1 Samuel 19, Lamentations 4

Read 1 Samuel 19 & Lamentations 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 19.

There was simply no good reason why Saul should want to kill David, yet that was order that Saul gave to his son Jonathan (v. 1a). Instead executing the order (and David), Jonathan reported Saul’s intentions to his close friend, David (v. 1b-2a). Jonathan encouraged David to hide (v. 2b) while Jonathan attempted to to talk his father out of killing David (vv. 4-5). Although it was God’s will to replace Saul as king with David, it was not nearly God’s time for that to happen. David was more than content to serve Saul and wait for the Lord to make his will happen in his timing. There was no threat to Saul, either imminently or in the long-term. In fact, David had been a great benefit to Saul as Jonathan pointed out in verse 5a. The penetrating question Jonathan had for Saul was, “Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” (v. 5b). Since there was no reason for Saul to kill David, Saul relented and even put himself under oath to Jonathan not to kill David (v. 6). Although this restored David to Saul’s service for a time (vv. 7-8), it was only a matter of time until the demons that tormented Saul incited him to try to kill David again (vv. 9-17).

Although Saul and David are the main characters in this story, it is impossible not to be impressed with the selfless character of Jonathan. HE was the man who could have been fearful and jealous and homicidal toward David, yet he took “a great liking to David” (v. 1b), protected David’s life (v. 2) and sought to make peace between his father and his friend.

I wonder how often we try to make peace when there is obvious turmoil between people we know? Remember that Jonathan was not jumping to conclusions about Saul’s intentions toward David; Saul had ordered him and all his other men to kill David (v. 1a). We should certainly avoid jumping to conclusions and gossiping about others; those actions are sinful and create problems instead of solving them. But when we are aware of problems between others, how often do we stand on the sidelines and tell ourselves, “It’s none of my business.” Jonathan could easily have done that. He could have let his father sin or even become the agent of his father’s sin if he had obeyed the order in verse 1; he could have let his friend be killed because he did not want to get involved. But instead of passivity, Jonathan chose to have the hard, right conversation. Imagine confronting the king about his murderous intent; imagine telling your father that he was attempting to do wrong and sinning against God. These are not easy things to do and most of us (myself definitely included) would look for an excuse to stay out of it.

Jonathan, the one who had the most to gain by David’s death and the most to lose if he and Saul were reconciled, disregarded his own discomfort and advantage and did the right thing. Is there anyone in your life who is harboring sinful intentions that you know about? Are their people in your circle of relationships who need to be encouraged toward reconciliation? Could it be that God wants you to step in and try to do the right thing?

Ultimately, Jonathan was unsuccessful. He achieved a temporary cease-fire from Saul, but not a permanent solution. It doesn’t matter; Jonathan did everything in his power to do the right thing. It was a testament to his faith in God and desire to please Him. May we step up and follow his sterling example.

Judges 20, Jeremiah 34

Read Judges 20 and Jeremiah 34.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 34.

Zedekiah, though he was an ungodly king, had led Israel to free their Hebrew slaves (vv. 8-9). It was never God’s plan to have Jews who were permanently held as slaves in Israel or Judah. Instead, God’s law created a form of indentured servitude. A Jewish person who was in a financial corner could sell himself to another Jewish man for up to six years. On the seventh years, he was to be set free. Jeremiah pointed this out in verse 14. In verse 15-16, he had positive words for how they had freed their Hebrew slaves and even made a covenant with God about it (vv. 8, 15c).

Unfortunately, God’s people broke their covenant with him and took back the very slaves they had freed (v. 16). God prophesied again that they would be taken into exile by the Babylonians (vv. 17-20) as this act of unfaithfulness to the covenant was added to many other sins of the nation.

Entering a covenant to free the slaves was not necessary. They could have simply freed the slaves and honored that verbal decision accordingly. But making that covenant was a good thing, even if it was unnecessary. It is pleasing to God when we resolve to do the things that we know from his word. What isn’t pleasing to God, however, is when we tell God we will do something and then we change our minds and refuse to do it.

Have you told God you would do something–read the Word, tithe, attend church more faithfully, find a way to serve the poor, or something else–and then, have you taken it back?

I’m not talking about obeying imperfectly. I’m talking about deliberately changing your mind about a good decision you made for God? Jesus died to save us from the covenants we make and break but he also empowers us to keep the covenants we make with God and others.

