2 Kings 14, Micah 7, John 8

Read 2 Kings 14, Micah 7, and John 8.

This devotional is about Micah 7.

Unbelievers who read the Old Testament commonly complain that “the God of the Old Testament” is a God of anger, wrath, and vengeance. Of course he is, because he is a holy God and there is a mountain of wickedness in this world where we live.

But anger, wrath, and vengeance are not even close to being a full description of God–whether in the Old Testament or New. The false gods that nations outside of Israel worshipped were far more angry and vindictive than the Old Testament’s revelation of Israel’s God. Israel’s God promised peace, love, and prosperity for obedience but the idols of this world demand appeasement only. In other words, people worshipped these gods not out of love and thanks but in fear of the negative consequences they promised to bring. 

Even today where most “gods” have been replaced by abstract spiritual forces like the concept of karma, people act in fear (“karma is a [bleep]!”) not out of thanks and love. Although Micah, here in chapter 7, described God’s judgment falling on Israel, he re-affirmed the important promises of God’s love to his now-forsaken people: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago” (vv. 18-20).

It is so important to remember these truths, especially when we suffer under the consequences of our own sin or fall under the discipline of the Lord. His promise of love and forgiveness is waiting for us. Will we turn in faith to claim these promises or wallow in our own self-pity and doubt?

2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, John 3

Read 2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, and John 3.

This devotional is about Jonah 4.

Have you ever allowed someone to talk you into doing something you really didn’t want to do? My guess is that most of us have. We all are reluctant to do certain things. Either we don’t want to do the activity itself or we are unsure, skeptical even, if the activity will be fun or productive or helpful or produce whatever result it promises.

We also may be reluctant because we see real risks. We’ve all had that sinking feeling that happens when we are reluctant to do something, do it anyway, then see that the very thing we feared is happening.

Jonah could relate. The people of Nineveh were wicked people, which is why Jonah hated them and resisted coming to preach to them in the first place back in Jonah 1. When he did reluctantly arrive in Ninevah, Jonah came preaching God’s judgment and offering no grace, as we saw yesterday.

Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh because they were cruel to people they conquered and captured in war. Maybe some of Jonah’s friends or relatives had been tortured by them or maybe he’d just heard enough reports to know how violent they were. Regardless of the specific reasons why, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He did not want to preach to the people who lived in Nineveh. He did not want to see them respond well to his message. He did not want the king to repent in sackcloth and sit in dirt as he did in Jonah 3:6. Jonah was willing to die—“throw me into the sea“ (1:12)—rather than preach to the people of Nineveh. But God, in his inimitable way, changed Jonah’s mind and persuaded him to go to Nineveh–against his will–and speak against their sins.

Our reading today tells us why Jonah did what he did in chapter 1 and chapter 3. He went the opposite direction from Nineveh in chapter 1 and preached judgment without grace in chapter 3 because he was afraid the Lord would forgive the Assyrians of Nineveh: “He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’” (v. 2). In our language, Jonah was saying, “I knew it! I knew this would happen!” If you’ve ever regretted letting someone talk you into something, you know the feeling. But in Jonah’s case, it was the positive result that he feared. He did not want to preach to the people of Nineveh lest they repent and avoid God’s judgment. When exactly what he feared happened, his hatred for the Assyrian people turned into anger at God himself.

God dealt with Jonah by confronting his anger (v. 4, 9). He asked Jonah whether he had any right to be angry in verse 4. Jonah ignored God’s question and went outside the city to see if God’s judgment would fall on them despite their repentance (v. 5a). God was gracious to Jonah, giving him a plant to provide him shade (v. 5b-6). Then God took away the shade (v. 7) and turned up the heat (literally) on Jonah (v. 8). The shade and the heat were an object lesson about God’s grace. Jonah didn’t deserve or earn the shade, so he had no reason to be proud when he had the shade or angry when it was taken away.

