Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, Acts 27

Today read Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, and Acts 27. This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly, but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they had killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce, so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead had showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That act of brutality provided some wives to the Benjamites, but didn’t provide enough women for everyone. So, the Israelites told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, if the girls were kidnaped rather than given in marriage, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership.

When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other: overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they routinely showed better leadership than what we’ve read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us. It should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will rule and judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, Romans 16

Read Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, and Romans 16.

This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15).

I wrote that these men were “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family–thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses suggest a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So, the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil.

Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan (v. 9b), Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. That would have been good for trade and commerce, too.

Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful. Dull times politically result in stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper-serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So, evidence suggests that God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring.

Those are the kinds of leaders we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our country has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, and go to war against nations that have not attacked us. The people who voted for that party love it, too. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views.

I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

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?

Numbers 8, Isaiah 33, Galatians 2

Read Numbers 8, Isaiah 33, and Galatians 2.

This devotional is about Isaiah 33.

Our society has changed dramatically in the past few years. Actions that were once were considered immoral are now considered acceptable. In some cases things that were illegal are not only legal now but receive special legal protection.

Those who are advocating and legalizing these changes do so with much self-righteousness under the guise of civil rights, creating a lot of pressure on the rest of society to celebrate these changes, or conform to them or, at the very least, remain quiet about them.

If you have ever wondered why so many people have suddenly lost their minds, Isaiah 33:5-6 provides the answer. Verse 5 describes God’s exalted state and how his kingdom (“Zion”) will be filled “with his justice and righteousness.” But this world is not yet his kingdom; until Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, every human government will become unjust and every society will practice increasing unrighteousness. Why? Verse 6 says, “He will be the sure foundation for your times….” When people believe in God and bow to his definition of righteousness, they have this sure foundation on which to establish and right and wrong. Without faith in God, no sure foundation exists; instead, ideas of righteousness and justice will be (re)defined by the perverse and ever degrading notions of humanity.

But verse 6 of our passage continues by saying that the Lord will be “a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.” As believers who fear the Lord, we can be certain of what we know because it has been revealed to us by someone who knows all things. That was stated in the final line of our passage for today, Isaiah 33:6: “…the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” “Fearing the Lord” means so much in the Old Testament. It means reverencing God in worship, of course, but it also means understanding his greatness and awesomeness and how undeserving we are of anything from him. Fearing God causes us to reverence what he has revealed in his word and that leads to repentance and faith.

But fearing God and receiving his word also means accepting what his word says about the origin of all things, the end of all things, why some things are wrong, why we need salvation, etc.

Yes, it is true that unbelievers know many things that we believers do not and that believers do not know anything. But if you dig a little bit beneath the surface of an unbeliever’s knowledge, you will find assumptions rather than certainty. This is why right and wrong, which should be obvious to anyone, eventually become questioned and then denied in godless societies. When someone cuts himself off from God he will have no foundation to know anything. That means that anything could be true which causes people to believe in foolishness (see Romans 1:21, 28).

This explains why our culture is increasingly embracing foolishness. But we don’t read Scripture just to understand the foolishness of this world; we read it to walk with God. So the message for us in this passage is not to cluck our tongues and shake our heads at the depravity and growing insanity around us. Rather, the message is for us not to let the false assumptions of this world become our assumptions. Instead, we must fear God and seek him. In him we will find the “rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.”

Leviticus 24, Isaiah 22, Proverbs 11:1-18

Read Leviticus 24, Isaiah 22, and Proverbs 11:1-18.

This devotional is about Leviticus 24.

It is common for skeptics of our faith to point to Old Testament passages like we have here in the latter part of Leviticus 24 and condemn the Bible for being violent and brutal. In this case, the man who was executed was guilty of blasphemy; in our world, that sin is highly accepted and even protected legally as free speech. But Israel was a theocracy and her worship was important for several reasons and deserved to be protected.

Leaving aside the offense, note how Israel’s legal system as illustrated here is superior to ours in some ways. First, according to verse 16, “The entire assembly must stone them.” The whole community was required to participate in the punishment, not someone paid to give lethal injection in private somewhere as happens in our country. There are at least two benefits to this. First, it protects someone against a false accusation. If you had to be part of executing a death sentence against your neighbor, the seriousness of taking his life would, I think, cause you to question intensely any witnesses to his offense. You would want to make absolutely sure that he was guilty before you took part in his execution. It is easy to accuse someone falsely and, in the case of a jury, to convict someone wrongly if you don’t actually have to do the dirty work of imposing the sentence of death on the accused. Second, if the whole community must execute the sentence of capital punishment, it might actually serve as a deterrent for many people. When you see how brutal and painful death by stoning is, you will be more careful about committing a capital offense yourself lest you end up like the guy you just passed sentence on.

