2 Samuel 19, Daniel 9, 1 Timothy 1

Read 2 Samuel 19, Daniel 9, and 1 Timothy 1.

This devotional is about Daniel 9.

Daniel’s prayer here in chapter 9 is model for how we should pray in concert with the will of God.

First, what prompted Daniel’s prayer was God’s word. Verse 2 says, “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” It was his reading and understanding of Jeremiah’s prophecy that caused him to pray as he did. The lesson for us here is that the truths of scripture can lead us to pray. Daniel saw a promise in God’s word that had a time-deadline of 70 years so he prayed that the Lord would fulfill that promise. Likewise, when we see God’s promises in scripture that are as of yet unfulfilled, they can motivate us to ask God to make them happen.

Next, Daniel began his prayer with praise. Even though his people were in exile in Babylon, he believed that God was “the great and awesome God” (v. 4), that he was “righteous” (v. 7a), and that he was “merciful and forgiving” 9v. 9). God loves to hear us wrap our requests in worship; when it is our faith in God’s attributes—specific attributes—that compel us to pray, God is glorified and worship in our prayers.

The kernel of Daniel’s prayer, of course, was repentance. He arranged his physical appearance to express repentance (v. 3) and he acknowledged the sins of his nations (vv. 5-7) as well as his personal sins (v. 20: “confessing my sin…”). This focus on repentance was because he was praying for restoration. God’s purpose in exiling Israel was to turn their hearts back to him, so repentance was the proper response to their situation. While the purpose of our prayers is not always repentance, it is always appropriate to confess our sins to the Lord in our prayers. This aligns our hearts morally with his will and causes us to remember that our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone and his atonement for us.

My final observation about this prayer is that the reason for his request was the glory of God. Verse 19 says, “For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” He wanted the restoration God promised because he wanted God to be glorified. When we ask God for things in our prayers, are we thinking about how the answer to our prayers will bring him glory or are we focused merely on improving our situation for the better? While God is loving and compassionate toward us, his love and compassion will ultimately be experienced in eternity; until then, he allows problems and pain and tragedy and other issues because this world has not yet been redeemed. He is more concerned about the growth of his church and the coming of his kingdom than he is about our comfort, so our prayers should be about the things he cares about far more than they are about the things we care about. Too often we have that order inverted.

So, what are you praying about right now? Do the scriptures inform and stimulate your prayers? Are your prayers layered with worship and praise for who God is? Are you confessing your sins and claiming the sacrifice of Christ as the basis for your forgiveness and even your praying? Are you praying for the glory of God?

2 Samuel 17, Daniel 7, Proverbs 22:17-29

Read 2 Samuel 17, Daniel 7, and Proverbs 22:17-29.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

Over the past few chapters in 2 Samuel, David has been reaping the bad harvest of the sin seeds he sowed in his adultery with Bathsheba. Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 12:10: “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The “sword,” a metaphor for violence, showed up when David’s son Amnon raped David’s son Tamar and when Absolom retaliated by killing Amnon in chapter 13. In chapters 14-15a Absolom began positioning himself to challenge David as king. Then he did attempt to overthrow David as king in 2 Samuel 15b-16.

Here in chapter 17, David is running for his life and Absolom is seeking wisdom for how to defeat his father and solidify his hold on the kingdom of Israel. Absolom consulted two men for advice. Both had been advisors to David and were known to be men who gave wise advice. We do not know why Ahithophel began to advise Absolom instead of David but the advice Ahithophel gave was shrewd and accurate and would have benefited Absolom if Absolom had chosen to follow it.

The other advisor, Hushai the Arkite, was secretly loyal to David and, consequently, gave different advice to Absolom than Ahithophel gave. God was working in all of this, both through the presence of Hushai and the inclination of Absolom to listen to him. Verse 14 says, “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

The book of Proverbs advises us to seek and follow the advice of wise counselors and Ahithophel certainly qualified. But it is better to be on the Lord’s side than to have the best advisors in the world. Absolom could not win because his cause was unjust, selfish, and opposed to the will of God. God had made an everlasting covenant with David and the Lord would not fail to keep his side of the bargain. The best tactics, strategy, advice, and execution will be ineffective if it is not aligned with what God has chosen to do.

