1 Kings 1, Ezekiel 32

Read 1 Kings 1 and Ezekiel 32.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 1.

The longer you live, the more information you have about life. Getting older allows you to see how decisions you made when you were young or younger have turned out or are turning out. You can also witness how the lives and decisions of others around you have turned out. The wise pay attention to what is happening around them and learn some lessons as they get older.

The opening verses of 1 Kings 1 suggest that David has learned some things about women. As David aged, he had a hard time staying warm at night no matter how many blankets they stacked on top of him (v. 1). His servants, then, decided he needed a warm body to sleep with. They could have set up a schedule for his many wives to take turns keeping him warm at night but, knowing that he had an eye for a pretty girl, they looked for a newer, younger, prettier model to keep him company instead (v. 2).

While their stated goal was to keep the king warm (v. 2c), the fact that they chose a girl based on her beauty suggests that they wanted to satisfy the king in other ways as well. The girl they found was beautiful and useful according to verse 4a & b, but according to verse 4c, “…the king had no sexual relations with her.” This suggests that David had learned something about the appropriate relationship a man should have with a woman that is not his wife. David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Amnon, and the way that Absolom used David’s concubines had, maybe, taught him some respect for women that he did not have when he was younger. At any rate, in this one instance at least, David was able to keep his attraction for Abishag in check. So, perhaps, getting older and experiencing the chastening hand of God in his life had taught the king an important moral lesson.

However, David didn’t learn all the lessons he should have learned. The rest of this chapter described the royal crisis that David’s son Adonijah created when he decided to designate himself king. Before he proclaimed himself to be king, however, Adonijah had developed a habit of self-promotion. Verse 5e says that Adonijah “got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.” The next verse, verse 6, indicates that Adonijah had done this kind of thing many times before. That is indicated by the words, “His father had never rebuked him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’ in verse 6. Recall that Absolom did this same sort of thing (2 Sam 15:1) before he tried to usurp David’s throne. So David had seen this activity before, but he apparently did not learn much from it. If he had responded to Adonijah when he began acting like Absolom, perhaps Solomon could have become king without any intrigue, without a rushed coronation ceremony, and without the violence that we’ll read about tomorrow.

One of the patterns that we see in David’s life is passivity in certain situations. He showed no reluctance when it came to making war against other nations but he seemed to have great reluctance when it came to dealing with Joab or with his children. He did not confront Amnon when he sinned and raped Tamar. He did not confront Absolom the numerous times that Absolom sinned. And, now, he avoided confronting his son Adonijah or dealing with Adonijah after Solomon became king.

If you look back over your life, you will probably see how sins or just weaknesses in your character or personality have caused you problems again and again. You probably already know what things trip you up repeatedly but you are reluctant to change. Please reconsider; look how costly David’s reluctance to change was in his life and the life of his kingdom. Is it really worth it to let your kids ruin their lives just because you don’t like confrontation? Is the comfort of passivity worth the pain that comes from living on cruise control? What decision do you need to make or difficult conversation do you need to have that you are avoiding? Learn from David’s life and do what you know you should do. Don’t relive the same mistakes over and over again.

Joshua 8, Jeremiah 2

Read Joshua 8 and Jeremiah 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 2:13.

This second chapter of Jeremiah began God’s complaint against his people. The immediate audience was the population of Jerusalem (v. 2a) and God recalled in glowing terms the exodus of all the tribes of Israel from Egypt (v. 2b-3). Starting with verse 4, God turned to the spiritual problems of his people; as usual, the main problem was idolatry.

Here in verse 13, God charged them with rejecting him and choosing their own way. He used an image related to water to visually describe his complaint. Forsaking him meant rejecting “the spring of living water” (v. 13c). This refers to the gift of spiritual life that comes from trusting God by faith. Jesus also used this image in his conversation with the woman at the well (Jn 4:14), promising that those who believed in him would never thirst again.

The other watery image here in Jeremiah 2:13 is in line d which says that they “…have dug their own cisterns.” Cisterns are holes in the ground that collect rain water and water runoff. In the desert, where lakes and streams are rare and and springs of underground water are hard to find, these cisterns are quite useful. The rain water they retain can be used to irrigate crops and hydrate animals and, if necessary, provide drinking water for people. But rain water lacks the good taste and refreshing nature of spring water. You might drink it if you had to, but you would long for spring water and look hard for it.

God used this image to tell his people that he offered them an endless supply of life and refreshment but they chose the dirty water left over from rain and runoff. This water could not replenish itself; instead, once the cistern was dry (from use and evaporation), it would remain empty until the next rain–which may not come soon in a desert climate like Judah had. The spiritual image here is that God’s people traded the life God gives to those who believe his word for spiritual leftovers gathered by human ingenuity. This water offered some refreshment but it was also contaminated and limited in supply. Furthermore, the collection methods people used to get it were flawed; verse 13e calls them “…broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Other religions teach some truths that God’s word also teaches. These religions may teach morals and ethics that our faith also teaches. They may offer the hope of life after death and may even hold to one God instead of many. Human philosophy and psychology also offer truths that correspond to some of the teachings of God’s word. But even when these alternatives to biblical faith are right, they are at best severely limited, unclean and even contaminated and ultimately unable to satisfy with eternal life. Yet this is what we imbibe when we look to political solutions to human problems or to psychology or to other religions, even those that claim association with Jesus.

Consider the sources of information you consume. How much of it is the collected runoff of philosophy or spirituality verses the genuine spiritual life God gives us by grace? Drink deeply from God’s word and let it refresh and satisfy your soul; don’t settle for the dishwater swill of this world.

Deuteronomy 28, Isaiah 55

Read Deuteronomy 28 and Isaiah 55.

This devotional is about Isaiah 55:6-8.

This chapter in Isaiah issues an invitation to people who are thirsting for more than life has yielded to them (v. 1a-b). They want something better even though they have nothing to give (v. 1c-d). When they do get some money, they spend it on things that promise but do not deliver nourishment or satisfaction (v. 2). To those people, God said, “Come to me” (v. 3a). Instead of seeking all the unsatisfying things of this world, God said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (v. 6).

But seeking the Lord looks different from God’s perspective than it does form ours. That’s because “‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (v. 8). So what does it look like to God when someone is truly seeking him? Verse 7 provides the answer which is, repentance: “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.”

We understand the wicked forsaking their ways. The ways of wicked people are wicked. They are dishonest, violent, selfish, and designed to satisfy their own lusts. Every command of God involving human action–from the command not to worship idols to the one not to kill–is a prohibition against wickedness. Those who break these commands are wicked; when people do one or more of these habitually, they show themselves to have wicked ways. These are the actions that do not satisfy (vv. 1-2); God invites the wicked to change his mind and seek the Lord instead of these wicked ways.

But notice that verse 7b goes further than calling people to forsake wicked ways. It says in that verse, “and [let] the unrighteous [forsake] their thoughts.” This command addresses a couple of human problems that keep us from God.

The first is hypocrisy. Sometimes people act righteously but think wickedly. They do what is right but want what is wrong. Their reasons for doing right may be many: social expectations, respect or religious status, or even a desire to earn favor with God. Regardless of how they act, though, their thoughts are unrighteous when judged by God. This is what Jesus called hypocrisy. It is obedience to God’s word on the outside while craving evil on the inside. God tells this kind of sinner that he will be unsatisfied and calls on him to repent about his thoughts and to seek God from the heart.

The second human problem that is addressed by the command to to forsake one’s unrighteous thoughts is the motivation that causes people to act wickedly. In other words, there are some who act righteous but are masking unrighteous thoughts but there are also those who act wickedly because they have unrighteous thoughts. Actions that are sinful start with thoughts that are wicked. Those who act wickedly have shown us what is in their hearts; their hearts, therefore, need to be changed before they can forsake their wicked ways.

