Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, 1 Thessalonians 4

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, and 1 Thessalonians 4 today.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 4.

In this chapter Paul moved from discussing his history with the Thessalonians to addressing how they should live as Christians (vv. 1-2). Sexual purity was first on his list, an evergreen topic in every age (vv. 3-8).

Next was the issue of loving others and general living in light of our life in Christ (vv. 9-12). The Thessalonians had a God-given gift for Christian love, so much so that Paul said he didn’t really even need to write to them about it (vv. 9-10). When Paul wrote, “you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” (v. 10a), he is referring to the generosity of the Thessalonian believers toward other believers and church in the wider region around them. This suggests that the Thessalonians had instinctively reached out to other churches and had been generous toward whatever needs they had.

Even though the Thessalonians had already demonstrated their love, Paul “urge[d] you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” We all, from time to time, quit doing things that are good and productive just because they can be costly. Paul wasn’t chiding them for losing some of the loving ways they had developed; he was encouraging them not to stop doing the God-honoring things they had done by instinct.

As a parent and as a pastor, it is easy to take for granted the good things that our children and our church family members do. I might congratulate my kids when they get good grades–or improving grades–on their report cards, but I don’t usually pat them on the back when I see them he daily work of studying and doing homework.

Similarly, in our church, many people show up and serve faithfully each week. I do try to thank people from time to time, but it’s easy just to expect their faithful service. Positive reinforcement, though, can mean a lot. It matters more to some people than others based on their personalities, but it means something to just about everyone. Like Paul, then, it would be helpful for us to notice the good things our spouse, our kids and our friends do–the areas where they are growing in their Christian lives, when they serve faithfully, when they make good choices–and encourage them to keep it up. That bit of encouragement might help others keep doing good and it might stimulate them to do more in that area.

Leviticus 10, Isaiah 6, Psalms 42-44

Read Leviticus 10, Isaiah 6, and Psalms 42-44.

This devotional is about Isaiah 6.

King Uzziah was one of the most enigmatic kings Israel ever had. He reigned over Judah (the Southern Kingdom after Israel was divided following Solomon’s kingship) for over 50 years. In terms of the economy and military, Uzziah was successful. But it was his spiritual leadership that made him such an enigma. At the beginning of his reign, when he was assisted by the prophet Zechariah, he was a righteous ruler, leading God’s people back toward obedience to God’s word. But, as he became more successful and more powerful, he became arrogant, even entering the Temple like a priest to burn incense before God. God punished Uzziah with leprosy and his reign, which started with so much promise, ended disappointingly.

As we saw in Isaiah 6:1, the year of Uzziah’s death was when Isaiah saw his vision of God. For the good of his people, who were so lacking in spiritual leadership, God raised up one of Israel’s greatest prophets by giving him a compelling vision of our God. The theme of Isaiah’s vision is stated in verse 3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The word “holy” means “separate, set apart,” and when the Bible talks about the holiness of God, it does so in two distinct (but related) senses.

One way in which God is “holy” or “set apart” is in his nature. Because he is the Creator, he alone is uncreated and uncaused. That means God is unique from everyone else in creation. The Bible says that we were created in God’s image, so we are like God but he is not like us. His power, his glory, his eternal existence, the fact that he is everywhere present in the fullness of his being—these truths and others make God unique; they make him holy in the deepest essence of his being. That is the primary thing Isaiah saw in his vision of the Lord. Verse 1 says he was “high and exalted, seated on a throne,” which describes God as separate from his creation. He is exalted, he is ruling, he is distant because no created thing has any business coming near him. In fact, verse 1 ends by saying, “and the train of his robe filled the temple.” I’ve always wondered about that phrase, but as I think about it today I think I see the point. The temple was the place where God said his presence would live among his people. It was the place people could go to worship and to have their sins forgiven. It was a place where they could learn about God and talk to him in prayer. It was a special place, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word. And, yet, does God really live there? According to Isaiah’s vision, no; only the tails of his tuxedo reside there. The most worshipful, awesome day a Hebrew person had in the Temple was just a mere coattail experience of who God really is. Why? Because he is holy; we can understand who he is and what he is like, but never from the lofty perspective that he occupies.

The first aspect of holiness, then, is the difference between the creator and the created ones. He is exalted in ways that we never will be nor could be. He is unique, set apart, different from any and all of us by his very nature as God.

