2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, Psalms 114-116

Read 2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, and Psalms 114-116.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 18.

Of all the battles David fought in his life, none created as much anxiety for him as this one must have. His anxiety had nothing to do with fear of losing; God had made an eternal covenant with David, so David could be confident that God would be with him.

David also had an impressive army with him (v. 1) led by Joab, his experienced, successful field general (v. 2). Although David expressed his willingness to enter the battle personally (v. 2f), his soldiers convinced him to stay in the fortified city of Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24 compare to 2 Samuel 2:8) while they fought on his behalf (18:3-6).

As expected, God gave David’s troops this victory (vv. 7-8). Absalom certainly believed he was a capable judge (remember 15:1-4); apparently he also believed he was a mighty warrior. There is no mention of him fighting in Israel’s army because he probably wasn’t needed in David’s army . Alhough Jonathan fought in his father, King Saul’s army, David’s kingdom and army were more highly developed than Saul’s. It seems unlikely to me, therefore, that Absalom had ever fought in any battle prior to this battle here in 2 Samuel 18.

Though the Bible does not accuse Absalom of arrogance, its description of him suggests an arrogant man. He had hired men to go before his chariots and horsemen to announce his arrival (15:1). Most men have receding hairlines or some type of balding problem, but Absalom had a thick head of hair that he allowed to grow long (14:26), maybe to stand out in a crowd and draw attention to himself. Our passage today told us that Absalom built a monument to himself so that he would not be forgotten, since he had no son (v. 18). Despite his great self-confidence, Absalom’s army was no match for his father’s and his thick hair was instrumental in bringing him to a humiliating defeat (vv. 9-17).

Unlike his father, David, who was chosen and anointed king by God and who waited until Saul was dead and Israel was ready for him to become king, Absalom anointed himself king and tried to take David’s kingdom from him by force, despite what God had promised to David.

Absalom’s life and death illustrate the truth Jesus taught in Luke 14:11: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” May the Lord protect us from the high risk foolishness of arrogance.

I think that we are especially susceptible to arrogance when we are young. I know that I, as a younger man, thought I saw things more clearly at times than the leaders I followed. I remember thinking that I could do better and agitating for more authority. Now that I am older and have struggled with the realities of the adult world and spiritual /church leadership, I have a much lower view of my own abilities.

If you are young, take a lesson from Absalom: There is great virtue in following your leaders as your leaders do their best to follow and obey the Lord. Don’t let arrogance put you into a self-destructive place.

2 Samuel 15, Daniel 5, Mark 15

Read 2 Samuel 15, Daniel 5, and Mark 15.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 15.

One of the consequences that Nathan prophesied would result from David’s sin with Bathsheba was that “the sword would never depart” from David’s house (2 Sam 12:10a).

The fulfillment of that prophecy began when Absalom killed Amnon after Amnon raped Tamar, Absalom’s sister. You will recall that David was angry when he heard about the rape, but he did nothing—not a rebuke of Amnon or, as far as we know, an attempt to comfort Tamar.

Where David left a leadership vacuum, Absalom stepped in. He comforted and cared for his sister and plotted for a way to get revenge against Amnon.

Once Absalom killed Amnon, he went into hiding and was only restored to Jerusalem when Joab interceded with David on his behalf, as we read yesterday. Still, there was plenty of friction between David and Absalom. Though he was allowed to live in Jerusalem, David would not allow Absalom to see him. Their relationship as father and son, then, was still broken.

Although the text does not tell us this exactly, Absalom’s actions in today’s passage indicate that resentment remained in the heart of Absalom. According to verse 1, Absalom began raising his profile within Jerusalem. Then he began to undermine David’s function as Israel’s judge; verses 2-4 tell us that he would stand waiting for those who had legal issues to resolve. Instead of allowing them to come to David for justice, Absalom would tell the petitioner that no one was available to hear his case and give him justice (v. 3). Absalom would then moan that he should be appointed judge so that the people could get justice (v. 4). When they would bow in deference to Absalom, he would treat them as a someone would a friend, not a subject in his kingdom (v. 5). All these actions caused people to think well of Absalom; indeed, verse 6 says that “he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.”

