Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, James 3

Read Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, James 3.

This devotional which is about James 3.

This chapter in scripture tackles one of the hardest sins to overcome–the sinful use of words. James himself acknowledged how hard it is to control what we say in verse 2 where he wrote, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” Again, in verse 8 he acknowledged that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

This passage about the tongue exists to explain James’ statement in verse 1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” That verse told us teachers in the church will be held to greater accountability by God for how we live our lives. It warns anyone thinking about teaching about the extra layer of accountability God will hold teachers to. Verse 2 gives one of the major ways in which God will evaluate our lives and our teaching. If we teach God’s truth but don’t have a tamed tongue, we will answer to God for that.

Teachers will be held to greater accountability because a person’s words reflect what is in his heart. Jesus said that in Luke 6:45.

So if God changes hearts, that then changes lives. Therefore, how a person speaks to other people is one of the clearest evidences of the growth (or lack of growth) in the Christian life. That’s what we see here James 3:2-18. Verses 3-6 describe how very large things (horses in verse 3, ships in verse 4) can be controlled by something very small. Likewise, the tongue is very small but has power to do great damage (vv. 5-6). Despite humanity’s ability to tame all kinds of animals, no man or woman has the power to tame the tongue (vv. 7-8); only God can do that (v.v 13-18).

We’ve all been hurt by the words of others and each of us has hurt others with things that we’ve said. Let’s not dwell on that today; instead, let’s focus on this thought in verse 18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” This verse is connected to the idea of the power of the tongue. When God’s truth makes us wise (vv. 13, 17), we seek to become peacemakers with our words.

Have you learned how to use words to make peace with others in your life? Who in your life do you need to talk with to make peace, as God wants?

Or, do you know people who are in conflict with one another? Could you use God’s wisdom and good words to help solve that conflict? These are good ways to put today’s truth into practice in your life today.

Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, James 2

Read Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, James 2.

This devotional is about James 2:12-13.

This passage is about the sin of favoritism (v. 1). Favoritism is a recurring problem that every church–meaning most Christians–will battle in our minds and hearts. Maybe we’re less overt than the people described in verses 2-3, but we all tend to gravitate toward people who look like us or seem like us. And, we all tend to be wary of people who look or seem different. 

At the end of this paragraph on favoritism, James commands us to “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (v. 12). This verse reminds us that we will all give account to God for our lives. If we have been truly saved by Jesus, we will not be condemned to experience God’s wrath on that day of judgment.

But, as Christians, we will give account to the Lord for how we’ve lived. James tells us to keep that in mind when he says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged…” (v. 12a). That means we will answer to the Lord for our generosity–or lack of it–toward the poor. We will answer to him for any racist words or prejudiced actions toward other people. 

God’s law is our guide in these and every area of Christian obedience. James already referenced “the royal law… love your neighbor as yourself” in verse 8. Here in verse 12 he says that the law “gives freedom.” That’s not usually the way we think about laws. Laws, as we think of them, restrict our freedom. And that’s the way they act and feel to us before we become followers of Christ.

But once Christ comes into our lives, the Holy Spirit and the word of God go to work on our minds and our hearts. God uses his word to turn us from hating God’s law to seeing it as our pathway to holy living. David experienced this and sang about it throughout Psalm 119. Verses 97-98 give us just one example of this: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies.”

Do you love God’s word–even the parts we call “the law”? Do you read these passages everyday looking for insight about how to change your life to conform to God’s ways? When you have a moral choice to make, or you are talking to another person, do you think about the fact that you will have to answer to God for the choice you make or how you treat that person?

Let God’s law be your guide to holiness. Remember that you will give an account to the Lord for how you live so speak and act like it (v. 12) and ask the Lord to help you do that more and more by his Holy Spirit as you grow in your faith and knowledge of his word.

Genesis 4, Ezra 4, Matthew 4

Read Genesis 4, Ezra 4, and Matthew 4. This devotional is about Matthew 4, especially verses 1-11.

