Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Read Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Chronicles 21 and Revelation 13

Read 2 Chronicles 21 and Revelation 13.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 21.

For all the good that he did, Jehoshaphat was unable to leave Israel with a godly successor. His son Jehoram got to be king because “he was his firstborn son” (v. 3c). That’s not a very good reason for choosing someone to be your successor. Solomon, for instance, was not David’s firstborn son; not even close.

Jehoram must have felt some insecurity about his reign because when he had “established himself firmly over his father’s kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel” (v. 4). He also married one of Ahab’s daughters who evidently influenced him toward idol worship (v. 6, 11).

God was gracious to Jehoram, to a point, despite his murder and idolatry, but that was only due to his covenant promise to David (v. 7). Although God did not remove him from being king, he did bring severe trials into Jehoram’s life because of his sins:

  • He faced rebellion from the Edomites (vv. 8-10) “because Jehoram had forsaken the Lord, the God of his ancestors” (v. 10b).
  • He received a stern letter of warning from Elijah (vv. 12-15).
  • He lost when attacked by Philistines and others (vv. 16-17).
  • He contracted an incurable bowel disease (vv. 18-19) and “died in great pain” (v. 19b).

Since Jehoshaphat ran such a tight ship religiously when he was king, one might reason that Israel enjoyed having Jehoram, a fellow idol worshipper, follow him and loosen things up. No such luck, though; when he died, “His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors” (v. 19c). Ouch! Verse 20 summed up his eight year reign this way, “He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”

That phrase, ““He passed away, to no one’s regret” is a sad epitaph for anyone’s life.

It is foolish to live so that others regret your death. If you do that, you’ll spend your life trying to please everyone. But it is impossible to please everyone and even more impossible to please God at the same time you try to please other. That’s because God wants you to be holy and everyone else wants to be unholy.

But look at Jehoshaphat. He made some dumb decisions, but he lived for the glory of God to the best of his ability and he is remembered for that. Proverbs 28:12 says, “When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.” The way to be remembered well at your funeral is to live a righteous life and be the best manager for the Lord of whatever power and influence he gives you. People may be repelled by your high standards, your ethics, and your morals but over time they will respect the steady leadership you have provided.

2 Chronicles 19-20 and Revelation 12

Read 2 Chronicles 19-20 and Revelation 12.

We read yesterday about the foolish alliance that the godly king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, made with the ungodly king of Israel, Ahab. God saved Jehoshaphat even though he went into battle dressed like a target (see 18:29-31) and he caused Ahab to be killed even though he was trying to avoid detection (18:33-34).

Here in chapter 19, a prophet named Jehu rebuked Jehoshaphat for his alliance with Ahab (vv. 1-2). Although “the wrath of the Lord” was on Jehoshaphat (v. 2b) he was still man who set his “heart on seeking God” (v. 3b).

What were the evidences of that his heart was set on seeking God?

First, he turned others to seeking God. Chapter 19 verse 4 told us that he reached out to the people “from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim.” This is a large area around Jerusalem, where Jehoshaphat lived. Beersheba was far to the south of Jerusalem, encompassing all of Judah and Simeon as well as a number of Israel’s enemies. “The hill country of Ephraim” was the area due north of Jerusalem, including the tribes of Benjamin and Dan. These are areas that belonged to the Northern Kingdom of Israel but Jehoshaphat traveled around these places “and turned them back to the Lord, the God of their ancestors” (19:4b).

Second, he delegated justice to others but charged them to judge in the fear of God (19:5-11). One man cannot do all that needs to be done, but a godly leader both delegates the work and urges those responsible to do the work in a way that pleases God because they fear God.

Third, he trusted God to keep His covenant (20:6-7) and defend His people (20:1-13), looking to God in prayer for these promises. Because of his faith God answered his prayers and miraculously delivered Judah from their attackers (20:14-26).

Fourth, he gave thanks and praise to God in worship when God delivered Judah from her enemies (20:27-28).

Jehoshaphat did some really stupid things (see 18:29-32 again. Sheesh). His obedience was imperfect (20:33) and failed to learn his lesson at times (20:35-36). God even disciplined him for some of these things (20:37). But because his heart was set on seeking God (19:3), God was merciful to him when he disciplined him and God blessed the areas where he was wise and faithful to the Lord.

