Exodus 1, Job 18, Hebrews 7

Read Exodus 1, Job 18, and Hebrews 7.

This devotional is about Hebrews 7.

We are far removed from the world of animal sacrifices in the temple and the priests who offer them but this letter was written to “Hebrews” not to “North Americans.” Priests and their work were important to Hebrews because their law and their worship revolved around the temple and its sacrifices.

Imagine that someone told you to move whatever you had in terms of money out of dollars and into something new like Bitcoin. I am not recommending that you do that nor am I giving you any financial advice at all. But if someone whose financial acumen you respected told you to move to Bitcoin, you still might have a hard time doing that. Dollars are all we’ve ever known, right? So could it really be a good idea to move away from all of that?

That’s sort of what it was like to tell a Jewish person to forget about the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews in this chapter argues to them that there is a priesthood that is older than Aaron’s priesthood in the law of Moses. To return to our analogy, then, the author of Hebrews is not arguing for Bitcoin but for gold. Gold has been used for currency long before money came along and the value of our money used to be based on gold. Spiritually, then, Jesus is less like Bitcoin and more like a return to the gold standard. His priesthood, symbolized by Melchizedek, predated and was superior to Aaron’s priesthood (vv. 1-10), was spoken about during Aaron’s priesthood (v. 15-17, 20-21), and is superior to Aaron’s priesthood because he represented a better covenant than Moses’ covenant (v. 22).

The Hebrews who read this letter were drawn in faith to the promises and person of Jesus but they were uncertain about leaving Judaism behind. Judaism felt like a reliable currency for them; it wasn’t, really, but it was all they knew. The author of Hebrews was concerned that his readers were trying to keep a foot in both worlds; that is, they wanted to be Christian and Jewish at the same time. His warnings, which occur periodically in this book, were written to urge them not to turn their backs on Jesus to return to Judaism. Now, here in chapter 7, he urges them to turn their backs on Judaism and go completely with Jesus.

Verses 23-28 brings this discussion of priests to a point where we Gentiles can see the importance of Jesus’ priesthood. Verses 24-25 tell us that Christ is a permanent priest. Since there is no longer any “changing of the guard” now that Christ is our priest, we can be certain that our salvation is eternal because “he always lives to intercede for” us (v. 25b). In addition to being our permanent priest, Jesus’ priesthood is perfect. His perfect moral nature (v. 26) means that he is always qualified morally to be our priest. Because he was the perfect sacrifice, too (v. 27b-28), our sins are atoned for permanently.

Our eternal salvation is secure eternally because our priest is permanent and perfect. Although we have not yet been perfected, we don’t need to worry that our sins will cause us to fall out of God’s favor. That’s because Jesus’ perfect sacrifice atoned for all our sins–including those in our future. Also, his perfect priesthood causes him to intercede on our behalf perpetually. If you struggle with assurance of your faith, the priesthood of Christ is just the doctrine for you. God gave us the perfect sacrifice that we could never offer and the perfect person to speak to God on our behalf when we sin.

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.

2 Chronicles 31, Zechariah 13:2-9

Read 2 Chronicles 31 and Zechariah 13:2-9,

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 31.

Hezekiah restored the temple and the priesthood (chapter 29) led Judah to observe the Passover again after generations of ignoring it (chapter 30), and called his people to return to serving and worshipping the Lord from the heart (also chapter 30). God worked through his leadership and the people responded favorably to the Lord. The word “revival” is used whenever a large number of people turn or return to the Lord. Here in 2 Chronicles 31, we see the results of genuine revival from the heart.

The first result is the removal of idols. Idolatry was a constant struggle within Israel and Judah and even when godly kings ruled, it was still practiced in secret. After God revived the hearts of his people under Hezekiah, they voluntarily destroyed their own idols as a result (v. 1). This demonstrated true repentance–a true turning from sin to serve the Lord alone. That’s what happens in our lives, too, when God works to revive and strengthen our commitment to him.

Another result of revival is giving to the Lord’s work from the heart (vv. 2-19). The Levites and priests had abandoned their ministries, as we saw in chapter 29. This was partially due to their own disobedience and partially due to the lack of funding they were receiving from God’s people. After God worked through Hezekiah to revive the hearts of people, the people gave so generously to the Lord’s work that the priests and Levites had more than enough for themselves (vv. 9-10). How did this happen? People started tithing faithfully (vv. 5-6). When people were faithful in tithing, there was more than enough to provide for God’s work and God’s servants. In fact, there was so much more than what was needed that the priests just starting piling it up (vv. 7-8) and built storerooms to warehouse it all (vv. 11-13). In addition to providing for the priests, were two additional results to this faithful tithing. First, there was heartfelt praise and thanks to the Lord for his provision (v. 8). Second, there was adequate provision for more men to dedicate themselves to serve the Lord (vv. 16-19).

