2 Chronicles 32, Zechariah 14

Read 2 Chronicles 32 and Zechariah 14.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 32.

Hezekiah honored the Lord from his heart, led Judah to honor and seek the Lord, and God blessed the nation with spiritual renewal. That did not mean, however, that Hezekiah had it easy. Here in chapter 32 he had to deal with a significant military threat from Sennacherib king of Assyria. The Assyrians had built a powerful army and were intent on subjugating as many other nations as possible to their control. In verse 1, Sennacherib picked off some of the smaller fortified cities in Judah, then set his sights on defeating Jerusalem. Remember that David chose Jerusalem to be his capital because it was built on a high hill and surrounded by other mountains which made it difficult to attack successfully. Hezekiah did what he could to prepare Jerusalem for Sennacherib’s attack. He blocked off the springs of water outside the city so it wouldn’t be easy for the Assyrian army to camp there indefinitely (vv. 2-4). He also fixed the broken sections of Jerusalem’s wall and built some towers to improve surveillance around the city (v. 5a-b). He manufactured “large numbers of weapons and shields” (v. 5d) and built an outer wall and “reinforced the terraces of the City of David” (v. 5c).

Hezekiah also prepared his army for the attack (vv. 7-8) and held fast against the propaganda war that Sennacherib waged (vv. 9-19). Most importantly, he prayed. He and Isaiah the great prophet waged war on their knees in this moment of crisis (v. 20) and God honored them by miraculously delivering Judah from Sennacherib (vv. 21-23). Later, when he contracted a fatal illness, God honored his faith and his prayers by healing him (v. 24).

What an amazing life this man led, yet because he was a man he was not immune from sin. He had many victories and much success (vv. 27-29) but he also struggled with pride (vv. 25-26). This temptation follows many people who achieve everything, or most things, they want in life. We forget how much God and others contribute to our success and we start thinking that we have all the answers and deserve everything we’ve gotten. God hates pride and those who succumb to its temptation usually find themselves humbled in some way before him.

The ultimate test of pride is whether one is repentant or not when God deals a blow to their pride. Hezekiah did repent (v. 26) and God was merciful to him to a degree (v. 26b). His story reminds us to be careful about our thoughts when things go well for us. If you’ve had a great year this year, I am happy for you and wish you even better things next year. But remember to thank and praise God rather than taking too much credit in your heart. God loves humility and rewards the humble but the proud he usually brings to humility.

1 Kings 10, Ezekiel 40

Read 1 Kings 10 and Ezekiel 40.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 10.

Sometimes things seem too good to be true. Maybe you see an advertisement for some product or place and it appeals to you. Or, maybe a friend recommends something to you that sounds like something you’d enjoy. But, then you try it, and it doesn’t quite meet your expectations. Or, maybe it turns out to be a completely negative experience.

On some rare occasions, however, things turn out to be better than we expect. After the first course of my doctorate was complete I was talking with a new friend I’d made in the class. He said something I’ll never forget: “This was one of the few things in life that actually turned out better than I thought it would.”

If only there were more experiences in life that fit that description! In this chapter, the Queen of Sheba had one of those experiences. Verse 1 told us that she had “heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord….” So she showed up to Jerusalem “to test Solomon with hard questions” (v. 1c). At the end of her visit, verse 5 says, “she was overwhelmed.” Her words were even more potent in their description: “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard” (vv. 6-7).

In verse 8 she went on to say this: “How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” But were Solomon’s people happy? Were they as blown away by his wisdom as she was?

Maybe, but I doubt it, because of human nature. Human nature tends to feel entitled. We tend to think that whatever good things we’ve always had are to be expected. That causes us to take valuable things for granted and, often, we don’t realize how precious, how unusual, or what a blessing the thing we take for granted is… until it is gone. People take good health, a loving spouse, good kids, a good job, or close friends for granted too often. Then, if death or some other circumstance takes that away, they feel both the sorrow of loss and the regret of not having enjoyed and appreciated what they had.

Is this happening in your life at all? Do you have a blessing (or more than one) that other people would dearly love to have? Do you realize how gracious God was to give that to you? Do you thank him for it and just savor and enjoy it?

Or, do you complain or just never express gratitude because you feel entitled. You may not know that you feel entitled, but you may reach a point in life where you realize what a great blessing you had.

The Queen of Sheba went on to praise the Lord (v. 9) who was the source of it all (v. 1: “his relationship to the Lord”). Think about what God has given to you and take some time to thank him for it. If it is a person, find a way to let that person know how blessed you feel and are to have him or her in your life.

1 Samuel 12, Jeremiah 49

Read 1 Samuel 12 and Jeremiah 49.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12:2b-4: “‘I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.’ ‘You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.’

