Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, Acts 15

Read Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, and Acts 15.

This devotional is about Isaiah 40.

The last verse in today’s reading from Isaiah, 40:31, is one of the best-known passages in the book of Isaiah for many people. It is a verse that gives encouragement to hope in the Lord when we are weak. Not surprisingly, then, many believers find it uplifting to read and recite when they are discouraged. That is an excellent use of the verse; even more so when you read the whole chapter.

  • The passage opens by offering comfort for God’s people who have suffered in judgment for their sins under foreign oppression (vv. 1-2).
  • Verses 3-11 tie that comfort to the coming of the Messiah:
    • Verses 3-4 were applied to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ
    • Verses 5-11 mostly describe the promises that Christ will fulfill when he establishes his earthly kingdom.
  • Verses 12-26 describe why the Lord will be able to bring such comfort to his people and fulfill these promises. He can do it because he is infinite. God eclipses everything we think is large on earth or the rest of the universe (v. 12).  God can also comfort his people because of his complete knowledge and wisdom (his omniscience, vv. 13-14). In the shadow of God’s infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite knowledge, other nations which seem so strong and imposing to us are insignificant (vv. 15-17).

What about other gods, though? Please; they are not worth mentioning in the same breath with the true God. Those idols were created by human beings who foolishly bow down and worship them (vv. 18-20).

But those who worship false gods should not act like they’ve never heard of the true God. God is everywhere—sitting “enthroned above the circle of the earth” (v. 22) and taking down powerful human rulers at will (v. 23).

There is no other god like the true God. Nothing escapes his notice (v. 27) or is beyond his capabilities (v. 28). Faith in him, then, calls us to look to him for strength.

Are you trying to handle everything in your life on your own? No matter how capable you are, you can’t carry the weight of the world.

But God can and he calls to you to come to him and look to him for strength to live each day out for his glory (v. 31).

Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2

Read Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2.

This devotional is about Acts 2.

Christians use the phrase, “the Day of Pentecost” to describe the event in this chapter. To us, the “Day of Pentecost” is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a way that could be observed. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (v. 2) and the sight of “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). These were supernatural, outward, observable evidences of a spiritual reality which is that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). The result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit was that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v. 4b). There has been a lot of discussion in recent church history about whether what the disciples experienced here is supposed to be the normal Christian experience or whether this kind of power was unique to that time in church history. A devotional on this passage is not the best place to talk about that dispute.

What is important to understand, however, is what happened after this demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, after Peter’s message of the gospel, and after “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41). What happened after the Day of Pentecost is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). They did not devote themselves to speaking in tongues or doing other miraculous works. In fact, verse 43 references “wonders and signs performed by the apostles” not “performed by everyone.” No, what followed this experience was great teaching and fellowship around God’s word and prayer as well as “praising God” (v. 47a) and having “those who were being saved” added “to their number” (v. 47b). In other words, the effect of God’s power was salvation, teaching, fellowship, and worship.

We need God’s power as much as they needed it on the Day of Pentecost and the days that followed. And, we have the promise of God’s power, too, just as they did then. What we should be looking for as believers is not the proof of God’s power through miracles but the results of God’s power in true spiritual change–people coming to Christ, hungry for God’s word, fellowship, and prayer. May God give us hearts that desire these things more than we desire great, dramatic displays of his power.

Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalms 33-35

Read Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, and Psalms 33-35.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 4.

This chapter of scripture is not encouraging.

That is an understatement.

This chapter of scripture is bleak. It states in verse 1 that powerful people in this world used their power to oppress the weak and vulnerable. These victims “have no comforter.” Their lives are a miserable stretch of existence. From birth to grave, each day and night, they do what more powerful people want them to do and live in fear. What kind of fear?

  • fear of displeasing those powerful people
  • fear of more invasive abuse from the powerful
  • fear of starving, unable to provide a living for themselves because their abusers take so much from them

Although Solomon did not tell us how many were oppressed and how many were oppressors, the chapter may suggest that the vast majority were oppressed by a small minority. The way the chapter suggests this is in the words of verses 2-3. Those verses rank the happiest people from least happiest to most happy. The categories of people Solomon discussed were broad–the dead, the living, and the unborn. Those three broad groups include a whole lot of people. So who is the happiest?