This is what happens when God works in a group of people. People stop loving and start hating and repudiating their idols and they start giving faithfully to God’s work. As God’s work is better funded, his servants are able to do more for him and a virtuous cycle begins.

What is the state of your heart before the Lord? Are you praying for God to revive the hearts of people in our church and our community? Are you tithing and giving generously to the Lord’s work through our church?

2 Chronicles 22-23, Zechariah 6

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Zechariah 6

This devotional is about Zechariah 6.

We’ve already noticed that God spoke to Zechariah through highly dramatic, visual, symbolic visions like the flying scroll he saw in chapter 5. Here in chapter 6 he saw “two mountains” made of bronze (v. 1) and four chariots with horses of many colors (v. 3). These horses and chariots represented “the four spirits of heaven” going from the Lord throughout the earth (v. 5). The point of his vision was that the unrest with Babylon, which resulted in the Babylonian captivity of Judah, was over (vv. 8-10). God’s people are now returning to their covenant land and will be at rest.

In verses 10-11 Zechariah was instructed to get gold and silver from some of the exiles who had returned from Babylon and make a crown to put on the head of Joshua the high priest. Then Zechariah was to give Joshua a word from the Lord, “Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’” Our translation seems to imply that Joshua is the Branch and will serve as both priest and king. However, the Hebrew indicates something else. The translation “here is” is not meant to indicate, “Here, this guy, Joshua is the Branch.” Instead, it is meant to convey something like, “Look, Joshua here symbolizes one who is called ‘The Branch.’” The one who is referred to as, “The Branch” will give life to Israel by building the temple of the Lord, receiving the majesty of the king, and being Israel’s priest as well as her king (v. 13). Verse 13 concluded by saying, “‘And there will be harmony between the two.’” After years of struggle between kings–some of whom lived to honor the Lord and many more of whom did not–the Branch would unite the kingship and priesthood of Israel in one person. This is, of course, a prophecy of Jesus. He is our king, our Lord but also our savior, the one who made atonement for us.

Israel is still waiting for this priest-king to finish his work of unifying the nation politically and religiously and, since we have been grafted into the branch by God’s grace, we wait with Israel for this fulfillment as well. As we look forward to Christmas, we remember not only coming of Jesus our Lord and Savior but also the promises he will fulfill when God’s time for them comes.

2 Chronicles 11-12, Zephaniah 3

Read 2 Chronicles 11 and Zephaniah 3.

This devotional is from 2 Chronicles 11-12.

When God chose the tribe of Levi to serve as the priests, he decreed that they would receive no allotment of territory in the promised land. Instead, God wanted the Levites to be disbursed throughout the land of Israel in every tribe, every town, all over the nation. When it was time for their service, they came to Jerusalem to serve, but most of the year they lived elsewhere.

There were multiple reasons for this. First, God wanted them throughout Israel so that they could teach his law to all the people of Israel. Second, He also wanted them all over the area so that they could examine people who had skin diseases and homes that had mold (see Leviticus 13 for this exhilarating information).

The priests and Levites were paid from the offerings that were brought to the tabernacle and the temple and they used that money to buy land in the towns and villages where they lived. God did not forbid them from owning land; he decreed that they would not have a segment of tribal land in Israel. In addition to the money they earned serving the Lord, these Levites and priests had time to farm and raise animals like everyone else in Israel did, so many of them bought property among the tribes of Israel.

Israel rebelled from the heavy taxation of Rehaboam and Israel became two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom, led by Jeroboam, created idols and worship areas in the northern kingdom as we read in verse 15. That left the Levites and priests in these towns with a choice:

  • Would they conform and condone the idolatry of the northern kingdom and keep the land and relationships they had built in the 10 tribes of Israel?
  • Or, would they remain faithful to the Lord and abandon their land and their friends to continue to serve him?

The answer was given to us in verse 14: “The Levites even abandoned their pasturelands and property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them as priests of the Lord.” Although they did not leave their land and their homes, many in Israel continued to worship the Lord faithfully in Jerusalem as we read in verse 16: “Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of their ancestors.”

This illustrates two important truths:

  1. First, in a pagan culture (which Israel had become), there is a cost to serving God and that cost may be very high. Although over time even the priests became wicked (as we’ve read in many of the prophets), many from the generation that saw Israel split were willing to sacrifice everything and start over in order to serve God.
  2. The second important truth is that when people reject the Lord, God’s word is withdrawn from them. Remember that one of the functions of the priests was to teach God’s word to Israel (Lev 10:11, Deut 33:10, Mal 2:7) and they were distributed within Israel to perform that work for the Lord. As these men and their families abandoned their land in the northern kingdom, access to God’s truth was also withdrawn from them.

