as Messiah and become Christians like we are. But the nation we call Israel was politically created and is one of the most progressive (in the moral sense; in other words, “liberal”) nations on earth. Yet just as God protected and cared for his people in Esther, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, he is preserving his people and watching over them. There will come a day when they will turn to Christ in faith (see Romans 11 and most of the book of Revelation). Those Jews who die before that day will perish in hell just like any other person who does not submit to Christ in faith. But God is faithful and will make good on his promises to Abraham, David, and others.

For us, the lesson of Esther is to trust God. Things around us may look good at times; at other times, they may look bleak. God has ways of accomplishing his will even through unbelievers and he will do it. So hope and trust in him, not in people, governments, programs, or anything else.

Genesis 32, Esther 7, Psalm 31

Today we’re reading Genesis 32, Esther 8, Psalm 31.

This devotional is about Psalm 31.

During the Gulf War (the one in the early 1990s), U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf held a famous press conference that made him into a celebrity. In that press conference, he showed a video of a car in Iraq crossing a bridge. Shortly after the car crossed the bridge, the bridge exploded from a bomb that U.S. forces dropped on it. Schwarzkopf referred to the driver of this car as “The luckiest man in Iraq” because he narrowly escaped a death he had no idea was coming.

If luck were real, David would be one of the luckiest men who has ever lived. He escaped death time and again–both in general when he went to battle and specifically when he was targeted by Saul and others. Here in Psalm 31 (as in other Psalms), we see past the brave warrior into the heart of this king. The dangers he faced were as stressful to him as they would be to any one of us (vv. 9-10). He dealt with these stresses by turning to God in prayer, pouring his heart out honestly to the almighty about his fears and pleading with God to be his “rock of refuge” his “strong fortress” (v. 2) and to deliver him (v. 1).

Because of the covenant God had made with David, God did deliver him over and over again. Although he was a skilled, prepared warrior, David’s success in battle and his longevity in life were more a matter of God’s protection and God’s will than anything else. David knew this, too. When he asked for God’s help and protection “for the sake of your name” (v. 3b) he was referencing the promises God had made to Israel and to him personally for Israel.

Even as he called on God for help, David knew that his days were determined by the sovereign will of God. When he wrote, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15a), he was humbly submitting to what God had determined for him. If God were to let him die in battle, that is his right as Lord.

Yet David was not deterministic about it. Recognizing that God had already decreed when and how he would die did not prevent David from asking God to “… deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (v. 15b-c). He was bold in asking for God’s help and giving God reasons why he should help; yet he was humble and submitted to whatever the Lord had willed.

Until Christ returns, death is a reality for each of us. People we love will die and someday, so will we. Fearing death (and other things in life) is natural. Crying out to God and looking to him for help and deliverance honors him in those moments. So does recognizing that your time and mine will come when God wills. These are all expressions of faith. Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith asking God for help when we are afraid as well as trusting his will when the time comes for us to go. We don’t need luck to protect us. Faith in our God is a much better defense.

VIDEO: The Luckiest Man in Iraq: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AjCAuYkrgA

Genesis 31, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Today, read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Psalm 30.

This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc. People do this kind of theft for different reasons but one of them is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. This kind of person feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice. He or she takes what the employer has and rationalizes it by telling themselves that they deserve it.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled? What if Laban refused to see both of his daughters married to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them. When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who embezzled money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned from employment if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite the absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping, a theme which recurs in the Bible over and over again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.

Genesis 30, Esther 6, and Psalm 29

Today read Genesis 30, Esther 6, and Psalm 29.

This devotional is about Esther 6.

Haman was a man on the rise in Xerxes’s kingdom of Persia. Back in chapter 3 we read that Xerxes honored Haman “elevating him and giving a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles” (3:1). Haman was so influential that everyone else in Xerxes’s regime “knelt down and paid honor” to him because the king had commanded that (3:2). The only man who didn’t kiss up to Haman was Mordecai, Esther’s guardian. As you will remember from chapter 3, Haman wanted to kill ALL the Jews because of Mordecai’s disrespect. That is how seriously Haman took himself and how deeply proud he was in his heart.