In this chapter, Samuel made his farewell to Israel as the leader and judge of the nation. One thing that was important to him was his integrity. Could anyone in the entire nation accuse him of exploiting them in any way? No; the people affirmed that Samuel’s life and ministry as Israel’s judge was free of any kind of scandal at all.

It takes either a clean conscience or incredible hubris to say what Samuel said in this passage. He knew that he had never used his position of power to exploit anyone. Still, there is always the chance of misunderstanding so Samuel invited anyone in the nation to present their grievance so he could make it right (v. 3).

Many national leaders throughout history have used positions of authority to enrich themselves at the expense of the people they lead. This happens when a leader feels entitled. If he believes that he was chosen to lead because he is special or that he is special because he is the leader, then instead of seeing others as people to be led, the leader begins to see them as resources to be used for his own benefit.

In other words, someone who uses a position of power to enrich and enjoy himself at the expense of others is not a leader; he is a leech. A true leader, a godly leader, a leader that people respect and want to follow uses resources to benefit others, not to enrich himself.

There are abundant examples in our own world of “leaders” who practice “leechership.” There are examples of leaders who lead like Samuel, too, but you don’t usually get credit for doing the right thing.

Think about the areas where you lead. Do you lead others for their benefit or for yours? What would it mean to change your leadership to bring the most benefit to others for the glory of God?

1 Samuel 10, Jeremiah 47

Read 1 Samuel 10 and Jeremiah 47.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 10.

Yesterday’s reading, 1 Samuel 9, began to tell us the story of Saul’s anointing to be king. Today’s reading, chapter 10, concluded the story.

Although chapter 9 verse 1 told us that Saul’s father Kish was “a man of standing” in the tribe of Benjamin, Saul himself displayed quite a bit of humility about his family. In chapter 9:20 Samuel asked Saul rhetorically, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” Saul’s response in 9:21 was, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” So, while Kish himself may have been an elder in his town and a man with a good reputation, Saul did not think of his family or himself as particularly noteworthy—not in the nation of Israel or in his tribe.

Yet, here in chapter 10, we read that Samuel anointed Saul to be king (v. 1), then prophesied about a distinct series of events that would happen to Saul. These events would be unremarkable. Two men Saul knew would meet him and tell him that his father was worried about him (v. 2), three men would greet Saul and give him some bread (vv. 3-4), and “a procession of prophets” would encounter Saul (v. 5). After he met the prophets, the extraordinary thing in this prophecy would happen: Saul himself would receive a powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit and would prophesy and “be changed into a different person” (v. 6). Bible scholars refer to this event as the “theocratic anointing,” meaning that, in this event, Saul was receiving God’s power and God’s public confirmation that he was God’s choice to serve as king.

Samuel referred to these as “signs” (v. 7). They were designed to give a humble rancher like Saul the conviction that God had indeed chosen him to be king. Everything about 1 Samuel 9-10 indicates that Saul had no ambition to be anything more than a rancher like his father Kish. Although Saul was tall and good-looking (9:2), he did none of the campaigning and self-promotion that would indicate he aspired to any kind of leadership, much less to become Israel’s king. He was truly a humble man of the people.

After telling Saul he would experience these signs, Samuel told Saul he would have God’s favor in whatever leadership he exerted: “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (v. 7). But Saul was to wait in Gilgal for seven days and then he would be unveiled publicly as Israel’s king (v. 8). Every sign that Samuel predicted came true (vv. 9-10) and Saul’s prophesying got the attention of everyone who knew him (vv. 11-13). After an unassuming re-entry to family life (vv. 14-16), Saul was publicly revealed to be the king by Samuel (vv. 17-21). Saul knew he was about to be revealed as Israel’s new king—all of Samuel’s prophesies had come true, after all—so he hid himself to avoid being chosen (vv. 22-24), once again showing the humility with which he entered the office.

The final demonstration of Saul’s humility in this passage was demonstrated in verses 26-27. Some men volunteered because God had given them the desire to serve Saul (v. 26) but others questioned and overtly disrespected Saul (v. 27a). Yet, Saul did not retaliate or insist on being honored as king; instead he remained quiet (v. 27b).

This passage demonstrates once again what God is looking for in a leader. Although Saul had some of the physical characteristics that mark human leaders (9:1, 10:23-24), he was not well-born nor was he ambitious or attention-seeking. The Bible tells us over and over that God opposes those who are proud but is gracious to those who are humble. This is a good quality for anyone who finds himself in leadership or aspires to leadership because leadership is about serving, not about being served.

