2 Kings 2, Daniel 6

Read 2 Kings 2, Daniel 6.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 2.

I wrote yesterday about how great Elijah was and how unappreciated he also was. That doesn’t mean, however, that he was totally unappreciated. His friend Elisha certainly appreciated him and so did “the company of prophets” in Bethel (v. 3) and in Jericho (v. 5).

But they valued him a bit too much, it seems. Elisha was glum about the fact that God was going to take Elijah away from him (v. 3c, 5c). And, when God did take Elijah, Elisha’s cry, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”seems to mean that the most powerful thing Israel had was now gone. Elijah was a spiritual father to Israel even though most did not receive his message. He was certainly a spiritual father to Elisha (“my father”) and the idea of “the chariots and horsemen” were an analogy to the strength and defense of a nation. Elijah meant more to Israel’s power and defense than all the nuclear missiles and bombs we have stored away for our national defense. So the idea of losing Elijah was a source of despair for Elisha and probably every other faithful Jewish person.

Unable to do anything about Elijah’s departure, Elisha wanted his power so that he could do ministry in the same vein as Elijah but with even greater effectiveness. That’s how I interpret his request to “inherit a double portion of your spirit” (v. 9c). His request was answered, but notice how he framed his description of it in verse 14b: “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” This was a test; would God actually use Elisha now in Elijah’s absence? The fact that the waters parted for him just as they had for Elijah (vv. 8 vs. 14c) demonstrated that God was indeed with Elisha. The fact of the matter is that Elisha did more miracles than Elijah did.

Was it really necessary for Elisha to see Elijah taken to heaven in order to receive the power of God? Of course not. Elijah was “a human being like we are” according to James 5:17. There was nothing special about him. The power to be a “father” and to have greater power than all the chariots and horsemen of Israel resided in God, not in Elijah. But Elijah had to go away in order for Elisha to trust God and do what God called him to do.

Great leaders, godly people, spiritual fathers and mothers are great to have and an important part of everyone’s spiritual growth and maturity. But people die; we should appreciate them while we have them and even mourn their passing. But we should not fear their loss in terms of the loss of God’s work. God is able to work powerfully in us if we actually trust him and obey what he commands us to do. Even our Lord Jesus said that whose who believe in him “will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (Jn 14:12-14).

Do you believe that God will use you to save people and change people’s lives? Are you looking to some person’s leadership when you should be looking to God for power?

1 Kings 19, Daniel 1

Read 1 Kings 19 and Daniel 1.

This devotional is about Daniel 1.

This passage begins with a description of Judah’s Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). God allowed (v. 2) Babylon to overtake Jerusalem in fulfillment of God’s prophecies and because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry.

As we read these early chapters of Daniel in the next few days, we will see that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was a proud man. But he wasn’t too proud to believe that he and his Babylonian brethren had all the wisdom available on earth. In verses 3-5 we read that Nebuchadnezzar looked for, found, and cultivated the most outstanding young people he could find in Judah. Verse 4 told us that these young men had to look good but also show “aptitude for every kind of learning, [be] well informed, [and] quick to understand.” Nebuchadnezzar invested in the education and development of these men (vv. 4f-5) and expected them to contribute significantly to his administration when they were done with their training.

Judah was filled with godless idolators; that’s why they were taken captive by the Babylonians. The sons of Judah’s idol-worshiping men and women likewise cared nothing about obedience to God and their exile had not caused them to repent. Consequently, they had no problem falling in line with the worship, culture, and expectations of the Babylonians. I’m sure they mourned the loss of their parents who were killed when the Babylonians invaded. They may have missed Jerusalem and their old friends, too, but many of them may have been excited by this great new opportunity that Nebuchadnezzar had for them. If it meant conforming to Babylonian ways, they were happy to comply.

That was true for everyone except for Daniel and his three friends (vv. 6-7). These men were (likely) raised in homes that were faithful to the Lord. They continued to believe in God and his word despite the defeat of Judah. That defeat simply confirmed their faith because the prophets had been predicting it for years and they knew that God’s people had not repented. Their challenge now was to live obediently to God’s word in a place that was much more hostile to God than even Jerusalem in unbelief had been. Daniel and the guys determined from the very beginning not to compromise their faith. They promised to perform well if they were allowed to live God’s way (vv. 13-14). That was an act of faith and God met their faith with blessing (vv. 15-17).

