2 Samuel 20, Daniel 10, 1 Timothy 2

Read 2 Samuel 20, Daniel 10, and 1 Timothy 2.

This devotional is about Daniel 10.

The section of Daniel’s book dealing with direct revelations continued in this chapter and Daniel saw a vision “concerning a great war” (v. 1). This vision shook him emotionally (vv. 2-3). Daniel was always a man of prayer as we read back in chapter 6. The fact that he “ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all” (v. 3) suggests that he fasted and devoted himself to extra prayer because of this revelation.

The “man” that he saw in verse 5 told Daniel that he “was highly esteemed” (v. 11) and that he was sent in response to Daniel’s prayers. In fact, this messenger said that he was heard from “the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God” (v. 12). The context suggests that Daniel was heard AND that God responded immediately by sending this messenger. Then why did Daniel have to wait three weeks for this answer? Because, according to verse 13, “the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.”

The messenger, “princes” and “king” in this passage have usually been interpreted as other angels–demons, really–who opposed this angel who was sent with revelation for Daniel. Although God immediately sent an answer to Daniel’s prayer, that answer was delayed by demonic power.

We don’t get very much insight from scripture about the angelic world and how it works. This is the only passage that I can think of where an answer to prayer was delayed because of demonic resistance. Some believers have taken this passage much further than the Bible ever does; nevertheless, it is scripture and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Based on this chapter, then, maybe one reason that the Bible urges us to pray continually, patiently, without giving up, is that God’s answers to our prayers are sometimes delayed spiritually by forces we can’t see and rarely think about. That is not the only reason answers to prayers are delayed but it maybe one reason why. So the lesson is to persevere in our praying even when God doesn’t answer. There may be more going on with God’s answer than you realize.

Have you given up praying about something–or nearly given up–because the answer hasn’t come yet? Take courage from this passage and keep on praying. No matter what, God is not ignoring your prayers.

2 Samuel 19, Daniel 9, 1 Timothy 1

Read 2 Samuel 19, Daniel 9, and 1 Timothy 1.

This devotional is about Daniel 9.

Daniel’s prayer here in chapter 9 is model for how we should pray in concert with the will of God.

First, what prompted Daniel’s prayer was God’s word. Verse 2 says, “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” It was his reading and understanding of Jeremiah’s prophecy that caused him to pray as he did. The lesson for us here is that the truths of scripture can lead us to pray. Daniel saw a promise in God’s word that had a time-deadline of 70 years so he prayed that the Lord would fulfill that promise. Likewise, when we see God’s promises in scripture that are as of yet unfulfilled, they can motivate us to ask God to make them happen.

Next, Daniel began his prayer with praise. Even though his people were in exile in Babylon, he believed that God was “the great and awesome God” (v. 4), that he was “righteous” (v. 7a), and that he was “merciful and forgiving” 9v. 9). God loves to hear us wrap our requests in worship; when it is our faith in God’s attributes—specific attributes—that compel us to pray, God is glorified and worship in our prayers.

The kernel of Daniel’s prayer, of course, was repentance. He arranged his physical appearance to express repentance (v. 3) and he acknowledged the sins of his nations (vv. 5-7) as well as his personal sins (v. 20: “confessing my sin…”). This focus on repentance was because he was praying for restoration. God’s purpose in exiling Israel was to turn their hearts back to him, so repentance was the proper response to their situation. While the purpose of our prayers is not always repentance, it is always appropriate to confess our sins to the Lord in our prayers. This aligns our hearts morally with his will and causes us to remember that our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone and his atonement for us.

My final observation about this prayer is that the reason for his request was the glory of God. Verse 19 says, “For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” He wanted the restoration God promised because he wanted God to be glorified. When we ask God for things in our prayers, are we thinking about how the answer to our prayers will bring him glory or are we focused merely on improving our situation for the better? While God is loving and compassionate toward us, his love and compassion will ultimately be experienced in eternity; until then, he allows problems and pain and tragedy and other issues because this world has not yet been redeemed. He is more concerned about the growth of his church and the coming of his kingdom than he is about our comfort, so our prayers should be about the things he cares about far more than they are about the things we care about. Too often we have that order inverted.

