Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 44, Psalms 57-59.

This devotional is about Psalm 57.

According to the superscription, David wrote this Psalm during one of the most fearful times in his life. Saul, the king that he attempted to serve faithfully, was hunting him to take his life. David was separated from his family and living in caves like an animal.

In the middle of this desperate, unjust situation, however, David took time to praise God.

This song appears to have a chorus which is sung in verse 5 and again in verse 11.

In verses 1-4 David called out to God for mercy, looking to God for his refuge rather than the refuge of the cave he was in at the moment. After the first chorus in verse 5, he began recounting his woes again, but then turned in verses 7-10 to praising God for his love and faithfulness.

This song illustrates the encouraging power of praise. David had plenty of problems that would be worthy of singing a lament. Instead, however, he laid his problems before God’s throne and chose instead to sing his praises. When the song was done, not one of his problems was solved, but I’ll bet he felt better emotionally and was strengthened and edified spiritually.

Try this for yourself the next time you feel discouraged and/or afraid. Choose a song of worship that lifts your heart and sing it out loud to the Lord. Sing it karaoke-style with your favorite recording or a-cappella by yourself. If you need to, get in your car and drive so you won’t be observed or overheard. Or take a shower if that’s where you do your best singing.

However you do it, harness the encouraging power of music and let it minister to your soul. It lifted David through some very serious problems that you and I will never face.

If it worked for him, it will probably help you, too. God created you with the capacity to make music both to glorify him and to encourage yourself so use this gift of singing to pray and praise the Lord for his glory and your good.

Numbers 4, Isaiah 29, Proverbs 11:19-31

Read Numbers 4, Isaiah 29, and Proverbs 11:19-31.

This devotional is about Proverbs 11:19-31.

Generosity is a key theme in today’s readings. We see it in verses 24-26 with three separate proverbs on the subject.

  • Verse 24 talks about people who gain more and more even though they give a lot of what they have away. Those people are contrasted with those who cheat others what they owe them and yet become poor.
  • Verse  25 states that the generous will proper and be cared for when they have cared for others.
  • Verse 26 talks about how other people view the generous. People call down curses on hoarders but ask God to bless those who sell the products that they have.

Are you a generous Christian?

I believe every Christian should tithe and give to God’s work above the tithe. But are you quick to help others in need when you see that need? Do you enjoy giving to others with no expectation of return?

I can tell you from my own life that helping someone through giving brings more joy than buying more stuff.

These proverbs, however, teach that giving actually enables prosperity. Not only should we be generous, then, because of the joy of generosity and because it pleases God; we should be generous because God blesses generous people with financial blessings. Take some time to consider how generous you are or aren’t. Consider: Are you trusting God by faith or hoarding things in fear?

Then step out and become a more generous person. When you do, watch to see how your life is enhanced because of your obedience in generosity.

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.

Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalms 33-35

Read Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, and Psalms 33-35.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 4.

This chapter of scripture is not encouraging.

That is an understatement.

This chapter of scripture is bleak. It states in verse 1 that powerful people in this world used their power to oppress the weak and vulnerable. These victims “have no comforter.” Their lives are a miserable stretch of existence. From birth to grave, each day and night, they do what more powerful people want them to do and live in fear. What kind of fear?

  • fear of displeasing those powerful people
  • fear of more invasive abuse from the powerful
  • fear of starving, unable to provide a living for themselves because their abusers take so much from them

Although Solomon did not tell us how many were oppressed and how many were oppressors, the chapter may suggest that the vast majority were oppressed by a small minority. The way the chapter suggests this is in the words of verses 2-3. Those verses rank the happiest people from least happiest to most happy. The categories of people Solomon discussed were broad–the dead, the living, and the unborn. Those three broad groups include a whole lot of people. So who is the happiest?

  • The living are the least happy because they are oppressed (v. 1, 2c-d).
  • The dead are the next most happy because they are no longer oppressed (v. 2 a-b).
  • But the happiest people of all are people who never lived at all (v. 3). Why? Because they have “not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Bleak, right? According to Solomon, you are better off dead. But, you’re best off if you never made it out of the womb alive in the first place because then no one could use and abuse you.