Still, position can corrupt someone who starts out well (as we’ll see later in Saul’s life), so we should never assume that because we started out humble we will have God’s favor for our whole lives. Humility is such an elusive quality; as soon as you feel satisfied the you have it, the odds are good that pride has actually started to take root in your heart. Keep your eyes on God and remember that leading his people is an opportunity that he entrusts to the humble. Remember, too, that the humility that got you chosen for leadership is necessary to keep you constantly serving in the will of God rather than acting like someone who feels he deserves to be served.

Genesis 37, Job 3, Psalm 35

Read Genesis 37, Job 3, and Psalm 35.

This devotional is about Job 3.

Job received the blows of affliction well in chapters 1-2. He recognized that he was not entitled to the life he enjoyed and that God, as Sovereign, had every right to take away what he gave.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Job felt no pain. Here in chapter 3, he lamented being born. The pain of losing his children, his prosperity, and his health was greater than the joy he had experienced from those things. Dying before he lived long enough to enjoy anything was a more appealing prospect than losing the blessed life he’d had. His concluding words in verses 25-26 make your heart go out to him: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Although he maintained faith in God, he still hurt and wondered why.

It seems to me that many Christians believe that heartbreak is un-Christian. We feel guilty about mourning; we think that glorifying God means smiling through every trial. We often put smiles on our faces to hide our pain so that other’s won’t question our salvation or spiritual maturity. But there is a way of hurting, of crying out, of wondering why that does not curse God. Submission to the will of God does not mean turning off your feelings. Trusting God does not mean eradicating all questions from your heart and mind. It means processing all the pain while recognizing your dependence on God. It means looking to him for hope and help instead of as an object of cursing.

Have you suppressed your questions, fears, and heartaches because you think that’s what good Christians do? If so, you haven’t really solved anything nor have you opened up the capacity within yourself to grow from your trials. God allows our faith to be tried to expose to us pockets of unbelief and to refine them out of us. Being honest about how you feel is part of that process.

If you’re hurting today or wondering why, ask God. Journal your thoughts and fears. Wonder aloud. Just don’t accuse God of evil and injustice. Ask him, instead, to show you how your circumstances fit into his plans. Ask him to strengthen you through this trial so that you will grow because of it.

Genesis 31, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Today, read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Psalm 30.

This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc. People do this kind of theft for different reasons but one of them is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. This kind of person feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice. He or she takes what the employer has and rationalizes it by telling themselves that they deserve it.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled? What if Laban refused to see both of his daughters married to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them. When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who embezzled money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned from employment if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite the absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping, a theme which recurs in the Bible over and over again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.

Genesis 30, Esther 6, and Psalm 29

Today read Genesis 30, Esther 6, and Psalm 29.

This devotional is about Esther 6.

Haman was a man on the rise in Xerxes’s kingdom of Persia. Back in chapter 3 we read that Xerxes honored Haman “elevating him and giving a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles” (3:1). Haman was so influential that everyone else in Xerxes’s regime “knelt down and paid honor” to him because the king had commanded that (3:2). The only man who didn’t kiss up to Haman was Mordecai, Esther’s guardian. As you will remember from chapter 3, Haman wanted to kill ALL the Jews because of Mordecai’s disrespect. That is how seriously Haman took himself and how deeply proud he was in his heart.

Here in chapter 6, Haman’s pride starts to become his downfall. Mordecai had saved king Xerxes’s life back in chapter 2:21-23 by exposing a plot to assassinate him. Now, on a night of insomnia, Xerxes read the record of Mordecai’s heroics (6:1-2) and determined to honor him.

Just at that moment, Haman showed up; when the king asked Haman how someone should be honored, Haman, because of his pride, assumed he was the one to be honored (v. 6) and hatched a plan to get maximum attention for himself in the city (vv. 7-9). But, in a cruel twist, Xerxes ordered Haman to provide for Mordecai–a man he hated–the ceremony of honor Haman had recommended. With no choice in the matter, Haman did it (v. 11) but was humiliated by the experience (v. 12). Those who loved Haman saw this as a bad sign and predicted Haman’s ruin despite all the honor he’d been receiving before this.

We haven’t reached the end of the story yet in our reading. But (spoiler alert): they were right. Things were about to go very badly for Haman. His story illustrates Luke 14:11: “…all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Keep this in mind when you experience some success and gain some notoriety for it. Pride messes with the morals of people; it causes us to think that we deserve things we don’t deserve. It convinces us that we are exempt from the laws of sowing and reaping and that we can play by different rules because we produce so consistently and so well. Many of the men who are caught in the #metoo scandals illustrate this very truth, just as Haman did.

Don’t let pride bring out the ugly in you. Don’t let it lead you down a path of sin because that sin will deliver you to destruction. Be thankful for any success you have and stay humble. Keep serving the Lord and others and let him exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).