So, what are you praying about right now? Do the scriptures inform and stimulate your prayers? Are your prayers layered with worship and praise for who God is? Are you confessing your sins and claiming the sacrifice of Christ as the basis for your forgiveness and even your praying? Are you praying for the glory of God?

2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, Mark 16

Read 2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, and Mark 16.

This devotional is about Daniel 6.

The Babylonians who conquered Judah gave way to the Medo-Persian empire, yet Daniel remained influential even in the new administration (vv. 1-2). In fact, Daniel was so good at his job that King Darius intended to elevate him over all everyone but Darius himself (v. 3b).

When the other administrators heard about this, they were jealous of Daniel and sought to catch him in some kind of misconduct (v. 4a). Verse 4b says that “they were unable to do so.” Why? “…because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (v. 4d). Did you catch that? Not only was Daniel not corrupt, he was not “negligent” either. This means they could find no responsibility where he failed or refused to do his job.

That’s quite a statement. We all have responsibilities we like and those we dislike. If you’re like me at all, doing the stuff you like to do is easy but it is also easy to neglect the stuff you dislike doing. A busy man like Daniel would have had an abundance of excuses, too, for why he couldn’t do what he disliked. He could blame his busy schedule, the people under him for being incompetent, or trying to prioritize his work. But the men who wanted Daniel indicted couldn’t find any area to accuse him.

As followers of Jesus, this is something we should aspire to as well. Since we are working as to the Lord and not to men we should, of course, be honest and upstanding but we should also be so conscientious that even the things we dislike doing are done carefully and faithfully.

Not only is it remarkable that these men could not accuse Daniel of corruption or negligent, it is remarkable that they KNEW they could get him if they could make his faith illegal in some way. Daniel was faithful not only in his work but he was faithful in his walk with God. The men who were out to destroy Daniel knew that they could get him in trouble if they could make prayer against the law (vv. 5-13). If someone were looking to accuse us, would they go to our devotional life as the sure-fire way to trip us up?

You know the rest of the story as it is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Daniel was supernaturally protected from the lions (vv. 14-23) and eventually his accusers were brought to justice (v. 24). The result of all this was a decree from Darius commanding the people to fear Daniel’s God (vv. 25-28). He trusted in the Lord completely, consistently, devotedly and the Lord delivered him even in a hostile culture to his faith.

May God give us the same desire to be faithful and careful in our work and to be devoted to reading his word and praying daily, filling our minds with his truth and living obediently to it.

1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, Mark 6

Read 1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, and Mark 6.

This devotional is about Mark 6.

If you live long enough, at some point someone whose birth and childhood you remember becomes someone important–a judge, a doctor, a professor, your governor, maybe even your pastor. Some people have a hard time respecting the accomplishments of someone they knew as a younger person. It might be hard to let someone take out your appendix if you remember changing that kid’s diapers.

Jesus faced this kind of credibility crisis here in Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth.

On one hand, the wisdom Jesus had was undeniable. As they said in verse 2, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?” They never saw him apprentice with a rabbi, so how could they trust the things that he said? Likewise, his miracles were impressive. Again, verse 2 recorded the question, “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?” Some of these people might have remembered that time he got lost, as a child, in Jerusalem. How was that kid now capable of restoring people’s limbs and returning sight to their blind eyes? He was just a simple carpenter and they knew his whole family (v. 3), so it was difficult to accept that God’s power was on him so clearly. Verse 3 ended by saying, “…they took offense at him.”

Of course, this is all an expression of unbelief. To believe that Jesus was the Messiah or even a great spiritual leader would require some humility. It’s a lot easier to retain your pride and cast doubt on Jesus’ legitimacy than it is to humbly accept that little Jesus, now grown, was really being used by God.

