1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, Mark 5

Read 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, and Mark 5.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 39.

This chapter prophesies military disaster for Gog (a man described as “chief prince of Meshek and Tubal” (v. 1b) and Magog (a place—v. 6). Identifying this person and place is a subject too complex for a simple devotional like this one. The chapters surrounding this one in Ezekiel as well as the use of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:8 locates these events in the end times after the Millennium. So, what is described here in Ezekiel 39 is still future to Israel and to us. 

But two items in this prophecy are helpful for us today in our walk with God. First, in verses 7-8 God explained why his judgment will fall on Magog so severely. Verse 7 says, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.”

It is God’s holiness that causes him to judge humanity and bring punishment on people. God is not angry with humanity for no reason and he is not unreasonably brutal toward people. People deserve God’s wrath because we profane his holy name. People do this when they use his name in vain, when they use it to curse others, when they mock biblical standards of righteousness, when they try to deny God’s existence or explain away his word. Our biggest problem spiritually is that, apart from Christ, we hate God. That’s why we disobey his word and try to live life on our own terms. Humanity’s antipathy toward God causes people to speak against him and live in violation of his word. God has been very merciful and patient; allowing humanity thousands of years to enjoy life on earth and the gifts of creation God gave to us. Despite his mercy and patience, humanity has become more evil, more depraved over time. God’s patience will run out and, as he promised, his wrath will fall, and everyone who experiences his wrath more than deserves it. 

We recoil from passages that describe God’s wrath because we are human. We can identify with the pain and horror of human beings suffering the wrath of God. But, in addition to being human, we are also sinners, so most sins are not nearly as evil or offensive to us as they are to a holy God. 

A second item in this prophecy that is helpful to us is the reassurance in verses 25-29 that God is compassionate. This is specifically applied to Israel, but we know that Christ came and died not only to redeem Israel but also people all over the world. So although it is true that God will punish his enemies, his punishment is not unjust nor is it applied without mercy. God is merciful to those who look to him in faith; indeed, Christ himself came to bear the punishment for the sins of all whom God has chosen to be his children. 

Judges 9, Lamentations 3, Romans 15

Read Judges 9, Lamentations 3, and Romans 15.

This devotional is about Judges 9.

Gideon, in Judges 8, refused to become the ruler of Israel (Judges 8:22-23). He was too busy impregnating his many wives, apparently (Judges 8:30) to be bothered with national leadership. But he wasn’t too busy to find a girlfriend in addition to his wives; she lived in the city of Shechem and Gideon had a son with her named Abimelek (Judges 8:29-32).

Here in Judges 9, which we read today, Abimelek, Gideon’s illegitimate son, convinced the citizens of Shechem to pay him to become their king. Remember that he, unlike the rest of Gideon’s kids, was from Shechem (8:31), which is why he said to the citizens of Shechem, “I am your flesh and blood” (9:2). 

There is a bit of a gap in the story here that we have to fill in by implication. Although Gideon (aka “Jerub-Baal”) said he and his children would not rule over Israel (8:22), some people in Israel must have looked to Gideon’s many, many sons for some kind of leadership. If they didn’t, then Abimelek’s statement in verse 2 about having “all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you” would have made no sense. Probably, whatever leadership Gideon’s boys gave to Shechem also came with some kind of price tag. It also seems probable to me that it was confusing and probably oppressive to have seventy guys as “leaders” for one town, where they didn’t even live. Gideon’s sons, then, may have offered protection to Shechem in exchange for money and authority. Abimelek offered them a simpler, cheaper solution. “Pay me to become your king and I’ll do a better job because this is my neighborhood, too.” 

The people of Shechem thought this was a good deal, so they gave Abimelek some money. He hired some street thugs to be his army (v. 4) and they slaughtered all the rest of Gideon’s sons except his youngest, Jotham, who escaped (vv. 5-6). Jotham called to the Shechemites and told them a weird little parable about trees (vv. 8-15). The parable makes sense for a while—truly productive trees want to continue to be productive instead of becoming king. It is the unproductive plant, the thornbush, who wanted to be king.

Every citizen of America should reflect on that parable. People who seek power want to portray themselves as wise public servants who could be very successful in private enterprise but instead seek to serve humanity by ruling over everyone else. There may be some examples where that is true, but we should be skeptical. Rulers have incredible power to enrich themselves at the expense of the productive.

