1 Samuel 4, Jeremiah 42

Read 1 Samuel 4 and Jeremiah 42.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 42.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. Here in Jeremiah 42, the people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 2b) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more than these people were, Jeremiah excepted. I don’t say that to demean them; I say it because back in chapter 39, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, the Babylonians forced the vast majority of people who survived the battle to march to Babylon as exiles. Verse 10 of Jeremiah 39 says, “…the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.” So the people left in Judah, the remnant, were not considered high value people. That’s why they were left behind.

In between Jeremiah 39 and 42, this remnant became desperate. They assassinated the man the Babylonians had left to rule over them (40:7-41:3). Then, they ran off to Egypt because they were afraid of the repercussions (41:16-18). Now, here in chapter 42, they turned to God for help. They implored Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance about “where we should go and what we should do” (v. 3).

Jeremiah said he would pray for them and tell them what God said (v. 4). Then, in verse 5, the remnant “said to Jeremiah, ‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’” So they made strong, grand promises to do what the Lord commanded, no matter what it was.

God did answer Jeremiah’s prayer (v.7). His answer was:

  • Stay here and I’ll bless you (vv. 8-12)
  • Don’t go to Egypt or “my wrath will be poured out on you” (v. 18).

Jeremiah urged the people to do what God said, just as they promised they would (vv. 19-22). You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what happened because the story continued into the next chapter. But let’s consider what God’s people did here:

First, what happened to them was traumatic. Imagine a foreign nation breaching the walls of your city, killing tons of people and carrying off most of the rest of them to a foreign city. That would be terrifying.

Second, they didn’t know what to do next. These people were left because they were poor. That means either (a) they had some kind of disability that made providing for themselves impossible or (b) they lacked basic intelligence and skill and were therefore incapable of earning a living for themselves. These are the people who were left; the smartest, most gifted one of them (again, except for Jeremiah) was a failure. They had legitimate reasons to wonder whether or not they would be able to provide for themselves or whether they would starve to death from their own incompetence.

Turning to the Lord for guidance was the exact right move to make. Tomorrow we’ll find out if they actually wanted God’s guidance or if they wanted God’s stamp of approval on what they had already decided to do.

How often do we do the latter–ask for God’s help and guidance but really what we want is for him to approve of our plans? If you or I violate a command or principle of scripture because we think we have some exceptional case but we ask God to “give us wisdom,” we’re not really seeking wisdom but divine favor for our own ways.

God’s word tells us to act differently. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This verse isn’t designed to give us comfort when we make a decision that we’re not sure about. In other words, if we buy a car or house but we’re afraid it might be a bad decision, Proverbs 3:5 isn’t telling us just to trust the Lord and it will work out OK.

No, Proverbs 3:5 is telling us to trust the Lord by doing what he has revealed. So, for instance, if you marry an unsaved person, you’re leaning on your own understanding. It doesn’t matter how much you ask for God’s guidance and help, your prayer is not sincere. It might come from great fear and desperation but it isn’t sincere.

The remnant went to great pains in verses 5-6 to say that they would do whatever God said.

Are you fully committed to that–to doing the will of God, obeying God’s word? Or is that something you just paste onto the plans you’ve already made in hopes that God will approve?

Judges 6, Jeremiah 19

Read Judges 6 and Jeremiah 19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 19.

God complained, through the prophets, about many sins committed by Israel and Judah. But, of all those sins, idolatry was mentioned most frequently. God’s judgment against his people was closely tied to breaking the commandments about having any other gods and making idols for worship. From God’s perspective, we can understand this. God is real and other gods are not so it is offensive to give his glory to false gods and deeply unjust to worship something that people created instead of the true Creator.

For those who don’t know God, however, it may seem strange that the Old Testament spends so much time and ink addressing idolatry. The list of human problems is long. It contains moral issues like murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, as well as societal problems like starvation, poverty, war, infant mortality, etc. These are more pressing issues, when it comes to human life and the quality of it, than idolatry. At least, that’s what people might think.

Here in Jeremiah 19, however, we see another reason why idolatry was so offensive to God: Human problems sprout from bad theology like branches sprout from the trunk of a tree. In verse 3 God prophesied “a disaster” on Judah and Jerusalem and, in verse 4, the reason he gave for doing so was “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew.” But notice what followed his complaint about their false worship: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Israel’s idolatry wasn’t just a waste of time caused by praying to something that wasn’t real. Israel’s idolatry led them into unimaginable human wickedness. Thank about how depraved someone would have to be to take their beautiful newborn baby and burn it alive as an “offering” to Baal. It is incredibly cruel and unspeakably evil.

This is what happens with bad theology. Bad theology is a symptom of a wicked, unredeemed heart but it also leads to greater wickedness such as cruelty and inhumanity toward other people. We Americans don’t worship Baal but we do worship unrestrained sexuality which leads to pornography, premarital sex, unrighteous divorce, adultery, abortion, homosexuality and other sexual sins. We worship money and wealth which leads to exploiting workers, dishonest advertising, and unfair contracts. There is only one true God and only he can say what is truly right and wrong. Worship any other god–even one called YHWH or Jesus but detached from God’s revelation–and you will get all kinds of human wickedness, too.