If this passage reminds you of something you promised to God but either changed your mind about or just became lax about, then resolve today to return to that thing and do it for the glory of God.

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?

Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 57

Read Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, Psalm 133

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, and Psalm 133.

This devotional is about Psalm 133.

This Psalm praises unity. When God’s people worship him together, serve one another in love, and resolve their problems with each other biblically, that is both pleasing to God and a pleasant environment to be in.

It is also a difficult environment to create and the songwriter acknowledged that. When verse 3 says, “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” These places are unfamiliar to us so let me just tell you briefly that Mt. Hermon is way up North of Israel, far beyond the sea of Galilee while Mt. Zion is in the South part of Israel in Judah. So if the dew of Mt. Hermon fell on Mt. Zion, that would be a miracle. It can’t happen naturally because they are hundreds of miles apart. The author here is saying that when God’s people live together in unity, it is like a miraculous provision, something only God can do.

In verse 2, the songwriter told us more about unity. The “precious oil” described in this section was the anointing oil that set Aaron apart to serve as God’s high priest. It was a blessing from God to serve in that priestly role and the anointing also promised God’s power.

Put these images together and we see that Psalm 133 is saying that unity among God’s people is a blessing from God that requires his power (v. 2) in a nearly miraculous way (v. 3). When God’s people are unified, then, God is glorified because only he has the power to cause people to be unified and it takes his miraculous work for it to happen.

We need to remember this when we have conflicts with one another. Conflicts are usually connected to pride from one or both people involved in the conflict. Only the blessing and power of God can keep us from going at each other’s throats. So, when you have a conflict to resolve, it is time to pray for God to work and glorify himself by ending the controversy and repairing the relationship.

Is there anyone in your life that you need to have a difficult conversation with them? Ask God to prepare your own heart and the heart(s) of the other party to bring about this miracle of unity.

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 2, Psalm 119:145-176

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 2, Psalm 119:145-176.

This devotional is about Numbers 12

It is more than a little ironic that Moses is the author of Numbers and that he wrote verse 3, “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” The humblest man on earth wrote in holy scripture about how humble he was. The first literary instance of the humblebrag.

Not really, of course, because the Holy Spirit inspired him to write that, so we reading God’s assessment of Moses, not his self-assessment. There is plenty of evidence of his humility, too, such as how he resisted the Lord’s call to lead Israel and how he insisted that God blot him out of the book of life if the Lord blotted Israel out of it. Despite how powerfully God used him to lead, then, he truly was a humble man, someone who did not have an inflated view of himself.

His brother and sister did not have the character trait of humility. We can see that in verse 2 where they said to each other, “‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’” The implication of their words is that they were co-equal leaders with Moses. If they didn’t like his wife (v. 1), then he should be held accountable to them.

The problem is that God had chosen Moses directly and had commanded him to lead Israel. Aaron and Miriam were called to supporting roles under Moses’s leadership. Although it was true that God had spoken through Aaron and Miriam, he had not spoken to them in the same way that he had spoken to Moses (v. 8). They were way out of line, then, when they tried to exercise equal authority to Moses. Moses, being the humble man that he was, waited for God to take up his cause instead of defending himself. Moses was not disappointed because God did in fact speak up to defend him (v. 4: “At once the Lord said…”).

Two issues of application come to mind when I read this passage.

  • First, stay in your lane! God has called us to each to different responsibilities and has invested in us different levels of authority. If your leader is in sin, then you should confront him (Gal 6). If you think he is making a bad decision, you can “appeal to him as a father” (1 Tim 5:1). But most of the time, it is our job to follow the leaders God has given to us, not to question or rebuke them. Whenever we speak to someone we are supposed to follow or serve in a way that presumes equal or greater authority to that person, we have shown a level of pride that is not pleasing to God.
  • Second, let the Lord fight your battles for you. Humanly speaking, Moses had every right to defend himself but he did not. Because of his humility, Moses allowed God to take up his cause and vindicate Moses. The New Testament urges us to follow that pattern ourselves. Romans 12:19 commands us, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’ says the Lord.” It takes real humility to let God fight for you when you are being mistreated or your authority is being usurped. Instead of fighting for ourselves, justifying our actions and angrily denouncing our opponents, what if we trusted God enough to let him handle the situation?

So what’s the state of your humility. The title of humblest man ever is taken but each of us can and should follow Moses’s example in our own lives. If you are a follower, be a good follower and stay in your lane. If you are a leader and you know what you are doing is right before the Lord, let him handle the criticism and and fallout that comes your way.

