Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, Proverbs 1:20-33

Today read Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, and Proverbs 1:20-33. This devotional is about Genesis 13.

Abram and Lot must have had some kind of close personal relationship. Genesis 11:31 told us that Lot was Abram’s nephew. The fact that Lot went with Abram (12:4) when Abram left Ur suggests a close, personal friendship between Abram and Lot, one where Abram was most likely a mentor that Lot looked up to.

God had promised, in Genesis 12:3, that he would bless anyone who blessed Abram. Lot’s personal association with Abram sure seems to have brought God’s blessing to Lot’s family. As we read today in Genesis 13:6, Lot and Abram became so wealthy that “they were not able to stay together.” So, they separated themselves geographically and Abram graciously gave Lot the power to choose which land each of them would inhabit (vv. 8-9).

Verse 10 told us that Lot made his decision based on what would benefit him most economically. As a rancher, a “well watered” plain “like the garden of the Lord” would provide the best environment for Lot’s flocks and herds to thrive, contributing to Lot’s bottom line. So Abram and Lot parted for economic reasons and Lot chose his next home for economic reasons.

Verse 12 told us that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” The next verse told us that Sodom was inhabited by wicked men. When I was growing up, messages I heard on this text suggested (maybe even stated directly) that Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom” because he was curious about the wicked lifestyle of the people who lived there. I don’t think that is correct, based on 2 Peter 2:7-8. I think Lot lived near the cities, especially Sodom, because it gave him a great market for his livestock. So, again, he chose what was best for himself and his family’s prosperity despite the spiritual threats Sodom would pose to his family.

I believe the prosperity gospel is wrong, a heretical distortion of the gospel.

But I don’t believe that prosperity is wrong; in fact, I believe that we should prosper—unless God chooses not to allow us to prosper–because our faith causes us to work hard and act prudently with money. So, I’m pro-economic growth for all of us within the sovereign and the moral will of God.

But, if prosperity drives all of our decisions, we will make bad moral choices (see 1 Timothy 6:10. This happened to Lot, as we’ll see.

How about you and me?

  • Do we choose to take a job with a better salary without considering how it might affect our families?
  • What about the choices we make when it comes to spending money? Are your kids enrolled where they are in high school or college because you can save money that way? Did the spiritual and moral costs of that decision factor into your choice

Money is important; we all need it to live and I pray for the prosperity of our church members within the will of God. But don’t let money drive you to make disastrous moral decisions.

Lot would have been so much better off if he had offered to reduce his flocks and herds so that he could stay with Abram. He probably wouldn’t have been better off economically–at least not at first–but he would have retained the moral example and instructions from Abram which would have benefited him in every area of his life. Be wise; don’t allow every big decision you make to be decided only to the money needed.

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.

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.

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?

2 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 26

Read 2 Samuel 19 and Ezekiel 26.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 26.

Tyre was an amazing place. Located on the coast, the people who lived there excelled in sailing the Mediterranean Sea (v. 17d). As a result, the inhabitants were both productive fishermen and explorers of other areas that boarded the sea. Their explorations of these areas allowed them to trade with the people who lived in these other places, so Tyre became a strategic port for shipping goods by water to and from the Middle East. The location of the city, then, set it up naturally for prosperity.

The city prospered even more due to an economic alliance the king of Tyre formed with David (2 Sam 5:11) and Solomon (1 Ki 5:1). Tyre benefited from the wealth God gave to David and Solomon because they were able to supply materials and services that the growing kingdom of Israel needed. Without necessarily realizing it, the people of Tyre were experiencing one of the promised results of God’s covenant with Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen 12:3).

As Israel and Judah gave themselves to idolatry, they declined in power just as God said they would. According to this chapter of scripture, Ezekiel 26, the people of Tyre looked at the defeat and destruction of Jerusalem as an opportunity to prosper even more. Verse 2 says, “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper….” They did not mourn the defeat of God’s people or recognize how the prosperity of Judah produced prosperity for them, too. Nor did they realize that Nebuchadnezzar’s growing power would be a threat to their way of life as well. Because of these thing, God prophesied through Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar (v. 7) and “many nations” would attack Tyre and destroy it.

Although the location of Tyre remained desirable, it never regained its former power and prosperity because its people tried to exploit Jerusalem when it was defeated. God does not look favorably on those who abuse his people or on anyone who tries to take advantage of the vulnerability of others. There may be short term gain to preying on the weakness of others but God sees and he promises justice. As Christians, we are called to help those who are weak, to have compassion on those who are vulnerable and to defend and assist them as we have opportunity.

Do you notice and seek to assist others who are in need? Is there someone within reach of you who could use your assistance today?

2 Samuel 8-9, Ezekiel 16

Read 2 Samuel 8-9 and Ezekiel 16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 8-9.

It was a long, winding road for David from being anointed as king back in 1 Samuel 16 to becoming king of all Israel in 2 Samuel 5. After many days of adversity and danger, David was enjoying some success, finally, in the past few chapters of 2 Samuel. Chapter 8 of our reading today is especially positive. It describes military success (vv. 1-6), increasing wealth (vv. 7-12), and growing fame (v. 13). Verse 14 ends with this apt summary: “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.”

