1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5

Read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5.

This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on.

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can do rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture.

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves. Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23).

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about ti? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things–church attendance, etc.–are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.

2 Kings 23, Joel 2

Read 2 Kings 23 and Joel 2.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 23.

The phrase, “Too little, too late” is a cliché that is self-explanatory. If you don’t pay your electric bill for months, then try to hand over $5 when someone comes to turn off your power, you are living the cliché.

Josiah’s reforms came too late to avoid God’s judgment on Judah (v. 25). Josiah cannot, however, be charged with doing “too little.” Verse 25 says, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” Josiah was a true reformer, a devoted servant of God who did everything in his power to live according to God’s law and lead God’s nation according to that law. The list of things that Josiah had to do in this chapter to excavate idolatry from Judah is incredible. Consider:

  • v. 4: He ordered the removal “from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem….” (v. 4 c-d).
  • v. 5: “He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places….”
  • v. 6: “He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there.”
  • v. 7a: “He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord….”
  • v. 7b: He also tore down “the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah.”
  • v. 8b: Josiah “desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense….”
  • v. 10: “He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek.”
  • v. 11a: “He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun.”
  • v. 11c: “Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.”
  • v. 12: “He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz….”

[You get the idea. This list keeps going through verse 20, then more reforms are mentioned in verses 24-25.]

This list shows us how deeply rooted idolatry was in Judah, the land where 8 good kings (out of 20) reigned after Solomon. All of this work followed publicly reading God’s word (v. 2d) which, amazingly, had been lost for years in God’s own temple. After reading God’s word, Josiah led his nation to re-affirm their commitment to the covenant described in God’s word (v. 3). The actions he took in this chapter were acts of obedience that flowed from the covenant renewal he and the people of Judah pledged themselves to.

Have you ever made a commitment to God to (1) start tithing (2) stop sinning in some way (3) start reading his word daily and praying or to do something else? Commitments are great; they are often part of growing in grace. But once the commitment has been made, we have to show up and do the work of rooting out the old sins and idols and habits. If you’re like me, you’ve made many decisions before the Lord that you never followed through on. Why not? Because making the decision to repent feels like reformation; it isn’t. It is just the beginning of change, not the end.

What commitment to the Lord needs to be carried out in your life? Do the thorough acts of obedience described in this chapter encourage you to make some changes in your own life?

Joshua 14-15, Jeremiah 7

Read Joshua 14-15 and Jeremiah 7.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 7:19b: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?”

The people of Judah had it made in the days of Jeremiah. They had divine protection from God because God’s dwelling place on earth, the magnificent temple built by Solomon, was in their capital city of Jerusalem. Nothing could ever touch them because God would Protect This House. After Israel, their blood brothers and neighbors to the North, were defeated by the Assyrians, the people of Judah did not fear. When the Babylonians came along and started whipping other nations, Jerusalem was unafraid. If they ever did feel concern, they would just point to that huge building on the horizon and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (v. 4). Reminding themselves and each other that they had the Lord’s temple made them feel secure about their lives. They could sin all they wanted (vv. 9-10) because the Lord would protect his temple (v. 10).

Yes, the people of Judah had it made!

Or, that’s what they thought, at least. Prophets like Jeremiah came along to tell them that things were far worse than they thought (v. 13). “I have been watching! declares the Lord” in verse 11c. Look at what I did to Shiloh, the first place where my house lived (v. 12), God said. You may have the temple, but you’re no better off than the Northern Kingdom of Israel was (vv. 14-15). So shut up already about the temple of the Lord (v. 8); instead, change your ways if you want to stay (vv. 5-7).

God was displeased by many sins in Judah (vv. 6, 9) with idol worship being #1 on his list of grievances (v. 9b, 18). Yes, he was angry (v. 20) but his people did not realize something truly important: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” (v. 19b). Sin angers God but, being all-powerful and everything, it doesn’t really hurt him in the sense of diminishing his power or glory. It does diminish us, however. It cuts us off from the blessings he promised for obedience and puts us under the curses he promised for sin. Sin provides us with temporary pleasure but it leaves permanent damage behind.

