Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Read Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96

Read Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96.

This devotional is from Proverbs 24.

It is tempting to choose the most comfortable option. Today’s reading gives us two Proverbs that caution us against this easy choice.

The first proverb is 24:27: “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” I visualize this piece of wisdom going from Solomon to his newlywed son. As the young couple begins to embark on life together, they dream of having a home of their own. Using the property subdivided by his father, the young couple faces a choice: spend their time and whatever money they have building a comfortable starter home on their new land or live with ma and pa for a while as they work the soil, plant the crops, and tend to the weeds. After the process of starting their farm has begun and the growth of the crops looks promising for their first harvest, then they can start to build a home of their own.

No one really wants to live with their parents and it’s more fun to build a house than to plant a field. But the field will produce income. It will get you started in life financially. It will provide for you in the future. If you build the home first it will give you your independence and a comfortable start to your life as an adult, but it will also drain your finances and delay that first harvest. It is far wiser to put productivity over comfort in the short term so that you can be more comfortable in the future but that takes a disciplined approach to life that probably does not come naturally to most people.

In a similar way, verses 30-34 describe the ease of laziness. If a farmer skips one day of planting, is the crop ruined? No, but it is easy to let one day off become one week off; our legitimate need for rest can snowball (v. 33). We feel as if we’ll be able to work better tomorrow if we rest up today. That may be true; it may also be a way of rationalizing our procrastination.

I lived most of my childhood as a procrastinator. I came home from school and told myself I would do homework or study for my test after I ate a snack. Oh, but Scooby Doo is on, so I’ll watch that just to relax for a few minutes. It’s going to be dinner time soon so I’ll get busy after that. You get the idea. I created habits of laziness in my life. By the time I was in seminary, I was turning in papers at the last minute after an all-nighter. I got decent grades but in my heart I knew I wasn’t doing my best work or getting the most out of the opportunities God had given to me. Eventually I learned to build some disciplined habits, but even today if I deviate from those habits, the old sin of procrastination is ready to slither back into my life.

But what does any of this have to do with God? These are wise bits of knowledge and helpful for productivity but couldn’t we have learned them from somewhere else? Why did God encode them into his holy word?

One answer is that these productivity problems—seeking the easy and comfortable way and allowing laziness and procrastination to take over—are spiritual problems. They are manifestation of a heart that wants to disobey God. God created the world to respond to the diligent work of humanity. He gave us everything we need to provide for ourselves but we have to obey his laws of sowing and reaping, of prioritizing investment over consumption.

Our faith in Christ should lead us toward a productive life because we have faith in his commands and know that when we obey his commands and work with diligence, God will provide and bless us.

Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, Psalm 60

Read Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, and Psalm 60.

This devotional is about Psalm 60.

We all experience low moments in life. Things that we expect to go well sometimes go very badly. Sometimes it seems like God’s promises don’t become true in real life. That’s how David was feeling here in Psalm 60. Verses 1-3 especially lay out his complaint against God.

When life does not go as expected, especially if we expect God’s favor and don’t receive it in the way we expected, disappointment can sometimes tempt us to move to unbelief. Problems like these can repel people from God. David, however, did not lose faith in God. He called on God, instead, to help him (vv. 5-12). The reason is that he knew there was no other help available to him (vv. 9-10). Though he may have felt rejected by God, he believed that there was no one but God who could save him. So he increased his prayers and restated his reliance on God.

Do problems and disappointments in your life pull you closer to God or further away from him? One of several problems of pulling away from God is that there really is nowhere else to go. Walking away from God’s love and opening yourself to disobedience will not give you the success or the comfort you seek. It is better to receive the harder moments of life as trials to strengthen your faith than to interpret them as God’s absolute rejection and displeasure. When we see these times as trials God sends to strengthen our faith, it will pull us closer to him by faith.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news–the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well…, I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave” (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence” (v. 15).

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think–given that he knew about Noah and Lot–that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry–so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like Israel was beginning to do as described here in Ezra 9. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was but we are interconnected with one another spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

2 Chronicles 36 and Revelation 22

Read 2 Chronicles 36 and Revelation 22.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 36.

God’s plan for Israel was to be one nation that worshipped him alone and lived under his sovereign leadership and direction, guided by his laws which both prescribed righteous behavior and described how to receive forgiveness when someone broke one of his laws. If the people kept the covenant they had made with God at Sinai, they would have had military victory, economic prosperity, large healthy families, and happy long lives.