After this object lesson, God asked Jonah again if he was angry (v. 9a); this time he got the answer–of course I’m angry (v. 9b). God then used this object lesson to show how self-centered Jonah was. He was concerned about the plant, but not about the vast number of children (“who cannot tell their right hand from their left”) and animals who would be lost if Nineveh were destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah style.

Verse 11 of our passage is the point of this entire book of Jonah. It was written to bring us face to face with our own poor priorities. We care passionately about things that do not matter at all and can be indifferent (or worse) toward people. This happens when we stop seeing people for what they are–eternal souls made in the image of God but bound as we once were by sin natures that distort everything.

When we start to think of people not as individuals but as groups–atheists, Scientologists, Hindus, or whatever–we might lose sight of the fact that they are people. People have strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, beliefs and doubts, parents and children. Generation after generation can be lost to the gospel if we assume that entire groups of people won’t listen to us, don’t care about God, are too proud to repent, or too sinful to desire forgiveness.

We notice when the comforts of life are gone and we regret their loss just as Jonah regretting losing his shade. But do we ever consider the eternal destiny of people in groups, especially people in groups we are inclined to dislike and avoid?

May God give us greater compassion for people and less dislike for people in groups we fear or dislike.

2 Samuel 24, Hosea 2, Proverbs 23:1-18

Read 2 Samuel 24, Hosea 2, Proverbs 23:1-18.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 24.

Of all the disturbing things recorded about David’s life, 2 Samuel 24 is one of the tougher ones. Verse 1 tells us that “the anger of the Lord burned against Israel.” God is not angry by nature; his anger is a righteous response to sin. The problem is that we are not told what sin(s) Israel did that caused God to become angry in this instance. Since idols were the biggest problem during the era of Judges, that might be the reason but we just are not told. The fact that God was said to be angry with Israel without a stated reason might make you wonder if he was angry for no reason at all. That’s the first disturbing aspect of this passage.

A second issue comes from the phrase, also in verse 1, “…he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.’” This sounds like God commanded David to take the census; however, in verse 10 David said, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done….” So how could God command David to do something that was sinful for David to do?

The answer is that God did not directly command David to take the census; instead, verse 1 says that God “incited him.” This word means to “suggest” in the original Hebrew, so it isn’t a direct command. Still, would God suggest that anyone do something sinful?

Of course not.

Yet sometimes God lets us go our own way in order to accomplish something he had decided to do. The phrase does not mean that God directly tempted David or created evil in David’s heart. Instead, God allowed David to be tempted and to fall into that temptations.

The point of the census was to count the number of available fighting men. That was a sin because a large army may become an expression of pride for the leader. By knowing exactly how large his army was, David could feel very proud about himself as a leader. And pride is a sin that beats in every human heart; unrestrained by the Holy Spirit, people are highly susceptible to pride.

Instead of putting his confidence in God, David would be tempted to trust his large, highly experienced army. Since pride is inherent in the fallen hearts of humanity, God did not have to tempt David directly. All God had to do was remove the restraints on David’s life and let him do what he wanted.

I believe that is what happened in this passage. David’s choice to count the troops was his sin because of the attitude of pride that prompted it. Don’t let pride become a tool for Satan in your life; maintain a humble spirit and cry out to God daily for his blessings as you go about your daily life.

1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, Psalms 105-107

Read 1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, and Psalms 105-107.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 25.

David was an emotional guy. That is a good thing; we have the incredible gift of so many Psalms that came from the deep feeling he had in his walk with God. Being corrupted by depravity means, however, that most human strengths can also be human weaknesses. In the hands of God, our strengths are great tools for his glory; when in the grasp of our sinful nature, our strengths can do great damage to ourselves and others.

Here in 1 Samuel 25, David asks Nabal, a wealthy rancher, for food (vv. 2-8). David’s request was sent respectfully. David started his message with a friendly greeting (vv. 4-6). He pointed out that Nabal’s sheep had not been forcibly taken by David’s men even though they were hungry and had the opportunity (vv. 7-8a). David did not make demands, but rather asked for “whatever you can find for them” (v. 8b).

