Numbers 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1

Read Numbers 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1.

This devotional is about Numbers 36.

This passage in Numbers discusses how property rights in Israel’s promised land were to be managed, but in the middle of this passage there is an interesting statement. In order for the daughters of Zelophehad to retain their family property, they had to marry within their own family. Verse 6 says, “This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan.”

Notice that phrase, “They may marry anyone they please….” When I was a young, unmarried man, I wondered and worried about who the Lord wanted me to marry. Since I believed (and still do) that God knows all things because he has sovereignly decreed all things either directly or by allowing them to occur, I believed that God had chosen my wife. But how would I find her and, when I did, how would I know that she was “the one?” Furthermore, what if I misjudged the will of God or wanted to be with someone so much that I missed the will of God for my life? These are heavy questions and the Bible seems to give little to no insight on them.

Until I read this passage, that is. When I read this passage I noticed that God did not specify who the daughters of Zelophehad must marry. He could have! He could have revealed their names to Moses and paired them up right then and there. Instead, however, he said that they had the freedom to marry “anyone they please.” This was a great relief to me. God’s will for my life would not be someone revealed by mysticism nor would I be forced to pledge my faith to someone I might actually dislike. No, God’s word allows his people to marry “anyone they please” as long as that person meets a few other important qualifications.

Instead of giving us steps for finding “the one,” God’s word tells us that there are certain things that a godly believer should be looking for in a spouse. God wants us as believers to marry other believers (see 1 Cor 7:39 and notice that the widow “…is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord”). This is not just someone who claims to be a believer, but who claims it and shows it by a growing Christian life so that together they can raise a godly family (see Mal 2:15). Further, the book of Proverbs specifies some characteristics of a wise woman. So, instead of looking for “the one” and wondering how I would find her, I sought out Christian girls I thought were attractive and looked to see if they had evidence of a growing faith and the character qualities that would contribute to a godly marriage. And, in God’s grace, he led me to a beautiful woman who compliments me well and has been an excellent companion for me for over 25 years now.

Did God decree that I would marry Suzanne? Yes, but the factors that explain that decree are complex. God knew what would be attractive to me and who would find me attractive. He knew how we would meet and the circumstances under which we would get to know each other and want to be together. There are many, many factors that God in his infinite wisdom understands that we never will. Although there is much more to this than I can explain in this simple devotional, I think it is important to understand that making godly decisions in key areas of your life is not so much about discerning or divining what God had decreed. Rather, it is about understanding that God has designed you in a certain way, that he has allowed your life to develop in certain ways, and that he has given you the scriptures and the Spirit and godly counselors to purify your desires and give you wisdom about making these key decisions. If you make decisions in faith and obedience to God’s word and apply God’s wisdom from the Word as best as you can, you can follow your desires with confidence that God’s providence will lead you to his will in your life.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 57, Proverbs 13:15-25

Read Numbers 34, Isaiah 57, Proverbs 13:15-25.

This devotional is about Proverbs 13, specifically:

“Good judgment wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful leads to their destruction. 16 All who are prudent act with knowledge, but fools expose their folly.”

– Proverbs 13:15-16

These two proverbs speak to how we make decisions.

The first proverb, 13:15, talks about the choices that we make in life. “Good judgment” in this proverb is contrasted with “the way of the unfaithful.” By calling it “the way of the unfaithful,” Solomon is indicating is a pattern of choices. The pattern of choices someone makes leads them down a path–“the way.” All of us use poor judgment at times in our lives and that leads us to make bad choices accordingly. But there is a difference between taking a wrong turn but correcting it and making one wrong turn after another. The “unfaithful” has a habit of making bad choices. He or she shows poor judgment over and over again. The “unfaithful” in verse 15 is a description of unfaithfulness to God’s word. That indicates a person who leaves behind a pattern of sinful choices. At the end of the road for that person is “destruction”–a destination nobody wants for his or her life.

The contrast to the destructive way of the unfaithful is the person who shows “good judgment” (v. 15a). Because it is contrasted with “the way of the unfaithful,” “good judgment” probably also refers to a pattern of decisions but in this case it is a pattern of good decisions, moral decisions, decisions that are informed by God’s word and obedient to his commands. And what happens to the person who shows “good judgment?” That person “wins favor.” God’s favor is certainly included in this but I think Solomon left the identity of the one who is favorable unspecified because both God and people look favorably on those who live morally good lives.

Have you ever been to a funeral where hardly anyone else showed up and those who did struggled to find something good to say about the deceased? Those who are disobedient to God’s commands may find prosperity. They may be fun to be around at times and may seem cool for being so carefree. But one by one, sinful decisions stack up and leave a lack of trust, hurt feelings, a bad reputation, and a lonely decline and end.

So how does one avoid the way of the unfaithful that leads to destruction? How do you become a person who wins favor by having good judgment?

Verse 16 supplies the answer:

All who are prudent act with knowledge,
    but fools expose their folly.

– Proverbs 13:16

You show “good judgment” (v. 15) by getting knowledge before you act. That knowledge causes “prudent” actions. Seek wisdom, get knowledge–from God’s word, from godly parents, from wiser, godly friends and mentors. Then you’ll have the knowledge to act prudently, show good judgment, and win favor in life.

Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 50.

Picture a man who went hiking in the woods and, somewhere along the way, lost his keys when they fell out of his pocket. The sun was going down and he was left out in the woods groping around in the darkness to find his keys so he could go home. Poor guy, right?

But what if he had a flashlight with fresh batteries in the backpack on his back? How …um… bright could he be if he had the light—and knew it—but was too lazy or stubborn to take it out and use it?

So is everyone who knows God’s word but makes decisions without considering or consulting it. Anyone who lives by what is acceptable and promoted in society, or by their own human ingenuity, or by the tenets of some false religion is groping around in the dark. Here in Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah called to the people of God and asked for those who trusted Him to reveal themselves. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?” he asked in verse 10a. Then he said, “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” The implication of that verse is that darkness is the result of living by our own human reason.

In contrast, for those who believe the Lord, who take him at his word, the light of God’s revelation is available to them. Trusting “in the name of the Lord” and relying “on their God” means living as if you believe God’s word is true. That’s what faith is! It is accepting what God says and living accordingly, believing that you will be better off because God’s word is true. Verse 11 contrasts the one who lives in the light of faith with those who try to manufacture their own light through human wisdom: “But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.”

These are trying times we live in. Things that were accepted as universally-held facts in the past are now questioned, attacked, even ridiculed. Every choice, every “lifestyle decision” is considered valid in our culture (except for living by faith in God’s word, of course). But God warns all of us that they will “receive from my hand” pain and judgment (v. 11). At the end of today’s chapter the Lord promised, “You will lie down in torment.”

I’m glad you show up here everyday to read God’s word and consider its teachings with me. But do you live by the things you are learning here? Do you take the light that God’s word offers us and walk by it in your own life or do you put it away in your mental backpack and grope around looking for the keys to life on your own, by the light of a makeshift torch?

The difference between God’s blessings and his punishment is faith in his word which is evidenced by obedience. What area of disobedience has God brought to light in your life recently? Will you accept the light that God’s word offers and live by faith in that area?

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.”