When you make decisions and seek advice, do you filter that advice according to scripture? Are you thinking about the commands of God and the moral truths his word teaches first before you follow the advice you are given? As Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” So seek and follow wise counsel, by all means, but remember to consult God’s word as your first and primary counselor.

2 Samuel 12, Daniel 2, Mark 12

Read 2 Samuel 12, Daniel 2, and Mark 12.

This devotional is about Daniel 2.

What would you do if you were a powerful leader but suspected that your spiritual advisors were making stuff up?

You might do what Nebuchadnezzar did here in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a weird dream (v. 1) and he apparently believed that something was being communicated to him in it. Instead of describing it for his spiritual advisors, he tested them: could they tell him what he had dreamed and THEN interpret what it meant (vv. 2-9)? The key phrase in that passage is in verse 9: “You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” If they could tell him what he had dreamed that would be proof that they had genuine access to the spiritual realm. That would give him greater confidence in their interpretation of this dream and in their spiritual guidance in every other matter.

Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisors did not like the new terms of service he was imposing on them. They protested that what he wanted was impossible (vv. 10-11) which confirmed to the king that they were dealers of nonsense. Nebuchadnezzar therefore ordered them to be put to death (vv. 12-13). Daniel and his friends were apparently junior officers in the spirituality cabinet of Babylon at this point. They were subject to the same death penalty but had not been given the opportunity to advise Nebuchadnezzar about his dream (v. 14). Daniel asked for some time and urged his three friends to pray (vv. 15-18), and God answered their prayers, revealing the vision and its meaning to Daniel (vv. 19-45).

The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important because it predicted world events that would happen after his reign and would culminate with the kingdom of Christ (vv. 36-45). But for this devotional, I want to focus on how Daniel responded when God answered his prayers. Daniel was given a gift that, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s astrologers, was impossible: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” they said in verse 10. Daniel recognized that what they said was right. His ability to interpret dreams was a supernatural gift from God, not a natural skill he developed himself (v. 23).

Daniel also recognized in this dream that God was at work in world events (v. 21). While we think that kings and leaders are chosen by natural events, political processes, and/or human manipulation, God’s providence–God’s will–stands behind it all. The rulers of this world think they are in control but their control is an illusion. God is using their ambitions to advance his will.

While we should do what we can to influence world events toward righteousness, we need to recognize that the nations and political structures of this world belong to this world; they will be replaced by the kingdom Jesus came to establish (vv. 44-45). What seems so powerful, so permanent, so impenetrable to us now will be supernaturally (“not by human hands” (v. 34)) “broken to pieces and… swept away without leaving a trace” (v. 35).

Anytime we have an election, there are winners and losers. Some people feel hopeful, even victorious, after an election and a nearly equal number of people feel hopeless and defeated.

If you care about politics at all, then you’ve been on the hill and in the valley of that roller coaster already in your life. And, you will likely experience that again. If our only hope was to reforming this world and its rulers, we would have plenty to worry about, but our hope is in Christ.

His kingdom may be right on the verge of appearing or it may be another thousand years away. Only God knows the timeline, but he has revealed to us the outcome. Look in faith to these promises and trust God to watch over us and use us in the meantime, just like he did with Daniel and his friends.

1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, Proverbs 20:1-15

Read 1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, and Proverbs 20:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 20:4: “Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

A sluggard is someone who is sluggish. It is a word that describes a person’s work habits, or, to be precise, his lack of work habits. A sluggard is lazy. He avoids work as much as possible and, when he does work, he moves at the slowest possible pace. When I was in college, I worked landscaping for two summers. We called one of the guys I worked with “two speed.” He never asked why we called him that, but we called him that because he had two speeds–slow and slower. He dragged his feet at everything, so working with him was a drag for the rest of us.

The book of Proverbs contains many sayings about sluggards. This one tells us that sluggards “do not plow in season.” Plowing was hard work. If you didn’t have a donkey to pull the plow, it was really hard work. But it had to be done so that you could plant and, later, reap. This proverb says that sluggards won’t “plow in season.” They avoid doing the hard work of breaking up the ground “in season,” meaning at the time when it should be done. Instead of starting early in the semester on a term paper, the sluggard does nothing. He waits until the night before the paper is due to get started. Or, if he’s in the workforce, the sluggard doesn’t follow up on customer calls or sales leads quickly. He doesn’t get to work when the work shows up. Instead, he shuffles papers, talks to colleagues, gets more coffee, writes another to do list, or does anything he can to appear working without actually doing the productive thing.

