2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, Proverbs 22:1-16

Read 2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, and Proverbs 22:1-16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 10.

Here in 2 Samuel 10, David—the great warrior king—tried to build a political alliance. According to verse 1, the Ammonite king died and verse 2 tells us his name was Nahash. This man was mentioned in 1 Samuel 11, where he was instrumental in beginning Saul’s career as Israel’s king. Back then, Nahash had besieged Jabesh Gilead and demanded incredibly cruel and gruesome terms for a peaceful settlement (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Saul mustered the men of Israel and defeated Nahash and his army which rallied the nation to Saul as their leader.

Given the events of 1 Samuel 11, it is quite surprising to read that David said, “Nahash… showed kindness to me” (v. 2a). He must have treated David much differently than he did Jabesh Gilead in 1 Samuel 11. Maybe being defeated by Saul made him treat Israel with much greater kindness and generosity. Or maybe this is an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Nahash was kind to David because Saul hated David and Nahash was the enemy of Saul. We don’t know because Nahash is not mentioned at all between 1 Samuel 11 and 2 Samuel 10. Whatever Nahash did for David left a very favorable impression on him, so David desired to show kindness to Hanun, Nahash’s son. Sending a delegation to express sympathy, as David did in 2 Samuel 10:2c, was an act of political diplomacy. It was a personal kindness, yes, but it was also a political one—a way to encourage peaceful relations between two nations who were near each other geographically. 

David’s kindness, however, was interpreted as espionage (v. 3). Hanun, therefore, humiliated David’s men. In Israelite culture, the beard is a symbol of manhood. Only women and boys had hairless faces, so shaving half of a man’s face was a way to humiliate him before everyone who saw him. That insult was bad enough but cutting off someone’s garments to expose them would be even more humiliating to anyone. These men arrived unarmed since they were on a peaceful mission, so to treat them this way was both personally humiliating and politically insulting. It was an act of war which is how David responded to it (vv. 5-7). 

There is a difference between cautious and paranoid, between skeptical and cynical. A cautious person will trust someone more and more as that person demonstrates trustworthiness over time. A paranoid person trusts no one, ever. A skeptical person wants to believe the best about someone but has plenty of doubts. A cynical person consistently believes the worst about others. A young king like Hanun should have expected to be tested by other nations, so caution and even skepticism were warranted and wise. But Hanun and his military advisors went way beyond skepticism. They were paranoid—unreasonably suspicious. They were also cynical—assuming the worst motives in any and every situation. They reacted as if David’s men were caught spying, not suspected of it. Their response was unjust and unwarranted. It was also unwise.

There is an old saying, “Once burned is twice shy.” That saying expresses something you and I know to be instinctively true—we are doubly cautious toward anyone we feel has burned us or betrayed us in the past. Trust is like a wall of dominoes: it takes a long time to build, one positive act placed next to another with perfect spacing between them. But, just as one flick of the finger can take down the carefully built wall of dominoes, so one foolish act, one rash statement can destroy years of trust and credibility. These are facts of human nature.

Cynicism, however, is far worse. A cynical person believes the worst about others by default. The cynic believes that everyone’s motives are not just suspect but evil, so every act is interpreted as an act of war, even acts that are designed to be peaceful. But cynicism is an incredibly costly way to look at the world. A cynic will never trust anyone enough to have a truly good relationship with that person. A cynic will wound even the person who wants to nothing more than to befriend him. Jesus commanded us to look at others far differently than the cynic looks at others. He commanded us to be kind and generous to everyone, even our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). He commanded you to forgive the guy who sins against you 490 times, if he asks forgiveness (Matt 18:22). If you are a suspicious, cynical, paranoid person, people may not be able to take advantage of you, but they also can’t really love you. If you respond badly to those who try to show you kindness, everyone will end up being your enemy. As followers of Jesus, we must learn to be open-hearted to others around us. We should take some appropriate caution, to be sure, but value the difference between careful and closed. Not only are there eternal rewards for trusting Jesus enough to be good to those who are not good to us, there is the immediate return of cultivating friends instead of creating enemies.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of cynicism because in him we learn what mercy is, what grace is, what forgiveness really means and how costly it is. We also learn that he is sovereign over every event in our lives so that even if others wound us or even kill us, he will bring justice when he determines. Lean on these truths when you are tempted to distrust others; if others sin against you, trust God to take care of you instead.

Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4

Read Exodus 15, Job 33, James 4.

This devotional is about James 4.

Conflict is part of human life. It may manifest as sibling rivalry, office politics, negative political campaigns, first degree murder, or in some other way, but within humanity, someone is always struggling against someone else.

James 4:1-2b tells us that all conflict comes from “your desires that battle within you.” It is the impulses of our sinful nature—envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, and others—that create every disagreement, every conflict, every war. Verse 2c reminds us as believers that God is the source of everything and that, instead of striving with others to get what we want, we should bring our desires before the Lord through prayer.

It is our prayer-less striving that keeps us from finding satisfaction in this life because God prevents the accomplishment of our goals when we pursue them as Christians without asking him to provide them to us.

But, verse 3 reminds us that asking God for something in prayer is not like buying from a vending machine, as if prayer goes up then goodies come out. No, sometimes we ask God for things and don’t get them because we “ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3b).

Our biggest problem is not in our strategy—ask for what you want instead of fighting for it. No, our problem is that we want the wrong things. We want things for our own satisfaction instead of giving glory to God through our spiritual growth or the advancement of God’s kingdom in evangelism.

James accuses us of spiritual adultery in verse 4. We made a commitment to God but we’re friending and flirting with all the same desires and goals that unbelievers have. Like a jealous husband, our partner in adultery, the world, is the object of God’s anger; if we choose to have an affair with this world, we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath (v. 4b).

Except for one thing: God knows how intensely we struggle with affection for success, recognition, materialism, and pleasure. Instead of sending us away in divorce, he placed his Holy Spirit in us to give us a competing desire to love and serve him (v. 5).

But this calls for humility; when we’re frustrated for not getting the thing(s) we want in life, we need to honestly assess whether our desire for those things comes from a desire to serve and glorify God or from our own selfishness. If we turn to God in those moments of struggle, he gives us the power to resist sin and draw closer to him in holiness (vv. 7-10).

What is going on in your life that is causing you frustration? Is it something in your personal life, your family, or friendships? Is it a professional or financial setback or just stagnation in your job? If you find yourself arguing and fighting with others day after day, it is time to assess whether you’re cheating God. Instead, allow him to lead you where he wants and provide you with what he wants you to have. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10).

Genesis 8, Ezra 8, Matthew 6

Read Genesis 8, Ezra 8, Matthew 6 today and then read this devotional about Matthew 6.

We all care what other people think of us. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps us from all kinds of obnoxious, antisocial behavior, like ignoring appointments we made or showing up egregiously, unapologetically late for them.

Our concern about others’ opinion becomes a problem when it becomes the primary driver for what we do. When our lives become too focused on appearing a certain way to others, then we start doing things for appearance sake only rather than from the heart. Do this too much and your life will resemble a studio lot–on camera things look real and amazing but in reality, it is a facade.

Here in Matthew 6, Jesus spoke to us about religious life that is done only to impress others (v. 1). Jesus warned that those who lived this way “will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (v. 1). Then Christ applied this teaching to:

  • giving to the needy (vv. 2-4)
  • prayer (vv. 5-15)
  • fasting (vv. 16-18)

These were markers of spirituality in Jesus’ culture and they are still areas that can be impressive when we consider someone’s spiritual life. I wonder, though, what kind of spiritual or religious acts impress us? Perfect attendance on Sunday morning? A long history of having devotions without ever missing a day? Bible memorization or detailed Bible knowledge? Service in some work for Christ?

Jesus was not telling us never to give to the poor or to pray. In fact he spent a good amount of time in verses 5-15 teaching us to pray so that we would know how to do it in a way that glorifies him instead of ourselves. Similarly, we should not stop doing something for God or to grow in our faith just because someone is (or might be) impressed by it. Nor should we stop serving the Lord just because we may struggle with inconsistent motivation. Instead, we need to examine our hearts and ask God to help us worship and serve him from the heart and not to impress or please others.

