Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, Proverbs 10:1-16

Read Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, and Proverbs 10:1-16.

This devotional is about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

This chapter is more about why God will punish his people for doing wrong than what will happen in the future. One of the many reasons for punishment in this chapter is that God’s people intentionally re-defined morality. They said that good was evil and evil is good. Instead of measuring what is moral by the character of God–the only true righteous standard there is–the people of Judah substituted their own opinions for the genuine will of God. The “woe” pronounced in verse 20 was a statement that God would judge them so they should feel a great sense of angst.

Calling good evil and evil good was not something that only Judah did. In fact, throughout human history people have been trying to substitute our own opinions for the word of God. The same is true today. All kinds of things that God’s word condemns as evil are called “good” by our society. Some examples might be: unmitigated materialism, lying in order to win in politics or business, “open” relationships, same-sex marriage and opposite sex cohabitation without marriage, and many others.

God pronounced a woe on his people here in Isaiah 5 because they had forsaken truth. That’s what the next two phrases in verse 20 say: “…who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” Since God is truth, he is the only true standard for what is true of false, right or wrong. When you reject God and his revelation, you are then left with only your preferences, ideas, and justifications. Since each of us is a sinner, we have a strong tendency to try to rationalize our sins, leaving us with no light but only darkness. God provides us with the light of his truth. If we reject that, the best we can do is to try to redefine truth based on our own preferences. This thrusts us into the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. But, if we humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for his truth, he gives us the light of his wisdom to guide us daily.

It is very easy to point out the ways in which others all evil good and good evil but all scriptural application should start with ourselves. If we rationalize sin in our own lives, we are doing exactly what God pronounces a woe upon in this chapter. Maybe that means “saving money” by not giving to God’s work or using your faithful service in the church as a reason not to attend worship or small group faithfully. Maybe it involves calling gossip a prayer request or a warning to watch out for someone.

Are our lives consistently, even radically, aligned with God’s truth? Or do we re-define or re-interpret truth to relabel our own disobedience?

Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalms 33-35

Read Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, and Psalms 33-35.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 4.

This chapter of scripture is not encouraging.

That is an understatement.

This chapter of scripture is bleak. It states in verse 1 that powerful people in this world used their power to oppress the weak and vulnerable. These victims “have no comforter.” Their lives are a miserable stretch of existence. From birth to grave, each day and night, they do what more powerful people want them to do and live in fear. What kind of fear?

  • fear of displeasing those powerful people
  • fear of more invasive abuse from the powerful
  • fear of starving, unable to provide a living for themselves because their abusers take so much from them

Although Solomon did not tell us how many were oppressed and how many were oppressors, the chapter may suggest that the vast majority were oppressed by a small minority. The way the chapter suggests this is in the words of verses 2-3. Those verses rank the happiest people from least happiest to most happy. The categories of people Solomon discussed were broad–the dead, the living, and the unborn. Those three broad groups include a whole lot of people. So who is the happiest?

  • The living are the least happy because they are oppressed (v. 1, 2c-d).
  • The dead are the next most happy because they are no longer oppressed (v. 2 a-b).
  • But the happiest people of all are people who never lived at all (v. 3). Why? Because they have “not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Bleak, right? According to Solomon, you are better off dead. But, you’re best off if you never made it out of the womb alive in the first place because then no one could use and abuse you.

Of course, not everyone is enslaved by others. Some people go out and achieve, making all their dreams come true. They must be happy, right?

No, Solomon argued, because “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (v. 4). Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. That can make you work hard but you won’t enjoy achievements because your envy will move on to someone higher on the achievement ladder. If you could just enjoy the living you make, modest though it is (v. 6a), you’d be better off than a wealthier person who is does nothing but work, driven by envy.

Even a person who had no wife, no siblings, and no children isn’t happy (v. 8). Solomon thought that a single, solitary man should be happy because he only has to provide for himself. He can work hard enough to get what he wants and then spend it all on himself with no guilt. A single man who makes $30,000 per year may be able to buy more pleasure than a man who makes $90,000 but supports a wife, five kids, a dog, and a deadbeat brother.

Seems logical; but it doesn’t work out that way. The single guy with no dependents still works really hard. “There was no end to his toil” (v. 8c) says but “his eyes were not content with his wealth” (v. 8d). He, too, was sucked into envy, unable to enjoy his life because he needed to prove to someone that he matters.