Of course, not everyone is enslaved by others. Some people go out and achieve, making all their dreams come true. They must be happy, right?

No, Solomon argued, because “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (v. 4). Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. That can make you work hard but you won’t enjoy achievements because your envy will move on to someone higher on the achievement ladder. If you could just enjoy the living you make, modest though it is (v. 6a), you’d be better off than a wealthier person who is does nothing but work, driven by envy.

Even a person who had no wife, no siblings, and no children isn’t happy (v. 8). Solomon thought that a single, solitary man should be happy because he only has to provide for himself. He can work hard enough to get what he wants and then spend it all on himself with no guilt. A single man who makes $30,000 per year may be able to buy more pleasure than a man who makes $90,000 but supports a wife, five kids, a dog, and a deadbeat brother.

Seems logical; but it doesn’t work out that way. The single guy with no dependents still works really hard. “There was no end to his toil” (v. 8c) says but “his eyes were not content with his wealth” (v. 8d). He, too, was sucked into envy, unable to enjoy his life because he needed to prove to someone that he matters.

I told you this was bleak.

But all is not lost. The solution to this partnership. Verses 9-12 commends a partnership of two (v. 9) or even three (v. 12c). Partners who work together instead of envying one another can:

  • produce more as a unit and they could on their own (v. 9b)
  • give each other some time off when they are injured or sick or just tired (v. 10)
  • keep each other company (v. 11)
  • protect each other (v. 12).

So the man who makes $90k and has to split it up with others is happier than the single guy who makes $30k and can do whatever he wants with it. In fact, if the single guy made $90k or even $900k, the man with partners is happier because of the benefits that partners bring.

When God created Adam, he made the most capable man who ever lived–apart from Jesus Christ, of course. Adam, while he was still an unfallen person, had a greater mind and better body than any of us because he wasn’t afflicted by the curse of sin.

Yet God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He gave him a partner–even knowing that his partner’s (aka, Eve’s) weakness would lead him into sin. Having a life partner in your spouse or a business partner in your vocation can help you escape the hopeless life that the oppressed live. Even if you are oppressed, at least you have someone to keep you warm at night (v. 11).

Solomon was a powerful man who oppressed others. He taxed the nation so thoroughly for his own projects, pleasures, and luxuries that the people begged his son to lay off and then they revolted against him when he wouldn’t.

But Solomon seems to have been a lonely man, despite his wealth and power over others. If you have 1000 women in your life, can any one of them truly be your partner?

People can be the source of your greatest problems in life. They can make promises that they fail to keep or even intentionally break. They can see you as a rival when they should see you as an ally. If you have enough people-problems, you may be tempted to decide that isolation is better.

This chapter advises us to partner up. Share life generously with your partner–your spouse, your children, your business partner(s), your teammates. The benefits of companionship will outweigh the “freedom” that being alone promises. God created us to be teammates and the life he gave us is best enjoyed when it is shared.

If you have a partnership–a marriage and family, a business partnership, a ministry partnership, etc.–are you a good partner? Are you thankful for the benefits that partnership brings you or do you selfishly wish you had all the control and all the benefits to yourself?

If your partnership is broken, the answer isn’t to go off on your own; it is to become and build a true partnership rather than a rivalry based on envy.

Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, Luke 7

Read Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, and Luke 7.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 1.

Like the earth revolves around the sun, your life revolves around something. The center of your life is what you think about day and night. It is the thing that gives you something to live for, the thing that provides you with direction when you have a decision to make. The center of your life is the thing that defines you. It is the word you would put in the blank of this sentence: “I am a ________________.”

Lots of people, though, couldn’t put a word they like into that blank. It might be because they don’t really know what their center is or, possibly, because they don’t like the answer.

Here’s my question: What is your “one thing”? What is your center? What is the thing that guides you, that provides meaning for you and helps you make decisions in life?

Answer this question: “What is my center?”

If you have trouble answering that question, here are some questions that might help you:

  • What do you spend money on without worrying about the cost?
  • What would you miss the most if it were suddenly gone from your life?
  • What would you avoid missing if you had a conflict in life? In other words, if you had to miss a meal or miss work (even if there were consequences) or miss sleep in order to do something, what would that thing be?

