1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 26 and Ezekiel 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11).

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this situation must be God providing David with this opportunity. That’s why Abishai said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here.

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

Judges 3, Jeremiah 16

Read Judges 3 and Jeremiah 16.

This devotional is about Judges 3:7-11.

This first judge we met by name in the book of Judges after the death of Joshua was Othniel. We read briefly about him as Israel’s judge in verses 7-11 today but that is not the first time we’ve encountered him. Verse 6 told us that he was “…son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.” He was introduced to us the same way in Judges 1:13. In that chapter, Caleb, was looking for a man to capture a place called “Kiriath Sepher” (1:12) and he offered his daughter Aksah as a wife to whomever took Kiriath Sepher. Our guy Othniel jumped at the chance, captured Kiriath Sepher, and received Aksah as his wife. Yes, that’s right, he married his niece. Things were different back then.

Still in Judges 1, Othniel wanted some more land from his uncle/father-in-law Caleb. So, like a man, he put his wife up to the task of asking her daddy for it. For reasons that I won’t go into here, the NIV text says that Aksah wanted the land and told Othniel to ask Caleb for it. But that’s probably wrong; it was the other way around because Judges 1:14b-15 tell us that it was Aksah who did the asking.

Confused? Let me recap:

  • Othniel is the first judge named in Judges
  • We don’t find out he’s a judge until chapter 3 but we met him in chapter 1 where he conquered some Canaanites in order to win a woman named Aksah’s hand in marriage.
  • Once he married Aksah, he goaded her into asking her father for more land, land that had springs of water on it (1:15).

Now, here’s where I have some questions that the Bible doesn’t answer directly. My first question is, “Was Othniel a man who just lacked the courage to ask for what he wanted?” He certainly seemed to lack the courage to ask his father-in-law for the land he wanted in 1:14-15. But when chapter 1:12-13 tell us that Othniel jumped at the chance to beat those Kiriath Sephers once Aksah was the prize, I can’t help but wonder if he wanted to marry her all along but was just too shy to ask uncle Caleb for her.

Think about it. He wanted to marry a woman but maybe was just too shy to ask her dad directly. Once her dad says she can marry the guy who attacks and defeats Kiriath Sepher, he moves immediately into action, beats the enemy and wins the girl. Could he have made it easier on himself if he just had the courage to ask?

My second question is: Did Caleb know that Othniel wanted her but was too shy to ask so he made it “easy” for him by giving him a prize? It seems easier, to me at least, to ask than to go to battle but that’s not how Othniel rolled.

Anyway, coming to today’s passage, Judges 3, Othniel became Israel’s judge but only when “the Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war.” It took a special act of God’s Spirit to get Othniel to do the right thing. Remember that God had already promised victory to Israel; all anyone had to do was believe the Lord’s promise and attack. Ehud demonstrated that in our chapter today (3:28). He didn’t attack Eglon when the Spirit of the Lord came on him; he just did it knowing that the Lord would be with him.

Here’s my point in all of this: Are you too shy, like Othniel may have been, to claim God’s promises and act in faith? Does it take special circumstances like Caleb created for Othniel to get you to do what you want even if you know it is within the Lord’s moral will? Does God have to do a dramatic work in your heart to get you to do something for him, something that you actually want to do but are too shy to attempt without a push?

I’m a bit hard on Othniel here, but the truth is that I am Othniel. There have been too many times in my life where I was afraid to take action and waited for someone else to goad me or some circumstance to happen for me. I’d like to help you avoid this.

To give Othniel some credit here, at least he moved when the door opened for him. When Caleb made his offer, he didn’t sit around and wonder if it was God’s will. When God’s Spirit moved him to go to war, he went to war. It might have needed a push now and then, but at least he kept moving once the push came.

But would Othniel have had a better life and been a more effective leader if he asked Caleb directly for his daughter? Oh, yeah, and throw in that extra land with the springs of water on it too, Caleb, while you’re at it, mkay?

Or (and I’m more certain about this) couldn’t Israel have avoided eight years of subjection to Aram Naharaim (v. 8) if Othniel had just claimed God at his word and led Israel to fight back when their enemies oppressed them?

How about you? Do you want something in life that you know is within God’s moral will at least but you’re too scared to ask for it? You’re waiting for that girl to show interest in you or for that job to be offered to you instead of just stepping up and asking for it? What about a ministry need that you see and you could meet but you’re waiting for someone else to take the lead or for God to kick you in the backside to get you started?

If something came to mind while you were reading this, and it is something you’ve already been thinking about for a while now, are you going to do anything about it today?

Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, Psalm 134

Read Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, and Psalm 134.

This devotional is about Psalm 134.

When I was a very young adult, I took on a second job to pay off some credit card debt. I worked as a night auditor at a hotel on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The work was easy and the hotel was usually pretty quiet but the hours were tough. I started work at 11 p.m. and my shift finished at 7 a.m. That was after a week of working full-time in another job and going to seminary. I was young but it was pretty hard on my body; fortunately, after about 10 months I had paid off the credit card debt and was offered a different job that paid better than my full-time job, so I was able to leave the overnight shift.

