1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, Psalms 96-98

Read 1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, and Psalms 96-98.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 1.

Hannah found herself in an unhappy situation here in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel. Her society greatly valued children, especially boys, yet she was unable to get pregnant.

If that weren’t bad enough, her husband had a “rival” (v. 6) wife named Peninnah. Elkanah may have married Peninnah specifically because of Hannah’s infertility (similar to Abraham and Hagar). Regardless of his motives, Peninnah delivered (pun intended) where Hannah could not; verse 2 tells us “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” So Hannah felt judged by her society, may have felt like she let her husband down, and felt inferior to his second wife.

Even worse, Peninnah mocked Hannah for her infertility (v. 6). Although Hannah was loved by her husband who did his best (verse 8 notwithstanding) to demonstrate his love and make her feel secure (vv. 4-5), she suffered emotionally due to all of these things.

Whatever faults he may have had, Elkanah was devoted to the Lord. We see this in his consistency to worship at the tabernacle “year after year” (v. 3). We also see it in how urged Hannah to keep her vow to the Lord (v. 23). When the sorrow of her situation became too much to bear, Hannah did what a believer should do; she poured out her heart to God in prayer (vv. 10-11).

Yet even her heartfelt prayer was became a source of pain because it was misinterpreted. As if she didn’t feel low enough, the High Priest of Israel rebuked her for being a drunk when he saw her praying (vv. 12-14). Fortunately, when she explained the situation, Eli gave her the reassurance she needed (v. 17). Note that Eli did not promise her an answer to her prayer; rather, he acknowledged the sincerity of her prayers and added his own prayer wish that the Lord would answer her favorably (v. 17). But Hannah took this blessing from the priest by faith and received the peace of God for her situation (v. 18).

And, God did answer her prayer, giving her the son she so deeply desired.

If only deep sorrow and total sincerity were enough to get answers to any prayer! Yet God does not always give us the answer we seek. That is why Jesus encouraged us to pray according to God’s will. God’s will is frequently different than our will is; therefore, God sometimes answers our prayers with “no.”

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

By promising to give her son to the Lord and to raise him under a Nazirite vow for life (v. 11), she was asking God to answer her prayer in a way that would bring glory to him.

Samuel would grow up to serve the Lord in a unique way, both as a priest and as the last of the judges of Israel. In contrast to the spiritual scoundrels who served as Israel’s judges in the book of Judges, Samuel would be a man who led Israel spiritually as well as politically. Hannah’s prayer was answered in a way that was more profound than she probably could have imagined. Though she did not have the joy of raising her son throughout his childhood, she did have the joy of knowing that he was serving the Lord.

James 4:3 tells us that God is not in the habit of answering prayers that come from self-centered motives. When Hannah connected her desire for a son with God’s desire for a godly leader for Israel, her prayer aligned with God’s will and he answered her. When we ask God for things in our lives, are our requests selfish or are they connected to the things that God cares about? This is the kind of praying that is pleasing to God and, therefore, the kind of praying that God is most likely to answer with “yes.”

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Proverbs 1:1-19

Read Genesis 7, Ezra 7, and Proverbs 1:1-19.

This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study… of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the… observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.

2 Kings 23, Joel 2

Read 2 Kings 23 and Joel 2.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 23.

The phrase, “Too little, too late” is a cliché that is self-explanatory. If you don’t pay your electric bill for months, then try to hand over $5 when someone comes to turn off your power, you are living the cliché.

Josiah’s reforms came too late to avoid God’s judgment on Judah (v. 25). Josiah cannot, however, be charged with doing “too little.” Verse 25 says, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” Josiah was a true reformer, a devoted servant of God who did everything in his power to live according to God’s law and lead God’s nation according to that law. The list of things that Josiah had to do in this chapter to excavate idolatry from Judah is incredible. Consider:

  • v. 4: He ordered the removal “from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem….” (v. 4 c-d).
  • v. 5: “He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places….”
  • v. 6: “He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there.”
  • v. 7a: “He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord….”
  • v. 7b: He also tore down “the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah.”
  • v. 8b: Josiah “desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense….”
  • v. 10: “He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek.”
  • v. 11a: “He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun.”
  • v. 11c: “Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.”
  • v. 12: “He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz….”

[You get the idea. This list keeps going through verse 20, then more reforms are mentioned in verses 24-25.]

This list shows us how deeply rooted idolatry was in Judah, the land where 8 good kings (out of 20) reigned after Solomon. All of this work followed publicly reading God’s word (v. 2d) which, amazingly, had been lost for years in God’s own temple. After reading God’s word, Josiah led his nation to re-affirm their commitment to the covenant described in God’s word (v. 3). The actions he took in this chapter were acts of obedience that flowed from the covenant renewal he and the people of Judah pledged themselves to.

Have you ever made a commitment to God to (1) start tithing (2) stop sinning in some way (3) start reading his word daily and praying or to do something else? Commitments are great; they are often part of growing in grace. But once the commitment has been made, we have to show up and do the work of rooting out the old sins and idols and habits. If you’re like me, you’ve made many decisions before the Lord that you never followed through on. Why not? Because making the decision to repent feels like reformation; it isn’t. It is just the beginning of change, not the end.

What commitment to the Lord needs to be carried out in your life? Do the thorough acts of obedience described in this chapter encourage you to make some changes in your own life?

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, Psalm 136

Read Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, and Psalm 136.

This devotional is about Psalm 136.

Maybe this isn’t an issue anymore, but people used to complain that contemporary worship songs are too repetitive. I actually agree for the most part with that complaint and we try in our worship service to limit repetition that has no purpose.

Nevertheless, Psalm 136 is kind of repetitive; it contains the refrain, “His love endures forever” in every verse, after every other line of text. Perhaps this was written to be a “call and response” type of song where one group sang a line and another group responded with, “His love endures forever.”

Despite the repetitions, there is plenty of truth to consider in this song. The song begins with three calls to “give thanks to the Lord” (v. 1), “to the God of gods” (v. 2), and “to the Lord of lords.” The rest of the song fill-in the reasons to give thanks to God for his goodness. They are:

  • his creative power (vv. 4-9)
  • his redeeming love for Israel (vv. 10-22)
  • his continuing protection and provision (vv. 23-25).

That first section, verses 4-9, praise God for his creative power. He “made the heavens” (v. 5a), “spread out the earth upon the waters” (v. 6a), made the sun (v. 8a), moon and stars (v. 9a). Clearly, the psalmist believed that God was directly responsible for the design and existence of the material reality around us.

So, if we deny the literal creation account given in Genesis 1-2, what does that do to a passage like this? If theistic evolution–the idea that God started the process but that evolution did the rest–were true, what would that do to a song like this one?

The answer is that it would rob this song of any real ability to praise the Lord. Those who sang this song would be ringing a hollow tone, praising God for something that he had very little to do with. And this is just one example of the damage that is done to scripture and our faith if we abandon the doctrine of creation. The Bible began with the account of creation because so much of what is revealed about God in his word is tied to creation. Creation shows us God’s power, his wisdom, and his love. It calls us to bow before him in reverent worship and to know that we belong to God and are subject to him because he made us. What you make, you own and what you own you control. We belong to God because he made us. Therefore, he is worthy of our love, praise, obedience, and devotion.

Do you believe in the biblical account of creation? Do you understand how important that belief is to knowing God and following him as his people?