Instead, they consistently disobeyed every aspect of God’s word. They worshipped other gods, refused to claim the land God had commanded them to take, divided into two kingdoms instead of one, and became subject to Assyria and Babylon. Despite all the problems their sins produced, verse 14 of this chapter says, “all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”

Although God’s people deserved immediate punishment, God was patient with them. Verse 15 says, “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” There is a human tendency to resist correction and rebuke, no matter how lovingly delivered. God sent rebuke “because he had pity on his people” not because he enjoyed wounding them with words. If God’s people had humbled themselves in repentance, they could have received forgiveness and the blessings of God’s covenant. Instead, they resisted the Lord’s word and persecuted his messengers. 

Don’t make the same mistake. Open your heart and mind to the correcting influence of God’s word. Be quick to repent when it convicts you and to obey when God commands. Most of all, believe the forgiveness of sins that Christ died to give us by grace. It will save you from the wrath of God in eternity and it will keep you walking with God all the days of your life.

If you’ve completed all the readings, you’ve read through the Bible this year. Congratulations; now keep this daily Bible reading habit going into next year!

1 Chronicles 3-4, Zechariah 2, John 17

Read 1 Chronicles 3-4, Zechariah 2, and John 17.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 4.

In 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book titled The Prayer of Jabez based on our passage for today, specifically 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. That book was a monster best seller with over 9 million copies sold. Many people—Christians and non-Christians—following the teaching in Wilkinson’s book have prayed the prayer of Jabez, asking God’s blessing on their lives. They treat this passage, again because of Wilkinson’s book, like it is a secret formula, almost a magic incantation for bringing God’s blessing on your life anywhere you want it.

But 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 is not an incantation or a secret formula to unleash God’s blessings in your life.

To understand Jabez’s prayer, we need to understand that God had promised material prosperity to the Jewish people if they walked in obedience to his laws. This goes all the way back to God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12. There, and in later passages, God promised land to Abram’s descendants.

What made Jabez “more honorable than his brothers” was that he believed God’s promise and asked God to fulfill it in his life. Jabez’s prayer was consistent with the covenant God made with Israel. The other descendants of Judah after David turned to idols as the source of their prosperity. They worshipped other gods in disobedience to God’s law and hoped to obtain more land and more prosperity from these gods. They also abused others to get what they wanted.

Jabez was different and “more honorable” because he had faith in God and prayed consistently with God’s promises for his people.

What Jabez’s prayer teaches us is that God is honored when we pray according to his revealed will—that is, according to what the Bible says.

When we pray in faith asking God to honor his promises to us in the word, God is pleased and will answer us according to his will. No Christian is promised the kind of material prosperity that Jabez prayed for. What God promises to us is to provide for our needs, to give us spiritual power to overcome sin and to become like Jesus, and to be with us as we go spreading the gospel to all the nations.

What if we prayed for those things instead of asking God to heal our chronic problems?

How would that transform our prayer life?

How would it change our church?

What might God do in this world if we prayed like Jabez—not aping his requests but applying the spirit of them to pray according to God’s promises and God’s will as revealed to us in scripture?

2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, Proverbs 26:1-16

Read 2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, and Proverbs 26:1-16.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 22.

Josiah was eight years old when he became king.

When he was a mere twenty-six years old, however (v. 3: “in the eighteenth year”), he supervised the renovation of Solomon’s temple (vv. 3-7). During that renovation, the “Book of the Law” was discovered. This is a reference to Moses’ law, but it is unclear whether or not that meant all five books of Moses or just one book (such as Exodus or Deuteronomy). What is clear is that God’s word had been neglected. Whatever Josiah and any other observant person in Judah knew about God was known by oral tradition, not direct instruction from God’s written word.

Having re-discovered God’s word, however, the secretary (v. 8)  and the king (v. 10) read it. The king immediately accepted the words he heard as God’s word (v. 11) and realized that God had promised judgment for disobedience to this covenant—disobedience that was common throughout his kingdom.

His response to the message in verse 13 was, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me….” This inquiry was to find out what the Lord’s will was for the king and his people. Had the Lord already determined to bring judgement to them or would he accept the king’s repentance?

Having consulted the prophet Huldah (v. 14), they learned that God had indeed willed judgment for Judah (vv. 16-17).

