Judges 13, Ezekiel 2, Acts 21

Read Judges 13, Ezekiel 2, and Acts 21.

This devotional is about Judges 13

Most of the leaders we’ve read about in Judges are given a chapter or less in this book. The exceptions are Deborah (Judges 4-5), Gideon (Judges 6-8), Jephthah (Judges 9-12), and Samson (Judges 13-16). Among these four, Gideon and Samson were called to be judges by a direct appearance from the angel of the Lord. Gideon received his call when he was an adult, but Samson’s call came to his parents.

In their case, God chose a man from a small town, Zorah (v. 2a) from an insignificant clan (v. 2b) who could not have a family to that point because his wife was barren (v. 2c). God, in his grace, chose these insignificant people, appeared to them directly and dramatically, and revealed that their son would be a military leader (v. 5) against the mighty Philistines who had dominated Israel for 40 years (v. 1). And, what made Samson unique among all the judges was that he was commanded “to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb” (v. 5b).

The concept of a Nazirite was explained in Numbers 6. According to that passage, this was usually a temporary vow to God (see Num 6:13) during which the Nazirite was marked off from everyone else in Israel by diet (no grapes, wine, or raisins), appearance (no haircuts), and separation from the dead. Numbers 6 does not tell us what the Nazirite was to do during the vow or why someone might make a temporary Nazirite vow. In a society that struggled to worship God by obeying just the routine aspects of the law, it is likely that few, if any, took on the special obligations of becoming a Nazirite. That is why the Angel of the Lord had to tell Manoah’s wife what to do to maintain Samson’s status as a Nazirite (vv. 4-5) and why Manoah prayed for a return visit from the Angel of the Lord to repeat the instructions (vv. 8-14). Samson was most unusual, not only because he was a Nazirite, but because he was commanded to be one for his entire life (v. 7).

Samson’s mother seems to have realized that the man who instructed her was more than just a prophet (v. 6: “He looked like an angel of God, very awesome”) but Manoah seemed to think that he was speaking to a mere man. This is why he attempted to show hospitality to this messenger (vv. 15-16). Eventually he learned that this messenger had a name that was too wonderful to share with Manoah (vv. 17-18) and, when the angel ascended through his food offering, he realized that he was speaking with none other than God himself (vv. 20-22). 

What an incredible start Samson had as a leader for the Lord. Not only was his destiny revealed before he was even conceived, but his parents were instructed by God himself on how to raise their son. Although we are not told that his parents were devout worshippers of the Lord before the events of this chapter, they received God’s word in this chapter with faith and a serious desire to be obedient to what it said.

What a challenge to those of us who are parents. Do we desire to see our children grow up to serve the Lord? Do we take seriously God’s commands, seeking to live them out for ourselves and teach them well to our children? Do we understand that God usually chooses the average guy from the unimpressive family to be great, simply because of God’s grace? Are we thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit in our children’s lives as they come to know Christ by faith and begin to follow him (vv. 24-25)? 

Exodus 13, Job 31, Proverbs 6:20-35

Read Exodus 13, Job 31, and Proverbs 6:20-35.

This devotional is about Proverbs 6:20-35.

Proverbs 5 was devoted entirely to warning us against the sin of adultery. Here in 6:20-35, Solomon revisited that subject.

In Proverbs 5:16-22 Solomon advised us to protect against adultery by prioritizing and enjoying sex within your marriage. That instruction came at the end of the teaching on adultery.

Here in Proverbs 6:20-24 his recommendation for avoiding adultery comes at the beginning of the section, not the end as in chapter 5. In chapter 5, Solomon recommended an amorous marriage as the antidote to adultery. Here in chapter 6, as we’ll see in a moment, Solomon has another defense in mind against adultery. If we read Proverbs 5:16-22 and 6:20-35 together, we learn that we should use multiple layers of protection against this sin. One layer is a mind that is devoted to truth and prepares for the temptation of adultery (6:20-24). The other layer is a strong relationship with your spouse (5:16-22).

Let’s focus on the layer described here in 6:20-24. Verse 24 says that it is the teaching of godly parents (v. 20) that will keep “you from your neighbor’s wife.” How does that work exactly? Verses 25-29 tell us.

All temptations to sin consist of lies. Just as Satan promised Eve that disobeying God’s commands would liberate them to become “like God, knowing good and evil,” all temptations promise some kind of benefit with no cost. Adultery, of course, promises thrills and pleasure. If you feel yourself being attracted to someone else who is not your wife, temptation promises that the beauty of that person will be yours to enjoy (v. 25) if you begin a relationship with her.

But sin always hides the cost and Solomon’s teaching to his son in this passage is to consider the high cost of adultery (vv. 26-33). Sex with a prostitute is sinful but sex with another man’s wife is a much costlier sin (v. 26). It will bring punishment into your life (v. 29) just as surely as coals will burn you (vv. 27-28). If you learn this well when you are young, you will understand the real cost of adultery and see through the lies that temptation tells you.