Nabal, on the other hand, acted according to his nature (v. 3c) and was, therefore, rude and selfish in his response (vv. 10-11). 

David, emotional guy that he was, reacted with anger to Nabal’s response and was ready to be the warrior that he was (vv. 12-13). David’s response was completely unjustified; Nabal should have been generous to David, but he was under no moral or legal obligation to give David anything. David’s intention to respond with violence to Nabal shows that he was acting out of his sinful nature, not in wisdom, self-control, or in reverence to God.

Fortunately, there were two people who were able to think clearly, rationally, and strategically in this situation.

The first person to act appropriately was an unnamed servant of Nabal who knew all the relevant information about the situation and knew who to contact about the impending threat (vv. 14-17).

The other person who did well was Nabal’s wife Abigail. As soon as she heard what was going on, she quickly formulated and executed a plan. She prepared food for David and his men and went on the road to meet David before he brought violence to her house (vv. 18-22). Where her husband was brash and rude, she was apologetic and reverent (vv. 23-25). Although she may have said more about her husband than she should have (v. 25), she was acting in his best interests. The things she said about Nabal in verse 25 demonstrate her frustration. It must have been very difficult to be married to someone who was as unkind, self-centered, and sinful as Nabal was. Yet Abigail was not defecting from his team and trying to join David’s instead. Although she seems to have dropped a hint of her interest in David (see v. 31b), everything she did in this passage is righteous. It was righteous of her to protect her husband and their household from the danger his foolishness was bringing. It was righteous of her to see what God was doing in David’s life and to dissuade him from sinning against God in a way that would hurt him later (vv. 26, 28-31a). It was righteous of her, having saved her family, to tell her husband what she had done and not keep it secret from him (v. 37). No wonder David wanted to marry her once she became a widow; not only was she “intelligent and beautiful” (v. 3) she was faithful to her husband despite his foolishness and truly acted in his—their—best interest. Because she trusted God and acted righteously in a very tough situation, God brought justice into her life by punishing her husband and bringing her a spouse she could truly admire.

I wonder how many people would have acted this way? I wonder how many people would have just gotten themselves to safety and let David do what he wanted to do? I wonder how many would be tempted to defect to David’s army and overtly court David’s attention, feeling justified that Nabal deserved to get what was coming to him through David? I have talked to enough people with troubled marriages to know how hard it is to do what is right when your spouse does what is wrong. Yet the Lord’s will for his people is not to give up on one’s marriage, betray one’s spouse, or hope for God’s judgment so that you can have another chance at a better life. Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. Read that sentence again: Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. It impacts the lives of your children and the relationships they’ll have with their spouses and children, creating a legacy that, potentially, will replicate itself for generations. If you cultivate a good marriage, your spouse will be there for you when life goes sideways; in fact, he or she may bail you out of your own foolishness just as Abigail did for Nabal. What your spouse says about you and thinks of you may be the most accurate assessment of your life that anyone but God will ever have. Others may be impressed by your professional achievements and think you to be a great man or woman, but if your spouse thinks differently, what does that suggest about you? Wouldn’t it be wise to strive to be the spouse your spouse wants and needs? 

Nabal had so much wealth but apparently took the incredible wife he had for granted. It is easy to do that with any of God’s blessings. Yet for all of Nabal’s problems and failings, she was good and faithful to him until the very end. If you’re mentally comparing your spouse to Nabal after reading this, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Focus on being like Abigail. Do you have your spouse’s back, even when he or she does something foolish? If you have issues with your spouse, are you looking at things objectively or are you too focused on his or her flaws to see what a blessing, overall, he or she is to you? Seek to live like Abigail and ask God to build the same desire in your spouse. 

If you’re single, be wise about who you date. Someone said, “Every date is a potential mate” and that’s a very good, wise way to look at it. If you can’t see yourself married to the person you’re dating, or know that you shouldn’t marry him/her, those are clear signs that you shouldn’t be dating that person. Abigail, likely, had no choice but to marry Nabal with arranged marriages being what they were. You have the freedom to choose your spouse, so look for someone who will bring the same blessing into your life through wisdom, loyalty, and righteousness.

