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?

Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, Psalm 109

Today we’re scheduled to read Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, and Psalm 109.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.” In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life. These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it. But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99

Today’s readings are Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99.

This devotional is about Proverbs 27:22: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.”

Why do some people make a bad decision once and learn from it while others make the same bad decision many times? The answer is that the one who learns from their bad decisions is on the path to wisdom. Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and humbly accepting rebuke–either from God or from friends (vv. 5-6, 17) or from the consequences that bad decisions inevitably bring.

The wisest person believes what God’s word says and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade A Wisdom.” This person does not try to test God’s word by making moral choices that are against what it says. Instead, he or she obeys God’s word because they believe it to be true. This person will avoid many heartaches and problems simply because they believed God. In this case, God’s word provides the rebuke in advance and teaches the wise person not to give into that sinful desire of his or her heart. Nobody does this perfectly; after all, we’re all sinners. But God’s grace allows some people to sin less than others because they wisely believe and obey God’s commands.

A step below the wisest person is the person who watches the decisions made by others, notices whether the outcome is good or bad, and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade B Wisdom.” This person learns from the mistakes/misdeeds of others and avoids many heartaches and problems as a result. In other words, the rebuke is found in the life and consequences produced by those who live immorally. The person with “Grade B Wisdom” believes that the bad consequences that follow the sinful choices of others will come to him or her if they make the same sinful choice.

Next we have the person who sins–either because they are ignorant of God’s commands and the bad outcomes others have or because they ignore the sources of rebuke from “Grade A” and “Grade B” wisdom. This person learns wisdom by experience and acquires “Grade C” wisdom. They experience the consequences and pain of their sins and, at that point, choose to believe and act differently in the future as a result.

Finally, we have the fool. He’s got “Grade F ‘wisdom’” which is equivalent to straight up folly. This person does whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not God has commanded against it or others have experienced the pain that comes from it. This person believes that he is some kind of exception. While God’s word may be true for everyone else, he or she will not be hurt by their sins like everyone else is. And, if this person sins once and pays the price for it, they believe it is an anomaly so they sin again expecting a different result. Proverbs 27:22 addressed this kind of person. It says that you can try as many ways as you want or as often as you want to drive the folly out of a fool, but “you will not remove their folly from them” even if you “grind a fool in a motar.” This person learns nothing from anyone–not God’s word, not the mistakes and misdeeds of others, and not even from their own experiences.

A few years ago, someone was planning an unwise, sinful action and several of us spoke to him about it. We pleaded with him not to do what he intended to do. This encounter was not our first with this person. I had personally witnessed him disregarding his parent’s instructions, even though he was warned. When that decision got him in trouble, he tried to sin his way out of it again even though I and others urged him not to. Finally, when I heard of this person’s plans to sin again, I told him: “Haven’t you learned anything from your experience? You sin, it gets you into trouble, so you sin more to try to get yourself out of it.”

Our rebuke did not work. Showing him scripture did not change his actions. Pleading with him to at least try a different path fell on deaf ears. This person was determined to prove God’s word right not by obeying it to avoid trouble but by disobeying it, making their own sinful, selfish choices. He thought he was an exception to the rule; I think he made a foolish choice that would hurt him, just as God’s word said.

Are you one who accepts good confrontation or someone who argues or ignores it? Few people like to confront others and nobody enjoys being confronted. A wise person, however, will accept rebuke–from God’s word, from the experience of others or from their own experiences–and change course. Is that you? Or will you keep making morally foolish decisions despite God’s clear commands or the pain that results?

God is gracious and merciful but not to the fool. He is gracious and merciful to those who accept rebuke and repent, changing their minds and choosing a different path. If you’re on an unwise path, please let these verses turn your thinking. Don’t be a fool.

Ruth 1

Ruth 1: U-Turns

Sometimes our lives reverse course, forcing us to make a U-Turn. In those moments, we should trust God’s plan. 

This is a message from chapter 1 of the Old Testament book of Ruth. It was the first message in a series called U-Turns by Pastor Brian Jones. 

This message was delivered on July 7, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan.