2 Kings 24, Joel 3

Read 2 Kings 24 and Joel 3.

This devotional is about Joel 3.

“How can a good God allow so much evil and injustice in the world?” This is one common question that opponents to our faith ask.

A big part of the answer is described here in Joel 3. Put simply, “God doesn’t. He does not allow any evil or injustice in the world” in the absolute sense. Instead, those who do any kind of evil or injustice at all are storing up judgment (Rom 2:5) for themselves. God is long-suffering and patient, so his wrath has not yet been turned on this world.

But it will be. Joel 3 describes one day in which God’s wrath will fall. Verse 2 says this to all the nations that abused Israel: “I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel….”

After this trial that God promised in verse 2, how many will find themselves guilty and receive God’s punishment as a result? Verse 14 says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” The Valley of Decision is not where people decide for or against God. It is the place where God dishes out what HE has decided; namely, the sentence of judgment he handed down to the guilty when he put them on trial in verse 2.

This passage specifically was a warning for the nations that oppressed Israel. But, plenty of other passages in scripture show us that God will judge every sin and every sinner. The only escape will be God himself. Yes, the one who is angry, vengeful, and judging to those who oppose him will lay down his arms of war and open his arms of love. He will protect his people from the wrath poured out on the wicked. Verse 16d-e says, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” By grace, God has grafted many Gentiles into the category called “his people.” By that same grace he not only rescues us from the coming wrath (1 These 1:10) but he pours out his love and provision on us instead (vv. 17-20 here in Joel 3).

All of the blessings of protection from God’s wrath and provision and prosperity for eternity comes to us through Christ. He bore God’s wrath for us so that, by grace, we could escape these terrible Day of the Lord events. Passages like this one remind us of what Christ has accomplished for us; they also remind us that God has given us the responsibility to spread this message of grace to the world until he comes.

Who could you reach out to with the grace of the good news this week?

2 Kings 20, Hosea 13

Read 2 Kings 20 and Hosea 13.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 20.

The most outstanding quality Hezekiah had was his ability to pray. In verses 1-11 of this chapter, Hezekiah contracted some kind of deathly illness (v. 1) which involved a boil on his skin (v. 7). Isaiah came along and told him to meet with his estate attorney immediately because he was going to die and not recover (v. 1).

Unlike all the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah actually believed the word of the Lord’s prophet. He did not order Isaiah to be imprisoned like Jeremiah was or killed like Jezebel tried to do to Elijah. Instead, he accepted that Isaiah’s words were God’s word.

Next, he didn’t argue with God or try to say that God’s will was unjust. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23a). Hezekiah was a sinner, therefore he was going to die someday, somehow. The lengths of our lives differ, but we all are destined to die by some method at some time. This was Hezekiah’s time and the illness was the way. Hezekiah accepted that fact to be true.

But he didn’t believe that it had to be true. Instead, he believed in the power of God. His first instinct, then, was to turn to God in prayer. HIs prayer is simple–“Remember, Lord” (v. 3). He did not claim perfection or any right to healing but Hezekiah did remind the Lord that he had lived a faithful, devoted life. He also reminded God that, as Judah’s leader, he did “what is good in your eyes” (v. 3). So personally and “professionally” Hezekiah could say that he had done the will of God.

And that’s it. That’s all he told God in his prayer. He did not directly ask for God’s healing; instead, he said, “remember me” and how I have lived my life and led your people.

God knew what Hezekiah wanted and how sincerely, based on his tears, he wanted it. So God both healed him (v. 7), promised him both another fifteen years of life (v. 6a) and deliverance from Assyria, the nation that had swallowed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God also performed a miracle, the first daylight saving time fallback (vv. 10-11) to confirm Isaiah’s word.

All of this was accomplished because Hezekiah prayed.

There is no guarantee that God will answer your prayers or mine in this way. Honestly, there was no guarantee that he would answer Hezekiah this way. Hezekiah was the recipient of God’s goodness and love, not a shrewd negotiator with the Almighty.

So there are no guarantees. But. What might be different in your life if you prayed like Hezekiah prayed in this passage?

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22, which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years, but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about, but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive, but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Joshua 11, Jeremiah 5

Read Joshua 11 and Jeremiah 5.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 5:24: “They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’”

When God opened Noah’s ark, he made a covenant with humanity called the “Noahic Covenant.” The sign of that covenant was the rainbow and the content of the covenant was the promise never to destroy the earth again with a flood. Part of that promise, though, was that there would be a predictability to the world: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen 8:22).

God has been faithful to this promise and here in Jeremiah 5:24 he raised it as evidence against the unbelief of his people. Instead of realizing that this was an expression of God’s love, people take it for granted. Other passages of scripture (Ps 19:1, Rom 1:20, Acts 14:17) tell us that this operation of nature is a powerful witness to God’s existence, power, goodness, and love. Yet humanity–whether Jewish or Gentile–is so hardhearted that people deny God’s existence or his knowability. If you’ve ever wondered why people who have never heard of Jesus are condemned, this is a big reason why. The first reason, of course is sin; we all sin and sin demands eternal death. But part of the wickedness of sin is that people see God’s goodness and love each day, depend on it for survival and existence, but don’t cry out for God to save us or reveal himself to us.

In the next verse, Jeremiah 5:25, God said he has taken these things away from his people because of their sins. Although God’s creation witnesses to all humanity about him, only those who know him will worship him for his creation. It is a beautiful summer day as I write this; maybe it will be when you read it. Take time to thank God for his love and faithfulness to all humanity. Then ask God to help us as a church family reach others with the gospel they need to worship the Creator God for who he really is.

Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116

Today’s readings are Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116.

This devotional is about Psalm 116.

The unknown author of this song proclaimed his love for the Lord (v. 1a), then detailed why he loved the Lord. His reasons for loving the Lord were personal; God saved him from death (v. 3a, 8a). But, although his reasons for loving the Lord were personal, they were not detached from God’s revelation. In verse 5, the Psalmist tied the answer to prayer he received–his salvation from death–to what he had been taught about God from his word. Verse 5’s statement, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” is a paraphrase of God’s revelation of himself in Exodus 34:6: ““The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness….” The songwriter, then, learned from experience what he had been taught in principle. He realized that God’s answer to prayer in his life was one of many examples throughout human history of God being who he is and doing what he does.

What was God’s purpose in saving this man from death? Verse 9 says, “that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” In other words, God’s purpose was to show the power of God in his changed life. From the time that God saved him from death until his actual death (v. 15), the Psalmist believed that he should “walk before the Lord” — a phrase that describes living an obedient life to God.

But this “walking before the Lord” was not payback for his salvation. In other words, the Psalmist did not see living a godly life as something he must do to earn the favor God had shown him. We know that because he asked the question in verse 12, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer was worship; verse 13 describes him offering a drink offering of thanksgiving to God: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (see also verse 17).

So “walking before the Lord” was not an attempt to deserve his salvation. It was a description of how God’s salvation had changed him. His wording in verse 9 makes this clear: “that I MAY walk….” This describes God’s power in his life; it restates what he had said in the phrase just before in verse 8, “For you Lord have delivered… my feet from stumbling.” God not only saved him from death; because he trusted the Lord, God also changed him within, giving him the desire and the power to walk with God and live for God.

God may not have saved you or me from physical death in some near death situation, but in Christ he has saved us from the wages of sin which is death. That is, he’s saved us from an eternity accursed and apart from him. And, just as God has done throughout human history, when we look to God by faith for salvation, he both delivers us from death and empowers us to live! This is something to thank God for (v. 17). If you’re like me, you may not thank God for your salvation very often, but we should. Without God’s gracious and compassionate nature demonstrated for us in Christ, we would be estranged from God daily “stumbling” (v. 8). In Christ, however, we have received the benefit of God’s salvation–both the deliverance from death and the capacity to live for our Lord.