What is the consequence of being sluggish about one’s work? The last part of Proverbs 20:4 says, “…so at harvest time they look but find nothing.” For the lazy student, it is failing a class or not getting nearly as good a grade as the student could. For the lazy worker, it means missing promotions and raises or being the first to get laid off when the company needs to cut costs. The point is that the lazy person fails to get results. The lack of results are not because the sluggard lacked ability; instead, it is because he did not work when he could have worked. He avoided the hard work, so the results avoided him.

Are you a sluggard anywhere in your life? Are you dragging your feet, procrastinating on tasks that really need to be started or completed soon? A sluggard must live on the kindness of others, such as a boss who is too compassionate to fire him or a relative who can’t bear to let his family member get evicted, or become homeless, or accumulate debt to have food to eat and clothing to wear.

There is a type of sluggard that we Christians sometimes meet. That sluggard says, “The Lord will provide” or “I’m waiting on God” instead of working or seeking work or just putting basic effort into life. It sounds spiritual, but it is just a covering for laziness. There are times when we do have to wait on God because we’ve done everything we can. But, too often “waiting on God” is justification for doing nothing.

We do need God to provide. The anti-sluggard may plow diligently, plant and cultivate carefully, and still miss the harvest because of drought. Hard work usually pays off, but not always. There are circumstances that only God can control.

But from the very sixth day of creation, when God created man, his will was for humanity to work. God provides for us most often by us putting effort into our work. So, don’t procrastinate today. Don’t make excuses or avoid doing hard things.

In fact, if there is something you’ve been avoiding–a phone call you need to make, a problem you need to address, a client who has been waiting too long–do that first today and stick with it until it is done. That’s the way to become an anti-sluggard, a believer who lives a work-life that is pleasing to God.

1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, Psalms 96-98

Read 1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, and Psalms 96-98.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 1.

Hannah found herself in an unhappy situation here in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel. Her society greatly valued children, especially boys, yet she was unable to get pregnant.

If that weren’t bad enough, her husband had a “rival” (v. 6) wife named Peninnah. Elkanah may have married Peninnah specifically because of Hannah’s infertility (similar to Abraham and Hagar). Regardless of his motives, Peninnah delivered (pun intended) where Hannah could not; verse 2 tells us “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” So Hannah felt judged by her society, may have felt like she let her husband down, and felt inferior to his second wife.

Even worse, Peninnah mocked Hannah for her infertility (v. 6). Although Hannah was loved by her husband who did his best (verse 8 notwithstanding) to demonstrate his love and make her feel secure (vv. 4-5), she suffered emotionally due to all of these things.

Whatever faults he may have had, Elkanah was devoted to the Lord. We see this in his consistency to worship at the tabernacle “year after year” (v. 3). We also see it in how urged Hannah to keep her vow to the Lord (v. 23). When the sorrow of her situation became too much to bear, Hannah did what a believer should do; she poured out her heart to God in prayer (vv. 10-11).

Yet even her heartfelt prayer was became a source of pain because it was misinterpreted. As if she didn’t feel low enough, the High Priest of Israel rebuked her for being a drunk when he saw her praying (vv. 12-14). Fortunately, when she explained the situation, Eli gave her the reassurance she needed (v. 17). Note that Eli did not promise her an answer to her prayer; rather, he acknowledged the sincerity of her prayers and added his own prayer wish that the Lord would answer her favorably (v. 17). But Hannah took this blessing from the priest by faith and received the peace of God for her situation (v. 18).

And, God did answer her prayer, giving her the son she so deeply desired.

If only deep sorrow and total sincerity were enough to get answers to any prayer! Yet God does not always give us the answer we seek. That is why Jesus encouraged us to pray according to God’s will. God’s will is frequently different than our will is; therefore, God sometimes answers our prayers with “no.”

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

By promising to give her son to the Lord and to raise him under a Nazirite vow for life (v. 11), she was asking God to answer her prayer in a way that would bring glory to him.

