2 Samuel 11, Daniel 1, Psalms 111-113

Read 2 Samuel 11, Daniel 1, Psalms 111-113.

This devotional is about Psalm 111.

At times we can look at God’s word as a burden. It is filled with commands and obligations and we are commanded to obey it all. The scripture warns of great judgement for those who refuse to obey God’s word and, even when we find forgiveness in Christ for our disobedience to God, we often still suffer sorrowful affects of our sin. These things can make God’s word feel heavy to us and cause us to be fearful whenever we open the scripture.

What we need to remember, though, is that God’s commands are not burdensome. They are not tedious, meaningless regulations like sitting at stoplight when there is absolutely no traffic coming from any direction but you have to sit there because it is the law. That’s not what God’s commands are like. In fact, according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us. They are given to us to make us happy, not burden us.

Verse 6 of Psalm 111 says, “all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” That is something to be happy about because God’s commands give us something solid on which we can build our lives. One of the scariest things about life is the uncertainty of it. There is no guarantee that the plans you make in life will succeed. There is no certainty that the market will want your product. Even if people want it today, something better might come along tomorrow. Even though you may feel completely healthy, things can change.

If our plans, our jobs, our health, and many other things are uncertain, then how can we ever really feel joy and contentment? The answer is by building our lives on what is certain rather than hoping in things that are very uncertain. What is certain are God’s precepts–his commands and teachings. Verse 8 says, “They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” You might lose everything, but if your life is built on God’s commands, they will uphold you when everything else falls apart.

Without Christ, we cannot build our lives on God’s faithful commands because each of us has an unfaithful heart that leads us astray. But, in Christ we have a new heart that desires to obey God’s word and the Holy Spirit who leads us to walk in his ways. These are great blessings to God’s people for, as verse 10 says, “all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” It is only when God turns on the lights in our hearts through regeneration that we understand how wise it is to follow God’s commands in obedience.

But when we obey God and experience a stable life because of his commands, we can’t take credit. Verse 10 ends the Psalm by saying, “To him belongs eternal praise.” This is why I wrote earlier that, “according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us.” It is God’s word that gives us insight on which we can build a stable life so all glory and praise go to him for his revelation and the blessed life that results from being built on it.

1 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 30, Philippians 2

Read 1 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 30, and Philippians 2 today.

This devotional is about Philippians 2.

What are some ways we believers in Christ are distinct from the world around us? We have different beliefs about the past and the future, for one. We have different morals that cause us to make different choices and respond differently when we sin. We spend our time and our money differently. We certainly have a different understanding of who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ. These are all important differences, but maybe they don’t distinguish us from the rest of the world as much as we’d like to think that they do.

Here in Philippians 2, Paul invited the believers and us to consider the immense humility and sacrifice of Christ to save us. He urged us to follow Christ’s example by “looking to the interests of others” (v. 4).

But when he wanted to teach us how to stand out from the unredeemed people around us, he commanded us: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (v. 14). Living this way “in a warped and crooked generation” would cause us to “shine among them like stars in the sky.” (v. 15).

Let’s face it–people complain a lot.

We complain about the weather, about relatives and friends, about bosses, about what’s required of us in our jobs, about how little we’re paid and how much we pay in taxes.

We complain about having to fix our cars or stuff that breaks at home, about traffic jams and long lines at the grocery stores.

People also argue a lot, too. Look at your Facebook feed. You probably don’t even have to scroll more than once or twice (or at all) before you see two or more people arguing about politics or sports or something else.

Complaining and arguing are symptoms of discontentment. When we complain to someone about their behavior, we’re showing our discontentment with them. Complaining like that is about trying to change that person, to control him or her into acting differently or becoming different in some way.

But, if someone does change that behavior, then we move on and find something else about them that makes us discontent. Complaining about the weather or the traffic, or something else is an expression of discontentment with our circumstances.

Arguing is about being discontent with what we’re getting or not getting. If I argue with a clerk in a store about the price of an item, it is because I am unhappy about the price. If I argue with a co-worker that I’m doing too much of the work on a project that we’re both assigned to do, that’s an expression of discontentment. Arguing comes from having a different point of view in some instances—like sports or politics–but it often results from a feeling of injustice.

