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 17, Ezekiel 24

Read 2 Samuel 17 and Ezekiel 24.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

Over the past few chapters in 2 Samuel, David has been reaping the bad harvest of the sin seeds he sowed in his adultery with Bathsheba. Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 12:10: “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The “sword,” a metaphor for violence, showed up when David’s son Amnon raped David’s son Tamar and when Absolom retaliated by killing Amnon in chapter 13. In chapters 14-15a Absolom began positioning himself to challenge David as king. Then he did attempt to overthrow David as king in 2 Samuel 15b-16.

Here in chapter 17, David is running for his life and Absolom is seeking wisdom for how to defeat his father and solidify his hold on the kingdom of Israel. Absolom consulted two men for advice. Both had been advisors to David and were known to be men who gave wise advice. We do not know why Ahithophel began to advise Absolom instead of David but the advice Ahithophel gave was shrewd and accurate and would benefited Absolom had he chosen to follow it.

The other advisor, Hushai the Arkite, was secretly loyal to David and, consequently, gave different advice to Absolom than Ahithophel gave. God was working in all of this, both through the presence of Hushai and the inclination of Absolom to listen to him. Verse 14 says, “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

The book of Proverbs advises us to seek and follow the advice of wise counselors and Ahithophel certainly qualified. But it is better to be on the Lord’s side than to have the best advisors in the world. Absolom could not win because his cause was unjust, selfish, and opposed to the will of God. God had made an everlasting covenant with David and the Lord would not fail to keep his side of the bargain. The best tactics, strategy, advice, and execution will be ineffective if it is not aligned with what God has chosen to do.

When you make decisions and seek advice, do you filter that advice according to scripture? Are you thinking about the commands of God and the moral truths his word teaches first before you follow the advice you are given? As Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” So seek and follow wise counsel, by all means, but remember to consult God’s word as your first and primary counselor.

2 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 19

Read 2 Samuel 12 and Ezekiel 19.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 12.

Nathan the prophet showed up seemingly out of nowhere at key times in David’s life. He showed up back in chapter 7 when David desired to build a temple for the Lord. Although he gave David the go-ahead initially, Nathan had to go back to the king and tell him that God had revealed something different. I don’t know if Nathan found it difficult to tell David that God wanted Solomon, not David, to build the temple. But at least God gave Nathan the Davidic Covenant to reveal as well, so there was some good news to give the king in that instance.

Here there is no good news to reveal. Nathan’s job is a tough one. It is always unpleasant, uncomfortable to tell someone that they have sinned. Imagine doing so to the king—a king who had Uriah killed to keep his adultery a secret. Tough job, and a scary one as well.

Nathan wisely used a fictional story to begin the conversation in verses 1-4. Drawing from David’s background as a shepherd, he appealed to David’s inherent sense of justice. You would have to be pretty cold-blooded to read Nathan’s story and not be outraged by how calloused, how unrighteous, how absolutely abusive the rich man was toward the man who was poor. The story had the result that Nathan intended; “David burned with anger against the man” according to verse 5 and sentenced the man to death (v. 5b). David’s response was extreme; as much as the poor man loved his little lamb, it was only a lamb. The second part of David’s sentence, “He must pay for that lamb four times over,” described a more appropriate penalty. But David’s words reveal how deeply outraged he was that the man “…did such a thing and had no pity” (v. 6). Only then, when David was could see the injustice clearly and empathized with the victim, did Nathan lower the boom. This was not a story about a rich man, a poor man, and one little lamb. No, Nathan dropped the story and simply said, “You are the man!” The story was about David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murderous attempt to cover it up.

Nathan’s indirect approach was incredibly effective because it got David to see the objectively sinful and selfish thing that he had done. Had Nathan directly brought up the issue of Bathsheba with him, David could have denied it or tried to justify it. Or, David might have added Nathan to the body count in order to continue the cover up. But by appealing to David’s humanity and sense of justice, Nathan was able to elicit a full confession from David (v. 13).

It is amazing how wicked sin seems when someone else gets caught. Even when we are guilty of the exact same sin, it feels justifiable to us but indefensible when the perpetrator is someone else. This is why, sometimes, we need direct confrontation. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” may have been said in the context of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:31, KJV), but it is true concerning every sin. If we would listen to our conscience, if we were as ruthless in applying the Bible to ourselves as we are to others, our walk with Christ would be straighter and we’d be a lot less judgmental toward others.

That is why we need, sometimes, confrontation like David received from Nathan. When we have been lying to ourselves what we need most is someone who will tell us the truth. Although this kind of personal confrontation is always difficult and never fun, it is truly loving. Sin is always destructive, so the most loving thing you can do to someone entrapped in sin is to surgically apply the truth to their lives to help them extract the cancer of wickedness before it consumes them. This is what Galatians 6:1-2 means when it says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Or as James put it, “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (5:20).