1 Samuel 18, Ezekiel 29, Philippians 1

Read 1 Samuel 18, Ezekiel 29, and Philippians 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 18.

First Samuel 18 presents us with a study in contrasts. Saul was king but David has been anointed his successor. Saul was jealous of David, but David was not jealous of Jonathan, even though Jonathan would be the natural human successor to Saul. David had the Spirit of God on his life; Saul has lost the Spirit’s anointing and was, instead, troubled by an evil spirit. Saul wanted to kill David but David was so humble that he did not consider himself worthy of marrying Saul’s daughter.

Remember that David had already been anointed king by Samuel and had received the anointing power of the Spirit that kings and judges received. There was inevitability about David’s becoming king and, as you would expect, he was ascending in the ranks of the military.

Remember that being king, at this point in Israel, was mostly about fighting battles. That’s what the Israelites said they wanted: “We want a king over us…  to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19b-20). So the fact that David “was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army” (18:5), and “…in everything he did he had great success” (18:14) and “…all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns” (18:16) showed how Samuel’s prophecy about David was becoming a reality.

Yet David showed no sense of entitlement. He knew that the kingdom will be his and he saw the fulfillment of that prophecy developing day after day, but he did not assassinate Saul, not even in self-defense (18:11) Also, Saul had promised his daughter to the man who defeated Goliath (17:25) so David was entitled to become Saul’s son-in-law. But David did not demand what was promised to him and even declined the opportunity to marry Saul’s daughter twice (18:18-19, 23) until he finally felt worthy to marry Michal after “skinning” a hundred Philistines (vv. 25-27).

If anyone could have felt entitled–SHOULD have felt entitled–it was David but all we see is humility, humility, humility. That humility was shown in service—fighting Saul’s battles even in far-flung places (v. 13) and playing the harp on demand whenever Saul wanted (v. 10). Why was David so humble and why did he live like a servant? Because he trusted the Lord and walked with him.

Entitlement is one of the most subtle sins that tries to seduce us. I know that the word “entitlement” does not appear in any sin lists in the Bible, but entitlement is simply one manifestation of pride.

An entitled person is one who thinks he deserves whatever he has now, gets in the present and future, and usually thinks he deserves even more. A person who feels entitled usually shows a (1) a lack of gratitude for the things he has and (2) anger about the things he is not getting. A disgruntled employee is often one who suffers from entitlement. Church conflicts are often caused when someone feels entitled. Bratty children and spousal unrest are often the result of entitlement.

The best antidote to entitlement is to realize that everything we have was given to us by God, so we should be grateful for what God gives and wait for what God has promised. If you are suffering from ingratitude and conflict, check your heart. Are you walking with God, thanking him for what he’s given you and seeking to serve him and his children? Or is your mind and heart focused on what you think you deserve that you are not getting?

An entitled person will never live up to his potential because he thinks he deserves things, so he won’t work hard to get them. Consequently, an entitled person is constantly disappointed.

We see that in Saul when the women were praising David more than Saul, the “mighty king” who was too cowardly to fight Goliath (16:6-8).

If you find yourself disappointed, you need to focus on what you’re not giving instead of what you aren’t getting. Maybe your disappointment, your anger, and your ingratitude are the poisonous fruits of self-entitled pride.

1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 3

Today read 1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, and Ephesians 3.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 16.

Ezekiel 16 contains a long allegory comparing Israel to a woman.

How would you feel about a girl that you (1) saved from death when she was an infant (vv. 1-5), (2) protected as a young woman (vv. 6-7), then (3) married, cared for, and honored when she was old enough to become your wife (vv. 8-14), but who craved the attention of other men and was an unfaithful wife (vv. 15-19) while killing the children you had with her by sacrificing them to idols (vv. 20-23)? I think you’d be pretty mad about that. 