The point of Judges 9 is to show how God did not allow Abimelek’s murders to stand unaddressed (see verses 23-24, 57). Although he was a reckless, unaccountable, self-anointed “leader,” his brutality did not escape the notice of a just God. But I think the lesson of the trees is one for us to consider anytime there is an election. God gave Israel very specific, very limited laws. Most of God’s laws were ceremonial and those were regulated by the priests. So there was central government for Israel in terms of religion. But Israel’s civil laws were few and specific and so were Israel’s moral laws. Both those laws and the penalty for breaking them was written down in God’s law. God’s intention was not for Israel to have a central, civil government. Rather, the elders of individual tribes and clans were to read God’s laws for themselves and interpret and apply them as a group of leaders when there was an infraction. In other words, they were supposed to live productive lives farming, ranching, manufacturing, etc. and only govern when necessary. There were not supposed to be permanent government  leaders, just family leaders (aka “fathers” or “patriarchs”) who worked together with other family leaders when necessary.

Moses’s law did contemplate Israel having a king but that king was to be the Messiah, not a human ruler. What we see again and again in the Old Testament is that most human rulers are unproductive themselves and seek power to enrich themselves by taking, forcefully if necessary, from the productive. If the men of Shechem had stepped up to their responsibilities—teaching their families God’s laws, living by God’s laws themselves, and working together with other fathers to punish offenders appropriately—none of Judges 9 would have happened.

What would happen in our country if the productive people in our nation limited the power of its “leaders,” kept the laws simple and few, held leaders accountable to follow the law themselves, and worked out issues on a local level rather than letting the big federal government impose its will on everyone?

Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3

Read Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25.

This chapter from God’s law is about justice and injustice. It begins in verses 1-3 by describing how disputes would be handled in Israel. They would be heard by judges would be charged with “acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.” Verses 2-3 describe the punishment that the guilty should receive if the judge feels it is appropriate (v. 2a).

Verse 4 commands the farmer to treat his ox with justice. As the ox works for the farmer, he creates value through his threshing work. It would be unjust to deny him food while he works, so the law prohibits the farmer from muzzling him.

Verses 5-10 are strange to us but we need to remember how important the land was to God’s people. Due to war, farm accidents, and other factors, men tend to die before their wives. If a woman were to continue living, she would need to remarry as she would need a man’s work to provide for her. But if she did remarry, her husband’s family line would not continue and they would lose their family land. Over time, the tribes of Israel would start to look very different. To prevent that, God commanded a man’s brother to marry his widow so that she would be provided for, his land would remain in his family, and his family name would continue (v. 6). But some brothers would not want to fulfill this responsibility to a sister-in-law. If a man refused to obey the commands in this chapter, he was denying justice to his sister-in-law and hurting his own family. This passage specifies embarrassing social consequences to the man who refused to continue his brother’s family (vv. 9-10).

Verses 11-12 were designed to protect a man’s ability to continue his family line. Though you could see how a woman might want to protect her husband from having the tar beat out of him, it was unjust to damage his family so an equally damaging consequence was prescribed for a woman who did this.

Verses 13-16 command God’s people not to be unjust in their commercial dealings with each other. Each person was to pay a fair price for what he bought. The “differing weights” were designed to deceive the buyer and the  Bible her says that “the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly” (v. 16). People who make tax policy in this country should read and consider this passage. It is fundamentally unjust to require one person to pay more than another person does (v. 16).

Finally, God commanded his people to treat the Amalekites with justice for attacking Israel when they were defenseless as they left Egypt (vv. 17-18).

While some of the things specified in this chapter seem arbitrary and petty, they emphasize to God’s people that God is just. It is part of his fundamental nature and, as his people, we it should become important to us to treat others fairly, with justice.

So, how about it? Are there some people in your life who are getting less than what they deserve from you? If you have power over someone’s life in some way, do you treat that person with justice?

Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, 2 Corinthians 2

Read Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, and 2 Corinthians 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 16:19-21.