Leviticus 20, Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 106

Today’s readings are Leviticus 20, Ecclesiastes 3, and Psalm 106.

This devotional is about Psalm 106.

This song asks for God’s help (vv. 4-5) and his re-gathering of the people of Israel from other nations (v. 47) in the context of praising God for his work by reviewing all he had done for Israel. As he recounted how God worked for his people, he noted that the ancient Israelites (v. 7) and his own contemporary Israelites (v. 6) were guilty of forgetting God’s works. Verse 7 put it this way, “they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.” Later in verse 13 we read, “But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.” Also, verse 21 says, “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt….”

When we forget what God has done for us, we stop trusting him to do anything for us and rebel against his word. Could this be going on in your life? Are you entertaining faithless thoughts about the Lord or even acting outside of his will because you’ve forgotten about all that he has done for you?

Despite our failures to remember God and his works, God is merciful to us. Right after verse 7 said “they did not remember your many kindnesses….” verse 8 followed with, “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.” We often faithless, but God is faithful. He desire to work in your life so that you will glorify him and others will see how glorious he is.

So, if you have forgotten God’s work in your life, here’s an opportunity to change your mind (aka, “repent”). Think back over your life of instances where God showed his goodness to you even when you didn’t deserve it. Write it down, even. Then praise the Lord for his faithfulness as the Psalmist did in verses 1 and 48 and ask him to help you wherever you need it (vv. 4-5, 47).

Leviticus 14, Proverbs 28, Psalm 100

Today we’re reading Leviticus 14, Proverbs 28, Psalm 100.

This devotional is about Psalm 100.

This simple song oozes with joy. Verse 1 calls all the earth to “shout for joy.” Verse 2 commands us to worship him “with gladness” and come before him (in worship) “with joyful songs.”

Joy is an attractive emotion. But why should we do all this shouting and singing and worshipping with joy? The answer is in verse 3. That verse is the hinge on which this Psalm turns. We should worship joyfully because we belong to God:

  • He is God (v. 3a) and he made us (v. 3b) therefore we are his (v. 3c). What you make, you own. What you own, you control. We belong to God because he’s God and we’re his creation. But, the verse goes on and says:
  • We are his people (v. 3d). This refers to God’s covenant with Israel. His promises to Abraham and his descendants formed a unique relationship which made all Israelites “his people” in a more significant sense than “his by creation.” This promise to Israel still stands but we Gentiles have been grafted into it by God’s grace (see Romans 11:13-17).

But then, after describing how we belong to God by creation and by grace, the Psalmwriter says this, “we are… the sheep of his pasture.” This image suggests God’s care for us. He provides for us “his pasture” which we need in order to be nourished and healthy. He protects us from predators and cares about our spiritual well-being. We’re in good hands because they are his hands, the hands of the perfect shepherd.

Because we belong to God, he watches over and cares for us. What more reason, then, does a person need to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (v. 4)? Verse 5 affirms that God is good, he is loyally-loving, and he is faithful. Why? Because we belong to him.

This is directly opposite to how we think. We think (in our sinful thought patterns, that is) that to belong to God means to be controlled, manipulated, subjected, harassed by rules and punished severely. This Psalm argues the opposite. Because we belong to God he will take care of us. Most dog owners will feed and water and care for their dog because it belongs to them. Most of the same people won’t do anything for the stray dog that goes wandering through their backyards. The stray dog may be “free” to what he wants, but he becomes dirty and starved in the process. The dog that is truly free is the one that is loved and cared for.

This is why we rejoice. We belong to God but he loves us and will provide everything that is good for us like a great shepherd provides for his sheep. This is something to be joyful and bring glad praise for today.

Have you approached him “with thanksgiving” (v. 4) yet? If not, do that next.

Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95

Today’s readings are Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95.

This devotional is about Psalm 95.

