Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.

1 Chronicles 18, Zechariah 3

Read 2 Chronicles 18 and Zechariah 3.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 18.

“Counseling should be encouraging” a man said to me years ago. It was his justification for ending weekly sessions of marriage counseling I’d arranged for him and his wife with a Christian counselor I trust.

I had talked with this couple enough myself to know that there were serious sin problems that needed to be addressed–mostly, but not completely–on his side. The Christian counselor I sent them to work with was kind but candid about how he was treating his wife sinfully. A straight dose of truth was exactly what he needed but it was not what he wanted. So, they quit going.

Do I even need to tell you that they are now divorced?

Ahab, the king of Israel, had similar feelings toward Micaiah, the truth-telling prophet. When Jehoshaphat king of Judah wanted a true prophet of YHWH to speak God’s mind about his joint venture of war (v. 6), Ahab replied, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah” *(v. 7).

Why did Micaiah always prophecy bad things for Ahab? Because Ahab was an ungodly man who did ungodly things. Rather than repent when confronted with he truth, Ahab preferred to change the channel and find prophets who were more encouraging.

We all have a tendency to avoid facing the truth about ourselves or our ways. It is easier to change the channel than to change yourself.

But God is in the “changing you” business. He wants us to grow in our walk with him and that begins by honestly confronting your sins.

Do you find yourself looking for a positive message to drown out the truth of God’s word? Please realize how foolish it is to ignore God’s loving correction in your life. Instead, seek out his correcting word and do what it says.

1 Kings 16, Ezekiel 46

Read 1 Kings 16 and Ezekiel 46.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 46:9-10: “‘When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate. The prince is to be among them, going in when they go in and going out when they go out.”

This chapter continued the lengthy vision Ezekiel received way back in chapter 40. That vision described how Israel should rebuild the temple and worship as a nation at some point in the future.

Here in chapter 46 the Lord described how the people should gather and worship each Sabbath and during New Moon feasts (v. 3). The prince of Israel was commanded to bring a burnt offering as described in verses 4-7 and verse 8 described where he was to enter and exit the temple area.

Here in verses 9-10 we read these strange instructions. When the people came to worship in the temple on the Sabbath and the New Moons, God commanded them to enter by one gate and leave by the other. These gates were on the north and south sides of the temple. If you came in through the north gate, you were required to cover the rest of the distance and go out the through the south gate. If you came in through the south gate, you had to keep going forward and exit through the north gate. Just so nobody was confused, the end of verse 9 said, “No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.”

Verse 10 included the prince in all of this. He was required to use either the north or south gate and he must go out using the gate  on the opposite side of the one he entered. He was not allowed to use some side entrance to avoid the people; the prince must travel in and out like everyone else did.

Why on earth would the Lord care about this?

We don’t know for sure because Ezekiel did not give any explanation for these instructions. But it is interesting to think about why the Lord might have commanded this. One commentator I glanced at said it was probably either:

  • for crowd control
  • or because turning around and showing your backside might be offensive to God
  • or because “every detail in the worship of Yahweh was ordered.”[1]

The first answer could be true, the second one is just weird and the last one makes decent sense. There were a lot of precise instructions given in these chapters; maybe this is just another one of those.

But think about it. You have two large groups of people. One came in from the North and is now facing South. The other came in from the South and is now facing North. They are facing each other and have to cross paths with everyone else on the other side to get out. To me, it seems like crowd control would be easier if everyone turned around and left the way they came in.

So it makes me wonder if God commanded this to make it harder for his people to avoid each other and for the prince to avoid the people. In any large group of people, there were bound to be some who were estranged from one another. There were some who may have sued each other, married and divorced each other, or just generally didn’t get along with each other. These instructions made hiding from people you dislike even harder to do. Remember Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” That could literally happen if you had to either walk in with half the crowd or cross paths with the other half of the crowd on your way out.

These commands also emphasized that the prince was just a worshipper like everyone else. He had greater responsibilities and recognition, but he was just a man before God like everyone else, a sinner allowed by God’s mercy and grace into his presence.