Jesus has rescued us from the eternal damage of sin by taking God’s wrath on himself. However, he does not give us a license to keep sinning without consequence. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” rhymes (conceptually, at least) with “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” but anyone who thinks, I can sin and be safe because, Jesus! does not understand what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.

What damage has sin caused in your life, even as a believer? What seeds of sin or sin habits are you sowing that will someday harvest real problems in your life? Are you saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as an excuse to keep sinning? Will you receive God’s grace in this rebuke and change your mind and your life by the power of the Spirit?

Joshua 7, Jeremiah 1

Read Joshua 7 and Jeremiah 1.

This devotional is about Joshua 7.

It really didn’t take very long, did it, before Israel’s great victory over Jericho gave way to a crushing defeat in Ai (vv. 2-5). God’s people lost all the confidence they had gained in Jericho (v. 5c) and Joshua questioned God’s wisdom (vv. 6-9). But the real culprit was Achan’s sin (v. 1). Once God revealed the true issue (vv. 10-11), he also affirmed that there would be no further conquest until the sin issue was removed (v. 12).

God could have revealed Achan’s name and made it easy for Joshua and the Israelites; instead, the Lord systematically led Joshua through the people, “tribe by tribe, clan by clan, family by family” (v. 14). My belief is that Achan could have come forward at any point and ended the interrogation, but he intended to keep his sin secret and hope that he would not be revealed. That’s often our tendency, too, isn’t it? Keep quiet and hope for the best.

My assumption, too, is that if Achan had confessed, there would have been mercy for his family and maybe for him. I base this assumption on Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If only we would listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the voice of our guilty conscience and come forward when we sin instead of trying to get away with it. Not only would we receive God’s offer of mercy, we could, perhaps, spare others the misery of our sin. One thing’s for sure: if we would voluntarily confess our sin instead of waiting until we were caught, it would be a lot easier to forsake the sin before it became a habit.

Unfortunately, Achan tried to cover his sin but God was not deceived. But notice that, when he was identified, Joshua said to him, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me” (v. 19). We hide our sins for various reasons: we fear the consequences of confession and/or we love the pleasure of our sin so much that we keep it a secret so that we can return to it. What may not factor into our thinking, however, is the glory of God. Is God glorified when we sin in private, keep it hidden, and pretend to be the good people of God on the outside? Of course not. But that’s not our instinct; our instinct is to believe that the outward appearance of godliness is better for God and for us than it is to admit our failings and fall upon the mercy and grace of God. Even when caught, however, the best way for Achan to glorify God was not to lie and continue to try to cover his sin; instead, the best thing to do was to own up to his disobedience, which he did in verses 20-12.

I wonder what would have happened in Achan’s life if he had come forward sooner—either when his conscience convicted him or when Joshua began working his way through the people. What about in our lives? Is there a sin that you’re hiding? Have you ever considered that God’s blessing might be withheld from your family or from our church or from something else because of the disobedience that you are trying to cover? Has it ever occurred to you that, having sinned, the best way to glorify God now is to come forward voluntarily to the appropriate person—the government, your spouse, your elders—make a full confession and ask God to glorify himself either in mercy or in punishment? If the Lord is convicting you of something right now, take the opportunity you have today to give glory to God. Confess your sin and fall on the mercy of God.

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of risk or hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful.

I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book about God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96

Read Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96.

This devotional is from Proverbs 24.

It is tempting to choose the most comfortable option. Today’s reading gives us two Proverbs that caution us against this easy choice.

The first proverb is 24:27: “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” I visualize this piece of wisdom going from Solomon to his newlywed son. As the young couple begins to embark on life together, they dream of having a home of their own. Using the property subdivided by his father, the young couple faces a choice: spend their time and whatever money they have building a comfortable starter home on their new land or live with ma and pa for a while as they work the soil, plant the crops, and tend to the weeds. After the process of starting their farm has begun and the growth of the crops looks promising for their first harvest, then they can start to build a home of their own.

No one really wants to live with their parents and it’s more fun to build a house than to plant a field. But the field will produce income. It will get you started in life financially. It will provide for you in the future. If you build the home first it will give you your independence and a comfortable start to your life as an adult, but it will also drain your finances and delay that first harvest. It is far wiser to put productivity over comfort in the short term so that you can be more comfortable in the future but that takes a disciplined approach to life that probably does not come naturally to most people.

