2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, Psalms 114-116

Read 2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, and Psalms 114-116.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 18.

Of all the battles David fought in his life, none created as much anxiety for him as this one must have. His anxiety had nothing to do with fear of losing; God had made an eternal covenant with David, so David could be confident that God would be with him.

David also had an impressive army with him (v. 1) led by Joab, his experienced, successful field general (v. 2). Although David expressed his willingness to enter the battle personally (v. 2f), his soldiers convinced him to stay in the fortified city of Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24 compare to 2 Samuel 2:8) while they fought on his behalf (18:3-6).

As expected, God gave David’s troops this victory (vv. 7-8). Absalom certainly believed he was a capable judge (remember 15:1-4); apparently he also believed he was a mighty warrior. There is no mention of him fighting in Israel’s army because he probably wasn’t needed in David’s army . Alhough Jonathan fought in his father, King Saul’s army, David’s kingdom and army were more highly developed than Saul’s. It seems unlikely to me, therefore, that Absalom had ever fought in any battle prior to this battle here in 2 Samuel 18.

Though the Bible does not accuse Absalom of arrogance, its description of him suggests an arrogant man. He had hired men to go before his chariots and horsemen to announce his arrival (15:1). Most men have receding hairlines or some type of balding problem, but Absalom had a thick head of hair that he allowed to grow long (14:26), maybe to stand out in a crowd and draw attention to himself. Our passage today told us that Absalom built a monument to himself so that he would not be forgotten, since he had no son (v. 18). Despite his great self-confidence, Absalom’s army was no match for his father’s and his thick hair was instrumental in bringing him to a humiliating defeat (vv. 9-17).

Unlike his father, David, who was chosen and anointed king by God and who waited until Saul was dead and Israel was ready for him to become king, Absalom anointed himself king and tried to take David’s kingdom from him by force, despite what God had promised to David.

Absalom’s life and death illustrate the truth Jesus taught in Luke 14:11: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” May the Lord protect us from the high risk foolishness of arrogance.

I think that we are especially susceptible to arrogance when we are young. I know that I, as a younger man, thought I saw things more clearly at times than the leaders I followed. I remember thinking that I could do better and agitating for more authority. Now that I am older and have struggled with the realities of the adult world and spiritual /church leadership, I have a much lower view of my own abilities.

If you are young, take a lesson from Absalom: There is great virtue in following your leaders as your leaders do their best to follow and obey the Lord. Don’t let arrogance put you into a self-destructive place.

Leviticus 10, Isaiah 6, Psalms 42-44

Read Leviticus 10, Isaiah 6, and Psalms 42-44.

This devotional is about Isaiah 6.

King Uzziah was one of the most enigmatic kings Israel ever had. He reigned over Judah (the Southern Kingdom after Israel was divided following Solomon’s kingship) for over 50 years. In terms of the economy and military, Uzziah was successful. But it was his spiritual leadership that made him such an enigma. At the beginning of his reign, when he was assisted by the prophet Zechariah, he was a righteous ruler, leading God’s people back toward obedience to God’s word. But, as he became more successful and more powerful, he became arrogant, even entering the Temple like a priest to burn incense before God. God punished Uzziah with leprosy and his reign, which started with so much promise, ended disappointingly.

As we saw in Isaiah 6:1, the year of Uzziah’s death was when Isaiah saw his vision of God. For the good of his people, who were so lacking in spiritual leadership, God raised up one of Israel’s greatest prophets by giving him a compelling vision of our God. The theme of Isaiah’s vision is stated in verse 3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The word “holy” means “separate, set apart,” and when the Bible talks about the holiness of God, it does so in two distinct (but related) senses.

One way in which God is “holy” or “set apart” is in his nature. Because he is the Creator, he alone is uncreated and uncaused. That means God is unique from everyone else in creation. The Bible says that we were created in God’s image, so we are like God but he is not like us. His power, his glory, his eternal existence, the fact that he is everywhere present in the fullness of his being—these truths and others make God unique; they make him holy in the deepest essence of his being. That is the primary thing Isaiah saw in his vision of the Lord. Verse 1 says he was “high and exalted, seated on a throne,” which describes God as separate from his creation. He is exalted, he is ruling, he is distant because no created thing has any business coming near him. In fact, verse 1 ends by saying, “and the train of his robe filled the temple.” I’ve always wondered about that phrase, but as I think about it today I think I see the point. The temple was the place where God said his presence would live among his people. It was the place people could go to worship and to have their sins forgiven. It was a place where they could learn about God and talk to him in prayer. It was a special place, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word. And, yet, does God really live there? According to Isaiah’s vision, no; only the tails of his tuxedo reside there. The most worshipful, awesome day a Hebrew person had in the Temple was just a mere coattail experience of who God really is. Why? Because he is holy; we can understand who he is and what he is like, but never from the lofty perspective that he occupies.

The first aspect of holiness, then, is the difference between the creator and the created ones. He is exalted in ways that we never will be nor could be. He is unique, set apart, different from any and all of us by his very nature as God.

