1 Samuel 16, Lamentations 1

Today, read 1 Samuel 16 and Lamentations 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 16.

The writer of First Samuel has given us very few time references to help us mark the events recorded in this book. Since the author focused on the significant events without telling us how much time passed between them, it seems like Saul’s kingdom rose rapidly and collapsed overnight. But the truth is that Saul reigned over Israel for a long time—forty-two years, according 1 Samuel 13:1. There may have been a long time between Samuel’s official announcement to Saul that he had been rejected as king in 1 Samuel 15 and David’s anointing as king in 1 Samuel 16. The Lord’s word to Samuel in 16:1, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?”, suggests that a good amount of time may have passed. Despite that, a long time will transpire between when David was anointed king here in 1 Samuel 16 and when he became king in 2 Samuel 2. During this time, God would prepare David for the role He had chosen David to fill.

God commanded Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons in verse 1 to replace Saul as king. Since Samuel feared for his life while obeying this command (v. 2a), God told him how to use the worship ritual of sacrifice to provide cover for this assignment (vv. 2b-5). Although offering a sacrifice gave Samuel an overt occasion to accomplish his covert mission of choosing Israel’s king, the sacrifice itself was more than just a cover story. As the leader of God’s people, it was appropriate for David’s ministry as king to begin with a sacrifice followed by his anointing because his kingship would be a spiritual thing—an act of obedient worship, of direct service to the Lord his God.

God emphasized the importance of choosing a godly man as king by the way he revealed to Samuel which son of Jesse to anoint. Traditionally, the eldest son would have been the natural choice and Jesse’s son Eliab looked like a winner to Samuel (v. 6). But God taught Samuel, and us, an important lesson about spiritual leadership in verse 7 of our chapter for today: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We humans are wired to be impressed by someone’s physical appearance. We admire those who are tall, “looking up” to them metaphorically as well as literally. Studies show that a good looking job candidate is more likely to be hired than an average (or worse) looking person, even if the good-looking one is less qualified. We are easily impressed by appearances. God, however, is not. Although David was plenty good-looking and athletic (vv. 12, 18), it was his walk with God that qualified him to be a leader for God’s people, not his physical attributes.

This passage should cause us to stop and reflect on our own decision-making. How much of a factor was the character and spiritual life of your spouse when you chose to start dating him or her? How much was it a factor when you chose to get married? Do you choose to read books (or receive other kinds of spiritual input) from pastors and teachers who are popular, lead large ministries, and have impressive sales numbers or are you looking for strong, biblical content delivered by a godly man?

What about choosing a church—are you looking for godly leadership and biblical teaching or are you impressed too much by appearances? When your kids start to get interested in the opposite sex, are you concerned that they climb the social ladder by dating the best looking, or most popular, or best athlete? As long as that person claims to be a Christian, is that good enough for you or are you looking for evidence of a growing Christian life?

David had a lot to learn before he could lead God’s people as king, so in God’s providence he was brought into close contact with Saul in verses 13-23. But the most important qualification in David’s life was that he walked with God. Since he walked with God, God would lead him through the circumstances and events (many of them painful) that would prepare him to be the leader of God’s people. If you aspire to be a leader or to become somebody’s husband or wife, or to see your children grow up and become good, godly adults, the most important thing to do is walk with God yourself.

The second most important thing to do is to learn to look beneath appearances for genuine evidence of a growing walk with God in the other person. We can’t see the heart like God does, but we can ask him to lead us and to show us the truth about others. If our desire is to please God, we can trust that he will lead us just as he lead in David’s life.

1 Samuel 14, Jeremiah 51

Read 1 Samuel 14 and Jeremiah 51.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 14.

Although Saul was the king and was responsible for fighting Israel’s war, it was Jonathan who seemed to have the courage to keep taking on the Philistines. Yesterday in 1 Samuel 13 we read about Jonathan’s attack on Geba (13:3) and today we read about another attack of Jonathan on a Philistine outpost (vv. 1-14).

God was with Jonathan and even did sent a little earthquake to help him (v. 15), but Saul delayed joining the fight (vv. 16-19). When Saul and his men finally did join the fight, they won a great victory for Israel; however, Saul had foolishly caused the armies to take an oath not to eat until the battle was finished (v. 24). Although everyone knew that Jonathan had not heard Saul’s decree or taken the oath himself, Saul was determined to hold Jonathan accountable for breaking the terms of the oath by eating some of the honey he encountered (vv. 43-44). Only the direct intervention of the people saved Jonathan’s life from being taken foolishly and needlessly (v. 45). The wording of verse 45 is general, but the intent of the verse is that the rest of the army rallied to Jonathan’s cause. The phrase, “…As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground” in verse 45 is a threat against Saul. The army is telling Saul that they will fight against him to protect Jonathan’s life.

