1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 26 and Ezekiel 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11).

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this situation must be God providing David with this opportunity. That’s why Abishai said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here.

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 3

Read 1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 24.

Before David was anointed to be king of Israel (1 Sam 16), Saul was told that his sin would keep the kingdom from passing through his family. 1 Samuel 15:28 says, “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors–to one better than you.’” So it was Saul’s disobedience that opened the door for David to be king; it was not true that David was an ambitious soldier who decided to dethrone Saul.

But once God chose David to be king, Saul’s ability to lead as king began to unravel. Instead of leading as well as he could for the rest of his life, he was out there in the Desert of En Gedi looking for David (vv. 1-2).

After looking for David for a time, Saul started looking for somewhere to use the bathroom (v. 3: “to relieve himself”). He found a cave that would work well but–wouldn’t your know it–it was the very cave where David and his men were hiding (v. 3). What are the odds?

Zero; that’s what the odds were. This was a divine appointment, a work of God’s providence. David’s men thought so, too: “The men said, ‘This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.”’” God is sovereign and works his will using non-miraculous situations that we call “providence.” This sure looked like a prime opportunity that God in his providence delivered up for David. While Saul was squatting, David could have crept up behind him and cut his throat. Saul would never know what happened to him. He would die and David would get what God promised him.

This whole chapter looks like God set things up for David to take the kingdom. In addition to all of this, Saul was actively hunting David. If the situations were reversed, Saul would have immediately killed David, no questions asked. Since that is true, if he were to kill Saul in this incident, a valid argument could be made that David’s actions were done in self-defense. And, honestly, I don’t think it would have been a sin for David to kill Saul at this moment given everything we know about these two men.

So why did David spare Saul’s life? Why did his conscience bother him for merely cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe? The answer is given in verse 6, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” Unless and until God removed Saul from the throne of Israel, David did not want to be king.

Saul knew that it was God’s will for David to be the next king of Israel (v.20). After all, he was there when Samuel told him that his kingdom would not endure in 1 Sam 15:28. He also heard Samuel say that the kingdom would go to someone, “…better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). This incident proves that David is morally and spiritually a better man that Saul (v. 17a) because David, in this passage, loved his enemy. As he told David in verse 19, “When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.” Long before Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, David did it.

Do you love your enemies? Are you merciful to others who sin against you or are you vindictive toward them? We know how the story concluded: Saul died in battle and David did, in fact, become king. His patience to wait for what God had promised to come to him paid off. If we trust God, we can do the same knowing that He will provide for us in His timing and according to his ways.

1 Samuel 16, Lamentations 1

Today, read 1 Samuel 16 and Lamentations 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 16.

The writer of First Samuel has given us very few time references to help us mark the events recorded in this book. Since the author focused on the significant events without telling us how much time passed between them, it seems like Saul’s kingdom rose rapidly and collapsed overnight. But the truth is that Saul reigned over Israel for a long time—forty-two years, according 1 Samuel 13:1. There may have been a long time between Samuel’s official announcement to Saul that he had been rejected as king in 1 Samuel 15 and David’s anointing as king in 1 Samuel 16. The Lord’s word to Samuel in 16:1, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?”, suggests that a good amount of time may have passed. Despite that, a long time will transpire between when David was anointed king here in 1 Samuel 16 and when he became king in 2 Samuel 2. During this time, God would prepare David for the role He had chosen David to fill.

God commanded Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons in verse 1 to replace Saul as king. Since Samuel feared for his life while obeying this command (v. 2a), God told him how to use the worship ritual of sacrifice to provide cover for this assignment (vv. 2b-5). Although offering a sacrifice gave Samuel an overt occasion to accomplish his covert mission of choosing Israel’s king, the sacrifice itself was more than just a cover story. As the leader of God’s people, it was appropriate for David’s ministry as king to begin with a sacrifice followed by his anointing because his kingship would be a spiritual thing—an act of obedient worship, of direct service to the Lord his God.

God emphasized the importance of choosing a godly man as king by the way he revealed to Samuel which son of Jesse to anoint. Traditionally, the eldest son would have been the natural choice and Jesse’s son Eliab looked like a winner to Samuel (v. 6). But God taught Samuel, and us, an important lesson about spiritual leadership in verse 7 of our chapter for today: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We humans are wired to be impressed by someone’s physical appearance. We admire those who are tall, “looking up” to them metaphorically as well as literally. Studies show that a good looking job candidate is more likely to be hired than an average (or worse) looking person, even if the good-looking one is less qualified. We are easily impressed by appearances. God, however, is not. Although David was plenty good-looking and athletic (vv. 12, 18), it was his walk with God that qualified him to be a leader for God’s people, not his physical attributes.