Deuteronomy 23, Isaiah 50

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 23 and Isaiah 50.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 23:24-25.

The foundation of capitalism is the right to private property. The Bible affirms that right in the 8th commandment: “Do not steal” (Ex 20:15). So, any possession you have is yours, provided you acquired by righteous means such as building it, buying it, receiving it as a gift, or swapping it for something else of value.

Ownership and value are destroyed by theft so owners and producers of value have good reasons to defend what they own. But there is a difference between defending against theft and being stingy. A stingy person isn’t someone who defends what they have against theft; a stingy person is someone who hordes things for himself.

In this chapter, God specified some ways in which his people were to show generosity to each other. One of those ways was described in verses 24-25. If you’re hungry or just want a snack as you are walking by the vineyard or field of your neighbor, you may take some of what is growing there and enjoy it. That is neighborly generosity, according to God’s law. It is not stealing.

However, if you “put any in a basket” (v. 24c) or “put a sickle to their standing grain” (v. 25c), that is not allowed. That is stealing because in those cases, you would be helping yourself to a large share of their value without doing any work to plant or cultivate the vineyard or field. That violates another family’s private property, diminishes the value of their work and assets, and materially affects their livelihood.

The Lord’s intent here is to teach us to be generous to our neighbors, to share with them in ways that won’t substantially alter the living you make from your work. Maybe in your context, it means lending tools to someone who needs them. You might make your living with those tools but, in most instances, lending those tools to someone for a few hours to a day would be a generous thing to do. Another example, maybe, is helping a friend or another brother or sister in Christ fix or replace something in their home without charging for it, even if that’s how you make your living. This is particularly generous if the person you help is poor. If they call you every time something breaks and don’t want to pay, that is taking advantage of you and is tantamount to stealing. But, in smaller instances where we can help others, God wants us to be generous.

Are you a person who is stingy? Do you love to give and help others in need or are you always counting the cost? Faith in God should lead us toward generosity to others. This is an act of faith because, in generosity, we trust that God will provide for us and bless us when we are kind and generous to others. What opportunity might you have today to bless someone with generosity, meeting a need in their life that will cost you little to nothing but mean so much to them?

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Read Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship–their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them–while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you…” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more–a good thing–but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That was sufficient justification tome to do nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people, like my wife, are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Psalm 125

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, and Psalm 125.

This devotional is about Isaiah 10:1-2.

America is not Israel and the promises God made to Israel do not apply to any nation at all in this age. However, all of God’s laws teach some kind of principle and many of those principles are morals that transcend all cultures and would apply in any nation. God’s justice, for instance, is an absolute standard. Any nation, therefore, is responsible to create laws that are just and apply those laws justly.

An example is here in Isaiah 10:1 which says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.” The word “woe” is an expression of deep agony and it often is used of the pain that will come to those who fall under God’s judgment. Verse 1, then, is saying that those who make unjust laws will cry out in agony when they fall under the judgment of God.

Verse 2 gives some examples of unjust laws that Israel had made. Those examples are:

  • depriving the poor of their rights (to private property, to fair and righteous treatment)
  • withholding justice from the oppressed
  • taking advantage of widows and the fatherless.

These are all groups who have been weakened in one way or another. Being weak made them easy to take advantage of. Unscrupulous neighbors could take their property, for example, without fear of retaliation. Just laws, however, would stand opposed to that kind of theft and a just judge would apply that law justly and award damages to the poor person who was oppressed and taken advantage of by a rich neighbor.

Our American legal system, in theory at least, protects the poor and the rich alike. Both can have their day in court and, all other things being equal, should have a judge who will apply the law impartially.

But we have our favored and disfavored groups in this country, too. Christian bakers and florists, for instance, seem to find themselves at a disadvantage in recent years in court when they are sued for refusing to be hired for a “gay” wedding. This is just one example; I’m sure you can scan the news and find others.

I wonder if it ever occurs to lawmakers or judges that they will give an account to God about whether or not they have governed justly? Again, we are not Israel but justice is an attribute of God’s character and he demands that all people with power use it justly. So God will hold unjust Americans responsible and they will know true “woes” when they stand before a holy God.

But this also applies to us. If you are in a position of leadership and show favoritism or practice injustice, God sees it and will hold you accountable. Since God is just, we his children by faith should strive to be just in all that we do. Woe to us if we refuse.

Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, Psalm 109

Today we’re scheduled to read Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, and Psalm 109.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.” In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life. These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it. But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94

Today we’re reading Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94.

This devotional is about Proverbs 22:9.

Many people–most of us, probably, at some point in our lives–live under the delusion that more stuff or better stuff will make us happy. We think that nicer clothes, or a new car, or a house in a better neighborhood, or just some more spending money to go out when we want is what we need. We think that money is the antidote to worry because if we had the money, we wouldn’t have to worry if the car breaks down. Or, we think that spending is the cure for boredom because dinner and a movie sounds better than leftovers and reruns.