Israel avoided losing a great warrior, but this passage should cause us to consider how great of an impact a foolish, snap decision can be. When we create arbitrary rules that serve no purpose or ruthlessly enforce them without any regard to the consequences, we are acting like Saul did here in 1 Samuel 14. The stakes and the potential impact on us are not as high as they were for Jonathan and Saul, but the principle remains the same. A godly leader does not decide things impetuously or foolishly. If he does make a foolish decision, he will not enforce it without thinking. The passage shows us the effect that God’s rejection of Saul in 1 Samuel 13 was beginning to have on his ministry as king. Saul, the once courageous leader that Israel had began to become a tentative follower when it came to doing God’s will (vv. 12b, 15-19).

How is your leadership today? Are you moving forward when God’s will is clear? Are you careful about the decisions you make, thinking carefully about the possible consequences and outcomes?

1 Samuel 4, Jeremiah 42

Read 1 Samuel 4 and Jeremiah 42.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 42.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. Here in Jeremiah 42, the people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 2b) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more than these people were, Jeremiah excepted. I don’t say that to demean them; I say it because back in chapter 39, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, the Babylonians forced the vast majority of people who survived the battle to march to Babylon as exiles. Verse 10 of Jeremiah 39 says, “…the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.” So the people left in Judah, the remnant, were not considered high value people. That’s why they were left behind.

In between Jeremiah 39 and 42, this remnant became desperate. They assassinated the man the Babylonians had left to rule over them (40:7-41:3). Then, they ran off to Egypt because they were afraid of the repercussions (41:16-18). Now, here in chapter 42, they turned to God for help. They implored Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance about “where we should go and what we should do” (v. 3).

Jeremiah said he would pray for them and tell them what God said (v. 4). Then, in verse 5, the remnant “said to Jeremiah, ‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’” So they made strong, grand promises to do what the Lord commanded, no matter what it was.

God did answer Jeremiah’s prayer (v.7). His answer was:

  • Stay here and I’ll bless you (vv. 8-12)
  • Don’t go to Egypt or “my wrath will be poured out on you” (v. 18).

Jeremiah urged the people to do what God said, just as they promised they would (vv. 19-22). You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what happened because the story continued into the next chapter. But let’s consider what God’s people did here:

First, what happened to them was traumatic. Imagine a foreign nation breaching the walls of your city, killing tons of people and carrying off most of the rest of them to a foreign city. That would be terrifying.

Second, they didn’t know what to do next. These people were left because they were poor. That means either (a) they had some kind of disability that made providing for themselves impossible or (b) they lacked basic intelligence and skill and were therefore incapable of earning a living for themselves. These are the people who were left; the smartest, most gifted one of them (again, except for Jeremiah) was a failure. They had legitimate reasons to wonder whether or not they would be able to provide for themselves or whether they would starve to death from their own incompetence.

Turning to the Lord for guidance was the exact right move to make. Tomorrow we’ll find out if they actually wanted God’s guidance or if they wanted God’s stamp of approval on what they had already decided to do.

How often do we do the latter–ask for God’s help and guidance but really what we want is for him to approve of our plans? If you or I violate a command or principle of scripture because we think we have some exceptional case but we ask God to “give us wisdom,” we’re not really seeking wisdom but divine favor for our own ways.

God’s word tells us to act differently. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This verse isn’t designed to give us comfort when we make a decision that we’re not sure about. In other words, if we buy a car or house but we’re afraid it might be a bad decision, Proverbs 3:5 isn’t telling us just to trust the Lord and it will work out OK.

No, Proverbs 3:5 is telling us to trust the Lord by doing what he has revealed. So, for instance, if you marry an unsaved person, you’re leaning on your own understanding. It doesn’t matter how much you ask for God’s guidance and help, your prayer is not sincere. It might come from great fear and desperation but it isn’t sincere.

The remnant went to great pains in verses 5-6 to say that they would do whatever God said.

Are you fully committed to that–to doing the will of God, obeying God’s word? Or is that something you just paste onto the plans you’ve already made in hopes that God will approve?