2 Chronicles 30, Zechariah 12:1-13:1

Read 2 Chronicles 30 and Zechariah 12:1-13:1.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 30.

The revival and reformation in Judah that we read about yesterday continued in this chapter. The new aspect of this revival was a desire to celebrate the Passover which we read about today. God commanded Israel to observe the Passover every year so that the nation and each succeeding generation would remember God’s miraculous extraction of his people from slavery in Egypt.

But, beginning with Solomon, God’s people wandered away from obedience to God’s laws. That disobedience included not observing the feast days, like the Passover, which God commanded in his law. We saw this in verse 26 which said, “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” The span of time between Solomon and Hezekiah was something like 200 years, so God’s people had no personal history to guide them. They didn’t have memories of celebrating the Passover with their families yearly so they were unprepared to celebrate this festival to the Lord properly. Their unpreparedness was described for us in verses 2-3 as well as 17-19,

In their excitement to celebrate the Passover, these unprepared people actually broke God’s laws concerning the Passover. It was Hezekiah’s prayers for them that saved them from God’s wrath (v. 20). God was merciful to them because Hezekiah prayed for them and because their hearts were right even though their actions were not. Good motives are not an excuse for habitual disobedience to God’s word but God is often merciful when his people are acting in love for him.

What strikes me in this passage is how much better it is to build godly habits and maintain them. Regular church attendance is very important, in my view, for maintaining your walk with God. It is one of several habits of godliness that a Christian needs to grow; however, there are many Christians who attend church sporadically and haphazardly. They attend now and then, maybe once a month. Then they may come for a few weeks in a row before dropping back to old, inconsistent patterns. It is much harder to start a godly habit–like Passover observance or church attendance–than it is to keep doing a habit that your parents and their parents established a long time ago.

BUT, if you’ve fallen out of practicing a godly habit, the best time to change that is now. It might not have been the correct time to observe the Passover (see verse 3) but it was better to re-start the observance as soon as possible than to continue to live in disobedience to the Lord.

So what’s the status of your habits as a Christian? By all means, continue to maintain the godly habits you have but, if you need to start a good, godly habit, DO IT NOW.

So what will you begin cultivating ASAP?

Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Today’s readings are Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

The previous chapters in this book explained the various offerings God had commanded his people to bring (Lev 1-7), the dedication of Aaron and his sons as priests (Lev 8), and the beginning of their service to the Lord on behalf of Israel (Lev 9). Their ministry had just begun and, here in chapter 10, two of Aaron’s sons broke the Law of Moses and displeased God with “unauthorized fire” (v. 10).

What exactly they did wrong is not explained to us. It could have been incorporating some pagan worship element in the offering. It could have been that they were drunk when making the offering (which maybe why verses 8ff are in this chapter). It could have been that they entered the Most Holy Place even though it was not the Day of Atonement. We just don’t know specifically what they did but whatever it was, it was done in willful disobedience to God’s word. This is why God acted as swiftly as he did. Instead of fearing the Lord and doing their ministry in that spirit, they attempted to worship God in an unholy way.

Moses responded swiftly and told Aaron and all the other priests exactly what to do next. This was to re-enforce that Nadab and Abihu were completely in the wrong and to keep the other priests from compounding the sin by disobeying God’s commands in other ways while they served as priests.

Still, despite Moses’s best efforts to keep the priests on an obedient path, they broke God’s law in verses 16-18 by not eating “the sin offering in the sanctuary area” (vv. 17-18). Moses was angry about this, too (v. 16) and confronted the priests about this violation. Aaron spoke up for the others and asked, given the fact that “such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” That satisfied Moses (v. 20) and no punishments resulted.

But what exactly did Aaron mean by, “such things as this have happened to me…”?

To answer that question, we must remember that Aaron was ordered not to grieve the death of his sons while he was on duty as a priest (vv. 6-7). These orders were directed at the outward signs of mourning; they were forbidden from tearing their clothes or allowing their hair to become disheveled which was a common way of showing mourning.