This passage should cause us to stop and reflect on our own decision-making. How much of a factor was the character and spiritual life of your spouse when you chose to start dating him or her? How much was it a factor when you chose to get married? Do you choose to read books (or receive other kinds of spiritual input) from pastors and teachers who are popular, lead large ministries, and have impressive sales numbers or are you looking for strong, biblical content delivered by a godly man?

What about choosing a church—are you looking for godly leadership and biblical teaching or are you impressed too much by appearances? When your kids start to get interested in the opposite sex, are you concerned that they climb the social ladder by dating the best looking, or most popular, or best athlete? As long as that person claims to be a Christian, is that good enough for you or are you looking for evidence of a growing Christian life?

David had a lot to learn before he could lead God’s people as king, so in God’s providence he was brought into close contact with Saul in verses 13-23. But the most important qualification in David’s life was that he walked with God. Since he walked with God, God would lead him through the circumstances and events (many of them painful) that would prepare him to be the leader of God’s people. If you aspire to be a leader or to become somebody’s husband or wife, or to see your children grow up and become good, godly adults, the most important thing to do is walk with God yourself.

The second most important thing to do is to learn to look beneath appearances for genuine evidence of a growing walk with God in the other person. We can’t see the heart like God does, but we can ask him to lead us and to show us the truth about others. If our desire is to please God, we can trust that he will lead us just as he lead in David’s life.

1 Samuel 13, Jeremiah 50

Read 1 Samuel 13 and Jeremiah 50.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 50.

This chapter continues Jeremiah’s prophecies against the Gentile nations around the Promised Land. This time Judah’s oppressors, the Babylonians. God had used them to bring the covenant curse on Judah for their idolatry and unfaithfulness. But they didn’t invade and capture Jerusalem because they wanted to do the Lord’s will; they did it for their own sinful, selfish reasons. God used them, yes, but providentially. That is, he allowed them to follow the course of their evil hearts. He did not protect Judah from their attacks because Judah had been unfaithful to him. Consequently, the attacks of the Babylonians became God’s method for bringing curses on his people.

Even though God used the aggression of the Babylonians for his purpose, they were still guilty of wickedness. They still attacked a city, killed people, and stole their stuff. This chapter, then, prophesies judgment for them as a result of their sins. And, because God still loved his people, he decreed in this chapter that he would use other nations to avenge the crimes of the Babylonians against his people. Verse 34 says, “Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon.” Because God is just, he promised to punish the Babylonians for their atrocities. Because God loves his chosen ones, he would be “their Redeemer” who would “vigorously defend their cause” (v. 34a, c).

God still has plans for Israel but in this age he is calling people from every nation to be his holy people. When the world persecutes us, when it speaks evil of us because of our goodness and walk with God, we need a redeemer to defend our cause and punish those who afflict us. This is what Christ will do when he returns to earth. He redeemed us from the penalty of our sins when he died on the cross for us. He will redeem believers from the oppression of Satan and his followers by rapturing those in Christ and by avenging those who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation.

We emphasize God’s mercy, love, and grace. We should do that; those are aspects of God’s personality and character. But we should also praise and thank God for his justice and, yes, even his wrath for those aspects of his personality and character guarantee that justice will be done and that those who oppress his people will be punished for doing so.

Have you ever thanked God for his wrath?

1 Samuel 9, Jeremiah 46

Read 1 Samuel 9 and Jeremiah 46.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 9.

The beginning of this chapter told us that Saul came from a good family. Verse 1 told us that his father Kish was “a man of standing.” Saul’s personal appearance was striking, too; verse 2 said he was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”

Still, Kish was a farmer like most of the other people in Israel. Farming is labor-intensive, especially for farmers who lived before tractors were invented. So, like everyone else, Saul worked in the family business from a young age. His family was prosperous and he was tall, dark, and handsome (as they say) but he was by no means a trust fund baby.