The world wants to squeeze everyone into its mold but God commands us not to conform but to be transformed by renewing our minds (Rom 12:2). Daniel and his cohorts left an amazing legacy and example for all of us who want to live for God by faith to follow.

Your school, your government, your neighborhood, your friends, your family, the media you consume are all trying to squeeze you into a mold. Most–maybe all–of those influences are squeezing you into a godless form. Jesus wants to transform you into his likeness. His word, His church, His Spirit, and His grace are all operating in your life for that to happen, but it takes some determination on your part, a willingness to be different. Is there some way right now where you’re being squeezed? What would the Lord want you to do to emulate the faith and obedience of Daniel?

1 Kings 11, Ezekiel 41

Read 1 Kings 11 and Ezekiel 41

This devotional is about 1 Kings 11.

Non-Christians who read the Bible sometimes complain about how large a role the wrath of God plays in the story of Scripture. They are not wrong; God is frequently described as being angry in the pages of scripture.

The truth is, God has a lot to be angry about. He gives us life, has created a planet and a solar system that reliably and predictably provides our basic human needs of water to drink, air to breathe, and food to eat. He gave us each other so that we could know the joys of family and friendship. He called us to worship him alone and promised blessings and joy to us if we worship him.

Despite all of this, mankind as a group has rejected him and his word in order to live selfishly. Instead of thanking him for food, water, and air, we consume these things without giving them a second thought and we idolize material things instead of enjoying and giving thanks for what we have. Instead of loving one another, we resent others for not loving us enough or meeting our expectations; we use and abuse other people instead of serving them and giving thanks for them.

What I just described is only the beginning of the ways in which we’ve dishonored and disobeyed God. No wonder God is angry.

Here in 1 Kings 11, the scripture describes for us the kind of selfish life that Solomon began to live. In disobedience to God’s commands (v. 2), Solomon married women from other nations (v. 1). His marriages to them may have had political, diplomatic value but they were more personal than that because verse 2 ends by saying, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” Just as God predicted (v. 2), Solomon’s heart turned away from God and he “did evil in the eyes of the Lord….” This is why God was angry with him; verse 9 says, “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel….” This is the heart of sin, of disobedience to God. When we love God, we keep his commands. When we become enamored with other things (or other people), our hearts grow cold to God and we look to sinful things for pleasure.

Because of Christ’s love for us and his death for us, we no longer live under the wrath of God. Christ bore every bit of God’s wrath for us so that we would not fear his wrath but could love and live for him, just as he created us to do. We have the Spirit of God within us which makes us thankful for God and his works and stimulates the desire to love and please him. Nevertheless, each of us still has a sinful nature within that causes us to stumble. It is important to remember that breaking God’s laws results in personal consequences for our relationship to God. If you break the laws of our state or nation, nobody in the government gets mad at you; they seek justice but it doesn’t make anyone angry. When we break God’s laws, however, we bring grief to the heart of God who has done so much for us.

Try to keep this in mind today when you are tempted to sin. Not only is sin a bad idea because it creates human problems for us; it is a bad idea because it represents a personal rejection of God. Honor your Father in the choices you make today because you love him and are thankful for all he has done for us.

1 Kings 4-5, Ezekiel 35

Read 1 Kings 4-5 and Ezekiel 35.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 4.

Wisdom, defined basically, is “skill.” There are people in the Bible who are said to have had wisdom in the area of making garments, for instance (Exodus 28:3). That is a skill that God gave them but that they developed.

In Proverbs, Solomon described the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. Most of the Proverbs speak of wisdom in a moral context–worship the Lord, follow his commands, and you will be a wise person. But people can have skill in many areas of life and Solomon’s God-given wisdom extended broadly. He not only had spiritual insight, as we read today in1 Kings 4:32 but he also had administrative insight. Most of this chapter, 1 Kings 4, is dedicated to how Solomon skillfully built administration into his kingdom.