The second aspect of God’s holiness is the one we usually think of—his complete freedom from sin in any way. Isaiah felt this deep in his spirit when he saw the first aspect of God’s holiness. His response to this vision in verse 5 was “Woe to me! […] I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” When Isaiah saw God depicted in his naturally separate state, he became acutely aware of his own sin. To put it another way, when Isaiah saw the holiness of God’s nature, he became aware of his own lack of moral holiness and feared the consequences.

This vision prepared Isaiah to become a man who railed against the godlessness of his culture with very few results (vv. 8-13). It was a difficult calling, but his understanding of God in this passage and the purifying God graciously did for him gave him everything he needed to be faithful. Isn’t this what we need when living the Christian life becomes so deeply taxing? We need to see God in the scriptures and understand how magnificent, how powerful, how utterly other-worldly he is. Knowing that gives us the power we need to live an other-worldly life for him.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones,” whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.

2 Chronicles 33, Malachi 1

Read 2 Chronicles 33 and Malachi 1.

This devotional is about Malachi 1.

The final book of the Old Testament has a pattern of writing that is distinct from any other book in the Bible. Malachi’s pattern of prophecy is:

  • God makes a statement (v. 2a, 6a-d)
  • God’s people question the statement (v. 2b, 6e)
  • God gives more explanation or support for the statement (vv. 3-5, 7-14).

Two topics are addressed here in Malachi 1 using that pattern. They are;

  1. God’s love for Israel (vv. 2-5).
  2. Israel’s dishonoring of God through blemished sacrifices (vv. 6-14).

The first topic, God’s love for Israel, is one that Israel may have questioned throughout the Old Testament era. God’s people experienced many setbacks and even captivity, so they may have questioned God’s love literally, not just through the literary conventions of verse 2b. How could God love a nation when he allowed that nation to experience so much military defeat for so long?

God’s answer is not to point many specific instances of his love but to contrast the outcome of Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, with the Israelites (vv. 3-5). Israel suffered defeats; no doubt about it. But Edom was about to be destroyed completely in God’s wrath while Israel had returned to their land after the exile. God’s love, then, was demonstrated by being faithful to his covenant with Israel even when they were faithless toward him.

Life’s problems and negative circumstances can make us struggle to believe that God loves us. Malachi’s answer to that struggle is not to minimize the problems Israel had but to point them back to their own existence. God saved them and preserved them in ways he has not done for any other nation. This is the most powerful proof of God’s love that could exist.

When you and I wonder if God loves us, we need to take our eyes off our circumstances and remember how Christ saved us from our sins. He not only died for our sins but, before that, he chose you to receive that forgiveness through election. Then, on the day of his choosing, you heard the gospel message and the light of spiritual life turned on in your heart. It caused you to turn to Christ and gratefully receive salvation. All of this happened because God loves you.

In this life you will have problems, setbacks, struggles, and heartaches. God’s love does not spare us from these things. God’s love saves us from eternal destruction which is much more loving than making sure your car always starts or that you always have more money in your bank account than you will ever need.

So, when you question God’s love for you, return again to the doctrines of salvation. Your salvation is the greatest evidence you’ll ever get of God’s love for you. Don’t forget it; remember it and thank God for it.

2 Chronicles 24, Zechariah 7

Read 2 Chronicles 24 and Zechariah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’’

Karma is a Hindu and Buddhist concept that, at least here in the West, is interpreted to say that evil things you do will bring evil to you and good things you do will bring good to you.

There are certain precepts of scripture that are similar:

  • The law of the harvest: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7)
  • “He who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest–Zechariah’s father–was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death.

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order.

As for king Joash, who unjustly killed Zechariah, he did die prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this story when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions, as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19).

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

2 Chronicles 17, Zechariah 2

Read 2 Chronicles 17 and Zechariah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 17.

The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were all evil in God’s sight. The kings of Judah were a mixed bag. After the kingdom divided, Judah had twenty kings; eight of them were described as men who were righteous in the sight of God. Today we read about one of the most faithful of the godly kings in Judah; namely, Jehoshaphat. It would be hard to get a better description of your life than:

  • “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him” (v. 3a).
  • He “sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel.” (v. 4).
  • “His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord” (v. 6a).

So, clearly, Jehoshaphat was an exemplary man.

But this chapter goes beyond these general descriptions of his godliness and gives us some specifics. One specific demonstration of Jehoshaphat’s godliness was his separation from idolatry:

  • Verse 3 said, “He did not consult the Baals….” This shows that he was personally free from idolatry.
  • Verse 6 said, “…he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.” He not only abstained from idolatry personally but he did not tolerate the practice of idolatry in his kingdom.

When we read that a king of Judah did right in the eyes of the Lord, it means that king, at the bare minimum, had some kind of separation from idolatry.