Samuel would grow up to serve the Lord in a unique way, both as a priest and as the last of the judges of Israel. In contrast to the spiritual scoundrels who served as Israel’s judges in the book of Judges, Samuel would be a man who led Israel spiritually as well as politically. Hannah’s prayer was answered in a way that was more profound than she probably could have imagined. Though she did not have the joy of raising her son throughout his childhood, she did have the joy of knowing that he was serving the Lord.

James 4:3 tells us that God is not in the habit of answering prayers that come from self-centered motives. When Hannah connected her desire for a son with God’s desire for a godly leader for Israel, her prayer aligned with God’s will and he answered her. When we ask God for things in our lives, are our requests selfish or are they connected to the things that God cares about? This is the kind of praying that is pleasing to God and, therefore, the kind of praying that God is most likely to answer with “yes.”

Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, Ephesians 2

Read Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, and Ephesians 2.

This devotional is about Ruth 3-4.

Once again we see the godly character of Boaz on display in today’s two chapters from Ruth. His actions protecting and providing for Ruth in chapter 2 may indicate his personal attraction to her, but he was aware of the age difference (v. 10) as well as the existence of another man who was a closer relative to Ruth than Boaz. This other relative, then, had the first right to marry her (vv. 12-13).

According to Old Testament law, the other man was supposed to marry Ruth and, with her, produce a son who would be heir to Elimelek’s estate. This nearer relative (plus the age thing) may have been why Boaz did not make a move for Ruth himself. Regardless, Ruth came to him secretly, at night, and requested his protection for her and Naomi through marriage. Although some have suggested that Ruth’s actions of “uncovering Boaz’s feet” was a sexual act, the text indicates the opposite. The wording in the passage was “uncovered his feet and lay down” (3:7) so this would have to be some kind of Hebrew idiom/euphemism for sex, such as when we say two people “slept together” in modern English. But the fact that Boaz slept through Ruth’s actions and, later something “startled him” (v. 8), indicates that the plain reading of the text is the correct one. Ruth pulled the covers off Boaz’s feet, laid down on the ground by his feet and waited for him to wake up. Her reason for doing this was to create an opportunity where she could speak privately to Boaz without anyone else knowing.

Although the passage does not say so, it seems clear that Boaz was an unmarried man. Singleness was highly unusual in Israel, so perhaps Boaz was a widower whose original wife died before giving him any heirs, but we do not know. What we do know is that his blessing on Ruth (3:10) indicated his desire to be married to Ruth. Given that life during the period of the Judges resembled the wild west, Boaz might have been able to get away with undercutting the nearer relative of Ruth by marrying her before the other guy was aware of her existence. However, Boaz wanted to do the right thing. And, in chapter 4, he did. He gave the closer relative the opportunity to do right, then got what he wanted when the other man refused to do his duty. 

You have to admire Boaz and give him some style points for how he approached Ruth’s nearer relative. Boaz mentioned the benefit of doing the right thing first when he asked the man if he would redeem the land that Elimelek owned (4:3). Only after the man stated his intention to buy the land from Naomi did Boaz mention the string that was attached, namely the responsibility to marry Ruth, too (4:5). Notice how, at the end of Ruth 4, when Obed was born, the women said, “Naomi has a son!” (v. 17). The reason they said this is that Obed was the legal heir to Elimelek’s land. That legal entanglement was the reason the closer relative to Ruth did not want to buy the land if it required marrying Ruth, too. If Ruth were to have a son before the other man’s original wife had a son, there would be “firstborn issues” and Obed might get everything. That is what the other man meant in verse 6 when he said, “…I might endanger my own estate.”

Boaz had thought about this before he invited the man to buy Naomi’s property. In other words, although Boaz was determined to do the right thing, even if that meant losing Ruth, he still presented the situation in the best possible way to get what he wanted, namely the legal right to marry Ruth.

The lesson from this, for us, is this: As you pursue what you want in life, will you do that within obedience to the moral will of God?

It is so easy for us to see situations like this in clear black and white terms when we are looking at the responsibilities and actions of others. But, when we ourselves want something that maybe outside of God’s will for us, we can easily make excuses that justify doing what we want to do. Couples who are considering marriage can do this kind of justifying when it comes to crossing lines of sexual activity. “We’re planning on getting married,” they might reason, “so it’s not wrong for us as long as we do get married anyway.” It is so easy to justify what we want to do and so hard, when our desires are engaged, to do what God commands us to do. But a man of moral character like Boaz and a woman of godly character like Ruth will seek to do right, then wait to see what God has decided to do.

