Ruth 3-4, Jeremiah 38

Read  Ruth 3-4 and Jeremiah 38.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 38:24-27.

Is it ever right to lie? The ninth commandment commands us not to give false testimony against someone else (Ex 20:16). The first object of this command is in a legal situation when you or I witness a crime or can truthfully be an alibi witness to exonerate someone from a crime. It is always wrong to give false or misleading testimony. You shouldn’t lie to save your friends or family if they’re guilty nor should you lie to get your enemy convicted unjustly.

Like all of God’s commands, however, there are applications beyond the original, primary situation addressed in the command [1]. While the ninth commandment requires us to tell the truth legally, it also teaches us that it is ethically and morally wrong to lie, mislead, and be dishonest. The reason is the same as the one behind the command: when we lie, it is usually to create an unrighteous advantage for ourselves. Here are some examples of that:

  • We lie to make ourselves look better than we are, like Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts 5.
  • We lie to cover something sinful or embarrassing that we did, like Sarah did in Genesis 18:15.
  • We lie because we’re afraid of what will happen to us even if we did nothing wrong. Jacob did this in Genesis 26:7-9.

In our passage for today, Jeremiah 38:24-27, Jeremiah is summoned by Zedekiah, king of Judah. Zedekiah was a constant spiritual opponent of God and his prophet Jeremiah, even imprisoning Jeremiah unjustly in Jeremiah 37. But Zedekiah was also afraid of the possibility that Jeremiah’s prophecies might be right. Here in chapter 38, he consulted privately with Jeremiah to see if surrender to the Babylonians was the wisest move he could make. Spoiler alert: it was.

At the end of their consultation, Zedekiah ordered Jeremiah to lie. Verses 24-26 say, “Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die. 25 If the officials hear that I talked with you, and they come to you and say, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; do not hide it from us or we will kill you,’ 26 then tell them, ‘I was pleading with the king not to send me back to Jonathan’s house to die there.’”

That was a lie. There is no way to fudge it or nuance it away. Zedekiah was a wicked man, so lying was probably his second language. The problem for us is that Jeremiah went along with it and lied just as Zedekiah told him to do. Verse 27 says: “All the officials did come to Jeremiah and question him, and he told them everything the king had ordered him to say. So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king.”

What do we make of this?

It doesn’t help us that Zedekiah was worried about Jeremiah. Verse 24 told us that concern about Jeremiah’s life was behind the king’s order because Zedekiah said, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die.” It is true that people were out for Jeremiah’s life (see verse 4). It is also true that the king could have ordered the people not to touch Jeremiah, or else. See verse 5 where he gave tacit permission to Jeremiah’s enemies to kill him or let him die in the pit. If they came to Zedekiah for permission to kill Jeremiah, then Zedekiah certainly had the power to forbid him from being harmed, his statement, “The king can do nothing to oppose you” (v. 5) notwithstanding. No, Zedekiah’s dishonest cover story was to protect him because he was afraid of the implications of consulting with Jeremiah, according to verses 5 and 19. So the lie may have helped Jeremiah but it was really more designed for Zedekiah’s sake.

Yet Jeremiah went along with this lie and there is nothing in the chapter to suggest that God was displeased by his lying or that Jeremiah would face any consequences for it. In fact, the end of verse 27 seems to downplay any moral problems with the lie when it says, “So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king.” In other words, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.” Since the lie was truly harmless, the implication seems to be that it was not wrong.

The bottom line is this: God is truth and his people should speak truthfully. The ONLY exceptions we see in scripture are lies that protect human life without endangering anyone else. That applies in this chapter, in the case of Rahab (Josh 2:4-7), and in the case of the Hebrew midwives who probably didn’t directly lie but did give an answer what was only partially true (Ex 1:18-21).

Unless you’ve lied to protect a life that was in immediate danger, you’ve sinned. Lying may not be the best way to save a life that’s in danger, but God’s word indicates that it is an acceptable way. Every other lie or bit of dishonesty is sin.


[1] Of course, there are plenty of other scripture passages that teach that lying is sinful even in non-legal situations. See this page for a nice list: https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/lying-bible-verses/.

Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59

Read Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59.

This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11: “justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away” (vv. 9-11).

Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do. Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God….” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and we stand separated from him (vv. 2-3). Therefore, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19).

Read these words; they are so gracious and hopeful: “From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory” (v. 19). And then God will save his people along with us: “‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord” (v. 20). This is another promise, another prophecy that Jesus will reign as king. Then we will live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord.”

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of risk or hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful.

I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book about God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Leviticus 5, Proverbs 20, Psalm 92

Today we’re reading Leviticus 5, Proverbs 20, and Psalm 92.

This devotional is about Leviticus 5:1: “‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.’”