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 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120

Read Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:118, 120: “You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their delusions come to nothing…. My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”

The songwriter described so many benefits from knowing, loving, and obeying God’s word throughout this Psalm. In verse 105 of today’s reading he made the well-known statement, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” which describes God’s truth as bringing clarity about decisions in his life.

But what about those who don’t know and love God’s word? What do they have to guide them through life? Verse 118 answers that question by saying, “their delusions come to nothing.” What unbelievers have, then, are delusions rather than truth. They make decisions based on their own deluded ideas rather than on absolute, God-revealed truth. They may have strong convictions but their convictions are based on nothing other than their own preferences or ways of looking at the world. This shows itself in our society daily. The crazy things people claim to be true, like that there are 57 genders or whatever, are symptoms of a deluded society.

Delusions can be really interesting, even very appealing. The human mind is capable of incredible, wild fantasies and, because they are only thoughts, they are not constrained by things like logic, physics, morality, or human laws. When people start to live as if their delusions are true, they will stumble into many absurd, wicked ways. As the Psalmist wrote in the last phrase of verse 118: “their delusions come to nothing.”

The preceding part of verse 118 tells us what will happen to those who live by their own delusions instead of God’s truth: “You reject all who stray from your decrees.” People may enjoy acting as if their distorted reality is true but after they die, they will find a holy God who has rejected them for rejecting his word.

This brings me to verse 120. Obeying God’s word is hard, right? Without the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and illumination, it is impossible. Even with those gifts of the Spirit, we believers have to grapple with our sin nature within. So what enables a person to reverence, receive, and obey God’s word? Verse 120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you….” It is the fear of God that causes people to obey his word. This is the work of the Spirit causing us to turn from our delusions about God, about life, about sin and believe that God exists and that we are accountable to him but also that he loves us and wants to redeem us from our delusions.

Any appetite we have for God’s word or any success we have in obeying it is only by the grace of God given to us by his Spirit. This is why we have nothing to be proud about. But we must always remember to rely on the Spirit, asking God to keep us humble and dependent on his grace. Otherwise, we will be tempted again by the “delusions [which] come to nothing.”

Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, Psalm 110

Today’s readings are Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, and Psalm 110.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” This is a verse that I usually quote when I am doing a funeral message. It tells us that it is “better” to go to a funeral than to a party.

That advice is the opposite of our instincts or our desires. Nobody would rather go to a funeral than to a party. Funerals are sad occasions; parties are fun! So why would Solomon tell us to attend a funeral rather than a party if we had a choice to make between the two of them?

The answer is in the last two lines of verse 2: “…for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Why choose funerals over parties? Because someday you’ll be the one who is remembered at a funeral. In addition to the sadness at a funeral, I think that most people don’t like going to funerals BECAUSE it reminds us that we’ll be dead someday. Funerals foreshadow your own death. Most people don’t want to think about that but Solomon said that we should think about it.

Why?

Because thinking about your death changes the way you live. After you die, your legacy is set in stone. You can’t make up for your mistakes, seek forgiveness, try to reconcile broken relationships, or receive God’s forgiveness for your sins. After you die, your eternal destiny is sealed and whatever memories people have of you are permanent.

When you think of your life in that light, it should give you some perspective to make better decisions today. If a person is usually kind and loving, they’ll likely be remembered that way. If a person is often selfish and difficult and only occasionally kind, those who know them will carry those memories.

More important than the people who remember you at your death, after death you will face God. If you’re found in Christ, God will welcome you into his presence. If you’re outside of Christ, you will pay the just penalty for your sins for eternity. And, for those of us who are in Christ, we will answer to God for what we produced with our lives. Did we strive to glorify him, to grow in faith, to spread his message of good news, to be generous to those with needs and for the advancement of his kingdom?

This life is a gift of extraordinary value. You can invest it for eternal rewards or spend it for temporary and fleeting satisfaction. Someday, sooner than we realize, probably, it will be over. How does that reality make you think about what you will do today and how you will do it?

Leviticus 15, Proverbs 29, Psalm 101

Today, read Leviticus 15, Proverbs 29, Psalm 101.

This devotional is about Psalm 101.