This is how the Lord felt about Israel’s idolatry (v. 30). Although God had been incredibly gracious to Israel unlike any other nation on earth, the people of Israel were unthankful and unfaithful to him for generations. Ezekiel’s vivid allegory in this chapter is designed to appeal to your sense of justice. We may feel ashamed about our sins, but have we ever thought about how deeply they wound the heart of God? That’s what this passage is designed to make us feel. 

Yet all was not lost for Israel. The Lord was heartbroken, jealous, and enraged by her behavior, and was willing to allow her to suffer for her sins (vv. 35-58). Though he had biblical grounds to divorce her because she broke the terms of their covenant (v. 59), God would be loyal to the one he chose and would forgive her sins and re-establish his covenant with her (vv. 59-63). This is the incredible mercy of God; he is loyal to us when we are disloyal to him. He may allow the consequences of our sin to catch up with us, but he never completely drives us away; in fact, he sacrificed himself to make atonement for our sins (v. 63) and keeps his promises to us by grace.

Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, 2 Corinthians 4

Read Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, and 2 Corinthians 4.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 18.

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth.

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel invincible.

In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse the phrase, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” suggests that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” That explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure. Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them? Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of their rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”

This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understood, for the first time in his life, how God feels every time you or I or anyone else in humanity sins. He knew personally what it is like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and then be personally rejected despite that gracious offer.

Jeremiah knew, after the plot described in this chapter, what it was like to be righteous but have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness. God was so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross.

What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness. Only by his grace through our Lord Jesus Christ is that wrath turned away from me and everyone else who is in Christ.

But the anger Jeremiah felt at the plot against him and how it resembled God’s anger against all sinners is something we should keep in mind when we struggle with temptation. If we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 43, Proverbs 12:15-28.

This devotional is about Numbers 20.

It is hard to read about Moses’ life and not identify with him. He faced one challenge after another. At one time or another everyone was against him, including his own brother and sister. Yet, despite the challenges, he kept leading, kept praying for the people, kept faithfully doing what the Lord commanded him to do.

Here in Numbers 20, he faced another crisis, a lack of water. It was a familiar crisis, because it had happened before as God’s people wandered around in the desert. Of course the people complained about it (vv. 2-5) and Moses, as he did so often in the past, went to God in prayer looking for the answer (v. 6) this time with his prayer-partner Aaron. God commanded Moses to “take the staff” (v. 8) which he had once used to strike a rock and bring forth water. This time, however, the instruction was to “speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (v. 8).

On his way to do what the Lord commanded (v. 9), the pressure of all this grumbling may have finally gotten to him. He and Aaron gathered the people (v. 10a), but then Moses made a speech. He called the people “rebels” and asked “must we bring you water out of this rock?” Hopefully God was included in that “we” but that’s far from certain because Moses’s next act was not to obey God by speaking to the rock as he had been instructed. Instead, Moses smacked the rock twice with his staff (v. 11). God graciously provided the water, but Moses and Aaron were judged for Moses’ disobedience (v. 12).

What caused Moses to disobey? God’s rebuke gives the answer. Moses disobeyed God “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites” (v. 12b). It was a lack of faith in that moment—not a lack of faith in God to provide the water, but the lack of faith to demonstrate the holiness of God to the people.

Had Moses obeyed God’s command to speak to the rock, God would have been exalted and revered when the rock miraculously made water. But by striking the stone with his rod, Moses was acting in anger, not in faith.

In the ministry, it is hard not to get frustrated and even angry with people when they disobey God’s word. It’s also hard not to become angry as a parent when our kids disobey. But, when we correct someone who is disobedient, are we concerned about them learning the holiness of God or are we mad because they’ve challenged our authority, exhausted our patience, or just disrespected us?

Any of these negative responses is sinful because they don’t come from a sanctified desire to show those we lead–and the world–the greatness of God. When we act in anger toward a godly purpose, we’re not acting in faith; rather, we’re trying to coerce obedience through anger or manipulation.