When someone is highly successful, that person may be tempted to become proud or merely complacent. The possibility of kicking back and enjoying the fruit of success can be high.

David, in chapter 9, went the other direction. When he finally obtained success he stared looking for ways to be an unselfish, kind servant. Verse 3 told us, “The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’” The answer was Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, “the lame lad of Lo Debar” (v. 4). David moved him to Jerusalem and Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table as if he were a relative (v. 13). David also provided him with servants who tended to his land (vv. 9-10). This was an incredibly gracious act by king David and it made a significant difference in the life of a man with physical limitations.

Are you in a season of life marked by success and stability? If so, have you looked for a way to serve?

1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 8

Read 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 8.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 29-30.

After over a year of stability and prosperity living in the Philistine town of Ziklag, problems came to David and his army. Despite his confidence in David (29:3, 6-7), Achish king of the Philistines refused to let David and his army fight against Israel. This was a wise decision for him; his commanders were certainly correct that David would fight the Philistines from behind (29:4-5). If he refused to harm Saul, God’s anointed king, there is no way he would have fought against his king or the army of his own people.

However, while he and his men were away trying to join the battle, their temporary home city of Ziklag was being attacked and destroyed by the Amalekites (30:1-2). Then some of his own men turned on him; verse 6 says, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.” Their thought process seems to have been, “I know we’ve won many victories together, David, but what have you done for me lately? It’s your fault, somehow, that we lost everything.

This was a situation that would put anyone in stress. Most of us would lash out in self-protective attacks but not David. Instead, according to 30:6c: “But David found strength in the Lord his God.”

We live in an era that talks a lot about self-care. Have a hobby. Get a massage. Go for a hike. Play golf. Veg out in front of the TV. Find a way to deal with your stress by doing something that you enjoy. It isn’t bad advice, exactly, but it isn’t the best advice for us as believers in God. The best way for us to deal with discouragement and defeat is to turn to the Lord. How did David do this, exactly?

Given all the Psalms that he wrote, I have to think that prayer was at the top of that list. David’s psalms are prayers to God set to music. Maybe he grabbed his harp and poured out his heart to the Lord musically but he probably sank to his knees first and asked God for strength and help.

Music may have come next. After praying to the Lord, David may have pulled out one of his favorite songs. He might have played and sang until he felt better.

Finally, verse 7 tells us that he sought God’s truth. The high priest was living in exile with him so he consulted the Urim and Thummim from the priest’s ephod and waited for God to speak.

This is a great pattern for us to follow when we are down, discouraged, disappointed, distraught, or defeated. (1) Pray (2) Listen to and sing along with Christian music (3) Read God’s word and look for direction.

Maybe you came to this devotional feeling down. You’ve got #3 covered; Do #1 and #2 next.

1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 6

Read 1 Samuel 27 and Ezekiel 6.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 27.

It must have been discouraging and exhausting to live like a nomad in the desert constantly on the run from Saul. The logistics of living like that are hard to imagine. Verse 2 told us that David had 600 men with him and verse 3 records, “Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives….” So the number of people involved in David’s nomadic group was at least 1,200 and probably many more assuming that these families had children. It was a big job, I’m sure, finding food and water for these people day after day plus a suitable place to camp when they needed to move to maintain their security.

On top of the difficulty of living this way, Saul’s hunt for David left Israel at risk from her enemies. Back in 1 Samuel 23, the Philistines attacked Israel while Saul was out chasing David (23:27-28). Maybe their timing was fortunate or maybe they knew that Saul was preoccupied with David; either way, Israel was not ready to defend itself while the king and his army was out trying to kill the next man who would be king.

In light of all of this, David decided, according to verse 1 here in chapter 27, to try living with the Philistines again. Remember that he had come to Achish king of the Philistines back in 1 Samuel 21:10 but that time he was alone (21:1) and vulnerable. This time, here in 1 Samuel 27, he was traveling with a large group of fighting men and their families; furthermore, it was now known that Saul regarded him as an enemy (v. 12). Maybe you’ve heard the secular, military proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Achish felt it applied in this situation. So David and his men were given asylum first in the capital city of Gath (v. 4) and then a more private and comfortable distance from Achish in Ziklag (vv. 5-6). This move allowed these families to settle down and lead a more peaceful life because Saul did not go looking for David in Philistine territory (v. 4).

What did David and his men do during this year and four months living in Ziklag (vv. 6-7)? One thing they did was make Ziklag part of Israel (v. 6b). This town was located in the territory God had assigned to Judah but God’s people had not obeyed the Lord and taken control of it yet. Now, through David’s actions, they owned this place God had promised to them.

In addition to Ziklag, David and his army invaded other nations south of the promised land that God had told Israel to conquer, namely “the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites” (v. 8). Again, God had commanded Israel to attack and extinguish these people because of their sins against him. Although David was evasive with his reports to Achish about where he was fighting (v. 10), he and his men were doing what Israel’s army was supposed to be doing.