After four years of daily undermining David (v. 7a) when enough goodwill had been accumulated, Absalom made his move and got people to proclaim him king (vv. 8-12). David found himself being hunted again just as Saul had once hunted him in his youth (vv. 13-37). Though the Lord was still with David, the Lord also allowed David to experience this challenge to his kingdom. The challenge resulted both from David’s sin with Bathsheba and from David’s passivity in dealing with Tamar’s rape and Absalom’s murder of Amnon.

Similarly, many of the trials we face in life are, in fact, the harvest of our own sins or our own failure to deal properly with the sins of others. Although confrontation, correction, and restoration are unpleasant things to do, they are righteous in God’s sight and can save us from many problems down the road.

Are you avoiding a hard conversation you need to have with a friend, a co-worker, your spouse, or your child? Don’t let fear keep you from doing what is right; failing to do what is right usually leads to even more problems later. Don’t run away from issues that need to be addressed; run toward them seeking a resolution that glorifies God.

2 Samuel 13, Daniel 3, Mark 13

Read 2 Samuel 13, Daniel 3, and Mark 13.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 13.

I wonder what family life looked like for David?

Whatever it looked like, it certainly did not resemble the lives of most other families in his kingdom. He was married to multiple women who bore him multiple children. By contrast, most Israelite marriages were monogamous. The few men who had more than one wife probably only had two wives and all of them lived in small homes. There was very little privacy and very little free time because everyone in the household had multiple jobs to do in order to provide for the entire family. David’s family, by contrast, lived in a sprawling palace and had everything provided for them.

The boys in David’s household almost certainly had a distorted view of women and the relationship that men had to women. For all his virtues, the fact that David had so many wives and still committed adultery indicates that his view of women was very narrow.

Maybe this is why his son Amnon treated Tamar the way he did in this chapter. Verse 1 says that he “fell in love” with her. Does this indicate that he was merely obsessed with her as a sex object? Possibly, but it also might mean that he had a narrow, deficient view of what love is and what a male-female relationship was about.

Regardless, his intentions toward Tamar were entirely sexual. Verse 2 tells us that her virginity made it “impossible for him to do anything to her.” He was not troubled that they could not marry because they were siblings. Since she was his sister, he could have talked with her and spent time with her without anyone thinking it was inappropriate. When he finally did get her alone in his room, thanks to the devious engineering of Jonadab, he did not pour out his heart to her, pledging his undying love to her.

No, he told her that he wanted to have sex with her (v. 11). When she did not cooperate, he raped her, but then “he hated her” (v. 15). I’ve always wondered why his attraction turned to antipathy so quickly. Maybe his fantasies all assumed she be just as hot for him as he was for her. Since she resisted instead of reciprocating, the whole illusion of a passionate relationship with her was now ruined for him.

As sad as this story is, David’s responses made it all so much worse. Verse 21 says that David “was furious.”

That’s it.

There is no mention of David rebuking Amnon, much less executing judgment on him for his act. There is no suggestion that David tried to console his daughter and, by not bringing her attacker to justice, he diminished her value as a person.

No wonder she was so devastated: Her innocence was forcibly taken from her. Her ability to marry was taken from her because men wanted only virgins as their wives. And, to make it all worse, her father got mad but did nothing.

Although Absalom cared for his sister and took up her cause in ways her father should have but didn’t, his approach was sinful. The right thing for Absalom to do was to become David’s conscience on behalf of Tamar. He should have vigorously lobbied David to do what was righteous and just for Tamar. Instead, Absalom sought and got revenge.

In response to this, David sinned again. Although he mourned the death of Amnon (vv. 36-37), he got over it and wanted to normalize his relationship with Absalom quickly (v. 39).

The problem David demonstrated in this passage was passivity in his family. Instead of showing leadership and doing what was right when one family member sinned against another, David emoted then did not act for justice and reconciliation.

I think family life, for some reason, is susceptible to this. It seems easy to just assume (hope?) that family members will get over it when they are abused or taken advantage of by their siblings. I feel this in my own life as a husband and father. It is easier for me to act, to know and do the right thing as an elder in our church than it is to know and do the right thing as a father.

But that’s no excuse to allow sin to go unaddressed, to allow problems to be left alone, hoping they go away. Godly leadership calls us to run toward issues, not away from them.