The result of their faithlessness was, according to verse 5 that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who should have been most proud of him were his biggest skeptics. Their skepticism–aka their unbelief–meant that God’s power in their village was restrained. When verse 5 says that “He could not do any miracles there” it isn’t saying that it was impossible for him to do miracles. Jesus had the same power that he always had. The point is that he couldn’t do miracles because people who needed healing would not come to him for it. They would rather keep their dignity in place than admit they needed Mary’s kid for anything. Verse 6 says, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Faith, of course, is a response to God’s word, a positive reception of God’s promises and revelation. Although Christ is not physically here to do miracles for us, he has made many promises to us. I wonder how many times our unbelief keeps us from asking God to save someone we love, or to turn a wayward friend to repentance.

I wonder what God would do in our church if we came to him more often for help and asked him to work in our lives or the lives of others. I wonder how much our Lord wants to do for us and in us and through us if we would just show our faith and ask him.

What do you want to ask him for today?

1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, Colossians 2

Read 1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, and Colossians 2.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12.

When the people began clamoring for a king in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel took their demands before the Lord. Their desire for a king must have seemed like a personal rejection because God told Samuel not to feel as if he had been rejected: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:8).  Since Saul had been anointed king, announced as king, and ratified as king, Samuel was ready to retreat from the stage of public leadership.  

Here in 1 Samuel 12 we read Samuel’s retirement speech. In verses 1-2a, he acknowledged that leadership has fully and permanently passed from himself to Saul. In verses 2b-4, he challenged Israel to bring testimony against him. If he had abused his leadership in any way, the victims were now to speak up so that he could finish his administration cleanly by making restitution. No one brought any charges against him (v. 4-5).

But Samuel himself had a charge to make against God’s people. In verses 6-12, he rehearsed briefly Israel’s checkered spiritual history. Then in verses 14-15, he commanded the people to follow the Lord in obedience and warned them about the consequences of their disobedience. He then authenticated his message by calling on the Lord to send thunder and rain out of season which the Lord did (vv. 17-18). God’s people were afraid and felt regret (at least) and begged Samuel to pray that God would not kill them all (v. 19). Samuel reassured them and called on them to be faithful to the Lord (vv. 20-21), then reminded them of God’s covenant of love with them that he established through Abraham. Although God was loving toward his people (despite their lack of faithfulness to him), verse 22 reminded them that God would be faithful “for the sake of his great name.” In other words, to break his covenant with Israel, God would have act contrary to his nature.

Then, in verse 23, Samuel said: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” That is quite a statement.

First, the people did not ask Samuel to make it a habit of praying for them; they asked him to pray for them now so that they would not die in God’s wrath in that immediate moment (v. 19). Yet Samuel generalized their request and reassured them that he intended to pray for them continually. Secondly, Samuel not only prayed for God’s people because of his love for them, but because it saw it as his obligation. That’s what the phrase, “…that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” means in verse 23. Prayerlessness could only be a sin if Samuel was obligated to pray for God’s people and refused to do so. Yet, that’s exactly how Samuel saw the situation.

Prayer is a privilege and it is our right as God’s children to do it, but have you ever thought about prayer as an obligation? We live in an age theologically where Christians do not like to talk about obligations. Because many of us grew up in legalistic environments, we have learned to lean on God’s grace in our failings—and we should! God’s grace is all over this passage. It is evident in God’s history with Israel (vv. 6-11) and in God’s mercy for not judging Israel for seeking a king (vv. 17-20). But the reason we need grace is because we fail in our obligations, not because no obligations exist. Grace does not relieve us of the responsibility to obey God’s word. It does not minimize our responsibilities as people who belong to God. Instead, it is an expression of God’s great compassion for us despite our weaknesses and failures. God’s grace is what put us in his favor and it is what keeps us in his favor when we fail to obey him—either through ignorance, or weakness, or direct disobedience.

So whom are we responsible to pray for? Here’s a quick list to think about: your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your nephews and nieces, your pastor, your church, your friends, your ministry team, your neighbors who need Christ, your co-workers, our missionaries, our nation. Are we prayerless toward any or all of these people? Do we seek God’s grace when we do fail to pray for them? 