Anger, coercion, and manipulation do not honor God. When we act in these non-faith-filled ways, we should expect God to convict or discipline us. God wants to purge us of our disobedient ways and teach us how to lead in faith rather than from anger, fear, or any other motivation.

Have you been dealing with someone in your life out of anger? Have you been trying to get someone to do right by doing wrong in disobedience to God’s commands? Ask the Lord for faith to trust him as you speak truth in love rather than speaking truth in anger. Then watch to see if God chooses to work through you.

Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, Luke 7

Read Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, and Luke 7.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 1.

Like the earth revolves around the sun, your life revolves around something. The center of your life is what you think about day and night. It is the thing that gives you something to live for, the thing that provides you with direction when you have a decision to make. The center of your life is the thing that defines you. It is the word you would put in the blank of this sentence: “I am a ________________.”

Lots of people, though, couldn’t put a word they like into that blank. It might be because they don’t really know what their center is or, possibly, because they don’t like the answer.

Here’s my question: What is your “one thing”? What is your center? What is the thing that guides you, that provides meaning for you and helps you make decisions in life?

Answer this question: “What is my center?”

If you have trouble answering that question, here are some questions that might help you:

  • What do you spend money on without worrying about the cost?
  • What would you miss the most if it were suddenly gone from your life?
  • What would you avoid missing if you had a conflict in life? In other words, if you had to miss a meal or miss work (even if there were consequences) or miss sleep in order to do something, what would that thing be?

If you’re having a hard time answering the question, “What is my center?” then consider the choices you make in life. The center of your life is revealed by the choices you make in life.

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes had everything a man could want in life:

  • Wealth? According to a webpage I read once that is now gone, Solomon’s peak net worth was $2.2 trillion in today’s money. That makes him the fifth wealthiest man in human history.
  • Women? He had 1000 women (700 wives and 300 concubines).
  • Career success? He was king of his country and faced no serious threats to his kingdom which expanded constantly during his reign.
  • Smarts? Verse 16 says that he “experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”

Despite all these things, he felt that his life was meaningless (v. 2). Verses 3-11 describe how completely lacking in permanence everything in life is. No matter how great you are, coming generations will barely think about you at all (v. 11).

We may think our lives are centered on pleasure or achievement, or insight or something else, but what really stands at the center of most people’s lives is self.

In other words, most of the time we are self-centered.

Self-centeredness is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is seeking things for myself by keeping them from others. Self-centeredness means measuring things by myself rather than by an objective standard. A self-centered person does what is pleasurable whether it is right or wrong. The morality of a thing is defined by what you want rather than by an objective standard of morality. A self-centered person seeks to achieve not to benefit humanity but to get credit for greatness from humanity. A self-centered person seeks insight in life for the ego boost that comes from having more insight than anyone else.

A self-centered person may be very generous to the poor or to others. He may be kind and considerate. He may show an interest in other people. But, the self-centered person does these things for self-centered reasons. He is generous, kind, considerate, etc. because he wants to be liked, because he wants attention or because he wants to manipulate other people into doing his will. Self-centeredness is not always easy to see in ourselves or in. others.

Many negative feelings rise from self-centeredness.

Someone who is angry feels offended because he or she did not get what they feel they deserve—respect, admiration, love, etc. The same is true, often, of those who have deep seated bitterness. They are bitter about not getting what they thought or expected out of life. Fear or anxiety can come from realizing that the things someone has could be taken or lost. That person is fearful because he cannot bear the thought of losing it. Depression can come from wanting something that you cannot obtain or that doesn’t satisfy you when you do obtain it. 

The rest of this book of Ecclesiastes will chronicle Solomon’s attempt to find a meaningful, satisfying, purposeful center for his life. Here’s a spoiler, though: The only thing worth centering your life on is God.

Did this devotional help you realize how self-centered you are? Did it help you see why you are disappointed, mad, bitter, fearful, or depressed?

What would your life look like if it were truly centered on God–not as the “correct Christian answer” to a question about centeredness but truly in your thoughts and actions?