In a similar way, verses 30-34 describe the ease of laziness. If a farmer skips one day of planting, is the crop ruined? No, but it is easy to let one day off become one week off; our legitimate need for rest can snowball (v. 33). We feel as if we’ll be able to work better tomorrow if we rest up today. That may be true; it may also be a way of rationalizing our procrastination.

I lived most of my childhood as a procrastinator. I came home from school and told myself I would do homework or study for my test after I ate a snack. Oh, but Scooby Doo is on, so I’ll watch that just to relax for a few minutes. It’s going to be dinner time soon so I’ll get busy after that. You get the idea. I created habits of laziness in my life. By the time I was in seminary, I was turning in papers at the last minute after an all-nighter. I got decent grades but in my heart I knew I wasn’t doing my best work or getting the most out of the opportunities God had given to me. Eventually I learned to build some disciplined habits, but even today if I deviate from those habits, the old sin of procrastination is ready to slither back into my life.

But what does any of this have to do with God? These are wise bits of knowledge and helpful for productivity but couldn’t we have learned them from somewhere else? Why did God encode them into his holy word?

One answer is that these productivity problems—seeking the easy and comfortable way and allowing laziness and procrastination to take over—are spiritual problems. They are manifestation of a heart that wants to disobey God. God created the world to respond to the diligent work of humanity. He gave us everything we need to provide for ourselves but we have to obey his laws of sowing and reaping, of prioritizing investment over consumption.

Our faith in Christ should lead us toward a productive life because we have faith in his commands and know that when we obey his commands and work with diligence, God will provide and bless us.

Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, Psalm 73

Read Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, and Psalm 73.

This devotional is about Proverbs 1.

We live in the information age. Knowledge abounds and most people carry a device in their pocket or purse that can access it. Although knowledge is readily available, wisdom is rare. People in our society know more than ever but seem to have fewer and fewer basic life skills.

The word “wisdom,” biblically speaking, at least, refers to skill. It is the skill of living a successful life according to God’s definition of success. Although I said that wisdom is rare in our society, Proverbs 1:20-21 claims that wisdom is ubiquitous—nearly as common as oxygen. To demonstrate this, Solomon imagined wisdom as if it were a woman and wrote, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:”

If wisdom is everywhere then why is it so rare? The speech of “woman wisdom” in verse 23 tells us why: “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you….” Wisdom is rare because only the humble receive it. It takes humility to admit that you lack skills with God, with money, with other people, with the opposite sex, with career choices, with your own bad habit like laziness, etc. Most of us are too proud in one or more of the areas where we need wisdom which is why we continue to make foolish decisions.

As we read the book of Proverbs over the next 30 days, note how often the idea that your own ideas or understanding will lead you astray. That’s how our pride manifests itself. We try to figure everything out on our own, so we don’t ask God for wisdom, turn to his Word for wisdom, or seek the counsel of wise people. If we would only change our minds (v. 23: “repent”) and admit that we’re on the edge of big trouble most of the time, wisdom would be right there waiting to give us a great big kiss.

Sometimes we succeed or avoid danger / failure despite our lack of wisdom but very often our foolishness gets the better of us. But living in folly and making decisions without wisdom catches up with us most of the time. The reason is that there are built-in effects to the decisions we make. When we make wise decisions, good things happen; when we make foolish decisions, we suffer for it. Verses 25-27 promise that disaster and calamity will come to those who refuse wisdom’s rebuke. Verse 30-31 tell us that this disaster and calamity is embedded in folly; it is the direct consequences of unwise choices: “Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them….”

Wisdom is a moral thing. That’s why it starts with fearing the Lord (v. 7). God’s commands are wisdom. When we sin, we choose folly and put ourselves directly in the path of a category 5 hurricane of disaster. But our sin nature fools us into believing that we know better than God and his Word; consequently, we humans make the same foolish decisions over and over, generation after generation, never learning from foolish disasters created by those older than us. We need God’s grace to overcome our foolishness so that we can be wise. This is what we have in Christ.

Is there anything in your life right now that you need to repent of? Any sins you’ve committed or have committed that you need to change your mind about? Wisdom is begging you to do it before calamity comes. Turn toward her open arms! God’s promise to you through her is, “whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (v. 33).