Remember, too, that Samuel seemed to be wounded emotionally by Israel’s desire for a king. Yet his feeling of rejection did not give him an excuse to stop praying for God’s people. Although Saul was now responsible to lead them and to judge them, Samuel still felt responsible to intercede with God for them. Keep this in mind if you have a parent who wounded you deeply, or a spouse who divorced you unbiblically, or children who denounced you and walked out on you, or anyone else who has wounded you. Since God commands us to intercede and pray for one another (even our enemies—Luke 6:28b), we should realize that the gift of prayer is also, in a sense, an obligation—a command to obey. Here’s an opportunity to think about whom you should be praying for and to ask God’s forgiveness if your prayer life has gone prayer-less.

1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, Ephesians 4

Read 1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, and Ephesians 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 4.

This passage records one of the darkest days in Israel’s history. Not only did God’s people lose in battle to the Philistines, they lost the Ark of the Covenant, the physical symbol of God’s presence with his people.

And why did they lose it? Because they treated it as a good luck charm, a super-weapon of mass destruction rather than what it was intended to be—a place where atonement would be made for the people of God.

What was a terrible day for Israel nationally was also a horrible day for Eli and his family personally. Just as God had prophesied to Eli through the prophet in 1 Samuel 2:30-34, Eli’s family was cut out of the priesthood and his two sons died on the same day. Just as God had reaffirmed his prophecy through Samuel in chapter 3, so it happened here in 1 Samuel 4. Furthermore, the wife of Phinehas also died giving birth to their son, leaving the boy orphaned. 

This is why we should respond in repentance when God speaks to us through is word about our sin. If we refuse to turn at God’s rebuke, he will bring correction into our lives. 

This is also why we should not treat our faith as a good luck charm. God did not save you so that you would disregard and disobey him for most of your life, then call on him to fix your life when things go badly. Instead, he saved us and called us so that we would bow before him in worship and honor, not only pleasing him with our prayers and our praise, but with a life of obedience to his word.

It is easy for us to act like practical atheists, affirming God with our mouths, but disregarding his word and his ways until trouble comes into our lives. Then, like a spare tire, we pull God out and ask for his help. God is gracious and does help us in our needs and trials, but that should be an outgrowth of lives that are devoted to him, not our fix-all when our sins have put us in jeopardy. 

1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, Psalms 96-98

Read 1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, and Psalms 96-98.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 1.

Hannah found herself in an unhappy situation here in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel. Her society greatly valued children, especially boys, yet she was unable to get pregnant.

If that weren’t bad enough, her husband had a “rival” (v. 6) wife named Peninnah. Elkanah may have married Peninnah specifically because of Hannah’s infertility (similar to Abraham and Hagar). Regardless of his motives, Peninnah delivered (pun intended) where Hannah could not; verse 2 tells us “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” So Hannah felt judged by her society, may have felt like she let her husband down, and felt inferior to his second wife.

Even worse, Peninnah mocked Hannah for her infertility (v. 6). Although Hannah was loved by her husband who did his best (verse 8 notwithstanding) to demonstrate his love and make her feel secure (vv. 4-5), she suffered emotionally due to all of these things.

Whatever faults he may have had, Elkanah was devoted to the Lord. We see this in his consistency to worship at the tabernacle “year after year” (v. 3). We also see it in how urged Hannah to keep her vow to the Lord (v. 23). When the sorrow of her situation became too much to bear, Hannah did what a believer should do; she poured out her heart to God in prayer (vv. 10-11).

Yet even her heartfelt prayer was became a source of pain because it was misinterpreted. As if she didn’t feel low enough, the High Priest of Israel rebuked her for being a drunk when he saw her praying (vv. 12-14). Fortunately, when she explained the situation, Eli gave her the reassurance she needed (v. 17). Note that Eli did not promise her an answer to her prayer; rather, he acknowledged the sincerity of her prayers and added his own prayer wish that the Lord would answer her favorably (v. 17). But Hannah took this blessing from the priest by faith and received the peace of God for her situation (v. 18).