Judges 11:12-40, Lamentations 5, Psalms 90-92

Read Judges 11:12-40, Lamentations 5, Psalms 90-92.

This devotional is about Psalm 91.

This beautiful song begins with a universal claim: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The “shelter of the Most High” refers to the tabernacle. This phrase is a poetic way of expressing a person’s deep desire for God. When someone wanted to know God so much that he spent every possible moment in the place where God’s presence was promised, that person, according to verse 1, would be protected by God (“shadow of the Almighty”).

Verse 2 moves from the universal to the specific: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” In other words, verse 1 promised God’s protecting shadow over anyone who delights in God so the author (probably David) stated his intention in verse 2 to look to God for the refuge offered in verse 1.

And what kind of refuge did God offer? Refuge:

  • from someone trying to capture the author according to verse 3a (“the fowler’s snare”) and
  • from fatal disease according to v 3b (“pestilence”).

God gave refuge like a mother bird gives to her young (v. 4), refuge from fear of being captured or killed overnight (v. 5a) or from military attacks by day (v. 5b:).

God gave refuge from disease whether at night (v. 6a) or at noon (v. 6b). In the heat of battle, when men were dying all around, the Psalmist believed that God would protect the one who trusts him (v. 7) and would punish those who deserve it (v. 8).

The Psalmist had two reasons for his confidence in God’s protection. The first reason was God’s angelic protection for those who trust in the Lord (vv. 9-13). The second reason for his confidence was that God would answer the prayers for help of those who love him (vv. 14-15).

The result of all this protection will be a long life on this earth (v. 16a) and salvation when this life is over (v. 16b).

What a comforting song; yet, the author of this Psalm died eventually and we know that bad things do happen to godly people. So what do we make of the author’s confidence?

First, the promises of this Psalm are for David and the kings that follow in his line. This fact is indicated in verses 11-12 which Satan quoted to Jesus as he was tempted. Unlike what we are often told, Satan did not quote this passage out of context. He understood that it was God’s promise to David that insured a king in David’s line would receive God’s special protection because of the covenant God made to David.

Secondly, based on God’s covenant with David, the king could be certain that nothing would happen to him until he had fulfilled the mission God gave him to do. Although he may fight in many battles, even losing some (v. 7), God promised to watch over the leader’s life until that leader’s work in this life was completed. Verse 16 promised “long life,” not the absolute avoidance of death. The promise, then, is that the Davidic king who loved God and put his hope in God did not need to fear premature death either by war or disease. God’s protection would be on his life until he finished what God gave him to do.

While the promise in this passage applied first to David and to the heirs of the covenant God made with David, I believe this Psalm also comforts us with a principle we can count on: we are invincible on this earth until we have completed God’s work if we trust in the Lord and seek him habitually. While some godly people die younger than we would expect, that does not happen due to some random event outside of God’s will. Instead, those who fear the Lord and seek to live for him generally live a long life on this earth (v. 16a). When someone dies “prematurely,” it is because God had another plan for them.

Finally, when the time comes to die, God’s promises to “show him my salvation” when we trust in him (v. 16b). This is a reference to the deliverance believers receive after death.

In our moments of night time fear (v 5a, 6a) and daytime threats (v. 3, 7), the only hope we have is in the promises and mercy of God. Though Christ fulfilled God’s promise in this passage as the Messiah, the final Davidic king, the invitation is still universal: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High…” (v. 1). This applies to us: When we make the Lord our love (v. 1a, 14a) and look to him for protection from all the threats around us, we are indestructible until God says it is time for us to go.

Whatever you fear today, remember that the Lord is watching over you and that, even if the worst happens, you still have the promise of God that God will “show him my salvation.” That means you will be rescued from these dangers, ultimately, in eternity.

Judges 6, Jeremiah 52, Romans 12

Read Judges 6, Jeremiah 52, Romans 12.

This devotional is about Judges 6.

This chapter in Judges describes how the Lord disciplined Israel’s idolatry using the Midianites. The Midianites’ flavor of oppression was unusual. They weren’t into swordplay and slaughter; rather, stealing was their brand. They would enter your property and do whatever they wanted to your family and your stuff, so the Israelites fled to the hills for some privacy and protection (v. 2).