Here in chapter 6, Haman’s pride starts to become his downfall. Mordecai had saved king Xerxes’s life back in chapter 2:21-23 by exposing a plot to assassinate him. Now, on a night of insomnia, Xerxes read the record of Mordecai’s heroics (6:1-2) and determined to honor him.

Just at that moment, Haman showed up; when the king asked Haman how someone should be honored, Haman, because of his pride, assumed he was the one to be honored (v. 6) and hatched a plan to get maximum attention for himself in the city (vv. 7-9). But, in a cruel twist, Xerxes ordered Haman to provide for Mordecai–a man he hated–the ceremony of honor Haman had recommended. With no choice in the matter, Haman did it (v. 11) but was humiliated by the experience (v. 12). Those who loved Haman saw this as a bad sign and predicted Haman’s ruin despite all the honor he’d been receiving before this.

We haven’t reached the end of the story yet in our reading. But (spoiler alert): they were right. Things were about to go very badly for Haman. His story illustrates Luke 14:11: “…all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Keep this in mind when you experience some success and gain some notoriety for it. Pride messes with the morals of people; it causes us to think that we deserve things we don’t deserve. It convinces us that we are exempt from the laws of sowing and reaping and that we can play by different rules because we produce so consistently and so well. Many of the men who are caught in the #metoo scandals illustrate this very truth, just as Haman did.

Don’t let pride bring out the ugly in you. Don’t let it lead you down a path of sin because that sin will deliver you to destruction. Be thankful for any success you have and stay humble. Keep serving the Lord and others and let him exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).

Genesis 29, Esther 5, Psalm 28

Today, read Genesis 29, Esther 5, and Psalm 28.

This devotional is about Genesis 29.

Laban may have thought himself to be very clever. He managed to get 14 years of work and marry off both of his daughters at the same time.

Everyone else, however, suffered in this situation, but no one suffered more than Leah. Moses, the author of Genesis, recorded the difference in attractiveness between Leah and her little sister Rachel (v. 17). Surely Leah herself must have realized it. Watching her father trick Jacob into marrying her must not have felt good. She must have wondered if Laban felt he wouldn’t be able to find her a husband the usual way because she wasn’t attractive enough. She must have felt anxious about Jacob’s reaction when he found out what Laban had done. No doubt she was crushed by his disappointment with her and his continuing desire to marry Rachel.

The only thing that she seemed to have in her favor was her fertility. This gave her an advantage over Rachel who had difficulty conceiving (v. 31b). Since Jacob loved Rachel so much more than Leah, it seems likely that Rachel had, um, more opportunities to conceive than Leah. Yet Leah was the one producing the boys that Jacob wanted. Each child she bore was interpreted as a gift from the Lord, which it was (v. 31). Although her marriage was unhappy and her family life was stressful, Leah looked to the Lord for help and was grateful for his favor in her life.

So many people suffer from sad, unfixable situations. Thinking about Leah’s life can give us some perspective. We all have problems, heartbreaks, and disappointments in life but most of us have better lives than Leah ever had. Her marriage was sad from the beginning, from her first full day as a married woman. Most of us, probably, had (and have) a life that is better than that. Despite how messed up her situation was, Leah was thankful to the Lord for each son she bore to Jacob. Her motives were not always perfect, but her thanks to God was sincere.

When your life is unhappy, follow Leah’s advice and consider ways in which the Lord has blessed you. Praise him for what he has given you; don’t grieve over the things you have been denied. Leah’s disappointments in life were opportunities for her to learn how to walk with God. Her words after the birth of each son suggests that she made the most of those opportunities. May we do the same when we experience painful situations in our own lives.

