Judges 17, Ezekiel 6, Proverbs 18:13-24

Read Judges 17, Ezekiel 6, and Proverbs 18:13-24.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 6.

One of God’s goals for Israel was to proclaim his glory through their greatness. If Israel had obeyed God’s laws and worshipped him wholeheartedly, God promised abundance to them—long lives, plenty of healthy children, bumper crops, and material prosperity. These promises had multiple purposes such as (a) to bless and benefit his people (b) to give them tangible incentives for doing what was right and (c) to demonstrate to the idolatrous nations around them that there is only one true God—YHWH, the God of Israel.

God knew well that humanity was infected with depravity and were incapable of keeping his laws without an infusion of new spiritual life that we call regeneration. So, in every generation God regenerated some Israelites. They loved him, obeyed his laws, worshipped him from the heart, and enjoyed some of the benefits of his promises.

But most of the people of Israel lived in sinful rebellion against him. Although God sent judges and prophets and even some godly kings to provide them with spiritual leadership, most of Israel’s history was dominated by spiritual and moral failure generation after generation.

Where did that leave God, then? If his goal was to make himself famous through the obedience of Israel and his consequent blessings to them, what did Israel’s failures teach about God?

Ezekiel 6 contains the answer. Remember that not only did God’s law (through Moses) spell out the blessings of obedience; it also spelled out the consequences of disobedience. Just as God promised blessing and prosperity to his people if they served him and obeyed him, he also promised judgment and exile to them if they rejected him and disobeyed him. In Ezekiel 6, the Lord’s word through the prophet explained to the people in exile all of the destruction and death that would happen in their beloved homeland (vv. 2-7a). The reason: “…you will know that I am the Lord” (v. 7b).

Yet God would never fully abandon his promises. In God’s grace, some would be saved from the destruction that their sins deserved. Verses 8-9 described what would happen to them; namely, that they would be taken captive and suffer but in their suffering they “will remember me” (v. 9a), “…will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord” (vv. 9c-10).

Have you ever thought that the painful events in your life actually prove both the existence of God and of his love for you?

  • If you’ve sinned and suffered the consequences for it (and who among us hasn’t?), then your own experience proves the teaching of God’s word that a person reaps what he sows.
  • If you’ve ever experienced the Lord’s discipline in your life that corrected you from a sinful path and brought you back to obedience, then you know that the Lord loves you because “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Prov 3:11-12, Heb 12:6).

God’s people needed a painful lesson in God’s faithfulness to prepare them to deliver Christ into the world. Though most of them were in unbelief when Christ came to the world, and most live in that unbelief even today, God will still make good on his promises for Israel in the kingdom of Christ.

Until then, see how the struggles that Israel had historically were unprecedented and difficult, yet God did not allow his people to be permanently extinguished from the earth.

All of this is a testimony to the existence and power of God. Because we know him by faith and have the regeneration that most of Israel lacked, let’s take his word seriously and live obedient lives to it.

Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 24, 2 Corinthians 8

Read Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 24, 2 Corinthians 8.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 24.

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we see passage after passage that condemns the people for their sins and warns of coming judgment. The language that describes their disobedience seems so all-encompassing that we might conclude that there were no faithful people in Israel except for the prophets themselves.

Today’s passage in Jeremiah 24 shows that this is not true. Although most of God’s people were disobedient to his covenant, the basket of figs shows that there were some who loved God and lived obediently to him. The fact that Jeremiah described the good figs as “very good” in verse 3 shows that there were some strong believers scattered among the idol worshippers and other unfaithful people of Judah.

But, due to the unfaithfulness of the majority, even these “good figs” were carried away into exile, experiencing the curse of the covenant for the disobedience of the whole kingdom. That seems terribly unjust, but God did not abandon these faithful believers altogether. Instead, today’s reading offers hope for these believers. God promised in verse 6, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.” So his promises would be kept in his time.

