Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, 1 Thessalonians 1

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 46, and 1 Thessalonians 1.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 1.

Yesterday we read Acts 18 but, instead of going on to Acts 19, we’re reading 1 Thessalonians today. Why? Because scholars believe that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians while Paul was in Corinth as described inn Acts 18. So, that’s why we’ll divert our attention from Acts to read 1 Thessalonians over the next few days. Then we’ll get back to Acts.

Paul had concerns about the church in Thessalonica, but he had no direct rebuke for them in this book we call 1 Thessalonians. That’s one thing that sets this book of the Bible apart from Paul’s other letters. Here in chapter 1, Paul expresses great confidence in the salvation of the Thessalonian believers. He said, “we know… that he [God] has chosen you” (v. 4). The reason he was so confident is “because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (v. 5). and because “…you became imitators of us and of the Lord…” (v. 6). All the signs of new spiritual life obvious–abundant, even–in the lives of these believers. This spiritual work of God happened despite “severe suffering” (v. 6b) which Luke wrote about in Acts 17.

All of that gave Paul great joy and made him very thankful (v. 2) for God’s work in their lives. But, after Paul left Thessalonica, the situation only got better. They were such godly “imitators of us and of the Lord” (v. 6a) that they “…became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (v. 7). Macedonia and Achaia are regions of Greece and the city of Thessalonica is located in Macedonia. It would be similar to Paul saying to our church, “You have become a model to all believers in Washtenaw and Monroe counties, and even throughout all of Michigan and Ohio.”

In a pre-Internet, pre-broadcast age, how was the faith of these believers spreading so quickly and so widely? The answer is that they were vocal about it. Verse 8 says, “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.” The key phrase there is “The Lord’s message rang out from you” (v. 8a). In other words, they were talking about Christ and how they had come to know him in salvation. That’s what made them a model church. They not only received the gospel, they talked about the gospel and lived it out in obedience.

Is that true of us? Do people know that we’re Christians–not just because we go to church and don’t do some of the sinful things they do–but because we talk about the life-changing grace of God in salvation and how it has saved us and changed our lives?

The Thessalonians’ lives were changed. They turned away from idols to serve God (v. 9) and they were waiting for Christ’s return (v. 10). But they talked about Jesus with others in addition to living godly lives. God saved us not only so that we would worship him but so that we would spread the good news about him so that others will come to worship him as well.

Do you talk about Christ and offer the gospel to the non-Christians in your life? This is God’s will for us. Let’s look for ways to share his saving word with others.

Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, Proverbs 9

Read Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, and Proverbs 9.

This devotional is about Proverbs 9.

This chapter in Proverbs continues comparing wisdom to a woman and folly is also compared to a woman. You remember from high school, maybe, that this is a literary device called “personification.” Solomon has already “personified” wisdom as a woman; now folly is also personified as a woman. I will refer to them as “Wendy Wisdom” and “Polly Folly.”

Both of these women call out to people “from the highest point of the city” (v. 3b, 14b). This means that their invitations are broadcast and can be heard from far away.

They both invite people to come in to their homes and eat. Wendy Wisdom offers her own nourishment (vv. 4-5). It is the nourishment of a godly life (v. 10) which results in a disciplined life. Like healthy food, it isn’t always the most tasty, but it is healthy and will extend your life (vv. 6, 11).

By contrast, Polly Folly offers “stolen water… and food eaten in secret” (v. 17). This is a reference to sin. It is immediately enjoyable, even addictive, but like all addictions, it will kill you (v. 18).

In between the contrasts offered by these two women, Solomon talked about correction. There are two kinds of people: those who reject correction (vv. 7a, 8a) and those who accept correction (v. 8b).

Those who reject correction will turn and attack the person who tries to give it to them. If you’ve ever tried to show someone a problem in their life and they turn and accuse you of being unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental or the bad guy, this is the kind of person you’re dealing with. Of course, there are some people in the world who are unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental, and bad guys. The difference is in the motivation and delivery of the person bringing correction. A loving person cares about you; they want to see you avoid sin or help you get unstuck from a sinful situation, habit, or temptation. They speak up because they want to help you not to hurt you. Those who are unloving, unkind, critical, etc. just want to hurt you. It is the difference between a surgeon who cuts you open with a scalpel and a solder who cuts you open with a sword. Both of them are cutting–which wounds you–but they have very different motivations and results.

The person who accepts correction is wise (v. 8b) and is on a pathway to greater wisdom (v. 9). On one level he may love the sin you are correcting him for, but as a believer, he will recognize his sin is wrong and that it will bring pain and destruction if he persists in it. So your correction will help him grow and he “will love you” as a result (v. 8b). All of this points again to the importance of humility. People resist correction out of pride but those who are too proud to accept correction will eventually pay a much more painful price than wounded pride.

If you want to be wise, you have to start by being humble. Humility calls us to fear the Lord (v. 10) which “is the beginning of wisdom” but we progress down that path by continuing to accepting the truth in humility. That truth may come from the correction of God’s word or the correction of another person but if it is true, we should receive it even though it hurts.

Did you receive any correction this week–any criticism from your boss or a complaint about your actions or character? Criticism delivered lovingly is easier to take, but even our harshest critic can still help us onward toward wisdom if we have the humility to accept the criticism and change accordingly.

Exodus 7, Job 24, Psalms 24-26

Read Exodus 7, Job 24, and Psalms 24-26.

This devotional is about Psalm 25.

Psalm 25 began in verses 1-3 with David reminding God that David was trusting in him. David then asked God to make his trust pay off by not letting David be put to shame (v. 2).

But David wanted more than a tit-for-tat relationship with God. He didn’t want to do right just so he would be well-treated by God. Instead, he wanted to serve God so that he could know God. That’s why he prayed in verse 4, “Show me your ways, Lordteach me your paths.” This expresses a desire for God himself–to know what he loves and hates, how he works, and why he does what he does. 

Where would God do that teaching of his paths? Verse 5 says, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior.” He wanted to know God, to soak up his truth because “my hope is in you all day long” (v. 5c). It was his love for God, his desire to know God and live in close fellowship with God that motivated his godly life, not his desire to succeed. 

David also didn’t hide the fact that he was fallen. In verse 7 he pleaded for God to give him full pardon, complete forgiveness for his sins. “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.” This, too, is an indication of a person who is walking with God. The better you know God and his ways, the more apparent your sinfulness becomes. But as our “Savior” (v. 5), we know that God will be faithful and forgive the sins we confess to him. 

When we are indifferent to our sins, unconcerned about knowing God’s truth and his ways, and only care about God’s blessings, we are not walking with God. These are clear signs that our spiritual life is drifting rather than growing. Fortunately, God is gracious to sinners. Verses 8-11 describe what God does for sinners when we humble ourselves before him. He “instructs” (v. 8b) us, “guides” us (v. 9a) and “teaches” us “his way” (v. 9b). When we fear God (vv. 12, 14), he blesses us with knowing him, forgiving our sins, watching over us for good and delivering us from our troubles (v. 22).

How is your relationship with God? Are you walking with him, desiring to know him and follow his ways? Or is your spiritual life adrift?

As a believer in Christ, you have the assurance that God’s love and salvation are yours forever. But the blessing of knowing God comes from following him and walking with him daily. Take time to assess your walk with God. Change your mind in repentance and ask for God’s forgiveness and a renewed desire to live for him.

Exodus 4, Job 21, Hebrews 10

Read Exodus 4, Job 21, and Hebrews 10. This devotional is about Job 21.

Job’s complaint here in chapter 21 is a familiar one. It is something many believers in God throughout the ages have felt and said, namely that the wicked seem to live pretty great lives. According to Job, wicked people:

  • Live to a ripe old age (v. 7)
  • Get more powerful and wealthy with each passing year (v 7).
  • Watch their kids grow up and do well in life, too (v. 8).
  • Live in safety under no condemnation from God (v. 9).
  • Have business success year after year (v. 10).
  • Enjoy happy times with their families when they are not working (vv. 11-12).
  • Retire inspired and die happy (v. 13).

Despite all these blessings, they resist God their whole lives and want nothing to do with him (vv. 14-15).

In verse 16a Job recognized that God was the source of their prosperity: “their prosperity is not in their own hands.” Job’s reason for saying all this, then, was not, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” He was not about to ditch his faith in God and join the ways of wickedness because the wicked had better lives. He knew that God existed and that anything unbelievers enjoy in this life is by the [common] grace of God. For these reasons Job said, “so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.”

Rather, Job brought up the topic of the prosperity of the wicked because he wanted to point out how unjust it all seems. In verses 17-18 Job complained that the wicked never seem to get what they deserve in this life.

In verse 19 Job quoted a common saying, “God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children.” People who said this were comforting themselves that the children of the wicked would suffer for their parents’ sins. Job wanted none of that. He said, “Let their own eyes see their destruction; let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty” (v. 20). In other words, God should punish the wicked now because when they are dead, they won’t care if their kids have to pay the pricetag for their parents’ sins (v. 21).

In fact, Job thought, everyone dies no matter what. The wicked and the righteous, those who suffer and those who enjoy a great life lie side by side in the cemetery (vv. 23-33). So what difference does it make if people live a godly or a wicked life?

The answer is not stated in this chapter but it is important to understand. The logic of Job in this chapter is hard to argue with. Lots of unbelievers live long, prosperous, and seemingly happy lives. Lots of believers suffer sorrow and even persecution. Both unbelievers and believers die. We all meet the same fate, so why should anyone do anything except for what they want to do?

Again, the logic of Job’s position in this chapter is hard to argue with if this life is all there is. Job had, in previous chapters, affirmed his belief in the resurrection but now here in chapter 21, he’s wavering a bit. “What if God exists but there is no afterlife? he thinks. Then it makes no sense to be godly because plenty  of ungodly people seem to sin and get away with it.

Well…, things probably aren’t as rosy for the unbeliever in this life as Job thinks. But, even if he’s right, there is more to life than this life. God does allow many unbelievers to skate through life without getting what they deserve for their sins. If this life is all that exists, then God would be unjust to let unbelievers get away with their sin.

But God is just; therefore, we know that justice will be done in eternity even if it doesn’t happen in this life.

So let’s be faithful to our just God even when life seems unfair and ungodliness seems like a better, happier path. As the author of Hebrews put it in Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him….”

Trust in that truth even when life seems unfair. God will do what is right when this life is over.

Genesis 32, Esther 8, Matthew 23

Read Genesis 32, Esther 8, and Matthew 23.

This devotional is about Matthew 23.

This chapter continues the teachings of Jesus during the Passion Week–the last week of his life before the crucifixion. The vast majority of this chapter prophesies against the Pharisees for the many sins Jesus saw in them.

The chapter opened with Jesus acknowledging that the Pharisees had some legitimate authority over the disciples (vv. 2-3a). But Jesus immediately warned his disciples not to follow their hypocritical example. Verses 3b-4 say, “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

Christ’s condemnation, “they do not practice what they preach”, is a warning to every disciple, especially those of us who serve in teaching roles in the church.

Every Christian, including every elder and teacher, remains a sinner who struggles daily with the desires and habits of our sinful nature within us as well as the weakness of being human in a fallen world. That means that all of us will preach better than we practice most of the time.

Jesus’s instructions in this passage are not a requirement to be perfect before we teach and lead others spiritually. Instead, they are a warning not to exempt yourself from what you command others to do.

When I was a kid, the pastor of our church was fired for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that he did not tithe, even though tithing was required of all members and was something he taught. When confronted about this he said, “We tithe our time.” In other words, he felt that since he worked more than 40 hours a week in the church’s ministry and his wife volunteered to serve a lot in the church, then he was not required to tithe. The time they spent serving, in his mind, offset the lack of financial giving from himself and his wife.

That’s hypocrisy.

That is what Jesus condemned in this passage–an intentional exemption of the preacher from the things he commanded and demanded of others.

If a man preaches that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control but then loses his temper, he is not automatically a hypocrite. He is a man who continues to struggle with his sinfulness.

But if he preaches self-control, yet frequently loses his temper and sins with his tongue but never expresses repentance or changes his ways, then he is acting in the kind of Pharisaical way Jesus condemned in this passage.

Do you require your children to be better Christians than you are? Do you allow yourself to do things that you’d never allow them to do? Do you condemn your children when you catch them sinning even though you do the same sin(s) in private?

Then repent of your hypocrisy and ask God to develop in you personal integrity. Learn to practice godliness in your life then learn to preach what you practice.

2 Chronicles 35, Malachi 3

Read 2 Chronicles 35 and Malachi 3.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 35.

Josiah was the last great king of Judah and he ruled for a long time–over 30 years. During his reign the idolatry that plagued both Israel and Judah for generations gave way, officially at least, to the true worship of the true God. Even the Passover feast was celebrated regularly, which “had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel” (v. 18).

So Josiah was a godly man, a good king, and someone the people in his kingdom actually loved–a rare thing, indeed. Verse 24 says that after he died, “all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him.” In every measurable way, Josiah lived a successful life.

But his life ended much sooner than it should have. Yes, he reigned for 31 years (34:1) but he started his reign at age 8 so he died when he was 39 years old. His life could have been much longer and so could the kingdom and spiritual renewal he led.

What ended things so prematurely? An unwise battle against Egypt (v. 20), that’s what. Egypt was not coming to attack Judah and Pharaoh Necho warned Josiah not to attack (v. 21), even stating that God himself was sending the message of non-aggression. The writer of 2 Chronicles agreed that Necho’s message was from God; verse 22b says, “He would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.”

Josah’a attack was unwise and unnecessary because the Egyptians were not after him or his people. He died prematurely, then, because of his own foolishness. Though he was a godly man, he was still a man and hu-man and humans make bad decisions. Josiah’s bad decision was personally and nationally costly. God did not stop him from making it even though Josiah was a godly man.

Christians assume sometimes that being in Christ protects us from foolish decisions. I had a man tell me once, “When you’re a Christians, things just go better.” That’s a nice statement but not always or necessarily true. The Bible does promise benefits for meditating on (Psalm 1:3, Joshua 1:8) and obeying (James 1:25) God’s word but loving and serving God does not give you full immunity from making bad decisions or feeling the consequences of those decisions (vv. 20-24). Foolish is the person who assumes he has immunity or (worse) blames God when foolish decisions turn our poorly.

Are you making any decisions in your life where you are acting unwisely, even against good advice because you expect God to insure you from bad decisions? Change your mind and learn from Josiah’s tragic example to become godly and wise in how your live your life.

2 Chronicles 17, Zechariah 2

Read 2 Chronicles 17 and Zechariah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 17.

The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were all evil in God’s sight. The kings of Judah were a mixed bag. After the kingdom divided, Judah had twenty kings; eight of them were described as men who were righteous in the sight of God. Today we read about one of the most faithful of the godly kings in Judah; namely, Jehoshaphat. It would be hard to get a better description of your life than:

  • “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him” (v. 3a).
  • He “sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel.” (v. 4).
  • “His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord” (v. 6a).

So, clearly, Jehoshaphat was an exemplary man.

But this chapter goes beyond these general descriptions of his godliness and gives us some specifics. One specific demonstration of Jehoshaphat’s godliness was his separation from idolatry:

  • Verse 3 said, “He did not consult the Baals….” This shows that he was personally free from idolatry.
  • Verse 6 said, “…he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.” He not only abstained from idolatry personally but he did not tolerate the practice of idolatry in his kingdom.

When we read that a king of Judah did right in the eyes of the Lord, it means that king, at the bare minimum, had some kind of separation from idolatry.

Jehoshaphat, though, went so much further than that. Verses 7-9 say that Jehoshaphat sent government leaders “to teach the towns of Judah” (v. 7). With those government officials he sent Levites who “taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people” (v. 9). So he both removed idols from Judah and replaced those idols with the teaching of truth.

Systematic instruction from God’s word is essential to the growth of godliness in a person or group of people’s lives. It is, of course, possible to teach God’s word in a way that is dry and lacking spiritual life. It is also possible to learn God’s word academically without receiving it spiritually.

But people who are growing spiritually are people who want to know God’s word. There is a hunger for truth in a godly person’s heart that can only be filled by the teaching of God’s word. Godly leaders and godly people do what is right but they also desire to know more of God’s truth. The better we know God’s truth, the more clearly and powerfully we encounter God himself.

Jesus created the church, in part, to provide the kind of instruction to us Christians that Jehoshaphat starting giving the people of Judah in this chapter. Are you showing up to receive the teaching our church offers? Do you come hungry, ready to learn what God has spoken?

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 30

Read 2 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 30.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 23:3c-4: “‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’”

The writer of 2 Samuel has been wrapping up his account of the united kingdom of Israel in these past few chapters. There is still another important story about David to come in tomorrow’s readings, but this chapter began with “the last words of David” (v. 1).

In these last words David was conscious that God was speaking through him (v. 2) but, as with all writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, the human author was speaking just as much as God was. David, in this brief speech, reflected on what a godly leader is like. The main words of description for a godly leader is that he “rules over people in righteousness.” More simply put, he does the right thing. He is just in his judgment, not favoring his family, or the politically connected, or a special group, or even the disadvantaged. Instead, a godly leader seeks to do the right thing with impartiality, even if Satan himself was the victim of injustice and came seeking a hearing before the king.

What causes someone to rule in righteousness? Verse 3d tells us: a godly king rules in righteousness “when he rules in the fear of God.” Only a person who fears God will do what is right when he doesn’t want to, or when it is costly, inconvenient, or goes against a friend or family member. The “fear of God” teaches us that we are accountable to God for our actions and that we will answer to him if we deviate from his standard of righteousness. That’s what makes someone do the right thing even when he deeply wants to do wrong.

In verse 4 David described what life under a righteous government is like: “he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’” Notice the repetition of the idea of light: “he is like the light… like the brightness after rain….” A godly king brings light to his kingdom. He creates conditions where good things grow and thrive. Verse 4d says his brightness “brings grass from the earth.”

In a society where there is true, blind justice, bribes are ineffective. Governments pass laws that are applied equally without exceptions or “carve outs” for people or corporations who lobby effectively and make substantial campaign donations. In a nation with righteous government, contracts between people and parties will be honored because both sides know that the king will rule against them if they renege.

Contrast that to the way things are moving in our country. Things could be worse and are worse in other nations, but more and more our government favors certain corporations or organizations, or individuals. Or, sometimes our government favors the government over the individual to cite just two examples. In our nation, legal documents are sometimes said to be “living” and “dynamic” allowing judges to read into them things that are not there.

I could keep going on, but I probably don’t need to go on for you to understand the point.

David’s last words reveal what a good ruler looks like and what the results of his rule will be. But they also imply a warning that, when one rules over people unrighteously, darkness will pervade the land and, instead of flourishing, the society will wither and might even die.

What’s the answer to all this? One answer is to use the power we have–voting, lobbying, speaking out–while we still have it. But the better answer is to cry out for Christ to come and establish his true kingdom. Until Jesus is king, there will be unrighteous rule to some degree or other. This is why our hopes and dreams should never reside in any nation but only in the one true King, our Lord Jesus Christ.

So live for him and pray for his kingdom to come.

1 Samuel 16, Lamentations 1

Today, read 1 Samuel 16 and Lamentations 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 16.

The writer of First Samuel has given us very few time references to help us mark the events recorded in this book. Since the author focused on the significant events without telling us how much time passed between them, it seems like Saul’s kingdom rose rapidly and collapsed overnight. But the truth is that Saul reigned over Israel for a long time—forty-two years, according 1 Samuel 13:1. There may have been a long time between Samuel’s official announcement to Saul that he had been rejected as king in 1 Samuel 15 and David’s anointing as king in 1 Samuel 16. The Lord’s word to Samuel in 16:1, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?”, suggests that a good amount of time may have passed. Despite that, a long time will transpire between when David was anointed king here in 1 Samuel 16 and when he became king in 2 Samuel 2. During this time, God would prepare David for the role He had chosen David to fill.

God commanded Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons in verse 1 to replace Saul as king. Since Samuel feared for his life while obeying this command (v. 2a), God told him how to use the worship ritual of sacrifice to provide cover for this assignment (vv. 2b-5). Although offering a sacrifice gave Samuel an overt occasion to accomplish his covert mission of choosing Israel’s king, the sacrifice itself was more than just a cover story. As the leader of God’s people, it was appropriate for David’s ministry as king to begin with a sacrifice followed by his anointing because his kingship would be a spiritual thing—an act of obedient worship, of direct service to the Lord his God.

God emphasized the importance of choosing a godly man as king by the way he revealed to Samuel which son of Jesse to anoint. Traditionally, the eldest son would have been the natural choice and Jesse’s son Eliab looked like a winner to Samuel (v. 6). But God taught Samuel, and us, an important lesson about spiritual leadership in verse 7 of our chapter for today: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We humans are wired to be impressed by someone’s physical appearance. We admire those who are tall, “looking up” to them metaphorically as well as literally. Studies show that a good looking job candidate is more likely to be hired than an average (or worse) looking person, even if the good-looking one is less qualified. We are easily impressed by appearances. God, however, is not. Although David was plenty good-looking and athletic (vv. 12, 18), it was his walk with God that qualified him to be a leader for God’s people, not his physical attributes.