  • The living are the least happy because they are oppressed (v. 1, 2c-d).
  • The dead are the next most happy because they are no longer oppressed (v. 2 a-b).
  • But the happiest people of all are people who never lived at all (v. 3). Why? Because they have “not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Bleak, right? According to Solomon, you are better off dead. But, you’re best off if you never made it out of the womb alive in the first place because then no one could use and abuse you.

Of course, not everyone is enslaved by others. Some people go out and achieve, making all their dreams come true. They must be happy, right?

No, Solomon argued, because “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (v. 4). Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. That can make you work hard but you won’t enjoy achievements because your envy will move on to someone higher on the achievement ladder. If you could just enjoy the living you make, modest though it is (v. 6a), you’d be better off than a wealthier person who is does nothing but work, driven by envy.

Even a person who had no wife, no siblings, and no children isn’t happy (v. 8). Solomon thought that a single, solitary man should be happy because he only has to provide for himself. He can work hard enough to get what he wants and then spend it all on himself with no guilt. A single man who makes $30,000 per year may be able to buy more pleasure than a man who makes $90,000 but supports a wife, five kids, a dog, and a deadbeat brother.

Seems logical; but it doesn’t work out that way. The single guy with no dependents still works really hard. “There was no end to his toil” (v. 8c) says but “his eyes were not content with his wealth” (v. 8d). He, too, was sucked into envy, unable to enjoy his life because he needed to prove to someone that he matters.

I told you this was bleak.

But all is not lost. The solution to this partnership. Verses 9-12 commends a partnership of two (v. 9) or even three (v. 12c). Partners who work together instead of envying one another can:

  • produce more as a unit and they could on their own (v. 9b)
  • give each other some time off when they are injured or sick or just tired (v. 10)
  • keep each other company (v. 11)
  • protect each other (v. 12).

So the man who makes $90k and has to split it up with others is happier than the single guy who makes $30k and can do whatever he wants with it. In fact, if the single guy made $90k or even $900k, the man with partners is happier because of the benefits that partners bring.

When God created Adam, he made the most capable man who ever lived–apart from Jesus Christ, of course. Adam, while he was still an unfallen person, had a greater mind and better body than any of us because he wasn’t afflicted by the curse of sin.

Yet God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He gave him a partner–even knowing that his partner’s (aka, Eve’s) weakness would lead him into sin. Having a life partner in your spouse or a business partner in your vocation can help you escape the hopeless life that the oppressed live. Even if you are oppressed, at least you have someone to keep you warm at night (v. 11).

Solomon was a powerful man who oppressed others. He taxed the nation so thoroughly for his own projects, pleasures, and luxuries that the people begged his son to lay off and then they revolted against him when he wouldn’t.

But Solomon seems to have been a lonely man, despite his wealth and power over others. If you have 1000 women in your life, can any one of them truly be your partner?

People can be the source of your greatest problems in life. They can make promises that they fail to keep or even intentionally break. They can see you as a rival when they should see you as an ally. If you have enough people-problems, you may be tempted to decide that isolation is better.

This chapter advises us to partner up. Share life generously with your partner–your spouse, your children, your business partner(s), your teammates. The benefits of companionship will outweigh the “freedom” that being alone promises. God created us to be teammates and the life he gave us is best enjoyed when it is shared.

If you have a partnership–a marriage and family, a business partnership, a ministry partnership, etc.–are you a good partner? Are you thankful for the benefits that partnership brings you or do you selfishly wish you had all the control and all the benefits to yourself?

If your partnership is broken, the answer isn’t to go off on your own; it is to become and build a true partnership rather than a rivalry based on envy.

Genesis 47, Job 13, Hebrews 5

Read Genesis 47, Job 13, and Hebrews 5. This devotional is about Hebrews 5.

Hebrews 4 began comparing Jesus to the OT priests. That comparison was continued here in chapter 5. In today’s reading the author of Hebrews was concerned for us, his readers. We might think of Jesus, he reasoned, as someone who was harsh because he was holy. Our conception of Jesus might be that he despises us as moral weaklings because he is so strong, so perfect in his moral vision and action.