However, in the meantime, God promised to reward these faithful ones with the thing they really needed anyway: a deeper discipleship with him. Verse 7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

Just as even the faithful among God’s people experienced the effects of God’s judgment due to the sins and unbelief of others, so we will have pain and setbacks in our own lives, even if we faithfully follow the Lord. God’s promise to us is not a pain-free life or peaceful, material abundance. God’s promise to us is himself; and that will be more than enough if our hope is truly in him.

2 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 1

Read 2 Chronicles 16 and Zechariah 1.

This devotional is about Zechariah 1.

When Zechariah wrote these words (v. 1) were still 18 years or so to go in Judah’s 70 year exile. The end was not yet in sight but it was closer than the beginning. God’s message to the people in the first 6 verses of this chapter can be summarized as follows:

  • Your parents and grandparents refused to repent when the prophets preached to them that the exile that we’re in was coming. Don’t be like them (v. 4).
  • What happened to those ancestors of yours, anyway? Oh, yeah, they died in exile just like the prophets said. The prophets themselves died too, by the way (v. 5).
  • What survives from those days? God’s word; that’s what (v. 6). Everything God said would happen, did happen.
  • The point of these first 6 verses is that God’s word through the prophets had proved to be true. His word was so clearly true that even the rebellious ancestors were forced to admit, “The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.” God’s punishment for their sins was clear proof of the truthfulness of his word.

So, God’s message now was, “‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” In other words, “Don’t wait for the punishment of sin to prove the truth of God’s word. Believe that God’s word is true now and turn to him accordingly.”

People in every generation have rejected and tried to discredit God’s word. They argue that there is no proof that the Bible is God’s word; it is just a human book, they think.

Leaving aside the prophecies that have already been fulfilled, God’s word is fulfilled day after day in the consequences that people experience for their sins. “The wages of sin is death” according to Romans 6:23; the fact that every sinner dies proves this word of the Lord to be true. The Bible also promises blessings for faith in and obedience to his word as well as judgment for unbelief and disobedience to his word.

You and I have the benefit of history. We can see how others who lived before us have disregarded God’s commands and sinned because they wanted to sin. What became of their lives? In every case I can think of, they proved that faithlessness and disobedience bring heartbreak and sorrow.

Receive the grace of God in the warning of these words and choose to believe that obeying God’s commands will be far better for you than disobeying them. That’s the lesson God wanted the people of Zechariah’s generation to learn from the exile. It is the same lesson he wants us to learn, too.

2 Chronicles 14-15, Haggai 2

Read 2 Chronicles 14-15 and Haggai 2.

This devotional is about Haggai 2.

This prophet, Haggai, wrote to the people of Judah after they returned from their exile. Over 70 years had passed since Nebuchadnezzar defeated their city, destroyed Solomon’s beautiful temple, and burned the gates of the city with fire. Most of people written about in this book were born in Babylon. They had heard stories from their parents about Jerusalem and the temple but only a few of the oldest people had ever seen it.

Now they returned to Jerusalem and were busy building houses for themselves and rebuilding the temple. The temple of the Lord, however, had been neglected. Haggai 1, which we read yesterday, pointed out the people’s failure to rebuild the temple and the price they were paying for that failure (1:8-9).

Here in Haggai 2, some time had passed. The people had taken to heart the word of the Lord through Haggai in chapter 1, so they began work on the new temple. Unfortunately, the older people who had seen Solomon’s temple were sad; this new temple seemed pathetic by comparison. As verse 3 asked, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?”

Solomon’s temple was a treasure, an architectural sight to behold. The poverty of the people at this point in Israel’s history prevented them from building anything like what Solomon had made. They did the best they could with what they had, but their best wasn’t even close to Solomon’s best work.

God sent the prophet Haggai with this message to encourage the people to keep working. It was true that the new temple would seem like a joke compared to the one it replaced but that was not important. The important thing is that God was with them: “‘For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’”

Then he made promises to them. Verse 7 made the most important promise which was that He would be there; his glory would inhabit the new temple just as it had the old one: “‘I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

Verse 8 told us that he would provide the money for it, too: “‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Finally, God said that this temple would someday be greater, more glorious than Solomon’s temple had been: “‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.’” That glory might not have been architectural but it would be better–God would work there making peace.