In this song, David sang about the ideals to which he aspired. Each “I will” expressed his determination as the king to lead his kingdom according to specific moral principles. Those moral principles were:

to lead himself first (vv. 1-3b)

Before expressing moral goals for his administration, David set some personal goals for himself. Those goals were:

  • To praise God and live a godly life in His sight (vv. 1-2a-b)
  • To act with righteousness in his personal, family decisions (v. 2c)
  • Never to approve of something that God disapproves of (v. 3a-b).

to cultivate relationships carefully (vv. 3c-7)

Because the king was powerful, many people courted his friendship in order to gain power. David determined to be careful about who influenced him by:

  • separating himself from:
    • those who were dishonest (“faithless = lacking in faithfulness” v. 3c-d)
    • those who had evil hearts (v. 4).
    • those who gossiped. In fact, he determined to rebuke anyone wanted to tell him secrets that slander others (v. 5a-b)
    • those who were proud (v. 5c-d)
    • those who were dishonest liars (v. 7)
  • and, instead, choosing to make friends with those who:
    • are faithful to God and others (v. 6a-b)
    • who are righteous in their lives before God (v. 6c-d)

to rule justly (v. 8)

  • by silencing those who were wicked and outspoken about it (v. 8a-b)
  • by delivering justice to those who broke God’s law intentionally (v. 8c-d)

None of us is a king, but each of us should consider how making these kinds of choices could affect our lives and the lives of others.

Do you live your life by a moral code?

Have you ever spelled out on paper the kind of life you are determined to live by the grace of God, the kind of people you won’t and will be influenced by, and how you will use the power/influence you have?

As David sang this song, perhaps each morning at the beginning of his day, he was rehearsing what it would look like to do the right thing at the moment of decision, reminding himself of what was important to him (because it is important to God), and resolving to live his life by these principles.

As we know, David did not perfectly live by these principles No one, except Jesus, was or is able morally to live by these or any other good principles. These are the things David aspired to be personally and to see cultivated in his kingdom.

Who do you aspire to become morally? Have you considered writing out your principles and reviewing them regularly?

Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99

Today’s readings are Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99.

This devotional is about Proverbs 27:22: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.”

Why do some people make a bad decision once and learn from it while others make the same bad decision many times? The answer is that the one who learns from their bad decisions is on the path to wisdom. Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and humbly accepting rebuke–either from God or from friends (vv. 5-6, 17) or from the consequences that bad decisions inevitably bring.

The wisest person believes what God’s word says and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade A Wisdom.” This person does not try to test God’s word by making moral choices that are against what it says. Instead, he or she obeys God’s word because they believe it to be true. This person will avoid many heartaches and problems simply because they believed God. In this case, God’s word provides the rebuke in advance and teaches the wise person not to give into that sinful desire of his or her heart. Nobody does this perfectly; after all, we’re all sinners. But God’s grace allows some people to sin less than others because they wisely believe and obey God’s commands.

A step below the wisest person is the person who watches the decisions made by others, notices whether the outcome is good or bad, and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade B Wisdom.” This person learns from the mistakes/misdeeds of others and avoids many heartaches and problems as a result. In other words, the rebuke is found in the life and consequences produced by those who live immorally. The person with “Grade B Wisdom” believes that the bad consequences that follow the sinful choices of others will come to him or her if they make the same sinful choice.

Next we have the person who sins–either because they are ignorant of God’s commands and the bad outcomes others have or because they ignore the sources of rebuke from “Grade A” and “Grade B” wisdom. This person learns wisdom by experience and acquires “Grade C” wisdom. They experience the consequences and pain of their sins and, at that point, choose to believe and act differently in the future as a result.

Finally, we have the fool. He’s got “Grade F ‘wisdom’” which is equivalent to straight up folly. This person does whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not God has commanded against it or others have experienced the pain that comes from it. This person believes that he is some kind of exception. While God’s word may be true for everyone else, he or she will not be hurt by their sins like everyone else is. And, if this person sins once and pays the price for it, they believe it is an anomaly so they sin again expecting a different result. Proverbs 27:22 addressed this kind of person. It says that you can try as many ways as you want or as often as you want to drive the folly out of a fool, but “you will not remove their folly from them” even if you “grind a fool in a motar.” This person learns nothing from anyone–not God’s word, not the mistakes and misdeeds of others, and not even from their own experiences.

A few years ago, someone was planning an unwise, sinful action and several of us spoke to him about it. We pleaded with him not to do what he intended to do. This encounter was not our first with this person. I had personally witnessed him disregarding his parent’s instructions, even though he was warned. When that decision got him in trouble, he tried to sin his way out of it again even though I and others urged him not to. Finally, when I heard of this person’s plans to sin again, I told him: “Haven’t you learned anything from your experience? You sin, it gets you into trouble, so you sin more to try to get yourself out of it.”