Jehoshaphat, though, went so much further than that. Verses 7-9 say that Jehoshaphat sent government leaders “to teach the towns of Judah” (v. 7). With those government officials he sent Levites who “taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people” (v. 9). So he both removed idols from Judah and replaced those idols with the teaching of truth.

Systematic instruction from God’s word is essential to the growth of godliness in a person or group of people’s lives. It is, of course, possible to teach God’s word in a way that is dry and lacking spiritual life. It is also possible to learn God’s word academically without receiving it spiritually.

But people who are growing spiritually are people who want to know God’s word. There is a hunger for truth in a godly person’s heart that can only be filled by the teaching of God’s word. Godly leaders and godly people do what is right but they also desire to know more of God’s truth. The better we know God’s truth, the more clearly and powerfully we encounter God himself.

Jesus created the church, in part, to provide the kind of instruction to us Christians that Jehoshaphat starting giving the people of Judah in this chapter. Are you showing up to receive the teaching our church offers? Do you come hungry, ready to learn what God has spoken?

2 Kings 20, Hosea 13

Read 2 Kings 20 and Hosea 13.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 20.

The most outstanding quality Hezekiah had was his ability to pray. In verses 1-11 of this chapter, Hezekiah contracted some kind of deathly illness (v. 1) which involved a boil on his skin (v. 7). Isaiah came along and told him to meet with his estate attorney immediately because he was going to die and not recover (v. 1).

Unlike all the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah actually believed the word of the Lord’s prophet. He did not order Isaiah to be imprisoned like Jeremiah was or killed like Jezebel tried to do to Elijah. Instead, he accepted that Isaiah’s words were God’s word.

Next, he didn’t argue with God or try to say that God’s will was unjust. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23a). Hezekiah was a sinner, therefore he was going to die someday, somehow. The lengths of our lives differ, but we all are destined to die by some method at some time. This was Hezekiah’s time and the illness was the way. Hezekiah accepted that fact to be true.

But he didn’t believe that it had to be true. Instead, he believed in the power of God. His first instinct, then, was to turn to God in prayer. HIs prayer is simple–“Remember, Lord” (v. 3). He did not claim perfection or any right to healing but Hezekiah did remind the Lord that he had lived a faithful, devoted life. He also reminded God that, as Judah’s leader, he did “what is good in your eyes” (v. 3). So personally and “professionally” Hezekiah could say that he had done the will of God.

And that’s it. That’s all he told God in his prayer. He did not directly ask for God’s healing; instead, he said, “remember me” and how I have lived my life and led your people.

God knew what Hezekiah wanted and how sincerely, based on his tears, he wanted it. So God both healed him (v. 7), promised him both another fifteen years of life (v. 6a) and deliverance from Assyria, the nation that had swallowed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God also performed a miracle, the first daylight saving time fallback (vv. 10-11) to confirm Isaiah’s word.

All of this was accomplished because Hezekiah prayed.

There is no guarantee that God will answer your prayers or mine in this way. Honestly, there was no guarantee that he would answer Hezekiah this way. Hezekiah was the recipient of God’s goodness and love, not a shrewd negotiator with the Almighty.

So there are no guarantees. But. What might be different in your life if you prayed like Hezekiah prayed in this passage?

2 Kings 8, Daniel 12

Read 2 Kings 8 and Daniel 12.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 8.

Back in 2 Kings 4 we were introduced to a married couple who lived in a town called Shunem. That chapter described them as “well-to-do” (4:8b) meaning that they were wealthy. The wife in this family invited Elisha to come to their home for a meal and that became a pattern. 2 Kings 4:8c says, “So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat.”

This woman was gracious with more than just their food. Verses 9-10 of chapter 4 describe how she planned with her husband to make a room on the roof for Elisha to stay in whenever he came to town. Then, in gratitude for their hospitality, Elisha asked God to give her a son and, after he did, he died but God raised him back to life through Elisha.

Here in chapter 8, the story of this family resumed. In our reading, we learned that Elisha told the family to leave when the famine was coming (v. 1) and they listened (v. 2) and lived in Philistia for 7 years. While they were gone, someone moved into their home and their land. When the family returned, the woman went to see the king to ask him to restore the land to her (v. 3). Wouldn’t you know it, just at that very minute Gehazi, servant of Elisha, was telling the king about the resurrection of her son (v. 5). Timing is everything and, in the providence of God, Gehazi’s story plus her appearance at the end of it caused the king to give her both justice and favor. Justice was the restoration of her home and land; favor was also getting “all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now” (v. 6e).