This passage should cause us to stop and reflect on our own decision-making. How much of a factor was the character and spiritual life of your spouse when you chose to start dating him or her? How much was it a factor when you chose to get married? Do you choose to read books (or receive other kinds of spiritual input) from pastors and teachers who are popular, lead large ministries, and have impressive sales numbers or are you looking for strong, biblical content delivered by a godly man?

What about choosing a church—are you looking for godly leadership and biblical teaching or are you impressed too much by appearances? When your kids start to get interested in the opposite sex, are you concerned that they climb the social ladder by dating the best looking, or most popular, or best athlete? As long as that person claims to be a Christian, is that good enough for you or are you looking for evidence of a growing Christian life?

David had a lot to learn before he could lead God’s people as king, so in God’s providence he was brought into close contact with Saul in verses 13-23. But the most important qualification in David’s life was that he walked with God. Since he walked with God, God would lead him through the circumstances and events (many of them painful) that would prepare him to be the leader of God’s people. If you aspire to be a leader or to become somebody’s husband or wife, or to see your children grow up and become good, godly adults, the most important thing to do is walk with God yourself.

The second most important thing to do is to learn to look beneath appearances for genuine evidence of a growing walk with God in the other person. We can’t see the heart like God does, but we can ask him to lead us and to show us the truth about others. If our desire is to please God, we can trust that he will lead us just as he lead in David’s life.

Judges 11:12-40, Jeremiah 24

Today’s readings are Judges 11:12-40 and Jeremiah 24.

This devotional is about Judges 11:12-40.

Jephthah was born of a sinful union and was horribly mistreated by his half brothers as we read yesterday. Despite this difficult beginning, he had leadership qualities (11:3) so he was ready when his people needed help.

He also knew his Bible (vv. 12-28) and, when the time came, God used him powerfully to deliver Gilead from the Ammonites. Although he had pure motives to honor God for the victory, the vow he made was stupid (vv. 30-31). His reaction (vv. 34-35) shows how little thought he put into the vow he had made and how there was no malice whatsoever in his heart when he made the vow.

I heard a pastor say once that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter and offer her as a burnt offering; instead, he just sent her off to the tabernacle to serve the priests like Hannah would later do with her son Samuel. I wish that were true, but the evidence to the contrary in the passage is too strong. In verse 31b he said, “I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” and verse 39b says, “…he did to her as he had vowed” so there is every reason to believe that she died as a human sacrifice and no reason to believe that she lived as a religious servant.

So what do we do with this awful text?

First, we should understand that the whole book of Judges was given to show us what a moral and spiritual mess Israel was. Even the good guys in Judges do foolish, even ungodly things.

More importantly, we should understand that Jephthah’s vow was outside of the moral will of God. Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-12 clearly prohibit human sacrifice and those passages tell us that Israel would kill the people of these Canaanite nations in war because of this very kind of sinful thing. Promising God that you will do something and then doing it when it is a sin does not bring glory to God in any way.

So what should Jephthah have done? He should have asked the priests to inquire of the Lord for him (see Ex 28:30, Deut 33:8, 1 Sam 14:41, Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65)*, then done whatever he was told. I am certain the Lord would have commanded him to redeem his daughter in some way rather than put her to death.

We can learn two lessons from this gruesome story.

First, being zealous for God’s glory does not automatically protect you from doing foolish, even sinful things. Sometimes Christians make excuses for themselves or others because someone “has a good heart.” They may have a good heart but that doesn’t mean they always make good decisions. Wisdom is just as important as personal godliness; in fact, it IS an important aspect of godliness.

Second, when you put yourself in a moral quandary–intentional or not–you need to seek godly counsel for help. So many problems could have been prevented, solved, or at least had the damage contained if God’s people reached out to godly leaders for help sooner and more often. Consult your elders when you’re in over your head. God gave elders to the church to shepherd his people out of difficult situations. Use us.


*For more on how the Urim & Thummim were used to help discern God’s will, see this article: https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function ]

Joshua 7, Jeremiah 1

Read Joshua 7 and Jeremiah 1.

This devotional is about Joshua 7.

