2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, Proverbs 22:1-16

Read 2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, and Proverbs 22:1-16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 10.

Here in 2 Samuel 10, David—the great warrior king—tried to build a political alliance. According to verse 1, the Ammonite king died and verse 2 tells us his name was Nahash. This man was mentioned in 1 Samuel 11, where he was instrumental in beginning Saul’s career as Israel’s king. Back then, Nahash had besieged Jabesh Gilead and demanded incredibly cruel and gruesome terms for a peaceful settlement (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Saul mustered the men of Israel and defeated Nahash and his army which rallied the nation to Saul as their leader.

Given the events of 1 Samuel 11, it is quite surprising to read that David said, “Nahash… showed kindness to me” (v. 2a). He must have treated David much differently than he did Jabesh Gilead in 1 Samuel 11. Maybe being defeated by Saul made him treat Israel with much greater kindness and generosity. Or maybe this is an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Nahash was kind to David because Saul hated David and Nahash was the enemy of Saul. We don’t know because Nahash is not mentioned at all between 1 Samuel 11 and 2 Samuel 10. Whatever Nahash did for David left a very favorable impression on him, so David desired to show kindness to Hanun, Nahash’s son. Sending a delegation to express sympathy, as David did in 2 Samuel 10:2c, was an act of political diplomacy. It was a personal kindness, yes, but it was also a political one—a way to encourage peaceful relations between two nations who were near each other geographically. 

David’s kindness, however, was interpreted as espionage (v. 3). Hanun, therefore, humiliated David’s men. In Israelite culture, the beard is a symbol of manhood. Only women and boys had hairless faces, so shaving half of a man’s face was a way to humiliate him before everyone who saw him. That insult was bad enough but cutting off someone’s garments to expose them would be even more humiliating to anyone. These men arrived unarmed since they were on a peaceful mission, so to treat them this way was both personally humiliating and politically insulting. It was an act of war which is how David responded to it (vv. 5-7). 

There is a difference between cautious and paranoid, between skeptical and cynical. A cautious person will trust someone more and more as that person demonstrates trustworthiness over time. A paranoid person trusts no one, ever. A skeptical person wants to believe the best about someone but has plenty of doubts. A cynical person consistently believes the worst about others. A young king like Hanun should have expected to be tested by other nations, so caution and even skepticism were warranted and wise. But Hanun and his military advisors went way beyond skepticism. They were paranoid—unreasonably suspicious. They were also cynical—assuming the worst motives in any and every situation. They reacted as if David’s men were caught spying, not suspected of it. Their response was unjust and unwarranted. It was also unwise.

There is an old saying, “Once burned is twice shy.” That saying expresses something you and I know to be instinctively true—we are doubly cautious toward anyone we feel has burned us or betrayed us in the past. Trust is like a wall of dominoes: it takes a long time to build, one positive act placed next to another with perfect spacing between them. But, just as one flick of the finger can take down the carefully built wall of dominoes, so one foolish act, one rash statement can destroy years of trust and credibility. These are facts of human nature.

Cynicism, however, is far worse. A cynical person believes the worst about others by default. The cynic believes that everyone’s motives are not just suspect but evil, so every act is interpreted as an act of war, even acts that are designed to be peaceful. But cynicism is an incredibly costly way to look at the world. A cynic will never trust anyone enough to have a truly good relationship with that person. A cynic will wound even the person who wants to nothing more than to befriend him. Jesus commanded us to look at others far differently than the cynic looks at others. He commanded us to be kind and generous to everyone, even our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). He commanded you to forgive the guy who sins against you 490 times, if he asks forgiveness (Matt 18:22). If you are a suspicious, cynical, paranoid person, people may not be able to take advantage of you, but they also can’t really love you. If you respond badly to those who try to show you kindness, everyone will end up being your enemy. As followers of Jesus, we must learn to be open-hearted to others around us. We should take some appropriate caution, to be sure, but value the difference between careful and closed. Not only are there eternal rewards for trusting Jesus enough to be good to those who are not good to us, there is the immediate return of cultivating friends instead of creating enemies.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of cynicism because in him we learn what mercy is, what grace is, what forgiveness really means and how costly it is. We also learn that he is sovereign over every event in our lives so that even if others wound us or even kill us, he will bring justice when he determines. Lean on these truths when you are tempted to distrust others; if others sin against you, trust God to take care of you instead.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, Mark 1

Read 1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, and Mark 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 23.

