Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and one “who keeps his covenant of love….”
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

2 Chronicles 21, Zechariah 5

Read 2 Chronicles 21 and Zechariah 5.

This devotional is about Zechariah 5:1-3.

In these verses, the prophet saw a large scroll flying through the air. The scroll measured 30 feet long by 15 feet wide (v. 2) which indicates that it was unrolled. There was writing on both sides of the scroll and, in both cases, what was written was a curse. One curse was against “every thief” and the other was against “anyone who swears falsely” in God’s name (v. 3). The curse itself was that the person who either stole or lied “will be banished.” That meant the person would be removed from the community. The thief or liar would no longer be recognized as one of God’s people but instead be treated like an unbelieving Gentile.

Verse 4 said that the scroll would “will enter the house…” of the thief or robber and “remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.” This is a visual way of describing the deterioration of the building, the physical structure where the liar or thief lived. God’s curse would cause a person’s house to rot. This is not saying that his literal house would literally rot. Instead, the consequences are described graphically to create fear in the heart of the thief and the liar.

Like many sins, people think theft won’t hurt them unless it is detected. Likewise, people think that dishonesty in what they say will only harm them if they’re actually caught lying. But God sees our sins and knows our dishonesty. This chapter indicates that the consequences to our sins–even when undetected–are like termites silently but consistently eating away at the structure of our lives. God himself pronounces a curse on our sins and, when our sins are unconfessed and unforsaken, those curses “will remain in that house and destroy it completely” (v. 4c-d).

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” according to Galatians 3:13. In Christ, then, God’s curses for our sins have been borne by him. As believers, though, we still need to ongoing cleansing of sin and for the Holy Spirit to expose and remove the rot that sin brings about in our lives.

Is your life rotting away because of unconfessed sin? It could be theft or dishonesty or any number of hidden sins. Problems in your life that you’ve never connected to any particular sin might be the result of sins you’ve committed and covered up rather than confessed and forsaken. December gives us a good opportunity to inventory our lives. Find some time to think about your life and take care of any unconfessed sin, even if it happened a long time ago.

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.

Joshua 12-13 Jeremiah 6

Read Joshua 12-13 and Jeremiah 6.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 6:15: “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush….”

There are two kinds of shame–internal and external. That is, there are times you feel ashamed and there are times that others try to shame you. (They might even use the words “shame on you,” though it has been a long time since I’ve heard someone say that).

Anyway, external shame is about judging others. When someone tries to shame others, that person is using emotional and psychological pressure to get people to stay in line or get back in line. This kind of shame is rampant in our culture. Political correctness is external shame; so is “body shaming” someone who is considered unattractive because of weight or body shape or whatever. When it comes to morality, external shame can be appropriate. Shame on the person who takes another person’s life in murder or who kidnaps a child or who rapes or molests someone else. If these and other wicked behaviors are not considered shameful, human society is in big trouble. But there is a lot of inappropriate–even wicked–external shaming in our world; this devotional, however is not about external shame.

No, Jeremiah 6:15 is about internal shame. It is about the feelings of guilt that sinners should feel for disobedience to God’s holy commands. When Jeremiah prophesied, God’s people did not feel this sense of shame about their sins. Instead, they had “no shame at all.” Their idolatry, violence, dishonesty, greed, etc. did not make them feel bad.

Nor did they try to hide these sins from others; the phrase, “they do not even know how to blush…” in verse 15 suggests that the sins God’s people were committing were known to others; those guilty of those sins were not embarrassed at all that others knew they had sinned in these ways.

Judging others and shaming them externally is often wrong; feeling shame internally, however, is a good thing. It is not valued in our world, but it is a good thing nonetheless. It is good because it shows that someone has a sensitive conscience. Someone who fears God and his word will feel shame when they sin. That shame can be the beginning of a better future because it can cause someone to repent and to cry out to God for mercy and grace. When someone is unashamed of his or her sin, however, that person can’t even see the need for God’s grace and mercy because they don’t feel the alarm bells going off to tell them that they are guilty before a holy God.