There are times when God’s work seems to take a step (or more than that) backward. What was once exciting, powerful, growing, and wonderful becomes something much less than any of those adjectives. It is naturally discouraging to God’s people when that happens. God, however, wants us to know that he uses small things. When things are weak, God can show his strength.

Are you discouraged about anything in your life because it just isn’t anywhere near what it used to be or could be? This is your opportunity, then, to believe in God and ask him to work. God can take even the most meager things and make them great so ask him to glorify himself that way.

1 Kings 19, Daniel 1

Read 1 Kings 19 and Daniel 1.

This devotional is about Daniel 1.

This passage begins with a description of Judah’s Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). God allowed (v. 2) Babylon to overtake Jerusalem in fulfillment of God’s prophecies and because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry.

As we read these early chapters of Daniel in the next few days, we will see that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was a proud man. But he wasn’t too proud to believe that he and his Babylonian brethren had all the wisdom available on earth. In verses 3-5 we read that Nebuchadnezzar looked for, found, and cultivated the most outstanding young people he could find in Judah. Verse 4 told us that these young men had to look good but also show “aptitude for every kind of learning, [be] well informed, [and] quick to understand.” Nebuchadnezzar invested in the education and development of these men (vv. 4f-5) and expected them to contribute significantly to his administration when they were done with their training.

Judah was filled with godless idolators; that’s why they were taken captive by the Babylonians. The sons of Judah’s idol-worshiping men and women likewise cared nothing about obedience to God and their exile had not caused them to repent. Consequently, they had no problem falling in line with the worship, culture, and expectations of the Babylonians. I’m sure they mourned the loss of their parents who were killed when the Babylonians invaded. They may have missed Jerusalem and their old friends, too, but many of them may have been excited by this great new opportunity that Nebuchadnezzar had for them. If it meant conforming to Babylonian ways, they were happy to comply.

That was true for everyone except for Daniel and his three friends (vv. 6-7). These men were (likely) raised in homes that were faithful to the Lord. They continued to believe in God and his word despite the defeat of Judah. That defeat simply confirmed their faith because the prophets had been predicting it for years and they knew that God’s people had not repented. Their challenge now was to live obediently to God’s word in a place that was much more hostile to God than even Jerusalem in unbelief had been. Daniel and the guys determined from the very beginning not to compromise their faith. They promised to perform well if they were allowed to live God’s way (vv. 13-14). That was an act of faith and God met their faith with blessing (vv. 15-17).

The world wants to squeeze everyone into its mold but God commands us not to conform but to be transformed by renewing our minds (Rom 12:2). Daniel and his cohorts left an amazing legacy and example for all of us who want to live for God by faith to follow.

Your school, your government, your neighborhood, your friends, your family, the media you consume are all trying to squeeze you into a mold. Most–maybe all–of those influences are squeezing you into a godless form. Jesus wants to transform you into his likeness. His word, His church, His Spirit, and His grace are all operating in your life for that to happen, but it takes some determination on your part, a willingness to be different. Is there some way right now where you’re being squeezed? What would the Lord want you to do to emulate the faith and obedience of Daniel?

1 Samuel 1, Jeremiah 39

Read 1 Samuel 1, Jeremiah 39.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 39.

In this chapter of scripture, we read how God kept his promise to Judah. You can call what happened in this chapter an act of God’s judgment and/or the fulfillment of God’s covenant curse. Either way, God had promised in his law and through the prophets that Judah’s idolatry and sinfulness would cause them to be taken from their land as exiles to a foreign nation. That’s exactly what happened in this chapter through the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 1).