Our rebuke did not work. Showing him scripture did not change his actions. Pleading with him to at least try a different path fell on deaf ears. This person was determined to prove God’s word right not by obeying it to avoid trouble but by disobeying it, making their own sinful, selfish choices. He thought he was an exception to the rule; I think he made a foolish choice that would hurt him, just as God’s word said.

Are you one who accepts good confrontation or someone who argues or ignores it? Few people like to confront others and nobody enjoys being confronted. A wise person, however, will accept rebuke–from God’s word, from the experience of others or from their own experiences–and change course. Is that you? Or will you keep making morally foolish decisions despite God’s clear commands or the pain that results?

God is gracious and merciful but not to the fool. He is gracious and merciful to those who accept rebuke and repent, changing their minds and choosing a different path. If you’re on an unwise path, please let these verses turn your thinking. Don’t be a fool.

Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Today’s readings are Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

The previous chapters in this book explained the various offerings God had commanded his people to bring (Lev 1-7), the dedication of Aaron and his sons as priests (Lev 8), and the beginning of their service to the Lord on behalf of Israel (Lev 9). Their ministry had just begun and, here in chapter 10, two of Aaron’s sons broke the Law of Moses and displeased God with “unauthorized fire” (v. 10).

What exactly they did wrong is not explained to us. It could have been incorporating some pagan worship element in the offering. It could have been that they were drunk when making the offering (which maybe why verses 8ff are in this chapter). It could have been that they entered the Most Holy Place even though it was not the Day of Atonement. We just don’t know specifically what they did but whatever it was, it was done in willful disobedience to God’s word. This is why God acted as swiftly as he did. Instead of fearing the Lord and doing their ministry in that spirit, they attempted to worship God in an unholy way.

Moses responded swiftly and told Aaron and all the other priests exactly what to do next. This was to re-enforce that Nadab and Abihu were completely in the wrong and to keep the other priests from compounding the sin by disobeying God’s commands in other ways while they served as priests.

Still, despite Moses’s best efforts to keep the priests on an obedient path, they broke God’s law in verses 16-18 by not eating “the sin offering in the sanctuary area” (vv. 17-18). Moses was angry about this, too (v. 16) and confronted the priests about this violation. Aaron spoke up for the others and asked, given the fact that “such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” That satisfied Moses (v. 20) and no punishments resulted.

But what exactly did Aaron mean by, “such things as this have happened to me…”?

To answer that question, we must remember that Aaron was ordered not to grieve the death of his sons while he was on duty as a priest (vv. 6-7). These orders were directed at the outward signs of mourning; they were forbidden from tearing their clothes or allowing their hair to become disheveled which was a common way of showing mourning.

Although Moses commanded them not to mourn externally, they were of course sad and distraught on the inside, both due to the sin of Nadab and Abihu and due their deaths. So Aaron’s response to Moses in verse 19 seems to have meant something like, “We fulfilled our duties to the Lord as priests despite the sorrow we have. The only part we didn’t complete was the part that benefited us, eating the meat from the offering. Because we are mourning, none of us felt like eating. Since the meal is supposed to be for our benefit anyway, is God really displeased that we didn’t eat it? Would God have been glorified if we feasted away while our hearts were breaking?” If that’s what Aaron meant, it is a compelling argument and, therefore, not surprising that Moses was satisfied by it.

The most important part of what Aaron said, however, is totally clear: “Would the Lord have been pleased…?” His motives for allowing the sin offering to be consumed like the burnt offering instead of eaten were to glorify God. In every other circumstance, he would have obeyed God’s directions completely but, given these circumstances, it would be more glorifying to God for them to fast rather than eat the meal as if nothing were wrong.

The truth of this passage, then, is that the motives behind what you do for the Lord matter more than what you do for the Lord. This is something the Old Testament prophets emphasized and Jesus spoke about often as well. It is never right to disobey God because of your feelings; but there are times when it is not totally clear what the best way to glorify God is. In those times, one should seek to honor God and act in a way that is consistent with trying to honor God.

From time to time people in our church ask me about various ethical dilemmas they have. Things like:

  • Should I attend a baby shower for a baby conceived out of wedlock, especially if the mother is unrepentant? It isn’t the baby’s fault, but does it send a wrong message?
  • Should I attend the wedding of someone who professes Christ but is marrying an unbeliever? What if I’m not really convinced that the professing believer truly knows Christ?

These and other situations call for wisdom and they bring stress (and distress) to many conscientious believers. Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I try to reason aloud with the person asking the question from clear Scriptural truths and see if any seem to apply in the situation they are asking about.