God had chosen David to be Israel’s next king. David knew this, because Samuel had anointed him (1 Sam 16). Saul’s son Jonathan knew it, and he claimed that Saul knew it as well (v. 17). It was inevitable. Despite Saul’s best efforts to hunt David down and kill him, “God did not give David into his hands.”

This passage demonstrates David’s love for the LORD and his desire to please and obey him:

  • David sought the LORD’s will when the Philistines were attacking a Jewish city (vv. 1-2). He attacked the Philistines and defended them successfully, despite the fears of his men, because the LORD commanded him to do it (vv. 2-5).
  • David sought the LORD when he heard that Saul was coming for him (v. 10), and he believed and acted on what the LORD told him (vv. 11-13).

Why did God subject David to this relentless attack by Saul? Why did David have to wait for many years to become king, given that God had chosen him? Why did David have to travel from place to place to be safe and experience so many close calls (vv. 26-28)?

The answer is not specified in this passage, but it is revealed in many other passages of scripture. The LORD makes us wait and puts us in pressure situations to test our faith. Testing reveals whether we truly trust the LORD or whether we are following him only for the benefits he promised. It

Testing also strengthens our faith and teaches us to pray. When David did become king, he had experiences like this one to look back on. He could remember how God used him in military campaigns to save his people (v. 5). He could remember how God protected him from Saul (v. 14) and how God answered his prayers. These incidents would strengthen his resolve to do what was right when he became king later and they would form a habit of asking for God’s will and God’s guidance in his decisions as king.

But none of this was easy. It must have been discouraging and unpleasant to live on the run the way David and his men did. The Psalms that David wrote while he was on the run show that he struggled with fear as Saul chased him (see Psalms 59 and 63 for two examples).

So it was appropriate and necessary for Jonathan to encourage David, as we’re told he did in verses 15-18. But notice that Jonathan didn’t encourage David by telling him, “Everything will be ok. You’re too good at hiding for Saul to ever find you. He’s getting too old and won’t be around much longer.” In other words, Jonathan didn’t minimize the problem to try to make David feel better.

Instead, verse 15 tells us that Jonathan “…helped him find strength in God.” How did he do this? Two ways:

  1. By telling him not to be afraid (v. 17a). Fear is a natural human emotion, but it is the opposite of faith. When Jonathan told David not to be afraid, he was reminding him of the power of God. The LORD God who had protected David’s life to this point would not fail to keep protecting him in the future. So David had nothing to fear.
  2. By reminding him of God’s promises. When Jonathan told David that he would be king, he wasn’t making up a fanciful wish out of thin air. He was reminding David what God had promised. Samuel had delivered this promise to David when he anointed David. Jonathan believed it and reminded David of it.

What a great friend Jonathan was! Not just because of his humility (v. 17e), but because of his godly heart, solid theology, and determination to bolster David’s faith when his circumstances were bad.

Do you have any Christian friends who are discouraged? Follow Jonathan’s example. Remind him or her that God is all powerful, so there really isn’t anything to fear because the LORD’s will will overcome. Remind your friend, too, of God’s promises: that Christ is coming again for us, that he will raise us again to new life, wipe every tear from our eyes, vanquish his enemies and bring us safely into his kingdom where we will rule and reign forever.

A friend who can speak this kind of encouragement is a godly friend. Help your friends “find strength in God.”

Genesis 50, Job 16-17, Psalms 20-23

Read Genesis 50, Job 16-17, and Psalms 20-23. This devotional is about Job 16-17.

There are times when we need to speak hard but truthful words to each other. Jesus commanded us to go a fellow believer who sins and point out their fault (Matt 18:15).

But that command is for a situation where you have direct knowledge of the sin, either because you were sinned against, or saw the person sin, or the believer is not hiding the sin.

We are not commanded to make assumptions about one another or accuse others of sin when we have no evidence. It is never wrong to ask if someone is in sin but it is never right to accuse without a clear basis.

Job’s friends had no evidence that he had sinned. Not one of them pointed out a specific instance of sin or even suggested specific ways in which he might have caused himself this trouble by sinning. They worked backward from his calamity to accusations of sin because, in their theology, God punishes sinners and rewards the righteous. Job’s tragedies were all the evidence they thought they needed to accuse him.

Nobody likes to be accused so it is insulting to accuse someone without evidence, especially if the person being accused is actually innocent. Job was dealing with incredible trauma and, instead of being comforted, his “friends” railed on him to ‘fess up. It is a cliché to talk about “adding insult to injury” but that’s exactly what Job’s friends did. His statement in 16:2b, “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” expressed the frustration he felt based on how he was being treated.