The second aspect of God’s holiness is the one we usually think of—his complete freedom from sin in any way. Isaiah felt this deep in his spirit when he saw the first aspect of God’s holiness. His response to this vision in verse 5 was “Woe to me! […] I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” When Isaiah saw God depicted in his naturally separate state, he became acutely aware of his own sin. To put it another way, when Isaiah saw the holiness of God’s nature, he became aware of his own lack of moral holiness and feared the consequences.

This vision prepared Isaiah to become a man who railed against the godlessness of his culture with very few results (vv. 8-13). It was a difficult calling, but his understanding of God in this passage and the purifying God graciously did for him gave him everything he needed to be faithful. Isn’t this what we need when living the Christian life becomes so deeply taxing? We need to see God in the scriptures and understand how magnificent, how powerful, how utterly other-worldly he is. Knowing that gives us the power we need to live an other-worldly life for him.

2 Kings 14, Hosea 7

Read 2 Kings 14, Hosea 7.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 14.

2 Kings 13 focused on the kings of Israel but here in chapter 14 our attention is directed to Judah again. In 2 Kings 12 we read about Joash, a 7-year old kid king (2 Ki 11:21) who turned out to be one of Judah’s best, at least as long as he followed the instructions of Jehoiada the priest (2 Ki 12:2). His life was cut short prematurely, however, when he was assassinated by some of the officials in his government (2 Ki 12:17-21).

Here in 2 Kings 14, Joash’s son Amaziah became king. Like his father, he was king who ruled righteously (v. 3) but did not remove the idolatry from Judah (v. 4). In addition to worshipping the Lord, Amaziah saw to it that the men who conspired against his father received justice for their treason (v. 6). But Amaziah’s execution of this justice was in obedience to God’s word (v. 6). He also experienced some initial success with his military, defeating a large army of the Edomites (v. 7). When he challenged the king of Israel to battle, however, he received a proverb and a rebuke (vv. 9-10). The king of Israel compared him to the nerdy kid from high school who asks out the prom queen (v. 9). Actually, the image is much stronger than that. A weed in the woods tried to marry the daughter of one of the grand, majestic cedars of Lebanon but before he could be laughed out of the forest, an animal came and trampled him. That was the proverb; the application to Amaziah and Judah came in verse 10: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”

The king of Israel’s reply was insulting, but it was also true. Judah had no business attacking Israel and was miserably defeated when they tried (vv. 11-14). It was pure hubris, not the Lord’s will or a desire to please him, that led Amaziah to attack. Although Jehoash king of Israel was an ungodly man, Amaziah would have been wise to take his advice. As Christians we should not allow our thoughts to be conformed to the pattern of this world or let the morals of unbelievers influence our perception of what is right or our tolerance for what is wrong. But there are many areas of life where we would do well to listen to wise counsel, even if it comes from an unbeliever. An unbeliever might be the best person to treat your medical condition or to repair the foundation of your house or to write a will or create a financial plan or give you legal advice or manufacture your breakfast cereal. At times, the rebuke of an unbeliever for a sinful act or attitude in your life might be just what you need to keep you from pursuing a sinful or foolish action. Amaziah’s defeat reminds us to watch our ego; godly people can overreach, so consider yourself whenever anyone offers you rebuke or correction or instruction that is wise.

1 Samuel 15, Jeremiah 52

Read 1 Samuel 15 and Jeremiah 52.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave him direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing. Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9).

God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11). In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord, with a few exceptions. But those exceptions were made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands. Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience. The text does not tell us, but as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience. It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not. The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (vv. 22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins which were worse than Saul’s—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28). What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”? Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word. We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

Deuteronomy 20, Isaiah 47

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 20 and Isaiah 47.

This devotional is about Isaiah 47.

There have been many empires in human history. During their days of dominance, most people considered those empires impossible to defeat. In this chapter, Isaiah was inspired to speak against the Babylonian Empire, warning them that they were not as invincible as they believed. Verses 1-3 predicted Babylon’s humiliating defeat. Staring in verse 4, God explained that Babylon’s dominance was part of his plan to discipline Israel for her sins (v. 6). Babylon’s God-given domination seemed to them to be an eternal entitlement to rule (vv. 7-8) but God said that they will suddenly fall in defeat without knowing how it happened (vv. 9-11). The chapter ended with God mocking the religious practices of the Babylonians (vv. 12-15) and predicting that these prophets would not even be able to save themselves (v. 14c) much less the whole nation.

This chapter reminds us again that nations are under God’s sovereign authority and control, too. They may desire strength and domination but they cannot achieve either apart from God willing or allowing it to happen. In Babylon’s case, God had decreed that, for his own purposes, God would allow the Babylonians to defeat and exile his people in Judah. They served God’s purpose and, when that purpose had been served, God moved on to other nations to exercise his will, leaving the Babylonians weak and exposed and ultimately defeated by the Persian Empire.