The Midianites treated Israel like slaves. They allowed God’s people plant crops on their own land, doing all the hard work of breaking up the ground, planting the seed, and nurturing the plants as they emerged from the ground (v. 3a). Then the Midianites would swoop in, camp on Israel’s land and take everything from the harvest (vv. 4-6). In desperation, Israel cried out to the Lord for help (vv. 6-7). Before sending a military leader, God sent a prophet (vv. 8a). His prescription was repentance, reminding Israel of their disobedience to God’s covenant (vv. 8b-10).

There is no indication that Israel repented of their sins, but God identified a military man anyway; his name was Gideon. The only problem was that he was a military man disguised as a complete coward. We see this first of all based where God met him. Verse 11 says he “was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” This was an impractical place to thresh wheat. The best threshing was out in an open place where the wind blew freely, not down in a pit where the grapes were normally crushed. But what the winepress lacked in practicality it made up for in privacy. Gideon went there “…to keep it from the Midianites.” Only a complete moron would thresh in the winepress, so Gideon went there on purpose, not because he was a moron but because they wouldn’t look for the wheat there.

That choice of Gideon’s, however, shows that he was not a mighty man by nature despite what the angel of the Lord said of him in verse 12. If he were a mighty man by nature, he would have threshed in the open with his sword strapped to his belt. He would have been ready to defend his food against the Midianites instead of hiding from them. So, when God spoke to Gideon, he was designated a “mighty warrior” not because he really was but because “The Lord is with you” (v. 12b).

In addition to being a weakling warrior, Gideon was also not much of a theologian. His response to the assertion that God was with him was to question God’s faithfulness in verse 13. Maybe he believed that God’s promises were only positive; if so, he hadn’t read the law very well. The kind of oppression he experienced was exactly what God had promised if Israel worshipped idols. Ignoring the idols in his very own household (v. 25), Gideon blamed God for Israel’s problems rather than realizing their problem was sin.

What he lacked in military strength and theological prowess was also matched by his lack of leadership standing. In verse 15, Gideon pointed out that he was the youngest member of his family, which was from a weak clan, in a weak tribe. In a culture that valued positional leadership, there was nothing about Gideon’s position to suggest that he was poised for leadership.

Then there is the issue of his faith. God urged him twice to stand on God’s promises to Israel and defeat the Midianites (vv. 14, 16). Believing God’s written word in the Law alone was more than enough for Gideon, or any other man in Israel, to liberate God’s people. But even after hearing God’s direct call (v. 16), seeing God face to face in the angel of the Lord (vv. 17-23), being used by God to destroy the altar to Baal and replace it with a proper altar to Israel’s God (vv. 25-32) and to summon an Israelite army when Israel’s enemies threatened invasion (vv. 33-35), Gideon got scared again and tested God twice (vv. 36-40). Christians talk all the time about “putting out a fleece” to discern the will of God, but that’s not what Gideon was doing. He was looking for a loophole, a way out of doing what God had commanded him to do (v. 36b: “…If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised…”).

It is hard to respect Gideon after reading this passage, yet God used him as we’ll see in the next two chapters of Judges. When it comes to our own lives, however, we are often like Gideon. We sin, then blame God for the consequences. We know that we should live obediently to God’s commands because we’re banking on God’s promises, but we get scared and we look for loopholes, exceptions, and emergency exits. Yet, God is gracious to us still. He does not become angry with us, judge us, and move on from us in anger. He works through our unbelief with us and shows us that, if we will just trust him by living obediently, he’ll be with us.

So, can you trust him today and do the right thing—the thing that scares you but that you know from God’s word is the thing you’re supposed to do?

If God can use a guy like Gideon, certainly he can use us. We’re made of the same weak stuff that Gideon was made of but we have the same almighty God who stands by us when we live in faith to his promises.

Joshua 23, Jeremiah 44, Romans 7

Read Joshua 23, Jeremiah 44, and Romans 7.

This devotional is about Joshua 23.

People are social creatures and that means we are drawn to conform to whatever the people around us are doing. We conform for two reasons. First, we conform to other so that they will accept us. Acceptance by others comforts us. It makes us feel like we belong. We also conform to what others are doing, secondly, because of “social proof.” This means that, if enough people are doing something, we feel confident that it is the right thing to do.