The chapter started out, then, with a concession to our thinking. High priests in the Old Testament were chosen from “among the people” (v. 1). They were guys just like us with the same struggles and frustrations and problems. As a result, a priest like that was “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (v. 2). After all, before he can atone for anyone else’s sin with an animal sacrifice, he had to admit to his own sinfulness by offering a sacrifice for himself (v. 3).

Still, not anyone can become a priest; you can’t even volunteer for the job (v. 4), so Jesus was chosen by God to become our high priest just as Aaron and his family were originally chosen for that task (vv. 4-6). So why should we expect Jesus to have any compassion on us since he was not merely one of us and was chosen especially by God for this task?

Verses 7-9 answer that question. Many times I’ve felt that “Jesus had it easy” compared to the struggles that you and I face as fallen people. If I was “in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), I sometimes think, then it would be easy to obey God and always do the right thing. It’s an excuse I’ve made for my own sins and failings in life, but it feels true.

The author of Hebrews, however, wants none of that nonsense. The truth is that Jesus felt the power of temptation more powerfully than we do because he resisted completely rather than giving in early like we often do.

Furthermore, Christ had to face every trick and attack and ally the devil has ever had because there was so much at stake in Jesus’s earthly life. Jesus life, while lived in joy, was also more difficult and frustrating than you or I can possibly imagine.

Verse 7 describes Christ as a man who was tormented emotionally by the thought of the cross–not the pain of suffering but the trauma of death. Death is complete separation from life and the living but Jesus was the author of life, the one who breathed it into Adam’s nostrils.

But the creator and giver of life, the one who came to give it “more abundantly” was going to be cut off from life by death, the penalty of sin on the day he was crucified.

That included physical death but also spiritual death–separation in relationship from God the Father and the Holy Spirit for a time. Jesus prayed fervently–in Gethsemane for sure, but probably elsewhere, too–for some way to avoid all this lifeless separation. The end of verse 7 says that Christ “was heard because of his reverent submission” but God did not grant his request!

Think about that the next time God answers your prayer with a “no.” Jesus knows what that feels like! He experienced the pain and disappointment of sincerely, humbly, deeply asking his Father for something that God was not willing to grant.

Why?

Verse 8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” As a parent, you don’t always give your kids what they want because what they want is not what is best in the long term.

Similarly, God denied Jesus’ request for salvation from death so that he could accomplish salvation, yes (v. 9) but also so that he could completely understand what it means to submit to the difficult will of the Father (again, verse 8).

These days, Jesus is the one who prays for us when we ask for help in temptation. He’s the one who aches for us when we are brokenhearted, bereaved, or beaten down by life’s struggles, disappointments, and worries.

Really, now, would you rather have another sinner representing you before God as your priest?

Or would you rather have someone who bravely faced and defeated the most powerful temptations and the most personal, difficult struggles that humanity could ever know?

Be encouraged! Whatever you’re facing in life, Jesus is praying for you and representing you before the Father.

There is nobody better or more qualified to do it.

Genesis 43, Job 9, Psalms 17-19

Read Genesis 43, Job 9, and Psalms 17-19.

This devotional is about Psalm 19.

Someone* once said that God has given us two books: Scripture and nature. This is not a perfect analogy, but it is a useful one. Psalm 19 explores these two expressions of God’s revelation. Verses 1-6 describe the book of nature; verses 7-13 describe the book of scripture. Verse 14 gives a benediction to conclude the passage.

First the Psalmist writes about nature (also called “general revelation”). It tells us of the glory of God—what makes him great, unique, magnificent (v. 1a). God’s greatness is revealed by “the heavens” (v. 1a) and the “skies” (v. 1b). They bear witness to the craftsmanship of God. Rather than products of random chance, they speak powerfully of a God who created. Day and night, according to verse 2, they shout to humanity about the existence and magnificent power of God. They do this wordlessly (v. 3) but effectively in a way that testifies to all people, no matter where they reside on earth (v. 4a-b). In verses 4c-6, the Psalmist focused his meditation on the sun. It resides in the sky which God created to be its home (“a tent,” v. 4b) and emerges each day with brilliance and energy, like a man whose wedding day has finally arrived (v. 5a) or a sprinter who is ready to run for the gold medal (v. 5b). The movement of the sun sheds light on the entire earth so that no one is unaware of its existence or deprived of its benefits (v. 6). This testifies to the goodness of God; even those who reject him receive the gracious benefits of his creation. Many have tried to use science to disprove the existence of God but the more we learn about our world and universe, the more we see how finely tuned this world is to support life. All of this testifies to the power and goodness of God, but it does so wordlessly. Since it is wordless, it cannot tell us of God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, grace, etc.