Isn’t that encouraging? Even though he messed up a lot, his efforts to do right were blessed and praised by God because they came from a sincere heart of obedience. I hope this gives you some comfort and encouragement to keep seeking the Lord and striving to do what’s right. I hope it helps you not to be discouraged when the Lord’s discipline comes into your life but to keep seeking him for as long as you live.

1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, 2 Timothy 3

Read 1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, and 2 Timothy 3.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 11.

First Kings 10, which we read yesterday, seems to describe the apex of Solomon’s career as king. The queen of Sheba had heard about “the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord (10:1a). That last phrase is key because after she tested him with hard questions (10:1b-3), she saw everything there was to see about his kingdom (vv. 3-5). Her response was to praise God and give him glory for it all (v. 9). Her praise to God seems to show that Solomon gave praise to God for it all. It was his humility, his faith in God, and his obedience that led to such an amazing golden era in Israel’s history.

All of that started to unravel here in 1 Kings 11. Contrary to God’s commands (11:2), Solomon married women from every foreign nation around Israel in addition to his Egyptian wife (v. 1). And his marriages to these women were not merely diplomatic, a way of forming peace accords between Solomon and these other countries. Instead, verse 2c says, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” Indeed, he must have really, really been enamored with women because verse 3a-b says, “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines….” At some point, Solomon’s harem became the idol in his life that displaced God. We see that in verses 3c-4 which say, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”

The result of his romantic idolatry was real idolatry. Verse 5 says, “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.” The implication I see in this passage was that his desire to please his wives led him to do what they wanted him to do, namely worship idols with them. 

God was not passive about Solomon’s idolatry. Instead God promised that Solomon’s heir would lose the whole kingdom except for David’s tribe Judah (vv. 9-13). In addition to that promise, God raised up threats to Solomon’s kingdom from outside of it (vv. 14-25) and inside of it (vv. 26-40). Instead of finishing his reign in peace and prosperity, he left behind a disorderly, divided kingdom.

The lesson here, of course, is to be careful what you love. If you want to please anyone more than you want to please God, the temptations that follow that desire will be intense—too intense for most of us to resist. While God is gracious and merciful to forgive our sins, what he wants from us who know Christ is obedience from an undivided, loyal heart to him.

So, what is it or who is it that competes with God for your attention? Who do you want to please so much that disobeying God’s commands becomes an option or even a decision or habit? What pastime, or hobby, or ambition, or goal, or whatever captures your attention when your mind wanders? What do you daydream about? What habit are you developing that is disobedient to God’s word?

Whatever it is, get rid of it! Remove it from your life as much as possible and, when you find yourself turning your attention to it, turn to God in prayer and ask him to remove that affection from your heart. 

Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, Proverbs 16:1-15

Read Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, and Proverbs 16:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 16:1-15.

Wealth is one of the deepest desires of many people.

For some, wealth is valuable because of the experiences it can buy. Others value the possessions that wealth can help you collect. Still others are fearful of financial ruin so accumulating wealth gives them a greater feeling of security.

Regardless of why someone wants financial gain, the temptation to be dishonest or to take advantage of someone is too strong for many to overcome. Proverbs 16:8 calls us to consider a different path. Instead of pursing and acquiring money at all costs, verse 8a invites us to consider the value of personal integrity. Would you rather do the right thing even if it meant less money for you or would you rather compromise your principles just a little bit to put some more money into your pocket? You are wiser, the Holy Spirit wrote through Solomon, if you get by on less to do the right thing than if you turn a bigger profit in an unjust way.

But why is it better–wiser–to do right instead of taking the money? Doing the right thing keeps your conscience from bothering you; in fact,  you may feel a sense of holy satisfaction if you do what is honest and right. Additionally, the Lord is watching when you choose righteousness over unjust gain. By choosing to do what God commands, you are banking on his promise to provide for you and your needs.

Will you face a situation like this in the next week? Maybe a cashier will mistakenly give you a $10 bill back instead of a $1 bill? Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to buy something for yourself with the company credit card? Maybe you’ll be tempted to embezzle funds or join a dishonest get rich quick scheme.

Remember that God is watching what we do and, if you belong to him, pleasing him with your choices will be better than stocking away more cash for yourself. If your trust is in the Lord, then count on him to provide for you by doing what is right, even if it leaves you with less money in the bank.

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and one “who keeps his covenant of love….”
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

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.