Do you ever try to avoid someone on Sunday morning when you come to church? If we only had two doors open to the building and they were opposite each other and we wouldn’t let you leave through the door that you entered, don’t you think you would see more people than you usually do?

We can’t really be the church without socializing with others in the church. Do you come late and leave early or immediately after the service just to avoid people? Do you think the Lord is pleased if we act that way toward our brothers and sisters in Christ?

[1] Daniel Isaac Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997–), 673.

2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 17

Read 2 Samuel 10 and Ezekiel 17.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 17.

God’s word through Ezekiel in this chapter came in the form of an allegorical parable about two eagles and one vine. The images in this parable are too intricate for me to explain in this devotional. But the main points are as follows:

  • The two eagles represent the kings of Babylon (v. 12) and Egypt (v. 15).
  • The branch that became a vine represents Judah’s king (v. 12). He’s not named in this chapter but we know historically that it was Zedekiah. He was planted like a seedling (v. 5) in the sense that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed him as a vassal king in Judah (v. 13). He had everything he needed to thrive under the rule of Babylon (v. 5: “fertile soil” and “abundant water”).
  • Although Zedekiah was thriving under a deal he made with Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 13) he reached out to Egypt (the second eagle in this story–v. 7) for help getting liberated from Babylon (v. 15).
  • Because his thriving was dependent on the deal he made with Babylon (v. 14) and reaching out to Egypt was a violation of the deal (v. 18) Zedekiah king of Judah would be punished severely by the Babylonians, ultimately dying in Babylon (v. 20).

This was a prophecy to Zedekiah but it speaks volumes to anyone about making oaths and covenants before God with other people. Zedekiah made a deal with Nebuchadnezzar but he made that deal before God. When he decided to break it, he was being unfaithful to God. Note verses 19-20: “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, I will repay him for despising my oath and breaking my covenant. I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare.”

So it is with us whenever we make a covenant. It could be the covenant you made with your spouse on the day you married. It could be a covenant you made in business or by becoming a member of this church. We make covenants with people but when we break them, we put ourselves under the judgment of God. The question, “Will it thrive?” (v. 9 and repeated in v. 10), is one that we should consider before we commit adultery, get divorced, change churches, or break business agreements unilaterally.

People break their agreements with others because they think they will thrive in a different arrangement. A “better” person comes along than the one they married, a cooler church entices them to visit and reconsider their decision to join Calvary, a more lucrative deal is presented to them than the one they’ve already made. People break their commitments because they think they can get a better deal but if God is displeased by your broken agreement, you should ask yourself, “Will [your new deal] thrive?”

  • Will your new relationship thrive if you’re cheating on your wife?
  • Will your remarriage thrive if you broke faith with your first husband to get with this new guy?
  • Will your family thrive in a new church if you left the last one for unbiblical reasons?
  • Will your business thrive if you won’t honor your contracts and keep the promises you’ve made to vendors or employees or shareholders or business partners or customers?

There are biblical reasons for divorce and for leaving a church. There are also biblical ways to address problems in covenant relationships and even biblical ways for seeking to be released from a bad covenant you’ve made. In my experience, though, people don’t want to do the right thing in order to get out. They just want to get out and enjoy that greener grass over on the other side of the fence.

Are you considering breaking faith in some way? Let this passage cause you to reconsider.

Have you broken faith already in some way? Let this passage cause you to repent.

Jesus died to remove the wrath of God from us for our broken commitments so there is forgiveness and relief available in Him. That’s good because none of us is perfect at keeping our part of a bargain. If you’re tormented by broken covenants, look to Christ for forgiveness and look to his word for ways to get back on a righteous path. This is how you can thrive again.

But if you’re in Christ, you should do everything in your power to keep the covenants you’ve made with others. That is the righteous thing to do and Jesus died not only to become our righteousness before God but also to teach and empower us to live righteously (see Titus 2:11-12 “in this present age.”)

So let’s be careful about the commitments we make and be conscientious about keeping them once we’ve made them.