Adultery is so costly because of the social shame after the sin is exposed that adulterers bear. Some sins make sense to us such as stealing to avoid starvation (v. 30). Yet even that sin exacts a cost when the shoplifter is caught (v. 31). Our hearts go out to a starving man who steals because he is just trying to stay alive (v. 30) so when his fine for stealing is paid, that is the end of the matter (v. 31). Adultery is not disposed of so easily. Verse 33b says, “…his shame will never be wiped away.” In other words, if you get caught committing adultery, that is going to stick with you and become a permanent part of your story. At the very least, the spouse of the person you commit adultery with will not forget (vv. 34-35). In his quest to get justice, he will not hide what you did but will spread the word so that the maximum number of people possible hear about it.

In the moments of temptation, these truths can help you find your way out of temptation without sinning. If you can remember that the promises adultery makes to you will prove to be false, it will be easier to say no when the temptation comes your way.

So, determine now to live a pure life and to remind yourself that the high cost of sin far outweighs the temporary pleasures the sin will offer you. This is the wise way to live–the pure way. May God give us grace to trust him and obey his word if any of us face this temptation in our lives.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones,” whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.

2 Chronicles 9, Zephaniah 1

Read 2 Chronicles 9 and Zephaniah 1

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 9.

This chapter summarizes and wraps up the end of Solomon’s life but the chapter began by telling us about how the queen of Sheba came to visit and meet with Solomon (v. 1). The location of “Sheba” is debated, but it was not close or convenient to Israel. Jesus said that she came “from the ends of the earth” (Matt 12:42), so this was not an easy trip.

But it was a rewarding one. Verse 4 said, “she was overwhelmed” (v. 4) by her experience in Jerusalem. Her own testimony was that she “did not believe what they said” when she heard about Solomon until she “came and saw with my own eyes” (v. 6). She went from not believing the reports about Solomon to believing that the reports had been grossly understated. Verse 6 said, “Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard.”

Although her journey was difficult and costly (vv. 1, 6) it was financially beneficial (v. 12) and, I think the Bible suggests, administratively and spiritually advantageous as well. Other world leaders followed her lead and visited with Solomon, too, according to verse 23.

The lesson here is that wisdom and knowledge may be hard to get and costly but they are worth it. One of the best ways to solve a problem in your life or to move to a new level in your life is to find someone else who has excelled in that area, get with that person, and learn everything you can from him or her.

But you have to humble yourself to admit that you need help and that’s hard for most of us to do. If you were afraid to ask a teacher for extra help in school then you may find it hard to seek advice from others. Refusing to look for help from others may preserve your ego but it will also mean that you’ll be stuck at one level for a long time–maybe for the rest of your life.

Could you use a coach or a mentor in your:
• walk with God?
• parenting?
• use of money?
• physical health or fitness?
• career?

Then make like the queen and find someone who can help you! There maybe (probably is) someone in our church family who could help you or introduce you to someone who could help you.

Where do you need help? Who could you ask for help?

Deuteronomy 11, Isaiah 39

Read Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

This devotional touches on both Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

In Isaiah 39 a delegation from Babylon came to visit Hezekiah. Their mission was was peaceful and was designed to create goodwill between the two nations (v. 1). Hezekiah was eager (probably too eager) to welcome them and he showed them all of the material blessings God had given him (v. 2) making reconnoissance easy for the Babylonians who would soon become Judah’s enemy.

God used the occasion of their visit to send a message through Isaiah prophesying of the coming Babylonian captivity (vv. 6-7). Hezekiah was untroubled by the prophecy because it would be fulfilled after his death. As verse 8 said, “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” His viewpoint was self-centered and short-term in its focus. Instead of being concerned about Judah receiving the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel for many generations, Hezekiah only cared to know that there would be tranquility during his kingdom and lifetime.

Contrast Hezekiah’s attitude with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 11. While Moses was certainly concerned with the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the current generation (vv. 8-18), he also urged the current generation to pass on what they had seen and learned about God to the next generation (vv. 2, 5, 19-21).

All of us who love the Lord here in the church age should think this way, too. Unfortunately, many Christians do not and some of the common problems churches experience are the result of short-term thinking like Hezekiah’s. The more mature you are in Christ, the more you should care about the salvation and spiritual growth of young people. Of course the church should minister to every age group, but it should focus most on ministry to families. When you are a child, a teen, a young adult, and a parent with children, the church should be optimized to to minister to you. As your children become adults, they should, by God’s grace, be moving more and more toward leadership and service in the church. Then, the older you get, the more your growth in Christ and personal maturity should point you toward reaching and discipling the next generation.

