1 Samuel 19, Lamentations 4

Read 1 Samuel 19 & Lamentations 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 19.

There was simply no good reason why Saul should want to kill David, yet that was order that Saul gave to his son Jonathan (v. 1a). Instead executing the order (and David), Jonathan reported Saul’s intentions to his close friend, David (v. 1b-2a). Jonathan encouraged David to hide (v. 2b) while Jonathan attempted to to talk his father out of killing David (vv. 4-5). Although it was God’s will to replace Saul as king with David, it was not nearly God’s time for that to happen. David was more than content to serve Saul and wait for the Lord to make his will happen in his timing. There was no threat to Saul, either imminently or in the long-term. In fact, David had been a great benefit to Saul as Jonathan pointed out in verse 5a. The penetrating question Jonathan had for Saul was, “Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” (v. 5b). Since there was no reason for Saul to kill David, Saul relented and even put himself under oath to Jonathan not to kill David (v. 6). Although this restored David to Saul’s service for a time (vv. 7-8), it was only a matter of time until the demons that tormented Saul incited him to try to kill David again (vv. 9-17).

Although Saul and David are the main characters in this story, it is impossible not to be impressed with the selfless character of Jonathan. HE was the man who could have been fearful and jealous and homicidal toward David, yet he took “a great liking to David” (v. 1b), protected David’s life (v. 2) and sought to make peace between his father and his friend.

I wonder how often we try to make peace when there is obvious turmoil between people we know? Remember that Jonathan was not jumping to conclusions about Saul’s intentions toward David; Saul had ordered him and all his other men to kill David (v. 1a). We should certainly avoid jumping to conclusions and gossiping about others; those actions are sinful and create problems instead of solving them. But when we are aware of problems between others, how often do we stand on the sidelines and tell ourselves, “It’s none of my business.” Jonathan could easily have done that. He could have let his father sin or even become the agent of his father’s sin if he had obeyed the order in verse 1; he could have let his friend be killed because he did not want to get involved. But instead of passivity, Jonathan chose to have the hard, right conversation. Imagine confronting the king about his murderous intent; imagine telling your father that he was attempting to do wrong and sinning against God. These are not easy things to do and most of us (myself definitely included) would look for an excuse to stay out of it.

Jonathan, the one who had the most to gain by David’s death and the most to lose if he and Saul were reconciled, disregarded his own discomfort and advantage and did the right thing. Is there anyone in your life who is harboring sinful intentions that you know about? Are their people in your circle of relationships who need to be encouraged toward reconciliation? Could it be that God wants you to step in and try to do the right thing?

Ultimately, Jonathan was unsuccessful. He achieved a temporary cease-fire from Saul, but not a permanent solution. It doesn’t matter; Jonathan did everything in his power to do the right thing. It was a testament to his faith in God and desire to please Him. May we step up and follow his sterling example.

1 Samuel 15, Jeremiah 52

Read 1 Samuel 15 and Jeremiah 52.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave him direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing. Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9).

God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11). In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord, with a few exceptions. But those exceptions were made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands. Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience. The text does not tell us, but as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience. It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not. The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (vv. 22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins which were worse than Saul’s—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28). What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”? Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word. We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

Judges 11:12-40, Jeremiah 24

Today’s readings are Judges 11:12-40 and Jeremiah 24.

This devotional is about Judges 11:12-40.

Jephthah was born of a sinful union and was horribly mistreated by his half brothers as we read yesterday. Despite this difficult beginning, he had leadership qualities (11:3) so he was ready when his people needed help.

He also knew his Bible (vv. 12-28) and, when the time came, God used him powerfully to deliver Gilead from the Ammonites. Although he had pure motives to honor God for the victory, the vow he made was stupid (vv. 30-31). His reaction (vv. 34-35) shows how little thought he put into the vow he had made and how there was no malice whatsoever in his heart when he made the vow.

I heard a pastor say once that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter and offer her as a burnt offering; instead, he just sent her off to the tabernacle to serve the priests like Hannah would later do with her son Samuel. I wish that were true, but the evidence to the contrary in the passage is too strong. In verse 31b he said, “I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” and verse 39b says, “…he did to her as he had vowed” so there is every reason to believe that she died as a human sacrifice and no reason to believe that she lived as a religious servant.

So what do we do with this awful text?

First, we should understand that the whole book of Judges was given to show us what a moral and spiritual mess Israel was. Even the good guys in Judges do foolish, even ungodly things.

More importantly, we should understand that Jephthah’s vow was outside of the moral will of God. Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-12 clearly prohibit human sacrifice and those passages tell us that Israel would kill the people of these Canaanite nations in war because of this very kind of sinful thing. Promising God that you will do something and then doing it when it is a sin does not bring glory to God in any way.

So what should Jephthah have done? He should have asked the priests to inquire of the Lord for him (see Ex 28:30, Deut 33:8, 1 Sam 14:41, Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65)*, then done whatever he was told. I am certain the Lord would have commanded him to redeem his daughter in some way rather than put her to death.