The forecast for Judah, according to Jeremiah, continued to be bleak. There was going to be so many deaths from disease, famine, and sword that God told Jeremiah not to get married or have any children (vv. 1-4). Don’t start a family, Jeremiah, because you will lose some or all of them in death. That was God’s word to Jeremiah. Bleak.

Furthermore Jeremiah was prohibited from paying his respects at anyone’s funeral (vv. 5-7) or enjoying a feast at someone’s home (vv. 6-13). When the Lord’s punishment for Judah came, people would be terrified and then many of them would die.

As usual, the Lord made no apology for bringing this punishment. God’s people had forsaken him and done much evil in his sight (vv. 11-12, 17-18). As hard as it is for us to accept, they deserved to be punished by a just and holy God, just as all of us do.

Compounding their sin was the fact that they had the truth. The true Lord, the one real God, had revealed himself to them but they exchanged that for false gods (v. 18).

As bleak as all of this was, Jeremiah held out hope in the Lord and his promises. Someday, he knew, God would restore his people (vv. 14-15) and the knowledge of God would spread throughout the world (v. 19). Those who worship false gods would realize that their gods were false and would come “from the ends of the earth” to know the true God. This is a prophecy of us Gentiles coming to know God through Christ and, when they come, they will not find an angry God who is looking for people to kill. Instead they will find a willing instructor: “I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the LORD” (v. 21).

This is what we’re doing in evangelism. We are exposing the false gods that people worship (v. 20) and calling them to find truth in the LORD. This is the only hope that anyone has for avoiding the justice of our holy God. Better than that, when God has gathered in everyone he will save, we will enter his kingdom together and spend eternity at the feet of a God who said, “I will teach them” (v. 21). Instead of looking at his word as a burden to bear, something to choke down like a vegetable because it is good for us, we will eagerly feed ourselves with God’s nourishing truth and rejoice and be satisfied in his presence as he teaches us.

Who can you share this saving message with in the coming week?

Leviticus 20, Isaiah 16, Acts 5

Read Leviticus 20, Isaiah 16, and Acts 5 today.

This devotional is about Isaiah 16:5: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

Moab was a nation on the other side (eastern) of the Jordan River from Israel. It was a nation that descended from Lot and his eldest daughter when they committed incest after the destruction of Sodom (see Genesis 19:37). Isaiah 15 &16 contain a prophesy against Moab but within those chapters lie one of the lesser-known prophecies of Christ here in Isaiah 16:5.

This prophecy about Christ began by saying, “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it.” The words “love” and “faithfulness” are parallel ideas referring to the same thing–God’s covenant loyalty to David. God made promises to David, called the Davidic covenant. In that covenant, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16).

This verse in Isaiah 16:5 repeated that promise (“one from the house of David,” v. 5c) because of God’s covenant loyalty. The last two phrases of the verse described the Messianic king God had promised to send: “one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness” (v. 5d, e).

The fulfillment of this promise is still in the future, even for us. When Jesus establishes his kingdom, Israel and the world will finally have a ruler who judges with justice and quickly does what is right. It will be an incredible contrast to the corruption, incompetence, and self-aggrandizement that is so common in political leaders and governments today. Human society will flourish like it never has before because Jesus, our righteousness and righteous king, will be in charge forever.

Until that day, our job is to live faithfully, like citizens in exile, to the kingdom values Jesus taught us and to encourage others to prepare for the kingdom by submitting in faith to our king, Jesus Christ. As we keep the hope of a perfect, righteous, eternal home in our minds, it will help us to make godly choices in our lives and to speak the gospel message to those in the world around us.

Exodus 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Luke 13

Read Exodus 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Luke 13.

This devotional is about Luke 13.

Before radio and TV and cable news channels existed, world news was scarce and was mostly confined to events that related to your own community or, at most, your own nation. So a natural disaster in New Zealand, for example, would never have been known about in Israel during the days Jesus lived on this earth.

Some bad news did get around and Jesus was informed of some here in Luke 13:1. The incident in question was brutal and tragic, but it was also political. It involved “Galileans,” so those were Jewish people who lived in the region where Jesus spent most of his life and ministry, the northern part of Israel called Galilee. These men were in Jerusalem offering sacrifices and Pilate–the Roman governor or that area–had them put to death as they offered their sacrifices in the temple. These men may have been plotting against the Romans, so Pilate may have chosen to make them a public example. Since Jewish people wanted Messiah to lead an insurrection against Rome, Jesus may have been informed of this situation to see if he would take on this revolt as the Messianic leader. Later in the chapter, in verse 31, Jesus was informed that Herod was plotting to kill him So there was a lot of political pressure swirling around Jesus at that moment.

