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 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 44.

The remnant in Judah went to Egypt (v. 1) even though God told them not to do that. They dragged Jeremiah there, too (Jer 43:6c). I’m not sure why they brought him because he continued to do what he had always done, namely, confront their sins and call them to repent.

Recall from Jeremiah 42 that God had promised peace and prosperity for the remnant if they stayed in Judah (42:10) and disaster if they went to Egypt (42:19-22). Despite the fact that God had done exactly what Jeremiah prophesied when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jerusalem, the remnant still went to Egypt in open defiance to God’s word through Jeremiah. Why?

The answer to that question is contained in the way this chapter is framed: a direct confrontation between God and “the Queen of Heaven.” The people of the remnant reasoned that they were better off worshipping the Queen of Heaven. In verses 17b-18 we read, “…we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” So they re-interpreted God’s judgment as a bad consequence for forsaking the Queen of Heaven.

Jeremiah knew that God was more than equal to this challenge. Put God’s word up against the Queen of Heaven and God will win easily. Verses 27-28 say, “…the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed…. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand—mine or theirs.”

There are plenty of false religions offering false doctrine today. There are also a bevy of self-help gurus offering much different advice than God’s word does. They preach the message that happiness is not found in Christianity or in dying to self. Instead, they tell us to be true to ourselves, to follow our passions, to find a life that is worth living. In contrast to these false message, the Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The fact that everyone does wrong and suffers for it is daily proof that God’s word is true. Yet people still cling to the idea that truth to improve one’s life is available outside of God, outside of his word, and definitely outside of His church. When sinful strategies the promise a happy life crash, bringing disaster, sorrow, great pain, and death, God’s word is vindicated. When false doctrines fail to deliver what they promise, God’s word is likewise vindicated.

We cannot help but be exposed to false ideas and doctrines because we live in this world. But, are you believing their lies? Are you taking in those lies in greater number, not incidentally but deliberately? Be warned that God will prove his word to be correct; if you choose to sin because someone else is telling you that sin is the way to happiness, you will pay a heavy price as God’s word proves itself true again.

So, be wise. Believe God’s word and do what it says, even if someone makes a compelling argument for something else.

Joshua 8, Jeremiah 2

Read Joshua 8 and Jeremiah 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 2:13.

This second chapter of Jeremiah began God’s complaint against his people. The immediate audience was the population of Jerusalem (v. 2a) and God recalled in glowing terms the exodus of all the tribes of Israel from Egypt (v. 2b-3). Starting with verse 4, God turned to the spiritual problems of his people; as usual, the main problem was idolatry.

Here in verse 13, God charged them with rejecting him and choosing their own way. He used an image related to water to visually describe his complaint. Forsaking him meant rejecting “the spring of living water” (v. 13c). This refers to the gift of spiritual life that comes from trusting God by faith. Jesus also used this image in his conversation with the woman at the well (Jn 4:14), promising that those who believed in him would never thirst again.

The other watery image here in Jeremiah 2:13 is in line d which says that they “…have dug their own cisterns.” Cisterns are holes in the ground that collect rain water and water runoff. In the desert, where lakes and streams are rare and and springs of underground water are hard to find, these cisterns are quite useful. The rain water they retain can be used to irrigate crops and hydrate animals and, if necessary, provide drinking water for people. But rain water lacks the good taste and refreshing nature of spring water. You might drink it if you had to, but you would long for spring water and look hard for it.

God used this image to tell his people that he offered them an endless supply of life and refreshment but they chose the dirty water left over from rain and runoff. This water could not replenish itself; instead, once the cistern was dry (from use and evaporation), it would remain empty until the next rain–which may not come soon in a desert climate like Judah had. The spiritual image here is that God’s people traded the life God gives to those who believe his word for spiritual leftovers gathered by human ingenuity. This water offered some refreshment but it was also contaminated and limited in supply. Furthermore, the collection methods people used to get it were flawed; verse 13e calls them “…broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Other religions teach some truths that God’s word also teaches. These religions may teach morals and ethics that our faith also teaches. They may offer the hope of life after death and may even hold to one God instead of many. Human philosophy and psychology also offer truths that correspond to some of the teachings of God’s word. But even when these alternatives to biblical faith are right, they are at best severely limited, unclean and even contaminated and ultimately unable to satisfy with eternal life. Yet this is what we imbibe when we look to political solutions to human problems or to psychology or to other religions, even those that claim association with Jesus.

Consider the sources of information you consume. How much of it is the collected runoff of philosophy or spirituality verses the genuine spiritual life God gives us by grace? Drink deeply from God’s word and let it refresh and satisfy your soul; don’t settle for the dishwater swill of this world.

Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31).

But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “…rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?