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.

Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, Romans 16

Read Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, and Romans 16.

This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15).

I wrote that these men were “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family–thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses suggest a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So, the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil.

Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan (v. 9b), Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. That would have been good for trade and commerce, too.

Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful. Dull times politically result in stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper-serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So, evidence suggests that God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring.

Those are the kinds of leaders we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our country has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, and go to war against nations that have not attacked us. The people who voted for that party love it, too. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views.

I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

Exodus 6, Job 23, Proverbs 6:1-19

Read Exodus 6, Job 23, and Proverbs 6:1-19 today.

This devotional is about Proverbs 6:1-19.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us seven things that the Lord finds detestable. I find myself nodding my head in agreement quite readily with the first six. “Haughty eyes” — signifying someone who is so overbearingly proud that it is written all over his or her face—are easy to dislike. So is someone who lies, or is violent to the innocent, or is constantly coming up with new scams, or who rushes to the next opportunity to sin, or who knowingly testifies falsely in order to cause trouble for someone else or benefit himself. It is not hard to find these things offensive.

But what of #7: “a person who stirs up conflict in the community”? On the surface, this one is easy to agree to as well; however, you and I are probably more likely to be involved in this than in any of the other sins. Who stirs up conflict in communities? People who like to argue, or who want to agitate for change, or who want to depose the current leader so that they can become the new leader, or who just insist on being difficult. The church is notorious for this kind of behavior. People who complain about the length of the pastor’s sermons or about the new youth leader, or about the song selection on Sunday—these are people who stir up conflict. I won’t even mention politics or current events in the news. You already know those topics are filled with people trying to stir up conflict to get votes, or likes, or clicks, or viewers.

Conflict in any community is inevitable because we are sinners. Sinners are selfish and will sow seeds of discord or even pick a fight if it serves our selfish purposes. Christ, however, calls us and empowers us to live in love rather than in selfish conflict. Having received God’s love in Christ, God wants us now to seek to make peace instead of stirring up strife. Is there anyone in your life with whom you have conflict right now? Did your actions stir this conflict up? Or, did your response to him or her help escalate the conflict? What is one thing you can to do “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal 5:13c) in this situation? Now, go do that thing praying that the Lord will use you to make peace.

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalms 10-13

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

This devotional is about Genesis 28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 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.

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.

2 Chronicles 26, Zechariah 9

Read 2 Chronicles 26 and Zechariah 9.

This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

Israel and Judah were almost constantly at war. Solomon’s kingdom was peaceful but most of the rest of their history in the land was marked by combat with the surrounding nations. Here in Zechariah 9:9-10, God promised that Jerusalem’s king would bring peace.

The peace he would bring would not be a passive (or pacifistic) kind of peace. Verse 9 says he comes “righteous and victorious.” The word “righteous” describes his justice; he would deal properly with every criminal. The word “victorious” described his relationship with other nations. Like the Babylonians who imposed peace by defeating other nations, this king would bring peace by winning all his wars. Verse 10e says, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” This sentence defines the borders of Israel as God intended them to be. Under this king, God’s people would rule the world. Once the world was subject to him, however, the mechanisms of war would be unnecessary. Verse 10a-c says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” This king would not need to use force to enforce the peace as other empires, like Rome, did. Instead, his reign would end warfare on earth.

Despite all the military overtones in this chapter, verse 9 describes this king as “lowly and riding on a donkey.” The word “lowly” means “humble” and depicts a king who is not insufferable in his arrogance. The fact that he arrives in Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” is probably in contrast to riding on a powerful warhorse. The description of this king as both “righteous and victorious” but also “lowly and riding a donkey” teaches us that he will be powerful but approachable; just and loving at the same time.

You may recognize that Matthew (21:5) saw Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet Jesus only fulfilled part of it. The military victory of Jesus as well as the peace and justice he will bring await the literal kingdom that Christ will bring in eternity. This is our hope as believers in Christ. When you see injustice in this world, when you hear about the loss of human life through violence and wars, remember that these are symptoms of a fallen world. In Christ’s second advent, he will finish the work he began in his first advent. We can look forward in hope and eagar expectation to his return, then, even as we celebrate his birth this time of year.

2 Chronicles 22-23, Zechariah 6

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Zechariah 6

This devotional is about Zechariah 6.

We’ve already noticed that God spoke to Zechariah through highly dramatic, visual, symbolic visions like the flying scroll he saw in chapter 5. Here in chapter 6 he saw “two mountains” made of bronze (v. 1) and four chariots with horses of many colors (v. 3). These horses and chariots represented “the four spirits of heaven” going from the Lord throughout the earth (v. 5). The point of his vision was that the unrest with Babylon, which resulted in the Babylonian captivity of Judah, was over (vv. 8-10). God’s people are now returning to their covenant land and will be at rest.

In verses 10-11 Zechariah was instructed to get gold and silver from some of the exiles who had returned from Babylon and make a crown to put on the head of Joshua the high priest. Then Zechariah was to give Joshua a word from the Lord, “Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’” Our translation seems to imply that Joshua is the Branch and will serve as both priest and king. However, the Hebrew indicates something else. The translation “here is” is not meant to indicate, “Here, this guy, Joshua is the Branch.” Instead, it is meant to convey something like, “Look, Joshua here symbolizes one who is called ‘The Branch.’” The one who is referred to as, “The Branch” will give life to Israel by building the temple of the Lord, receiving the majesty of the king, and being Israel’s priest as well as her king (v. 13). Verse 13 concluded by saying, “‘And there will be harmony between the two.’” After years of struggle between kings–some of whom lived to honor the Lord and many more of whom did not–the Branch would unite the kingship and priesthood of Israel in one person. This is, of course, a prophecy of Jesus. He is our king, our Lord but also our savior, the one who made atonement for us.