Pilate’s actions were brutal but Jesus did not express moral outrage when he was told of this news. Instead, Jesus warned the people that the men who died were no more sinful than the average citizen of Galilee (v. 2). Jesus then raised the tension in the audience by speaking of eighteen who died in an accident when a tower in Siloam fell on them (v. 4). What about them? Did they deserve an untimely death because they were especially sinful? According to verse 3a, the answer is no. Whether one died by abuse of government power as in verse 1 or in accidentally as in verse 4, Jesus did not condemn the victims as being more sinful than anyone else. Instead, he used these incidents in the news to raise an uncomfortable truth: “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (v. 5).

There was a common superstitious belief that only the worst sinners died prematurely. That belief exists somewhat today in our culture when people talk about “karma.” But Jesus wants us to know that the only reason we are alive today at all is the mercy of God. If God gave us what we deserve, none of us would live a rich, full, happy life. We are all sinners living on the wrong side of God’s laws so he is perfectly just anytime one of us dies, whether at a good old age or way too soon.

Christ has redeemed us who believe from the eternal curse of our sin. Some who believe in him will escape the curse of physical death by being alive when Jesus returns. But none of us is guaranteed anything; physical death is a curse that has been handed down to all of humanity because of the fall.

God’s plan for redemption from physical death is to let most of us die and to raise us from the dead physically at the end of the age. It is wise for us, then, to be thankful for today and to use it as best as we can for God’s glory. It is also wise for us to share with others what Christ has done for sinners so that they may repent and avoid perishing spiritually.

But the most important application of this passage is for any of you who have not turned to Christ for salvation. The only way to avoid the curse of sin is to turn to Jesus for salvation. Take the time you have today to do that; you do not know what God may allow into your life tomorrow.

Exodus 32, Ecclesiastes 8, Luke 12

Read Exodus 32, Ecclesiastes 8, Luke 12.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 8.

Solomon’ musings on government and its control are the subject of this section of Ecclesiastes. Generally speaking, Solomon’s advice is to submit to the government (vv. 2-6). He admits, however, that some governments can be oppressive (v. 9), grossly inefficient and ineffective (v. 11) and even unjust (vv. 12, 14). God’s justice, in these cases, will overcome these human government’s failures (v. 13) but even God’s ways don’t always make sense to us (vv. 16-17).

Nestled in all this advice about human government is a reminder that there are some things in life that are unpredictable and uncontrollable (vv. 7-8). Solomon gave us three examples:

  • The future: It is unknown to us and, therefore, uncontrollable, and unpredictable (v. 7).
  • Death: It is unavoidable and unpredictable (v. 8a-b).
  • Wickedness: It is uncontrollable (v. 8c-d).

These three things control every human life even more powerfully than the government does. They are so powerful, in fact, that even the government can’t control them.

But let’s focus on that last one–wickedness. Verse 8c-d says, “As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.” 

Unlike our modern, American experience of the military, most countries draft every able-bodied man when they go to war. Solomon says that once you’ve been conscripted into such an army, you’re not getting out. The only legal way out of military service is (a) be a casualty or (b) survive until the end of the war.

Solomon says that wickedness works the same way. Once you “practice it” (v. 8d), it owns you. He might mean the addictive power of wickedness or this phrase might refer to the consequences unleashed when we practice wickedness. Because the context of Ecclesiastes 8 speaks of government, which punishes wickedness, this verse is probably referring to the consequences of wickedness, not its addictive power. The verse then means, “You can do the crime but you won’t be able to control the prison time or the fine.”

The government may get you and punish you for your wickedness, but not all wickedness is against the laws of human government. This verse reminds us that if you break God’s laws, you won’t get away with it. Human government may punish you but, even if it doesn’t, God will make sure that you are punished.

This should be a sobering reminder to us when we are tempted to sin or think we might be able to sin and get away with it. Like the army, wickedness won’t let you out until you’ve completed your tour of duty. There’s no going AWOL, either.