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalm 27

Today read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalm 27.

This devotional is based on Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel. Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing–both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down? We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Psalm 26

Today, read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Psalm 26.

This devotional is about Genesis 27.

God’s will for Isaac’s successor was clear. Before Esau and Jacob were born, the Lord told her “…the older will serve the younger” (Gen 25:23e). Later, Esau sold his birthright to Jocob as we read in Genesis 25:27-34. Despite these things, Isaac favored Esau over Jacob (25:28) and was determined to bless Esau, giving him the right to become the patriarch. Isaac was attempting, then, to do this outside of what God had willed, to get his own way regardless of what God wanted and decreed. In other words, he did not have faith in God when it came to his heir; Isaac wanted his own will to be done.

Rebekah and Jacob, likewise, knew what God had said and that Jacob would be the one to carry the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant and become a great nation. Instead of confronting Isaac with this fact or waiting for God to intervene in Isaac’s plan, Rebekah and Jacob hatched a plot of their own to engineer the outcome they wanted.

Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob, then, were not acting obediently to God’s will. None of them was trusting God’s word and living in obedience to it; they were, to borrow the words of Proverbs 3: “leaning on their own understanding.” God used the disobedience of Rebekah and Jacob to accomplish his will over the desired will of Isaac. But the disobedience of all of them created problems in their family that would be painful for each of them.

How often do we do the same thing? How often do we seek to engineer our own desire instead of seeking to align ourselves with what God has revealed and living in faith and obedience to that? If you’re in the middle of that kind of situation now, let this passage lead you to repentance. Turn to God and trust him. Let him accomplish his will and have faith that it will be best.

Genesis 26, Esther 2, Psalm 25

Read Genesis 26, Esther 2, and Psalm 25.

This devotional is about Genesis 26.

The cliché, “like father, like son” became a cliché because it is true. Children are reproductions of their parents, not just physical reproductions but reproductions in many other ways. Although each of us has characteristics that are unique and different from our parents, we consciously and unconsciously pick up many of the things that one or both of our parents do.

Here in Genesis 26, we see Isaac reproducing the behavior of his father Abraham. Twice Abraham told his wife Sarah to pretend that she was his sister (Gen 12, 20) so that he would not fear being killed by some other guy who wanted her. This was a stupid strategy, really. It did protect Abraham, which was his goal. But it threatened his marriage in both instances and forced his wife twice into unwanted relationships with other men. Abraham’s strategy was unloving to Sarah, untrusting of God, and just downright stupid.

So where did Isaac get the brilliant idea to do use the same strategy? It must have come from Abraham sharing his stories. God was the hero of Abraham’s stories, protecting Sarah in both cases and even enriching Abraham in the process. The moral of Abraham’s stories should have been, “Isaac, I did something stupid and sinful in these cases. God was merciful and protected us, but be wise and don’t do what I did.” Maybe Abraham tried to convey that; maybe he just told his stories with a laugh because things turned out well. Whatever Abraham said, tried to say, or implied in his telling of these stories, Isaac got the wrong message. The message Isaac took from Abraham’s experience was, “Lie at all costs to save your life when you feel insecure about the beautiful woman God gave you.” Predictably, Isaac got the same results when he used Abraham’s strategy. He kept himself out of harm’s way but, in the process, lost his wife’s companionship and nearly lost his marriage completely.

The moral of these stories for us is, “Tell your stories to your kids, but make sure you teach them the right lesson to learn.” Don’t indirectly teach your kids, “Hey, I sinned and got away with it so you can, too.” Instead, directly teach your kids, “I sinned but God was merciful. Learn from my bad example, trust God, and do what is right.”

Have you told your kids any stories that they might get the wrong ideas from? Fix that while you can; don’t let your kids repeat the same mistakes you’ve made.

Like father, like son. But it doesn’t have to be that way for the bad stuff. Instead, show your son and daughter the right path. Let them stand on your shoulders and be wiser than you were.