Jesus was treated with extreme injustice. He had no sin but was made a sin offering for us. It was quite inconvenient (to say that least) to give up the worship of heaven for the scorn of humanity. If anyone had the right to complain or argue about the glory he wasn’t getting (or the mistreatment he was getting), it was Jesus. But Jesus never complained about anything nor did he ever argue with anyone about anything but truth.

There are many differences between believers and unbelievers but verses 14-15 tell us that the most obvious difference to an unbeliever between us and them is our contentment. As we saw yesterday, Paul was content to live and minister for Christ or die and be with Christ. He was content to remain in prison and give the gospel to the guards or be released to witnesses to another city about Christ. Instead of complaining or arguing, we should find something to give thanks for.

The traffic that frustrates me so much is no fun, but I’m thankful that a car can take me long distances much faster than I could walk them. If you want to shine brightly like the North Star on a pitch black night, learn to speak words of thanks and contentment instead of complaining and arguing. This is a very specific, daily way we can show the difference Christ and faith in him has made in our lives.

Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 22, 2 Corinthians 6

Read Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 22, 2 Corinthians 6.

This devotional is about about Jeremiah 22.

How much is enough?

That’s a relatively easy question to answer when you are eating a meal. Eat enough and you will feel full. Push past that point, and your body will make you vomit.

It is not an easy question to answer when you are thinking about wealth and possessions. No matter how much money you make, you could spend it all. There is always a better car, a more beautiful home, a boat, a jet, a better jet, an island, an NFL team, or something more or better than what you currently have.

But isn’t there a point when you have enough? Isn’t there some point of diminishing returns?

That’s one of the questions Jeremiah asks here in Jeremiah 22. As he addressed the sins of Judah’s king, Shallum (aka Jehoahaz), he asked, “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?” (v. 15a-b). In other words, he was a greedy man who was driven to acquire a bigger and nicer home. He was even willing to finance his possessions with “oppression and extortion” (v. 17d). And, according to verses 13 he made “his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.”

I can’t read those words without thinking about some of the wealthiest people in our world. Jeff Bezos built an incredible business in Amazon.com and was rewarded for it. As of 2020, Bezos was worth $133 billion. I’m a capitalist and the Bible teaches capitalism, so I don’t begrudge Bezos for what he is worth. His wealth is due to growth in the price of Amazon’s stock, but if Amazon had failed as a company, his stock would be worthless.

But there is a vast disparity in how Amazon pays its employees The CEO of Amazon earns $212 million per year for doing his job. Meanwhile, the median income of Amazon’s workers was $32,855. That is quite a difference between what the best paid employee of Amazon makes and what the workers in the middle of their wage scale make.

Again, I’m a capitalist and I don’t think salaries should be regulated. There is nobody in Washington D.C. who can decide what your work is worth better than the market can.

But God cares about the poor. It matters to him if the wealthy use the labor of others to enrich themselves without also rewarding the labor of those who work for the wealthy. God also calls out the futility of seeking more money and more stuff. He compared king Shallum to his father, a godly man, Josiah, who also ruled over Judah. I quoted the first part of verse 15 earlier but look at the whole verse: “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.” In other words, Josiah was a good and fair king. He was content with having enough and his life was blessed. Shallum would be held accountable by God for his endless greed and for exploiting others to try to satisfy that greed.

While none of us is a king, or a billionaire, the principle in this passage is still worthy of our consideration. If you own a business, do you pay market wages to your employees when you could pay better because your company is doing well?

If you don’t own a business, are you focused on “more and more cedar” (v. 15b) as a metric for how successful your life is? Have you noticed yet that no matter how much you earn or how much stuff you acquire, it doesn’t translate into greater and greater happiness?

Materialism and greed are so pervasive in our culture that we sometimes don’t notice how much they drive what we think about and what we do. God calls us to contentment and generosity. Are you content with what you have? Are you generous with others, using what you have to provide for and enrich their lives?

Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalms 33-35

Read Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, and Psalms 33-35.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 4.

This chapter of scripture is not encouraging.

That is an understatement.

This chapter of scripture is bleak. It states in verse 1 that powerful people in this world used their power to oppress the weak and vulnerable. These victims “have no comforter.” Their lives are a miserable stretch of existence. From birth to grave, each day and night, they do what more powerful people want them to do and live in fear. What kind of fear?