Who you are on the inside and what you desire in your heart will eventually be exposed. You can’t desire sin but act righteously forever. Like a full bottle of water placed in the freezer, the water within freezes and expands and eventually the ice comes out. People, similarly, cannot contain their wicked thoughts forever; eventually what you desire will be expressed in actions. They might be actions that you do secretly in order to try to maintain the appearance of righteousness but they will become actions in the real world.

The point of all of this is that God wants us to turn our thoughts and our actions away from wickedness and seek him instead. We seek him in repentance and faith. Only the supernatural work of the Spirit of God can accomplish this work and he does that through the power of God’s word (v. 11). If you want the satisfaction that God promised, then, you need to beg for his transforming power through repentance then allow the Spirit to change you by the power of his Word. That means learning God’s word but also being obedient to it in your life.

What is the state of your heart before God? Are you seeking him from the heart, turning from your wicked thoughts and actions? God promised true satisfaction for those who seek him from the heart. Let’s believe that promise and turn to him.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, Psalm 139

Read Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, and Psalm 139 today.

This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

In yesterday’s reading, we noted the Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “…we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked.

Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant.

In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the supernatural working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s Spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Numbers 33, Isaiah 25, Psalm 138

Read Numbers 33, Isaiah 25, and Psalm 138.

This devotional is about Isaiah 25.

What will heaven be like? This is a question that most Christians have probably considered and plenty of non-Christians, too. When Hollywood believed in an afterlife, they created a picture of heaven that many people may still have: people become angels, float on clouds, and play the harp.

What an incredibly boring way to spend eternity!

God’s Word doesn’t reveal us a whole lot to us about what we call “heaven,” but there are a few things we can discern about it.

First, we don’t really spend eternity in heaven. The spirits of departed believers live in heaven with God now, but eternity will be spent on earth–first on this earth in what we call the Millennial kingdom, then on the new earth which God will create. So we really should be talking about “eternity” or “the eternal state” instead of talking about “heaven.”

Secondly, the eternal state happens in a city, the New Jerusalem, and this passage, Isaiah 25, gives us some detail about life there. Isaiah 25 is a song of praise to God (vv. 1-5), giving glory to God for what he has done for his people. Beginning with verse 6, however, Isaiah returned to describing the future, a topic he had begun discussing in chapter 24. How did he describe the future here in chapter 25?

First, he described a feast in verse 6. When God’s kingdom begins fully, it will start with a great celebration. Verse 6 described it as “a feast of rich food” which indicates an occasion of great pleasure and enjoyment for God’s people. And, the next phrase in verse 6 tells us that God’s people will be “all peoples” indicating that all kinds of people, not just Jewish people, will be welcomed guests at this feast.

Second, the eternal state is a place where death no longer exists and cannot trouble anyone. Verse 7 described death as a shroud, a sheet that covers everyone. But God “will destroy” that shroud and “will swallow up death forever” (v. 8a).

Third, eternity will be.a state in which there is no longer any unhappiness. Verse 8b says, “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” The sadness and disappointments of this life will not be present nor will they affect us when we are with the Lord. This seems particularly tied to the sadness that sin creates; verse 8b says, “he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.” The things we do and have done that we are so ashamed of will be completely forgotten. Atoned for by the blood of Christ, they will no longer trouble us anymore.

Of course we bemoan the senseless tragedies, terrible injustices, and brevity of life that marks this world. The truths in this chapter, however, can encourage our hearts and give meaning and purpose to our lives. Our short time on this earth is not the end; it isn’t really even the beginning when we compare however many years we get in this life to an eternity with Jesus. So let your heart hope in God’s plans and let them focus your mind to help you serve him.

Numbers 4, Song of Songs 2, Psalm 117

Read Numbers 4, Song of Songs 2, and Psalm 117.

This devotional is about Psalm 117.

This song is so short, it’s like a chorus. The themes in it are not unusual. A call/command to praise the Lord (v. 1) followed by the reason for praising the Lord (v. 2) and finally one last call to “praise the Lord” (v. 2c).

