2 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 26

Read 2 Samuel 19 and Ezekiel 26.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 26.

Tyre was an amazing place. Located on the coast, the people who lived there excelled in sailing the Mediterranean Sea (v. 17d). As a result, the inhabitants were both productive fishermen and explorers of other areas that boarded the sea. Their explorations of these areas allowed them to trade with the people who lived in these other places, so Tyre became a strategic port for shipping goods by water to and from the Middle East. The location of the city, then, set it up naturally for prosperity.

The city prospered even more due to an economic alliance the king of Tyre formed with David (2 Sam 5:11) and Solomon (1 Ki 5:1). Tyre benefited from the wealth God gave to David and Solomon because they were able to supply materials and services that the growing kingdom of Israel needed. Without necessarily realizing it, the people of Tyre were experiencing one of the promised results of God’s covenant with Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen 12:3).

As Israel and Judah gave themselves to idolatry, they declined in power just as God said they would. According to this chapter of scripture, Ezekiel 26, the people of Tyre looked at the defeat and destruction of Jerusalem as an opportunity to prosper even more. Verse 2 says, “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper….” They did not mourn the defeat of God’s people or recognize how the prosperity of Judah produced prosperity for them, too. Nor did they realize that Nebuchadnezzar’s growing power would be a threat to their way of life as well. Because of these thing, God prophesied through Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar (v. 7) and “many nations” would attack Tyre and destroy it.

Although the location of Tyre remained desirable, it never regained its former power and prosperity because its people tried to exploit Jerusalem when it was defeated. God does not look favorably on those who abuse his people or on anyone who tries to take advantage of the vulnerability of others. There may be short term gain to preying on the weakness of others but God sees and he promises justice. As Christians, we are called to help those who are weak, to have compassion on those who are vulnerable and to defend and assist them as we have opportunity.

Do you notice and seek to assist others who are in need? Is there someone within reach of you who could use your assistance today?

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

Joshua 5:1-6:5, Isaiah 65

Read Joshua 5:1-6:5 and Isaiah 65.

This devotional is about Joshua 5:13-14.

Israel had just entered the Promised Land. It is time for the current generation to take the covenant sign of Abraham (vv. 2-9). This “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (v. 9a) separating them forever from the uncircumcised Egyptians as a people belonging to God. They also celebrated the Passover (vv. 10-11) which also identified them with God’s deliverance from Egypt.

Then, in verse 13, we are told that “Joshua was near Jericho.” What was he doing there? A little scouting, perhaps? We don’t know but we do know that he had battle on this mind. God had already revealed that this would be the first city attacked in the Promised Land; now God revealed to Joshua the method Israel would use to win (vv. 2-5). Before he knew he was talking to the Lord, Joshua asked the soldier in front of him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (v. 13) The Lord’s answer is quite curious: “Neither” (v. 14 a).

Note something important here: the “commander of the army of the LORD” was Christ himself. Theologians call this a “theophany” or a “Christophany”–an appearance of Christ before he was born into the world as the man named Jesus.

We know that this “commander of the army” is God because “Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence” (v. 14), something mere angels never allowed. We also know this is God because verse 15 says, “The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” Again, mere angels–powerful and wonderful though they are–do not deserve worship and veneration; only God himself does.

And, we know this is Christ, not the Father or the Holy Spirit because Christ is “the Word”–the person of God who communicates to humanity. We also know that it is Christ because he is “the commander of the army of the LORD” which the book of Revelation reveals to be Jesus (see Revelation 19:11-16).

Why would the Lord say that he was on “neither” side in verse 14? These were God’s chosen people, after all. They were the recipients of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, God’s Law, and the promises of God’s blessing. This was their land which God had promised them! How could the LORD then say that he was not on their side?

The answer is that God is on his own side and Israel benefited from being on his side by grace. Their success in taking the land was dependent on them living obediently to God’s commands, starting with the command to attack Jericho as Christ directed them to in chapter 6:2-5. God would not fight for them if they tried to attack using conventional means; only the crazy form of “attack” described in 6:1-5 would do because only that method would show the supernatural power of God.

“Is God on our side?” is really the wrong question. The question is, “Are we on God’s side?” Our success at anything in this life can come only by the grace of God, his unearned favor. Also “success” only matters as God defines it, not anyone else.

Think about this the next time you sing or hear, “God bless America.” Of course we want God to bless America but is America blessing God? That’s using the word “blessing” in two different ways, I grant you. The first, “God bless America” is a petition for God’s favor on America (“God shed his grace on thee” and all that). My formulation, “Is America blessing God” is using the word “blessing” in the sense of “thanking and praising God through faith and obedience.”

Are you on the Lord’s side?

Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 57

Read Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

It is easy to read the Old Testament and come to some false conclusions. Two false conclusions that come to mind are (1) that Israel had the capability to keep the law of God and that (2) God would be pleased with them if they kept his law.

False conclusion number 2 would be true but it is impossible because of conclusion number 1. Israel had no chance of enjoying all the benefits God promised in his covenant because Israel was a nation made up of sinners. Their obedience to his Word, therefore, would only ever be partial and half-hearted. Because God is perfect and demands perfection, the sins of the people–no matter how minor they seem to us–would always render them guilty before their holy God. We can see from Israel’s history that God did bless them when, in a general sense as a nation, they kept his commands not to worship idols or commit murder, or oppress the poor. But each individual person would be guilty of things like coveting his/her neighbor’s stuff.

So all of these laws in the Old Testament were designed to show God’s people and anyone else who was paying attention that God is holy and therefore, people are always guilty before him. God used the law to teach this so that people would come before him genuinely seeking his forgiveness and his help to be obedient to his word.

Verse 6 here in Deuteronomy 30 describes the spiritual work that needed to happen for people to truly worship and follow him. That verse says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Circumcision, of course, was the covenant mark of the Abrahamic covenant. Each boy who was circumcised was, by that act, showing that they belonged God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. When verse 6 says that “God will circumcise your hearts” Moses is describing the spiritual act of belonging to God, being marked as a genuine believer of God. This is what we would call in the New Testament “regeneration,” the work of the Holy Spirit that makes someone a child of God.

There are important differences between Israel and the church but it is important to understand that God’s people have always needed his grace through faith and the regenerating work of the Spirit in order to be his people from the heart, not just in name only. What I’m saying is that God’s people–Old or New Testament–have always needed God to save them, to act on our behalf and make us his by the work of the Spirit. Believers in every age have all been saved by the grace of God and never by religious rituals or meritorious good works.

Are you trusting in your religious rituals or are you trusting in the grace of God alone for your salvation?

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 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.