This is pleasing to God because it puts all our cries for justice in his righteous hands to execute.

Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, Psalm 108

Today we’re reading Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, and Psalm 108.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 5.

Here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon has been reporting on his experiments in lavish living. He has taken the wealth God gave him and the wisdom God gave him and invested these things in searching what the best way to live might be. Everything he tried, however, turned out to be a frustrating enigma. It satisfied for a brief time, then offered ever-diminishing returns, then emptiness.

Many people who have achieved wealth and/or success in this life have proved this to be true. Some of the most miserable people you may ever meet are the people who got everything they wanted in life. That is, if everything they wanted was something in this life, for this life. Solomon’s oft-repeated phrase, “under the sun” (for example, v. 13) indicates the human-only realm. It is a phrase that indicates “apart from God.” Apart from God, wisdom is a frustrating enigma (1:12-18, 2:12-16) pleasure is a frustrating enigma (2:1-11), work is a frustrating enigma (2:17-3:22), life itself is a frustrating enigma (4:1-3), success is a frustrating enigma (4:4-8), career success is a frustrating enigma (4:13-,16), and wealth is a frustrating enigma (5:8-17).

So did Solomon find anything worth pursuing? Yes, but… two things must be said:

  • First, he found human relationships to be something worthwhile (vv. 9-12) but more as an advantage (“a good return” – v. 9, “one can help the other up” – v. 10, etc. Still, this was one positive thing he observed.
  • Second, he “saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22). But this truth is tied to another which is, “…to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil… is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (vv. 24b-26). Did you catch that? The simple things in life are satisfying only if you are a person who pleases God.

This chapter, Ecclesiastes 5, developed that thought even more. Life can be rich and fulfilling if you walk with God. So Solomon advised his readers to fear God in their worship (vv. 1-7) and be satisfied with whatever God gives them (vv. 18-20, esp. v. 19: “to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”). Why would one person find pleasure and wealth to be a frustrating enigma while the guy in verses 18-20 can “eat… drink and find satisfaction”? Because the person in verses 18-20 walks with God. He may have “wealth and possessions” (v. 19b) but he sees them for what they are–a gift from God (v. 19a). Because his walk with God is most important, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (v. 20).

The book of Job taught us that suffering and trials are part of life, so don’t think that walking with God means that everything will always go smoothly and that your life will be a straight line upward. But when you survey a person’s entire life, Solomon’s conclusion was that a person who walks with God will find the simple things in life satisfying because he finds his joy in God.

How about it? Do you find life to be frustratingly enigmatic? If so, it might be that your walk with God includes a season of suffering for now but it might also be that you’re looking to life “under the sun” for satisfaction instead of looking for life “in the Son” by walking with him daily. If Solomon of all people couldn’t find satisfaction under the sun with all the resources he had at his disposal, we would do well to take his advice and focus on our walk with God. He is the source of true satisfaction.

Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104

Today we’re reading Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104.

This devotional is about Psalm 104.

It is really satisfying to do something and be happy about how it turns out. It might be a picture that you took that looks really good. You had it framed and put it up in your home and, periodically when you walk by, it just makes you smile. Or maybe it is a picture that you painted, or flooring that you installed yourself, or a piece of furniture that you repaired or restored. When we do something that turns out well, it brings us a very satisfying sense of pleasure.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 104 believed that God must feel that sense of satisfaction when he looks at creation. As verse 31b says, “may the Lord rejoice in his works.” The Psalmist certainly rejoiced in God’s works. From verse 1 through verse 30, the songwriter detailed what God has created and praised him for it. Then, in verse 33, he announced his intention to “sing to the Lord all my life” and in verse 34 stated his desire: “May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.” Of all of God’s work, this satisfies God the most. When men and women whom he created worship him and desire to please him even in our thoughts, then God is truly glorified. All of this happens by God’s grace to us in Christ and, when it does happen, it brings immense pleasure to our Lord.

When we take time to think about God in his fullness and awesomeness, those thoughts elevate us spiritually. They cause us to stand in awe of God’s greatness and create in us a desire to know and serve the God who redeemed us. Take some time today to think about the size, complexity, beauty, and intricate detail of the world around us that God created. Then praise him and ask for his help to have a heart and mind that aspire to be pleasing to him.

Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Today’s readings are 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.