When the Babylonians broke through the wall of Jerusalem and invaded the city (v. 2), the entire nation of Judah was affected. Many people died and many of those who lived were carried off to live in exile in Babylon (vv. 9-10). But this chapter describes the Babylonian captivity through the experience of three men: Zedekiah, king of Judah, Jeremiah the prophet, and Ebed-Melek the Cushite. Let’s look briefly at how each man experienced this traumatic event:

  • Zedekiah could have saved a lot of lives and made his own life easier had he surrendered to the Babylonians as Jeremiah told him to do in 38:17-18. He did not surrender, however, and here in chapter 39:5-7 we read that he was captured, blinded, and taken to Babylon in chains.
  • Jeremiah, by contrast, was left in Judah. Verse 14 says, “So he remained among his own people.” He had treated terribly by his people when he preached the truth to them and urged them to repent. Now, although his nation was in bad shape, at least he was able to live in his homeland.
  • Finally, Ebed-Melek the Cushite was given a promise by God though Jeremiah that he would be rescued from harm when the Babylonians invaded. Verse 18 says, “I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be given into the hands of those you fear. I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life….”

There we have the story of Judah’s defeat as told through the experience of three different men. Two of them escaped the worst of God’s wrath and were able to live out their lives in relative peace. One of them lost everything, including his eyesight.

What made the difference in the lives of these men?

Verse 18b told us: “‘you… will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord.’” Faith in God and his promises rescued these men from the worst of God’s judgment. They had to deal with some of God’s punishment because that punishment fell on the whole nation and they were there when it happened. But they escaped the worst of it because of their faith in God.

When God promises to deliver us when we trust in him, that is not a blanket promise of a trouble-free life. Jeremiah had a lot of problems in his life because he stood virtually alone in delivering God’s truth. God’s promises to deliver us refer to the outcome of our lives, not every incident in our lives. For Jeremiah and Ebed-Melek, trusting in God meant deliverance from the same fate as most people in their society. For us it means deliverance from God’s eternal wrath because of sin. You may face some difficult problems in life, even problems created by your faith like Jeremiah did. But, take heart, if you trust in God he will deliver you in eternity. God is faithful to his promises; we are called to trust in him to keep those promises and wait for his deliverance.

Judges 16, Jeremiah 29

Today, read Judges 16 and Jeremiah 29.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 29.

After decades of idolatry, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar (v. 1). Jeremiah and other prophets had predicted this defeat as God’s punishment, but his people did not repent. Many Israelites were killed and many were carried off to Babylon to live as exiles in a foreign land. God’s promised land still contained some of God’s chosen people, but they existed in the land as vassals to Babylon.

Here in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the people who survived and were carried off to Babylon (v. 1). The gist of his letter was, “Thrive in Babylon as much as you can and in as many ways as possible (vv. 4-6) because you’re going to be there for 70 years (v. 10) and then I’ll bring you home.” They were to make Babylon home even to the point of praying for it, its peace and prosperity (v. 7) which is surprising, given the godlessness of the Babylonians.

The point of these instructions was to teach God’s people that this exile would not be over quickly. Imagine if you were a 30 years old or older and read that this exile would last for 70 years. Your life would end in Babylon and your children would probably not live to see Israel again, either. The only hope offered to these Jewish people is that in the future God would redeem and restore them (vv. 10-11) in conjunction with their spiritual renewal (vv. 12-13). This is hopeful in the sense that the people would understand that God had not abandoned his promises to Israel.

This passage can be applied to us in a couple of different ways, at least, but the one I want to highlight in this devotional is one I learned from Dr. John Piper. I would link to the source, but I think it was in some old sermon tape that someone gave me two decades ago.

Anyway, Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ….” We are citizens of heaven but we live here on earth until Jesus returns. In a sense, then, we are like exiles living in a place that is not our home. How should exiles live? Jeremiah 29 tells us. It says that we should “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

This world will never be our promised land but, until Jesus returns, this world is where we are planted. We should not love this world or its system but we should live a God-glorifying existence here by living a productive life. Your work matters to God, your family life matters to him, and so does the place where you live. So put effort into these things not because they are worth living for but because God is glorified when we live for eternity while also making the most of our lives here within his will and for his glory.

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?