Although Moses commanded them not to mourn externally, they were of course sad and distraught on the inside, both due to the sin of Nadab and Abihu and due their deaths. So Aaron’s response to Moses in verse 19 seems to have meant something like, “We fulfilled our duties to the Lord as priests despite the sorrow we have. The only part we didn’t complete was the part that benefited us, eating the meat from the offering. Because we are mourning, none of us felt like eating. Since the meal is supposed to be for our benefit anyway, is God really displeased that we didn’t eat it? Would God have been glorified if we feasted away while our hearts were breaking?” If that’s what Aaron meant, it is a compelling argument and, therefore, not surprising that Moses was satisfied by it.

The most important part of what Aaron said, however, is totally clear: “Would the Lord have been pleased…?” His motives for allowing the sin offering to be consumed like the burnt offering instead of eaten were to glorify God. In every other circumstance, he would have obeyed God’s directions completely but, given these circumstances, it would be more glorifying to God for them to fast rather than eat the meal as if nothing were wrong.

The truth of this passage, then, is that the motives behind what you do for the Lord matter more than what you do for the Lord. This is something the Old Testament prophets emphasized and Jesus spoke about often as well. It is never right to disobey God because of your feelings; but there are times when it is not totally clear what the best way to glorify God is. In those times, one should seek to honor God and act in a way that is consistent with trying to honor God.

From time to time people in our church ask me about various ethical dilemmas they have. Things like:

  • Should I attend a baby shower for a baby conceived out of wedlock, especially if the mother is unrepentant? It isn’t the baby’s fault, but does it send a wrong message?
  • Should I attend the wedding of someone who professes Christ but is marrying an unbeliever? What if I’m not really convinced that the professing believer truly knows Christ?

These and other situations call for wisdom and they bring stress (and distress) to many conscientious believers. Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I try to reason aloud with the person asking the question from clear Scriptural truths and see if any seem to apply in the situation they are asking about.

Often, though, it ends in a judgment call. A passage like this gives us some comfort. If we are seeking to please the Lord–not to justify or excuse a sin that we really want to do but earnestly seeking to please him–then that matters more to God than scrupulous obedience to his commands from a cold heart.

Are you facing any tough decisions where the right thing to do is not 100% clear despite the fact that you’ve sought counsel from the Lord and from godly people? Take comfort that God knows your motives and that he is gracious and merciful to us, especially when we want to please him.

Exodus 24, Job 42, Psalm 72

Today’s Bible readings are Exodus 24, Job 42, and Psalm 72.

This devotional is about Job 42.

Job was a godly man before trials took his children, his wealth, and his health. His understanding of God, however, was incomplete. He was thankful for God’s blessings in his life, but when it was all taken away, he demanded an audience with God. His demand to speak with God reveals that he felt God had treated him unjustly and that Job deserved an explanation for it.

When God spoke to Job here in the closing chapters of this book, he did not explain why he allowed Satan to persecute Job. In fact, God did not mention Satan’s role in Job’s trials at all. Instead of justifying himself to Job, God overwhelmed Job with his greatness and power. His purpose was to remind Job that God was sovereign over everything; therefore, God is accountable to no one.

God’s words were deeply convicting to Job. Despite how painful his persecution was, he now knew God in a more personal and mature way. In verses 5-6 Job prayed, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember that this story began as a challenge between Satan and God. As expected, God won the challenge; Job did not sin or charge God foolishly. But the trial Job experienced did reveal some defects in Job’s view of God. After suffering through it all and receiving God’s revelation, Job was a more holy man, one who had a stronger walk with God than ever.

This is always God’s purpose in every trial he sends into our lives as believers. God wants us to be holy and he uses the rough chisel of trials to remove the unsanctified thoughts and motives we don’t even know are there in our lives. Trials are always painful but, like surgery, the wounds God inflicts on us in trials are designed to heal us of the spreading cancer of selfish depravity in each of us.

If you’re facing a trial right now, how do you feel about it? Does it feel unjust to you that God would do this or allow this to happen to you? Like Job that may be the very thing God wants to root out of you. So welcome the trial (James 1:2: “consider it pure joy”), not because you want the pain but because you trust the Surgeon to remove the sin that’s killing you and stitch you up again and make you whole when he is finished.