Often, though, it ends in a judgment call. A passage like this gives us some comfort. If we are seeking to please the Lord–not to justify or excuse a sin that we really want to do but earnestly seeking to please him–then that matters more to God than scrupulous obedience to his commands from a cold heart.

Are you facing any tough decisions where the right thing to do is not 100% clear despite the fact that you’ve sought counsel from the Lord and from godly people? Take comfort that God knows your motives and that he is gracious and merciful to us, especially when we want to please him.

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. So when Solomon wrote here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he taught us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful–critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker–the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76

Today’s readings are Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76.

This devotional is about Exodus 28.

Exodus 28 described the uniform that the priests were to wear. Most of the garments that made up this uniform were for all the priests when they ministered in the Holy Place (vv. 43). Some pieces were reserved for only the high priest to wear (v. 15). Besides a description of each piece in the uniform, this chapter tells us the following:

  • The purpose of these garments was to give them “dignity and honor” (vv. 2, 40).
  • The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones and warn over the priest’s heart (vv. 9-12).
  • The breast piece was designed to make decisions for Israel and that was to be warn “over his heart before the Lord” (v. 30).

The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones which were warn over the priest’s heart. This should have helped him be conscious of what he already knew which is that he represented the people before God. Every time he put on the ephod, he had something tangible to remind him of his responsibility for all of Israel’s people. Likewise, every time he put on the breast piece, he had a physical reminder that God was the king of Israel and he was making the decisions for his people. Still, the best human priest could only imperfectly remember the people and his responsibility to them and the Lord and his way of revealing his will.

Aaron was a man, just like every other priest. As a man, he felt responsible for the work he was supposed to do. But he also experienced the concerns of everyday life–anxiety, perhaps, fear, loneliness, doubt, greed, envy, lust, and more. There were some times and some priests, I’m sure, where very little thought was given to the people or to the Lord’s will because the priest was preoccupied with his own stuff.

Jesus, our perfect priest, however, did not suffer from the sinful and/or selfish concerns that every other priest wrestled with as he did his duty for God. Jesus needed no reminder that his priestly ministry was for the people. The Bible tells us that his people were chosen by name to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was able to reveal God’s will like no other priest because he was God in the flesh. He did not need the Urim and Thummim over his heart to know and be conscious of God’s will; he knew God’s will intimately because he was the one willing it. Likewise, he did not need a reminder of the people whose sins he atoned for because he knew perfectly and completely each one of us. As the perfect man, because of his divinity, he was and is able to be our perfect priest without being distracted by his own human “stuff.” Instead of bearing a category representing us over his heart, he made atonement for and intercedes for us because we are in his heart.

Praise Jesus for fulfilling the symbols in this passage perfectly as our great high priest.

Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, Psalm 74

Today’s readings are Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, and Psalm 74.

This devotional is about Proverbs 2.

The end of Proverbs 1 described wisdom as a woman wandering the streets offering her blessing to anyone who wanted it. Here in Proverbs 2, Solomon told his son that he, Solomon, could be the medium for wisdom. He wrote in verses 1 & 6, “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you… then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

It has always been God’s plan to pass wisdom from parents to children. Since God is the source of wisdom (v. 6) and parents are commanded to teach our children about God and introduce him to our kids (see Deut 11:19-21), teaching our children about God and his ways also introduces them to God’s wisdom for guiding their lives (vv. 9-11). This wisdom, then, will steer our children away from sinful influencers, either men (vv. 12-15) or women (vv. 16-19). The result will be a blessed, morally successful life (vv. 7-8, 20-22).

The lesson for children is to listen to your parents and be obedient to their words. Our world mocks parents and acts as if they know nothing. But look at the lives of those who listen that kind of nonsense. Children may be more adept at technology and more savvy about what is popular but God gave you parents to keep you from ruining your life through sinful, stupid actions.

The lesson for parents is to teach your children about God. Our church offers children’s programs to assist you. But you can have an influence on them that the world’s greatest youth minister never can have. Believe it or not, your children respect you, want your attention, crave your insight, and want to be like you. So make the most of that! When they get older, they will be tempted to disregard your words and make their own decisions in foolish ignorance. This is why it is important to start leading your children spiritually when they are young. Parents can delegate many things about our children to others–coaches who can teach them to play sports, teachers who can instruct them about math or science, but you can’t really outsource their moral and spiritual instruction. So make sure to pray for your kids and to lead them to know God and his ways.