The lessons are clear: (1) If someone confronts you about your sins, be wise and repent fully as David did here in 2 Samuel 12. (2) If you know of someone who is living in unrepentant sin, bring it prayerfully and lovingly to their attention so that they can repent and find forgiveness in Christ.

2 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 12

Read 2 Samuel 3 and Ezekiel 12.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 3.

David was a killer; a “man of blood” as some translations call him in 1 Chronicles 28:3. But look how horrified he was when Joab killled Abner here in 2 Samuel 3. He called on God to bring a perpetual curse on Joab’s family as a consequence of Joab’s sin (v. 29). He mourned the death of Abner, attending his funeral, crying for him, singing a lament for him (vv. 31-34), and fasting to demonstrate his mourning over Abner’s death (v. 35). Why would David, who killed so many people himself, be so horrified by the death of Abner?

The answer is that David’s killing was done in defense of his nation Israel. The Philistines, David’s most frequent opponent, were attacking Israel. Israel was not the aggressor in these situations; it was the victim of the aggression of its neighbors. While it is true that Israel attacked the nations living in Canaan, God made it clear that the command to attack them was not only to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant but also to punish these nations for their own sins (see Deut 9:5, 18:12). Just as God later used the Assyrians and Babylonians to judge Israel for her sins, he used the Israelites in the days of Joshua to punish the Canaanites for their sins. Having taken the land that God promised to them, Israel focused on settling and developing the promised land, not building an empire through never-ending attacks on other nations. War, and the killing that it requires, the killing that David did, was done in defense, not because David was a bloodthirsty man.

Our nation’s leaders should consider the ethics of war. American foreign policy in the past few decades has involved attacking other nations that have not attacked us. While this might seem like a smart idea tactically, it is not morally justified. It is, in fact, murder on a large scale. There is a time for “just war” but the just ones in any war are those who are seeking to defend their people and property. Human life is sacred, as David’s response to Abner’s death demonstrates. Since it is sacred, one should never attack another nation or person. Neither you nor I should ever take another person’s life unless that person has attacked us first with potentially deadly force. David’s response to Joab’s murderous attack on Abner shows that he understood the difference between defeating an enemy who has attacked you and getting revenge on someone through murder.

For much more on this, listen to a radio interview here that describes biblically what makes a just war: https://huffduffer.com/jonesay/345975

1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5

Read 1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David.

According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to reveal to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing David still or if Saul would be faithful to his word to Jonathan.

Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie.

So what do we make of a passage like this?

First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” not for them but for ourselves–to get that person to like us.

Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell.

It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance.

But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.

Judges 6, Jeremiah 19

Read Judges 6 and Jeremiah 19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 19.

God complained, through the prophets, about many sins committed by Israel and Judah. But, of all those sins, idolatry was mentioned most frequently. God’s judgment against his people was closely tied to breaking the commandments about having any other gods and making idols for worship. From God’s perspective, we can understand this. God is real and other gods are not so it is offensive to give his glory to false gods and deeply unjust to worship something that people created instead of the true Creator.

For those who don’t know God, however, it may seem strange that the Old Testament spends so much time and ink addressing idolatry. The list of human problems is long. It contains moral issues like murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, as well as societal problems like starvation, poverty, war, infant mortality, etc. These are more pressing issues, when it comes to human life and the quality of it, than idolatry. At least, that’s what people might think.

Here in Jeremiah 19, however, we see another reason why idolatry was so offensive to God: Human problems sprout from bad theology like branches sprout from the trunk of a tree. In verse 3 God prophesied “a disaster” on Judah and Jerusalem and, in verse 4, the reason he gave for doing so was “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew.” But notice what followed his complaint about their false worship: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Israel’s idolatry wasn’t just a waste of time caused by praying to something that wasn’t real. Israel’s idolatry led them into unimaginable human wickedness. Thank about how depraved someone would have to be to take their beautiful newborn baby and burn it alive as an “offering” to Baal. It is incredibly cruel and unspeakably evil.

This is what happens with bad theology. Bad theology is a symptom of a wicked, unredeemed heart but it also leads to greater wickedness such as cruelty and inhumanity toward other people. We Americans don’t worship Baal but we do worship unrestrained sexuality which leads to pornography, premarital sex, unrighteous divorce, adultery, abortion, homosexuality and other sexual sins. We worship money and wealth which leads to exploiting workers, dishonest advertising, and unfair contracts. There is only one true God and only he can say what is truly right and wrong. Worship any other god–even one called YHWH or Jesus but detached from God’s revelation–and you will get all kinds of human wickedness, too.

Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 57

Read Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

It is easy to read the Old Testament and come to some false conclusions. Two false conclusions that come to mind are (1) that Israel had the capability to keep the law of God and that (2) God would be pleased with them if they kept his law.

False conclusion number 2 would be true but it is impossible because of conclusion number 1. Israel had no chance of enjoying all the benefits God promised in his covenant because Israel was a nation made up of sinners. Their obedience to his Word, therefore, would only ever be partial and half-hearted. Because God is perfect and demands perfection, the sins of the people–no matter how minor they seem to us–would always render them guilty before their holy God. We can see from Israel’s history that God did bless them when, in a general sense as a nation, they kept his commands not to worship idols or commit murder, or oppress the poor. But each individual person would be guilty of things like coveting his/her neighbor’s stuff.

So all of these laws in the Old Testament were designed to show God’s people and anyone else who was paying attention that God is holy and therefore, people are always guilty before him. God used the law to teach this so that people would come before him genuinely seeking his forgiveness and his help to be obedient to his word.

Verse 6 here in Deuteronomy 30 describes the spiritual work that needed to happen for people to truly worship and follow him. That verse says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Circumcision, of course, was the covenant mark of the Abrahamic covenant. Each boy who was circumcised was, by that act, showing that they belonged God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. When verse 6 says that “God will circumcise your hearts” Moses is describing the spiritual act of belonging to God, being marked as a genuine believer of God. This is what we would call in the New Testament “regeneration,” the work of the Holy Spirit that makes someone a child of God.

There are important differences between Israel and the church but it is important to understand that God’s people have always needed his grace through faith and the regenerating work of the Spirit in order to be his people from the heart, not just in name only. What I’m saying is that God’s people–Old or New Testament–have always needed God to save them, to act on our behalf and make us his by the work of the Spirit. Believers in every age have all been saved by the grace of God and never by religious rituals or meritorious good works.

Are you trusting in your religious rituals or are you trusting in the grace of God alone for your salvation?

Deuteronomy 21, Isaiah 48

Read Deuteronomy 21 and Isaiah 48.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 21.

A few chapters ago, in Deuteronomy 17, we read about capital punishment and the very high standards that had to be met before it could be used. Today’s chapter touches again on the death penalty in a couple of different ways:

  • An animal was to be executed as a substitute for the unknown murderer in an unsolved murder according to verses 1-9. The purpose of this law was to uphold the value of human life by making sure that there was some kind of life-for-life exchange if the killer could not be found.
  • A rebellious son could be executed if his parents charged him with rebellion in the presence of the elders of the town in verses 18-21.
  • Verses 22-23 regulated the public display of someone who was executed. God’s law required burial for anyone who was displayed in this way “because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Let’s consider that last instruction in verses 22-23 today. In each of the death penalty cases we’ve come across so far, God’s word commanded the method by which the death penalty must be… um… executed. In every case that I can remember, God’s law required the method of execution to be stoning. Verse 21 of this very chapter, for example, commands, “…all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Stoning someone to death required binding that person’s hands and feet so that he couldn’t run away. Once bound, the person was thrown into a pit and the witnesses or the elders would throw large rocks at him until he died. Usually the first stone thrown would be a very large rock that would be dropped on the person’s head so that he lost consciousness immediately and possibly would even die from that strike. It is not the most humane way to die, but it was the only way available in their society that multiple people–representing the entire community–could take part together in the execution.

Now, because God’s word prescribed the use of stoning as the method of execution, why did God include these verses about someone who is executed and hung on a pole? This law did not require that the dead body be hung on a pole this way; it only regulated such a pole-hanging if it ever were to occur.

Also, why would the law say, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” but not anyone “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22a) is under God’s curse? In other words, why does the curse apply only to the one executed if he is hung on a pole?

One reason that the Israelites might hang someone on a pole is to publicly display the dead body. The purpose here would be to display God’s curse on the man who was executed and hopefully to deter others who might be tempted to commit the same offense. We don’t know enough about daily life in Israel to know if this was ever used but there is certainly no instance of it in the Old Testament historical books that I can think of.

The New Testament, of course, does provide an example that would fit this description which is our Lord Jesus himself. Although he was not “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22) personally, he came to serve as a substitute for our capital offenses against God. As our substitute, he was cursed by God (Isa 53:4c-d, Gal 3:13 so that we could be blessed with eternal life.

These two simple verses in Moses’s law, verses that may never have been relevant to any situation that Israel ever faced before Jesus’s death, remind us of the blessing of forgiveness we have in Christ. But they also show us how God foreshadowed the atonement of Christ for us in his word, thousands of years before Jesus was even born. This is one of many reasons why we can believe the Bible and know that it is God’s word.