Here in the USA, in the 21st Century, we too feel dominant and that our power will continue for as long as American’s can imagine. But what if God has other plans? What will happen to your faith if God moves on from America and allows another country to dominate us? Would you lose your faith in God if Canada, our mighty neighbors to the North, ascended in power and brought us nationally into subjection? What about if Russia or Brazil subjugated us to their rule. Would your faith be disturbed then?

God has blessed our nation and I’m thankful for the freedom and benefits we have. Nevertheless, this is not God’s kingdom and someday Christ’s kingdom will defeat and supplant every human nation and power on earth, including ours. That is, unless he allows some other powerful nation to take us down first. If that seems impossible to you read verses 7-11 again. The Babylonians thought they were incapable of defeat and they were… right up until God was finished with them. It is foolish for anyone to trust in human rulers or nations but this especially goes for believers. We belong to King Jesus; any other allegiance we have is far less powerful, important, or meaningful to us. If it isn’t, we are idol worshippers. Check your heart; is it with the Lord and his will or is it set on Americanism?

Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123

Today we’re reading Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123.

This devotional is about Psalm 123.

The songwriter of this song felt belittled. Verses 3b-4 say, “…we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” The problem he experienced, as described here, was less serious than many others addressed in the Psalms. Nobody was out to kill the songwriter the way that Saul and others tried to kill David. No army was attacking. This psalm appears to have been written before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. So the situation that gave rise to this song is unclear, but probably not life-threatening.

But it appears to have been more than just a personal issue between two Hebrew men. Whoever the “proud” and “arrogant” of verse 4 were, they were likely unbelieving Gentiles who were taunting and terrorizing many of God’s people.

The response of the songwriter was to look to God: “I lift up my eyes to you…,” he wrote in verse 1. In verse 2 he compared looking to God with how slaves look to their masters. This probably refers to the provision of food and other needs that masters provided to their slaves. Slaves were in a state of complete dependence on their masters. This is how the Psalmist thought of his and other Jewish people’s relationship to God–absolute dependence. The songwriter was not planning to attack his opponents with fists or swords or even words. Instead, he looked to the Lord for “mercy” (v. 2d, 3a). His reaction to the problem behind this Psalm, then, was a Godward reaction. It drove him to his knees in utter dependence on God; it caused him to plead with God for help.

This Psalm is a “song of ascents” as you saw in the superscription. That means it was one of a collection of Psalms the men would sing three times a year as they made their way from their homes to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory times of worship. I imagine that this Psalm had a slow, somber melody. The men singing it were leaving behind their homes and possessions to venture to Jerusalem. Given the presence of hostile people around them, who would protect their home and possessions while they were gone?

The answer is the Lord himself, the one they were traveling to worship. The people looked to him for help and were completely dependent on his help since they would be unable to do anything to protect their stuff while they were gone. Looking to the Lord, though, provided them with a measure of hope and comfort. Surely God would keep his promises faithfully and watch over them and their families and possessions.

As our nation becomes more secular, attacks against our faith are becoming more frequent and more direct. Maybe there are people in your life–at work or in your family or neighborhood–who are taunting you because of your faith. Maybe they treat you with contempt, ridiculing you for your faith in God and devotion to Christ. Maybe there is little you can do about it; you can’t move, can’t change jobs, can’t disown your family. What you can do is look to the Lord in humble dependence. You can pray every day and every time you feel belittled, persecuted, or threatened. Do that, and may the Lord give you strength until he shows mercy on you and deals with the threats you face in answer to your prayers.

Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36

Today we are scheduled to read Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36.

This devotional is about Psalm 36.

After we sin, and the pleasure of it is gone, and the price tag comes due, it feels pretty stupid.

Before we sin, however, sin seems like a great idea. We delude ourselves into the think that we won’t get caught or we justify our disobedience by telling ourselves that our case is exceptional. Or maybe we don’t even think very far beyond the moment; the promise of sin clouds our thinking and keeps us from counting the cost.

David had a message for us in this Psalm. Sin is not only stupid, it is arrogant. Verse 2 says, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” This is how our hearts deceive us. Your heart and mine tells you and me to ignore the truth of God’s word and the wisdom about life that is offered there and to trust our own judgment. When we choose to do wrong, we flatter ourselves into thinking that we have it all figured out.

Verses 5-9 sing to the Lord, praising him for his faithfulness, his righteousness, his justice, his love, his abundance, his life, and his light. Believing these truths about God can cause us to make righteous choices in our lives. When I want to do wrong but choose to do right, it is a choice to follow God’s wisdom over my own. It is an act of faith, believing that God’s ways will be better than following my own ways–no matter how flawless my plans seem or how brilliant my evil heart tells me I am.

Verse 12 calls us to look at those who’ve come before us. They’ve already made the moral choices that we are tempted to make. They believed the lies of their sin-cursed hearts. What happened to them? “See how the evildoers lie fallen—thrown down, not able to rise!”

Sin will please you for a moment and kill you in the end. God’s commands, however lead us to better things: “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (vv. 8-9).

Choose the light.