What Job needed was not accusers who would help him come clean but loving friends who would help him.

And what would have been helpful to him? Two things:

  1. Encouragement: In 16:4b-5 he said, “…if you were in my place…. my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” A godly friend would have comforted Job with affirming words that God’s ways were always right, so this would turn out someday for good.
  2. Prayer. In 16:20-21 we read these words, “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”

How can you help a fellow believer who is hurting? Encouragement and prayer.

Is someone coming to mind who needs this? Pray for them now, then contact them to encourage and pray with them.

Genesis 46, Job 12, Hebrews 4

Read Genesis 46, Job 12, and Hebrews 4 today. This devotional is about Job 12.

Imagine experiencing the devastation Job experienced and then, when your friends came over to comfort you, they began to insist that this was your fault. That’s where Job found himself in these chapters. His friends took turns explaining that God is just and so Job must deserve what happened to him. Since they believed that as a given, they urged Job to repent.

When Job responded to his friends he insisted on his innocence, cried out to God for an explanation, and complained about his suffering.

In the previous chapter, Job 11, his friend Zophar rebuked Job for his words (11:1-12) and promised Job that if he just cut the nonsense and turned to God, his life would get better. “Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand… Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning” (vv. 13-14a, 17). 

Here in Job 12, Job began his response and Job’s speech in this cycle goes through chapter 14.

The first four verses of this chapter are harsh. In them, Job struck back verbally at his friends for the things they have said to him. In verse 5 Job said, “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune.” That statement was meant as a rebuke to his friends. They have a smug sense of security that causes them to look down on Job for what he suffered.

The problem with Job’s friends was not that their theology was completely wrong. The problem was that they made simplistic assumptions about Job and then applied their theology based on those assumptions.

Imagine that you were on a jury in a criminal case. As you enter the jury box, you look over at the person sitting at that defendant’s table. Just because they are sitting there, they look pretty guilty. It is easy to rationalize that the police would not have arrested them nor would the prosecutor have charged them if they didn’t have really good reasons to think that they are guilty. If you assume–as many of us do–that most criminal defendants are probably guilty, then it is tempting to pass judgment on the defendant without really weighing the evidence or applying the standard, “innocent until proven guilty” in a rigorous way. After all, you don’t commit crimes, so you’ll never be in that guy’s shoes.

But if you were wrongly accused of a crime, you would want the jury to think differently than the thinking I just described in the previous paragraph. You’d want the jury to listen carefully, weigh all the evidence and–most of all–empathize with what it would feel like to be charged and convicted of a crime you didn’t commit.

The point of all this for us is that, when our lives a going well and we feel secure, we should not “have contempt for [the] misfortune” of others.” We don’t know everything about anyone and we certainly don’t know the mind of God. So be careful about assuming that someone who is suffering deserves what they are suffering and that it is their own fault.

Being a good friend to someone who his hurting starts with empathizing with their pain. You shouldn’t ignore obvious sin but you also shouldn’t assume that someone who’s suffering has sinned and deserves it.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalms 1-3

Read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalms 1-3.

This devotional is about Psalm 1.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if we love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by wicked people will cause them to be blown away (v. 4), rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people–ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members?

Through technology, we can spend time with celebrities, actors, athletes and journalists. We don’t spend time with them in real life, of course, but media and the Internet and apps allow them to communicate what they do with their time, what they think is good or bad, cool or uncool, etc. These people may have a strong following but most them them care nothing about God. If you aren’t careful, you can be heavily influenced by their ungodly lives by spending lots of time uncritically in their “virtual” presence.

The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess  your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spend and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

1 Kings 21, Daniel 3

Read 1 Kings 21 and Daniel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 21.

There are two types of leadership: (1) positional leadership and (2) personal leadership. A personal leader is someone who is influential because of who they are. They have the right combination of characteristics that cause other people to follow them naturally. This kind of person is sometimes called a “natural born leader.”

A positional leader is someone who occupies a position that gives them influence over others. Your boss is a positional leader because he decides whether you keep your employment and pay, or get demoted or promoted. Even if you personally dislike your boss or wouldn’t follow that person (or any positional leader) if you didn’t have to, you have to follow him or her because they can help you or hurt your career.

