Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, Proverbs 16:1-15

Read Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, and Proverbs 16:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 16:1-15.

Wealth is one of the deepest desires of many people.

For some, wealth is valuable because of the experiences it can buy. Others value the possessions that wealth can help you collect. Still others are fearful of financial ruin so accumulating wealth gives them a greater feeling of security.

Regardless of why someone wants financial gain, the temptation to be dishonest or to take advantage of someone is too strong for many to overcome. Proverbs 16:8 calls us to consider a different path. Instead of pursing and acquiring money at all costs, verse 8a invites us to consider the value of personal integrity. Would you rather do the right thing even if it meant less money for you or would you rather compromise your principles just a little bit to put some more money into your pocket? You are wiser, the Holy Spirit wrote through Solomon, if you get by on less to do the right thing than if you turn a bigger profit in an unjust way.

But why is it better–wiser–to do right instead of taking the money? Doing the right thing keeps your conscience from bothering you; in fact,  you may feel a sense of holy satisfaction if you do what is honest and right. Additionally, the Lord is watching when you choose righteousness over unjust gain. By choosing to do what God commands, you are banking on his promise to provide for you and your needs.

Will you face a situation like this in the next week? Maybe a cashier will mistakenly give you a $10 bill back instead of a $1 bill? Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to buy something for yourself with the company credit card? Maybe you’ll be tempted to embezzle funds or join a dishonest get rich quick scheme.

Remember that God is watching what we do and, if you belong to him, pleasing him with your choices will be better than stocking away more cash for yourself. If your trust is in the Lord, then count on him to provide for you by doing what is right, even if it leaves you with less money in the bank.

Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3

Read Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 32, Ecclesiastes 8, Luke 12

Read Exodus 32, Ecclesiastes 8, Luke 12.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 4, Job 21, Hebrews 10

Read Exodus 4, Job 21, and Hebrews 10. This devotional is about Job 21.

Job’s complaint here in chapter 21 is a familiar one. It is something many believers in God throughout the ages have felt and said, namely that the wicked seem to live pretty great lives. According to Job, wicked people:

  • Live to a ripe old age (v. 7)
  • Get more powerful and wealthy with each passing year (v 7).
  • Watch their kids grow up and do well in life, too (v. 8).
  • Live in safety under no condemnation from God (v. 9).
  • Have business success year after year (v. 10).
  • Enjoy happy times with their families when they are not working (vv. 11-12).
  • Retire inspired and die happy (v. 13).

Despite all these blessings, they resist God their whole lives and want nothing to do with him (vv. 14-15).

In verse 16a Job recognized that God was the source of their prosperity: “their prosperity is not in their own hands.” Job’s reason for saying all this, then, was not, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” He was not about to ditch his faith in God and join the ways of wickedness because the wicked had better lives. He knew that God existed and that anything unbelievers enjoy in this life is by the [common] grace of God. For these reasons Job said, “so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked.”

Rather, Job brought up the topic of the prosperity of the wicked because he wanted to point out how unjust it all seems. In verses 17-18 Job complained that the wicked never seem to get what they deserve in this life.

In verse 19 Job quoted a common saying, “God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children.” People who said this were comforting themselves that the children of the wicked would suffer for their parents’ sins. Job wanted none of that. He said, “Let their own eyes see their destruction; let them drink the cup of the wrath of the Almighty” (v. 20). In other words, God should punish the wicked now because when they are dead, they won’t care if their kids have to pay the pricetag for their parents’ sins (v. 21).

In fact, Job thought, everyone dies no matter what. The wicked and the righteous, those who suffer and those who enjoy a great life lie side by side in the cemetery (vv. 23-33). So what difference does it make if people live a godly or a wicked life?

The answer is not stated in this chapter but it is important to understand. The logic of Job in this chapter is hard to argue with. Lots of unbelievers live long, prosperous, and seemingly happy lives. Lots of believers suffer sorrow and even persecution. Both unbelievers and believers die. We all meet the same fate, so why should anyone do anything except for what they want to do?

Again, the logic of Job’s position in this chapter is hard to argue with if this life is all there is. Job had, in previous chapters, affirmed his belief in the resurrection but now here in chapter 21, he’s wavering a bit. “What if God exists but there is no afterlife? he thinks. Then it makes no sense to be godly because plenty  of ungodly people seem to sin and get away with it.