And, God did answer her prayer, giving her the son she so deeply desired.

If only deep sorrow and total sincerity were enough to get answers to any prayer! Yet God does not always give us the answer we seek. That is why Jesus encouraged us to pray according to God’s will. God’s will is frequently different than our will is; therefore, God sometimes answers our prayers with “no.”

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

By promising to give her son to the Lord and to raise him under a Nazirite vow for life (v. 11), she was asking God to answer her prayer in a way that would bring glory to him.

Samuel would grow up to serve the Lord in a unique way, both as a priest and as the last of the judges of Israel. In contrast to the spiritual scoundrels who served as Israel’s judges in the book of Judges, Samuel would be a man who led Israel spiritually as well as politically. Hannah’s prayer was answered in a way that was more profound than she probably could have imagined. Though she did not have the joy of raising her son throughout his childhood, she did have the joy of knowing that he was serving the Lord.

James 4:3 tells us that God is not in the habit of answering prayers that come from self-centered motives. When Hannah connected her desire for a son with God’s desire for a godly leader for Israel, her prayer aligned with God’s will and he answered her. When we ask God for things in our lives, are our requests selfish or are they connected to the things that God cares about? This is the kind of praying that is pleasing to God and, therefore, the kind of praying that God is most likely to answer with “yes.”

Judges 11:12-40, Lamentations 5, Psalms 90-92

Read Judges 11:12-40, Lamentations 5, Psalms 90-92.

This devotional is about Psalm 91.

This beautiful song begins with a universal claim: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The “shelter of the Most High” refers to the tabernacle. This phrase is a poetic way of expressing a person’s deep desire for God. When someone wanted to know God so much that he spent every possible moment in the place where God’s presence was promised, that person, according to verse 1, would be protected by God (“shadow of the Almighty”).

Verse 2 moves from the universal to the specific: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” In other words, verse 1 promised God’s protecting shadow over anyone who delights in God so the author (probably David) stated his intention in verse 2 to look to God for the refuge offered in verse 1.

And what kind of refuge did God offer? Refuge:

  • from someone trying to capture the author according to verse 3a (“the fowler’s snare”) and
  • from fatal disease according to v 3b (“pestilence”).

God gave refuge like a mother bird gives to her young (v. 4), refuge from fear of being captured or killed overnight (v. 5a) or from military attacks by day (v. 5b:).

God gave refuge from disease whether at night (v. 6a) or at noon (v. 6b). In the heat of battle, when men were dying all around, the Psalmist believed that God would protect the one who trusts him (v. 7) and would punish those who deserve it (v. 8).

The Psalmist had two reasons for his confidence in God’s protection. The first reason was God’s angelic protection for those who trust in the Lord (vv. 9-13). The second reason for his confidence was that God would answer the prayers for help of those who love him (vv. 14-15).

The result of all this protection will be a long life on this earth (v. 16a) and salvation when this life is over (v. 16b).

What a comforting song; yet, the author of this Psalm died eventually and we know that bad things do happen to godly people. So what do we make of the author’s confidence?

First, the promises of this Psalm are for David and the kings that follow in his line. This fact is indicated in verses 11-12 which Satan quoted to Jesus as he was tempted. Unlike what we are often told, Satan did not quote this passage out of context. He understood that it was God’s promise to David that insured a king in David’s line would receive God’s special protection because of the covenant God made to David.

Secondly, based on God’s covenant with David, the king could be certain that nothing would happen to him until he had fulfilled the mission God gave him to do. Although he may fight in many battles, even losing some (v. 7), God promised to watch over the leader’s life until that leader’s work in this life was completed. Verse 16 promised “long life,” not the absolute avoidance of death. The promise, then, is that the Davidic king who loved God and put his hope in God did not need to fear premature death either by war or disease. God’s protection would be on his life until he finished what God gave him to do.