What is unusual about this little song is its universal focus. Those who are called to praise and worship the Lord are not the people of Israel but “all you nations” and “all you peoples” without any reference to Israel at all. One might ask, “Why are all notions commanded to praise the Lord? God hadn’t revealed himself to them as he had to Israel nor had he entered into a covenant with them. Verse 2’s description of God’s great love (2a) and eternal faithfulness (v. 2b) are usually tied to his covenant with Israel. Here, Israel is not mentioned and all the nations/peoples do not have that kind of covenant with God. So why does the Psalmist command Gentile nations to praise God when they don’t even know him? And, in what way has God shown love and to these Gentiles?

The answer is that before man sinned God entered into what theologians call a “covenant of works.” That refers to God’s command to Adam to subdue and cultivate the earth and to Adam and Eve to “fill the earth” meaning to populate it with people. Although Adam and Even sinned and humanity fell from the original holiness God created us to have, we are still responsible to him as our Creator to fill the earth, subdue it, and populate it with people. So, whenever anyone in any culture, land, or ethnicity works to provide for himself, marries and has children, that person is showing that they belong to and are responsible for the covenant of works. And God, for his part, keeps his promise to make the earth productive and fruitful as man works and subdues it and to provide children.

The appeal to worship the Lord in this song, then, is based on the instinctive way in which people participate in the covenant of works. By working to provide for themselves and having children, people demonstrate that they do know God and that they are responsible to him. The Psalmist calls them to go all the way and give God the worship he deserves for faithfully providing food for people who work for it and faithfully providing children.

In our fallen state, we suppress what we know to be true about God and distort his moral will to fit our tastes. So we can’t worship the Lord apart from God’s grace to us in Christ. But this passage shows us that humanity is still responsible to worship and thank the Lord for his love and faithfulness because he is our faithful, loving creator.

The application of this passage for us is simple: our message, the gospel, is for Gentiles, too. So is God’s judgment for those who don’t turn to him in this life. So don’t give up if an unbeliever says to you, why should I believe God’s message? What has he ever done for me? The answer is that he provides you with food daily and consistently blesses your family with love. People may say that they don’t know God or can’t be sure of him but the truth is that they know plenty about God. They know that he is powerful, that he is perfect, and that we are accountable to him. That last sentence means that humanity knows enough about God to damn their souls for eternity. That’s why this Psalm calls out to everyone.

When we call out to others with the gospel, we are giving them the only method they’ll ever have to worship God, please God, and know him. That is the only way they’ll ever be able to worship God as he commands us to do. Don’t shy away, then, from sharing the gospel; it is the only enabling God has given us to obey his commands.

Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116

Today’s readings are Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116.

This devotional is about Psalm 116.

The unknown author of this song proclaimed his love for the Lord (v. 1a), then detailed why he loved the Lord. His reasons for loving the Lord were personal; God saved him from death (v. 3a, 8a). But, although his reasons for loving the Lord were personal, they were not detached from God’s revelation. In verse 5, the Psalmist tied the answer to prayer he received–his salvation from death–to what he had been taught about God from his word. Verse 5’s statement, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” is a paraphrase of God’s revelation of himself in Exodus 34:6: ““The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness….” The songwriter, then, learned from experience what he had been taught in principle. He realized that God’s answer to prayer in his life was one of many examples throughout human history of God being who he is and doing what he does.

What was God’s purpose in saving this man from death? Verse 9 says, “that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” In other words, God’s purpose was to show the power of God in his changed life. From the time that God saved him from death until his actual death (v. 15), the Psalmist believed that he should “walk before the Lord” — a phrase that describes living an obedient life to God.

But this “walking before the Lord” was not payback for his salvation. In other words, the Psalmist did not see living a godly life as something he must do to earn the favor God had shown him. We know that because he asked the question in verse 12, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer was worship; verse 13 describes him offering a drink offering of thanksgiving to God: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (see also verse 17).

So “walking before the Lord” was not an attempt to deserve his salvation. It was a description of how God’s salvation had changed him. His wording in verse 9 makes this clear: “that I MAY walk….” This describes God’s power in his life; it restates what he had said in the phrase just before in verse 8, “For you Lord have delivered… my feet from stumbling.” God not only saved him from death; because he trusted the Lord, God also changed him within, giving him the desire and the power to walk with God and live for God.