But verse 29 goes on to say that Solomon had wisdom in many areas of life. Verse 33 tells us that Solomon lectured on “plant life… animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” This suggests a curiosity about the world in general and a focused effort to study and understand things.

We believe that God created all things and we believe that he charged humanity with responsibility to develop and use the world around us. Given that, many things that we don’t ordinarily think of a spiritual can actually be acts of worship for a dedicated Christian. Geology, astronomy, physics, business administration, investing, money management, medicine, law, technology, botany, art, music, and many other things that I can’t think of just now can all be areas where God gives someone wisdom and where someone who fears the Lord can demonstrate that wisdom and give glory to God with it.

What areas are you gifted in? Can you sell? Persuade other people? Write? Crunch numbers? Fix electrical problems or computer problems? Learn foreign languages? Write code for computer applications? Have you considered that the interest and ability you have in one or more of these so-called “secular” areas of life could actually be a gift of wisdom to you from God? What, as a Christian, are you doing with that ability to bring glory to God?

2 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 30

Read 2 Samuel 24 and Ezekiel 31.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 31.

This portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy was directed to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God began by favorably describing Pharaoh’s majesty (v. 2) but then pointed Pharaoh to the nation of Assyria (v. 3). Remember that the Assyrians were once a world power before the Babylonians came along. In fact, it was the Assyrians who defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God used them as an agent of judgment for Israel but they conquered many other Middle Eastern nations as well. The Assyrians were fierce warriors and cruel to their enemies. People and nations feared them, so they had a lofty position, like “a cedar in Lebanon” (v. 3a). Verses 3-9 poetically described the greatness of the Assyrian empire but then in verses 10-11, God described how he punished the Assyrians because they were proud of all they had attained.

At the end of this description of Assyria’s greatness and downfall, God applied the lesson of Assyria to the Egyptians. The message of verse 18a was, “Yes, you are great. If you were a tree, you’d be mightier than any tree in the Garden of Eden.” Verse 18b, however, continues with a contrast: “Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below; you will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword. The verse concludes, “‘This is Pharaoh and all his hordes, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

So what was the point of this chapter? It was that Egypt should learn a lesson from Assyria. Egypt was great, yes, but so was Assyria once. Yet God cut them down like a lumberjack fells a tree and he would do the same to Egypt, too, unless they repented.

There are three ways to become wise: (1) Fear God, believe his word and obey it. (2) Despise God, disobey his Word, then watch as he brings the consequences into your life that he promised for disobedience. (3) Notice how God keeps his promises when he punishes others for their sins and repent because you learned a lesson from them. Egypt had the opportunity to be wise in the third way, but they did not repent at the Word of the Lord from Ezekiel.

You and I should learn from Egypt’s bad example. When we see others sin and suffer the consequences, we should repent if we’re involved in that sin or avoid that sin if we are tempted. If you think you can commit the same sins as someone else but that you will escape the consequences, you are a fool. So learn the lesson of Assyria that the Egyptians failed to learn or learn from the Egyptians. Avoid the sins that destroy the lives of others and, if you’re already involved in them, repent now and ask for God’s mercy.

2 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 22

Read 2 Samuel 15 and Ezekiel 22.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 22.

This chapter in Ezekiel details many of the sins that Jerusalem (a representative of the whole nation) committed against God. These sins were the reasons for God’s judgment that would fall on them through the Babylonian empire. Their sins can be put into three stacks:

  1. The leaders used their power selfishly. The main power that any government has that nobody else has is the power to use physical force–including death–without accountability for it. The leaders of Jerusalem were guilty of this according to verses 6 and 25.
  2. The people in general mistreated people who needed protection (vv. 7, 12), thought very little of God and his worship (v. 8), were violent (v. 9a), idolatrous (v. 9b), and committed many kinds of sexual sins (vv. 9c-11).
  3. The priests and prophets refused to lead God’s people to worship and obey him (vv. 26-28).

These are all symptoms of the same problem: “…you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord.” This is listed last, in verse 12, in the long list of sins in verses 6-12. For us, the last thing on the list is usually the least important but in ancient societies, the last thing on a list was the MOST important thing. The most important thing was placed last so that it would be remembered. In this passage, then, God is complaining that his people have forgotten him and, because of that they were guilty of many other sins against him.