“Minding my own business” is a phrase that people use to disclaim responsibility. Sometimes that is a good thing; the Bible commands us not to get involved in gossip or someone else’s argument. In those situations, we would do well to mind our own business.

But there are times in life when we see something that we really should speak up about. If someone else sins and you see it but say nothing, are you complicit in their sin?

My instinct has always been to answer that question with “No.”

This verse, Leviticus 5:1, argues otherwise.

As Christians we are not under Moses’s law, so Moses won’t do anything to you if you don’t speak up. But these laws are God’s Word and, as such, they reflect God’s standards of right and wrong. They give us a set of ethical principles that should guide our behavior. This verse, then, tells us that God is not impressed when we are silent after witnessing a crime or some other kind of non-criminal sin. If you saw a man scratch someone else’s car, then drive off, what would you do? Would you try to stop him or say, “I saw that” if he drove by you as you walked through the parking lot? Would you copy down his license plate number and call the police or at least leave it on the car that was scratched?

Or would you just mind your own business?

Again, my instinct is usually very strong in the direction of do-nothing. Although I cannot remember any specific instances, I feel convicted reading these verses that there have been times in my life when I remained silent when I should have stepped in or spoken up.

Note that this is not the same as being a “tattle-tale.” Tattle-tales are, in my thinking at least, people who report others who broke procedural laws without damaging anyone else. So the isn’t a command to write down the license plate number of everyone who speeds but it is a call to do something if you witness a hit and run accident. It isn’t your job to turn in a child who runs in the hallway at school but you and I shouldn’t stay silent if we hear someone slandering the good reputation of someone else.

Each of us will answer to God for how we’ve lived our lives on this earth and that means giving an account for the things we’ve personally done. But we also have some obligation to others. Part of living in a community means not being idle or quiet when one person in the community takes advantage of someone else in the community.

Is it possible that someone reading this devotional today is sitting on some information that really should be brought to light?

If you’re struggling with whether or not you should come forward with information you have, let the moral principle behind this verse give you some guidance. If you remain silent, could someone be blamed falsely for something they didn’t do? Will it hurt a business or negatively impact someone’s life if you are silent about the information you have?

I once met a man in another state who moved across the country to take a new job in a community’s government. Once he was in that job, he discovered evidence of corruption and spoke up about it. Instead of being praised for his honesty, he lost his job and was blamed for the situation. Eventually an independent investigation cleared him of the false charges against him but he is unemployed and his reputation has been sullied. I prayed with this man and asked for God’s justice and I continue to pray for him periodically as I think of his situation.

But I told you this story to warn you that there may be negative consequences for you if you speak up they way Leviticus 5:1 says you should. Nevertheless, trusting the Lord and obeying his will in these areas is the right thing to do. Let’s determine in advance not to be silent when we should speak up.

Exodus 22, Job 40, and Psalm 70

Today we’re reading Exodus 22, Job 40, and Psalm 70.

This devotional is about Exodus 22.

The New Testament teaches us that we are not under the Law of Moses. That means we are not to try to earn saving favor with God by keeping his commands. There are two reasons why we should not try to be justified by keeping the Law:

  1. Because we can’t do it. Compared to the federal, state, and local codes we live under, God’s law is short and simple. Still, because we are sinners, none of us has obeyed it or could obey it perfectly.
  2. Because Jesus did it for us. The reason why we are declared righteous before God when we trust in Jesus is that Jesus kept the law perfectly (we call this his active obedience) and he paid the penalty for all the ways we’ve broken the laws (we call this his passive obedience).

So because we are in Christ, we do not try to earn God’s favor by keeping the law. But that doesn’t mean that the moral laws of God are irrelevant to us. In this chapter God spelled out some important laws for his people to follow. In verses 1-15, he commanded someone who deprived another person of their property to pay it back–often more than was taken. It does matter if it was outright theft (vv. 1-4) or carelessness / negligence (vv. 5-7, 10-15).

A major purpose of these (and all of God’s) laws were to set his people apart from those around them. Verse 31a says, “You are to be my holy people.” This means a people set apart from the world around them. The world around them sought to get away with stealing from others or depriving them through negligence. God wanted his people to act ethically and responsibly in these situations. Laws like these should get us to reflect on our own lives. Do we take value from others directly or refuse to pay if we take value from them inadvertently? These are sins in the sight of God just as much as they were when God’s people were in the desert.

Want to stand out in the world for the glory of Christ? Then be honest and ethical in the way you deal with others. Take responsibility and pay up when you’ve caused someone else a loss. When we do these things, are not trying to win God’s favor. Instead, God’s gracious gift of spiritual life is compelling us to be honest and ethical, pure and righteous in our dealings with others.