If you’re having a hard time answering the question, “What is my center?” then consider the choices you make in life. The center of your life is revealed by the choices you make in life.

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes had everything a man could want in life:

  • Wealth? According to a webpage I read once that is now gone, Solomon’s peak net worth was $2.2 trillion in today’s money. That makes him the fifth wealthiest man in human history.
  • Women? He had 1000 women (700 wives and 300 concubines).
  • Career success? He was king of his country and faced no serious threats to his kingdom which expanded constantly during his reign.
  • Smarts? Verse 16 says that he “experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”

Despite all these things, he felt that his life was meaningless (v. 2). Verses 3-11 describe how completely lacking in permanence everything in life is. No matter how great you are, coming generations will barely think about you at all (v. 11).

We may think our lives are centered on pleasure or achievement, or insight or something else, but what really stands at the center of most people’s lives is self.

In other words, most of the time we are self-centered.

Self-centeredness is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is seeking things for myself by keeping them from others. Self-centeredness means measuring things by myself rather than by an objective standard. A self-centered person does what is pleasurable whether it is right or wrong. The morality of a thing is defined by what you want rather than by an objective standard of morality. A self-centered person seeks to achieve not to benefit humanity but to get credit for greatness from humanity. A self-centered person seeks insight in life for the ego boost that comes from having more insight than anyone else.

A self-centered person may be very generous to the poor or to others. He may be kind and considerate. He may show an interest in other people. But, the self-centered person does these things for self-centered reasons. He is generous, kind, considerate, etc. because he wants to be liked, because he wants attention or because he wants to manipulate other people into doing his will. Self-centeredness is not always easy to see in ourselves or in. others.

Many negative feelings rise from self-centeredness.

Someone who is angry feels offended because he or she did not get what they feel they deserve—respect, admiration, love, etc. The same is true, often, of those who have deep seated bitterness. They are bitter about not getting what they thought or expected out of life. Fear or anxiety can come from realizing that the things someone has could be taken or lost. That person is fearful because he cannot bear the thought of losing it. Depression can come from wanting something that you cannot obtain or that doesn’t satisfy you when you do obtain it. 

The rest of this book of Ecclesiastes will chronicle Solomon’s attempt to find a meaningful, satisfying, purposeful center for his life. Here’s a spoiler, though: The only thing worth centering your life on is God.

Did this devotional help you realize how self-centered you are? Did it help you see why you are disappointed, mad, bitter, fearful, or depressed?

What would your life look like if it were truly centered on God–not as the “correct Christian answer” to a question about centeredness but truly in your thoughts and actions?

We’ll look at this more in future chapters of Ecclesiastes but, for today, the application is to repent and ask God to lift your self-centeredness and to teach you to focus your life on him.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalms 27-29

Read Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalms 27-29.

This devotional is about Exodus 14.

Humanly speaking, Israel was in deep trouble. Though God had delivered them using the plauges, Pharaoh quickly realized how much productivity would be lost when the Israelites left Egypt (v. 5). With “horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (v. 9), the Egyptian army pursued Israel. Despite all that God had done—inflicting horrible plagues on the Egyptians while simultaneously protecting the Israelites—Israel was terrified when the Egyptian army approached. And who wouldn’t be? Israel had no army, no weapons; they had the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them. It was a hopeless situation, humanly speaking. All they had was this promise: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v. 14)

That promise was all they needed: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore “ (v. 30). When Israel trusted God’s promises and obeyed God’s command, God saved them from certain destruction.

When we read a passage like this, there is a strong tendency for Christians to generalize the Lord’s work here and apply to any difficult situation. “The Lord will fight for us,” we think, when we are in a financial crunch or a personal dispute or some other unpleasant problem.

But that cheapens the miracle that God literally did for Israel; it treats God’s work like a myth or a fable, a story told to teach a lesson rather than a historical account of God’s work. So, instead, we should understand that God protected Israel because God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel and those promises were both unfulfilled and necessary to God’s larger plan to bring redemption through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.