May God give us wisdom and courage to show this godly leadership; maybe that will rub off on our kids rather than a poor view of the opposite sex.

1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, Colossians 2

Read 1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, and Colossians 2.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12.

When the people began clamoring for a king in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel took their demands before the Lord. Their desire for a king must have seemed like a personal rejection because God told Samuel not to feel as if he had been rejected: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:8).  Since Saul had been anointed king, announced as king, and ratified as king, Samuel was ready to retreat from the stage of public leadership.  

Here in 1 Samuel 12 we read Samuel’s retirement speech. In verses 1-2a, he acknowledged that leadership has fully and permanently passed from himself to Saul. In verses 2b-4, he challenged Israel to bring testimony against him. If he had abused his leadership in any way, the victims were now to speak up so that he could finish his administration cleanly by making restitution. No one brought any charges against him (v. 4-5).

But Samuel himself had a charge to make against God’s people. In verses 6-12, he rehearsed briefly Israel’s checkered spiritual history. Then in verses 14-15, he commanded the people to follow the Lord in obedience and warned them about the consequences of their disobedience. He then authenticated his message by calling on the Lord to send thunder and rain out of season which the Lord did (vv. 17-18). God’s people were afraid and felt regret (at least) and begged Samuel to pray that God would not kill them all (v. 19). Samuel reassured them and called on them to be faithful to the Lord (vv. 20-21), then reminded them of God’s covenant of love with them that he established through Abraham. Although God was loving toward his people (despite their lack of faithfulness to him), verse 22 reminded them that God would be faithful “for the sake of his great name.” In other words, to break his covenant with Israel, God would have act contrary to his nature.

Then, in verse 23, Samuel said: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” That is quite a statement.

First, the people did not ask Samuel to make it a habit of praying for them; they asked him to pray for them now so that they would not die in God’s wrath in that immediate moment (v. 19). Yet Samuel generalized their request and reassured them that he intended to pray for them continually. Secondly, Samuel not only prayed for God’s people because of his love for them, but because it saw it as his obligation. That’s what the phrase, “…that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” means in verse 23. Prayerlessness could only be a sin if Samuel was obligated to pray for God’s people and refused to do so. Yet, that’s exactly how Samuel saw the situation.

Prayer is a privilege and it is our right as God’s children to do it, but have you ever thought about prayer as an obligation? We live in an age theologically where Christians do not like to talk about obligations. Because many of us grew up in legalistic environments, we have learned to lean on God’s grace in our failings—and we should! God’s grace is all over this passage. It is evident in God’s history with Israel (vv. 6-11) and in God’s mercy for not judging Israel for seeking a king (vv. 17-20). But the reason we need grace is because we fail in our obligations, not because no obligations exist. Grace does not relieve us of the responsibility to obey God’s word. It does not minimize our responsibilities as people who belong to God. Instead, it is an expression of God’s great compassion for us despite our weaknesses and failures. God’s grace is what put us in his favor and it is what keeps us in his favor when we fail to obey him—either through ignorance, or weakness, or direct disobedience.

So whom are we responsible to pray for? Here’s a quick list to think about: your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your nephews and nieces, your pastor, your church, your friends, your ministry team, your neighbors who need Christ, your co-workers, our missionaries, our nation. Are we prayerless toward any or all of these people? Do we seek God’s grace when we do fail to pray for them? 

Remember, too, that Samuel seemed to be wounded emotionally by Israel’s desire for a king. Yet his feeling of rejection did not give him an excuse to stop praying for God’s people. Although Saul was now responsible to lead them and to judge them, Samuel still felt responsible to intercede with God for them. Keep this in mind if you have a parent who wounded you deeply, or a spouse who divorced you unbiblically, or children who denounced you and walked out on you, or anyone else who has wounded you. Since God commands us to intercede and pray for one another (even our enemies—Luke 6:28b), we should realize that the gift of prayer is also, in a sense, an obligation—a command to obey. Here’s an opportunity to think about whom you should be praying for and to ask God’s forgiveness if your prayer life has gone prayer-less.

1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, Colossians 1

Read 1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, and Colossians 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 11.