Well…, things probably aren’t as rosy for the unbeliever in this life as Job thinks. But, even if he’s right, there is more to life than this life. God does allow many unbelievers to skate through life without getting what they deserve for their sins. If this life is all that exists, then God would be unjust to let unbelievers get away with their sin.

But God is just; therefore, we know that justice will be done in eternity even if it doesn’t happen in this life.

So let’s be faithful to our just God even when life seems unfair and ungodliness seems like a better, happier path. As the author of Hebrews put it in Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him….”

Trust in that truth even when life seems unfair. God will do what is right when this life is over.

Genesis 40, Job 6, Matthew 28

Read Genesis 40, Job 6, and Matthew 28.

This devotional is about Job 6.

In chapter 6, Job continued lamenting the painful afflictions that had come into his life. He had asked his wife in chapter 2:10b: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” But now the sorrow of his reversal in life was weighing down on him much more heavily. He viewed the devastation he had experienced as a direct attack from God (v. 4) and wished that God would just kill him so that he could die without cursing God (vv. 8-10). Job was tempted to curse God because he felt there was no future for him, nothing to look forward to, no encouragement left for this life (vv. 11-23). He concluded this chapter by asking for proof of his disobedience (vv. 24-30).

Although we know personally and theologically that Job was not perfectly sinless, we also know from chapters 1-2 that God did not allow these problems into Job’s life to punish him.

But Job didn’t know why God allowed all this trouble in his life. In that way, he’s like us most of the time. If I break the law and get caught, then I know that the “trouble” in my life is my fault while I’m being prosecuted.

But if I’m living my life as I always have and suddenly my house catches fire and burns to the ground, then I am left to wonder. Why did God allow this? Was it something I did?

When we cannot see a direct cause for the problems in our lives, we tend to speculate in one of two directions. Either:

  1. I did something and God is punishing me for it
  2. Or God is mistreating me unjustly.

This is what Job was wondering so he demanded that God answer him. In verses 29-30 he said, “Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.  Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice?”

If you were one of Job’s friends, how would you respond to the feelings and questions he expressed in this chapter? His friends were sure that God was not unjust so they were likewise certain that Job did something wrong.

Is that how we treat people who are hurting and dealing with problems? Do we assume that God is punishing them for something?

That isn’t comforting to anyone, but could it be correct? How would God want us to respond to someone in Job’s situation?

Maybe we know enough about Job’s story to give the right answer biblically. But does that knowledge guide us when we are talking with hurting people? Can we offer friendship and comfort and encouragement to other believers without wondering or implying that they are somehow to blame for their suffering?

Genesis 31, Esther 7, Matthew 22

Read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Matthew 22 today.

This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc.

One (of many) reasons people use to rationalize this theft is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. He or she feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled and decided not to marry Rachel after all? What if Laban refused to marry both of his daughters to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them.

When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly she felt Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who was caught embezzling money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite his absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.

2 Chronicles 26, Zechariah 9

Read 2 Chronicles 26 and Zechariah 9.

This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

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

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

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

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

2 Chronicles 24, Zechariah 7

Read 2 Chronicles 24 and Zechariah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’’

Karma is a Hindu and Buddhist concept that, at least here in the West, is interpreted to say that evil things you do will bring evil to you and good things you do will bring good to you.

There are certain precepts of scripture that are similar:

  • The law of the harvest: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7)
  • “He who digs a pit will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27)

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest–Zechariah’s father–was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death.

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order.

As for king Joash, who unjustly killed Zechariah, he did die prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this story when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions, as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19).

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

2 Chronicles 6:2-42, Habakkuk 1

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

This devotional is about Habakkuk 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

1 Chronicles 16, Obadiah

Read 1 Chronicles 16 and Obadiah.

This devotional is about the book of Obadiah.

Obadiah wrote this prophecy against Edom (v. 1), a nation that bordered Judah to the south. This nation traced its ancestry to Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel. The Edomites are condemned here for two sins:

  1. Pride: Verses 3-4 describes a smug feeling of invincibility that the Edomites possessed. Then, verses 5-9 prophesied an easy defeat for the nation. Later in verses 18-20 Obadiah prophesied that no one would survive from the family of the Edomites after God’s judgment fell on them.
  2. Victimizing Judah: Verses 10-14 describe how the Edomites responded to the invasion of Jerusalem. 

Let’s focus this devotional on sin #2 described above.