But there is still truth here for us which is that God keeps his promises and preserves his people. While God may allow some of his people to be persecuted and martyred, he will protect his church—collectively—against the attacks of Satan (cf. Matt 16:18). He will even fight miraculously for them in the future (cf. Rev 19:11-21).

God’s promise to us is not that he will never allow us to be attacked or defeated but that he is with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). No matter what God allows in your life or to the church in general, we have the promise of his presence with us, whether in victory or in suffering. The truth to take away from this passage is the same one that Israel took from this incident:  “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (v. 31).” We should fear God and trust him, no matter what happens, because God always keeps his promises and works his will through the circumstances we face in life.

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalms 10-13

Read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalms 10-13.

This devotional is about Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel.

Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing–both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down?

We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Proverbs 2

Read Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9 and Proverbs 2.

This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did the “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here.

But this was stupid both times, even more so the second time after the close call back in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12:11, 13 Abraham told Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are…. say you are my sister.”

But think about how that would sound to man. “Hi, I’m Abraham and this beautiful woman here is my sister Sarah.”

Well, if they were merely brother and sister and there’s no husband introduced, then it would be reasonable for a man to conclude that this beautiful woman was single and available for anyone who wanted her.

Predictably, that’s what happened; she was added to the harem of Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelek (here in Gen 20). In both cases, Abraham lost his wife and put God’s promises in jeopardy. In both cases, only God’s miraculous intervention preserved Sarah and allowed her to become the covenant mother that God had promised she would be.

So why would Abraham do this–knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men?

The answer–in both cases–was fear. Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11).

So he just lied and made Sarah available.

That was unloving to her and unnecessary. Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his servants were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

And, how often does it actually happen where a man kills another man to be with his wife? I know there are news stories where that kind of thing happens but I’ve never personally met anyone in that situation. If a man did that–killed another man to take his wife–the other men who lived around the killer would gang up on him and kill him.

So, Abraham’s fear was unspiritual, irrational, and far adrift from reality.

This incident shows what happens when we live in fear instead of faith in God’s promises; namely, we make foolish decisions. God protected Abraham because of his covenant promises that Abraham would become a great nation through the son born to Sarah. But God would have been just to allow Abraham to live through the consequences of the foolish, fear-filled decisions he made.

Are you living your life in fear instead of in faith? Do you use lies and deception to manipulate others instead of trusting God to care for you and provide for you? It is easy and tempting for us to fall into a similar trap as Abraham. Learn from his negative example in this instance and trust God instead of acting in fear.

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Matthew 3

Read Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Matthew 3 today. This devotional is about Ezra 3.

The book of Ezra describes events late in the chronology of the Old Testament. God’s people, Israel and Judah, had been exiled from the promised land. After 70 years in captivity first to the Babylonians then to the Medo-Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great had allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. We read about the decree of Cyrus back in Ezra 1.

Here in Ezra 3, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar has arrived (v. 1). This is the month for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 23:27). Without a temple, however, atonement could not be made. Instead, God’s people rebuilt the altar of burnt offerings (v. 2) so that daily morning and evening offerings could commence while the temple was rebuilt.

They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. Notice, however, the words of verse 3: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord….” Isn’t it interesting that, despite the decree of Cyrus that authorized them to return, God’s people felt fear? Isn’t it interesting that the fear they felt was centered on their public worship of YHWH? Yet, consider how courageous these people were. Despite their fear, they sacrificed to the Lord anyway. Despite their fear, they began rebuilding his temple.

The fear they felt was from a real threat, too. The people surrounding them could attack them at any time. The edict of Cyrus might have caused consequences for their attackers someday, but there was no army was protecting them at that moment. They only thing they had to combat their fear was faith in God’s promises and hope in his covenant. That faith was strong enough to call them to obedience to God’s word despite the real threat of danger.

How often do we allow the fear to stifle our obedience to Christ? And, what do we fear? The possible disapproval of others. Not violence; just embarrassment.

Do we withhold the good news of Christ when the opportunity opens because we fear the disapproval of the unbeliever—the very one who needs to hear of Christ’s love?

Do we imagine that when we bow to thank God for our food in a restaurant, unbelievers around us stop chewing and look over at us in scorn? Or do we use that imaginary scorn as an excuse to keep us from giving thanks to God altogether?