Having been identified by God as His Son in Matthew 3:17, Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert. The purpose of this trip was, according to verse 1, “to be tempted by the devil.”

Apparently the devil was patient and waited until Jesus was physically depleted from having fasted for 40 days & nights (v. 2). Because Christ did not have a sin nature to appeal to, Satan waited until Jesus was starving, then tempted him to use his power as God to create food for himself from the abundant stones that lay around them (v. 3).

It is not immediately obvious that what Satan was tempting Christ to do was sinful. Didn’t Christ create all things? Aren’t all things created by him and for him (Col 1:16)?

Yes! So, would it be wicked for the son of God to sustain his human life by adapting what he created to serve him in his moment of physical need?

The answer is that it would not be a sin for Christ to change the stones into bread. He did miracles like this to feed others without being guilty of sin. No, it was not sinful for Christ to use his divine power to meet human needs.

But it would have been sinful for him to do for himself what other humans could not do for themselves. People die of starvation routinely somewhere in the world. It is part of the human condition. But, because it is part of the human condition, Christ, who was fully human, had to be subject to that aspect of the human condition, too.

In other words, it would be inappropriate and selfish for him to satisfy his human desires just because he had the divine power to do so. Because human salvation was dependent on Jesus living a fully human life, it would be wrong for him to make living as a human easier on himself by using his divine power to cheat.

Although you and I don’t have the power to satisfy our desires supernaturally, we do understand the temptation to live outside of the Father’s will. Many sins stem from a desire to exempt ourselves from the struggles of the human condition:

  • Those who steal are looking for an exemption from the command to work for a living.
  • Those who commit adultery are looking for an exemption from the marriage covenant they made before God.
  • Those who lie are looking to evade accountability about something or to make themselves look better than they really are.
In what ways are you tempted to sin and justify it by the extraordinary circumstances you are in? Remember that Christ has felt the pull of that temptation, too, so look to him and ask him for grace to do what you know is right. Then, do what is right because you trust God’s word more than your human desires (v. 4).

2 Chronicles 10, Zephaniah 2

Read 2 Chronicles 10 and Zephaniah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 10.

We’ve read before about the foolish decision of Rehoboam to treat God’s people harshly rather than lighten the burden that Solomon put on them. What is interesting in this passage is the statement, “this turn of events was from God” (v. 15b). That phrase indicates that God willed that Rehoboam would “not listen to the people” (v. 15a). In other words, although Rehoboam made the choice, using his “free” will to make a foolish decision, his foolish decision was part of God’s foreordained will.

The reason God willed this was described in the next phrase of verse 15, “…to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” That phrase reminds us that, while Solomon was still alive, God handed down judgment on him because of his idolatry. The judgment God handed down on him was a divided kingdom which was prophesied to Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s officials. You can read about all of this in 1 Kings 11-12.

So God ordained Rehoboam’s response in order to make his prophecy to Jeroboam come true. But how is that foreordination consistent with the idea of Rehoboam’s free will? Did Rehoboam really have a choice? If not, how could he be held accountable for the choice God made for him?

The answer to that question is that Rehoboam did have a choice and he made a choice to follow his sinful nature. The advice of his friends to be a difficult dictator (vv. 8-11) appealed to his pride and greed. He chose the decision he made because he was a sinner. His choice was consistent with his sinful nature.

God’s role in this was simply to allow him to do what he wanted to do. God could have been gracious to Rehoboam. He could have softened the king’s heart to listen to the wisdom of Solomon’s advisors (vv. 6-7) but, as the Sovereign Lord “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11), God let Rehoboam decide and act according to his sin nature. That decision accomplished the plan of God to divide the nation. It meant that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled by the free choice of King Rehoboam.

Free will does not mean “free” in the absolute sense. I am free to try to flap my arms and fly like a bird, but my choice to try that will not change my nature. By nature, I don’t have the capacity to carry out my choice to fly like a bird. Free will, then, means that I am free to choose according to my nature. As sinners, we choose what is selfish and wrong and destructive because of our sin nature. The choice was ours, it was freely made, so we are accountable for it.