Sadly, over generations the priests stopped teaching God’s law to anyone. God sent prophets call them to repentance and then sent his judgment on the people for their disobedience. These things all teach us to be prepared to count the cost of serving the Lord and to realize that we lose access to his truth when we refuse to accept it, believe it, and live by it.

1 Chronicles 9-10, Amos 6

Read 1 Chronicles 9-10, Amos 6.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 9, believe it or not.

  •  I did not go into the ministry so that I could decide what color to paint the walls in the hallway of the church building.
  • I did not go to seminary to learn what a 501(c)3 corporation is and what the government requires of it.
  • I did not accept the position of Senior Pastor to spend my life pouring over budgets and financial reports.
  • I do not study the Bible to try to get people to give more money to the church, spend more time serving in the body, or just show up regularly and on time for the worship service on Sunday.
  • I don’t get paid to order guitar strings or bulbs for the projector or copier paper.

I went into ministry to serve the Lord. I did it to study and teach God’s word. I serve the Lord to equip God’s people to reach out to others with the gospel.

But…

…all the stuff on that list above–and more–is necessary. It is mundane and, in the light of eternity, doesn’t seem to matter. But it does matter because it enables us to serve the Lord, to minister to people, and everything else that goes along with being the Lord’s church in this age.

Our last few days reading 1 Chronicles have taken us through this lengthy genealogy. Maybe you’ve skipped reading these chapters. I don’t blame you, but they are worth reading because they matter. Here in chapter 9, we read about the names of the first men who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity ended (vv. 2ff). Many of these people were “priests, Levites and temple servants” according to verse 2. These people were listed by name in verses 10-21.

We understand from reading the Old Testament what priests do: They offer sacrifices and teach God’s people the Law (v. 13).

The Levites were an entire tribe of descendants of Levi. God had set apart for his ministry. Some of them were priests. All priests were Levites but not all Levites were priests. In fact, most Levites were not priests but served in more mundane ways. This chapter lists them by name (vv. 14-21) and gives us some insight into their duties:

  • Verses 22-27 tell us that some of them were guards. God’s temple had its own private security. These men were there to keep the temple from being robbed (vv. 26-27).
  • Verse 28 tells us that some of these men were accountants. Well, sort of; accountants count things and these men counted the equipment used in the Lord’s service. Their work made sure nothing got stolen. That is, in part, what modern accountants do, too.
  • Verse 29 tells us that some of these men were a bit like janitors. They made sure the things needed for the Lord’s service were in good working condition and that the temple had all the supplies it needed for the ministry.
  • Verse 30-32 tells us that some of them were like cooks. They “took care of mixing the spices” in verse 30 while others baked the bread that was used in the temple according to verses 31-32.
  • Verse 33 tells us that there were musicians. They got free apartments in the temple and were not required to do other things besides play and sing with great skills.

So here we have, recorded in the pages of holy writ, the names of men who serve the Lord in more “basic” ways than we usually think about. They didn’t write like Isaiah, preach like Elijah, or inquire of the Lord like Abiathar. But their work was important because it made the temple a safe place to come and worship as well as one that had everything the worshippers needed at all times.

In our church we have people who count the money that is collected in the offerings on Sunday. They work in teams and make sure that every penny is counted and accounted for with absolute integrity. We have others who account for the finances of the church and prepare financial statements. Some of you come in and clean the church on Saturday night. Some prepare the elements for communion on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. Some clean the baptistry and changing rooms before we baptize. Some get up early to buy donuts and make coffee. Some come in the evening or on Saturday to repair chairs, replace burned out bulbs or broken light fixtures. All of this stuff needs to be done and you do it faithfully; so faithfully, in fact, that nobody thinks about it because it is always just ready.

At times these tasks may seem tedious. They might get old and you may wish you could spend that time doing something more fun. In those moments, remember 1 Chronicles 9. God knows the names of everyone who serves him. He sees your work that is done for his glory. He will reward you for loving him and his body in these often overlooked ways.

If you’re not serving the Lord in any capacity, why not? There is something that everyone can do. God sees and rewards even the most basic acts of service that are done in his name.

1 Kings 14, Ezekiel 44

Read 1 Kings 14 and Ezekiel 44.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel should be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides.

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

  • First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.”
  • Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.”

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests.

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced.

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this.

But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

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.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 2

Read 1 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 2.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time–the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was declining and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied before and after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians but Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell. Ezekiel began to prophesy in Babylon (1:1) while he lived with the other exiles. Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile.

Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). People may reject his word, but God will not withhold it from them.

Why did God send prophets to people who would not listen and repent? The answer is that it removes their excuse and renders them guilty before God (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it. Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can transform a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit. What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes. Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger. The only time we have failed to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

Judges 8, Jeremiah 21

Today we’re reading Judges 8 and Jeremiah 21.

This devotional is about Judges 8.

Gideon was a very reluctant leader from the beginning of God’s call on his life. Although he stepped up to the demands of leadership in verses 1-21 of today’s chapter, he didn’t fundamentally change. After he did what God commanded him to do, he retired as Israel’s judge and committed Israel’s further leadership to the Lord (v. 23).

But, before leaving the scene, he accepted a large amount of gold from the jewelry taken from the dead Midianites Israel had defeated (vv. 24-26). Verse 27 told us that “Gideon made the gold into an ephod” which is a garment worn by the priests when serving the Lord or asking for Him to reveal his will. Our passage doesn’t tell us why Gideon did that, but it is very possible that Israel’s priesthood was not functioning well. In Judges 17 we’ll read about a man who hired a Levite to be his priest and in Judges 20 we’ll read about God’s people going to the ark to inquire of the Lord. That’s really about all we find of the formal aspects of worship in Judges. So Gideon may have made this ephod to assist his own personal worship of God.

Whatever his reason for making it, the ephod became an object of disobedient worship for Gideon, his family, and Israel. Verse 27c says, “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Instead of being something that honored the Lord, it became a means by which people broke the first two commandments.

This is why God commanded his people not to make graven images in the Second Commandment. Graven images can become “other gods” by which some people break the first commandment. Anytime we give more reverence to an object of worship than we give to God, we are in the territory of idolatry. It might be a cross on a pendant or hung on the wall, a painting or stained glass window of Jesus, water from the Jordan river, the elements of communion, the old Bible of a family member or loved one, or the writings of some Christian author that we study more carefully than we do God’s word itself.

Is there anything that started out as a reminder of God that has taken on too much reverence for you? Is there anyone who has become more authoritative in your life than God’s word? Are you more likely to ask for the advice of a trusted Christian pastor/teacher/friend than to ask God directly for wisdom? Don’t let tools for serving the Lord become more important than the Lord himself.

Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, Psalm 133

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

This devotional is about Psalm 133.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers 16, Isaiah 6, Psalm 122

Today’s Bible readings are Numbers 16, Isaiah 6, Psalm 122.

This devotional is about Numbers 16.

Back in Numbers 12, Moses faced opposition from his own brother and sister. They challenged his authority to lead because the Lord had spoken through them just as he had spoken through Moses (12:1-2).

Here in Numbers 16, Moses and Aaron were opposed by some of the Levites led by Korah (vv. 1, 3). Their objection was that, “The whole community is holy” (v. 3c). They went on to charge Moses and Aaron with elevating themselves above the people (v. 3f). So their argument was, “We’re all God’s chosen people and we’ve all been redeemed from Egypt by God’s power and have been promised a new land. Who are you, Moses and Aaron, that you’ve assumed authority over us?

Just as he did in Numbers 12, Moses did not defend himself; instead, he called on God to defend him by accepting an incense sacrifice either from Korah and his guys or from Aaron (vv. 16-18). God was willing to punish the entire nation for this rebellion (v. 21, and later, v. 45) but Moses and Aaron interceded with the Lord on behalf of the people (vv. 22, ). God’s punishment did fall on Korah and his rebellious followers (vv. 31-35) and on some of the people through a plague (v. 49) but he was merciful to the nation as a whole in answer to the prayers of Moses and Aaron.

This story brings up a few important points to consider:

  1. The Bible teaches that every believer is a priest (1 Pet 2:5) just as Korah suggested in verse 3. But the Bible also teaches that God has given leaders for the good and growth of his people (Eph 4:11-13). Leaders must lead in truth and humility but, if they are doing that, then God’s people must follow them.
  2. Moses had the right attitude toward opposition which was to let God deal with it. He was confident that God would vindicate him and God responded accordingly to his faith.
  3. Godly leaders will intercede for God’s people even when God’s people are difficult and disbedient to their leaders. Given all the problems they had faced, you would think that starting over would be an appealing idea to Moses, Aaron, and their families. But it was not because they loved God’s people and wanted them to obey and prosper by the Lord’s grace.

How is your level of humility when it comes to spiritual leaders? Are you someone who thinks leadership belongs to you or do you see leadership as an opportunity to glorify God and to reflect the glory of God to others? Moses had the humility to lead well. As a follower, do you have the humility to listen well to your leaders and follow them? If you are a leader, will you love and pray for the people you lead even if they are out to get you?