I told you this was bleak.

But all is not lost. The solution to this partnership. Verses 9-12 commends a partnership of two (v. 9) or even three (v. 12c). Partners who work together instead of envying one another can:

  • produce more as a unit and they could on their own (v. 9b)
  • give each other some time off when they are injured or sick or just tired (v. 10)
  • keep each other company (v. 11)
  • protect each other (v. 12).

So the man who makes $90k and has to split it up with others is happier than the single guy who makes $30k and can do whatever he wants with it. In fact, if the single guy made $90k or even $900k, the man with partners is happier because of the benefits that partners bring.

When God created Adam, he made the most capable man who ever lived–apart from Jesus Christ, of course. Adam, while he was still an unfallen person, had a greater mind and better body than any of us because he wasn’t afflicted by the curse of sin.

Yet God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He gave him a partner–even knowing that his partner’s (aka, Eve’s) weakness would lead him into sin. Having a life partner in your spouse or a business partner in your vocation can help you escape the hopeless life that the oppressed live. Even if you are oppressed, at least you have someone to keep you warm at night (v. 11).

Solomon was a powerful man who oppressed others. He taxed the nation so thoroughly for his own projects, pleasures, and luxuries that the people begged his son to lay off and then they revolted against him when he wouldn’t.

But Solomon seems to have been a lonely man, despite his wealth and power over others. If you have 1000 women in your life, can any one of them truly be your partner?

People can be the source of your greatest problems in life. They can make promises that they fail to keep or even intentionally break. They can see you as a rival when they should see you as an ally. If you have enough people-problems, you may be tempted to decide that isolation is better.

This chapter advises us to partner up. Share life generously with your partner–your spouse, your children, your business partner(s), your teammates. The benefits of companionship will outweigh the “freedom” that being alone promises. God created us to be teammates and the life he gave us is best enjoyed when it is shared.

If you have a partnership–a marriage and family, a business partnership, a ministry partnership, etc.–are you a good partner? Are you thankful for the benefits that partnership brings you or do you selfishly wish you had all the control and all the benefits to yourself?

If your partnership is broken, the answer isn’t to go off on your own; it is to become and build a true partnership rather than a rivalry based on envy.

Genesis 49, Job 15, Proverbs 5

Read Genesis 49, Job 15, and Proverbs 5. This devotional is about Proverbs 5.

The first four chapters of Proverbs have mostly consisted of exhortations to become wise and descriptions of the benefits of wisdom. Here in chapter 5, Solomon turned to describing the kind of practical life choices that a wise person makes.

He began with a lengthy, passionate plea to his son not to commit adultery. Verses 3-6 described the deceptive dangers of an adulterous woman. Verses 7-14 urged us not to go anywhere near adultery. Verses 15-20 gave us the antidote to adultery which is to cultivate a passionate relationship with your spouse. Finally, verses 21-23 explains why all of this is important: God is watching and his judgment will come on those who disobey his commands, including this command.

Although this passage is written from the male perspective, it takes two to commit adultery. Just as there are seductive women in the world, there are also men who are skilled “pick up artists.” Adultery is tempting because it makes you feel wanted; it revives the thrill that you had when you and the person you’re married to now felt the ignition of attraction. Adultery happens in secret, so there is the added thrill of danger. Like many risky activities, the risk itself heightens the experience.

But the costs of adultery far outweigh the price tag. I read somewhere that the average extramarital affair lasts about six months. After that point, the thrill begins to wane and the stress of feeling guilty, the dishonesty of keeping it secret, the deception required to avoid detection, and the unexpected strain it causes to one’s marriage begins to add up. The momentary pleasure that adultery promises does not last but the consequences do. God’s command, “Do not commit adultery” is a command for your good. It is designed for your happiness not to keep you from being happy. It takes faith in God in the moments of temptation, but that faith will be rewarded.

If your marriage is suffering from neglect or worse, you and your spouse are both potentially at risk and vulnerable to the seductions of a third party (vv. 3-4). The Lord urges us to turn away from that temptation and turn toward your spouse. Addressing pain and problems in your relationship is harder than falling for someone who acts sweetly toward you and promises pleasure with no string attached, but the rewards of working on your marriage and finding satisfaction there are so much greater than the temporary pleasures of sin.

Ask God for the faith to do right if you encounter a temptation to adultery. Pray for yourself to have a pure heart and for your spouse to have an open heart toward you. If you are not yet married, trust the Lord that purity will be better for you over the course of your life than the temporary thrill that sexual sins offer. May God protect all of our marriages and our hearts as we read these words and think about how to apply them to our lives today.

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalms 10-13

Read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalms 10-13.

This devotional is about Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel.

Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing–both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down?

We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.

Genesis 4, Ezra 4, Matthew 4

Read Genesis 4, Ezra 4, and Matthew 4. This devotional is about Matthew 4, especially verses 1-11.

Having been identified by God as His Son in Matthew 3:17, Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert. The purpose of this trip was, according to verse 1, “to be tempted by the devil.”

Apparently the devil was patient and waited until Jesus was physically depleted from having fasted for 40 days & nights (v. 2). Because Christ did not have a sin nature to appeal to, Satan waited until Jesus was starving, then tempted him to use his power as God to create food for himself from the abundant stones that lay around them (v. 3).

It is not immediately obvious that what Satan was tempting Christ to do was sinful. Didn’t Christ create all things? Aren’t all things created by him and for him (Col 1:16)?

Yes! So, would it be wicked for the son of God to sustain his human life by adapting what he created to serve him in his moment of physical need?

The answer is that it would not be a sin for Christ to change the stones into bread. He did miracles like this to feed others without being guilty of sin. No, it was not sinful for Christ to use his divine power to meet human needs.

But it would have been sinful for him to do for himself what other humans could not do for themselves. People die of starvation routinely somewhere in the world. It is part of the human condition. But, because it is part of the human condition, Christ, who was fully human, had to be subject to that aspect of the human condition, too.

In other words, it would be inappropriate and selfish for him to satisfy his human desires just because he had the divine power to do so. Because human salvation was dependent on Jesus living a fully human life, it would be wrong for him to make living as a human easier on himself by using his divine power to cheat.

Although you and I don’t have the power to satisfy our desires supernaturally, we do understand the temptation to live outside of the Father’s will. Many sins stem from a desire to exempt ourselves from the struggles of the human condition:

  • Those who steal are looking for an exemption from the command to work for a living.
  • Those who commit adultery are looking for an exemption from the marriage covenant they made before God.
  • Those who lie are looking to evade accountability about something or to make themselves look better than they really are.
In what ways are you tempted to sin and justify it by the extraordinary circumstances you are in? Remember that Christ has felt the pull of that temptation, too, so look to him and ask him for grace to do what you know is right. Then, do what is right because you trust God’s word more than your human desires (v. 4).

2 Chronicles 8, Habakkuk 3

Read 2 Chronicles 8, Habakkuk 3.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 8:11: “Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter up from the City of David to the palace he had built for her, for he said, ‘My wife must not live in the palace of David king of Israel, because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.’”

Yesterday we read in 2 Chronicles 7 about how Solomon dedicated the temple and received assurance that the Lord would accept the sacrifices made in that temple and that he would bless Solomon’s kingdom for as long as he obeyed the Lord.

But here in 1 Chronicles 8, Solomon turned to other matters on his to do list. The one that interests me for this devotional is described in verse 11. In that verse, Solomon moved his wife, the Egyptian daughter of Pharaoh “up from the City of David.”

The “city of David” is the old part of Jerusalem. It is the fortress that the Jebusites built and lived in until David conquered them in 2 Samuel 5:6-10. David inhabited that fortress (2 Sam 5:9), built his personal palace there (2 Sam 5:11), and also put up the tent that served as the tabernacle there (2 Sam 6:12) until Solomon built the temple.

Here in 8:11, however, Solomon thought about the theological implications of being married to Pharoah’s daughter. Specifically, he did not want her to live “in the palace of David.” This was after Solomon had built his own palace (v. 1: “Solomon… built his own palace”) so maybe this suggests that Solomon’s Hebrew wives lived in David’s palace. At any rate, Solomon’s words suggest that David had brought the ark of the covenant into his palace at some point. It is possible that David had the priests bring the ark many times, if he was bringing it there to inquire of the Lord. Solomon then reasoned that he shouldn’t bring his Egyptian wife into David’s house “because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.”

As a result, Solomon built a separate palace for his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. This house was probably outside the city of David; Solomon’s many building projects expanded the city’s borders well beyond the original fortress that David took from the Jebusites and inhabited.

Follow me on this:

  • Anywhere the ark went is holy and David’s palace was one of those places.
  • Solomon was concerned that his Egyptian wife NOT live somewhere that the ark had gone.
  • So he built Pharoah’s daughter her own palace outside the city of David (2 Chronicles 8:11).

Why did he do this? It seems to me that he was concerned for her life. If God killed Uzzah for touching the ark which was an act that dishonored the holiness of God (2 Sam 6:7) then it was dangerous business to let the Egyptian woman near David’s house lest she also defile a place that God’s ark had made holy.

What is the implicit assumption here? It is that Pharaoh’s daughter was unholy. She had not converted to Judaism but remained a worshipper of false gods despite her marriage to Solomon. His marriage to her was in disobedience to God’s commands so it put him in a tough situation that he “solved” by giving her a separate compartment to live in. That’s right, Solomon attempted to compartmentalize his life to keep a place where he could be disobedient to God’s direct will.

God’s word was proved right later when this woman (and others) turned Solomon’s heart toward other gods. Following God’s word is hard enough; we have God’s Spirit but our efforts to be holy are opposed by the sin nature within, the world, and the devil. Solomon put himself in a position to choose between pleasing God or pleasing his spouse. Guess which choice is the easiest to make?

If you’re not married, this is one reason why it is wrong to marry an unbeliever. Don’t even date an unbeliever because you will face temptations that challenge your faith over and over again.

But all of us, at times, try to compartmentalize our lives. We try to live a life that pleases God but keep a little workshop in the basement for our own pet sin projects. Solomon shows us that this compartmentalization does not work. Jesus said you can’t serve two masters–God and money–but there is more than money that wants to be your master.

Where are you compartmentalizing sin in your life? Will you remove it like a tumor or let it grow until it spills out of its compartment and takes over your spiritual life?

1 Kings 21, Daniel 3

Read 1 Kings 21 and Daniel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 21.

There are two types of leadership: (1) positional leadership and (2) personal leadership. A personal leader is someone who is influential because of who they are. They have the right combination of characteristics that cause other people to follow them naturally. This kind of person is sometimes called a “natural born leader.”

A positional leader is someone who occupies a position that gives them influence over others. Your boss is a positional leader because he decides whether you keep your employment and pay, or get demoted or promoted. Even if you personally dislike your boss or wouldn’t follow that person (or any positional leader) if you didn’t have to, you have to follow him or her because they can help you or hurt your career.

Ahab definitely had positional leadership. He was the king of Israel. But when it comes to personal leadership, he seems to have far less of that quality than his wife Jezebel had. In this chapter of scripture, Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard and attempted to get it in a righteous way. He made Naboth a fair offer (v. 2) and accepted Naboth’s rejection, even though it hurt his feelings (vv. 3-4). Later on in this chapter, after receiving the Lord’s declaration of judgment for his sin (vv. 21-24), he responded with a degree of repentance (v. 27).

So if Ahab had a few principles, why was he said to be unlike anyone else “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 25)? One answer to that is his own idolatry (v. 26) but a key component was the personal leadership influence of his wife Jezebel. The last phrase of verse 25 told us that he did all this evil, “…urged on by Jezebel his wife.” It was was her personal leadership–her influence–that gave Ahab the confidence to follow some of his own sinful tendencies. Furthermore, we read in this chapter that it was her idea to frame and kill Naboth (vv. 7-14) in order to make it easy for Ahab unjustly to take Naboth’s vineyard (vv. 15-16). Jezebel led her husband into sinful actions that he (seemingly) would not have taken himself (v. 7).

One important lesson, then, is to be careful about who you marry and, generally, who your friends are. Relationships give people great power over the choices and decisions of others. If you’ve ever done something you were reluctant to do (or that it never occurred to you to do), you know how powerful personal leadership can be. So be careful to choose people who are growing Christians with high moral character to be the closest people in your life.

Even though it was Jezebel’s idea, Ahab was still accountable for what happened. Don’t ever let yourself believe that your sin is excusable just because you were following someone else. Ultimately we will answer to God for everything we do regardless of what led us to do it.