When we make good choices, it is because God has been gracious to us. He brings wisdom or circumstances that change our thinking and he softens our hearts to receive that wisdom. The choice is still freely made but it is because of God’s grace.

So God’s sovereignty does not violate free will. Instead, God–according to his plan and purpose–either lets us choose according to our nature or he enlightens us by grace so that we make a better choice. This is how God accomplishes his will while still letting us exercise our wills. It is also why we are held accountable for the choices we make even though they were foreordained by God. Rehoboam did what he wanted; God just stood back and let him do it so that his sovereign plan would be accomplished.

The point for us is to ask for God’s grace to make good, wise, godly choices in life. Don’t let me do what I want to do, Lord! Instead, give me the grace to do what is right in your sight. This is the prayer of a godly person who wants to use God’s gift of free will in a godly way.

2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3

Read 2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3.

This devotional is about Nahum 3.

As we’ve read already in Nahum 1-2, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. Remember that God’s law–imprinted in our consciences and written in his word–is the standard by which we are judged. It is impossible to keep the law of God because of our sin natures but that does not exempt us from accountability to the Lord and judgment by the Lord for breaking his laws. What our inability to keep his laws requires is his grace. Christ secured that grace by taking our penalty on the cross and he forgives us by grace when we trust in Christ’s cross-work for us.

So the kings and people of Nineveh were responsible before God and guilty before him for all the nations they attacked without cause and the soldiers and civilians who were killed by their military aggression. Verse 1 here in Nahum 3 describes this city as “the city of blood.” Verses 2-3a vividly depict their powerful armies and verse 3b detailed the results of their attacks: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses…” Verses 5-19 warn this wicked city and her king (v. 18) of God’s impending humiliation (vv. 4-7) and defeat of Nineveh. The prosperity that the Assyrians enjoyed at that moment would be stripped from them like locusts decimating a farm (vv. 16-17).

Warfare and tyranny run through the history of humanity. As “civilization” has advanced, technology has improved our lives and, simultaneously, made the killing and destruction of war more efficient and massive.

We should consider how our country wages war. Although we do not take over countries and enslave them the way that the Assyrians did, it is my opinion that the American presidents are far too quick to drop bombs on and send troops into other nations. Our leaders use military might to advance their political agendas. In the process, they have sacrificed too many American soldiers, too many soldiers from foreign lands who were forced into service by their government or merely wanted to defend their land against our invading armies, and too many civilians.

Passages like this one in Nahum call world leaders to be careful about waging war and to repent for wars that were and are unjust. As American citizens, we should do what we can to hold our leaders accountable for how recklessly and needlessly they wage war and provide weapons to foreign governments. God is watching; if he held Nineveh accountable for her unjust wars, what will he do to us?

1 Chronicles 26-27, Micah 4

Read 1 Chronicles 26-27 and Micah 4.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 26-27.

Sometimes you call a company to talk to a specific person but you don’t have that person’s extension number. If a real, live person answers the phone you can just ask to be connected. Frequently, however, you will get an automated response to your call. It will tell you to press 1 for this, press 2 for that, etc. One of the options is usually, “For a list of all extensions, press *” or # or one of the numbers. Then you can listen as, one by one, in alphabetical order, the name and extension of each employee of the company is read to you.[1]

This portion of scripture is like that directory of extensions. Starting back in 1 Chronicles 22, David began making preparations for Solomon to become king and build the temple. From chapter 23 through chapter 26 today, we’ve been reading lists of names of people who served in the Lord’s tabernacle in some way. Here in 1 Chronicles 27, we have …uh… chronicled for us the men who served as leaders in David’s army (vv. 1-15), the leaders of the tribes of Israel (vv. 16-24), and leaders in David’s administration (vv. 25-34). The impression this list makes is that David’s kingdom was large and well-organized. Each person who served was known by name and his role in the kingdom was documented. Notice just a few of these details:

  • There were royal storehouses (v. 25) and they were organized into districts, towns, villages, and watchtowers. Two men were responsible for these storehouses.
  • There were geographical assignments for certain things such as “the olive and sycamore-fig trees in the western foothills” (v. 28) and “the herds grazing in Sharon” (v. 29).
  • The king had men on his staff who were his confidant (Hushai) and counselors (Jonathan and Ahithophel (vv. 32-33)).
  • Within these administrative lists, there are indications that some of the men were especially skilled in their jobs. Among the gatekeepers of the tabernacle, some “were leaders in their father’s family because they were very capable men” (26:6). Others were described as “capable men with the strength to do the work” (26:8). Jonathan, David’s uncle was “a man of insight and a scribe” (v. 32). He sounds like exactly the right man for that role.

My point in all of this is that sometimes people complain about “organized religion.” There are some who believe there is virtue in being disorganized and loose with details and responsibilities. Many people dislike accountability even though they accepted responsibility for the results of an area. These lists of men and their responsibilities show us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God’s servants in worship and kingdom administration were highly organized and their responsibilities were clearly defined. Not many people love administration–I sure don’t–but administration serves a purpose: it enables people to glorify God by serving others consistently and reliably.

Where is your place in the administration of God’s work in our church? If you are a leader, are your people well-organized with clear roles and responsibilities? Could it be that one of the best ways you could serve the Lord right now is to put some effort into administration?


[1] If you don’t know what I’m talking about, call 734-434-4044 can press 2 after my automated voice answers the phone.

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 3, Ezekiel 34

Read 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?

1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 6

Read 1 Samuel 27 and Ezekiel 6.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 27.

It must have been discouraging and exhausting to live like a nomad in the desert constantly on the run from Saul. The logistics of living like that are hard to imagine. Verse 2 told us that David had 600 men with him and verse 3 records, “Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives….” So the number of people involved in David’s nomadic group was at least 1,200 and probably many more assuming that these families had children. It was a big job, I’m sure, finding food and water for these people day after day plus a suitable place to camp when they needed to move to maintain their security.

On top of the difficulty of living this way, Saul’s hunt for David left Israel at risk from her enemies. Back in 1 Samuel 23, the Philistines attacked Israel while Saul was out chasing David (23:27-28). Maybe their timing was fortunate or maybe they knew that Saul was preoccupied with David; either way, Israel was not ready to defend itself while the king and his army was out trying to kill the next man who would be king.

In light of all of this, David decided, according to verse 1 here in chapter 27, to try living with the Philistines again. Remember that he had come to Achish king of the Philistines back in 1 Samuel 21:10 but that time he was alone (21:1) and vulnerable. This time, here in 1 Samuel 27, he was traveling with a large group of fighting men and their families; furthermore, it was now known that Saul regarded him as an enemy (v. 12). Maybe you’ve heard the secular, military proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Achish felt it applied in this situation. So David and his men were given asylum first in the capital city of Gath (v. 4) and then a more private and comfortable distance from Achish in Ziklag (vv. 5-6). This move allowed these families to settle down and lead a more peaceful life because Saul did not go looking for David in Philistine territory (v. 4).

What did David and his men do during this year and four months living in Ziklag (vv. 6-7)? One thing they did was make Ziklag part of Israel (v. 6b). This town was located in the territory God had assigned to Judah but God’s people had not obeyed the Lord and taken control of it yet. Now, through David’s actions, they owned this place God had promised to them.

In addition to Ziklag, David and his army invaded other nations south of the promised land that God had told Israel to conquer, namely “the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites” (v. 8). Again, God had commanded Israel to attack and extinguish these people because of their sins against him. Although David was evasive with his reports to Achish about where he was fighting (v. 10), he and his men were doing what Israel’s army was supposed to be doing.

