2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 44, Mark 8

Read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 44, and Mark 8.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel would be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years, so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides. 

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

  • First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” 
  • Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.” 

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests. 

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced. 

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this. But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, Philemon

Read 1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, and Philemon.

This devotional is about the book of Philemon.

This is yet another of Paul’s prison letters as we saw in verse 1, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ….” Verses 1b-2 tell us the recipients of this letter who were, “Philemon… Apphia [almost certainly Philemon’s wife] our sister and Archippus [possibly the son of Philemon and Apphia].” When we take this mention of Archippus and compare it to Colossians 4:17, “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord’’ we begin to see that Philemon lived in Colossae.

This family was not the only recipient of this letter, however, for the last part of verse 2 says, “…and the church that meets in your home.” Although Paul has a couple of big, generous things to ask of Philemon, he did not want his requests to overwhelm the people too much.

In verses 4-7, Paul described his prayers for Philemon and the others. Then, in verses 8-19, Paul got to the core of the letter–to ask Philemon to forgive his runaway slave Onesimus (vv. 17-19).

After he forgave Onesimus, Paul then wanted Philemon to free Onesiumus so that he could serve with Paul.

But the verse that intrigues me in this chapter is verse 6: “I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” Paul considered Philemon a partner because of his faithful giving to God’s work (v. 7). But here in verse 6 Paul prayed for a spiritual benefit to come to Philemon. That benefit was that the “partnernership with us… in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” In other words, Paul wanted Philemon’s financial support and prayer investment to strengthen Philemon’s faith. He wanted Philemon to know God better as a result of his “partnership” with Paul’s ministry.

Have you ever considered that serving the Lord and giving to his work could actually be good for you, spiritually? Not only do others benefit from this kind of “partnership” but YOU benefit from it because it “deepens your understanding” of Christ and his mission.

So I have to ask, What is your level of spiritual growth? Did it peak when you were called to be saved or is it growing? If you feel that you are stuck and not growing, then you need to find a place to serve. Serving Christ, investing in his kingdom, is helpful to your spiritual life. So, find a place to serve if you don’t have now already and watch how your understanding of God, his goals, and his people grow as a result.

Ruth 1, Ezekiel 11, Acts 28

Read Ruth 1, Ezekiel 11, and Acts 28.

This devotional is about Ruth 1.

The book of Judges was a difficult, depressing account of how Israel failed to follow the Lord and the results of that failure. The events recorded here in the book of Ruth took place in the same time period as the book of Judges, according to Ruth 1:1. As was often the case in the book of Judges, Israel was suffering; this time it was due to a famine (v. 1b). Worried about feeding his family, a man from Bethlehem named Elimelek took his wife Naomi and his sons Orpah and Ruth to Moab (v. 1c). 
 
A famine like this one was not supposed to happen in Israel. If God’s people worshiped the Lord and obeyed his word, God had promised prosperity for them. What is ironic in this passage is that “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” yet Elimelek left the house of bread because of famine. A famine in the house of bread is like IHOP being out of pancakes. But the wickedness of Israel brought God’s discipline on them through this famine. 

Elimelek was not supposed to leave the land of Israel, nor were he sons supposed to find wives among the Moabites, but both things happened. Elimelek died in Moab (v. 3) and his sons, who married Moabite women (v. 4), also died ten years after the family came to Moab (v. 5). Was this an act of judgment for leaving the land and marrying foreign wives? The author of Ruth does not say. Maybe this was just part of God’s providence; maybe it was the consequence of their actions. The truth is, however, that it is never safe nor wise to choose disobedience, no matter how dire your circumstances are.

Meanwhile, God lifted the drought that caused the famine and there was bread again in Bethlehem. Naomi, the widow of Elimelek, determined to return to her homeland (vv. 6-7). Her daughters-in-law pledged themselves to return with her. Maybe that was expected in their culture. Maybe Ruth and Orpah felt bad for Naomi or were uncertain about their prospects for remarriage. Naomi, however, graciously released them from any obligation to come to Israel (vv. 6-13). Orpah took this exit ramp and returned home (v. 14a) but according to verse 14b, “Ruth clung to her.” After another attempt to get Ruth to return home (v. 15), Ruth delivered to Naomi this beautiful statement of faith in verses 16-17: “…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

It must have been a great comfort to Naomi to have Ruth with her, but it did not make the situation any easier to manage. This first chapter of Ruth ended with Naomi returning home, but with a bitterness in her soul (vv. 19-22). It is hard to blame Naomi for feeling the way she did. No one wants to lose a spouse prematurely, but to bury both of your sons as well must have been a particularly painful experience. Not only was she bereft of their love and companionship, she now had no visible means of support. Women in this era who did not have a husband or a son to provide for them had to beg or, in some cases, turn to prostitution for survival. 

And, yet, despite all that God had brought into Naomi’s life and how painful it was for her, Ruth saw the one true God in her mother-in-law. As weak as Naomi’s faith may have been in that moment, she still held on to God as the source of her hope. Ruth, then, became not only a convert to the Lord but, as we’ll see in the chapters to come, Ruth would be an unexpected means of grace in the life of her mother-in-law. This should encourage us to know that, no matter how imperfect our faith, God can and will still use the flickering light of our faith to show others the truth about God and draw them to faith in him.