If you are in Jesus, every sin you have committed or will commit has been punished through the death of Christ. His blood reconciles you with God as an act of mercy. However, God usually allows the human consequences of our sins to continue. The murderer who trusts in Jesus will have eternal life; however, his faith and repentance does not bring his victim back to life, assuage the anguish or anger of the victim’s relatives, or commute his life or death sentence.

This is one of many reasons why we should not sin even though God forgives all our sins in Christ. We all like a feeling of control (or the illusion of control) over our lives but none of us can control the future, death, or the fallout from our sins.

By the grace of God, then, let’s choose not to sin but, instead, to choose what is righteous in God’s sight.

Exodus 8, Job 25-26, Hebrews 12

Read Exodus 8, Job 25-26, and Hebrews 12.

This devotional is about Hebrews 12.

Like us, believers in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith. They did not know as much as we do, but they knew that they could not save themselves or atone for their own sins.

Unlike us, believers in the Old Testament learned about God in a more terrifying way. Here in Hebrews 12, verses 18-21 described God’s self-revelation to Moses and the people of Israel. God visually and audibly revealed his holiness to Moses and the people. He took the burning bush that Moses saw and magnified it by 1000 when he set Mt. Sinai on fire and shrouded it with darkness and storms (v. 18). His words were preceded by blaring trumpets (v. 19a) and thundered out loud from heaven (v. 19). God commanded them not to touch Mt. Sinai (v. 18a). If one of their animals wandered over and touched it, they must kill that animal by stoning it (v. 20b). The point there is that the animal was now holy, so they couldn’t even touch it to take its life; they had to kill it by touchless means. Even Moses was terrified by what he saw (v. 21).

That’s how God revealed himself to the people of Israel. We read and learn from that revelation, of course, but that’s not how God reveals himself to us.

Instead, God reveals himself to us with the promise of a heavenly city where he lives (v. 22a), occupied with joyful (not scared) believers in him (v. 22b). He reveals himself to us through the church (v. 23). Yes, he reveals himself as our judge according to verse 23b-c, but he is a judge whose justice has been fully satisfied by Christ (v. 24). Instead of crying out for justice like Abel’s blood did, Christ’s shed blood cries out that justice is satisfied and God’s mercy may be extended to us (v. 24).

So, we worship and serve the same God as the people of the Old Testament, but the God we share in common with them has revealed himself in love and acceptance. He remains holy, just as he was in his Exodus revelation, but by his grace we are welcomed as his friends through Christ.

Based on all this, what should we do with God’s word? Does the grace of God revealed to us mean that we can be casual or selective in our reception and obedience to God’s word? No. Verses 25-29 tell us not to be careless with God’s word. Instead, knowing how fearful God’s revelation in the Old Testament made people, and how fierce his punishment was to those who rejected his word (v. 25), we must be all the more diligent to receive and obey God’s word (vv. 26-27). Just as he judged the unbelieving in those days, he will also judge us if we do not believe his word today (v. 29).

But, our response to God’s revelation should not be dominated by fear. Moses and the Israelites were dominated by fear when they received God’s revelation (vv. 19-21), but not us. Instead, we should be thankful for all God has done for us while we worship him in reverence and awe (v. 28). We must not forget that God is holy, and just, and powerful. But, because we have received the promise of eternal life (the “kingdom that cannot be shaken,” v. 28), our worship should be both thankful and reverent. We should be grateful for all God has done for us and has promised to us in Christ, but we must always remember that he is forever holy and commands us to be holy as well (v. 14).

Are you thankful for the salvation you have in Christ? Are you learning to love God’s holiness and justice as you grow in your faith? Do you have a greater desire to be holy yourself and do you find yourself growing in holiness–by turning away from sin–more and more in your life?

All this is accomplished by receiving God’s word in faith and obeying it. That’s what the writer of Hebrews means when he says, “do not refuse him who speaks” (v. 25a). When you read God’s word and hear God’s word, search your heart and mind and actions for motives and thoughts and acts that displease God. Then, ask for forgiveness and for help to obey going forward in your life. This is the proper response that people who have faith in God will have to the revelation of God’s holiness, grace, and justice.

2 Chronicles 26, Zechariah 9

Read 2 Chronicles 26 and Zechariah 9.