Considering what became of Saul later in life, it is surprising how powerfully he began as a leader. After being identified as king in chapter 10, Saul may have wondered, “Now what do I do?” Samuel, when he told Saul privately that he would become king, told him, “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you“ (1 Sam 10:7). Not much to go on there, if you were looking for what to do next as king.

Here in chapter 11, however, a crisis jump started Saul’s career as king. The people of Jabesh Gilead were under siege from Nahash the Ammonite. Although they offered to surrender, the terms Nahash said he would accept were inhumane (vv. 1-2). Given how unreasonable his demands were, it is quite surprising that he was willing to give the people of Jabesh Gilead time to seek someone to rescue them, but he did (v. 3).

When Saul heard of this, God guided him just as he had promised to do, and Saul acted quickly. First, he creatively compelled the Israelites to join him as his army (vv. 6-10). Then he attacked the Ammonite army with strategic skill and was effective in defeating them (v. 11). His actions united Israel around him as king to the point that they wanted to execute his detractors (v. 12), but Saul wisely decreed no retaliation against those who had opposed him. Instead, he deflected the attention to God who had chosen and empowered him (v. 13). God used this incident and Saul’s wise leadership throughout it to solidify his kingdom and unify the people under his leadership (vv. 14-15).

This incident illustrates and proves the importance of humility in leadership. Sometimes you need to leverage your position as a leader to get people to move quickly in the right direction as Saul did in verses 7-8. But a leader who is constantly overbearing, who demands respect instead of earning through skillful leadership, and who retaliates against those who question him will eventually weaken his leadership and, probably, lose his position altogether. If you can learn to live with humility, to lead people in the right direction, for the right reasons, to the glory of God, you won’t have to pound on the table and insist that people follow you. You won’t have to humiliate and punish your critics. Instead, people will voluntarily follow you because this kind of leadership is so rare.

Where do you serve as a leader now? In your workplace, your ministry here at Calvary, your home as a parent, or somewhere else, someone looks to you for leadership. At times you may need to be bold and dramatic, but if you are godly and effective at what you do, God will reward you. Your reputation and your following will grow because you will be a leader who serves. Think about how these truths can impact your life in your leadership role today.

1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, Ephesians 6

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, and Ephesians 6.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 7-8.

I don’t know about you, but I always think of Samuel as a priest. It is true that he served in that role (see 7:10), but the Bible speaks of him more as a judge—think guys like Samson, Gideon, and other characters from the book of Judges—than as a priest (see 7:15 where he is called a “leader”).

Although he attempted to install his sons as as judges (8:1-2), they failed morally (v. 3) and were rightly rejected by the people (vv. 4-5). So Samuel was Israel’s final judge. After him, kings took over.

Samuel was also Israel’s best judge, even though he and Deborah were the only non-military judges. The quality that Samuel and Deborah shared was spiritual: they feared God and judged justly as a result. Yet, godly as he was, Samuel’s own sons used their position as leaders for personal gain rather than to serve God’s people. Instead of becoming a spiritual dynasty, Israel continued the same cycle of deliverance in one generation and disobedience in the next.

One thing we’ve learned in the past three chapters of 1 Samuel is that God did not need a military ruler to defend himself or his people. Although God had decreed that battle would be the usual way that Israel secured and defended the land promised to them, their military successes were secured by God. He kept his promise to fight for them, as we see 7:7-12.

Yet despite God’s supernatural work on their behalf, Israel did not ask him for another godly judge like Samuel. They asked for (and, indeed, insisted on) a king (8:6, 19-20). Note their reason for wanting one: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” I have heard people emphasize the first phrase, “Then we will be like all the other nations…” and warn against wanting to be like the world. But I think the key phrase is the next one: “…with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Remember that God had told Samuel that their desire for a king was a rejection of him as their king (v. 7). God had shown himself more than capable of protecting and providing victory for his people if they followed his word, obeyed his leaders (like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.), and—believing his promise to go before them—fought in faith.

Although Samuel spelled out for Israel the high costs of having a human king (8:10-18), they chose to pay dearly for one to do the dirty work instead of believing God and fighting based on his promises.