All of these good things that happened to her began when she showed kindness to God’s servant Elisha. By volunteering to feed him, then welcoming him back again and again to her dinner table, and then building a private room for him, she was aiding the Lord’s work by blessing God’s servant. After those acts of kindness, God blessed her again and again–giving her a son when she was childless, raising that son from the dead when he died prematurely, and restoring her home, land, and income.

The Bible does not guarantee wealth to those who bless God’s work, but it does promise blessings to those who give. Jesus said it this way, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

Are you faithful in giving to the Lord’s work? Are you generous with others and look for ways to volunteer and meet the needs of God’s servants?

1 Kings 12, Ezekiel 41

Read 1 Kings 12 and Ezekiel 42.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 12.

Just as God promised, the kingdom of David and Solomon was torn apart into two kingdoms: Judah (the “Southern Kingdom”) and Israel (the “Northern Kingdom”). This division happened as a consequence of Solomon’s idolatry, a divine act of judgment, as we read yesterday. That was the divine side of the kingdom’s division.

The human side was accomplished by the foolishness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Instead of reducing the burden of taxation on the people of Israel, he promised to make things worse than ever. The Northern kingdom rallied around Jeroboam, a capable leader from Solomon’s administration, and made him king.

David and Solomon reigned over Israel for a combined 80 years and the two of them centralized political, economic, and spiritual power in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was delighted to be king but he worried that his fragile kingdom would “likely revert to the house of David” (v. 26) if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship. Instead of trusting God, who decreed this division and prophesied about it before it happened, Jeroboam decided to make his own gods to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem. Verse 28 told us that he ordered the creation of two golden calves. If you’re making your own religion, you might as well make it easy for people and offer them two convenient locations (vv. 28, 29). Everything he did made sense on a human level. What does not make sense is his statement in verse 28: “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

What?! These idols were so new, so freshly manufactured, that they were still warm from the gold smelting furnace. Yet somehow the people were to believe that these idols had led God’s people out of Egypt generations earlier?

Well, yes, if the calves represented gods rather than actually being gods. That seems to be what Jeroboam was saying to the people. “You don’t need no stinkin’ Ark of the Covenant to be the place where God is represented. Let these calves represent our gods instead.”

This was a clear attempt to appropriate Israel’s redemption story for Jeroboam’s advantage and apply it to the idols he made. This is often what false doctrine, false religion does. It claims aspects of God’s true revelation and reapplies it some significant but false way. A little bit of truth can help people swallow a whole lot of error. Ask Jeroboam; he built his career on that principle.

Someone who knew God and wanted to be faithful to Him should have pointed out that the God who brought Israel out of Egypt was One Lord (Deut 6:4) not two calves. A faithful servant of the Lord should also have said that the God who rescued them from Egypt commanded no graven images. The same person should have pointed out what happened when Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship after the Exodus.

Instead, the Northern Kingdom liked the ease of having two convenient locations for worship as well as the ability to keep their redemption story without maintaining any connection to Jerusalem. As Christians, we should be very careful. Many self-help books quote scripture but are filled with advice that is directly unscriptural. Don’t allow our faith to be pasted like a label on a can of manmade ideas.

1 Kings 6, Ezekiel 36

Read 1 Kings 6 and Ezekiel 36.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 36:16-38.

In this chapter, God gave more insight about why he sent his people away into exile for their sins. Every sin is an offense to God. Every sinner is guilty in his sight. But there are additional consequences to sin then just to the sinner. God said that the sins of Israel “defiled” their land (vv. 17, 18). But their sins also “…profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people….’” Israel was supposed to flourish as a nation because of its covenant with God. When Israel didn’t flourish as a nation, it gave other nations reasons to reject God. They did not know (or ignored) the fact that Israel was unfaithful to God and that God had promised punishment to them if they were unfaithful. The struggles and defeat of Israel and Judah caused idol-worshipping nations to reject and even mock the true God.

I wonder how often we consider how our words and our actions reflect on God. We call ourselves Christians. If we are lazy, dishonest, profane, difficult to reason with, racist, or guilty of a host of other sins, what does that say about our faith? What might an unbeliever conclude about our God?

These words of judgment were not the final story, however. In verses 24-31 God promised to redeem Israel from the exile in other nations. He promised to install them back in the land (v. 28a) but also to change their hearts. Verses 26-27 say, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is the promise of regeneration, God’s gift of new spiritual life to the spiritually dead. And why would God do this? Verse 32 says, “I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And verse 36 says, “…the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” Just as Israel’s sins gave God’s enemies an excuse to reject him, Israel’s spiritual life and prosperity would demonstrate the truth about God powerfully to those nations.

