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.”

Leviticus 20, Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 106

Today’s readings are Leviticus 20, Ecclesiastes 3, and Psalm 106.

This devotional is about Psalm 106.

This song asks for God’s help (vv. 4-5) and his re-gathering of the people of Israel from other nations (v. 47) in the context of praising God for his work by reviewing all he had done for Israel. As he recounted how God worked for his people, he noted that the ancient Israelites (v. 7) and his own contemporary Israelites (v. 6) were guilty of forgetting God’s works. Verse 7 put it this way, “they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.” Later in verse 13 we read, “But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.” Also, verse 21 says, “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt….”

When we forget what God has done for us, we stop trusting him to do anything for us and rebel against his word. Could this be going on in your life? Are you entertaining faithless thoughts about the Lord or even acting outside of his will because you’ve forgotten about all that he has done for you?

Despite our failures to remember God and his works, God is merciful to us. Right after verse 7 said “they did not remember your many kindnesses….” verse 8 followed with, “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.” We often faithless, but God is faithful. He desire to work in your life so that you will glorify him and others will see how glorious he is.

So, if you have forgotten God’s work in your life, here’s an opportunity to change your mind (aka, “repent”). Think back over your life of instances where God showed his goodness to you even when you didn’t deserve it. Write it down, even. Then praise the Lord for his faithfulness as the Psalmist did in verses 1 and 48 and ask him to help you wherever you need it (vv. 4-5, 47).

Genesis 26, Esther 2, Psalm 25

Read Genesis 26, Esther 2, and Psalm 25.

This devotional is about Genesis 26.

The cliché, “like father, like son” became a cliché because it is true. Children are reproductions of their parents, not just physical reproductions but reproductions in many other ways. Although each of us has characteristics that are unique and different from our parents, we consciously and unconsciously pick up many of the things that one or both of our parents do.

Here in Genesis 26, we see Isaac reproducing the behavior of his father Abraham. Twice Abraham told his wife Sarah to pretend that she was his sister (Gen 12, 20) so that he would not fear being killed by some other guy who wanted her. This was a stupid strategy, really. It did protect Abraham, which was his goal. But it threatened his marriage in both instances and forced his wife twice into unwanted relationships with other men. Abraham’s strategy was unloving to Sarah, untrusting of God, and just downright stupid.

So where did Isaac get the brilliant idea to do use the same strategy? It must have come from Abraham sharing his stories. God was the hero of Abraham’s stories, protecting Sarah in both cases and even enriching Abraham in the process. The moral of Abraham’s stories should have been, “Isaac, I did something stupid and sinful in these cases. God was merciful and protected us, but be wise and don’t do what I did.” Maybe Abraham tried to convey that; maybe he just told his stories with a laugh because things turned out well. Whatever Abraham said, tried to say, or implied in his telling of these stories, Isaac got the wrong message. The message Isaac took from Abraham’s experience was, “Lie at all costs to save your life when you feel insecure about the beautiful woman God gave you.” Predictably, Isaac got the same results when he used Abraham’s strategy. He kept himself out of harm’s way but, in the process, lost his wife’s companionship and nearly lost his marriage completely.

The moral of these stories for us is, “Tell your stories to your kids, but make sure you teach them the right lesson to learn.” Don’t indirectly teach your kids, “Hey, I sinned and got away with it so you can, too.” Instead, directly teach your kids, “I sinned but God was merciful. Learn from my bad example, trust God, and do what is right.”

Have you told your kids any stories that they might get the wrong ideas from? Fix that while you can; don’t let your kids repeat the same mistakes you’ve made.

Like father, like son. But it doesn’t have to be that way for the bad stuff. Instead, show your son and daughter the right path. Let them stand on your shoulders and be wiser than you were.