We’ll look at this more in future chapters of Ecclesiastes but, for today, the application is to repent and ask God to lift your self-centeredness and to teach you to focus your life on him.

2 Kings 22, Joel 1

Read 2 Kings 22 and Joel 1.

This devotional is about Joel 1.

The prophet Joel tells us little about himself and it is difficult to know from his prophecy when exactly he lived and spoke the Lord’s word. It seems likely that Joel ministered after God’s people returned to the land under Cyrus, king of Persia. All of the prophecies about the Northern Kingdom’s defeat to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom’s exile by the Babylonians had been fulfilled. So, too, had God’s promise to return his people to the promised land.

Even though the exiles were over, God’s people were not immune from problems and suffering. Joel 1 describes a different kind of disaster than the military defeats the other prophets foretold. In verses 2-4 we are told that locusts had invaded the land and devastated the crops. Wave after wave (v. 4) of locusts came until there was no harvest left. This left God’s people in dire economic circumstances. They had no grain, vegetables or fruit to eat and none to sell (v. 11). They still had animals, but what would they eat (v. 13)? In a farming-based economy, this would mean starvation and economic ruin for the whole nation.

Joel calls to the leaders of the land–the elders (v. 2) and priests (v. 13) to turn to God at this time (v. 19). This is one human resopnse to a problem like this; the other is to reject God, to curse him and die as Job’s wife counseled him to do in another time and place.

What is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to you? Losing a war against a world power like Israel did to Assyria and Judah did to Babylon would be devastating. None of us reading this have experienced anything like that, thankfully.

But have you faced an economic wipeout–bankruptcy, unempoloyment, or something else? Did it bring you before the face of God in prayer, pleading for his help or did it make you bitter against him, turning away from him in anger?

God allows many kinds of trials into our lives (James 1:2-12). They are all designed to reveal whether we really love and trust him or if we say and act as if we love and trust him while things are good. In other words, trials reveal who the true believers are and who thinks they are a believer when they are not.

But trials also refine the faith of true believers. They show us where our faith in God is weak and teach us to fully depend on him and not on ourselves so much. If you’re experiencing any kind of trial right now, how is your response to it? Does Joel’s call to come before the Lord speak to you about your need to lean on the Lord more than ever at this time?

2 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 23

Read 2 Samuel 16 and Ezekiel 23.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 23.

Societies do not look kindly on prostitutes. Some women are forced into prostitution against their will due to economic hardship or threats of violence or through slavery. If we knew their stories, we might look on them more kindly on these women and put more shame on the men who hire them. The reasons, however, do not justify prostitution and it is wicked in God’s sight.

In this chapter God compared Israel, represented by Samaria (v. 4d), and Judah, represented by Jerusalem (v. 4d) as prostitutes. Their idolatry is compared to prostitution in the sense that they desired and gave themselves to other gods instead of to the God of their covenant (v. 49). God explained and defended the judgment that Israel received from the Assyrians and the judgment that would come to the Judeans as the consequences of their unfaithfulness to him. The logic of this passage goes like this: “You want to give yourself to the gods of the Assyrians? I’ll marry you to the Assyrians in every way.”

The purpose of this passage is to teach us to empathize with God. God loves his people and married himself to them by a covenant. Instead of wanting God as much as god wanted them, Israel and Judah pined for others. If your spouse did that to you, you would be hurt; it would also arouse in you deep feelings of anger and betrayal. You’d feel this way both toward your spouse who wanted someone else and the person that he or she wanted instead of you.

This is how God feels when we love material things more than we love him. It’s how he feels when entertainment is more appealing to us than worship. It describes the pain he experiences when being accepted in society matters more to us than ordering our lives by his commands. James 4:4 uses this very language to warn us: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

In Christ, there is hope for our adulterous hearts. James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

This is what we need when our hearts are captivated by other things more than God. We need to humble ourselves and ask for his forgiveness and deliverance. If you find yourself valuing other things above your walk with God, let this passage help you understand why God responds the way he does. He is jealous for you (v. 25) and wants you back.

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.