We can learn two lessons from this gruesome story.

First, being zealous for God’s glory does not automatically protect you from doing foolish, even sinful things. Sometimes Christians make excuses for themselves or others because someone “has a good heart.” They may have a good heart but that doesn’t mean they always make good decisions. Wisdom is just as important as personal godliness; in fact, it IS an important aspect of godliness.

Second, when you put yourself in a moral quandary–intentional or not–you need to seek godly counsel for help. So many problems could have been prevented, solved, or at least had the damage contained if God’s people reached out to godly leaders for help sooner and more often. Consult your elders when you’re in over your head. God gave elders to the church to shepherd his people out of difficult situations. Use us.


*For more on how the Urim & Thummim were used to help discern God’s will, see this article: https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function ]

Joshua 1, Isaiah 61

Today, read Joshua 1 and Isaiah 61.

This devotional is about Joshua 1.

Joshua’s mission was not easy, but it was easy to understand: Take the Land! “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (v. 1-3).

To accomplish this mission, he did not need a stack of thick procedural manuals or a complicated plan. All he had to do was believe God and start attacking.

Yet, despite the simplicity of his mission, God commanded him to be a godly man as well as a faithful military leader. Verse 7 says, “…Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left.” To be faithful to God’s commands and obedient to God’s word, Joshua needed to be in word daily. Verse 8, therefore, says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua’s success as Israel’s leader was dependent on him becoming a faithful and obedient student of God’s word. As he learned and lived God’s word, God promised to make him successful.

The success God promised if Joshua was faithful was not a magic spell that reading the Word gave him. Instead, it was the fulfillment of the promises God had made in his word. Those promises for Joshua and for all of Israel were the blessings that would result from loving the Lord God. It was the cultivation of godliness, then, that Joshua needed foremost. He was a busy man leading all of Israel into warfare but he was never to be too busy to read God’s word and grow in his faith.

I know that you are busy raising a family, building a career or a business, learning a new skill or obtaining a degree. But do you make time each day to cultivate your walk with God? “Success” and “blessing” are different for us than they were for Joshua but God still promises blessing for learning and obeying his Word. James 1:25 says, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Whatever else you’ve got going on in your life, make time to walk with God. Read his word daily, pray as Jesus taught us to pray, worship weekly with us on Sunday and fellowship around the Word with your small group, too. These are the ways in which God administers his grace to us for our growth in Him. We must be obedient to what we learn, of course, but learning it is what leads to obedience. As Joshua 1:8 said, “…meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”

Don’t let a busy life be an excuse not to walk with God.

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Read Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises–his covenant love–for these people: v. 26b: “…your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed…”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us.

Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?

Exodus 4, Job 21, Psalm 52

Today’s readings are Exodus 4, Job 21, and Psalm 52.

This devotional is about Exodus 4.

Moses made every excuse he could think of for not obeying God and God answered every one of them. God’s answers were gracious, too, promising his presence with Moses always and giving him some incredible miracles to authenticate his claim that God had sent him.

When every objection was answered and everything Moses needed for success had been promised or provided, Moses finally spat out these words, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (v. 13). In other words, Moses just did not want to do it. Every reason he gave God was an excuse; not one of them was a legitimate reason why Moses couldn’t do what he was commanded to do.

God’s response was anger: “Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses…” (v. 14). His anger was not that Moses was reluctant or afraid; his anger was over Moses’s stubborn unbelief and disobedience. What God called Moses to do was difficult. It would be scary and unpleasant so it is not really surprising that Moses didn’t want to do it.

But, with God, everything Moses was supposed to do would succeed. In the process of obeying the Lord, Moses would see the Lord and know him like nobody else who has ever lived. The work would be hard on Moses but the results would be more than worth it.

We often respond the same way to the Lord, don’t we? We hear his command to make disciples and his promise that he would be with us to the very end of the age, yet we don’t speak up when opportunities arise. We don’t even want to invite someone to church. One reason your spiritual life may be stagnating is that you are making excuses and hoping that God will just send someone else.

God eventually persuaded Moses to follow him and, if you and I are genuine Christians, he’ll get to us as well. Instead of resisting the Lord’s will in areas where we don’t want to change, let’s learn from Moses by believing God’s promises and acting obediently now rather than later.

Like Moses would learn later, the challenges of discipleship also provide us with greater opportunities to know God and see him work directly through our lives. Isn’t that better than leading sheep out in the desert?

Exodus 3, Job 20, Psalm 51

Today we’re reading Exodus 3, Job 20, and Psalm 51.

This devotional is about Exodus 3.

The early years of Moses’s life were like a fairy tale. He was saved from infanticide by Pharaoh’s daughter (but really by a resourceful mother) and raised in Pharaoh’s household. That gave him insight into the politics of Egypt as well as learning that would have been inaccessible to any other Hebrew boy.