Do we tell people that we go to church each Sunday and even invite them to come with us or do we avoid getting too specific about our plans for the weekend when we’re asked?

God has done so much for us and promises so much more—both for us and to all who join us as his followers by faith. Yet, we are so easily ashamed of being identified with him and his people. Let the faith of these ancient Hebrews encourage you to live without fear in your public worship of the Lord.

2 Chronicles 21, Zechariah 5

Read 2 Chronicles 21 and Zechariah 5.

This devotional is about Zechariah 5:1-3.

In these verses, the prophet saw a large scroll flying through the air. The scroll measured 30 feet long by 15 feet wide (v. 2) which indicates that it was unrolled. There was writing on both sides of the scroll and, in both cases, what was written was a curse. One curse was against “every thief” and the other was against “anyone who swears falsely” in God’s name (v. 3). The curse itself was that the person who either stole or lied “will be banished.” That meant the person would be removed from the community. The thief or liar would no longer be recognized as one of God’s people but instead be treated like an unbelieving Gentile.

Verse 4 said that the scroll would “will enter the house…” of the thief or robber and “remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.” This is a visual way of describing the deterioration of the building, the physical structure where the liar or thief lived. God’s curse would cause a person’s house to rot. This is not saying that his literal house would literally rot. Instead, the consequences are described graphically to create fear in the heart of the thief and the liar.

Like many sins, people think theft won’t hurt them unless it is detected. Likewise, people think that dishonesty in what they say will only harm them if they’re actually caught lying. But God sees our sins and knows our dishonesty. This chapter indicates that the consequences to our sins–even when undetected–are like termites silently but consistently eating away at the structure of our lives. God himself pronounces a curse on our sins and, when our sins are unconfessed and unforsaken, those curses “will remain in that house and destroy it completely” (v. 4c-d).

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” according to Galatians 3:13. In Christ, then, God’s curses for our sins have been borne by him. As believers, though, we still need to ongoing cleansing of sin and for the Holy Spirit to expose and remove the rot that sin brings about in our lives.

Is your life rotting away because of unconfessed sin? It could be theft or dishonesty or any number of hidden sins. Problems in your life that you’ve never connected to any particular sin might be the result of sins you’ve committed and covered up rather than confessed and forsaken. December gives us a good opportunity to inventory our lives. Find some time to think about your life and take care of any unconfessed sin, even if it happened a long time ago.

2 Kings 2, Daniel 6

Read 2 Kings 2, Daniel 6.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 2.

I wrote yesterday about how great Elijah was and how unappreciated he also was. That doesn’t mean, however, that he was totally unappreciated. His friend Elisha certainly appreciated him and so did “the company of prophets” in Bethel (v. 3) and in Jericho (v. 5).

But they valued him a bit too much, it seems. Elisha was glum about the fact that God was going to take Elijah away from him (v. 3c, 5c). And, when God did take Elijah, Elisha’s cry, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”seems to mean that the most powerful thing Israel had was now gone. Elijah was a spiritual father to Israel even though most did not receive his message. He was certainly a spiritual father to Elisha (“my father”) and the idea of “the chariots and horsemen” were an analogy to the strength and defense of a nation. Elijah meant more to Israel’s power and defense than all the nuclear missiles and bombs we have stored away for our national defense. So the idea of losing Elijah was a source of despair for Elisha and probably every other faithful Jewish person.

Unable to do anything about Elijah’s departure, Elisha wanted his power so that he could do ministry in the same vein as Elijah but with even greater effectiveness. That’s how I interpret his request to “inherit a double portion of your spirit” (v. 9c). His request was answered, but notice how he framed his description of it in verse 14b: “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” This was a test; would God actually use Elisha now in Elijah’s absence? The fact that the waters parted for him just as they had for Elijah (vv. 8 vs. 14c) demonstrated that God was indeed with Elisha. The fact of the matter is that Elisha did more miracles than Elijah did.

Was it really necessary for Elisha to see Elijah taken to heaven in order to receive the power of God? Of course not. Elijah was “a human being like we are” according to James 5:17. There was nothing special about him. The power to be a “father” and to have greater power than all the chariots and horsemen of Israel resided in God, not in Elijah. But Elijah had to go away in order for Elisha to trust God and do what God called him to do.