However, verses 18-19 tell us that Josiah’s responsiveness to God’s word would mean mercy for him and the people during his life. Verse 19 put it this way, “Because your heart was responsive….” He, therefore, modeled for Judah and for anyone who follows God what walking with God looks like.

We must read God’s word—not someone else’s description or summary of God’s word —but the word itself. We must believe that it is true and applies to us and we must turn to God in repentance when we are convicted of disobedience to it.

I’m glad you’re reading these devotionals but are you reading the Bible passages first? Are you finding truth for yourself in these daily chapters from scripture in addition to the truth I email you every morning?

Most importantly, are you doing anything about the truths that God is bringing to your attention from the word?

2 Kings 3, Jonah 1, Jude

Read 2 Kings 3, Jonah 1, and Jude.

This devotional is about Jonah 1.

Some of the Lord’s prophets drew difficult assignments. Hosea, for instance, was told to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him. Jeremiah did time in prison and in a pit for his prophecies. Ezekiel lost his wife in death so that the Lord could prove a point. Elijah was targeted for death by Jezebel, a stone-cold killer.

But none of them ran away from the Lord’s will like Jonah did.

Why? Was he rebellious or weaker spiritually than these other men or is there more going on?

The answer lies in the second verse of our passage: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it” but it takes some historical knowledge to understand the significance of the Lord’s command here. Ninevah was the capital city of Assyria, the nation that would conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and cause a lot of problems for Judah as well. The Assyrians were known for their extreme cruelty to their enemies. They didn’t just conquer a kingdom, killing that kingdom’s soldiers as part of the battle; they tortured some of the people that they captured with cold-hearted brutality.

Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he hated the Assyrians. There was almost certainly an element of fear in his heart toward them as well but, as we’ll see in the chapters ahead, it was hatred primarily that motivated Jonah to run away from God’s will.

Jonah’s story calls us to reflect on our own attitudes toward others. Do we hate atheists? Liberals? Muslims? Immigrants?

Are some of our political positions motivated by a desire to punish people we perceive as enemies or exclude them from any blessings at all? If you love the Lord, you know that love exists in you only by his grace. It was not your wisdom, your morality, or your innate spirituality that brought you to Christ; it was his love, his grace and mercy that changed your cold heart (and mine) to embrace his lordship and receive his salvation.

Do you love the Lord enough to pray and seek for others–even those who might be your enemy–to find that love and mercy too?

1 Kings 19, Amos 5, 1 Peter 5

Read 1 Kings 19, Amos 5, and 1 Peter 5.

This devotional is about Amos 5.

Idol worship in Israel was a constant problem after the kingdom was divided. Not all of God’s people neglected the Lord, however. There were some who maintained their worship of the Lord. These people, apparently, were longing for God’s judgment which is often called “the day of the Lord.” That phrase is used about prophetic, end time events in the Bible that are still future to us, but it was also used for days of judgment in the Old Testament that have already happened.

Verses 18-20 warned those who wanted to see their countrymen punished: “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light…” (v. 18). Those who wanted God’s judgment to fall on Israel must have believed that they would be safe. They reasoned that performing the rituals of worship that the Lord commanded would protect them for his judgment. They must have been surprised, then, when the Lord said through Amos, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps” (vv. 21-23).

It is quite surprising to see God reject the worship of his people, especially since the prophets were constantly calling them to repentance (v. 6). What was the problem with the worship of those Amos described in this chapter?

There are two problems with it. First, they joined with the rest of their idol worshipping countrymen in exploiting others in court (compare verses 7, 10, and 15a with 24). Although these Israelites may have been obedient to the Lord’s commands about worship, they were disobedient to his commands in their ethics and morals. They lived a dual, hypocritical life so that they appeared devout on Saturday but lived like pagans on Sunday through Friday.

The second problem with this group was that their worship of the Lord was not exclusive and wholehearted. Verse 26 says, “You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.” The God who had redeemed them from Egypt long before (v. 25) was now just like every other false god they worshipped. They may have kept the ceremonial law of God but they broke the very first law of his commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

We face the same kind of temptation—to worship the gods of materialism, worldliness, self-centeredness, or whatever—while showing up faithfully to church on Sunday and performing the outward acts common to Christians. We also can be tempted to worship the Lord with our lips while abusing his children in our everyday life. Let’s look within today and consider whether our devotion to the Lord is complete and whether or not it is reflected in our daily ethics and morals. That’s the kind of worship that God wants because it is the kind of worship that comes from a changed heart.