Scripture (also called “special revelation”) is, therefore, more helpful and revelatory for knowing God. It is perfect (v. 7a), trustworthy (v. 7b), right (v. 8a), radiant (v. 8b), “pure” (v 9a), “firm” and “righteous” (v. 9b). These terms are piled up by the Psalmist to emphasize how much greater and more powerful the scriptures are than nature in revealing God. They are also more beneficial to the spiritual life of humanity as indicated in the phrases “refreshing the soul” (v. 7b), “making wise the simple (v, 7d), “giving joy to the heart” (v. 8b) and so on.

While creation is magnificent and draws the heart of the believer to worship, it is not nearly as valuable for our spiritual life as scripture is. That is why the Psalmist says they are “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (v. 10). Specifically, they warn us about sin and its consequences (v. 11a) while promising blessing to us for obedience (v. 11b). Yet the Psalmist knows that, in our own natural state we are unable to live obediently to God’s perfect, pure, priceless Word. Therefore, we need God’s grace in forgiveness and sanctification (vv. 12-13). He concludes this meditation on divine revelation with a prayer that God would be pleased with it as an act of worship (v. 14).

What an incredible gift the scriptures are to us; they provide everything we need to know God in his personality, character, will, and ways. This is why we read his word daily and why I try each week to explain and apply it to your life. There are many insights that come from studying nature, but the insights that transform lives for eternity come from God’s word alone.

*According to this article it was Francis Bacon. While I agree with the author’s criticism of the “two book” claim, Psalm 19 shows that the concept is a biblical one if the differences between these two revelations are understood.

1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2

Read 1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2.

This devotional is about Micah 2.

Micah fought a two-front war in this chapter.

First he spoke out against powerful, greedy people who used power to take the land and homes of others (vv. 1-2). Because of their sins, God would take all the land and hand it over others (vv. 3-5).

The second front Micah battled was from false prophets who attempted to silence Micah’s message (vv. 6-11). The message of these false prophets was summarized in the last line of verse 6 and the first three lines of verse 7. I will paraphrase their false message this way: “Shut up! We’re not going to lose to another nation, Micah! God’s patience is infinite (vv. 7b). He will never turn on his people.” Their argument was that God’s promises to his people were completely unconditional. No matter how much God’s people sinned, they would be safe because God loves them just that much.

It is always more pleasant to believe the prediction that we’ll be OK. If one economist is predicting a recession and another is saying that current problems in the economy are temporary but then a big boom is coming, which one would you want to believe? If one doctor tells you that your cough will clear up in a few days while the other says you have lung cancer, which message is more appealing?

Micah’s situation was similar. He predicted pain and suffering for all of God’s people because the wealthy were exploiting average citizens. Meanwhile, the prophets of eternal optimism rebuked him and told these unrighteous businessmen that everything would be fine.

We want things to be fine; we want good times. God’s message, however, wasn’t that good times were impossible. Instead, he offered a better way to prosperity: “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?” (v. 7d-e). God wanted his people to prosper but he wanted their prosperity to come as a blessing for obedience to his word. “Take the medicine,” God was telling his people. “Repent of your greedy oppression and do what is right and then everyone will prosper because I will bless you.”

Ultimately, God does have good plans in store for his people (vv. 12) when Jesus comes as king (v. 13). Before that, however, they would pay a heavy price for their sins. The best course of action was to believe God’s word, pay the price to undo what they had sinfully done, and do what was right going forward. Instead, they chose to listen to the sunny-side up prophets. Verse 11 sarcastically describes the kind of prophets we all, in our sinful nature, want: “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be just the prophet for this people!”

Are you listening to the hard truths of God’s word? Do we pay attention and change our ways when God’s word rebukes us? Or do we change the channel and listen instead to a message that offers more encouragement? Encouragement is good unless it distorts God’s word (as in verse 7a-c) and comforts us in our sinful ways. Everyone would rather get a massage than have surgery but only one of those ways will remove cancer and put you on the road to health again. Let God’s word surgically address your sins and shortcomings; then you will walk more righteously and follow Christ right into his kingdom.