While the promise in this passage applied first to David and to the heirs of the covenant God made with David, I believe this Psalm also comforts us with a principle we can count on: we are invincible on this earth until we have completed God’s work if we trust in the Lord and seek him habitually. While some godly people die younger than we would expect, that does not happen due to some random event outside of God’s will. Instead, those who fear the Lord and seek to live for him generally live a long life on this earth (v. 16a). When someone dies “prematurely,” it is because God had another plan for them.

Finally, when the time comes to die, God’s promises to “show him my salvation” when we trust in him (v. 16b). This is a reference to the deliverance believers receive after death.

In our moments of night time fear (v 5a, 6a) and daytime threats (v. 3, 7), the only hope we have is in the promises and mercy of God. Though Christ fulfilled God’s promise in this passage as the Messiah, the final Davidic king, the invitation is still universal: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High…” (v. 1). This applies to us: When we make the Lord our love (v. 1a, 14a) and look to him for protection from all the threats around us, we are indestructible until God says it is time for us to go.

Whatever you fear today, remember that the Lord is watching over you and that, even if the worst happens, you still have the promise of God that God will “show him my salvation.” That means you will be rescued from these dangers, ultimately, in eternity.

Joshua 9, Jeremiah 35, Psalms 81-83

Read Joshua 9, Jeremiah 35, and Psalms 81-83.

This devotional is about Joshua 9.

What would you do if your country was being attacked by a ruthless band of vagabonds who, despite their limited means, were winning their battles with seemingly supernatural help? That’s the question that the Gibeonites were asking themselves during Joshua’s conquest of Canaan; their answer is recorded here in Joshua 9.

I think my answer would have been unconditional surrender: “Take us over; we’re all yours. Please be merciful to us.”

The Gibeonites, however, didn’t try this. It seems impossible, but perhaps they had heard about the instructions God gave in Deuteronomy 7:1-2: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” That last sentence, “Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy” doesn’t seem to leave any room for surrender. Again, is it possible that the Gibeonites had heard about these instructions? It seems unlikely, but given how much they (vv. 9-10) Rahab (Josh 2:9-11) knew about God and his work on behalf of Israel, maybe word about God’s instructions had spread, too, along with these reports.

Regardless of what they knew about Israel, the Gibeonites responded to the threat of Israel through deception. They concocted a story about being from a “distant country” (v. 6, 9) and backed it up with costumes and props that would support their story (vv. 4-5, 11-13).

Their plan worked and Israel entered into a treaty with the Gibeonite without even knowing where they were from (v. 15, 19). Verse 14 notes that, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.” In other words, they trusted the information from their 5 senses enough that they did not look to the Lord for insight and wisdom.

Note the contrast between Joshua 7 and today’s passage in Joshua 9. In Joshua 7, Israel was defeated by Ai, and Joshua started praying (7:6-9) but God told him to stop praying and start rooting sin out of the camp (vv. 10-12). I take this to mean that Joshua should have known there was a sin problem since God had promised to defeat Israel’s enemies and had done so—miraculously so—in Jericho. Joshua and the elders of Israel were asking God, in Joshua 7, why when they should have been asking him, “Who sinned?”

Now here in Joshua 9 they were tempted to depart from God’s clear instructions and yet they did not think to ask God. Instead, they decided to follow what seemed reasonable.

You and I face this kind of temptation, too. We know what God has said but we think the option in front of us is some kind of exception to God’s clear word. When we do this, we are putting ourselves at risk. At the very least we risk making an unwise decision; often we are making a sinful decision, one that will cause us great pain later.

In this case, the Gibeonites saved their skin through this deception (vv. 16-18). That was not the most damaging outcome that could have happened to Israel but it did cause the leadership to lose some credibility (v. 18d).

My question about this passage is: Did Israel really need to honor this treaty? The Gibeonites were completely dishonest. Their argument for the treaty was a total lie and they sold their lie with deception. Doesn’t their dishonesty invalidate the agreement?

I think it probably would have been permissible morally to break their treaty. However, Israel’s leaders were at fault here, too. They could have investigated the claims of the Gibeonites more thoroughly and they could and should have sought guidance from the Lord.