This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

Israel and Judah were almost constantly at war. Solomon’s kingdom was peaceful but most of the rest of their history in the land was marked by combat with the surrounding nations. Here in Zechariah 9:9-10, God promised that Jerusalem’s king would bring peace.

The peace he would bring would not be a passive (or pacifistic) kind of peace. Verse 9 says he comes “righteous and victorious.” The word “righteous” describes his justice; he would deal properly with every criminal. The word “victorious” described his relationship with other nations. Like the Babylonians who imposed peace by defeating other nations, this king would bring peace by winning all his wars. Verse 10e says, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” This sentence defines the borders of Israel as God intended them to be. Under this king, God’s people would rule the world. Once the world was subject to him, however, the mechanisms of war would be unnecessary. Verse 10a-c says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” This king would not need to use force to enforce the peace as other empires, like Rome, did. Instead, his reign would end warfare on earth.

Despite all the military overtones in this chapter, verse 9 describes this king as “lowly and riding on a donkey.” The word “lowly” means “humble” and depicts a king who is not insufferable in his arrogance. The fact that he arrives in Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” is probably in contrast to riding on a powerful warhorse. The description of this king as both “righteous and victorious” but also “lowly and riding a donkey” teaches us that he will be powerful but approachable; just and loving at the same time.

You may recognize that Matthew (21:5) saw Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet Jesus only fulfilled part of it. The military victory of Jesus as well as the peace and justice he will bring await the literal kingdom that Christ will bring in eternity. This is our hope as believers in Christ. When you see injustice in this world, when you hear about the loss of human life through violence and wars, remember that these are symptoms of a fallen world. In Christ’s second advent, he will finish the work he began in his first advent. We can look forward in hope and eagar expectation to his return, then, even as we celebrate his birth this time of year.

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 6:2-42, Habakkuk 1

Read 2 Chronicles 6:2-42 and Habakkuk 1.

This devotional is about Habakkuk 1.

Habakkuk, a prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was very upset with the Lord in the first four verses of this chapter. He saw so much sin and violence (v. 3) among the Lord’s people but, when he called for God’s justice, he got nothing (v. 1).

God may have declined to respond to Habakkuk’s earlier complaints but he was more than happy to answer Habbakuk’s questions in verses 2-4 with an answer in verses 5-11. And what was that answer? God would punish the violence and sinfulness of the Jews by delivering his peopel in defeat to the Babylonians (v. 6).

Now Habakkuk had a much bigger theological problem. He couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t judge his countrymen but, when God did promise to punish them, Habakkuk couldn’t understand why he’d use a wicked nation like the Babylonians (v. 15). God is holy and eternal (v. 12a-b), so why would he use such unholy people? It made no sense.

We’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s reading of chapter 2 for God’s response but, in the meantime, consider the problem of the sliding scale of righteousenss. Habakkuk knew God’s people were doing evil (vv. 2-4) but the Babylonians were worse! Verse 13 asked the Lord, “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

We can probably identify with Habakkuk’s complaint. If you’ve ever felt outrage when a good person died young while evil men live into their 90s, you know how Habakkuk felt. If you ever cried, “Unfair!” when you were punished for something when someone else was doing something worse, you’re using the same kind of reasoning that Habakkuk used.

The truth is that we are all guilty before a holy God. What Habakkuk said in verse 13a was right on the money: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” so his next statement could have been, “…so we deserve your punishment, no matter how it comes.” But part of our sinful state is to demand that we be tested on a curve. “I am sinful, but not as bad as others” we reason, “so let God go after the worst offenders first! And, when he comes for me, I should get a much lighter sentence!”

But God’s justice is always just; that is, he pays out the wages of sin according to the pricetag that every sin has—death–regardless of how many or how few sins we accumulate. Instead of complaining to God about our circumstances and wondering why he hasn’t treated others worse than he treated us, we should take a very hard look at ourselves. We are guilty before a holy God. One violation of his law carries the death penalty so none of us has anything to complain about.

In fact, Judah had God’s law, their own history, and prophets like Habakkuk. The Babylonians were wicked but they were also going on much less truth than Judah had. As Jessu told us, the more truth you have, the greater your accountabilty will be before God.

