Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Proverbs 2

Read Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9 and Proverbs 2.

This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did the “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here.

But this was stupid both times, even more so the second time after the close call back in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12:11, 13 Abraham told Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are…. say you are my sister.”

But think about how that would sound to man. “Hi, I’m Abraham and this beautiful woman here is my sister Sarah.”

Well, if they were merely brother and sister and there’s no husband introduced, then it would be reasonable for a man to conclude that this beautiful woman was single and available for anyone who wanted her.

Predictably, that’s what happened; she was added to the harem of Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelek (here in Gen 20). In both cases, Abraham lost his wife and put God’s promises in jeopardy. In both cases, only God’s miraculous intervention preserved Sarah and allowed her to become the covenant mother that God had promised she would be.

So why would Abraham do this–knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men?

The answer–in both cases–was fear. Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11).

So he just lied and made Sarah available.

That was unloving to her and unnecessary. Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his servants were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

And, how often does it actually happen where a man kills another man to be with his wife? I know there are news stories where that kind of thing happens but I’ve never personally met anyone in that situation. If a man did that–killed another man to take his wife–the other men who lived around the killer would gang up on him and kill him.

So, Abraham’s fear was unspiritual, irrational, and far adrift from reality.

This incident shows what happens when we live in fear instead of faith in God’s promises; namely, we make foolish decisions. God protected Abraham because of his covenant promises that Abraham would become a great nation through the son born to Sarah. But God would have been just to allow Abraham to live through the consequences of the foolish, fear-filled decisions he made.

Are you living your life in fear instead of in faith? Do you use lies and deception to manipulate others instead of trusting God to care for you and provide for you? It is easy and tempting for us to fall into a similar trap as Abraham. Learn from his negative example in this instance and trust God instead of acting in fear.

2 Chronicles 35, Malachi 3

Read 2 Chronicles 35 and Malachi 3.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 35.

Josiah was the last great king of Judah and he ruled for a long time–over 30 years. During his reign the idolatry that plagued both Israel and Judah for generations gave way, officially at least, to the true worship of the true God. Even the Passover feast was celebrated regularly, which “had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel” (v. 18).

So Josiah was a godly man, a good king, and someone the people in his kingdom actually loved–a rare thing, indeed. Verse 24 says that after he died, “all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him.” In every measurable way, Josiah lived a successful life.

But his life ended much sooner than it should have. Yes, he reigned for 31 years (34:1) but he started his reign at age 8 so he died when he was 39 years old. His life could have been much longer and so could the kingdom and spiritual renewal he led.

What ended things so prematurely? An unwise battle against Egypt (v. 20), that’s what. Egypt was not coming to attack Judah and Pharaoh Necho warned Josiah not to attack (v. 21), even stating that God himself was sending the message of non-aggression. The writer of 2 Chronicles agreed that Necho’s message was from God; verse 22b says, “He would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.”

Josah’a attack was unwise and unnecessary because the Egyptians were not after him or his people. He died prematurely, then, because of his own foolishness. Though he was a godly man, he was still a man and hu-man and humans make bad decisions. Josiah’s bad decision was personally and nationally costly. God did not stop him from making it even though Josiah was a godly man.

Christians assume sometimes that being in Christ protects us from foolish decisions. I had a man tell me once, “When you’re a Christians, things just go better.” That’s a nice statement but not always or necessarily true. The Bible does promise benefits for meditating on (Psalm 1:3, Joshua 1:8) and obeying (James 1:25) God’s word but loving and serving God does not give you full immunity from making bad decisions or feeling the consequences of those decisions (vv. 20-24). Foolish is the person who assumes he has immunity or (worse) blames God when foolish decisions turn our poorly.

Are you making any decisions in your life where you are acting unwisely, even against good advice because you expect God to insure you from bad decisions? Change your mind and learn from Josiah’s tragic example to become godly and wise in how your live your life.

2 Chronicles 10, Zephaniah 2

Read 2 Chronicles 10 and Zephaniah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 10.

We’ve read before about the foolish decision of Rehoboam to treat God’s people harshly rather than lighten the burden that Solomon put on them. What is interesting in this passage is the statement, “this turn of events was from God” (v. 15b). That phrase indicates that God willed that Rehoboam would “not listen to the people” (v. 15a). In other words, although Rehoboam made the choice, using his “free” will to make a foolish decision, his foolish decision was part of God’s foreordained will.

The reason God willed this was described in the next phrase of verse 15, “…to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” That phrase reminds us that, while Solomon was still alive, God handed down judgment on him because of his idolatry. The judgment God handed down on him was a divided kingdom which was prophesied to Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s officials. You can read about all of this in 1 Kings 11-12.

So God ordained Rehoboam’s response in order to make his prophecy to Jeroboam come true. But how is that foreordination consistent with the idea of Rehoboam’s free will? Did Rehoboam really have a choice? If not, how could he be held accountable for the choice God made for him?