Given that Israel agreed to this—foolishly—it may have been permissible morally to attack the Gibeonites, but it was probably not the godly response. Joshua’s statement in verse 20: “This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them” was, at last, a godly way to look at the situation. Psalm 15:4b says that a godly person “keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind.” This is why Jesus cautioned us not to take oaths at all (Matt 5:33-37).

Are there any promises you’ve made that you should live up to, even though you made them foolishly and they will be more costly than you expected to fulfill? Let his passage inform your life; be careful about what you commit to do but, if you do commit to do something, make sure you do it. This is an approach that honors our Lord.

Joshua 7, Jeremiah 33, Acts 20

Read Joshua 7, Jeremiah 33, and Acts 20.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 33.

Jeremiah 33:3 is one of the better known verses in Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is often assigned in Bible memory programs because of the compelling invitation to prayer it contains: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

This is a great verse on prayer, but like every verse in the Bible, it needs to be interpreted in context. When you read this verse alone, it sounds like a blank check from God. “Just pray and I’ll show you such delightful things that you never knew before.” But what are these “great and unsearchable things”? Before answering that question, Jeremiah reminded us of the situation he was living in. Verse 1 reminded us that he was still a political and religious prisoner in the palace. Verse 4 reminded us that severe judgment was coming to the city of Jerusalem: “They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.”

Yet God was not about to abandon his promise to Israel. After a period of defeat and exile, the people of Jerusalem would “enjoy abundant peace and security” (v. 6) as well as cleansing “from all the sin they have committed against men” (v. 8). There would be great worship in the city: “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.” (v. 9). Although Jerusalem was about to deserted and demolished (v. 10), someday it would be a place of great happiness and joy and worship (vv. 11-12).

All of this will happen when Jesus rules on earth over Israel in the period of time we call “the Millennium” (vv. 15-16). So God was calling, through Jeremiah, to his people urging them to pray for the spiritual restoration that would come through the work of Messiah. God wanted to bless his people so much! The joy he wanted them to experience was far beyond what they had ever known. But they needed to call out to him in repentance and call upon him in faith, asking him to make good on the promise. When Israel put their trust in the Lord that wholeheartedly, God would establish his kingdom just as he promised he would (vv. 19-26).

Part of God’s purpose in allowing Israel to live in this unbelief is so that Gentiles, like us, would be gathered into his kingdom as well. But, like Israel, we wait for God’s timing to be accomplished when this great joy will be realized. Until then, we should call on God, as Jesus taught us to do, saying “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” The prayer of Jeremiah 33:3, then, is not that God will do wondrous things in your life today as much as it is urging us to pray for God’s kingdom growth and Christ’s return so that we can experience the beautiful promises of peace, joy, and prosperity described in this passage.

Joshua 6:6-27, Jeremiah 32, 2 Corinthians 13

Read Joshua 6:6-27, Jeremiah 32, and 2 Corinthians 13.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 32.

In the first section of Jeremiah 32, Jerusalem was in big trouble. Nebuchadnezzar had the city under siege (v. 2), which means he was going to starve the people into surrender. 

Jeremiah, likewise, was in trouble. Not only was he in Jerusalem, he was incarcerated in the palace (v. 2b-5). While in this predicament, Jeremiah’s uncle approached him wanting to do business; specifically, he wanted Jeremiah to buy some land from him (v. 8). God had told Jeremiah this would happen (vv. 6-7), so Jeremiah bought the field and made it all official (vv. 9-12). Then Jeremiah had the deed preserved in a clay jar (vv. 14-15).

The purpose of this transaction was to demonstrate that God was not finished with Jerusalem. Although God had been warning the people that their city would fall to the Babylonians, after 70 years in captivity, God’s people would be returned to this land. Jeremiah’s family, then, would be able to use the field that Jeremiah purchased.