It really didn’t take very long, did it, before Israel’s great victory over Jericho gave way to a crushing defeat in Ai (vv. 2-5). God’s people lost all the confidence they had gained in Jericho (v. 5c) and Joshua questioned God’s wisdom (vv. 6-9). But the real culprit was Achan’s sin (v. 1). Once God revealed the true issue (vv. 10-11), he also affirmed that there would be no further conquest until the sin issue was removed (v. 12).

God could have revealed Achan’s name and made it easy for Joshua and the Israelites; instead, the Lord systematically led Joshua through the people, “tribe by tribe, clan by clan, family by family” (v. 14). My belief is that Achan could have come forward at any point and ended the interrogation, but he intended to keep his sin secret and hope that he would not be revealed. That’s often our tendency, too, isn’t it? Keep quiet and hope for the best.

My assumption, too, is that if Achan had confessed, there would have been mercy for his family and maybe for him. I base this assumption on Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If only we would listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the voice of our guilty conscience and come forward when we sin instead of trying to get away with it. Not only would we receive God’s offer of mercy, we could, perhaps, spare others the misery of our sin. One thing’s for sure: if we would voluntarily confess our sin instead of waiting until we were caught, it would be a lot easier to forsake the sin before it became a habit.

Unfortunately, Achan tried to cover his sin but God was not deceived. But notice that, when he was identified, Joshua said to him, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me” (v. 19). We hide our sins for various reasons: we fear the consequences of confession and/or we love the pleasure of our sin so much that we keep it a secret so that we can return to it. What may not factor into our thinking, however, is the glory of God. Is God glorified when we sin in private, keep it hidden, and pretend to be the good people of God on the outside? Of course not. But that’s not our instinct; our instinct is to believe that the outward appearance of godliness is better for God and for us than it is to admit our failings and fall upon the mercy and grace of God. Even when caught, however, the best way for Achan to glorify God was not to lie and continue to try to cover his sin; instead, the best thing to do was to own up to his disobedience, which he did in verses 20-12.

I wonder what would have happened in Achan’s life if he had come forward sooner—either when his conscience convicted him or when Joshua began working his way through the people. What about in our lives? Is there a sin that you’re hiding? Have you ever considered that God’s blessing might be withheld from your family or from our church or from something else because of the disobedience that you are trying to cover? Has it ever occurred to you that, having sinned, the best way to glorify God now is to come forward voluntarily to the appropriate person—the government, your spouse, your elders—make a full confession and ask God to glorify himself either in mercy or in punishment? If the Lord is convicting you of something right now, take the opportunity you have today to give glory to God. Confess your sin and fall on the mercy of God.

Joshua 1, Isaiah 61

Today, read Joshua 1 and Isaiah 61.

This devotional is about Joshua 1.

Joshua’s mission was not easy, but it was easy to understand: Take the Land! “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (v. 1-3).

To accomplish this mission, he did not need a stack of thick procedural manuals or a complicated plan. All he had to do was believe God and start attacking.

Yet, despite the simplicity of his mission, God commanded him to be a godly man as well as a faithful military leader. Verse 7 says, “…Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left.” To be faithful to God’s commands and obedient to God’s word, Joshua needed to be in word daily. Verse 8, therefore, says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua’s success as Israel’s leader was dependent on him becoming a faithful and obedient student of God’s word. As he learned and lived God’s word, God promised to make him successful.

The success God promised if Joshua was faithful was not a magic spell that reading the Word gave him. Instead, it was the fulfillment of the promises God had made in his word. Those promises for Joshua and for all of Israel were the blessings that would result from loving the Lord God. It was the cultivation of godliness, then, that Joshua needed foremost. He was a busy man leading all of Israel into warfare but he was never to be too busy to read God’s word and grow in his faith.

I know that you are busy raising a family, building a career or a business, learning a new skill or obtaining a degree. But do you make time each day to cultivate your walk with God? “Success” and “blessing” are different for us than they were for Joshua but God still promises blessing for learning and obeying his Word. James 1:25 says, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Whatever else you’ve got going on in your life, make time to walk with God. Read his word daily, pray as Jesus taught us to pray, worship weekly with us on Sunday and fellowship around the Word with your small group, too. These are the ways in which God administers his grace to us for our growth in Him. We must be obedient to what we learn, of course, but learning it is what leads to obedience. As Joshua 1:8 said, “…meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”

Don’t let a busy life be an excuse not to walk with God.