In God’s great mercy, he poured out his justice on Jesus so that you and I could be saved from the eternal condemnation we deserve. God may allow the natural consequences of our sin to play out on this earth but at least we will be delivered from hell based on the righteousness of Christ. So we should be thankful for that.

But more than that, the awful cost of our sins that Jesus bore should teach us the truth about divine justice and adjust our expectations accordingly. So, have you found yourself complaining that you’re paying too much for your sins why others are not paying enough? Then think about this passage and let it realign your understanding of justice accordingly.

We have nothing to complain about and everything–because of God’s mercy–to be thankful about. Let’s thank God, then, for his perfect justice and for the mercy that Jesus provided us with by taking God’s justice for us on the cross.

1 Kings 8, Ezekiel 38

Read 1 Kings 8 and Ezekiel 38.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 8.

After years of planning, preparing and building, the temple of the Lord was complete. It was time to move in! Solomon called for all the leaders distributed among the tribes and towns of Israel (vv. 1-2). He called them to Jerusalem so that they could witness the ark of the covenant and all the objects used for Israel’s worship being moved into the temple (vv. 3-9). Then, to confirm that what Solomon had done was according to God’s will and to demonstrate that the new temple, not the old tabernacle, would be the official place of worship, God made his presence visible in the temple. A cloud that represented God’s glory filled the place, demonstrating his presence there (vv. 10-13).

Solomon then turned to the people who witnessed this event and spoke words of praise to God and explanation to them about the meaning of all of this (vv. 14-21).

Finally, Solomon spoke to the Lord; his prayer in verses 22-60 displayed his devotion to the Lord and his desire for how this temple should function in Israel’s life as a nation. He began by worshipping God for who he is (v. 23a) and for the promises he had kept (vv. 23b-24). He continued by asking God to continue fulfilling his promises to David (vv. 25-26). Then he asked the Lord to let this temple be a place where God’s people can get an audience with him. He asked that God would listen day or night and be merciful in forgiveness to his people (vv. 27-30).

Then Solomon asked the Lord to listen and judge when God’s people came to him asking for justice (vv. 31-32). He next asked that the Lord would hear their prayers of repentance when he disciplined them with war losses or famine (vv. 33-40, 44-45). He asked that even Gentiles living in the land of Israel who pray would be heard so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (v. 43). He asked the Lord even to hear, forgive, and restore his people even if they sinned so much that he allowed them to be exiled to a foreign country (vv. 46-50). The basis for his prayer was God’s redemption of the people from Egypt (vv. 51-53).

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to observe this dedication service and to hear Solomon’s prayer and praise as well watch the offerings begin (vv. 62-64) and enjoy the feast that followed (vv. 65-66). Solomon left this event “joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel” (v. 66). I’m guessing everyone who attended felt the same way. Hopefully for some of them, the memory of this event caused them to turn to the Lord in prayer during their times of need, just as Solomon prayed that they would.

Ceremonies like this one can be so helpful in steering our emotions in a godly direction, but this was a rare occasion in the life of the nation of Israel. It was like Pentecost is to our faith as Christians—an important, rare demonstration of the Lord’s presence and power. After this, though, Israel went back to their routines. A farmer living far away in his tribal land would visit this temple as part of his observance of the Jewish feast days, but if he needed forgiveness or justice, he would have to pray toward this temple in faith that God would hear and answer him. There was no visual smoke to give him assurance of forgiveness or of an answer to his need; he just had to take it on faith that God’s will would be done.

While we have no literal place like the temple, we actually have better access. Instead of seeking forgiveness by offering our prayers and bringing an animal to burn, we come seeking forgiveness based on the finished sacrifice of Christ. Instead of thinking that the Lord is among us as a group because the ark of his covenant is in Jerusalem, we have the promise of the indwelling Spirit and the assurance that, collectively, we are the temple of the living God when we gather together as his church (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Cor 6:16). Although Solomon’s prayer was certain to be answered because it was based on God’s covenants with Israel, we have the assurance of Christ that he hears and answers our prayers according to his will when we ask in his name. But, like the ancient Hebrews, we have to act on these promises to get the blessings. Let’s not just long for God’s work and intervention in our lives; let’s ask him for it based on all he has done for us and promised us in Christ.