Judges 8, Lamentations 2, Romans 14

Read Judges 8, Lamentations 2, and Romans 14. This devotional is about Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All the devastation that God had warned about through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Their pride as God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that led to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? If the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time.

What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.

Joshua 4, Jeremiah 29, 2 Corinthians 11

Read Joshua 4, Jeremiah 29, and 2 Corinthians 11.

This devotional is about 2 Corinthians 11.

Yesterday, as we read chapter 10, we saw how concerned Paul was about having to confront somebody within the church at Corinth. Judging from what Paul wrote at the end of chapter 10 and here in chapter 11, the person or people he was concerned about were heavy self-promotors (10:12, 18; 11:5, 21). In today’s reading, Paul was quite emotional about how effectively these people had ingratiated themselves with the church and, it seems, how they had marginalized Paul and his ministry (v. 12). While he was concerned about these personality conflicts, he was more concerned about the false doctrine these “personalities” were bringing (v. 4, 13). This chapter is one of several in Paul’s letters where he reviewed his personal history as a servant of Christ (vv. 21-33). Not only did he suffer much for the gospel throughout his ministry, he also suffered much for the benefit of the Corinthians directly (vv. 7-12). Yet the Corinthians seemed unmoved by how much Paul had done for them and had sacrificed for the Lord. To them, Paul was an inferior speaker (v. 6) and others were deserving of equal status and respect to him (vv. 12, 19-20).

What Paul was saying in this chapter extends into chapter 12 as well, so we’ll see more on Monday when we read that. But the problem he addressed in this chapter continues today. It’s the myth of the greener grass, the idea that what I’m getting now isn’t as good as what I could get from others. I’ve seen this repeatedly in my adult life and in the ministry. Dr. So-and-so from out of town is a great speaker, a godly man, someone whose opinion isn’t inspired and infallible, but almost…. Meanwhile, faithful elders, patient pastors, good bosses, giving spouses, or others are taken for granted. This isn’t to say that Dr. So-and-so isn’t everything they claim him to be. He may be a godly man and a great servant of Christ or he may be a false teacher who is really persuasive (v. 4). The point is that people by nature get used to what they have and become bedazzled by the new thing, the author they just learned about, the new church in town, or the girl that caught their eye today. New things are exciting because they are new but the newness wears off eventually. Do we recognize and appreciate the good things in our lives that have been there a long time, consistently serving us well?

The church in Corinth was started by Paul at great personal cost (verses 7-9, Acts 18:1-11). He was willing to do hard things to purify the church for the glory of Christ (v. 2) and was tormented with concern for them even when he was doing God’s work in other cities (vv. 28-29). Yet the church never seemed to appreciate him very much and constantly, negatively compared him to others. There is probably some realm in your life or some point in your past where you did something similar-took for granted someone who was faithfully and deeply devoted to you and negatively compared them to someone who hadn’t done anything for you except, maybe, collect your money when they sold you a book or a seminar. I’m guilty of this as well and–just in case you are wondering-I’m not talking about myself here. This passage just reminded me of something I’ve seen more than a few times in my life. Whether we recognize it or not, all of us have benefited from others who served us consistently and without complaint. Let’s be careful to appreciate and be thankful to the Lord for them instead of being quick to point out their flaws when compared to others. Whether your realize it or not, you probably have it better than you think so be thankful for the contribution other people have made to your life for God’s glory.

Deuteronomy 13-14, Jeremiah 6, Psalms 69-71

Read Deuteronomy 13-14, Jeremiah 6, Psalms 69-71 today.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 13-14.

There was no freedom of speech in ancient Israel; however, the only banned speech was religious–blasphemy and false doctrine. Deuteronomy 13 sets forth regulations against false doctrine. Verses 1-5 told God’s people not to believe a false prophet, even if he performed some kind of miraculous sign (vv. 1-2a). God used miraculous signs to authenticate his messengers, especially Christ himself, but they were not the measuring stick for what was true or false. Just as Pharoah’s magicians were able to do some miracles (see Ex 7:11-12 for one example), Satan can sometimes do impressive things with his supernatural powers. But God taught here in Exodus 13 that He sometimes would allow false teachers with supernatural signs and wonders to come to Israel. His purpose for allowing them was to test “you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 3). No matter how impressive a supernatural demonstration was, God’s people were to remain obedient to his written word (v. 4), not abandon his word for the words of a false prophet.

False prophets were a threat to God’s people because they incited “rebellion against the Lord your God” (v. 5a). Given all that God had done delivering his people from Egypt and protecting and guiding them through the desert to the promised land, Israel should have had no problem with restricted theological speech. If you know the true God, there is no reason to dabble in false doctrine; only danger can come from that. God’s prescription, then, for false prophets was the death penalty (v. 5a). 

Not only were false prophets with impressive supernatural powers to be refused and punished in Israel, but verses 6-11 tell us that even if you have a personal connection to someone who tries to turn your heart to another god,  you should still see that they are punished (vv. 6-11). “Show them no pity,” God’s word says. “Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v. 10).