2 Kings 2, Daniel 6

Read 2 Kings 2, Daniel 6.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 2.

I wrote yesterday about how great Elijah was and how unappreciated he also was. That doesn’t mean, however, that he was totally unappreciated. His friend Elisha certainly appreciated him and so did “the company of prophets” in Bethel (v. 3) and in Jericho (v. 5).

But they valued him a bit too much, it seems. Elisha was glum about the fact that God was going to take Elijah away from him (v. 3c, 5c). And, when God did take Elijah, Elisha’s cry, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”seems to mean that the most powerful thing Israel had was now gone. Elijah was a spiritual father to Israel even though most did not receive his message. He was certainly a spiritual father to Elisha (“my father”) and the idea of “the chariots and horsemen” were an analogy to the strength and defense of a nation. Elijah meant more to Israel’s power and defense than all the nuclear missiles and bombs we have stored away for our national defense. So the idea of losing Elijah was a source of despair for Elisha and probably every other faithful Jewish person.

Unable to do anything about Elijah’s departure, Elisha wanted his power so that he could do ministry in the same vein as Elijah but with even greater effectiveness. That’s how I interpret his request to “inherit a double portion of your spirit” (v. 9c). His request was answered, but notice how he framed his description of it in verse 14b: “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” This was a test; would God actually use Elisha now in Elijah’s absence? The fact that the waters parted for him just as they had for Elijah (vv. 8 vs. 14c) demonstrated that God was indeed with Elisha. The fact of the matter is that Elisha did more miracles than Elijah did.

Was it really necessary for Elisha to see Elijah taken to heaven in order to receive the power of God? Of course not. Elijah was “a human being like we are” according to James 5:17. There was nothing special about him. The power to be a “father” and to have greater power than all the chariots and horsemen of Israel resided in God, not in Elijah. But Elijah had to go away in order for Elisha to trust God and do what God called him to do.

Great leaders, godly people, spiritual fathers and mothers are great to have and an important part of everyone’s spiritual growth and maturity. But people die; we should appreciate them while we have them and even mourn their passing. But we should not fear their loss in terms of the loss of God’s work. God is able to work powerfully in us if we actually trust him and obey what he commands us to do. Even our Lord Jesus said that whose who believe in him “will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (Jn 14:12-14).

Do you believe that God will use you to save people and change people’s lives? Are you looking to some person’s leadership when you should be looking to God for power?

2 Kings 1, Daniel 5

Read 2 Kings 1 and Daniel 5.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 1.

Sometimes greatness is recognized in people while they are alive. At other times, however, great people are not recognized until much later. Elijah is one of the great men of God in the entire Bible. He spoke God’s word with great authority and he called on God’s power to authenticate his message (such as here in 2 Kings 1:9-15). Elijah did not write any scripture, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, yet his ministry as a prophet of God was the pattern that John the Baptist followed (Malachi 4:5, Luke 1:17). Also, his prayer life is a model for us to follow according to James 5:17. So Elijah was a great man, a powerful servant of the Lord.

Yet Elijah was unappreciated in times. His odd appearance (v. 8) might have had something to do with it, but it was really more a matter of the deep unbelief among the people he served. He was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel (v. 2: “Samaria”) which had not one godly king among the twenty it had in its history.

In this chapter one of Israel’s forgettable kings Ahaziah had an accident and wanted to know if he would recover. So, he sought an answer not from Elijah or Elijah’s God YHWH, the God of Israel; instead, he sent a messenger to ask “Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron” (v. 2).

Although he did not consult YHWH, he got an answer from YHWH. God messaged Elijah (v. 3) and dispatched him to confront the unbelief of Ahaziah (v. 3). Elijah found the messengers that Ahaziah had sent and knew what information they were seeking from Baal-Zebub. Those two facts should have offered strong proof that Elijah spoke for God and that God had the power and answers that Ahaziah sought. But, perhaps because the answer was a negative answer of judgment (v. 4), Ahaziah did not respond in faith toward God and appreciation for God’s messenger. Instead, he sought to do harm to Elijah (vv. 7-15).