We have the same kind of problem, frankly. God has given to each of us, as believers, his word, his Spirit, and his church. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). But how often do we want someone else to fight our spiritual battles for us—our parents, our spouse, our elder, some devotional writer, or someone else. Yes, we need leadership and all the people I mentioned in the previous sentence can and should provide spiritual leadership for us. But that’s all they can do for you.

Consider this: I have always taught that people need to be in God’s word daily. That idea is not remotely unique to me; you knew that already if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. But it is easy to lose our way, to develop habits that crowd out Bible reading, or just to be overwhelmed with the task of finding a plan. I know how it is, so I created this devotional. Everyday it arrives in your inbox; all you have to do is click on the link and read the passages. If you don’t want to read all the chapters, you can just read the one I’m commenting on. And, I write enough to hopefully get you thinking about what the passage means and how it might apply to your life. I do this because, as your pastor, I want to provide you with some tools to help you grow. That’s my role as a leader.

But I can’t come over to your house and read the passage to you. I can’t make you listen to it, I can’t make you think about it, and I can’t force conviction of sin on you.

I also can’t force you to obey what the Word says. Sometimes, though, people seem to think that I should; they think I have some magic power that can make them live a godly life. They think I should be calling them if they don’t come to church. Or they sometimes seem to think that my words or my presence or my prayers can cause them to do something they don’t want to do.

It doesn’t work like that.

God has given you everything you need to develop into a godly man or woman. He will do some of the work for you—purging and purifying your desires through conviction of sin and causing you to realize areas where you still need to grow through trials and discipline. But he’s promised us that we can overcome sin by the new nature he’s planted in us (see 1 John 2:1-6). It takes faith to believe that promise of God, then obedience to God’s word to make it happen. You can look all you want to someone outside of you, but only you can walk with God.

1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, Ephesians 2

Read 1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, and Ephesians 2.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

There is such a contrast in this chapter between the godly praise of Hannah in verses 1-10 and the evil acts of Eli’s sons in verses 12-26. Hannah not only gave praise and glory to God in her words, but she described who the Lord would honor and who he would humble. She also prophesied in verse 10 when she said, “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” At that point, there was no king in Israel, nor was any king on the horizon. Late in Samuel’s life, when his mother had almost certainly been dead for some time, Samuel, her son, would anoint the first and the second king of Israel.

Meanwhile, Eli and his sons were acting dishonorably before the Lord and, instead of giving prophesies, they were being prophesied against (vv. 27-36). The author of 1 Samuel described Eli’s sons in a general way in verse 12. Then in verses 13-17 he gave specific instances of their sin of having “no regard for the Lord” (v. 12). The manifestation of their ungodly attitude toward the Lord was first of all their treatment of his offerings. When the people brought sacrifices to the Lord, they were acts of worship to him, of course. But God had also decreed that some sacrifices were to also provide food for the priests (see Lev 6:25-26 for one example). The problem was not that Eli’s sons ate the sacrificial meat; the problem was that they cared nothing for the Lord, the worshipper, or the Law’s instructions about the sacrifices. All they cared about was getting the best portion of meat from the sacrifice and the ability to cook it as they wanted. 

Eli’s sons treated the meat of the sacrifices as property they could take for their own appetites. They also viewed the women who served in tabernacle as property they could take for their sexual appetites (vv. 22b). Eli’s sons, then, used their privileged position as priests to serve themselves with no regard for how the Lord was to be served. Eli did confront his sons about their sins and did urge them to stop (vv. 23-26), but he would not use the position and power the Lord gave them to make them stop. He had every right—responsibility even—to remove them as priests for their wicked acts, but he cared more about honoring them than he did about honoring the Lord (v. 29). 

All three of these men, then, were sinning in their capacity as leaders. His sons abused the privilege of leadership to bring them pleasure. Eli refused to use the power he had as a leader for the Lord’s glory. Instead, he used it to protect his sons, even though he was disgusted by their sins.

The problem with power is that it can seduce those who have it into using for their own enrichment or for their own protection rather than for doing what is good. The boss who takes credit for the work of his team, the pastor who steals from the church’s treasury or preys on women who come to him for spiritual help, the father or mother takes out their own frustrations on their children, the politician who uses public office to enrich himself or herself—these are all ways in which people use a position for selfish gratification instead of to serve the Lord by using that power for his glory.