God’s commands only seem burdensome to us because we want to make our own rules and live by our own desires. If humanity understood how much God loves us, we would all view God’s commands as loving and gracious because obedience to them will protect us from the damage and pain that sin causes us and others around us.

Here in Psalm 95, the songwriter encouraged God’s people to come together to sing and shout the Lord’s praises (vv. 1-2, 6) because of his greatness (vv. 3-5) and his care for his people (v. 7). In the last four verses, the song turned from encouraging God’s people to praise him to urging God’s people not to harden their hearts toward him as they had in the past (vv. 8-11).

When the song writer referenced Meribah and Massah in verse 8, he was calling our attention to the events of Exodus 17. That’s where the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and God due to the lack of drinking water, so God commanded Moses to strike a rock with his rod and water poured forth. The point of this section is to remind us that God wants good things for us and will provide for us but we must trust him and not complain to him. When we sit in judgment on God or his word instead of praising and thanking him, we are hardening our hearts to his grace (v. 7b) and cutting ourselves off from the good things he wants to do for us.

Do you find it hard to praise God? Does your mind go blank when the topic of giving thanks to God comes up? Could that be happening because you’ve hardened your heart against God, complaining that he hasn’t given you something instead of worshipping him for who he is and all that he has done for us?

God has been good to us. He has been merciful to us when we’ve rejected him and his word by saving us. Let’s praise and thank him, then, instead of hardening our hearts toward him.

Genesis 50, Job 16-17, Psalm 48

Today’s readings are Genesis 50, Job 16-17, and Psalm 48.

This devotional is about Genesis 50.

Nothing ever prevented Joseph from exacting revenge on his brothers. From the time they first appeared in his presence to the day Jacob died, Joseph could have enslaved them or killed them if he had wanted to do that. Joseph was accountable to only one man, Pharaoh, and he was unlikely to care what Joseph did to a group of non-Egyptians.

According to verse 15, however, Joseph’s brothers had a hard time accepting Joseph’s forgiveness as genuine. They feared that Joseph was not merciful but merely long-suffering; that is, Joseph respected his father Jacob so much that he was willing to wait for Jacob’s death to pay back justice to his brothers. So they added a little something to Jacob’s last will and testament (vv. 16-17) as if Jacob himself had requested full and final forgiveness from Joseph for his other sons. They also volunteered to be Joseph’s slaves (v. 18) in hopes of staying alive.

Other than the grace of God in Joseph’s life, developing godly character in him, what led Joseph to be able to completely forgive his brothers with no hard feelings whatsoever, much less a desire for revenge? The answers are in verses 19-10 and there are two of them.

First, Joseph had a genuine sense of his accountability to God. “Am I in the place of God?” he asked rhetorically in verse 19. Humanly speaking, almost anyone could answer yes. Joseph had nearly absolute power so he was unlikely to be questioned, second-guessed, or condemned in this life no matter what he did to his brothers. Yet Joseph himself knew that God would judge him if he saw his brothers’s repentance and refused to forgive. Joseph knew that the power he had was delegated to him by God; therefore, he understood that he would be held accountable by God for how he treated his brothers.

Second, Joseph could see how the sins of his brothers and all the other painful experiences of his life had led him to this point. In verse 20 he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” What happened to Joseph happened by God’s sovereign will. Although it was painful and stressful for years of his life, it was ultimately for Joseph’s good and for the good of his family, God’s covenant people. Since it was God’s will for Joseph to suffer first and then be exalted, how could he remain bitter? The outcome was good and the course he took to that outcome was ordained by God.

May this give you hope in the hard struggles of your life. God is sovereign over all things, so whatever happened in your life was allowed by him. Ultimately, he will work it out for your good, which may mean simply helping you learn to trust him in all circumstances, but may mean much more than that. Believing that God is sovereign will help you accept the things that have happened to you and give you grace to forgive anyone who sinned against you but is repentant.