The song here in Psalm 134 is for the guys who worked the night shift in God’s temple. Leviticus 6:9c says, “The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Three times in that paragraph (vv. 9, 12, 13) the Lord said some variation of, “the fire must be kept burning continuously” and twice he said, “it must not go out” (vv. 12, 13). Someone needed to tend to the fire, then, and this song addressed those priests. It calls on them to “praise the Lord” (v. 1a, 2) and reminded them that they were “servants of the Lord.”

The night shift is unpleasant. You work all night then try to sleep during the day but I could usually only sleep for four or five hours, no matter how tired I was. I also had a low-grade headache while I was awake which made it even harder to concentrate than just sleep deprivation did. The priests who worked that night shift might not have been in much of a mood to praise the Lord. This little song was something they could sing to remind them that they were serving the Lord as they tended to the fire overnight. It called on them to ignore their circumstances and focus on the greatness of God and to praise him because of his greatness.

Do your circumstances make you grumpy? Do you feel like complaining rather than praising the Lord? Remember that we are his servants as we go about our lives and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord. So remind yourself of this passage when you don’t feel like praying or praising God; learn a song that you can sing to yourself to refocus your mind on God’s greatness and praise him accordingly.

Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114

Today’s readings are Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is for me to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.” Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94

Today we’re reading Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94.

This devotional is about Proverbs 22:9.

Many people–most of us, probably, at some point in our lives–live under the delusion that more stuff or better stuff will make us happy. We think that nicer clothes, or a new car, or a house in a better neighborhood, or just some more spending money to go out when we want is what we need. We think that money is the antidote to worry because if we had the money, we wouldn’t have to worry if the car breaks down. Or, we think that spending is the cure for boredom because dinner and a movie sounds better than leftovers and reruns.

One symptom of our materialism is stinginess. The person who wants more and better stuff has a hard time giving anything to someone else because each dollar spent on others is one less that could go toward that new iPhone.

Proverbs 22:9 urges us to reconsider. It says, “The generous will themselves be blessed….” Being “blessed” means being “prospered” in the loosest sense of the word “prosper.” Sometimes that blessing is material prosperity. The Bible tells us that the things we have and the money that comes into us is God’s blessing in our lives. Other times, though, being “blessed” in scripture refers to the joy or contentment that only God can give. That joy or contentment is usually distinct from our circumstances. There are poor people with joy and wealthy people who are miserable. There are people who are ill or aging or who have experienced many problems in life who live each day happily as a gift from God. Likewise, there are some very bitter, unpleasant people who have only first-world problems.

This verse told us that those who are generous will be blessed in some way. Is that blessing the blessing of joy or is it the blessing of material prosperity?

The last half of verse 9 may hold the answer. It says that they generous will be blessed “for they share their food with the poor.” This phrase gives the reason why God blesses them. Because they share with others, God shares blessings with them. But what if sharing “food with the poor” IS the blessing? In other words, what if the blessing God gives to the generous is the joy of helping others? What if God is telling us that there is a blessing built in to generosity because it triggers gratitude in those who have their needs met by your gift? What if God wants us to know that within every poor person there is a potential relationship that your generosity might unlock?

If you have no needs, no threats, no real problems in your life but you lack real joy, it’s time to open up your wallet and start sharing. When you share your time serving others in need and spend your money on those who don’t have it, you might find joy like you’ve never experienced before. Take this truth statement and think about how to apply it in your life; the result might make you happier than you can possibly imagine because it will make a real, meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

Genesis 37, Job 3, Psalm 35

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 37, Job 3, and Psalm 35.

This devotional is about Job 3.

Job received the blows of affliction well in chapters 1-2. He recognized that he was not entitled to the life he enjoyed and that God, as Sovereign, had every right to take away what he gave.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Job felt no pain. Here in chapter 3, he lamented being born. The pain of losing his children, his prosperity, and his health was greater than the joy he had experienced from those things. Dying before he lived long enough to enjoy anything was a more appealing prospect than losing the blessed life he’d had. His concluding words in verses 25-26 make your heart go out to him: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Although he maintained faith in God, he still hurt and wondered why.

It seems to me that many Christians believe that heartbreak is un-Christian. We feel guilty about mourning; we think that glorifying God means smiling through every trial. We often put smiles on our faces to hide our pain so that other’s won’t question our salvation or spiritual maturity. But there is a way of hurting, of crying out, of wondering why that does not curse God. Submission to the will of God does not mean turning off your feelings. Trusting God does not mean eradicating all questions from your heart and mind. It means processing all the pain while recognizing your dependence on God. It means looking to him for hope and help instead of as an object of cursing.

Have you suppressed your questions, fears, and heartaches because you think that’s what good Christians do? If so, you haven’t really solved anything nor have you opened up the capacity within yourself to grow from your trials. God allows our faith to be tried to expose to us pockets of unbelief and to refine them out of us. Being honest about how you feel is part of that process.

If you’re hurting today or wondering why, ask God. Journal your thoughts and fears. Wonder aloud. Just don’t accuse God of evil and injustice. Ask him, instead, to show you how your circumstances fit into his plans. Ask him to strengthen you through this trial so that you will grow because of it.