Who are the biggest personal influences in your life? Are those people leading you (influencing you) in godly ways or ungodly ways? Would making some changes in your relationships help you to make better, more righteous decisions?

2 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 20

Read 2 Samuel 13 and Ezekiel 20.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 20:32: “‘You say, ‘We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.’”

Peer pressure is something we warn teenagers about, but adults are far from immune to it. Marketers use a form of peer pressure called “social proof” to get you and me to buy products. Similarly, ideas and actions that the Bible label as sinful have become acceptable in human societies because a majority of people consider them OK. Sexual activity apart from marriage, homosexuality, and transgenderism would all be in this category, but there are probably many more things that you and I could list if we took some time to think about it.

These things are now proclaimed to be acceptable, within the range of normal, in our society. The Bible warns us Christians that we would be out of step with the world around us and that the world would pressure us (Rom 12:2) to conform. Just as God’s people in Ezekiel’s time wanted to worship idols because other nations did, we Christians will feel external and internal pressure to conform to the world around us. At some point–probably soon–some major evangelical figure will come out and say that homosexuality is acceptable as long as it is practiced in a marriage covenant of some kind. Though many believers will resist, many will jump on board and urge us all to change our understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

God warned his people of judgment here in Ezekiel and in all the other prophets of scripture for conforming to the practices of the world around them. Idolatry was the specific sin then but the desire to be like everyone else was the motivation then just as it is now when we abandon God’s word and practice or condone in the church what the Lord says is sinful. Let’s prepare ourselves, then, to be faithful to God’s word even as we fall more and more out of step with the world around us.

2 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 18

Read 2 Samuel 11 and Ezekiel 18.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 11.

The most famous passage in 2 Samuel stands before us today. There are several lessons to be learned from David’s sin but the one I want to focus on today is in verse 3: “The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” This answer was the result of David’s inquiry about Bathsheba; verse 3 says, “David sent someone to find out about her.” That statement is vague; what exactly did David want to find out?

He might have merely been seeking her name. If that’s the case, then all he needed to hear was “Bathsheba.”

He might have been seeking her marital status. David already had several wives (2 Sam 5:13) so he might have been willing to add one more if she were single. Given that Bathsheba did not yet have any children, she was probably still very young. The fact that the man who was sent to find out about her mentioned her father first in his report might be a clue that this is what David was after.

The most important bit of information that David got in verse 3 was the news that she is “the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” That should have ended the conversation right there. She was another man’s wife. It was therefore inappropriate for David to have any further contact with her and he knew it.

He also knew that her husband wasn’t home. David was usually out with his army and doubtless knew who Uriah was. It was unusual for a Hittite to convert to Judaism and fight in Israel’s army. He also was, obviously, a very loyal and righteous man (vv. 6-13). It seems clear that David knew her husband was away fighting the Lord’s battle which was David’s battle as well. The fact that David, having heard that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, immediately “sent messengers to get her” (v. 4) indicates that he saw the opportunity to sin and he took it. If her husband was at home with her or could be home soon from work or whatever, David would never have attempted to get with her. His sin was made possible by (1) not being where he should have been (2) being bored (v. 2) and not finding a righteous way to occupy his mind (3) acting on his lust when he saw something he shouldn’t have seen (4) ignoring the obvious boundaries (her marriage and her husband’s diligence in his duty as a soldier) (5) deciding that her husband’s absence was an opportunity to sin.

It seems clear that David did not intend to sin when he stayed home from fighting. It wasn’t his fault that he had insomnia or boredom. It is unfortunate that he didn’t respond by his boredom by spending time with one of his wives or playing his harp or going to the tabernacle (it was open 24/7/365) to read God’s word.

The fact that he didn’t do any of those things wasn’t a sin either. He probably didn’t intend to be a peeping Tom when he went out on his roof at night. People used their roofs in his time like we use a deck or patio today. As I mentioned, it wasn’t a sin for David to ask about Bathsheba since she might have been an eligible bachelorette. Temptation does this to us. It takes situations that we innocently wander into and presents us with opportunities we think we might be able to get away with.

There are a few lessons, then, to learn from this situation:

  • Be careful when you’re not doing what you normally would be doing.
  • Be careful about how you handle your boredom.
  • Be aware that temptation sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
  • Respect the boundaries God has put into place. They exist to warn you that danger lies beyond them.