I wrote in an earlier graph today about how our sins reflect on God to unbelievers. But just as Israel’s redemption would testify to God’s power, so his transforming grace in your life speaks volumes about him to unbelievers who know you. As God deletes sins from your life and causes you to grow strong in faith and obedience, the people who know you will see a silent but potent witness that God is real.

2 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 20

Read 2 Samuel 13 and Ezekiel 20.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 20:32: “‘You say, ‘We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.’”

Peer pressure is something we warn teenagers about, but adults are far from immune to it. Marketers use a form of peer pressure called “social proof” to get you and me to buy products. Similarly, ideas and actions that the Bible label as sinful have become acceptable in human societies because a majority of people consider them OK. Sexual activity apart from marriage, homosexuality, and transgenderism would all be in this category, but there are probably many more things that you and I could list if we took some time to think about it.

These things are now proclaimed to be acceptable, within the range of normal, in our society. The Bible warns us Christians that we would be out of step with the world around us and that the world would pressure us (Rom 12:2) to conform. Just as God’s people in Ezekiel’s time wanted to worship idols because other nations did, we Christians will feel external and internal pressure to conform to the world around us. At some point–probably soon–some major evangelical figure will come out and say that homosexuality is acceptable as long as it is practiced in a marriage covenant of some kind. Though many believers will resist, many will jump on board and urge us all to change our understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

God warned his people of judgment here in Ezekiel and in all the other prophets of scripture for conforming to the practices of the world around them. Idolatry was the specific sin then but the desire to be like everyone else was the motivation then just as it is now when we abandon God’s word and practice or condone in the church what the Lord says is sinful. Let’s prepare ourselves, then, to be faithful to God’s word even as we fall more and more out of step with the world around us.

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 11

Read 2 Samuel 2 and Ezekiel 11.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 11.

In many of our readings this year, we’ve seen how God gave Israel his law. In it, he specified how obedience to the law would bring blessings and how disobedience would bring his curses on them. Time after time in Judges, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now here in Ezekiel, we saw God keep his word—he blessed his people in the rare times of obedience and he punished them when they disobeyed. Over and over again they disobeyed and he would allow them to be oppressed but not completely overrun. At the time Ezekiel wrote these words, however, God’s most painful punishment was falling on his people.

When I read about Israel’s failures and God’s punishments in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people never learned from their own history and lived obediently to God’s law. God’s law had some unusual commands to observe—don’t wear a garment made of synthetic materials, for instance. But for the most part, what God was really angry about was their idolatry. Why couldn’t Israel just serve the Lord? Why did they repeatedly turn to idols, even when bad times were the result?

Today’s passage in Ezekiel 11 answers that question. Specifically, verses 19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The reason that Israel could not obey God’s laws is that they did not have a new nature within. What people needed—what we still need—is the spiritual work of God called regeneration.

People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and all the prophets had been born spiritually. They didn’t love God and obey his laws in their own moral strength; they received the gift of eternal life. This is alluded to in passages like Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The difference between the few who obeyed God’s word and the many who worshipped idols and lived lawless lives was faith. The “faithful” believed God because God had given them the new spirit discussed here in Ezekiel 11:19-20. The “faithless” may have followed some of the symbols and ceremonies, the civil laws and some of the moral codes, but fundamentally they did not believe God’s word.

The same is true when Jesus lived. By that time the oppression of the Assyrians and the exile of the Babylonians had ended. Israel was under Roman rule, but Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Baal. God’s judgment of his people by the Assyrians and Babylonians was effective in stripping out overt idolatry from the people. But the Pharisees and many other Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not obey God’s laws from the heart; they were doing it to appear righteous to others and to obtain favor from God by their own good deeds. These are not acts of faith; they are acts of unbelief. Although they are not overtly idolatrous, they are not produced by love for God.

This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus; although he studied and understood the law and was as scrupulous as any other Pharisee about obeying it, he didn’t really “get it.” He knew that Jesus had spiritual reality and spiritual power that he did not have. So what did Jesus say to him? “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn 3:3).

People needed spiritual rebirth—regeneration—in the Old Testament and people need it today. This is a central idea of our faith. We are not calling people to moral reformation; we are calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. What sets you apart from your unsaved neighbors and family is not that you are a good person and they are not; what sets you apart is the gift of eternal life in Christ. This is the hope we have to offer people around us; not “be moral so God will bless you,” but “receive Jesus so that you can have the power to live a moral life.”