God may not have saved you or me from physical death in some near death situation, but in Christ he has saved us from the wages of sin which is death. That is, he’s saved us from an eternity accursed and apart from him. And, just as God has done throughout human history, when we look to God by faith for salvation, he both delivers us from death and empowers us to live! This is something to thank God for (v. 17). If you’re like me, you may not thank God for your salvation very often, but we should. Without God’s gracious and compassionate nature demonstrated for us in Christ, we would be estranged from God daily “stumbling” (v. 8). In Christ, however, we have received the benefit of God’s salvation–both the deliverance from death and the capacity to live for our Lord.

Numbers 2, Ecclesiastes 12, Psalm 115

Read Numbers 2, Ecclesiastes 12, and Psalm 115.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 12.

Here in Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon begans to sum up his experience and bring the book to a close. Chapter 12 opened with a command to remember God, the creator, while you are young (v. 1a). Verses 2-8 explain why it is important to focus your life on God while you are young, but what he says in these verses has been understood in a couple of different ways:

  • One approach to 12:1a-8 is called the “allegory of old age.” This interpretation sees every image as describing a body that is breaking down as it gets older. For instance, when verse 2 says, “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark,” that s a description of an older person’s failing vision. And “the grinders cease because they are few” (v. 3c) is a poetic way of talking about the fact that a person’s teeth are falling out.
  • A second approach is to see this as describing the decline of life and the onset of death through the metaphor of a storm. In this interpretation, “the sun and the light” etc. growing dark is describing the approach of the storm. Likewise “the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades” because people see the storm coming and are seeking shelter before it arrives.

Both of these interpretations have some weaknesses, but both of them seem to be describing the approach of death. The end of verse 5 demonstrates this when it says, “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” The point of the passage is that you should not wait to seek God when you are near death.

All the godless approaches to life that Solomon tried were frustratingly enigmatic, so none of them will give you the satisfaction you think they will. If you think you should live for pleasure while you’re young then turn to God when you get older, you’ll find that the pleasure you seek is unsatisfying anyway and death will descend on you so quickly that it is too late to prepare for.

This truth is one that we should reflect on and urge on those who are younger. There is a tendency to think that people will get serious about God as they get older, more mature, and wiser but the truth is that as you get older you tend to get more set in your ways. Instead of turning to God because you’ve found every other approach to life unsatisfying, older people who have lived apart from God just tend to become cynical and jaded, not worshipful and godly.

Solomon’s advice, then, is found in verse 13: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” There are many frustrating, enigmatic problems that come with living in this life. We all wish we could solve the riddle of why things that should make us happy leave us feeling, at best, disappointed and, at worst, miserable. But it is foolish to waste our lives trying to disprove Solomon’s teaching. Instead, to make the best of the life God has given you, follow his ways in faith and let him be the judge of all things. Whether you are young or old, there is no sense in waiting until you get older to serve God. The fun you think you have pursuing your own life will not be satisfying and death will close in on you faster than you can possibly imagine. So, follow God’s ways and trust him to provide the joys and satisfactions that the righteous enjoy. This is the secret of life.

Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, Psalm 110

Today’s readings are Leviticus 24, Ecclesiastes 7, and Psalm 110.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” This is a verse that I usually quote when I am doing a funeral message. It tells us that it is “better” to go to a funeral than to a party.

That advice is the opposite of our instincts or our desires. Nobody would rather go to a funeral than to a party. Funerals are sad occasions; parties are fun! So why would Solomon tell us to attend a funeral rather than a party if we had a choice to make between the two of them?

The answer is in the last two lines of verse 2: “…for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Why choose funerals over parties? Because someday you’ll be the one who is remembered at a funeral. In addition to the sadness at a funeral, I think that most people don’t like going to funerals BECAUSE it reminds us that we’ll be dead someday. Funerals foreshadow your own death. Most people don’t want to think about that but Solomon said that we should think about it.

Why?