Ahab definitely had positional leadership. He was the king of Israel. But when it comes to personal leadership, he seems to have far less of that quality than his wife Jezebel had. In this chapter of scripture, Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard and attempted to get it in a righteous way. He made Naboth a fair offer (v. 2) and accepted Naboth’s rejection, even though it hurt his feelings (vv. 3-4). Later on in this chapter, after receiving the Lord’s declaration of judgment for his sin (vv. 21-24), he responded with a degree of repentance (v. 27).

So if Ahab had a few principles, why was he said to be unlike anyone else “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 25)? One answer to that is his own idolatry (v. 26) but a key component was the personal leadership influence of his wife Jezebel. The last phrase of verse 25 told us that he did all this evil, “…urged on by Jezebel his wife.” It was was her personal leadership–her influence–that gave Ahab the confidence to follow some of his own sinful tendencies. Furthermore, we read in this chapter that it was her idea to frame and kill Naboth (vv. 7-14) in order to make it easy for Ahab unjustly to take Naboth’s vineyard (vv. 15-16). Jezebel led her husband into sinful actions that he (seemingly) would not have taken himself (v. 7).

One important lesson, then, is to be careful about who you marry and, generally, who your friends are. Relationships give people great power over the choices and decisions of others. If you’ve ever done something you were reluctant to do (or that it never occurred to you to do), you know how powerful personal leadership can be. So be careful to choose people who are growing Christians with high moral character to be the closest people in your life.

Even though it was Jezebel’s idea, Ahab was still accountable for what happened. Don’t ever let yourself believe that your sin is excusable just because you were following someone else. Ultimately we will answer to God for everything we do regardless of what led us to do it.

Who are the biggest personal influences in your life? Are those people leading you (influencing you) in godly ways or ungodly ways? Would making some changes in your relationships help you to make better, more righteous decisions?

Judges 2, Jeremiah 15

Read Judges 2 and Jeremiah 15.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah is set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment has been passed and the sentence is settled. Pain is on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there will be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God kept saying it is too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was bringing to him. He had no friends (“I sat alone…”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling him to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult word, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you. But if you don’t stand alone, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but they do provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

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?

Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96

Read Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:73-96.

This Psalm is a long acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. It is also a love poem for God’s word. The Psalmist writes in every stanza words of praise and thanks to God for giving his law to Israel. He also claims throughout to love and live by God’s laws.

Like most Psalms, this songwriter had problems in life. Some of those problems, he felt, were afflictions from God (v. 75b). Others were persecutions (v. 84b) brought on by others. Or, perhaps, he had one major problem which he saw from two perspectives–(1) the persecutions of men (2) allowed by God’s sovereignty to afflict him for his own discipline and growth. Regardless, the Psalmist never claimed that his love for God’s word or his obedience to it gave him a trouble-free life. Instead, he found through his delight in God’s laws encouragement (v. 81b), comfort (v. 76) a basis for companionship with other godly people (v. 74, 79), guidance on how to live (v. 89, 93), and understanding about what is righteous and unrighteous in God’s sight (v. 85). Having benefited in all these ways from God’s word, he pleaded with God to rescue him according to the promises he’d read in God’s word (vv. 76b, 94) and to keep his heart faithful to obey God’s word (v. 80).

Scripture and prayer are God’s primary ways to minister grace to us while we live in this world and wait to be with Christ. We stray into sin when we stop looking for God’s help through prayer or stop looking to his word for our growth, guidance, and hope. It is possible–I know because I’ve done it–to be in God’s word each day and still have one’s heart grow cold to God’s word. This is why we should follow the Psalmist’s example and pray for God’s help to have insight to apply God’s word (v. 73), to think about God’s word (v. 95b), and to be tender to our own sinfulness so that we can be corrected by God’s word (v. 80).

I would encourage you to pray before reading these devotionals, before we worship together on Sunday, and anytime you are going to hear God’s word. Ask God to convict you, to give you insight into yourself, to give you understanding about what to do with his word once you understand it, and to give you courage to believe and obey it. This will help you keep from growing cold to the Lord and his truth.

Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, Psalm 109

Read Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, and Psalm 109.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.” In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life. These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it. But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, Psalm 108

Today we’re reading Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, and Psalm 108.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 5.

Here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon has been reporting on his experiments in lavish living. He has taken the wealth God gave him and the wisdom God gave him and invested these things in searching what the best way to live might be. Everything he tried, however, turned out to be a frustrating enigma. It satisfied for a brief time, then offered ever-diminishing returns, then emptiness.