Verses 12-18 describe how to handle false teachers once Israel was established in the land. After investigating charges of heresy in a nearby town fully (v. 14a), God’s people were to publicly and completely purge the town of its false doctrine, then permanently destroy that town itself for not obeying God’s commands about false doctrine (vv. 15-18).

These sections remind us how seriously God takes his word and how destructive false doctrine is to true worship. While we live in a free society and do not impose such serious penalties on false teachers as Moses commanded in this passage, we should not toy with or tolerate deviations from God’s written word. It provides the standard for what is true or false; to entertain false doctrine just because there were signs and wonders involved or loved ones involved is to tolerate that which God says is destructive.

Watch carefully where you turn for spiritual information; your spiritual life (not to mention anyone living in your home under your authority) depends on holding fast to the purity of God’s word.

Numbers 9, Isaiah 34, Galatians 3

Read Numbers 9, Isaiah 34, and Galatians 3.

This devotional is about Galatians 3.

Paul had strong words for the Galatians in this chapter because so much was at stake. If the Christian faith became tied to obeying the law of Moses, then the gospel itself would be corrupted.

The main issue in this chapter is how can Gentiles be legitimate spiritual descendants of Abraham. Jewish people, of course, are physical descendants of Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham were for his human descendants. The Messiah–Jesus–descended from Abraham physically and the kingdom he promised was tied to the covenant God made to Abraham. So what about these people–“Gentiles”–who did not physically descend from Abraham? How can they be blessed without being physically descendants of Abraham?

In the days when Paul wrote Galatian there were people, called Judaizers, who wanted to connect following Christ with keeping the Old Testament law. They had come to the church in Galatia and were preaching the false gospel of faith + works. They saw obedience to the law as the way to connect Gentile believers to the covenant God made with Abraham.

Paul wanted to stop anyone from believing that false doctrine, so in this chapter he gives a better answer: Faith makes a person a spiritual relative of Abraham (v. 7, 29) not obedience to the law.

This is because:

  1. Abraham was a man of faith himself (vv. 6, 9) so faith is what matters in spiritual things, not physical descent.
  2. God prophesied the Gentile conversion when he told Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (v. 8).
  3. In Jesus, who was Abraham’s “seed,” believers are connected to the promises given to Abraham (vv. 15-17). Since Christ kept the law and died as an atonement for the penalties of the law, the law has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer necessary as a covenant structure for God’s people (vv. 23-29).

These things may not seem directly relevant to us, but they are. Throughout church history there have been teachers and groups who have tried to argue that faith alone is not enough. They say that faith + something else = salvation. That “something else” is sometimes a series of religious rituals. Sometimes it is a religious experience, such as speaking in tongues. Aspects of Judaism, too, are still insisted on by some who call themselves Christians.

While understanding the Jewish background of scripture and Christianity can be helpful in interpreting the Bible, the New Testament is clear that we are not under the law of Moses in any sense because Christ fulfilled it all. Don’t allow anyone to undermine your faith by offering you a deeper experience of Christianity by keeping the law or by “doing” anything else. Christ is all we need and in him is more than we can appreciate in this life.

1 Chronicles 24-25, Micah 3

Read 1 Chronicles 24-25 and Micah 3.

This devotional is about Micah 3.

How do those who set dates for Christ’s return keep going in ministry after they are proved wrong? How do the prosperity preachers respond when someone says, “I sent you every dollar I had in my bank account but I never got the financial miracle you promised me!”

I don’t know how anyone who delivers a false message remains in ministry after the message proves to be false. Some of them are able to withstand being discredited and continue in their “ministries.” They shift the blame to others saying, “You didn’t have enough faith” or, in the case of false rapture predictions, “I made a mistake in my calculations.” Although they may continue in ministry for a season or longer, their audiences dissipate and their influence dwindles. This is as it should be, of course.

In this chapter Micah continued speaking on the same themes as in chapter 2. He confronted the oppression of the elites (vv. 1-4, 9-12) and the false prophets who tried to neutralize his message (vv. 5-8). His message to the false prophets was that they would run out of material: “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.”

This prediction wasn’t so much that they would lack things to say; rather, it was that reality would make it impossible for them to keep up the false hype. Verse 7 says, “The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” The context for this is the coming judgment of God (v. 12). When you’ve been prophesying peace and prosperity, what are you going to say when Nebuchadnezzar sieges your city and people are starving? When you cry out to God to deliver his people from the Babylonians, but the Babylonians invade your city, kill a multitude of men, then ship the rest off to Babylon, what is your answer going to be?

Micah was confident in the Lord that God would continue to empower his message (v. 8) and that he would be vindicated when his predictions came true. Likewise, he knew that God would not allow false teachers to get away with preaching their prosperity gospel. It was only a matter of time before truth was established as fact and lies were debunked by reality.