As Joshua neared the end of his life, he was concerned about the social affect of other nations on Israel’s worship of God. In verse 6, he urged the people to be obedient and dedicated to God’s law. In verse 7, he warned them not to “associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them.” Joshua knew that associating with these nations would cause them to reject the Lord and turn to idols. Verses 12-13 spelled out the consequences that would follow if they “intermarry with them and associate with them… they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.”

Israel’s history played out exactly as Joshua warned that it would. Their example reminds us to be careful about our associations. While we should not isolate ourselves from unbelievers, we also should not be too comfortable among them. Their beliefs, their lifestyles, and their outlook will create social pressure for us to turn away from obedience to the Lord. Our natural, human desire to be accepted will wage war against the desire to become holy like God is. And the “social proof” aspect will tempt us to minimize the differences between God’s will for us and the lifestyles of those around us.

Isolation is not the will of God for us because the Lord wants us to love unbelievers and use our social influence to gain a hearing for the gospel. But the Bible reminds us not to love the world, either, because it is corrosive to spiritual growth. This passage warns and reminds us to be careful about how we are being influenced by those around us who do not know the Lord.

Joshua 22, Jeremiah 43, Romans 6

Read Joshua 22, Jeremiah 43, and Romans 6.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 43.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. The people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 5) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more to us than these people were to Judah or Babylon, Jeremiah excepted. I don’t say that to demean them; I say it because back in chapter 39, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, the Babylonians forced the vast majority of people who survived the battle to march to Babylon as exiles. Verse 10 of Jeremiah 39 says, “…the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.” So the people left in Judah, the remnant, were not considered high value people. That’s why they were left behind.

Yesterday, we read in Jeremiah 42 that the remnant of people left in Judah were scared and didn’t know what to do. They vacillated about going to Egypt or staying in Jerusalem. Finally, they asked Jeremiah to pray and ask God to reveal his will. But before Jeremiah prayed, they assured him that they would take whatever God said and do it. Their words were, in Jeremiah 42:5, “‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’”

And God responsed! He promised blessings to them if they remained in the land. What was the reaction? How did the people who pledged so eloquently to “obey the Lord our God” “whether it is favorable or unfavorable?” Their answer was recorded for us in our reading today, Jeremiah 43 verse 2: “Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, “You must not go to Egypt to settle there.”’”

So what did they do? “…all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah…. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord” (v. 4). Having promised to obey God’s word–whatever it was–they rejected God’s word when they didn’t like it and disobeyed it despite God’s promise of blessing.

This is typical of us, too, as human beings. Our sinful hearts look for ways to sidestep God’s word, reinterpret what it says, claim that it doesn’t apply to us, and find some way to do what we want to do in disobedience to his will. Ultimately, though, we harm ourselves, because breaking God’s laws will bring consequences.

Do you have a heart to accept God’s word, even if “it is favorable or unfavorable?” Can you remember a time when you did what was right even though you wanted to do what was wrong? How did that turn out for you?

Deuteronomy 29, Jeremiah 21, 2 Corinthians 5

Read Deuteronomy 29, Jeremiah 21, 2 Corinthians 5.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 29.

Having repeated God’s laws and the terms of his covenant in the previous chapters of Deuteronomy (29:1), these last few chapters of Deuteronomy record some of Moses’ direct teachings to God’s people.

Verse 2 indicates the beginning of one of these talks when it says, “Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them….” Today’s passage emphasized once again the importance of obedience to God’s laws. Although God’s people were hardheaded and hardhearted (vv. 2-4), Moses reminded them of how God had provided for them (vv. 5-6) and fought for them, when necessary (vv. 7-8), on their long journey to the promised land.

Then, in verses 9-28, Moses stated his intention to have Israel re-affirm their covenant to the Lord (vv. 9-14), reminding them not to worship idols (vv. 16-18) and that curses would come if they did turn aside to idols (vv. 19-28).

Then verse 29 droped this intriguing statement: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” There is so much about God that is impossible for us to understand.

  • How can one God be three persons?
  • How can Christ be both human and divine?
  • When will Christ return?
  • Why did God allow a particular trial into my life?