Many people who have achieved wealth and/or success in this life have proved this to be true. Some of the most miserable people you may ever meet are the people who got everything they wanted in life. That is, if everything they wanted was something in this life, for this life. Solomon’s oft-repeated phrase, “under the sun” (for example, v. 13) indicates the human-only realm. It is a phrase that indicates “apart from God.” Apart from God, wisdom is a frustrating enigma (1:12-18, 2:12-16) pleasure is a frustrating enigma (2:1-11), work is a frustrating enigma (2:17-3:22), life itself is a frustrating enigma (4:1-3), success is a frustrating enigma (4:4-8), career success is a frustrating enigma (4:13-,16), and wealth is a frustrating enigma (5:8-17).

So did Solomon find anything worth pursuing? Yes, but… two things must be said:

  • First, he found human relationships to be something worthwhile (vv. 9-12) but more as an advantage (“a good return” – v. 9, “one can help the other up” – v. 10, etc. Still, this was one positive thing he observed.
  • Second, he “saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22). But this truth is tied to another which is, “…to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil… is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (vv. 24b-26). Did you catch that? The simple things in life are satisfying only if you are a person who pleases God.

This chapter, Ecclesiastes 5, developed that thought even more. Life can be rich and fulfilling if you walk with God. So Solomon advised his readers to fear God in their worship (vv. 1-7) and be satisfied with whatever God gives them (vv. 18-20, esp. v. 19: “to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”). Why would one person find pleasure and wealth to be a frustrating enigma while the guy in verses 18-20 can “eat… drink and find satisfaction”? Because the person in verses 18-20 walks with God. He may have “wealth and possessions” (v. 19b) but he sees them for what they are–a gift from God (v. 19a). Because his walk with God is most important, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (v. 20).

The book of Job taught us that suffering and trials are part of life, so don’t think that walking with God means that everything will always go smoothly and that your life will be a straight line upward. But when you survey a person’s entire life, Solomon’s conclusion was that a person who walks with God will find the simple things in life satisfying because he finds his joy in God.

How about it? Do you find life to be frustratingly enigmatic? If so, it might be that your walk with God includes a season of suffering for now but it might also be that you’re looking to life “under the sun” for satisfaction instead of looking for life “in the Son” by walking with him daily. If Solomon of all people couldn’t find satisfaction under the sun with all the resources he had at his disposal, we would do well to take his advice and focus on our walk with God. He is the source of true satisfaction.

Leviticus 15, Proverbs 29, Psalm 101

Today, read Leviticus 15, Proverbs 29, Psalm 101.

This devotional is about Psalm 101.

In this song, David sang about the ideals to which he aspired. Each “I will” expressed his determination as the king to lead his kingdom according to specific moral principles. Those moral principles were:

to lead himself first (vv. 1-3b)

Before expressing moral goals for his administration, David set some personal goals for himself. Those goals were:

  • To praise God and live a godly life in His sight (vv. 1-2a-b)
  • To act with righteousness in his personal, family decisions (v. 2c)
  • Never to approve of something that God disapproves of (v. 3a-b).

to cultivate relationships carefully (vv. 3c-7)

Because the king was powerful, many people courted his friendship in order to gain power. David determined to be careful about who influenced him by:

  • separating himself from:
    • those who were dishonest (“faithless = lacking in faithfulness” v. 3c-d)
    • those who had evil hearts (v. 4).
    • those who gossiped. In fact, he determined to rebuke anyone wanted to tell him secrets that slander others (v. 5a-b)
    • those who were proud (v. 5c-d)
    • those who were dishonest liars (v. 7)
  • and, instead, choosing to make friends with those who:
    • are faithful to God and others (v. 6a-b)
    • who are righteous in their lives before God (v. 6c-d)

to rule justly (v. 8)

  • by silencing those who were wicked and outspoken about it (v. 8a-b)
  • by delivering justice to those who broke God’s law intentionally (v. 8c-d)

None of us is a king, but each of us should consider how making these kinds of choices could affect our lives and the lives of others.

Do you live your life by a moral code?

Have you ever spelled out on paper the kind of life you are determined to live by the grace of God, the kind of people you won’t and will be influenced by, and how you will use the power/influence you have?

As David sang this song, perhaps each morning at the beginning of his day, he was rehearsing what it would look like to do the right thing at the moment of decision, reminding himself of what was important to him (because it is important to God), and resolving to live his life by these principles.

As we know, David did not perfectly live by these principles No one, except Jesus, was or is able morally to live by these or any other good principles. These are the things David aspired to be personally and to see cultivated in his kingdom.

Who do you aspire to become morally? Have you considered writing out your principles and reviewing them regularly?