You can tell a lot about someone’s beliefs by looking at (1) where they turn for answers and (2) how they respond when they get an answer from God’s word, especially if that answer was negative and unsolicited. We have access to God’s word and many capable–even excellent–teachers of it unlike most people in history have had. Sure, none of us is Elijah, but we have a much greater amount of God’s revelation than Elijah had because we have Christ revealed and the scriptures completed.

Yet how often do we turn to secular sources–books, radio shows, podcasts, Oprah, whatever–for answers instead of to God’s word and his servants?

Are you looking outside God’s word for answers to your problems?

1 Kings 22, Daniel 4

Read 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it. The opposite is often believed, too; namely, the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27).

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experienced humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they.deserve. That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak. Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

1 Kings 8, Ezekiel 38

Read 1 Kings 8 and Ezekiel 38.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 8.

After years of planning, preparing and building, the temple of the Lord was complete. It was time to move in! Solomon called for all the leaders distributed among the tribes and towns of Israel (vv. 1-2). He called them to Jerusalem so that they could witness the ark of the covenant and all the objects used for Israel’s worship being moved into the temple (vv. 3-9). Then, to confirm that what Solomon had done was according to God’s will and to demonstrate that the new temple, not the old tabernacle, would be the official place of worship, God made his presence visible in the temple. A cloud that represented God’s glory filled the place, demonstrating his presence there (vv. 10-13).

Solomon then turned to the people who witnessed this event and spoke words of praise to God and explanation to them about the meaning of all of this (vv. 14-21).

Finally, Solomon spoke to the Lord; his prayer in verses 22-60 displayed his devotion to the Lord and his desire for how this temple should function in Israel’s life as a nation. He began by worshipping God for who he is (v. 23a) and for the promises he had kept (vv. 23b-24). He continued by asking God to continue fulfilling his promises to David (vv. 25-26). Then he asked the Lord to let this temple be a place where God’s people can get an audience with him. He asked that God would listen day or night and be merciful in forgiveness to his people (vv. 27-30).

Then Solomon asked the Lord to listen and judge when God’s people came to him asking for justice (vv. 31-32). He next asked that the Lord would hear their prayers of repentance when he disciplined them with war losses or famine (vv. 33-40, 44-45). He asked that even Gentiles living in the land of Israel who pray would be heard so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (v. 43). He asked the Lord even to hear, forgive, and restore his people even if they sinned so much that he allowed them to be exiled to a foreign country (vv. 46-50). The basis for his prayer was God’s redemption of the people from Egypt (vv. 51-53).

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to observe this dedication service and to hear Solomon’s prayer and praise as well watch the offerings begin (vv. 62-64) and enjoy the feast that followed (vv. 65-66). Solomon left this event “joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel” (v. 66). I’m guessing everyone who attended felt the same way. Hopefully for some of them, the memory of this event caused them to turn to the Lord in prayer during their times of need, just as Solomon prayed that they would.

Ceremonies like this one can be so helpful in steering our emotions in a godly direction, but this was a rare occasion in the life of the nation of Israel. It was like Pentecost is to our faith as Christians—an important, rare demonstration of the Lord’s presence and power. After this, though, Israel went back to their routines. A farmer living far away in his tribal land would visit this temple as part of his observance of the Jewish feast days, but if he needed forgiveness or justice, he would have to pray toward this temple in faith that God would hear and answer him. There was no visual smoke to give him assurance of forgiveness or of an answer to his need; he just had to take it on faith that God’s will would be done.

While we have no literal place like the temple, we actually have better access. Instead of seeking forgiveness by offering our prayers and bringing an animal to burn, we come seeking forgiveness based on the finished sacrifice of Christ. Instead of thinking that the Lord is among us as a group because the ark of his covenant is in Jerusalem, we have the promise of the indwelling Spirit and the assurance that, collectively, we are the temple of the living God when we gather together as his church (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Cor 6:16). Although Solomon’s prayer was certain to be answered because it was based on God’s covenants with Israel, we have the assurance of Christ that he hears and answers our prayers according to his will when we ask in his name. But, like the ancient Hebrews, we have to act on these promises to get the blessings. Let’s not just long for God’s work and intervention in our lives; let’s ask him for it based on all he has done for us and promised us in Christ.

2 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 22

Read 2 Samuel 15 and Ezekiel 22.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 22.