When he was old enough to be a man, he tried to become a leader for Israel. As we read yesterday in Exodus 2, Moses killed an Egyptian who was abusing a Jewish man. Instead of causing other Jewish men to rally behind him as their leader, however, they simply gossiped about what he had done and put his life in jeopardy.

Now, after years in desert obscurity, God called him to be the leader he had attempted to be many years earlier. This time, however, Moses was unwilling. In this chapter we read excuse after excuse given by Moses to God’s command to him. The next chapter gives us even more excuses. This man who was once an enthusiastic volunteer for Jewish liberation now wanted nothing more than to stay in the desert with his family and be a shepherd in obscurity.

His reluctance to lead, however, shows that he was now exactly where God wanted him to be. Instead of leading out of personal self-confidence, he needed to be personally compelled and persuaded by God himself to do this important job. For the first time in his life, he was ready to be a spiritual leader, not just a political/military leader. Moses knew that he was incapable of doing what God called him to do. If he were going to be successful, he would need to be absolutely dependent on the power of God.

This is what each of us needs to live and lead for God everyday. Knowing our own incapability to do what God commands us to do, we must look to God for power, wisdom, and results. Drawing from Israel’s lessons of failure in the desert, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Trusting God means asking for his help and strength because we understand how easily we fall.

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Psalm 3

Today we’re reading Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Psalm 3.

This devotional is about Ezra 3, so read that chapter if you can’t do all of today’s reading.

The events recorded in Ezra happened late in Old Testament history. They happened after the kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon and after those kingdoms were divided into the Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Because of Israel’s idolatry, God used the Assyrian Empire to scatter the northern kingdom of Israel. Years later, God then used the Babylonians to take the southern kingdom, called Judah, into captivity. Daniel and his friends were living in Babylon due to that captivity. Daniel, while reading Jeremiah, realized that the captivity would end after 70 years. Ezra recorded what happened after that 70 years of captivity ended.

Cyrus the king of Persia was moved by the Lord to send the people of Judah living in exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. We read about that in Ezra 1. Ezra 2 recorded the names of those returned. At the end of Ezra 2, yesterday, we read, “When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site” (Ez 2:68).

Today in Ezra 3 we read that the people “assembled together as one in Jerusalem” (v. 1b). They built an altar and began the routine sacrifices commanded in Moses’ law (v. 3). They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4) and began rebuilding the Temple (vv. 7-13).

One thing that is impressive about this chapter is how quickly the people organized to begin worshipping the Lord together as a group. Verse 1 refers to the “seventh month” but that doesn’t mean seven months after they arrived. It means the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, the month when the Feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated (v. 4, 6). Although Ezra did not say so, the events of verses 1-6 happened probably only 3 or 4 months after the exiles returned to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem they returned to was a mess. It had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians 70 years before and was uninhabited during that time. When they got there, they had to figure out who owned what property, then repair or rebuild some kind of home to live in.

But the people who returned also needed to make a living, so they also had to begin working to start an economy going again. Verse 3 says that they “had settled in their towns” but that “settling” was only a bare subsistence. They were far from a thriving, vibrant community at that point.

And yet, they began their worship as a nation and their obedience to God’s word pretty quickly. It is true that Cyrus sent them there to rebuild the temple (chapter 1), but it would have been easy to make excuses–very plausible excuses–about the importance of making sure they could survive before they began worshipping God corporately again. They also could have said, “Well, we need to rebuild the temple first, then we can do the sacrifices and feast days.” But the temple took two years to get going (v. 8). Rather than wait, their faith in God and zeal for his glory caused them to obey his word as soon as they could.

All of this indicates what a priority worship was for these Israelites. Unlike their ancestors who worshipped idols and mixed God’s word with pagan gods and rituals, the 70 years of exile had chastened them and had shown them the importance of faith in God’s word and obedience to it.

I wonder if we would respond the same way? If some natural disaster wiped out all of our homes and businesses and leveled our church building, would those of us who survived that want to get together as soon as possible to start worshipping again?

I’d like to think that gathering again as a church family would be very important to us. Maybe a tragedy like that would make it so. But, when I think about how many people in our church only attend our Sunday worship here and there, I wonder.

Many people are faithful to our worship services Sunday after Sunday but many others attend for a Sunday or two, then disappear for weeks at a time. They all have reasons but how many of those reasons are just excuses laid on top of poor priorities? And that’s just Sunday services we’re talking about. Small group attendance and Calvary Class attendance is even more random and unpredictable.

This passage, and the coming of a new year, give us a chance to think about our priorities and where our time is spent. The fact that you’re reading these devotionals probably puts you in the category of people who are committed to the Lord and his work in our church. But, there is always the temptation to get distracted and let priorities fall out of whack. Don’t let that happen to you and, if you have a chance to encourage someone else who isn’t attending regularly, take the opportunity to speak to them for their good as a believer in Christ.