Genesis 25, Esther 1, Psalm 24

Today we’re reading Genesis 25, Esther 1, Psalm 24.

This devotional is about Psalm 24.

This world belongs to God. Its majestic mountains, its powerful rolling ocean waves, its placid lakes, its glorious skies, the abundance of life in plants and animals, humanity and its cities, towns, villages, farms all exist under the Lordship of God the Creator of everything (vv. 1-2).

Yet, fellowship with God the Creator is impossible. Only the righteous can know him, fellowship with him, and receive his blessings (vv. 3-6) and none of us qualifies. God in his grace forgives those who trust in Him, but none of us deserves the favor of his presence.

When we know God, we realize that there is a strange tension between the fact that we belong to him but are unworthy to fellowship with him or receive his blessings. What hope is there of resolving this tension?

Jesus.

David didn’t know him by that name, but he did know and he believed that the true king would come to live among his people. Verses 7-10 describe the person of Christ and express the hope of his victorious coming. When Jesus, the true king, comes, he will defeat his enemies (v. 8) and enter his city victoriously (vv. 7, 9). David wanted to see “The Lord Almighty… the King of glory” not just own the earth, but to dwell on it among his people. This, too, is our hope. It is why Jesus commanded us to pray, “Your kingdom come.” It is why Jesus came the first time–to begin gathering citizens from all over the world into his kingdom by faith.

When the world is unjust, unsafe, ungodly, unsatisfying, and just plain weird, here is where we should turn our hope. Jesus, the king of glory, has defeated sin and death through his death and resurrection. When he comes again, he will defeat all the enemies who oppose him and establish the perfect kingdom we are waiting for. Let that hope carry you through the tough, unhappy times in this life. The pain will be worth it when the king of glory, the Lord Almighty, comes!

Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23

Today’s readings are Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 13.

Nehemiah was a real jerk. At least, that’s how other people probably regarded him. He insisted on obedience to God’s word. When he found out that others were letting disobedience slide, Nehemiah reacted strongly and emotionally. Consider these incidents:

  1. When a priest allowed one of God’s enemies to have a big apartment in the temple, Nehemiah personally carried his belongings out and threw them on the front lawn (v. 8). When he found out that God’s servants weren’t being paid, Nehemiah called out the civic leaders and made them pay up (vv. 10-12), even designating some stand-up guys to be responsible for this in the future (v. 13).
  2. When he learned that non-Jews who lived in Jerusalem were selling stuff on Saturday (the Sabbath), Nehemiah “rebuked the nobles of Judah” (v. 17), stopped the city gates from opening so that nothing could come in for sale (v. 19) and threatened to arrest those who still came hoping to sell (vv. 20-22).
  3. When he found out that men of Judah had married foreign wives, he “rebuked them and called curses down on them… beat some of the men and pulled out their hair “(v. 25)!

Yep, he was a jerk if it was your hair that he was pulling out. The thing is, he had scriptural reasons for everything he did. He also had some anxiety about it. I say that because of these repeated statements:

  • “Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services” (v. 14).
  • “Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love” (v. 22b).
  • “Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites” (v. 29).
  • “Remember me with favor, my God” (v. 31b).

If you want to live a godly life, you will be forced to choose, at times, either (a) to say nothing in order to preserve your reputation and likability or (b) to speak up about sin and be thought a jerk. When Nehemiah asked God to remember him after these incidents, he is showing us the human side of doing what is right. He paid a price in his relationships in order to lead God’s people to obedience; but he did that because he believed in God’s word and trusted in God to reward him for doing the right thing.

Are you up to that? Have you been looking the other way when people sin around you so that people will like you? Nehemiah understood the pressure. I do, too; in fact, I wish I could say I was better and more consistent about showing the kind of moral leadership that Nehemiah showed. May the Lord help us all to be bolder in our stand for His commands.

[Probably not necessary to beat anyone or pull out his/her hair….]