So David and his men were at risk from their true king Saul and, for their own safety and well-being, were temporarily subject to a king who did not know God. They were subordinate to ungodly, disobedient leaders yet they had the ability to do the will of God anyway by attacking Israel’s enemies.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you were accountable to an ungodly or maybe just an unwise leader and there was little you could do about it? Maybe you’re in that position now–you’re married to an unbelieving husband, have unbelieving parents, are trying to graduate from a school taught and run by unbelievers, or work a job under a foolish boss. What do you do? The answer is you do the will of God as much as possible. God’s commands provided the moral compass David and his men needed during this strange period in their lives. Let God’s word point you in the direction where you should go, too. Do what is moral and right and just in God’s sight with whatever freedom you have. Let the wisdom sayings of Proverbs help you do what will bring prosperity within the will of God. Put your hope in God and look for deliverance from that situation, but while you wait for the deliverance, do what you can to advance God’s interests and will.

1 Samuel 14, Jeremiah 51

Read 1 Samuel 14 and Jeremiah 51.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 14.

Although Saul was the king and was responsible for fighting Israel’s war, it was Jonathan who seemed to have the courage to keep taking on the Philistines. Yesterday in 1 Samuel 13 we read about Jonathan’s attack on Geba (13:3) and today we read about another attack of Jonathan on a Philistine outpost (vv. 1-14).

God was with Jonathan and even did sent a little earthquake to help him (v. 15), but Saul delayed joining the fight (vv. 16-19). When Saul and his men finally did join the fight, they won a great victory for Israel; however, Saul had foolishly caused the armies to take an oath not to eat until the battle was finished (v. 24). Although everyone knew that Jonathan had not heard Saul’s decree or taken the oath himself, Saul was determined to hold Jonathan accountable for breaking the terms of the oath by eating some of the honey he encountered (vv. 43-44). Only the direct intervention of the people saved Jonathan’s life from being taken foolishly and needlessly (v. 45). The wording of verse 45 is general, but the intent of the verse is that the rest of the army rallied to Jonathan’s cause. The phrase, “…As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground” in verse 45 is a threat against Saul. The army is telling Saul that they will fight against him to protect Jonathan’s life.

Israel avoided losing a great warrior, but this passage should cause us to consider how great of an impact a foolish, snap decision can be. When we create arbitrary rules that serve no purpose or ruthlessly enforce them without any regard to the consequences, we are acting like Saul did here in 1 Samuel 14. The stakes and the potential impact on us are not as high as they were for Jonathan and Saul, but the principle remains the same. A godly leader does not decide things impetuously or foolishly. If he does make a foolish decision, he will not enforce it without thinking. The passage shows us the effect that God’s rejection of Saul in 1 Samuel 13 was beginning to have on his ministry as king. Saul, the once courageous leader that Israel had began to become a tentative follower when it came to doing God’s will (vv. 12b, 15-19).

How is your leadership today? Are you moving forward when God’s will is clear? Are you careful about the decisions you make, thinking carefully about the possible consequences and outcomes?

Judges 14, Jeremiah 27

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 14 and Jeremiah 27.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 27.

God commanded his prophets do some strange things at times. These strange things had a point, however, which was to deliver God’s truth in vivid, memorable ways. Here in Jeremiah 27, the prophet was commanded to take the yoke that oxen would wear and put it on his own neck. (v. 2). People used these yokes to get animals to submit to them and plow their fields. The yoke, then, is a symbol of submission. God told the prophet to use this visual aid to teach people that they should just go ahead and submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. It would be easier for everyone and cost many fewer human lives (v. 8) than trying to defeat Nebuchadnezzar outside the will of God (vv. 5-7).

This visual aid is unusual but so was the audience for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God told him to spread this message to “the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah” (v. 3). Most of the time God’s prophets were sent to his people, Israel and Judah. This time God sent his word from the prophet to several nations. That wasn’t unheard of but it was unusual.

