1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 26 and Ezekiel 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11).

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this situation must be God providing David with this opportunity. That’s why Abishai said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here.

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

1 Samuel 15, Jeremiah 52

Read 1 Samuel 15 and Jeremiah 52.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave him direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing. Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9).

God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11). In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord, with a few exceptions. But those exceptions were made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands. Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience. The text does not tell us, but as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience. It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not. The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (vv. 22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins which were worse than Saul’s—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28). What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”? Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word. We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

1 Samuel 4, Jeremiah 42

Read 1 Samuel 4 and Jeremiah 42.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 42.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. Here in Jeremiah 42, the people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 2b) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more than these people were, 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.

In between Jeremiah 39 and 42, this remnant became desperate. They assassinated the man the Babylonians had left to rule over them (40:7-41:3). Then, they ran off to Egypt because they were afraid of the repercussions (41:16-18). Now, here in chapter 42, they turned to God for help. They implored Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance about “where we should go and what we should do” (v. 3).

Jeremiah said he would pray for them and tell them what God said (v. 4). Then, in verse 5, the remnant “said to Jeremiah, ‘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.’” So they made strong, grand promises to do what the Lord commanded, no matter what it was.

God did answer Jeremiah’s prayer (v.7). His answer was:

  • Stay here and I’ll bless you (vv. 8-12)
  • Don’t go to Egypt or “my wrath will be poured out on you” (v. 18).

Jeremiah urged the people to do what God said, just as they promised they would (vv. 19-22). You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what happened because the story continued into the next chapter. But let’s consider what God’s people did here:

First, what happened to them was traumatic. Imagine a foreign nation breaching the walls of your city, killing tons of people and carrying off most of the rest of them to a foreign city. That would be terrifying.

Second, they didn’t know what to do next. These people were left because they were poor. That means either (a) they had some kind of disability that made providing for themselves impossible or (b) they lacked basic intelligence and skill and were therefore incapable of earning a living for themselves. These are the people who were left; the smartest, most gifted one of them (again, except for Jeremiah) was a failure. They had legitimate reasons to wonder whether or not they would be able to provide for themselves or whether they would starve to death from their own incompetence.

Turning to the Lord for guidance was the exact right move to make. Tomorrow we’ll find out if they actually wanted God’s guidance or if they wanted God’s stamp of approval on what they had already decided to do.

How often do we do the latter–ask for God’s help and guidance but really what we want is for him to approve of our plans? If you or I violate a command or principle of scripture because we think we have some exceptional case but we ask God to “give us wisdom,” we’re not really seeking wisdom but divine favor for our own ways.

God’s word tells us to act differently. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This verse isn’t designed to give us comfort when we make a decision that we’re not sure about. In other words, if we buy a car or house but we’re afraid it might be a bad decision, Proverbs 3:5 isn’t telling us just to trust the Lord and it will work out OK.

No, Proverbs 3:5 is telling us to trust the Lord by doing what he has revealed. So, for instance, if you marry an unsaved person, you’re leaning on your own understanding. It doesn’t matter how much you ask for God’s guidance and help, your prayer is not sincere. It might come from great fear and desperation but it isn’t sincere.

The remnant went to great pains in verses 5-6 to say that they would do whatever God said.

Are you fully committed to that–to doing the will of God, obeying God’s word? Or is that something you just paste onto the plans you’ve already made in hopes that God will approve?

Numbers 35, Isaiah 27, Psalm 140

Read Numbers 35, Isaiah 27-28, Psalm 140.

This devotional is about Numbers 35.

Murder is one of the world’s oldest sins. Despite its antiquity, it remains as gruesome and painful for the survivors as it was when Cain killed Abel. Revenge is a natural reaction for the survivors of the one who was murdered, but sometimes people die due to accidents or negligence.

What is the just response in these cases? On one hand, the family of the one who died is still deprived of his or her life, so does it really matter whether their loved one was killed intentionally or unintentionally?

God says yes, it does matter.

He designated cities of refuge for those who killed someone unintentionally (vv. 6-13). That would keep the land of Israel from being dominated by violence and bloodshed anytime someone died under suspicious circumstances. But for those who committed murder—they killed because they intended to kill (v. 20: “with malice aforethought”)—the Bible prescribes capital punishment as the appropriate means of justice (v. 16b, 17b, 18b, 19b, 21b: “the murderer is to be put to death”).

Although many Christians are proponents of capital punishment, too many of us miss the limits the Bible puts on it. Verse 30 of our text says, “Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” That verse sets forth a very high standard of proof.

Often there are no witnesses at all to murder. If one person witnessed the murder, Moses’ law did not permit the killer to be executed.

A situation where two or more people witnessed a murder is highly unusual, yet that’s the standard of evidence the Old Testament law required before capital punishment could be administered. That is because human life is special; as human beings, we bear the image of God and have eternal souls.

It is deeply evil to take another person’s life but to do it as punishment without a strong standard of proof is reckless and often unjust. The Innocence Project has exonerated many people who were unjustly executed or wrongly convicted of murder. Today’s passage here in Numbers 35 suggests that capital punishment needs to be reformed here in America. While I believe that modern evidence like DNA matching or video surveillance can and should replace the standard 2 or more eyewitnesses required in this passage, the point of the eyewitnesses was to establish absolute proof of guilt before taking a man’s life.