More broadly, however, notice that there is no penalty of prison in Israel’s justice system. If you broke the law, you paid the price. That price might be a simple fine or it might cost you your life, but either way it will be over shortly. In Israel’s system, there is no wasting the years and productivity of a someone’s life while that person rots in prison. If you were guilty of breaking the law, the penalty was paid immediately; you either go on with your life or life goes on without you. There is no limbo where the state takes over custody of you for a few years. Think about how much money is spent in our society investigating criminals, trying criminals in court, processing them when they are sentenced, paying for food, clothing, and shelter while they are in prison, etc. Israel’s system is much cheaper and, in the long run, more in keeping with prosperity than our system is.

Thirdly, Israel’s system strives for justice that is proportional to the crime. If someone punches you in the face and you lose your eyesight, you are not allowed to kill them. An “eye for an eye” is not a metaphor; it is a lesson and here is the answer: God is just and he commands his people to do justice in proportion to the crime.That’s what is being described in verses 17-22.

Criminal justice reform is an issue that is debated in our society. The principles illustrated here in Leviticus 24 offer guidance that should be considered whenever our society–or any society–attaches penalties to breaking the law.

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 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.

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?

2 Kings 9, Hosea 1

Read 2 Kings 9 and Hosea 1 today.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 9.

In God’s original plan for Israel, there was to be one nation ruled by a descendent of David. God decreed that Solomon’s sins would lead to a divided kingdom, but the rulers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not typically anointed by prophets as Saul and David were. So, when Elisha sent one of the prophets in his prophetic school to anoint Jehu king over Israel in this chapter (vv. 1-3), that was a highly unusual move. Furthermore, Jehu was not a godly man nor did he begin a great spiritual reformation in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He was just like every other king of the Northern Kingdom in the sense that he was an unbeliever who left in place the idolatry created by Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom.

So, then, why did God send a prophet to anoint Jehu? It was to bring Ahab, Jezebel, and their descendants to justice. Verse 7 says, “You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.”

The violence that God commanded in this chapter and that Jehu carried out is difficult for us accept. Why would God anoint a man to wipe out another man’s entire family? Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, kings in this era of time had no legal check on their power. There was no legislature or court to bring Ahab to justice for his many sins. If there was going to be justice, it would have to be carried out by another king. Jehu’s killings in this passage were not acts of first degree murder; they were done to uphold the Law of Israel given through Moses which mandated the death penalty for the things that Ahab and Jezebel did.
  • Second, Ahab was warned repeatedly (1 Ki 20:41-43, 21:21-24, 22:17, 28) that his sins would lead to his death and the death of his wife and descendants. Although he expressed some remorse and received a merciful delay (1 Ki 21:25-29), he did not fundamentally change like he would have if he had truly repented.
  • Third, the descendants of Ahab were included in both the prophecy (1 Ki 21:21-24) and the fulfillment here in 2 Kings 9:8. It does not seem fair that they died for the sins of their parents. But the life of their son Joram shows a continuation of their godlessness and unbelief. Surely there would have been mercy for one of Ahab & Jezebel’s descendants if they had repented and followed the Lord. But even after they had been given the prophecy of Elijah that their would be justice for them, they continued in their sinful ways.

God is just and he established human governments to uphold justice and enforce the penalties of disobedience to his laws. The Bible says that unbelieving government leaders who exercise just judgment are God’s agents for good (Rom 13:4a). Jehu would answer for his own sins but, to the degree that he acted justly, he was doing God’s will.

1 Kings 15, Ezekiel 45

Read 1 Kings 15 and Ezekiel 45.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 45:7-9: “7 “The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The right to private property is foundational to righteousness. The eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” is a command that protects the right to own things. If there is no ownership–no private property–then it is impossible to steal anything. So God cares enough about private ownership of property that he protected it in the Big 10 (that is, the Ten Commandments).

Who has the power to steal and get away with it? Government, that’s who.

If I walked over to my neighbor’s house, stuck a gun in his face and told him I was taking his land to build a private road to my house, I would be prosecuted for a number of crimes. But, if someone from the government shows up and says they are going to take your home using “immanent domain” what recourse do you have? You could sue them and you might win but the very court that will hear and decide your case is another branch of the same government, so good luck.