1 Kings 3, Hosea 7, Titus 1

Read 1 Kings 3, Hosea 7, and Titus 1.

This devotional is about Hosea 7.

“I long to redeem them but they speak about me falsely. They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail on their beds. They slash themselves, appealing to their gods for grain and new wine, but they turn away from me.”

Hosea 7:13e-14

The entire book of Hosea describes God in a specific way that is emotionally understandable to us humans. God, in Hosea, is described as a jilted spouse who is totally devoted to his bride but she is unfaithful to him despite his promises and goodness. That description shows us how our sins are a breach of faith with God and how God is wounded by our unbelief and disobedience. 

This verse and a half in Hosea 7:13-14 shows us the heart of God. He said, “I long to redeem them,” showing how personally and deeply God desires to be reconciled to humanity. But the remainder of verse 13 and verses 14-15 describe why we are not reconciled to God. Our estrangement from God is due to the fact that people “speak about me falsely” (13e). This refers to the way that people blame God for our self-inflicted problems. Those problems are described earlier in this chapter:

  • “They practice deceit” (v. 1d).
  • “They delight the king with their wickedness, the princes with their lies” (v. 3a-b).
  • “They are all adulterers” (v. 4a).
  • and so on.

When we sin against God and then blame God for our crappy lives, we speak about him falsely (v. 13e).

Furthermore, instead of turning to God in our misery, people “do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail on their beds. They slash themselves, appealing to their gods for grain and new wine, but they turn away from me.”

This explains why the world is so damaged and distorted, why people are so unhappy, and why there is so much unbelief. The result is that, at the end of history, God will judge humanity for all these sins.

Jesus has provided an escape, however. He loved us beyond what a jilted husband or wife would naturally love. He gave himself even though we “turn away” from him (v. 14e). He redeemed us from the slave market of sin we sold ourselves into and, by grace alone, changed our hearts so that we desire his love and see his goodness.

As Christians, we need to be reminded of these things because the dominant narrative of our times is that the problems of this world prove either that God cannot exist or that, if he does exist, he cannot be good. These are the same lies that God condemned when he said, “…they speak about me falsely” (v. 13f).

The truth is that God is more loving and good than we can possibly imagine. His goodness is the only reason there is anything good in life at all–and there are many good things about life, even for unbelievers! His love is the only reason that anyone believes in him at all–not because he’s hard to believe in but because our hearts are hardened so thoroughly by sin.

Take some time to think about where your life would be if God had not redeemed you in Christ. Then give thanks for all that we have in Christ and speak to others about him when they wail about their problems and appeal to other gods (v. 14). God longs to redeem and he is redeeming people all over the world. Let’s be agents of that redemption.

1 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 24, Colossians 3

Read 1 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 24, and Colossians 3.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 13.

Although Samuel had retired as a judge, he continued his ministry as priest. In today’s passage, Saul wanted Samuel to come to Gilgal to perform a priestly function, namely to offer sacrifices on behalf of Israel’s army as they went out to fight the Philistines (vv. 7b-8).

It is important, when reading this passage, to realize that Saul’s men—including his son Jonathan—were already engaged battle with the Philistines at Geba (v. 3). The battle was not going well (vv. 6-7b) and the Philistines had shown up in large numbers and with heavy equipment for the fight (v. 5). But instead of attacking and helping their Israelite brothers who were already battling, Saul was told by Samuel to wait for a full week (8a)! Yet even after the full week had passed, Samuel did not arrive.

Fearing an attack at any moment (v. 12a) and wanting the Lord’s favor on them (v. 12b), Saul decided to take matters into his own hands. He offered the sacrifices himself instead of waiting for Samuel any longer (v. 9).

Samuel arrived almost instantly after the offering was given (v. 10) and he confronted Saul about his disobedience (v. 11a). Saul explained his justification for acting as he did: The situation was dire, he had already waited a week, and the timeframe Samuel gave him had expired (vv. 11b-12).

But Samuel had no time for Saul’s explanation. Saul’s act was an act of disobedience. Twice Samuel told him, “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you” (v. 9, 13b, 14c). Saul’s act was motivated by fear, not faith. Like all disobedience, it was the result of unbelief. Whenever we knowingly do what is wrong, we believe in that moment that we will be better off doing what seems right to us than what God said.

