2 Chronicles 34, Malachi 2

Read 2 Chronicles 34 and Malachi 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 34.

According to verse 1, Josiah was eight years old when he became king, When he was sixteen years old (v. 3: “In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young”), he turned his heart to loving, learning about, and living for God. Those three “Ls”–loving, learning about, and living for God–are my summary of the phrase “he began to seek the God of his father David.”

When Josiah was twenty years old (v. 3: “in the twelfth year of his reign”) he began removing the known places of idolatry from Jerusalem and all of Judah (vv. 3b-7).

Then, when he was twenty-six years old (v. 8: “in the eighteenth year”), he began the renovation of Solomon’s temple (vv. 8-15). During that renovation, the “Book of the Law” (v. 14) was discovered. That refers, of course, Moses’ law; whether it meant all five books of Moses or just one book (such as Exodus or Deuteronomy) is unclear. What is clear is that God’s law had been neglected. Whatever Josiah and any other observant person in Judah knew about God was known by oral tradition, not by direct instruction, although perhaps they had some of the historical books (Joshua-2 Samuel) and the wisdom books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

Having re-discovered God’s Law, however, the secretary and the king (v. 18) read it. The king immediately accepted the words he heard as God’s word and realized that God had promised judgment for disobedience to this covenant—disobedience that was common throughout his kingdom. His response to the message was, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me…” (v. 21). The goal of this inquiry was to find out what the Lord’s will was for the king and his people. Had the Lord already determined to bring judgment to them or would he accept the king’s repentance?

They consulted the prophet Huldah (v. 22) and learned from her that God had indeed willed judgment for Judah (vv. 24-25). However, verses 26-28 tell us that Josiah’s responsiveness to God’s word would mean mercy for him and the people during his life. Verse 27 put it this way, “Because your heart was responsive…” That phrase summarized Josiah’s response to God’s word. He (1) accepted it as God’s word, (2) believed that God meant what he said in his word and (3) sought to bring his life and his kingdom into obedience with what he learned in God’s word.

Josiah, therefore, modeled for Judah and for anyone who follows God what walking with God looks like–including you and me. We must read God’s word—not someone else’s description of God’s word or summary of God’s word —but the word itself. We must believe that it is true and applies to us and we must turn to God in repentance when we are convicted of disobedience to it. This is an ongoing thing, the everyday, day after day, reaction and response that should characterize our lives as people who, like Josiah, seek God (v. 3).

As we come to the end of this year, my hope is that reading these devotionals have helped establish a new pattern in your life. Keep that going in the next year! Keep seeking the Lord and responding to his word in faith and obedience. These are the results of genuine faith in God.

2 Chronicles 24, Zechariah 7

Read 2 Chronicles 24 and Zechariah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’’

Karma is a Hindu and Buddhist concept that, at least here in the West, is interpreted to say that evil things you do will bring evil to you and good things you do will bring good to you.

There are certain precepts of scripture that are similar:

  • The law of the harvest: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7)
  • “He who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest–Zechariah’s father–was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death.

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order.

As for king Joash, who unjustly killed Zechariah, he did die prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this story when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions, as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19).

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

2 Chronicles 10, Zephaniah 2

Read 2 Chronicles 10 and Zephaniah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 10.

We’ve read before about the foolish decision of Rehoboam to treat God’s people harshly rather than lighten the burden that Solomon put on them. What is interesting in this passage is the statement, “this turn of events was from God” (v. 15b). That phrase indicates that God willed that Rehoboam would “not listen to the people” (v. 15a). In other words, although Rehoboam made the choice, using his “free” will to make a foolish decision, his foolish decision was part of God’s foreordained will.

The reason God willed this was described in the next phrase of verse 15, “…to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” That phrase reminds us that, while Solomon was still alive, God handed down judgment on him because of his idolatry. The judgment God handed down on him was a divided kingdom which was prophesied to Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s officials. You can read about all of this in 1 Kings 11-12.

So God ordained Rehoboam’s response in order to make his prophecy to Jeroboam come true. But how is that foreordination consistent with the idea of Rehoboam’s free will? Did Rehoboam really have a choice? If not, how could he be held accountable for the choice God made for him?

The answer to that question is that Rehoboam did have a choice and he made a choice to follow his sinful nature. The advice of his friends to be a difficult dictator (vv. 8-11) appealed to his pride and greed. He chose the decision he made because he was a sinner. His choice was consistent with his sinful nature.

God’s role in this was simply to allow him to do what he wanted to do. God could have been gracious to Rehoboam. He could have softened the king’s heart to listen to the wisdom of Solomon’s advisors (vv. 6-7) but, as the Sovereign Lord “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11), God let Rehoboam decide and act according to his sin nature. That decision accomplished the plan of God to divide the nation. It meant that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled by the free choice of King Rehoboam.

Free will does not mean “free” in the absolute sense. I am free to try to flap my arms and fly like a bird, but my choice to try that will not change my nature. By nature, I don’t have the capacity to carry out my choice to fly like a bird. Free will, then, means that I am free to choose according to my nature. As sinners, we choose what is selfish and wrong and destructive because of our sin nature. The choice was ours, it was freely made, so we are accountable for it.

When we make good choices, it is because God has been gracious to us. He brings wisdom or circumstances that change our thinking and he softens our hearts to receive that wisdom. The choice is still freely made but it is because of God’s grace.

So God’s sovereignty does not violate free will. Instead, God–according to his plan and purpose–either lets us choose according to our nature or he enlightens us by grace so that we make a better choice. This is how God accomplishes his will while still letting us exercise our wills. It is also why we are held accountable for the choices we make even though they were foreordained by God. Rehoboam did what he wanted; God just stood back and let him do it so that his sovereign plan would be accomplished.

The point for us is to ask for God’s grace to make good, wise, godly choices in life. Don’t let me do what I want to do, Lord! Instead, give me the grace to do what is right in your sight. This is the prayer of a godly person who wants to use God’s gift of free will in a godly way.

2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3

Read 2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3.

This devotional is about Nahum 3.

As we’ve read already in Nahum 1-2, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. Remember that God’s law–imprinted in our consciences and written in his word–is the standard by which we are judged. It is impossible to keep the law of God because of our sin natures but that does not exempt us from accountability to the Lord and judgment by the Lord for breaking his laws. What our inability to keep his laws requires is his grace. Christ secured that grace by taking our penalty on the cross and he forgives us by grace when we trust in Christ’s cross-work for us.

So the kings and people of Nineveh were responsible before God and guilty before him for all the nations they attacked without cause and the soldiers and civilians who were killed by their military aggression. Verse 1 here in Nahum 3 describes this city as “the city of blood.” Verses 2-3a vividly depict their powerful armies and verse 3b detailed the results of their attacks: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses…” Verses 5-19 warn this wicked city and her king (v. 18) of God’s impending humiliation (vv. 4-7) and defeat of Nineveh. The prosperity that the Assyrians enjoyed at that moment would be stripped from them like locusts decimating a farm (vv. 16-17).

Warfare and tyranny run through the history of humanity. As “civilization” has advanced, technology has improved our lives and, simultaneously, made the killing and destruction of war more efficient and massive.

We should consider how our country wages war. Although we do not take over countries and enslave them the way that the Assyrians did, it is my opinion that the American presidents are far too quick to drop bombs on and send troops into other nations. Our leaders use military might to advance their political agendas. In the process, they have sacrificed too many American soldiers, too many soldiers from foreign lands who were forced into service by their government or merely wanted to defend their land against our invading armies, and too many civilians.

Passages like this one in Nahum call world leaders to be careful about waging war and to repent for wars that were and are unjust. As American citizens, we should do what we can to hold our leaders accountable for how recklessly and needlessly they wage war and provide weapons to foreign governments. God is watching; if he held Nineveh accountable for her unjust wars, what will he do to us?

1 Chronicles 24-25, Micah 3

Read 1 Chronicles 24-25 and Micah 3.

This devotional is about Micah 3.

How do those who set dates for Christ’s return keep going in ministry after they are proved wrong? How do the prosperity preachers respond when someone says, “I sent you every dollar I had in my bank account but I never got the financial miracle you promised me!”

I don’t know how anyone who delivers a false message remains in ministry after the message proves to be false. Some of them are able to withstand being discredited and continue in their “ministries.” They shift the blame to others saying, “You didn’t have enough faith” or, in the case of false rapture predictions, “I made a mistake in my calculations.” Although they may continue in ministry for a season or longer, their audiences dissipate and their influence dwindles. This is as it should be, of course.

In this chapter Micah continued speaking on the same themes as in chapter 2. He confronted the oppression of the elites (vv. 1-4, 9-12) and the false prophets who tried to neutralize his message (vv. 5-8). His message to the false prophets was that they would run out of material: “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.”

This prediction wasn’t so much that they would lack things to say; rather, it was that reality would make it impossible for them to keep up the false hype. Verse 7 says, “The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” The context for this is the coming judgment of God (v. 12). When you’ve been prophesying peace and prosperity, what are you going to say when Nebuchadnezzar sieges your city and people are starving? When you cry out to God to deliver his people from the Babylonians, but the Babylonians invade your city, kill a multitude of men, then ship the rest off to Babylon, what is your answer going to be?

Micah was confident in the Lord that God would continue to empower his message (v. 8) and that he would be vindicated when his predictions came true. Likewise, he knew that God would not allow false teachers to get away with preaching their prosperity gospel. It was only a matter of time before truth was established as fact and lies were debunked by reality.

The Bible always tells us that false prophets will be discredited by their results. Their predictions will not come true and/or their lives and the lives of their disciples will disintegrate into moral disaster. Keep your eyes, then, on the results of a religious teacher’s message; don’t be fooled by how positive and encouraging it is.

Are you looking for truth from someone who has already been discredited? If so, then these words to heart. It is safe–and right–to ignore what someone says if the results they predict don’t materialize.

1 Chronicles 16, Obadiah

Read 1 Chronicles 16 and Obadiah.

This devotional is about the book of Obadiah.

Obadiah wrote this prophecy against Edom (v. 1), a nation that bordered Judah to the south. This nation traced its ancestry to Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel. The Edomites are condemned here for two sins:

  1. Pride: Verses 3-4 describes a smug feeling of invincibility that the Edomites possessed. Then, verses 5-9 prophesied an easy defeat for the nation. Later in verses 18-20 Obadiah prophesied that no one would survive from the family of the Edomites after God’s judgment fell on them.
  2. Victimizing Judah: Verses 10-14 describe how the Edomites responded to the invasion of Jerusalem. 

Let’s focus this devotional on sin #2 described above.

Verse 11 says, “you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth” which tells us that the first response of the Edomites was no response at all. They did nothing while Jerusalem was being attacked.

Refusing to try to help God’s people was, according to Obadiah, tacit approval of the invasion. We see that in verse 11 where Obadiah said, “while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” That last phrase, “you were like one of them” equates Edom with Jerusalem’s attackers even though they “stood aloof” (v. 11a) while it was happening.

Was Edom obliged to come to Jerusalem’s defense? They shared a border with Judah and hundreds of years before their patriarch Esau was brothers with Israel (v. 10a). Normally, I wouldn’t think that those two facts mean much in a context like this. They were now separate nations and their “brotherhood” was ancient history (literally). So were they really obligated to help?

Apparently, yes, they were. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians as an act of punishment for their sins and idolatry. That’s the spiritual/theological reason for their demise. But on a human level, Nebuchadnezzar had no moral right to invade Israel. They were, politically and militarily speaking, victims of Babylonian aggression. Their common ancestry, though ancient, should have caused them to have some affinity for God’s people. Their common border should have caused them to want to help their neighbors to the north.

The argumentation in this passage reminds me of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told that story to teach us that “loving your neighbor” means helping anyone who needs help who is within your reach. The Samaritan was a step-brother (in a sense) of the Jewish man who was victimized by robbers. The victim’s countrymen, his brothers, who passed by without helping him were “standing aloof” to borrow the image of verse 11a. But Jesus praised the Samaritan for giving assistance when he saw the plight of the Israelite.

The application, then, for us is to understand that God expects us to help when we see someone being victimized. We shouldn’t stand by and do nothing and we certainly shouldn’t join in the victimization as Edom did in verses 13-14. We should help the oppressed fend off the oppressor.

Now, in our globally-connected world, we know about world problems and injustices that people in other eras of time would never have known about. I don’t think God requires us to find every problem in the world and get involved in it. The Good Samaritan, after all, was walking by; he wasn’t like an ancient Batman looking for crime to fight. So the Bible isn’t teaching that we have an unlimited responsibility for everyone else’s problems. Instead, we should understand that it is not acceptable in the Lord’s sight to be a bystander when we see injustice or violence or exploitation.

So, if you saw someone abusing a child or a woman, would you do anything about it? If you saw two men punching each other–or two men punching and kicking a third man–would you call for help? Would you try to stop them? If your neighbor’s land was being polluted by a corporation or seized by the county unjustly, would you try to help?

God commands us to help when we can, where we can. When we refuse to help, we are sinning. Keep that in mind the next time you see someone who needs help.

1 Chronicles 3-4, Amos 3

Read 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Amos 3.

This devotional is about Amos 3.

Judgment was coming to Israel, but, in this chapter, God tells his people that they shouldn’t be surprised when it arrives. The chapter begins by reminding Israel that God chose them to be blessed and rescued them from Egypt (vv. 1-2a). Then in verses 3-6, God’s prophet reminds the people that things happen for a reason. Specifically:

  • People don’t randomly walk side-by-side; the reason they walk side-by-side is that they have agreed to take a walk together (v. 3).
  • Lions don’t roar when they are hunting; that would scare off their prey. The reason they roar is that they have caught something and want to keep others from trying to take it (v. 4).
  • Birds don’t fly into traps; they get caught in traps because they are drawn there by bait (v. 5a-b).
  • The trap doesn’t close on its own; rather, the reason it closes is that something has taken the bait (v. 5c-d).
  • When people hear an alarm (blown by a live person through a trumpet), they get scared (v. 6a). The sound of the trumpet isn’t scary; rather, it scared people because it meant there was an incoming army. When you have a live person blowing the trumpet’s alarm, you don’t get alarm malfunctions or need drills like we have. So people had a reason to be scared when they heard the sound of a trumpet.

So, things normally happen for a reason. The reason that Samaria would fall, and Jerusalem later would, too, is that “the Lord caused it” (v. 6d).

The good news, though, is that God warns his people before he sends judgment on them. That’s the message of verse 7, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” The rest of the chapter goes on to tell the people, again, that God has warned them through his prophets. The implication, then, is that they should repent.

People don’t like messages of judgment. Who would? No fortune cookie will tell you that within a year you’ll be dead of cancer. Who would want to read that? Some people would complain to restaurant’s management if they got a fortune like that. But if you were dying from cancer and didn’t know it, that’s exactly the message you’d need to hear, like it or not. An accurate diagnosis gives one a chance to avoid the inevitable disaster.

God has left us in this world to make disciples but also to warn the world of God’s coming judgment. People complain and call us unloving when we talk about sin, judgment, and hell; they should understand that the message of warning is a gracious act of God. On the day of judgment no one will escape by saying, “I didn’t know I was guilty before God.” On the contrary; many will have as part of their condemnation the fact that they heard the warning of God’s word and ignored it.

If you are reading this and have not come to faith in Jesus, please listen to the warnings of God’s word and turn to him in faith and repentance now. If you’ve already become a Christian, please don’t avoid talking about God’s justice and the need that everyone has for forgiveness.

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 1, Daniel 5

Read 2 Kings 1 and Daniel 5.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 1.

Sometimes greatness is recognized in people while they are alive. At other times, however, great people are not recognized until much later. Elijah is one of the great men of God in the entire Bible. He spoke God’s word with great authority and he called on God’s power to authenticate his message (such as here in 2 Kings 1:9-15). Elijah did not write any scripture, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, yet his ministry as a prophet of God was the pattern that John the Baptist followed (Malachi 4:5, Luke 1:17). Also, his prayer life is a model for us to follow according to James 5:17. So Elijah was a great man, a powerful servant of the Lord.

Yet Elijah was unappreciated in times. His odd appearance (v. 8) might have had something to do with it, but it was really more a matter of the deep unbelief among the people he served. He was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel (v. 2: “Samaria”) which had not one godly king among the twenty it had in its history.

In this chapter one of Israel’s forgettable kings Ahaziah had an accident and wanted to know if he would recover. So, he sought an answer not from Elijah or Elijah’s God YHWH, the God of Israel; instead, he sent a messenger to ask “Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron” (v. 2).

Although he did not consult YHWH, he got an answer from YHWH. God messaged Elijah (v. 3) and dispatched him to confront the unbelief of Ahaziah (v. 3). Elijah found the messengers that Ahaziah had sent and knew what information they were seeking from Baal-Zebub. Those two facts should have offered strong proof that Elijah spoke for God and that God had the power and answers that Ahaziah sought. But, perhaps because the answer was a negative answer of judgment (v. 4), Ahaziah did not respond in faith toward God and appreciation for God’s messenger. Instead, he sought to do harm to Elijah (vv. 7-15).

You can tell a lot about someone’s beliefs by looking at (1) where they turn for answers and (2) how they respond when they get an answer from God’s word, especially if that answer was negative and unsolicited. We have access to God’s word and many capable–even excellent–teachers of it unlike most people in history have had. Sure, none of us is Elijah, but we have a much greater amount of God’s revelation than Elijah had because we have Christ revealed and the scriptures completed.

Yet how often do we turn to secular sources–books, radio shows, podcasts, Oprah, whatever–for answers instead of to God’s word and his servants?

Are you looking outside God’s word for answers to your problems?

1 Kings 12, Ezekiel 41

Read 1 Kings 12 and Ezekiel 42.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 12.

Just as God promised, the kingdom of David and Solomon was torn apart into two kingdoms: Judah (the “Southern Kingdom”) and Israel (the “Northern Kingdom”). This division happened as a consequence of Solomon’s idolatry, a divine act of judgment, as we read yesterday. That was the divine side of the kingdom’s division.

The human side was accomplished by the foolishness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Instead of reducing the burden of taxation on the people of Israel, he promised to make things worse than ever. The Northern kingdom rallied around Jeroboam, a capable leader from Solomon’s administration, and made him king.

David and Solomon reigned over Israel for a combined 80 years and the two of them centralized political, economic, and spiritual power in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was delighted to be king but he worried that his fragile kingdom would “likely revert to the house of David” (v. 26) if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship. Instead of trusting God, who decreed this division and prophesied about it before it happened, Jeroboam decided to make his own gods to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem. Verse 28 told us that he ordered the creation of two golden calves. If you’re making your own religion, you might as well make it easy for people and offer them two convenient locations (vv. 28, 29). Everything he did made sense on a human level. What does not make sense is his statement in verse 28: “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

What?! These idols were so new, so freshly manufactured, that they were still warm from the gold smelting furnace. Yet somehow the people were to believe that these idols had led God’s people out of Egypt generations earlier?

Well, yes, if the calves represented gods rather than actually being gods. That seems to be what Jeroboam was saying to the people. “You don’t need no stinkin’ Ark of the Covenant to be the place where God is represented. Let these calves represent our gods instead.”

This was a clear attempt to appropriate Israel’s redemption story for Jeroboam’s advantage and apply it to the idols he made. This is often what false doctrine, false religion does. It claims aspects of God’s true revelation and reapplies it some significant but false way. A little bit of truth can help people swallow a whole lot of error. Ask Jeroboam; he built his career on that principle.

Someone who knew God and wanted to be faithful to Him should have pointed out that the God who brought Israel out of Egypt was One Lord (Deut 6:4) not two calves. A faithful servant of the Lord should also have said that the God who rescued them from Egypt commanded no graven images. The same person should have pointed out what happened when Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship after the Exodus.

Instead, the Northern Kingdom liked the ease of having two convenient locations for worship as well as the ability to keep their redemption story without maintaining any connection to Jerusalem. As Christians, we should be very careful. Many self-help books quote scripture but are filled with advice that is directly unscriptural. Don’t allow our faith to be pasted like a label on a can of manmade ideas.

1 Kings 2, Ezekiel 33

Read 1 Kings 2 and Ezekiel 33.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 33:31-32: “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

It is difficult for us servants of the Lord to speak to people who come faithfully to hear but who leave unchanged Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year. On one hand, I am grateful for the audience. It is much easier to speak to a room full of people than it is to speak to an empty room. I’m always grateful for the people who are there and I try to give my best effort no matter how many or how few come, but it is discouraging to see a lot of empty chairs and only a few people.

On the other hand, it is tough to teach God’s word week after week and see little if any change in many people who come to hear it. Again, I’m glad they come to listen; after all, if nobody is listening, nobody will change or grow. But after a while, you start to feel more like an entertainer than a servant of the Lord. That’s what God said to Ezekiel in verse 32: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

This chapter lists several ways the people in Ezekiel’s day did not practice what Ezekiel preached:

  • Verse 25c says, “…you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood….”’
  • Verse 26 says, “You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife.”
  • Verse 31e says, “Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.”

So what were God’s people involved in? Idolatry, adultery, violence, greed, and dishonesty. Ezekiel faithfully pronounced God’s verdict on these things as sin; he predicted God’s judgment for such sins. People came routinely and listened, but only for entertainment purposes. After they were done, they returned to living wicked lives again.

But how has your life changed as a Christian in the past month? How about this year, as you’ve read these devotionals. Are you more generous with what you have–to the poor and to God’s work? Are your thoughts and actions toward other people purer, sexually speaking, then before? Are you serving the Lord somewhere in his work or, if you’ve been serving right along, are you more conscious of how your service is an act of worship to God?

One more thing here: Verse 32, as I noted, describes how Ezekiel was treated like a singer instead of a prophet. He was a form of entertainment for people more than a source of spiritual conviction and growth. As I visit other churches when I’m on vacation or watch videos of worship services and messages, I feel like churches are embracing entertainment more and more. The preaching in particular is therapeutic. Pastors give “talks” about “believing in yourself” or “leading great.” They may be interesting, thoughtful, and might contain some good advice. But where’s the need for repentance? Where’s the blood of Christ? Pastors need to read the first 20 verses of our chapter today, Ezekiel 33 and remember that we are watchmen who are called to warn people that God’s judgment is coming not entertain them until his judgment falls.

2 Samuel 18, Ezekiel 25

Read 2 Samuel 18 and Ezekiel 25.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 25.

The German language has a word, schadenfreude, that I hear being used in English more ad more often. The word means “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune” and it describes how Israel’s enemies felt about the defeat and exile of Israel and Judah. In this chapter of Ezekiel, God spoke a word agains the schadenfreude that other nations felt. He spoke here against the Ammonites (vv. 1-7), the Moabites (vv. 8-11), the Edomites (vv. 12-14), and the Philistines (vv. 15-17). In each of these cases God promised judgment and punishment for the attitude of these nations. God’s faithfulness to his promises is demonstrated by the fact that Israel exists today [1] but not one of these other nations is still around.

But why would these people take such delight in the decimation of Israel and Judah? On one level, their pleasure is the understandable reaction to the defeat of an enemy. As a Detroit Lions fan, I rejoice when the Packers, Vikings, and Bears lose a game, so some amount of national pride factors into the reaction these nations had to the demise of God’s people.

But there is more to the schadenfreude of the nations than just national pride. Verse 3 told the Ammonites that they would be punished “because you said ‘Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was desecrated…” Likewise, the Moabites said, “Look, Judah has become like all the other nations” in verse 8. The defeat of Israel and Judah, then, was interpreted as proof positive that Israel’s God either did not exist or, at least, was no more powerful than the gods of these nations. In other words, their happiness at the defeat of God’s people was due to their unbelief–their willful desire not to believe–in Israel’s God. God’s punishment, then, was designed to prove to them how wrong they were: “I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the Lord” says verse 7 while verses 11 and 17 echo the same idea.

People who don’t want to believe in God today are looking for proof of his non-existence as well. This is why people celebrate when a Christian leader has a public moral failing or the church is exposed for covering up crimes. Likewise–and more importantly, really–if you or I are known to be Christians but fail to live up to God’s commands, the unbelievers around us will quickly dismiss the genuineness of our faith and the importance of believing in our God.

We need God’s grace to walk with him daily and He has promised it to us in his word. We need to walk with God because we love him. We should follow his word because we know that sin damages us. But we should also remember that our lives speak powerfully to non-believers and that, apart from God’s saving grace in their own lives, they are looking for reasons to disregard our testimonies. One reason to live for God, then, is to testify about him to the world around us.

[1] Note, for instance, that verse 10 said, “the Ammonites will not be remembered among the nations…”