Here in Ezekiel 45, God commanded some specific things to protect private property in Israel when it would be restored to its land. in verses 1-4 God commanded a specific amount of land that would be set aside for the temple and the priests. In verse 5, he marked out more land for the Levites. In verse 6 he marked out some public land for “all Israel.”

Then in verse 7 he prescribed how much land “the prince” would own and where that land would be. Verse 8a said, “This land will be his possession in Israel” and then verse 8b went on to say, “And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.” This is a statement against the forcible seizure of land by the government. In verse 9 God took some time out to condemn the princes of Israel for taking too much land: “You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.” These verses were for Israel, of course, but they are based on a universal ethic, an eternal standard of right and wrong when it comes to the human right of private property.

Our governments (federal, state, and local) have transgressed the principles applied in this passage. The amount that the government collects in taxes, the unjust way it seizes land using immanent domain, the way it imposes regulations on business and private transactions, the way it harasses American citizens at border patrol checkpoints, and the way that it monitors communication are just a few of the ways that it uses violence to oppress people. We have a lot more say in our government than most people who have lived in human history and I’m thankful for that, but the government is encroaching on more and more of our lives all the time.

We should use all the legal, peaceful means available to us to protect the freedoms we have and rollback, if possible, the ways government encroaches on our freedom and rights. Ultimately, however, there will be no perfect society until Jesus is king. When you see or hear of oppression, injustice, and violence–whether caused by our or another human government or by one person against another–that is an opportunity to ask God for his help and to remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven.

1 Kings 3, Ezekiel 34

Read 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?

1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 6

Read 1 Samuel 27 and Ezekiel 6.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 27.

It must have been discouraging and exhausting to live like a nomad in the desert constantly on the run from Saul. The logistics of living like that are hard to imagine. Verse 2 told us that David had 600 men with him and verse 3 records, “Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives….” So the number of people involved in David’s nomadic group was at least 1,200 and probably many more assuming that these families had children. It was a big job, I’m sure, finding food and water for these people day after day plus a suitable place to camp when they needed to move to maintain their security.

On top of the difficulty of living this way, Saul’s hunt for David left Israel at risk from her enemies. Back in 1 Samuel 23, the Philistines attacked Israel while Saul was out chasing David (23:27-28). Maybe their timing was fortunate or maybe they knew that Saul was preoccupied with David; either way, Israel was not ready to defend itself while the king and his army was out trying to kill the next man who would be king.

In light of all of this, David decided, according to verse 1 here in chapter 27, to try living with the Philistines again. Remember that he had come to Achish king of the Philistines back in 1 Samuel 21:10 but that time he was alone (21:1) and vulnerable. This time, here in 1 Samuel 27, he was traveling with a large group of fighting men and their families; furthermore, it was now known that Saul regarded him as an enemy (v. 12). Maybe you’ve heard the secular, military proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Achish felt it applied in this situation. So David and his men were given asylum first in the capital city of Gath (v. 4) and then a more private and comfortable distance from Achish in Ziklag (vv. 5-6). This move allowed these families to settle down and lead a more peaceful life because Saul did not go looking for David in Philistine territory (v. 4).

What did David and his men do during this year and four months living in Ziklag (vv. 6-7)? One thing they did was make Ziklag part of Israel (v. 6b). This town was located in the territory God had assigned to Judah but God’s people had not obeyed the Lord and taken control of it yet. Now, through David’s actions, they owned this place God had promised to them.

In addition to Ziklag, David and his army invaded other nations south of the promised land that God had told Israel to conquer, namely “the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites” (v. 8). Again, God had commanded Israel to attack and extinguish these people because of their sins against him. Although David was evasive with his reports to Achish about where he was fighting (v. 10), he and his men were doing what Israel’s army was supposed to be doing.

So David and his men were at risk from their true king Saul and, for their own safety and well-being, were temporarily subject to a king who did not know God. They were subordinate to ungodly, disobedient leaders yet they had the ability to do the will of God anyway by attacking Israel’s enemies.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you were accountable to an ungodly or maybe just an unwise leader and there was little you could do about it? Maybe you’re in that position now–you’re married to an unbelieving husband, have unbelieving parents, are trying to graduate from a school taught and run by unbelievers, or work a job under a foolish boss. What do you do? The answer is you do the will of God as much as possible. God’s commands provided the moral compass David and his men needed during this strange period in their lives. Let God’s word point you in the direction where you should go, too. Do what is moral and right and just in God’s sight with whatever freedom you have. Let the wisdom sayings of Proverbs help you do what will bring prosperity within the will of God. Put your hope in God and look for deliverance from that situation, but while you wait for the deliverance, do what you can to advance God’s interests and will.