The kings of these pagan lands had their own gods so I wonder if they would think it strange that the God of Israel would try to tell them what to do. God anticipated that objection and affirmed his Sovereign right because he is the Creator: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (v. 5).

Other nations have their gods but their gods are fake. Only Israel’s God–our God–is the true God. Because he created everything, he has the right to rule everyone and require everyone’s obedience. Keep this in mind when unbelievers tell you that they have their own religion or that they don’t believe the Bible so it is not important what the Bible says. These are attempts to evade their accountability to God. But because God is Creator, they are accountable to him. Indeed, everyone on earth will stand before God and answer to him whether they submitted to his word or not.

Every person who ever lived is responsible to obey God’s word. Unbelievers are not off the hook because of their unbelief; to the contrary, their unbelief is one of many ways in which they live in rebellion to the true God. Unbelievers are responsible to obey God but they are not capable of obeying him.

Neither are we.

That is why we needed Christ to come into the world. He obeyed God for us (we call this his “active obedience”) and to die for our sins (this is his “passive obedience”). Unbelievers don’t get out of accountability by denying God or his word; they avoid God’s judgment by receiving his grace.

Judges 4, Jeremiah 17

Read Judges 4 and Jeremiah 17.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 17.

In this chapter, Jeremiah continued declaring God’s coming judgment on Judah (vv. 3-4, 27). In this chapter, God addressed the root problem which was a heart hardened against God. We saw this in verse 1 which said that Judah’s sin was “engraved with an iron tool… on the tablets of their hearts.” Verse 5 pronounced a curse on them both for trusting “in man” but also for a “heart [that] turns away from the LORD.”

So, God’s people turned to idols and rejected God because they had sinful hearts. As God spoke to them through his law and his prophets, they hardened their hearts to his word like a callous hardens your skin when a shovel or a rake beats against it. The result God promised was that their lives would dry up. Their withering joy and prosperity was a sharp contrast to “the one who trusts in the LORD.” That person is well watered (v. 8a) and “never fails to bear fruit.”

Verse 9 is one of the best known verses in Jeremiah. If you went to AWANA as a child or have ever used any kind of verse memory program, you’re probably familiar with this verse, Jeremiah 17:9. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The deceitfulness of our hearts leads us into sin by telling us that our sin isn’t that bad or that some excuse or circumstance gives us an exception to do what God commands us not to do. The heart also deceives us by telling us that we are God-fearing, God-honoring people even while we live in sinful ways.

Verse 9 also tells us that our deceitful hearts are “beyond cure.” That informs us that we will revert to sin, no matter how much we swear and resolve to change our ways and do better. No amount of therapy, willpower, self-help literature, or human accountability can change the heart. If they succeed in changing our actions, it is only temporary or because we’ve replaced one sin with another.

The final phrase of verse 9 says, “Who can understand it?” That question is answered by verse 10, “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind….” God knows your heart and mine better than you do or I do. But what’s in your heart will eventually show itself in what you do. That’s why the last phrase of verse 10 says, “…to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” God knows our hearts but he judges our actions? Why? Because actions proceed from the heart.

Verse 11 prophesied humiliation for those who sin but verses 12-13 offer hope to those who will receive it. God’s temple (“our sanctuary”) is his “glorious throne,” place to bow ourselves in worship before him. In this age, we come to God’s throne spiritually through prayer (Heb 4:16) but, like God’s people in the Old Testament, we come humbly to him, putting our hope in him (v. 13) and crying out for his healing (v. 14).

God is the answer to every spiritual problem you have. And that answer is delivered to us when we pray.

So…

  • Do you have a recurring sin problem? Cry out to God and believe the promise of verse 14, “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed.”
  • Is your spiritual life dry? Remind yourself that God is “the spring of living water” (v. 13e).
  • Is your faith weak? Go to God in prayer saying, “…save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
  • Are you afraid of God’s judgment? Say to the Lord what verse 17 says, “Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster.”

I’ll say it again: God is the answer to every spiritual problem you have. Pray to him regularly until he answers with what you need.