After this event, Jeremiah prayed an eloquent, worshipful, God-honoring prayer (vv. 17-25). He praised the Lord as Creator (v. 17a), all-powerful (v. 17b), loving and just (v. 18a-b), exalted and powerful (v. 18c), wise and all-knowing (v. 19), revealing (v. 20), redeeming (v. 21), and covenant-keeping (v. 22). He also acknowledged the guilt of Israel (v. 23), a form of repentance. This is a great, great model for us in our prayers. In a very dire situation, Jeremiah worshipped God personally and specifically and confessed sin before asking for God’s help in verse 24-25.

What is our prayer life like? Is it like ordering in a fast-food drive-thru? Do we fly in, demand what we want from God, and expect it to be “hot and ready” when we expect? 

Or do we take time to love God with our words, asking for his help but acknowledging that his will may be very different from what we want. This is reverent prayer; this is what it means to bow before the Lord, not just symbolically with our posture but in every way submitting ourselves to our almighty master? Are we willing to accept the kind of “no” to our prayers that Jeremiah received in this passage? Can we hold on to his promises even if he waits for generations before keeping them?

Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 20.

Jeremiah’s fears in chapter 18 finally materialized here in chapter 20. Despite the fact that he is doing the will of God, God wills for him to suffer persecution. As a direct result of his prophesies (v. 1b-2a), one of the priests had Jeremiah beaten and confined to the stocks (vv. 1-2). When Jeremiah was released the next day, he had a few choice prophesies for this “man of God,” namely that he would personally experience the Babylonian exile and die there in that foreign land (vv. 3-6). 

Jeremiah has a few choice words for the Lord, too, following (or perhaps during) this episode. He complained first about the social cost of serving the Lord (vv. 7-8). Imagine being a prophet of God in a culture that was supposed to belong to God but where nobody but you cared anything about following God’s word. Imagine that even the priests were out to get you and, when they persecuted you, they did it in public so everyone entering the temple could make fun of you while you were bound in the stocks. That’s the tough job God had called Jeremiah to do.

It was so tough, in fact, that he decided to shut up and stop doing it. But according to verses 8-9 God’s word refused to be contained within his heart and mind, so he resumed his prophesies against his better judgment. As a result, even those he considered to be friends wanted him to pay for what he was saying (v. 10). Here, then was a man who was caught in an absolute quandary. Speaking up was too costly. Being silent was impossible.

What to do?

The only thing Jeremiah could do was appeal to God. In verses 11-12 he committed his persecutors to God’s justice. In verse 13, he resolved to praise the Lord for the deliverance he received, but that did not keep him from experiencing deep anguish over what his life had become (vv. 13-18). It would be nice to see this chapter end in a more tidy way, wrapped up with a nice pretty bow of worship and thanksgiving. However, Jeremiah’s prayer in this chapter ended with painful words wishing he had never been born. Spoiler alert: Jeremiah 21 just moved on to the next situation Jeremiah faced. There was no happy resolution to the trauma of his heart.

What do we make of all of this? First, that we should not expect a pain free life just because we are serving God. In fact, serving God may make life more painful and troublesome than it is for those who only pretend to serve God (like Pashhur the priest at the beginning of chapter 20). God’s will for your life may involve suffering. That suffering may be the direct result of the fact that you are serving him–not because of any defect in Godbut as the result of living in a sinful world which hates God, seeks to suppress his truth, and persecute his people.

Second, we should understand that God is not angered when we speak to him out of our emotions—even when those emotions are negatively directed toward him. While it is certainly sinful to blaspheme the Lord, God compassionately understands how painful this life and doing his will can be. No one felt the pain of doing God’s will more than Christ himself did. So there is no inherent sin in questioning God’s will or wondering about God’s ways.

At the end of our anxious cries, however, we need to look to the Lord in faith even if we never understand in this life. What we should not do is look away from him in unbelief; eventually God’s justice will be done and there will be rewards and comfort for those who serve him, even when it is hard. Let Jeremiah’s prayer in this passage, then, encourage you to be straight with God in your praying. He knows what your thoughts and feelings are anyway, so why not pour them out before him rather than bottling them up?