Often, though, there becomes inter-generational conflict in the church. This is where some of the “worship wars” come from but also the inability of the church to prune ministries that once were effective but are now no longer serving a good spiritual purpose. A church can easily be born, grow strong, and then decline (or even die) in a 20 year span because it only ministers to one generation. People in that generation are content, even complacent, that the church offers “peace and security in my lifetime” (Is 39:8b) and so, like Hezekiah, they are unconcerned about what will come after them.

When you think about our church, are you looking to see if young people coming through our youth group stick around and get involved as young adults? Does it give you joy to see those young adults marry, have children, and raise them in our church? Are you praying that some of them will become elders in the days ahead? Are you looking to be involved in some of our ministries to children or young adults so that you can pass on what you’ve learned in your walk with God to others who haven’t seen what you’ve seen?

Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, Psalm 74

Today’s readings are Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, and Psalm 74.

This devotional is about Proverbs 2.

The end of Proverbs 1 described wisdom as a woman wandering the streets offering her blessing to anyone who wanted it. Here in Proverbs 2, Solomon told his son that he, Solomon, could be the medium for wisdom. He wrote in verses 1 & 6, “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you… then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

It has always been God’s plan to pass wisdom from parents to children. Since God is the source of wisdom (v. 6) and parents are commanded to teach our children about God and introduce him to our kids (see Deut 11:19-21), teaching our children about God and his ways also introduces them to God’s wisdom for guiding their lives (vv. 9-11). This wisdom, then, will steer our children away from sinful influencers, either men (vv. 12-15) or women (vv. 16-19). The result will be a blessed, morally successful life (vv. 7-8, 20-22).

The lesson for children is to listen to your parents and be obedient to their words. Our world mocks parents and acts as if they know nothing. But look at the lives of those who listen that kind of nonsense. Children may be more adept at technology and more savvy about what is popular but God gave you parents to keep you from ruining your life through sinful, stupid actions.

The lesson for parents is to teach your children about God. Our church offers children’s programs to assist you. But you can have an influence on them that the world’s greatest youth minister never can have. Believe it or not, your children respect you, want your attention, crave your insight, and want to be like you. So make the most of that! When they get older, they will be tempted to disregard your words and make their own decisions in foolish ignorance. This is why it is important to start leading your children spiritually when they are young. Parents can delegate many things about our children to others–coaches who can teach them to play sports, teachers who can instruct them about math or science, but you can’t really outsource their moral and spiritual instruction. So make sure to pray for your kids and to lead them to know God and his ways.

Genesis 26, Esther 2, Psalm 25

Read Genesis 26, Esther 2, and Psalm 25.

This devotional is about Genesis 26.

The cliché, “like father, like son” became a cliché because it is true. Children are reproductions of their parents, not just physical reproductions but reproductions in many other ways. Although each of us has characteristics that are unique and different from our parents, we consciously and unconsciously pick up many of the things that one or both of our parents do.

Here in Genesis 26, we see Isaac reproducing the behavior of his father Abraham. Twice Abraham told his wife Sarah to pretend that she was his sister (Gen 12, 20) so that he would not fear being killed by some other guy who wanted her. This was a stupid strategy, really. It did protect Abraham, which was his goal. But it threatened his marriage in both instances and forced his wife twice into unwanted relationships with other men. Abraham’s strategy was unloving to Sarah, untrusting of God, and just downright stupid.

So where did Isaac get the brilliant idea to do use the same strategy? It must have come from Abraham sharing his stories. God was the hero of Abraham’s stories, protecting Sarah in both cases and even enriching Abraham in the process. The moral of Abraham’s stories should have been, “Isaac, I did something stupid and sinful in these cases. God was merciful and protected us, but be wise and don’t do what I did.” Maybe Abraham tried to convey that; maybe he just told his stories with a laugh because things turned out well. Whatever Abraham said, tried to say, or implied in his telling of these stories, Isaac got the wrong message. The message Isaac took from Abraham’s experience was, “Lie at all costs to save your life when you feel insecure about the beautiful woman God gave you.” Predictably, Isaac got the same results when he used Abraham’s strategy. He kept himself out of harm’s way but, in the process, lost his wife’s companionship and nearly lost his marriage completely.

The moral of these stories for us is, “Tell your stories to your kids, but make sure you teach them the right lesson to learn.” Don’t indirectly teach your kids, “Hey, I sinned and got away with it so you can, too.” Instead, directly teach your kids, “I sinned but God was merciful. Learn from my bad example, trust God, and do what is right.”

Have you told your kids any stories that they might get the wrong ideas from? Fix that while you can; don’t let your kids repeat the same mistakes you’ve made.

Like father, like son. But it doesn’t have to be that way for the bad stuff. Instead, show your son and daughter the right path. Let them stand on your shoulders and be wiser than you were.

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7

Today we’re reading Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7.

This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study… of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the… observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.