When believers like you and me neglect our spiritual life and choose not to walk with God daily, we deviate in many ways from God’s will. Our sins are symptoms of how we live life on our own terms rather than obeying God because we love him and worship him daily.

How is your spiritual life? I hope these daily devotionals have helped you walk with God and build a habit of meeting with him daily. It is possible, however, to read the word daily and still not fellowship with God in prayer and worship. What’s the state of your heart? How is your relationship with God? Have you forgotten him? Is that starting to show up in sinful choices you make with your daily life?

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 11

Read 2 Samuel 2 and Ezekiel 11.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 11.

In many of our readings this year, we’ve seen how God gave Israel his law. In it, he specified how obedience to the law would bring blessings and how disobedience would bring his curses on them. Time after time in Judges, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now here in Ezekiel, we saw God keep his word—he blessed his people in the rare times of obedience and he punished them when they disobeyed. Over and over again they disobeyed and he would allow them to be oppressed but not completely overrun. At the time Ezekiel wrote these words, however, God’s most painful punishment was falling on his people.

When I read about Israel’s failures and God’s punishments in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people never learned from their own history and lived obediently to God’s law. God’s law had some unusual commands to observe—don’t wear a garment made of synthetic materials, for instance. But for the most part, what God was really angry about was their idolatry. Why couldn’t Israel just serve the Lord? Why did they repeatedly turn to idols, even when bad times were the result?

Today’s passage in Ezekiel 11 answers that question. Specifically, verses 19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The reason that Israel could not obey God’s laws is that they did not have a new nature within. What people needed—what we still need—is the spiritual work of God called regeneration.

People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and all the prophets had been born spiritually. They didn’t love God and obey his laws in their own moral strength; they received the gift of eternal life. This is alluded to in passages like Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The difference between the few who obeyed God’s word and the many who worshipped idols and lived lawless lives was faith. The “faithful” believed God because God had given them the new spirit discussed here in Ezekiel 11:19-20. The “faithless” may have followed some of the symbols and ceremonies, the civil laws and some of the moral codes, but fundamentally they did not believe God’s word.

The same is true when Jesus lived. By that time the oppression of the Assyrians and the exile of the Babylonians had ended. Israel was under Roman rule, but Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Baal. God’s judgment of his people by the Assyrians and Babylonians was effective in stripping out overt idolatry from the people. But the Pharisees and many other Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not obey God’s laws from the heart; they were doing it to appear righteous to others and to obtain favor from God by their own good deeds. These are not acts of faith; they are acts of unbelief. Although they are not overtly idolatrous, they are not produced by love for God.

This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus; although he studied and understood the law and was as scrupulous as any other Pharisee about obeying it, he didn’t really “get it.” He knew that Jesus had spiritual reality and spiritual power that he did not have. So what did Jesus say to him? “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn 3:3).

People needed spiritual rebirth—regeneration—in the Old Testament and people need it today. This is a central idea of our faith. We are not calling people to moral reformation; we are calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. What sets you apart from your unsaved neighbors and family is not that you are a good person and they are not; what sets you apart is the gift of eternal life in Christ. This is the hope we have to offer people around us; not “be moral so God will bless you,” but “receive Jesus so that you can have the power to live a moral life.”

1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 9

Read 1 Samuel 31 and Ezekiel 9.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 31.

Because of his disobedience, Samuel told Saul back in 1 Samuel 15 that the Lord had “torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). That was when God decreed that David would take over but it took years to reach the day when it happened. That day is the one we read about here in 1 Samuel 31, but notice that verse 2 in our passage says, “The Philistines… killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.” Eventually, Saul died too (vv. 3-5). As verse 6 concluded, “So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.”

Now, back in 1 Samuel 15, whose sin caused the kingdom to be torn away from Saul and his house? Saul. The answer is that Saul alone sinned.