These and other questions are beyond us. They require infinite knowledge to understand; therefore, they are secrets for God himself only to know. The middle of verse 29 reminds us that “the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever….” That refers to the promise of blessing they would have if they obeyed God’s covenant and the promise of curses if they disobeyed. God had revealed these things, so Israel should have known them and should have claimed them as belonging “to us” (v. 29). The reason God revealed these things is “…that we may follow all the words of this law” (v. 29c). The promises of blessing and curse exist to provide God’s people with all the motivation they should need to be obedient to God’s covenant commands.

This is a verse to memorize or at least remember, because we tend to reverse it in our thinking. We can easily become obsessed with “the secret things” that belong only to God. They can occupy our minds and thoughts and become the sole subject of our discussion and debates with others. When that happens, we tend to forget “the revealed things” that “belong to us.”

In other words, we ignore God’s commands–which God has revealed–and give ourselves to meditation on things that not only are not necessary for our obedience but are not even possible for us to understand. If parts of God’s word do not make sense to you–if you have unanswered questions, especially if they begin with the word “why”–this verse is a good one to keep in mind.

Some things are understandable only to God. In those cases, we are not responsible to understand the “secret things;” instead, we should give ourselves to obedience to “the things revealed.” There is more than enough truth revealed in scripture for us to learn, think about, and live out. Focus on those and leave to God the stuff that only he is capable of handling.

Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 20.

Jeremiah’s fears in chapter 18 finally materialized here in chapter 20. Despite the fact that he is doing the will of God, God wills for him to suffer persecution. As a direct result of his prophesies (v. 1b-2a), one of the priests had Jeremiah beaten and confined to the stocks (vv. 1-2). When Jeremiah was released the next day, he had a few choice prophesies for this “man of God,” namely that he would personally experience the Babylonian exile and die there in that foreign land (vv. 3-6). 

Jeremiah has a few choice words for the Lord, too, following (or perhaps during) this episode. He complained first about the social cost of serving the Lord (vv. 7-8). Imagine being a prophet of God in a culture that was supposed to belong to God but where nobody but you cared anything about following God’s word. Imagine that even the priests were out to get you and, when they persecuted you, they did it in public so everyone entering the temple could make fun of you while you were bound in the stocks. That’s the tough job God had called Jeremiah to do.

It was so tough, in fact, that he decided to shut up and stop doing it. But according to verses 8-9 God’s word refused to be contained within his heart and mind, so he resumed his prophesies against his better judgment. As a result, even those he considered to be friends wanted him to pay for what he was saying (v. 10). Here, then was a man who was caught in an absolute quandary. Speaking up was too costly. Being silent was impossible.

What to do?

The only thing Jeremiah could do was appeal to God. In verses 11-12 he committed his persecutors to God’s justice. In verse 13, he resolved to praise the Lord for the deliverance he received, but that did not keep him from experiencing deep anguish over what his life had become (vv. 13-18). It would be nice to see this chapter end in a more tidy way, wrapped up with a nice pretty bow of worship and thanksgiving. However, Jeremiah’s prayer in this chapter ended with painful words wishing he had never been born. Spoiler alert: Jeremiah 21 just moved on to the next situation Jeremiah faced. There was no happy resolution to the trauma of his heart.

What do we make of all of this? First, that we should not expect a pain free life just because we are serving God. In fact, serving God may make life more painful and troublesome than it is for those who only pretend to serve God (like Pashhur the priest at the beginning of chapter 20). God’s will for your life may involve suffering. That suffering may be the direct result of the fact that you are serving him–not because of any defect in Godbut as the result of living in a sinful world which hates God, seeks to suppress his truth, and persecute his people.

Second, we should understand that God is not angered when we speak to him out of our emotions—even when those emotions are negatively directed toward him. While it is certainly sinful to blaspheme the Lord, God compassionately understands how painful this life and doing his will can be. No one felt the pain of doing God’s will more than Christ himself did. So there is no inherent sin in questioning God’s will or wondering about God’s ways.

At the end of our anxious cries, however, we need to look to the Lord in faith even if we never understand in this life. What we should not do is look away from him in unbelief; eventually God’s justice will be done and there will be rewards and comfort for those who serve him, even when it is hard. Let Jeremiah’s prayer in this passage, then, encourage you to be straight with God in your praying. He knows what your thoughts and feelings are anyway, so why not pour them out before him rather than bottling them up?