Great leaders, godly people, spiritual fathers and mothers are great to have and an important part of everyone’s spiritual growth and maturity. But people die; we should appreciate them while we have them and even mourn their passing. But we should not fear their loss in terms of the loss of God’s work. God is able to work powerfully in us if we actually trust him and obey what he commands us to do. Even our Lord Jesus said that whose who believe in him “will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (Jn 14:12-14).

Do you believe that God will use you to save people and change people’s lives? Are you looking to some person’s leadership when you should be looking to God for power?

1 Kings 17, Ezekiel 47

Read 1 Kings 17 and Ezekiel 47.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 17.

Yesterday in 1 Kings 16 we saw that Ahab was sold out to evil like no king Israel ever had before (1 Ki 16:30). Based on that description of Ahab, we might expect that Ahab’s reign in Israel was a dark time for the Northern Kingdom spiritually and morally. Our expectation is correct; the Northern Kingdom was always far from God both spiritually and morally. It was born in rebellion to God’s Davidic king, worshipped idols from the very beginning of its separation from Judah, and was led by 20 kings who all did evil in the sight of God.

In response to Israel’s sinful ways—particularly the evil leadership of king Ahab, God sent his prophet Elijah to proclaim judgment on Israel. Verse 1 told us that Elijah’s message was, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” This drought would naturally lead to famine which would ravage Israel’s farm-based economy and cause many people to suffer and die.

What’s interesting about today’s passage is that the focus is not on the devastation God brought on Israel, but on the provision God brought to his servant Elijah. At a time when food and water were scarce, Elijah just had to hang out near a water source and God miraculously brought him food carried by ravens (vv. 2-6). Then, when the drought caused the brook he depended on for water to dry up, God sent him to a person who could take care of him.

But the woman God sent to provide for Elijah was a very unlikely caretaker. Instead of sending him to a godly man of wealthy means, God sent him to a widow. This widow lived outside the land of Israel; verse 9 told us that he was sent to “Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” That town was located near the Mediterranean Sea and was a good distance north of the most northern tribes of Israel. Widows, typically, struggled to survive themselves, having no husband to work and provide for the family in an age and economy where everyone in the family had to work hard for the family merely to survive. God told Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (v. 9b) which suggests that she knew Elijah was coming beforehand. Yet when he arrived and asked her for food, she said, “As surely as the Lord your God lives… I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (v. 12).

Not exactly an ancient version of Costco, was she?

Yet Elijah believed the Lord’s word; he comforted her by telling her not to be afraid (v. 13a) but, instead, to trust the Lord’s provision by making food for Elijah first, then for herself and her son (v. 13b-c). This command was based on God’s promise in verse 14: “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” Amazingly, she believed the Lord’s promise and God provided for her, her son, AND Elijah day after day after day (vv. 15-16).

Then, as if her daily test of faith were not enough, it was tested again when her son died (vv. 17-19). She reacted as anyone would in this kind of tragedy. Why would God keep her son alive day after day from starvation only to see him die prematurely from illness? But God listened to Elijah’s prayer and restored his life (vv. 20-23).

The purpose of these miracles was to authenticate the message of Elijah: “Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’” The point of this story was to show how God provided for those who trusted in him, even in a dark time spiritually for the nation of Israel. His provision required daily, constant faith, but God never failed to live up to his promise. And, like he did with Elijah, God calls us to trust him and live according to his word and his promises even when times look bleak spiritually and economically.

Every time we elect a new president here in the United States, the side that loses believes that the end is near. Let’s consider that: What if someday we elect the most ungodly person to ever occupy the oval office, someone determined to stamp out biblical Christianity?

Can God provide for us if we are ruled and even persecuted by unsaved and ungodly people?

Of course he can but we have to look to him in faith. Think about the possible anxiety Elijah might have faced. What if the ravens don’t show up with any food today? What if this is the day that the widow’s flour and oil run out? Each day was a test of faith for these people, but God was faithful. May we have the grace to trust him no matter what kind of trial of faith we face in the days ahead.