Jonathan, according to everything we read about him, was a righteous man. His moral compass operated properly even when his father’s did not. Furthermore, Jonathan was more than willing to let David become king (1 Sam 23:17) so he was humble and eagerly surrendered to God’s will. Yet, as good as he was, Jonathan died in this battle along with his father and two of his brothers. There is something about that which seems fundamentally unjust. Saul sinned but the consequences for his sin affected more than just him. His righteous son died in the prime of his life through no fault of his own.

This story illustrates, then, an important truth to remember which is that our sins affect more people than just us. When we sin, often we alone are the ones who enjoy the sin but, when the wages of sin are paid, others–sometimes many others–suffer the consequences alongside us. Anyone who has lost a friend or family member to a drunk driver can attest to the truth of this. So can anyone who has ever been robbed, or had their reputation ruined when someone lied or gossiped about them. We choose to sin but the fallout of sin often affects others.

It is important to remember that in Adam, our representative, all died. Except for Jesus, not one of us has lived a perfect life so we all pay the wages of sin when we die (Rom 6:23). This goes for Jonathan, too. As great as he was, he was a sinner; it was not unjust, therefore, for the Lord to allow him to die in this battle. As a sinner, he would die sometime and justly so. That fact that he lived this long was a testament to God’s mercy; so is the fact that you are alive to read this.

But the point is not that Jonathan got what was just; the point is that he died because of his father’s sin. Makes you wonder, then, this: What kind of damage will my sin cause to others? The answer to that question is unknowable but it is worth thinking about nonetheless. If thinking about it deters you from doing the sin, then God has been gracious to you by bringing you his word.

Obey it and see what God does.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 2

Read 1 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 2.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time–the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was declining and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied before and after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians but Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel began to prophesy in Babylon (1:1) while he lived with the other exiles. Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile.

Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). People may reject his word, but God will not withhold it from them.

Why did God send prophets to people who would not listen and repent? The answer is that it removes their excuse and renders them guilty before God (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it. Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can transform a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit. What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes. Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger. The only time we have failed to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

1 Samuel 16, Lamentations 1

Today, read 1 Samuel 16 and Lamentations 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 16.

The writer of First Samuel has given us very few time references to help us mark the events recorded in this book. Since the author focused on the significant events without telling us how much time passed between them, it seems like Saul’s kingdom rose rapidly and collapsed overnight. But the truth is that Saul reigned over Israel for a long time—forty-two years, according 1 Samuel 13:1. There may have been a long time between Samuel’s official announcement to Saul that he had been rejected as king in 1 Samuel 15 and David’s anointing as king in 1 Samuel 16. The Lord’s word to Samuel in 16:1, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?”, suggests that a good amount of time may have passed. Despite that, a long time will transpire between when David was anointed king here in 1 Samuel 16 and when he became king in 2 Samuel 2. During this time, God would prepare David for the role He had chosen David to fill.

God commanded Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons in verse 1 to replace Saul as king. Since Samuel feared for his life while obeying this command (v. 2a), God told him how to use the worship ritual of sacrifice to provide cover for this assignment (vv. 2b-5). Although offering a sacrifice gave Samuel an overt occasion to accomplish his covert mission of choosing Israel’s king, the sacrifice itself was more than just a cover story. As the leader of God’s people, it was appropriate for David’s ministry as king to begin with a sacrifice followed by his anointing because his kingship would be a spiritual thing—an act of obedient worship, of direct service to the Lord his God.

God emphasized the importance of choosing a godly man as king by the way he revealed to Samuel which son of Jesse to anoint. Traditionally, the eldest son would have been the natural choice and Jesse’s son Eliab looked like a winner to Samuel (v. 6). But God taught Samuel, and us, an important lesson about spiritual leadership in verse 7 of our chapter for today: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We humans are wired to be impressed by someone’s physical appearance. We admire those who are tall, “looking up” to them metaphorically as well as literally. Studies show that a good looking job candidate is more likely to be hired than an average (or worse) looking person, even if the good-looking one is less qualified. We are easily impressed by appearances. God, however, is not. Although David was plenty good-looking and athletic (vv. 12, 18), it was his walk with God that qualified him to be a leader for God’s people, not his physical attributes.