This chapter in Ezekiel details many of the sins that Jerusalem (a representative of the whole nation) committed against God. These sins were the reasons for God’s judgment that would fall on them through the Babylonian empire. Their sins can be put into three stacks:

  1. The leaders used their power selfishly. The main power that any government has that nobody else has is the power to use physical force–including death–without accountability for it. The leaders of Jerusalem were guilty of this according to verses 6 and 25.
  2. The people in general mistreated people who needed protection (vv. 7, 12), thought very little of God and his worship (v. 8), were violent (v. 9a), idolatrous (v. 9b), and committed many kinds of sexual sins (vv. 9c-11).
  3. The priests and prophets refused to lead God’s people to worship and obey him (vv. 26-28).

These are all symptoms of the same problem: “…you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord.” This is listed last, in verse 12, in the long list of sins in verses 6-12. For us, the last thing on the list is usually the least important but in ancient societies, the last thing on a list was the MOST important thing. The most important thing was placed last so that it would be remembered. In this passage, then, God is complaining that his people have forgotten him and, because of that they were guilty of many other sins against him.

When believers like you and me neglect our spiritual life and choose not to walk with God daily, we deviate in many ways from God’s will. Our sins are symptoms of how we live life on our own terms rather than obeying God because we love him and worship him daily.

How is your spiritual life? I hope these daily devotionals have helped you walk with God and build a habit of meeting with him daily. It is possible, however, to read the word daily and still not fellowship with God in prayer and worship. What’s the state of your heart? How is your relationship with God? Have you forgotten him? Is that starting to show up in sinful choices you make with your daily life?

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 11

Read 2 Samuel 2 and Ezekiel 11.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 11.

In many of our readings this year, we’ve seen how God gave Israel his law. In it, he specified how obedience to the law would bring blessings and how disobedience would bring his curses on them. Time after time in Judges, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now here in Ezekiel, we saw God keep his word—he blessed his people in the rare times of obedience and he punished them when they disobeyed. Over and over again they disobeyed and he would allow them to be oppressed but not completely overrun. At the time Ezekiel wrote these words, however, God’s most painful punishment was falling on his people.

When I read about Israel’s failures and God’s punishments in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people never learned from their own history and lived obediently to God’s law. God’s law had some unusual commands to observe—don’t wear a garment made of synthetic materials, for instance. But for the most part, what God was really angry about was their idolatry. Why couldn’t Israel just serve the Lord? Why did they repeatedly turn to idols, even when bad times were the result?

Today’s passage in Ezekiel 11 answers that question. Specifically, verses 19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The reason that Israel could not obey God’s laws is that they did not have a new nature within. What people needed—what we still need—is the spiritual work of God called regeneration.

People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and all the prophets had been born spiritually. They didn’t love God and obey his laws in their own moral strength; they received the gift of eternal life. This is alluded to in passages like Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The difference between the few who obeyed God’s word and the many who worshipped idols and lived lawless lives was faith. The “faithful” believed God because God had given them the new spirit discussed here in Ezekiel 11:19-20. The “faithless” may have followed some of the symbols and ceremonies, the civil laws and some of the moral codes, but fundamentally they did not believe God’s word.

The same is true when Jesus lived. By that time the oppression of the Assyrians and the exile of the Babylonians had ended. Israel was under Roman rule, but Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Baal. God’s judgment of his people by the Assyrians and Babylonians was effective in stripping out overt idolatry from the people. But the Pharisees and many other Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not obey God’s laws from the heart; they were doing it to appear righteous to others and to obtain favor from God by their own good deeds. These are not acts of faith; they are acts of unbelief. Although they are not overtly idolatrous, they are not produced by love for God.

This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus; although he studied and understood the law and was as scrupulous as any other Pharisee about obeying it, he didn’t really “get it.” He knew that Jesus had spiritual reality and spiritual power that he did not have. So what did Jesus say to him? “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn 3:3).

People needed spiritual rebirth—regeneration—in the Old Testament and people need it today. This is a central idea of our faith. We are not calling people to moral reformation; we are calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. What sets you apart from your unsaved neighbors and family is not that you are a good person and they are not; what sets you apart is the gift of eternal life in Christ. This is the hope we have to offer people around us; not “be moral so God will bless you,” but “receive Jesus so that you can have the power to live a moral life.”