If you support the death penalty from biblical conviction—and I do—your biblical conviction should also insist that anyone who is executed must have been convicted based on near certainty, not just “beyond a reasonable doubt.” To take an innocent human life in punishment is just as murderous and evil in God’s sight as first degree murder is.

Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120

Read Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:118, 120: “You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their delusions come to nothing…. My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”

The songwriter described so many benefits from knowing, loving, and obeying God’s word throughout this Psalm. In verse 105 of today’s reading he made the well-known statement, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” which describes God’s truth as bringing clarity about decisions in his life.

But what about those who don’t know and love God’s word? What do they have to guide them through life? Verse 118 answers that question by saying, “their delusions come to nothing.” What unbelievers have, then, are delusions rather than truth. They make decisions based on their own deluded ideas rather than on absolute, God-revealed truth. They may have strong convictions but their convictions are based on nothing other than their own preferences or ways of looking at the world. This shows itself in our society daily. The crazy things people claim to be true, like that there are 57 genders or whatever, are symptoms of a deluded society.

Delusions can be really interesting, even very appealing. The human mind is capable of incredible, wild fantasies and, because they are only thoughts, they are not constrained by things like logic, physics, morality, or human laws. When people start to live as if their delusions are true, they will stumble into many absurd, wicked ways. As the Psalmist wrote in the last phrase of verse 118: “their delusions come to nothing.”

The preceding part of verse 118 tells us what will happen to those who live by their own delusions instead of God’s truth: “You reject all who stray from your decrees.” People may enjoy acting as if their distorted reality is true but after they die, they will find a holy God who has rejected them for rejecting his word.

This brings me to verse 120. Obeying God’s word is hard, right? Without the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and illumination, it is impossible. Even with those gifts of the Spirit, we believers have to grapple with our sin nature within. So what enables a person to reverence, receive, and obey God’s word? Verse 120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you….” It is the fear of God that causes people to obey his word. This is the work of the Spirit causing us to turn from our delusions about God, about life, about sin and believe that God exists and that we are accountable to him but also that he loves us and wants to redeem us from our delusions.

Any appetite we have for God’s word or any success we have in obeying it is only by the grace of God given to us by his Spirit. This is why we have nothing to be proud about. But we must always remember to rely on the Spirit, asking God to keep us humble and dependent on his grace. Otherwise, we will be tempted again by the “delusions [which] come to nothing.”

Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96

Read Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:73-96.

This Psalm is a long acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. It is also a love poem for God’s word. The Psalmist writes in every stanza words of praise and thanks to God for giving his law to Israel. He also claims throughout to love and live by God’s laws.

Like most Psalms, this songwriter had problems in life. Some of those problems, he felt, were afflictions from God (v. 75b). Others were persecutions (v. 84b) brought on by others. Or, perhaps, he had one major problem which he saw from two perspectives–(1) the persecutions of men (2) allowed by God’s sovereignty to afflict him for his own discipline and growth. Regardless, the Psalmist never claimed that his love for God’s word or his obedience to it gave him a trouble-free life. Instead, he found through his delight in God’s laws encouragement (v. 81b), comfort (v. 76) a basis for companionship with other godly people (v. 74, 79), guidance on how to live (v. 89, 93), and understanding about what is righteous and unrighteous in God’s sight (v. 85). Having benefited in all these ways from God’s word, he pleaded with God to rescue him according to the promises he’d read in God’s word (vv. 76b, 94) and to keep his heart faithful to obey God’s word (v. 80).

Scripture and prayer are God’s primary ways to minister grace to us while we live in this world and wait to be with Christ. We stray into sin when we stop looking for God’s help through prayer or stop looking to his word for our growth, guidance, and hope. It is possible–I know because I’ve done it–to be in God’s word each day and still have one’s heart grow cold to God’s word. This is why we should follow the Psalmist’s example and pray for God’s help to have insight to apply God’s word (v. 73), to think about God’s word (v. 95b), and to be tender to our own sinfulness so that we can be corrected by God’s word (v. 80).

I would encourage you to pray before reading these devotionals, before we worship together on Sunday, and anytime you are going to hear God’s word. Ask God to convict you, to give you insight into yourself, to give you understanding about what to do with his word once you understand it, and to give you courage to believe and obey it. This will help you keep from growing cold to the Lord and his truth.

Ruth 3

Ruth 3: U-Turns

From the series, “U-Turns.” This message teaches us that we have do what is right if we’re really trusting God in the U-Turns of life.

This is a message from chapter 3 of the Old Testament book of Ruth. It was the first message in a series called U-Turns by Pastor Brian Jones. This message was delivered on Sunday, July 26, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.

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Ruth 2

Ruth 2: U-Turns

From the series, “U-Turns.” This message teaches us that God will direct you and provide for you when you trust Him through the U-Turns of life.

This is a message from chapter 2 of the Old Testament book of Ruth. It is part of a series called U-Turns by Pastor Brian Jones. This message was delivered on Sunday, July 19, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.