Israel is still waiting for this priest-king to finish his work of unifying the nation politically and religiously and, since we have been grafted into the branch by God’s grace, we wait with Israel for this fulfillment as well. As we look forward to Christmas, we remember not only coming of Jesus our Lord and Savior but also the promises he will fulfill when God’s time for them comes.

2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13

Read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel received a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority.

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it is a whitewash (vv. 11-12). It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace. Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread).

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” teachers who speak encouraging, motivating words but these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b).

The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 7:19c-h: “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath. It will not satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs, for it has caused them to stumble into sin.”

Lack of money can create problems such starvation, inability to get healthcare, or homelessness. Almost as bad, the fear of those things happening if you run out of money can make life miserable before the problems even arrive.
On the other side of the …um… coin, there is a certain amount of security that comes from having money. If your car breaks down, it is annoying to have to lay out the money to get it fixed but at least you have the ability to get it fixed. If your car breaks down and you don’t have enough money to get it fixed, then you might have a hard time getting to work, which can cause you to lose your job, which could lead to being evicted from your home.

So, yes, it is better to have money in most situations in life. The Bible acknowledges this fact. Ecclesiastes 7:12 says, “Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter….” It can shelter you from many problems in life.

But it can’t protect you from every problem in life. The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. He was a billionaire many times over already and spent a lot of money treating his cancer but he could not buy a cure for himself. His money could not buy him health or even one more day on earth.

Another thing that money can’t buy you is peace with God. The currency and capital that we crave so much is worthless in the eyes of God. As creator, he owns everything but as a self-sustaining, uncaused spirit, he needs nothing. Those who are wealthy may feel as sense of security in this life but–like all of us–they too should fear the wrath of God. This piece of Ezekiel 7:19 warned the wealthy, “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath.” In Ezekiel’s prophecy that statement was a warning. When the Babylonians invaded Judah, the rich would not be able to buy off the soldiers. Those soldiers would kill them, then take their wealth as loot (v. 21).

But this verse in Ezekiel 7:19 not only warns that the wealth of the rich won’t save them from God’s wrath, it also says that their wealth is part of the reason for God’s wrath. The last phrase says, “for it has caused them to stumble into sin.” That sin is detailed in verse 20: “They took pride in their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols.” Wealth was a status symbol that caused the wealthy to be proud–something God hates. It also became an idol–literally–when they used it to make fake gods.

What is your relationship to money like? Does it give you a false sense of security? Do you view it as evidence that God is pleased with you even as there are sins and problems in your life that you are ignoring? Do you worship wealth–not literally as an idol–but through materialism? Is it hard for you to give generously to God’s work and to be kind to those who are poor?

Money can’t buy you anything with God but the way you think about money and use it reveals something about your relationship with God. If you’re in Christ, he’s absorbed the wrath of God for you; have you submitted the money and material things you have fully to his Lordship?

Judges 12, Jeremiah 25

Today, read Judges 12 and Jeremiah 25.

This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15). I just called these men “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family–thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses indicate a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So this shows us that the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil.

Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan, Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. That would have been good for trade and commerce, too. Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful. Dull political situations mean stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper-serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers are people who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring. These are the kinds of conditions we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our world has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, and go to war against nations that have not attacked us. And, people who vote for that party love it. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views. I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Personally, I’d like to see Washington become a lot less relevant to everything and a lot more boring. I’d prefer any of these guys–Ibzan, Elon, or Abdon to any president in our lifetime, including the current resident of the Oval Office.

I think God would, too.

Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

Joshua 10, Jeremiah 4

Read Joshua 10 and Jeremiah 4.

This devotional is about Joshua 10.

In Joshua 9 the Gibonites saved their own lives by deceiving the Israelites and making a peace covenant with them. Here in chapter 10, their neighbors were ticked and decided to attack Gibeon in retaliation for the peace they had made with Israel (vv. 1-5). The agreement Joshua made with the Gibeonites was made under false pretenses. It protected them from being attacked by Israel but it in no way formed a NATO-like alliance that said Israel would come to their aid of they were attacked by others.

Nevertheless, when they were attacked, they sent word to Joshua asking for help (v. 6b). Joshua and his army did help even though they were under no obligation to do anything. So this was an act of kindness, a blessing conferred on the Gibeonites far beyond what they deserved or should have expected based on their agreement with Israel. God’s people did far more than they had to and God blessed their gracious act of deliverance and used it to defeat five kings at the same time (vv. 16-21) instead of attacking those cities individually.

What interests me in this passage is how magnanimous Joshua and his nation were. Instead of being bitter about the deception of Gibeonites and taking pleasure in their demise as if it were cosmic payback, Joshua came to their aid. He did not hide behind the technicalities of their covenant; he abided by the spirit of it–which was that the Gibeonites would be protected. In other words, God’s people went beyond what was required to do something generous and kind.

So many people today do only what is expected. Or, worse, many people will do less than what is expected if they think they can get away with it. Doing more than what you’re required to do and expected to do is gracious and, because it comes from grace, it is pleasing to God. God rewarded the kindness of his people toward the Gibeonites with a greater victory. Is there any area in your life where you’re doing only what is required or less? What might God do in your life if you put more effort and did more than what is expected or required in the areas where you’ve made commitments to others?