Ultimately, though, none of us can avoid temptation. We carry around depravity in our hearts and it is easily aroused. Jesus saved us from the consequences we deserve for being sinners and for sinning but he also commands us and empowers us to live a holy life. We need to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” just as Christ taught us to pray because we are weak and temptation is so powerful. Let David’s compromises and sins cause you to turn to Christ for help each day.

2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 17

Read 2 Samuel 10 and Ezekiel 17.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 17.

God’s word through Ezekiel in this chapter came in the form of an allegorical parable about two eagles and one vine. The images in this parable are too intricate for me to explain in this devotional. But the main points are as follows:

  • The two eagles represent the kings of Babylon (v. 12) and Egypt (v. 15).
  • The branch that became a vine represents Judah’s king (v. 12). He’s not named in this chapter but we know historically that it was Zedekiah. He was planted like a seedling (v. 5) in the sense that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed him as a vassal king in Judah (v. 13). He had everything he needed to thrive under the rule of Babylon (v. 5: “fertile soil” and “abundant water”).
  • Although Zedekiah was thriving under a deal he made with Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 13) he reached out to Egypt (the second eagle in this story–v. 7) for help getting liberated from Babylon (v. 15).
  • Because his thriving was dependent on the deal he made with Babylon (v. 14) and reaching out to Egypt was a violation of the deal (v. 18) Zedekiah king of Judah would be punished severely by the Babylonians, ultimately dying in Babylon (v. 20).

This was a prophecy to Zedekiah but it speaks volumes to anyone about making oaths and covenants before God with other people. Zedekiah made a deal with Nebuchadnezzar but he made that deal before God. When he decided to break it, he was being unfaithful to God. Note verses 19-20: “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, I will repay him for despising my oath and breaking my covenant. I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare.”

So it is with us whenever we make a covenant. It could be the covenant you made with your spouse on the day you married. It could be a covenant you made in business or by becoming a member of this church. We make covenants with people but when we break them, we put ourselves under the judgment of God. The question, “Will it thrive?” (v. 9 and repeated in v. 10), is one that we should consider before we commit adultery, get divorced, change churches, or break business agreements unilaterally.

People break their agreements with others because they think they will thrive in a different arrangement. A “better” person comes along than the one they married, a cooler church entices them to visit and reconsider their decision to join Calvary, a more lucrative deal is presented to them than the one they’ve already made. People break their commitments because they think they can get a better deal but if God is displeased by your broken agreement, you should ask yourself, “Will [your new deal] thrive?”

  • Will your new relationship thrive if you’re cheating on your wife?
  • Will your remarriage thrive if you broke faith with your first husband to get with this new guy?
  • Will your family thrive in a new church if you left the last one for unbiblical reasons?
  • Will your business thrive if you won’t honor your contracts and keep the promises you’ve made to vendors or employees or shareholders or business partners or customers?

There are biblical reasons for divorce and for leaving a church. There are also biblical ways to address problems in covenant relationships and even biblical ways for seeking to be released from a bad covenant you’ve made. In my experience, though, people don’t want to do the right thing in order to get out. They just want to get out and enjoy that greener grass over on the other side of the fence.

Are you considering breaking faith in some way? Let this passage cause you to reconsider.

Have you broken faith already in some way? Let this passage cause you to repent.

Jesus died to remove the wrath of God from us for our broken commitments so there is forgiveness and relief available in Him. That’s good because none of us is perfect at keeping our part of a bargain. If you’re tormented by broken covenants, look to Christ for forgiveness and look to his word for ways to get back on a righteous path. This is how you can thrive again.

But if you’re in Christ, you should do everything in your power to keep the covenants you’ve made with others. That is the righteous thing to do and Jesus died not only to become our righteousness before God but also to teach and empower us to live righteously (see Titus 2:11-12 “in this present age.”)

So let’s be careful about the commitments we make and be conscientious about keeping them once we’ve made them.

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Read Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

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 had taken 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 killed all the women and children of Benjamin, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce. Consequently, the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead 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 worked, somewhat, but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites. So they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, 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 showed much better leadership than what we 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, but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will 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 function.

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Read Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing according to Deuteronomy 24:1. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army. They attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But, he never really led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also…
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

  1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
  2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
  3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).