Leviticus 11-12, Isaiah 7, Luke 24

Read Leviticus 11-12, Isaiah 7, and Luke 24.

This devotional is about Luke 24.

Remember those women in Luke 8:2-3 that Luke said traveled with Jesus and the disciples? Luke named a few of them: “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others” (v. 2b-3a). He had told us that they “were helping to support them out of their own means” (v. 3b).

That passage in Luke 8 is the only insight we are given in the Gospels–at least, that I can think of–about the financial support of Jesus ministry. Think about 13 men traveling to different villages, towns, and cities. Where did they sleep? Where did they get their meals in an age before restaurants? These women provided them the money they needed to buy food; they probably also prepared food when needed, found places for everyone to sleep at night, brought Jesus and the disciples water during the day. Maybe they helped mend clothes and wash them, too, but it seems clear that they volunteered to help Jesus and his disciples in whatever way was needed.

Here in Luke 24 these women emerge from the shadows again (v. 1, 10). The passage says they came “very early in the morning” (v. 1) to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried. My guess is that they figured this would be the last of their unheralded acts of service on behalf of Jesus. When Jesus’ burial was complete, they might have stayed for a few days to mourn his death and remember his life, then they would return to Galilee and re-enter daily life.

Instead of doing the sad, unpleasant, and difficult work of embalming Jesus’ body, the women were surprised to hear the message that Jesus was risen from the dead (vv. 3-7, 10)! The angels that reported this news to them said to them in verse 6, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” That happened back in Luke 9:22. It was just after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. One of the benefits of being on Jesus’ support team was that they could listen to him teach as they served or during the moments when there was nothing immediate to do. Verse 8 here in Luke 24 says, “Then they remembered his words” which tells us that they were in the audience when Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah so they heard Jesus predict his death and resurrection. Now God had chosen them to be the first people learn of Christ’s resurrection.

Although it isn’t the point of this passage, this story suggests a truth that may encourage you today which is that some of the greatest blessings of following Jesus occur when we are doing the difficult, unpleasant, unnoticed work of serving him. If you are discouraged because you feel like your life and or your ministry in the church is often overlooked, unnoticed, unappreciated, think of these women. You may be tempted to think that your life doesn’t matter much, but God sees. He knows what your love for Christ leads you to do for him even if nobody else ever knows.

And, God may just surprise you one day with an unexpected blessing; it won’t be anything as big as an angel informing you that Jesus has risen from the dead, but it will be a blessing nonetheless. So don’t be discouraged or give up serving Jesus.

Exodus 26, Ecclesiastes 2, Luke 8

Read Exodus 26, Ecclesiastes 2, and Luke 8.

Luke 8 presents us with one of Jesus’ best known parables (vv. 4-15), some lesser known teachings of Jesus (vv. 16-21) and several miracles (vv. 22-56).

The chapter began, though, by listing Jesus’s key financial contributors. They were some women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples who “were helping to support them out of their own means.” That sentence gives us insight into how Jesus and the disciples were able to stay alive while devoting themselves full-time to the ministry and it sets a precedent for how ministry is funded that the rest of the New Testament developed for us.

Luke doesn’t say much about what these women did. Verse 2 indicates that they were with him and the Twelve as they traveled “from one town and village to another” and verse 3 says that they “were helping to support them out of their own means.” That last phrase obviously means that they were spending their own money to pay for food and lodging and anything else Jesus and the Twelve needed money for. But why would these women need to travel with Jesus and the disciples? Couldn’t they just send the money by messenger whenever it was needed?

I think they could have sent the money, but I also think they traveled with Jesus and the Twelve to hear Jesus teach just like everyone else who followed him around. I wonder, though, if they also didn’t handle some of the logistics–going ahead of the men to find enough places for them to sleep, buying food and preparing meals as needed. Again the text does not say this, but it makes sense that they would do at least some of this planning and preparation work so as to give Jesus the maximum amount of time to do ministry and to do so without distractions.

If you’ve served somewhere behind the scenes–doing sound or lighting or projection or as a helper or preparing meals for families that just had a baby or helping with the Sunday coffee and donuts or giving rides to people to church on Sunday or making copies of material or helping out with office work or cleaning the floors on Saturday night or serving in the chair ministry or making and serving funeral meals or serving in the food pantry or in the prison ministry or doing any other number of tasks, your ministry is important! It may seem unnoticed or feel unimportant but the truth is that it is very important. Servants like you make every ministry possible so if you’ve served in one of these places, thank you!

If you could serve in one of these ways but haven’t volunteered yet, would you volunteer this week? Everything we do as a church takes dedicated volunteers so the more volunteers we have, the more ministry we can do. Jesus said that a cup of water given in his name would be rewarded so there are eternal dividends to be reaped if you sow into His work now, even in ways that seem insignificant and small. So, if you’re not serving somewhere yet, one way to put the truth in this chapter into practice is to find your place to serve. It is the Lord’s work so he’s the one you’re serving, just as these women served him in their unseen but important role.