One symptom of our materialism is stinginess. The person who wants more and better stuff has a hard time giving anything to someone else because each dollar spent on others is one less that could go toward that new iPhone.

Proverbs 22:9 urges us to reconsider. It says, “The generous will themselves be blessed….” Being “blessed” means being “prospered” in the loosest sense of the word “prosper.” Sometimes that blessing is material prosperity. The Bible tells us that the things we have and the money that comes into us is God’s blessing in our lives. Other times, though, being “blessed” in scripture refers to the joy or contentment that only God can give. That joy or contentment is usually distinct from our circumstances. There are poor people with joy and wealthy people who are miserable. There are people who are ill or aging or who have experienced many problems in life who live each day happily as a gift from God. Likewise, there are some very bitter, unpleasant people who have only first-world problems.

This verse told us that those who are generous will be blessed in some way. Is that blessing the blessing of joy or is it the blessing of material prosperity?

The last half of verse 9 may hold the answer. It says that they generous will be blessed “for they share their food with the poor.” This phrase gives the reason why God blesses them. Because they share with others, God shares blessings with them. But what if sharing “food with the poor” IS the blessing? In other words, what if the blessing God gives to the generous is the joy of helping others? What if God is telling us that there is a blessing built in to generosity because it triggers gratitude in those who have their needs met by your gift? What if God wants us to know that within every poor person there is a potential relationship that your generosity might unlock?

If you have no needs, no threats, no real problems in your life but you lack real joy, it’s time to open up your wallet and start sharing. When you share your time serving others in need and spend your money on those who don’t have it, you might find joy like you’ve never experienced before. Take this truth statement and think about how to apply it in your life; the result might make you happier than you can possibly imagine because it will make a real, meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

Exodus 37, Proverbs 13, Psalm 85

Today we’re reading Exodus 37, Proverbs 13, Psalm 85.

This devotional is about Proverbs 13:7: “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.”

Two of the best books I’ve ever read about personal finance were written by the late Thomas Stanley. They are titled, The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind.

Stanley was a research professor who studied millionaires in America. He found that most millionaires did not come from wealthy families. Instead, they acquired wealth by owning their own business or businesses and being frugal with the money they made. They were far more likely to drive Ford F-150s than any make or model of sports car or luxury car.

In one of the books (I think it was The Millionaire Next Door) Stanley quoted a millionaire he had interviewed as part of his research. This man was a Texan and had a phrase to describe people who drove expensive cars and wore expensive clothes. That phrase was, “Big hat; no cattle.” The image is of a man who thinks he’s a cowboy because he wears a big cowboy hat but he’s not a cowboy because he’s got no cattle. A “big hat; no cattle” person, then, spends like he’s wealthy but, in part because he spends so much, he has very little actual wealth.

Thousands of years before “Big hat; no cattle,” was first spoken, Solomon observed the same truth. Here in Proverbs 13:7, he warns us to beware of appearances when it comes to wealth. On one hand, “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing.” This is able to project the appearance of wealth by spending money on expensive items. While he or she may have excellent taste in fashion, they have little to nothing in actual assets because they don’t make enough money to both save money and buy expensive luxury brands. Car leases with low monthly payments and easily available credit cards make the appearance of wealth easier than ever. But the fact that someone drives a BMW and wears Gucci shoes tells you nothing about that person’s actual level of wealth.

On the other side, Proverbs 13:7 says, “another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” This is the person who spends far below what he or she earns. People in this category may have a high income or an average to low income but they spend as little of it on consumer items as possible. Instead of spending everything they earn, they put the money in savings. Once they have enough saved, they look to buy assets that build wealth instead of material objects that lose wealth. Which is better–to buy a $1000 iPhone or $1000 in Apple stock? The Apple stock is not tangible or visible. It doesn’t impress your friends or new acquaintances. But, if it is a good investment (and this is not investment advice, by the way), that $1000 can grow and keep increasing in value long after the iPhone has been recycled.

People in our world make snap judgments about someone’s wealth based on the cost of what they own but, the truth is that what someone owns has nothing to do with how wealthy they are. In fact, the more they spend money, the less likely they are to be building wealth. Those who become wealthy live frugal lives, save money, and invest it well.

This passage does not commend us to be greedy; it encourages us to be wise about what we do with the money that God enables us to earn. How are your finances? Are you saving and trying to build wealth as a good manager or do you spend every dollar that comes your way?

Which of the two types of people described in Proverbs 13:7 would God want you to be? How can you get there?


Here’s an article from Dr. Stanley’s blog where he wrote briefly about all of this: http://www.thomasjstanley.com/2014/05/america-where-millionaires-are-self-made/

Ruth 2

Ruth 2: U-Turns

From the series, “U-Turns.” This message teaches us that God will direct you and provide for you when you trust Him through the U-Turns of life.

This is a message from chapter 2 of the Old Testament book of Ruth. It is part of a series called U-Turns by Pastor Brian Jones. This message was delivered on Sunday, July 19, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.