After the general introduction to Saul in verses 1-2, we are given a glimpse into his daily life. Some of his families donkeys were lost and Saul and one of their slaves was sent out to look for them. This was a hassle and a drag on productivity, but searching for missing animals was not out of the ordinary. Saul and his helper looked for the donkeys but could not find them (v. 4) so Saul was ready to give up (v. 5). The servant who was sent with him decided to try divine intervention, and urged Saul to go with him to see Samuel. Perhaps God would give them some insight through Samuel that would help them find the missing donkeys (v. 6).

So far there is nothing spectacular about this story. They lost some animals and couldn’t find them so they asked for God’s help through one of his prophets. Could have happened to anyone on any day.

Yet God was working. The lost donkeys were God’s method for introducing Saul to Samuel and for showing Samuel the man he should anoint to be Israel’s first king (vv. 15-17). God has two ways of working in the world: (1) miracles and (2) providence.

  • A miracle is when the normal laws of nature are superseded by God’s divine act. We see that happening in this passage when God spoke audibly to Samuel (vv. 15-17).
  • Providence is when God works his will through the non-miraculous events and choices of everyday life. The lost donkeys were an act of providence; so was the idea that Saul’s servant had to consult with Samuel (v. 6).

God is capable of miracles, of course, but he uses that method rarely. God’s providence is the normal, everyday means by which he accomplishes his will in this world. What felt like an annoying fact of life to Saul–the stray donkeys—was actually an act of God to lead him somewhere good.

If you look back at your life, where you are today is the sum total of the choices you’ve made and some “random” things that just happened to you but that took you in a different direction, even if it was only a slightly different direction at the outset. Where you are today, then, is not an accident or a random event. It is the providential work of a loving, gracious God.

Not every nuisance in life, like losing your donkeys, leads to some amazing place in the providence of God. Once, my car key broke off in the ignition of my car. It was annoying, but a pair of pliers and a spare car key kept it from being anything more than annoying. As far as I can tell, that problem did not change the trajectory of my life at all. It is just one of the things that we deal with in a fallen world.

But there are times when ordinary problems or seemingly random things take us to a new place in the will of God. We don’t know when it is happening, but we can see it in reverse. My point here is not to say, “Don’t complain about the nuisances in your life because maybe God’s gonna make you king through them!” Rather, my point is to say, do you see the loving hand of God working in your life to lead you to places where you wouldn’t have chosen to go? If so, can you keep that in mind when things don’t go as expected in the future? And, can you trust that God will work in your life through providence today and tomorrow just as he has in the past?

Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 45

Read Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

The early part of this chapter prophesied that Cyrus, king of Persia, would return God’s people to their Promised Land (vv. 1-13). This would happen despite Cyrus’s unbelief in God (v. 4e); he would serve as God’s chosen agent anyway (v. 13). This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1 around 539 B.C.

The rest of this chapter, starting around verse 14, looks further into the future. It envisions a day when nations all over the world will come to Israel seeking the true God (vv. 14-17). Although the nations say that God “has been hiding himself” (v. 15a) in Israel, God himself says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness” (v. 19). Instead, he has been revealing himself to humanity from the beginning of time as the one and only God, the only true person deserving of worship (v. 20). The Lord welcomes worshippers from every nation on earth. “Turn to me and be saved,” he said, “all you ends of the earth” (v. 22). Just as he created the earth to be inhabited (v. 18) he wants his kingdom to be inhabited with people from all over the world–and it will be, someday.

But when is this great day when people from different languages, cultures, and locations come streaming to Israel seeking God? Verse 23d-c says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear….” Paul alluded this verse in Philippians 2:10-11 when he wrote, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So this prophecy awaits us in the future still when Christ reigns on earth in his kingdom. Until then, we have been given the opportunity and responsibility of going to every nation to tell them that Jesus saves. As we deliver the gospel–ourselves and through missionaries around the world–God is appointing people to eternal life and marking them as his for that day when we will reign with him in his kingdom.

Do you see how important the task of world evangelism is? It is important because every person who comes to Christ has been saved for eternity from God’s wrath. But it is also important in the fulfillment of God’s word which prophesied that God would save people from all over the world, that they would come seeking to know him and become worshippers of his for eternity. This is why we send missionaries. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we witness personally to others about Jesus. When the world comes to bow before Christ and confess that he Lord, all will be right in creation again, finally. And all of this is, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:11, “to the glory of God the Father.”

Genesis 45, Job 11, Psalm 43

Today, read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Psalm 43.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still at home with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him. First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery.