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Read Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing according to Deuteronomy 24:1. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army. They attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But, he never really led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also…
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

  1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
  2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
  3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Joshua 9, Jeremiah 3

Read Joshua 9 and Jeremiah 3.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 3:11: “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

In this chapter God compared his people to a wife and their idolatry to adultery. The wife imagery was a better analogy when Israel was one nation because, of course, God made his covenant with one nation not with two. After Solomon, however, the nation of Israel became two nations governed by different kings. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and the Southern Kingdom was called Judah. Israel had 19 kings after Solomon and Judah had 20 kings. None of Israel’s 19 kings walked in the ways of God but eight of Judah’s 20 kings did to some degree or other.

Because the Northern Kingdom of Israel was the most wicked, they came under the covenant curse first. The Assyrians invaded their land and carried them off into exile. Here in Jeremiah 3:8 God compared the Northern Kingdom’s exile to divorce; verse 8 says, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”

The Southern Kingdom had some good kings, as I mentioned, so they remained a free nation for longer than the Northern Kingdom did. Given the 8 good kings Judah had, it is surprising to read in verse 11 that, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” In what way was Israel “more righteous” than Judah?

That question was answered in verses 8b-10 which say, “‘Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the Lord.” In other words, Judah saw God keep his promise and punish Israel but they did not genuinely repent and turn to the Lord. Instead, they made religious gestures rather than sincere worship. Israel was “more righteous” then because Judah had more truth, more information, yet they still rejected God. Their idolatry was more deliberate; they chose to follow the same path as their “sister” Israel despite the negative consequences it brought to the Northern Kingdom.

There are three ways to learn moral and spiritual truths: (1) Believe God’s revelation. (2) Reject God’s revelation and figure it out for yourself by receiving all the consequences God’s word promised for those who reject his word. Or, (3) notice the experience of others–either the blessings they receive by faith or the curses they receive for disobedience, and choose accordingly. Judah had the Temple and the priests and scribes and God sent them prophets, too, so option (1) was there for them. They saw the devastation that Israel’s disobedience brought so they could have learned using option (3). Nevertheless, they chose option (2) and paid the price for it. A wise person–in the Proverbs sense–will receive God’s instruction (option 1) and will also notice how his word is fulfilled (option 3). We are fools when we go our own way, proving God’s word when we receive the pain and misery that sin brings. And, as verse 11 suggests (and Jesus also taught) we are worse (and receive greater condemnation) when we have God’s word and reject it than those who sin but have little to none of God’s truth.

Is it possible that right now you are considering a sin, playing with a sin that you’ve seen others commit? Will you learn from their experience to trust God and follow his ways, even when the attraction of sin is strong?

Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63

Today’s readings are Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63.

This devotional is about Psalm 63.

The human body can live for a few weeks without food, for a few days without water, and for a few minutes without oxygen. If your body is deprived of any of these things for long enough, it will be difficult for you to think about anything else. If you can’t breathe and will die in a few minutes, you won’t care how you’re going to pay the mortgage next month or whether the Lions will draft a quarterback in the first round.

The superscription to this Psalm claims that David wrote it “in the Desert of Judah.” In verse 11, he refers to himself as “the king” so the setting of this passage may be when David fled from Absalom his son. Although he was not in immediate danger of starvation or dehydration, David was in a state of deprivation. He was cut off from the water springs of Jerusalem and from “the richest of foods” he would have enjoyed in his palace. What David craved in the desert, however, was not water or food; it was God. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

He was deprived of God in the sense that he couldn’t see God “in the sanctuary”—the Tabernacle—anymore. He couldn’t offer sacrifices, sing with the people, or hear the Torah read and explained out in the Judean desert. Living in exile, excluded from the comforts and necessities of life, David longed for God more than anything else. He believed that, “I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods” when he rejoiced in God.

None of us knows what it is like to run for your life into the desert. But some people–maybe some reading this, even–know what it is like to have all our financial reserves stripped away and to be evicted from your home. Others know what it is like to lose your family in tragedy or divorce. In our moments of deprivation–and desperation–do we long for fellowship with God or simply for him to deliver us from discomfort? The Bible encourages us to enjoy everything we have–family, material goods, good weather, whatever–as gifts of God. But this Psalm calls us to believe that nothing can satisfy us like knowing and worshipping God can (vv. 1, 5, 11). Does your walk with God give you that kind of joy and satisfaction?