Is there any area in your life where your actions as a leader benefit you but displease the Lord?

Samuel was brought to serve in the tabernacle by his mother, but God brought him there to replace the house of Eli with godly leadership. Samuel will show us how a godly leader operates and, of course, the sacrifice of Christ a little over a thousand years after this will show us how God wants us to use our leadership to serve not to be served. Think about where God has called you to lead; now, is your leadership there glorifying to him or gratifying to you?

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?

Deuteronomy 33-34, Jeremiah 25, 2 Corinthians 9

Read Deuteronomy 33-34, Jeremiah 25, and 2 Corinthians 9.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 34

“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

Deuteronomy 34:10-12

How do you replace a man like Moses? In a real sense, you don’t because you can’t. Moses was a unique man, a servant of the Lord. He is rightfully revered by all believers in God because God used him in extraordinary ways.

Yet, it was God’s work in his life, not his own personal greatness that made him the man he was. In addition to his great faith and the amazing works God did through him, we’ve seen a man who ran ahead of God’s timing and killed an Egyptian in his impatience to deliver God’s people.

We’ve seen him become so angry that he spoke and acted independently of the Lord; in fact, it was his sin that caused the Lord to exclude him from entering the land (v. 4b) even though he was healthy and strong on the day of his death (v. 7).

Although Moses was a great man, he was also a man for his times. God chose him, prepared him both sovereignly and through direct revelation to be the leader that Israel needed. However, he was only a man; his greatness lay in the power of his God not in his strength or intelligence or any innate ability. The same God who prepared and used Moses did the same for Joshua (v. 9) so that God’s people would have the leadership they needed to receive God’s promises.

When someone you love, whom God has used powerfully in your life, dies or retires or leaves for another ministry, all is not lost. Far from it. It is idolatry to think that only one servant of God can be used powerfully by him. Spiritual leaders are important, but only because God uses them. When God decides that any leader’s time is up, he will remove and replace that leader in his sovereign will. Trust that.

If you’re a spiritual leader, think about all the weaknesses and failings Moses reported about himself in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He was far from perfect, yet God used him.

Will you trust God to use you, too, despite your weaknesses?

Deuteronomy 21, Jeremiah 13, Psalms 72-74

Read Deuteronomy 21, Jeremiah 13, and Psalms 72-74 today.

This devotional is about Psalm 72.

The problem with political power is that there is an ever-present temptation to use that power for the benefit of the powerful rather than for the benefit of the nation. Probably every government scandal ever happened because the leader(s) acted in their own best interest against the interest of the whole nation. This is true in other power centers such as business, sports teams, and, yes, even churches.

Psalm 72 is refreshing in its cry to God for a king who rules with justice and desires to “bring prosperity to the people.” Solomon, at least at this point in his life, wanted God’s grace so that Solomon would put what was right ahead of what was best for himself. His song here Psalm 72 is refreshing compared to the self-serving words and actions of too many leaders. How blessed, prosperous, and joyful a nation (or corporation or church or family or whatever) would be if its leaders had this kind of servant’s heart.

Unfortunately, Solomon’s ambition in this chapter did not work out fully in his life. No leader is perfect, but Solomon gave way to the temptations of leadership as Israel’s king. Only Christ, the perfect king, could rule and reign in the way Solomon described in this chapter. The failures and abuses of our human leaders should, because we know Christ, make us long for his kingdom to be established when we will rule and reign with him in righteousness.

Until then, though, we have the mind of Christ, the wisdom of God in the scriptures, and the Holy Spirit within us to help us be the kind of leader that Solomon described in this chapter but failed to be on his own. If you are a leader of any kind–ministry, civic, government, family, business, etc.–do you view your position as a platform to benefit others to the glory of God? Do you try to embody the traits of a servant leader who makes decisions and sets a course for the good and service of others instead of the enrichment of yourself? Ask God to endow you with righteousness and justice (v. 1), to bring prosperity to those you serve (v. 2), to deliver the needy around you (vv. 12ff) for the glory of God.

Let the failures of human leaders turn your heart to claim God’s promise of a future kingdom by faith and to long for the day when he will rule over us more perfectly and completely than Solomon could have imagined in this chapter.