The Bible always tells us that false prophets will be discredited by their results. Their predictions will not come true and/or their lives and the lives of their disciples will disintegrate into moral disaster. Keep your eyes, then, on the results of a religious teacher’s message; don’t be fooled by how positive and encouraging it is.

Are you looking for truth from someone who has already been discredited? If so, then these words to heart. It is safe–and right–to ignore what someone says if the results they predict don’t materialize.

1 Chronicles 22, Micah 1

Read 1 Chronicles 22 and Micah 1.

This devotional is about Micah 1:9: “For Samaria’s plague is incurable; it has spread to Judah. It has reached the very gate of my people, even to Jerusalem itself.”

Micah was a prophet who prophesied in Judah. His ministry spanned the reign of three of the Southern Kingdom kings namely, “Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah” (v. 1a). However, he spoke about both the Northern and Southern kingdoms: “he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (v. 1b). God’s judgment for the Northern Kingdom was drawing near at the end of Micah’s ministry; His judgment for the Southern Kingdom was still many years away.

But the spiritual problems that brought God’s judgment on both nations was consuming the Northern Kingdom of Israel and rapidly spreading to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Verse 9 of Micah 1 compares it to a plague. Plagues are contagious; that’s why they wipe out so many people so quickly. The unbelief and idolatry of Israel was contagious; even Judah was coming down with it.

Sin usually is contagious. If someone is unkind to you, you may respond with unkindness toward that person and others. Gossip is really contagious because it can’t exist without being shared from one person to another. Drunkenness can be contagious too because it is more fun to party with others than to drink alone. Adultery is by nature contagious because it involves at least one other person. False doctrine is contagious because false teachers want to spread their ideas.

I don’t think we appreciate how contagious our sins can be. We think that we sin alone and bear the consequences alone but any sin that happens outside your mind has some kind of social fallout. If enough people choose to engage in a particular sin, that creates a culture where that sin is acceptable. What sins have you seen spread like a virus? Are you spreading–maybe unknowingly–sin to others?

2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13

Read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel received a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority.

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it is a whitewash (vv. 11-12). It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace. Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread).

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” teachers who speak encouraging, motivating words but these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b).

The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2

Read 1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2.

This devotional is about read Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All that God had said through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes. Unlike the victory of faith that God gave to David in 1 Samuel 17, which we also read today, there was only defeat and judgment for Judah, David’s people, a few hundred years later.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Judah’s pride about being God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that lead to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? It sure seems like that’s what people think and, if the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time. What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.

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.

Deuteronomy 29, Isaiah 56

Read Deuteronomy 29 and Isaiah 56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 56:10-12.

Everyone wants to feel optimistic about the future. Because there are always problems and struggles in this life, many people hope that things will be better in the future. There is a market, therefore, for teachers and prophets who will tell you that things are going to get better. They assert that God’s blessing is coming even if his people are living in sin or worshipping idols.

In these verses of Scripture, God confronted Judah’s leaders. Although these leaders are not directly specified, they are called “watchmen” (v. 10a), “dogs” (v. 10c, 11a), and “shepherds.” These titles suggest spiritual leaders. They might mean false prophets, priests, Levites, or all of the above. What are these spiritual leaders like?

  • They are supposed to be watchmen but they are blind (v. 10a-b) so they are unable to see spiritual danger when it comes.
  • Similarly, they are called “dogs” in verse 10c. Dogs were despised in ancient Judaism, so they were not bred and kept as pets but as helpers to shepherds. Instead of being on alert for predators of the sheep, however, these dogs “cannot bark… lie around and dream” because “they love to sleep.” Like the blind watchmen of verse 10a, they were worthless for alerting God’s people to spiritual danger.
  • Finally, “they are shepherds who lack understanding,” meaning that they do not care for the sheep but for their “own gain” (v. 11e) and pleasure (v. 12a-b).

The greatest indictment of these bad spiritual leaders is what they teach which Isaiah gave us in verse 12c-d, “tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” Instead of warning Judah that God’s judgment was coming like a good shepherd, a good watchdog, and a good watchman would, these false spiritual leaders prophesy better days to come. Their intention is not to get God’s people to repent but to reassure God’s people that the best is yet to come.

One sign of a false teacher in any age, then, is a relentlessly positive message. When someone speaks for God but prophesies prosperity and hope only, with no discussion of sin, no warning about God’s judgment, and never a word (in this age) about the blood of Christ, that person exhibits the signs of false spiritual leadership described here in Isaiah 56.

I know what kind of teaching you get in our church but I also know that my voice is not the only spiritual influence you hear. Whether you read stuff on the Internet, listen to radio preachers or watch them on TV, think carefully about what you are being taught. Turn off anyone who prophesies only better days ahead with no call for repentance, no warnings of God’s judgment, no offer of hope through the death and resurrection of Christ. The good news, the best news, is that Christ died for our sins not that Jesus wants you to be rich and free from pain. So get your good news from that kind of teacher.