  • fear of displeasing those powerful people
  • fear of more invasive abuse from the powerful
  • fear of starving, unable to provide a living for themselves because their abusers take so much from them

Although Solomon did not tell us how many were oppressed and how many were oppressors, the chapter may suggest that the vast majority were oppressed by a small minority. The way the chapter suggests this is in the words of verses 2-3. Those verses rank the happiest people from least happiest to most happy. The categories of people Solomon discussed were broad–the dead, the living, and the unborn. Those three broad groups include a whole lot of people. So who is the happiest?

  • The living are the least happy because they are oppressed (v. 1, 2c-d).
  • The dead are the next most happy because they are no longer oppressed (v. 2 a-b).
  • But the happiest people of all are people who never lived at all (v. 3). Why? Because they have “not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Bleak, right? According to Solomon, you are better off dead. But, you’re best off if you never made it out of the womb alive in the first place because then no one could use and abuse you.

Of course, not everyone is enslaved by others. Some people go out and achieve, making all their dreams come true. They must be happy, right?

No, Solomon argued, because “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (v. 4). Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. That can make you work hard but you won’t enjoy achievements because your envy will move on to someone higher on the achievement ladder. If you could just enjoy the living you make, modest though it is (v. 6a), you’d be better off than a wealthier person who is does nothing but work, driven by envy.

Even a person who had no wife, no siblings, and no children isn’t happy (v. 8). Solomon thought that a single, solitary man should be happy because he only has to provide for himself. He can work hard enough to get what he wants and then spend it all on himself with no guilt. A single man who makes $30,000 per year may be able to buy more pleasure than a man who makes $90,000 but supports a wife, five kids, a dog, and a deadbeat brother.

Seems logical; but it doesn’t work out that way. The single guy with no dependents still works really hard. “There was no end to his toil” (v. 8c) says but “his eyes were not content with his wealth” (v. 8d). He, too, was sucked into envy, unable to enjoy his life because he needed to prove to someone that he matters.

I told you this was bleak.

But all is not lost. The solution to this partnership. Verses 9-12 commends a partnership of two (v. 9) or even three (v. 12c). Partners who work together instead of envying one another can:

  • produce more as a unit and they could on their own (v. 9b)
  • give each other some time off when they are injured or sick or just tired (v. 10)
  • keep each other company (v. 11)
  • protect each other (v. 12).

So the man who makes $90k and has to split it up with others is happier than the single guy who makes $30k and can do whatever he wants with it. In fact, if the single guy made $90k or even $900k, the man with partners is happier because of the benefits that partners bring.

When God created Adam, he made the most capable man who ever lived–apart from Jesus Christ, of course. Adam, while he was still an unfallen person, had a greater mind and better body than any of us because he wasn’t afflicted by the curse of sin.

Yet God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He gave him a partner–even knowing that his partner’s (aka, Eve’s) weakness would lead him into sin. Having a life partner in your spouse or a business partner in your vocation can help you escape the hopeless life that the oppressed live. Even if you are oppressed, at least you have someone to keep you warm at night (v. 11).

Solomon was a powerful man who oppressed others. He taxed the nation so thoroughly for his own projects, pleasures, and luxuries that the people begged his son to lay off and then they revolted against him when he wouldn’t.

But Solomon seems to have been a lonely man, despite his wealth and power over others. If you have 1000 women in your life, can any one of them truly be your partner?

People can be the source of your greatest problems in life. They can make promises that they fail to keep or even intentionally break. They can see you as a rival when they should see you as an ally. If you have enough people-problems, you may be tempted to decide that isolation is better.

This chapter advises us to partner up. Share life generously with your partner–your spouse, your children, your business partner(s), your teammates. The benefits of companionship will outweigh the “freedom” that being alone promises. God created us to be teammates and the life he gave us is best enjoyed when it is shared.

If you have a partnership–a marriage and family, a business partnership, a ministry partnership, etc.–are you a good partner? Are you thankful for the benefits that partnership brings you or do you selfishly wish you had all the control and all the benefits to yourself?

If your partnership is broken, the answer isn’t to go off on your own; it is to become and build a true partnership rather than a rivalry based on envy.

1 Kings 22, Daniel 4

Read 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it. The opposite is often believed, too; namely, the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27).

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experienced humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they.deserve. That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak. Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

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.