So who sins in these ways and does not feel internal shame? The answer is someone who has sinned that way so many times that they have dulled the voice of conscience. Like a callous on your hand that has become numb to friction or pain, we can weaken our conscience through repeated, unrepentant sin to the point that our sins no longer bother us.

Jesus is the only true solution to internal shame. We can numb ourselves to shame but only Jesus can take it away. He does so when we believe that he has died for our sins, standing in as our substitute to receive the wrath that we deserve from God for our wickedness.

What are you ashamed of? Will you keep burying it until you are desensitized completely to it or will you confess it and claim the forgiveness God will give you in Christ?

What aren’t you ashamed of that you should be? Will you ask God not only for forgiveness but to make your conscience sensitive to sin again?

Joshua 7, Jeremiah 1

Read Joshua 7 and Jeremiah 1.

This devotional is about Joshua 7.

It really didn’t take very long, did it, before Israel’s great victory over Jericho gave way to a crushing defeat in Ai (vv. 2-5). God’s people lost all the confidence they had gained in Jericho (v. 5c) and Joshua questioned God’s wisdom (vv. 6-9). But the real culprit was Achan’s sin (v. 1). Once God revealed the true issue (vv. 10-11), he also affirmed that there would be no further conquest until the sin issue was removed (v. 12).

God could have revealed Achan’s name and made it easy for Joshua and the Israelites; instead, the Lord systematically led Joshua through the people, “tribe by tribe, clan by clan, family by family” (v. 14). My belief is that Achan could have come forward at any point and ended the interrogation, but he intended to keep his sin secret and hope that he would not be revealed. That’s often our tendency, too, isn’t it? Keep quiet and hope for the best.

My assumption, too, is that if Achan had confessed, there would have been mercy for his family and maybe for him. I base this assumption on Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If only we would listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the voice of our guilty conscience and come forward when we sin instead of trying to get away with it. Not only would we receive God’s offer of mercy, we could, perhaps, spare others the misery of our sin. One thing’s for sure: if we would voluntarily confess our sin instead of waiting until we were caught, it would be a lot easier to forsake the sin before it became a habit.

Unfortunately, Achan tried to cover his sin but God was not deceived. But notice that, when he was identified, Joshua said to him, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me” (v. 19). We hide our sins for various reasons: we fear the consequences of confession and/or we love the pleasure of our sin so much that we keep it a secret so that we can return to it. What may not factor into our thinking, however, is the glory of God. Is God glorified when we sin in private, keep it hidden, and pretend to be the good people of God on the outside? Of course not. But that’s not our instinct; our instinct is to believe that the outward appearance of godliness is better for God and for us than it is to admit our failings and fall upon the mercy and grace of God. Even when caught, however, the best way for Achan to glorify God was not to lie and continue to try to cover his sin; instead, the best thing to do was to own up to his disobedience, which he did in verses 20-12.

I wonder what would have happened in Achan’s life if he had come forward sooner—either when his conscience convicted him or when Joshua began working his way through the people. What about in our lives? Is there a sin that you’re hiding? Have you ever considered that God’s blessing might be withheld from your family or from our church or from something else because of the disobedience that you are trying to cover? Has it ever occurred to you that, having sinned, the best way to glorify God now is to come forward voluntarily to the appropriate person—the government, your spouse, your elders—make a full confession and ask God to glorify himself either in mercy or in punishment? If the Lord is convicting you of something right now, take the opportunity you have today to give glory to God. Confess your sin and fall on the mercy of God.

Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112

Read Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26 and Psalm 112.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God. But notice that God’s described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Psalm 112 re-affirms many of the positive promises God made here in Leviticus 26, and Leviticus 26:44-45 affirmed for Israel that God would not forget them or forsake his promises to them. Instead, verses 40-42 promised that “if they confess their sins… I will remember my covenant….”

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age. We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship. If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.