1 Chronicles 7-8, Zechariah 4, Proverbs 26:17-28

Read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Zechariah 4, and Proverbs 26:17-28.

This devotional is about Proverbs 26:17.

Verse 17 of today’s reading starts with a strong image to make an important point. Imagine a German Shepherd walking along the road. It is looking for food because nobody owns it and it is hungry. All of a sudden, someone walks over the to the dog, grabs its ears, and picks it up. What will happen?

My guess is that the person who picked up the dog will be bitten squarely in the face. And he will deserve it! He picked up the dog in a way that would be excruciatingly painful for any dog. He also disrespected the dog by picking it up. Finally, given that the dog is a “stray” (v. 17), the dog has no loyalty to the stranger who laid hands on his ears. Of course he will lash out in self-defense against someone who appears to be a threat.

Verse 17 tells us this is what will happen to someone who jumps into an argument where he is not the injured person or the injuring person. Instead of being the mediating influence that he expected to be, he is going to be severely hurt.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” but that doesn’t describe someone who got involved in an ongoing argument without any first-hand knowledge of the situation. Only God knows the real truth; the person who wants to drag you into his or her argument wants to convince you that they are on the side of justice. Unless you are appointed or elected to interpret the law, stay away from someone else’s dispute. It will hurt you and do little to no good for anyone else.

Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4

Read Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4.

This devotional is about James 4.

Conflict is part of human life. It may manifest as sibling rivalry, office politics, negative political campaigns, first degree murder, or in some other way, but within humanity, someone is always struggling against someone else.

James 4:1-2b tells us that all conflict comes from “your desires that battle within you.” It is the impulses of our sinful nature—envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, and others—that create every disagreement, every conflict, every war. Verse 2c reminds us as believers that God is the source of everything and that, instead of striving with others to get what we want, we should bring our desires before the Lord through prayer.

It is our prayer-less striving that keeps us from finding satisfaction in this life because God prevents the accomplishment of our goals when we pursue them as Christians without asking him to provide them to us.

But, verse 3 reminds us that asking God for something in prayer is not like buying from a vending machine, as if prayer goes up then goodies come out. No, sometimes we ask God for things and don’t get them because we “ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3b).

Our biggest problem is not in our strategy—ask for what you want instead of fighting for it. No, our problem is that we want the wrong things. We want things for our own satisfaction instead of giving glory to God through our spiritual growth or the advancement of God’s kingdom in evangelism.

James accuses us of spiritual adultery in verse 4. We made a commitment to God but we’re friending and flirting with all the same desires and goals that unbelievers have. Like a jealous husband, our partner in adultery, the world, is the object of God’s anger; if we choose to have an affair with this world, we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath (v. 4b).

Except for one thing: God knows how intensely we struggle with affection for success, recognition, materialism, and pleasure. Instead of sending us away in divorce, he placed his Holy Spirit in us to give us a competing desire to love and serve him (v. 5).

But this calls for humility; when we’re frustrated for not getting the thing(s) we want in life, we need to honestly assess whether our desire for those things comes from a desire to serve and glorify God or from our own selfishness. If we turn to God in those moments of struggle, he gives us the power to resist sin and draw closer to him in holiness (vv. 7-10).

What is going on in your life that is causing you frustration? Is it something in your personal life, your family, or friendships? Is it a professional or financial setback or just stagnation in your job? If you find yourself arguing and fighting with others day after day, it is time to assess whether you’re cheating God. Instead, allow him to lead you where he wants and provide you with what he wants you to have. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10).

Exodus 6, Job 23, Proverbs 6:1-19

Read Exodus 6, Job 23, and Proverbs 6:1-19 today.

This devotional is about Proverbs 6:1-19.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us seven things that the Lord finds detestable. I find myself nodding my head in agreement quite readily with the first six. “Haughty eyes” — signifying someone who is so overbearingly proud that it is written all over his or her face—are easy to dislike. So is someone who lies, or is violent to the innocent, or is constantly coming up with new scams, or who rushes to the next opportunity to sin, or who knowingly testifies falsely in order to cause trouble for someone else or benefit himself. It is not hard to find these things offensive.