Because thinking about your death changes the way you live. After you die, your legacy is set in stone. You can’t make up for your mistakes, seek forgiveness, try to reconcile broken relationships, or receive God’s forgiveness for your sins. After you die, your eternal destiny is sealed and whatever memories people have of you are permanent.

When you think of your life in that light, it should give you some perspective to make better decisions today. If a person is usually kind and loving, they’ll likely be remembered that way. If a person is often selfish and difficult and only occasionally kind, those who know them will carry those memories.

More important than the people who remember you at your death, after death you will face God. If you’re found in Christ, God will welcome you into his presence. If you’re outside of Christ, you will pay the just penalty for your sins for eternity. And, for those of us who are in Christ, we will answer to God for what we produced with our lives. Did we strive to glorify him, to grow in faith, to spread his message of good news, to be generous to those with needs and for the advancement of his kingdom?

This life is a gift of extraordinary value. You can invest it for eternal rewards or spend it for temporary and fleeting satisfaction. Someday, sooner than we realize, probably, it will be over. How does that reality make you think about what you will do today and how you will do it?

Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, Psalm 109

Read Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, and Psalm 109.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.” In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life. These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it. But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, Psalm 108

Today we’re reading Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, and Psalm 108.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 5.

Here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon has been reporting on his experiments in lavish living. He has taken the wealth God gave him and the wisdom God gave him and invested these things in searching what the best way to live might be. Everything he tried, however, turned out to be a frustrating enigma. It satisfied for a brief time, then offered ever-diminishing returns, then emptiness.

Many people who have achieved wealth and/or success in this life have proved this to be true. Some of the most miserable people you may ever meet are the people who got everything they wanted in life. That is, if everything they wanted was something in this life, for this life. Solomon’s oft-repeated phrase, “under the sun” (for example, v. 13) indicates the human-only realm. It is a phrase that indicates “apart from God.” Apart from God, wisdom is a frustrating enigma (1:12-18, 2:12-16) pleasure is a frustrating enigma (2:1-11), work is a frustrating enigma (2:17-3:22), life itself is a frustrating enigma (4:1-3), success is a frustrating enigma (4:4-8), career success is a frustrating enigma (4:13-,16), and wealth is a frustrating enigma (5:8-17).

So did Solomon find anything worth pursuing? Yes, but… two things must be said:

  • First, he found human relationships to be something worthwhile (vv. 9-12) but more as an advantage (“a good return” – v. 9, “one can help the other up” – v. 10, etc. Still, this was one positive thing he observed.
  • Second, he “saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22). But this truth is tied to another which is, “…to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil… is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (vv. 24b-26). Did you catch that? The simple things in life are satisfying only if you are a person who pleases God.

This chapter, Ecclesiastes 5, developed that thought even more. Life can be rich and fulfilling if you walk with God. So Solomon advised his readers to fear God in their worship (vv. 1-7) and be satisfied with whatever God gives them (vv. 18-20, esp. v. 19: “to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”). Why would one person find pleasure and wealth to be a frustrating enigma while the guy in verses 18-20 can “eat… drink and find satisfaction”? Because the person in verses 18-20 walks with God. He may have “wealth and possessions” (v. 19b) but he sees them for what they are–a gift from God (v. 19a). Because his walk with God is most important, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (v. 20).

The book of Job taught us that suffering and trials are part of life, so don’t think that walking with God means that everything will always go smoothly and that your life will be a straight line upward. But when you survey a person’s entire life, Solomon’s conclusion was that a person who walks with God will find the simple things in life satisfying because he finds his joy in God.

How about it? Do you find life to be frustratingly enigmatic? If so, it might be that your walk with God includes a season of suffering for now but it might also be that you’re looking to life “under the sun” for satisfaction instead of looking for life “in the Son” by walking with him daily. If Solomon of all people couldn’t find satisfaction under the sun with all the resources he had at his disposal, we would do well to take his advice and focus on our walk with God. He is the source of true satisfaction.

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. So when Solomon wrote here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he taught us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful–critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker–the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.