This passage should cause us to stop and reflect on our own decision-making. How much of a factor was the character and spiritual life of your spouse when you chose to start dating him or her? How much was it a factor when you chose to get married? Do you choose to read books (or receive other kinds of spiritual input) from pastors and teachers who are popular, lead large ministries, and have impressive sales numbers or are you looking for strong, biblical content delivered by a godly man?

What about choosing a church—are you looking for godly leadership and biblical teaching or are you impressed too much by appearances? When your kids start to get interested in the opposite sex, are you concerned that they climb the social ladder by dating the best looking, or most popular, or best athlete? As long as that person claims to be a Christian, is that good enough for you or are you looking for evidence of a growing Christian life?

David had a lot to learn before he could lead God’s people as king, so in God’s providence he was brought into close contact with Saul in verses 13-23. But the most important qualification in David’s life was that he walked with God. Since he walked with God, God would lead him through the circumstances and events (many of them painful) that would prepare him to be the leader of God’s people. If you aspire to be a leader or to become somebody’s husband or wife, or to see your children grow up and become good, godly adults, the most important thing to do is walk with God yourself.

The second most important thing to do is to learn to look beneath appearances for genuine evidence of a growing walk with God in the other person. We can’t see the heart like God does, but we can ask him to lead us and to show us the truth about others. If our desire is to please God, we can trust that he will lead us just as he lead in David’s life.

1 Samuel 15, Jeremiah 52

Read 1 Samuel 15 and Jeremiah 52.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave him direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing. Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9).

God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11). In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord, with a few exceptions. But those exceptions were made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands. Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience. The text does not tell us, but as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience. It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not. The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (vv. 22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins which were worse than Saul’s—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28). What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”? Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word. We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and 45

Read Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and Jeremiah 45.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 36 & 45.

Many years ago, I was writing an academic paper that I was scheduled to present to a conference of scholars on preaching. I was more than 70% finished with the paper when the hard drive on my computer died, taking all my work with it. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how disheartening it is to lose all your work and have to start over.

Fortunately, I had backed up my hard drive the night before so I didn’t actually lose all my work; I only lost one day’s work, namely, the pages I had written the day the hard drive died. It was frustrating, and created some stress because the deadline was approaching, but it wasn’t as disheartening as starting over from scratch would be.

Here in Jeremiah 36, Jeremiah dictated a sermon to be delivered at the temple (vv. 1-4). Then, because Jeremiah was no longer allowed in the temple, he sent Baruch, the man who wrote down the message Jeremiah dictated, to read the scroll aloud in the temple (vv. 5-8). This message started a season of repentance in Judah (vv. 9-10). Then, some of Judah’s government officials were told about the message and they wanted to Baruch to read it to them (vv. 11-18). Finally, these government officials decided that the king needed to hear these words (vv. 20-21).

Baruch and Jeremiah were told to hide, so the king, Jehoiakim, had one of his guys read the scroll (v. 22). He was not nearly as impressed (v. 24) by the Lord’s words as the others were; instead, he cut off pieces of the scroll as it was read and burned Jeremiah’s entire message one piece at a time (v. 23). Like having a hard drive crash or having your forthcoming book manuscript burned up in a house fire, Jeremiah had to do the work of dictating the message all over again (vv. 27-30).

Few people would have the audacity to cut pages out of God’s word and burn them. This is doubly true for Christians; most of us don’t even know what to do with our warn our Bibles because we would never throw them in the trash can.

But, when we ignore sections of God’s word or reinterpret parts of it that are distasteful to us, we are doing something similar to what Jehoiakim did when he burned Jeremiah’s scroll. We are reading a heavily-edited copy of the Word, but, rather than edit or destroy the physical copy of scripture, the editing is done in our minds or through our choices of what to read and what not to read.

This is one reason, by the way, that I do verse-by-verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book expository preaching. Preaching the next passage in the Bible prevents me from ignoring the harder passages to interpret or avoiding the passages that might be painful or controversial.

Reading through the Old Testament like we are also helps us to get exposure to all of God’s Word, not just the parts that we find comforting. But we can still do our own editing of God’s word by applying and obeying some parts of it while living in disobedience to other parts.

Are there any areas in your life where you are ignoring or avoiding God’s word?