So David and his men were at risk from their true king Saul and, for their own safety and well-being, were temporarily subject to a king who did not know God. They were subordinate to ungodly, disobedient leaders yet they had the ability to do the will of God anyway by attacking Israel’s enemies.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you were accountable to an ungodly or maybe just an unwise leader and there was little you could do about it? Maybe you’re in that position now–you’re married to an unbelieving husband, have unbelieving parents, are trying to graduate from a school taught and run by unbelievers, or work a job under a foolish boss. What do you do? The answer is you do the will of God as much as possible. God’s commands provided the moral compass David and his men needed during this strange period in their lives. Let God’s word point you in the direction where you should go, too. Do what is moral and right and just in God’s sight with whatever freedom you have. Let the wisdom sayings of Proverbs help you do what will bring prosperity within the will of God. Put your hope in God and look for deliverance from that situation, but while you wait for the deliverance, do what you can to advance God’s interests and will.

1 Samuel 11, Jeremiah 48

Read 1 Samuel 11 and Jeremiah 48.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 48.

In this chapter, Jeremiah prophesied judgment for the people of Moab. Moab was established and had lived a peaceful existence for many years (v. 11) but now God prophesied military defeat and exile for her (v. 12). The same Babylonians that took Judah would take Moab as well. This would be a military defeat (vv. 8, 15) but God would be the one causing this destruction. Verse 10 goes so far as to say that the invading, killing soldiers would be “doing the Lord’s work!” So the military loss would actually be an act of God’s judgment (v. 15).

One what basis would God judge Moab? Three verses in this chapter spell it out.

  • Verse 7 says, “Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive….”
  • Verse 42 says, “Moab will be destroyed as a nation because she defied the Lord.”
    And in what way specifically did Moab defy the Lord? The third verse answers:
  • Verse 35: “‘In Moab I will put an end to those who make offerings on the high places and burn incense to their gods,’ declares the Lord.”

Idolatry was the reason for Moab’s judgment. At the heart of idolatry is self-trust. Again, verse 7 says, “Since you trust in your deeds and riches….” Worshipping other gods is not a sincere attempt to find truth, to meet the real God; it is trust in self instead. Instead of believing God’s word, idolator thinks, “This religion has a better idea” or “I believe this god is true because he is more to my liking.”

As Christians, we are tempted still to trust ourselves instead of submitting to the word of God. We trust our “deeds and riches” (v. 7) when we don’t like what God commands or when we think we see a better way than what the Bible teaches.

Are there any areas of your life where you are trusting yourself instead of trusting God and obeying his commands?

Judges 19, Jeremiah 33

Read Judges 19 and Jeremiah 33.

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.”

It 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.

Judges 16, Jeremiah 29

Today, read Judges 16 and Jeremiah 29.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 29.

After decades of idolatry, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar (v. 1). Jeremiah and other prophets had predicted this defeat as God’s punishment, but his people did not repent. Many Israelites were killed and many were carried off to Babylon to live as exiles in a foreign land. God’s promised land still contained some of God’s chosen people, but they existed in the land as vassals to Babylon.

Here in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the people who survived and were carried off to Babylon (v. 1). The gist of his letter was, “Thrive in Babylon as much as you can and in as many ways as possible (vv. 4-6) because you’re going to be there for 70 years (v. 10) and then I’ll bring you home.” They were to make Babylon home even to the point of praying for it, its peace and prosperity (v. 7) which is surprising, given the godlessness of the Babylonians.

The point of these instructions was to teach God’s people that this exile would not be over quickly. Imagine if you were a 30 years old or older and read that this exile would last for 70 years. Your life would end in Babylon and your children would probably not live to see Israel again, either. The only hope offered to these Jewish people is that in the future God would redeem and restore them (vv. 10-11) in conjunction with their spiritual renewal (vv. 12-13). This is hopeful in the sense that the people would understand that God had not abandoned his promises to Israel.

This passage can be applied to us in a couple of different ways, at least, but the one I want to highlight in this devotional is one I learned from Dr. John Piper. I would link to the source, but I think it was in some old sermon tape that someone gave me two decades ago.

Anyway, Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ….” We are citizens of heaven but we live here on earth until Jesus returns. In a sense, then, we are like exiles living in a place that is not our home. How should exiles live? Jeremiah 29 tells us. It says that we should “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

This world will never be our promised land but, until Jesus returns, this world is where we are planted. We should not love this world or its system but we should live a God-glorifying existence here by living a productive life. Your work matters to God, your family life matters to him, and so does the place where you live. So put effort into these things not because they are worth living for but because God is glorified when we live for eternity while also making the most of our lives here within his will and for his glory.

Judges 12, Jeremiah 25

Today, read Judges 12 and Jeremiah 25.

This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15). I just called these men “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family–thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses indicate a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So this shows us that the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil.

Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan, Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. That would have been good for trade and commerce, too. Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful. Dull political situations mean stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper-serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers are people who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring. These are the kinds of conditions we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our world has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, and go to war against nations that have not attacked us. And, people who vote for that party love it. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views. I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Personally, I’d like to see Washington become a lot less relevant to everything and a lot more boring. I’d prefer any of these guys–Ibzan, Elon, or Abdon to any president in our lifetime, including the current resident of the Oval Office.

I think God would, too.

Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).