Also, like Saul, we usually have good reasons for what we did. At least, we have reasons that seem good to us in the moment. If Samuel had only shown up on time for the appointment, none of this ever would have happened. If Samuel had decreed a more reasonable timeframe, one that did not leave God’s people so exposed to attack, Saul would not have disobeyed.

If you recall a major sin in your life, I’ll bet you remember thinking that your sin was justified in this one instance.

Adam and Eve had their excuses, too, and so has every one of us who has ever sinned against God.

Saul may have had his reasons, but God had his own response. Samuel told Saul that, as a result of his choice to sin, his kingdom would not endure (vv. 13-14). He reigned in Israel for forty-two years (v. 1)—a nice long tenure, to be sure. But his son Jonathan would never be anointed king after him, nor would any of Jonathan’s children or any of their generations after.

Remember this:

Our justifications for disobedience may help us dampen our guilty conscience or defend ourselves against the questions and allegations of others, but we are only fooling ourselves, not God.

God is gracious to forgive our sins when we turn to him in repentance, but rarely does God choose to stop the chain-reaction of consequences that our disobedience triggers.

When we feel the pull of temptation in our lives, passages like this one encourage us to trust God and obey instead of following our fear, our desires, our rationalizations. God was more than able to deliver Israel if Saul looked to him in faith and obeyed his commands. He is more than able to take care of you and me if we trust and obey his word, too.

Ruth 1, Ezekiel 11, Acts 28

Read Ruth 1, Ezekiel 11, and Acts 28.

This devotional is about Ruth 1.

The book of Judges was a difficult, depressing account of how Israel failed to follow the Lord and the results of that failure. The events recorded here in the book of Ruth took place in the same time period as the book of Judges, according to Ruth 1:1. As was often the case in the book of Judges, Israel was suffering; this time it was due to a famine (v. 1b). Worried about feeding his family, a man from Bethlehem named Elimelek took his wife Naomi and his sons Orpah and Ruth to Moab (v. 1c). 
 
A famine like this one was not supposed to happen in Israel. If God’s people worshiped the Lord and obeyed his word, God had promised prosperity for them. What is ironic in this passage is that “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” yet Elimelek left the house of bread because of famine. A famine in the house of bread is like IHOP being out of pancakes. But the wickedness of Israel brought God’s discipline on them through this famine. 

Elimelek was not supposed to leave the land of Israel, nor were he sons supposed to find wives among the Moabites, but both things happened. Elimelek died in Moab (v. 3) and his sons, who married Moabite women (v. 4), also died ten years after the family came to Moab (v. 5). Was this an act of judgment for leaving the land and marrying foreign wives? The author of Ruth does not say. Maybe this was just part of God’s providence; maybe it was the consequence of their actions. The truth is, however, that it is never safe nor wise to choose disobedience, no matter how dire your circumstances are.

Meanwhile, God lifted the drought that caused the famine and there was bread again in Bethlehem. Naomi, the widow of Elimelek, determined to return to her homeland (vv. 6-7). Her daughters-in-law pledged themselves to return with her. Maybe that was expected in their culture. Maybe Ruth and Orpah felt bad for Naomi or were uncertain about their prospects for remarriage. Naomi, however, graciously released them from any obligation to come to Israel (vv. 6-13). Orpah took this exit ramp and returned home (v. 14a) but according to verse 14b, “Ruth clung to her.” After another attempt to get Ruth to return home (v. 15), Ruth delivered to Naomi this beautiful statement of faith in verses 16-17: “…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

It must have been a great comfort to Naomi to have Ruth with her, but it did not make the situation any easier to manage. This first chapter of Ruth ended with Naomi returning home, but with a bitterness in her soul (vv. 19-22). It is hard to blame Naomi for feeling the way she did. No one wants to lose a spouse prematurely, but to bury both of your sons as well must have been a particularly painful experience. Not only was she bereft of their love and companionship, she now had no visible means of support. Women in this era who did not have a husband or a son to provide for them had to beg or, in some cases, turn to prostitution for survival. 

And, yet, despite all that God had brought into Naomi’s life and how painful it was for her, Ruth saw the one true God in her mother-in-law. As weak as Naomi’s faith may have been in that moment, she still held on to God as the source of her hope. Ruth, then, became not only a convert to the Lord but, as we’ll see in the chapters to come, Ruth would be an unexpected means of grace in the life of her mother-in-law. This should encourage us to know that, no matter how imperfect our faith, God can and will still use the flickering light of our faith to show others the truth about God and draw them to faith in him.