The answer to that question is that Rehoboam did have a choice and he made a choice to follow his sinful nature. The advice of his friends to be a difficult dictator (vv. 8-11) appealed to his pride and greed. He chose the decision he made because he was a sinner. His choice was consistent with his sinful nature.

God’s role in this was simply to allow him to do what he wanted to do. God could have been gracious to Rehoboam. He could have softened the king’s heart to listen to the wisdom of Solomon’s advisors (vv. 6-7) but, as the Sovereign Lord “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11), God let Rehoboam decide and act according to his sin nature. That decision accomplished the plan of God to divide the nation. It meant that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled by the free choice of King Rehoboam.

Free will does not mean “free” in the absolute sense. I am free to try to flap my arms and fly like a bird, but my choice to try that will not change my nature. By nature, I don’t have the capacity to carry out my choice to fly like a bird. Free will, then, means that I am free to choose according to my nature. As sinners, we choose what is selfish and wrong and destructive because of our sin nature. The choice was ours, it was freely made, so we are accountable for it.

When we make good choices, it is because God has been gracious to us. He brings wisdom or circumstances that change our thinking and he softens our hearts to receive that wisdom. The choice is still freely made but it is because of God’s grace.

So God’s sovereignty does not violate free will. Instead, God–according to his plan and purpose–either lets us choose according to our nature or he enlightens us by grace so that we make a better choice. This is how God accomplishes his will while still letting us exercise our wills. It is also why we are held accountable for the choices we make even though they were foreordained by God. Rehoboam did what he wanted; God just stood back and let him do it so that his sovereign plan would be accomplished.

The point for us is to ask for God’s grace to make good, wise, godly choices in life. Don’t let me do what I want to do, Lord! Instead, give me the grace to do what is right in your sight. This is the prayer of a godly person who wants to use God’s gift of free will in a godly way.

1 Kings 1, Ezekiel 32

Read 1 Kings 1 and Ezekiel 32.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 1.

The longer you live, the more information you have about life. Getting older allows you to see how decisions you made when you were young or younger have turned out or are turning out. You can also witness how the lives and decisions of others around you have turned out. The wise pay attention to what is happening around them and learn some lessons as they get older.

The opening verses of 1 Kings 1 suggest that David has learned some things about women. As David aged, he had a hard time staying warm at night no matter how many blankets they stacked on top of him (v. 1). His servants, then, decided he needed a warm body to sleep with. They could have set up a schedule for his many wives to take turns keeping him warm at night but, knowing that he had an eye for a pretty girl, they looked for a newer, younger, prettier model to keep him company instead (v. 2).

While their stated goal was to keep the king warm (v. 2c), the fact that they chose a girl based on her beauty suggests that they wanted to satisfy the king in other ways as well. The girl they found was beautiful and useful according to verse 4a & b, but according to verse 4c, “…the king had no sexual relations with her.” This suggests that David had learned something about the appropriate relationship a man should have with a woman that is not his wife. David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Amnon, and the way that Absolom used David’s concubines had, maybe, taught him some respect for women that he did not have when he was younger. At any rate, in this one instance at least, David was able to keep his attraction for Abishag in check. So, perhaps, getting older and experiencing the chastening hand of God in his life had taught the king an important moral lesson.

However, David didn’t learn all the lessons he should have learned. The rest of this chapter described the royal crisis that David’s son Adonijah created when he decided to designate himself king. Before he proclaimed himself to be king, however, Adonijah had developed a habit of self-promotion. Verse 5e says that Adonijah “got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.” The next verse, verse 6, indicates that Adonijah had done this kind of thing many times before. That is indicated by the words, “His father had never rebuked him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’ in verse 6. Recall that Absolom did this same sort of thing (2 Sam 15:1) before he tried to usurp David’s throne. So David had seen this activity before, but he apparently did not learn much from it. If he had responded to Adonijah when he began acting like Absolom, perhaps Solomon could have become king without any intrigue, without a rushed coronation ceremony, and without the violence that we’ll read about tomorrow.

One of the patterns that we see in David’s life is passivity in certain situations. He showed no reluctance when it came to making war against other nations but he seemed to have great reluctance when it came to dealing with Joab or with his children. He did not confront Amnon when he sinned and raped Tamar. He did not confront Absolom the numerous times that Absolom sinned. And, now, he avoided confronting his son Adonijah or dealing with Adonijah after Solomon became king.

If you look back over your life, you will probably see how sins or just weaknesses in your character or personality have caused you problems again and again. You probably already know what things trip you up repeatedly but you are reluctant to change. Please reconsider; look how costly David’s reluctance to change was in his life and the life of his kingdom. Is it really worth it to let your kids ruin their lives just because you don’t like confrontation? Is the comfort of passivity worth the pain that comes from living on cruise control? What decision do you need to make or difficult conversation do you need to have that you are avoiding? Learn from David’s life and do what you know you should do. Don’t relive the same mistakes over and over again.

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.