Verse 11 says, “you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth” which tells us that the first response of the Edomites was no response at all. They did nothing while Jerusalem was being attacked.

Refusing to try to help God’s people was, according to Obadiah, tacit approval of the invasion. We see that in verse 11 where Obadiah said, “while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” That last phrase, “you were like one of them” equates Edom with Jerusalem’s attackers even though they “stood aloof” (v. 11a) while it was happening.

Was Edom obliged to come to Jerusalem’s defense? They shared a border with Judah and hundreds of years before their patriarch Esau was brothers with Israel (v. 10a). Normally, I wouldn’t think that those two facts mean much in a context like this. They were now separate nations and their “brotherhood” was ancient history (literally). So were they really obligated to help?

Apparently, yes, they were. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians as an act of punishment for their sins and idolatry. That’s the spiritual/theological reason for their demise. But on a human level, Nebuchadnezzar had no moral right to invade Israel. They were, politically and militarily speaking, victims of Babylonian aggression. Their common ancestry, though ancient, should have caused them to have some affinity for God’s people. Their common border should have caused them to want to help their neighbors to the north.

The argumentation in this passage reminds me of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told that story to teach us that “loving your neighbor” means helping anyone who needs help who is within your reach. The Samaritan was a step-brother (in a sense) of the Jewish man who was victimized by robbers. The victim’s countrymen, his brothers, who passed by without helping him were “standing aloof” to borrow the image of verse 11a. But Jesus praised the Samaritan for giving assistance when he saw the plight of the Israelite.

The application, then, for us is to understand that God expects us to help when we see someone being victimized. We shouldn’t stand by and do nothing and we certainly shouldn’t join in the victimization as Edom did in verses 13-14. We should help the oppressed fend off the oppressor.

Now, in our globally-connected world, we know about world problems and injustices that people in other eras of time would never have known about. I don’t think God requires us to find every problem in the world and get involved in it. The Good Samaritan, after all, was walking by; he wasn’t like an ancient Batman looking for crime to fight. So the Bible isn’t teaching that we have an unlimited responsibility for everyone else’s problems. Instead, we should understand that it is not acceptable in the Lord’s sight to be a bystander when we see injustice or violence or exploitation.

So, if you saw someone abusing a child or a woman, would you do anything about it? If you saw two men punching each other–or two men punching and kicking a third man–would you call for help? Would you try to stop them? If your neighbor’s land was being polluted by a corporation or seized by the county unjustly, would you try to help?

God commands us to help when we can, where we can. When we refuse to help, we are sinning. Keep that in mind the next time you see someone who needs help.

2 Kings 24, Joel 3

Read 2 Kings 24 and Joel 3.

This devotional is about Joel 3.

“How can a good God allow so much evil and injustice in the world?” This is one common question that opponents to our faith ask.

A big part of the answer is described here in Joel 3. Put simply, “God doesn’t. He does not allow any evil or injustice in the world” in the absolute sense. Instead, those who do any kind of evil or injustice at all are storing up judgment (Rom 2:5) for themselves. God is long-suffering and patient, so his wrath has not yet been turned on this world.

But it will be. Joel 3 describes one day in which God’s wrath will fall. Verse 2 says this to all the nations that abused Israel: “I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel….”

After this trial that God promised in verse 2, how many will find themselves guilty and receive God’s punishment as a result? Verse 14 says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” The Valley of Decision is not where people decide for or against God. It is the place where God dishes out what HE has decided; namely, the sentence of judgment he handed down to the guilty when he put them on trial in verse 2.

This passage specifically was a warning for the nations that oppressed Israel. But, plenty of other passages in scripture show us that God will judge every sin and every sinner. The only escape will be God himself. Yes, the one who is angry, vengeful, and judging to those who oppose him will lay down his arms of war and open his arms of love. He will protect his people from the wrath poured out on the wicked. Verse 16d-e says, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” By grace, God has grafted many Gentiles into the category called “his people.” By that same grace he not only rescues us from the coming wrath (1 These 1:10) but he pours out his love and provision on us instead (vv. 17-20 here in Joel 3).

All of the blessings of protection from God’s wrath and provision and prosperity for eternity comes to us through Christ. He bore God’s wrath for us so that, by grace, we could escape these terrible Day of the Lord events. Passages like this one remind us of what Christ has accomplished for us; they also remind us that God has given us the responsibility to spread this message of grace to the world until he comes.

Who could you reach out to with the grace of the good news this week?