But what of #7: “a person who stirs up conflict in the community”? On the surface, this one is easy to agree to as well; however, you and I are probably more likely to be involved in this than in any of the other sins. Who stirs up conflict in communities? People who like to argue, or who want to agitate for change, or who want to depose the current leader so that they can become the new leader, or who just insist on being difficult. The church is notorious for this kind of behavior. People who complain about the length of the pastor’s sermons or about the new youth leader, or about the song selection on Sunday—these are people who stir up conflict. I won’t even mention politics or current events in the news. You already know those topics are filled with people trying to stir up conflict to get votes, or likes, or clicks, or viewers.

Conflict in any community is inevitable because we are sinners. Sinners are selfish and will sow seeds of discord or even pick a fight if it serves our selfish purposes. Christ, however, calls us and empowers us to live in love rather than in selfish conflict. Having received God’s love in Christ, God wants us now to seek to make peace instead of stirring up strife. Is there anyone in your life with whom you have conflict right now? Did your actions stir this conflict up? Or, did your response to him or her help escalate the conflict? What is one thing you can to do “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal 5:13c) in this situation? Now, go do that thing praying that the Lord will use you to make peace.

Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Matthew 24

Read Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Matthew 24 today.

This devotional is about Genesis 33.

Conflict with other people is a common part of this life. Sometimes, you can end conflict by avoiding or ending your relationship with another person. But not always, especially if the conflict involves your family.

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers and they had a big conflict back in Genesis 27. Jacob created the conflict by using deceit to take Esau’s rightful inheritance as the firstborn. He left town to avoid a confrontation with Esau. But God commanded him to return to the land of promise, so now Jacob must return home and face his (slightly) older brother.

We read the account of their reunion here in Genesis 33.

There is no direct statement of repentance from Jacob in this chapter. Nor is there a direct statement of forgiveness here.

But the actions and words recorded in this chapter demonstrate that some kind of reconciliation was sought by Jacob and given by Esau.

We can see Jacob’s desire to be forgiven by how he “bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother” (v. 3). This was an act of humility. One bow would be a customary sign of respect and courtesy (see Gen 23:12 and 42:6 for examples). But Jacob bowed seven times, demonstrating his humility and deep desire to be accepted by his brother.

In Genesis 32:13-16, Jacob had selected a large amount of livestock for Esau. Jacob sent them ahead of him as a gift. Here in chapter 33:8, Esau asked why Jacob had sent all these animals ahead of him. Jacob answered, “To find favor in your eyes, my lord…” (v. 8). This action, this gift by Jacob was designed to pay restitution to Esau for stealing his birthright.

So, although Jacob did not directly ask for forgiveness, his actions demonstrated his desire to be received by his brother without hostility.

When we look at Esau’s actions, we see a man who is eager to be restored to his brother. Esau abandoned all formalities; he “ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him” (v. 4). This indicated Esau’s desire to be reconciled to Jacob.

Jacob’s statement, “…to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably” (v. 10) are words of relief. He was grateful not to have been attacked by his brother but, instead, to have been accepted.

These actions would have communicated a restored relationship, even if Jacob didn’t directly ask for reconciliation. Their customs spoke more powerfully to them than the frank conversation we’d expect. The end of the chapter suggests that Jacob didn’t fully trust Esau, but at least they had found a measure of peace with each other.

Do you have any broken relationships in your life? Have you made an attempt, in humility, to try to repair that relationship? Are you willing to make restitution if you’ve damaged the other person in some way?

God does not want us to live in tension or in fear or in avoidance. He wants us to own up to our sins, our mistakes, and our selfish acts and seek forgiveness for them. He also wants us to forgive those who sin against us. Like Christ, who came seeking us even though we sinned against him, we should seek out others we’re estranged from and try to make peace.

Given that, who do you need to call today to get this process started?