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. Joseph here had the very power that God had prophesied he would have. How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

Most people would be tempted to extract some rough justice for how his brothers treated him. Many people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would use that power to punish severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised his ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation and that he would bless them. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “…it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” This realization, plus the realization that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as he had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life–your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you. But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.

Genesis 41, Job 7, and Psalm 39

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 41, Job 7, and Psalm 39.

This devotional is about Genesis 41.

To me, the amazing thing about Joseph’s story is not how quickly he rose after having so many down years and experiences. Throughout the painful parts of his story we were told that God was with him and was blessing him, so it isn’t surprising that things turned around for him quickly.

What’s amazing is how grateful and God-honoring Joseph was during his vindication, which we read about today here in Genesis 41. When he appeared before Pharaoh to hear his dream, he gave glory to God for the ability to interpret his dream: “‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’” (v. 16). Later, when he named his sons, Joseph chose the name Manasseh and explained, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (v. 51b). When he named his son Ephraim, saying, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (v. 52b). These statements ring with gratitude to God; they completely lack any sense of indignation about what had happened. I don’t know what the Hebrew would be, but I’d be tempted to name my kids, “It’s about time something good happened to me for a change” and “Take that everyone who tried to hurt me!”

What made Joseph so grateful and so quick to honor and thank God? It was his faith in God. His faith in God is what carried him through all the problems he had faced in his life. So how could he be angry with God when it was his confidence in God that sustained him in the darkest days? Although it was his life, and the pain was real, it was ultimately God who was vindicated here in Genesis 41. The confusing, unhappy moments in Joseph’s life were necessary to get him to this place where God would use him.

Maybe this is a message you need today, that the confusing, unhappy experiences you’re going through right now are preparing you for what God has next for you. In that case, don’t give up on God or become bitter toward him. Things might get worse before they get better, but it is all part of making you into who God wants you to be so that he can use you and bless you according to his will.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Psalm 14

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, and Psalm 14. This devotional is about Nehemiah 4.

Nehemiah lived and led Jerusalem as a civic leader at the same time that Ezra was leading the people spiritually. As we read the book of Ezra, we saw how the temple was rebuilt, worship was reinstated, and God’s word was instructed and applied by Ezra the priest.

There were more problems in Jerusalem than the ones Ezra was called to address. The city was virtually defenseless because the wall that had surrounded it was demolished and gates were burned beyond usefulness. God had placed Nehemiah in a position of influence over king of Persia and then God burdened Nehemiah’s heart with a desire to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That’s a summary of what we’ve been reading the past few days in Nehemiah 1-3.

Here in chapter 4, some of Israel’s enemies engaged in psychological warfare, scorning the people of Jerusalem in hopes of discouraging them so that they would quit (vv. 1-3). In response to their taunts, Nehemiah prayed (vv. 4-5) and asked God to treat them justly for how they had abused his people.

Progress was made on the walls (v. 6), so things got worse–not better–in spite of Nehemiah’s prayers. The enemies of God conspired together to attack Jerusalem physically (vv. 7-8). What did Nehemiah do this time? Verse 9 says, “we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

There are times in life when trusting human solutions presents a bad testimony. Ezra felt this in Ezra 8:22-23: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

But most of the time in scripture, the human leaders God appointed see no tension between trusting God and asking him for protection and taking human measures to defend themselves. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard. Later, Nehemiah took some men off the project and had them stand guard (v. 16) and he even armed the men who were working in case of an attack.

You and I can learn from this in our own walk with God. Don’t put all your confidence in human measures. God is not honored when we ignore him and are too proud to ask for his help and favor. But asking for God’s help is usually not the opposite of using human means. God created us to make tools–including weapons–so that we can defend ourselves. He works, through divine providence, within human means. In fact, most of the time God’s work is done through providence, not through miraculous works. So there is nothing wrong with praying about your health concern AND seeing a doctor for treatment. There is nothing unspiritual about trusting God for your daily needs AND saving money and preparing for retirement. Be wise in the way that you live your life even while you ask God to help you and protect you daily. That’s a godly way to live and lead, just as Nehemiah did.

Jonah 2

Jonah 2

Is God a mean tyrant who uses the problems of this life to torture us for his own amusement? Or, is something else going on when we suffer problems in life? This message explores that question.

This is a message from chapter 2 of the Old Testament book of Jonah by Pastor Brian Jones.

This message was delivered on Sunday, September 27, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.

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Ruth 2

Ruth 2: U-Turns

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

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