Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Read Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly, but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight had taken an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children of Benjamin, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce. Consequently, the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That worked, somewhat, but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites. So they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership. When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other, overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created.

A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they showed much better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader, because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us, but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to function.

Numbers 15, Isaiah 5, Psalm 121

Today’s Bible readings are Numbers 15, Isaiah 5, and Psalm 121.

This devotional is about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

In this chapter, Isaiah continued his prophecies against Judah. This chapter is more about why God will punish them for doing wrong than what will happen in the future. One of the many reasons for punishment in this chapter is that God’s people intentionally re-defined morality. They said that good was evil and evil is good. Instead of measuring what is moral by the character of God–the only true righteous standard there is–the people of Judah substituted their own opinions for the genuine will of God. The “woe” pronounced in verse 20 was a statement that God would judge them so they should feel a great sense of angst.

Calling good evil and evil good was not something that only Judah did. In fact, throughout human history people have been trying to substitute our own opinions for the word of God. The same is true today. All kinds of things that God’s word condemns as evil are called “good” by our society.

God pronounced a woe on these people because they had forsaken truth. That’s what the next two phrases in verse 20 say: “…who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” Since God is truth he is the only true standard for what is true of false, right or wrong.

Likewise, when you reject God and his revelation, you are left with only your preferences and thought patterns. Since each of us is a sinner, we have a strong tendency to try to rationalize our sins, leaving us with no light but only darkness. God provides us with the light of his truth. If we reject that, the best we can do is to try to redefine truth based on our own preferences. This thrusts us into the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. But, if we humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for his truth, he gives us the light of his wisdom to guide us daily.

Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96

Read Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96.

This devotional is from Proverbs 24.

It is tempting to choose the most comfortable option. Today’s reading gives us two Proverbs that caution us against this easy choice.

The first proverb is 24:27: “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” I visualize this piece of wisdom going from Solomon to his newlywed son. As the young couple begins to embark on life together, they dream of having a home of their own. Using the property subdivided by his father, the young couple faces a choice: spend their time and whatever money they have building a comfortable starter home on their new land or live with ma and pa for a while as they work the soil, plant the crops, and tend to the weeds. After the process of starting their farm has begun and the growth of the crops looks promising for their first harvest, then they can start to build a home of their own.

No one really wants to live with their parents and it’s more fun to build a house than to plant a field. But the field will produce income. It will get you started in life financially. It will provide for you in the future. If you build the home first it will give you your independence and a comfortable start to your life as an adult, but it will also drain your finances and delay that first harvest. It is far wiser to put productivity over comfort in the short term so that you can be more comfortable in the future but that takes a disciplined approach to life that probably does not come naturally to most people.

In a similar way, verses 30-34 describe the ease of laziness. If a farmer skips one day of planting, is the crop ruined? No, but it is easy to let one day off become one week off; our legitimate need for rest can snowball (v. 33). We feel as if we’ll be able to work better tomorrow if we rest up today. That may be true; it may also be a way of rationalizing our procrastination.

I lived most of my childhood as a procrastinator. I came home from school and told myself I would do homework or study for my test after I ate a snack. Oh, but Scooby Doo is on, so I’ll watch that just to relax for a few minutes. It’s going to be dinner time soon so I’ll get busy after that. You get the idea. I created habits of laziness in my life. By the time I was in seminary, I was turning in papers at the last minute after an all-nighter. I got decent grades but in my heart I knew I wasn’t doing my best work or getting the most out of the opportunities God had given to me. Eventually I learned to build some disciplined habits, but even today if I deviate from those habits, the old sin of procrastination is ready to slither back into my life.

But what does any of this have to do with God? These are wise bits of knowledge and helpful for productivity but couldn’t we have learned them from somewhere else? Why did God encode them into his holy word?

One answer is that these productivity problems—seeking the easy and comfortable way and allowing laziness and procrastination to take over—are spiritual problems. They are manifestation of a heart that wants to disobey God. God created the world to respond to the diligent work of humanity. He gave us everything we need to provide for ourselves but we have to obey his laws of sowing and reaping, of prioritizing investment over consumption.

Our faith in Christ should lead us toward a productive life because we have faith in his commands and know that when we obey his commands and work with diligence, God will provide and bless us.

Exodus 23, Job 41, Psalm 71

Today we’re reading Exodus 23, Job 41, and Psalm 71.

This devotional is about Exodus 23.

We all desire acceptance and approval. When we feel like the majority of people around us disagree with us on something, each of us feels a strong psychological pull to fall instep with the opinions of the majority.

Exodus 23:2-3 warn us about allowing social power to control us. Three types of situations were addressed in these verses:

  • justifying a sinful action with the rationalization that “everyone is doing it” (v. 2a).
  • testifying falsely in court because there are more people on one side of the dispute than on the other (v. 2b).
  • letting your sympathy for a poor person cause you to hand down a verdict in court in their favor even though the facts prove that the other party in court is in the right.

Let’s focus on the first of these situations. In verse 2a, God’s command to Israel was, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” When groups use their power–either social power or the power of sheer numbers–to overrule what is morally right, that is sinful in the sight of God. Although we may feel a desire to do the sinful thing that they are doing or to do it just to fit in within, God’s word calls us to stand apart even if that means standing alone.

These days, social pressure is being applied to us on a host of moral issues such as cohabitation, abortion, easy divorce, affirming homosexuality or transgenderism. Political correctness mandates that we say only what is societally accepted on these and other issues. Dissent from the prevailing opinion is not allowed. Our options often feel like either to keep quiet or repeat the politically correct position as if we agree with it. Some Christians and churches have come out and affirmed the unbiblical position on these things. They follow the crowd and make it stronger. Already the Christian faith as we practice it is being labeled as bigoted and hateful. Someday–not too far off–there may be calls to censor our doctrine and prosecute our teachers and preachers for hate speech when we teach what the Bible says on these subjects.

Truth is not a matter of public opinion and that is what the laws in the early verses of Exodus 23 are designed to protect. As the Lord’s people, we need to be reminded periodically to be truth-driven, not pressure-driven or personality-driven. Next time you feel pressured to join in or go along with something unbiblical that lots of people are doing, remember what God told Israel in Exodus 23:2: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.”

Genesis 39, Job 5, Psalm 37

Today’s passages are Genesis 39, Job 5, and Psalm 37.

This devotional is about Genesis 39.

A guy like Joseph could easily have justified an immoral relationship with Potiphar’s wife. He had been sold and enslaved unjustly. He was deprived of the blessings that he should have had as Jacob’s favored son, not to mention the opportunity to marry and have a family of his own.

Given all this, it might have been flattering to catch the eye of Potiphar’s wife. It was she who tried to initiate the relationship with Joseph (v. 7) and she was persistent about it (v. 10). Someone in Joseph’s situation may have feared the consequences from Potiphar, but at least one of his wife’s advances happened when there was nobody around to witness it (v. 11). Joseph was able to resist the temptation, however, not because he feared Potiphar but because he feared God. As he said in verse 9, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

This is the attitude we need to help us refuse temptation. Even if nobody else ever knows about your sin, God will know and he will hold us accountable.

Joseph’s situation worsened after he obeyed God. He was unjustly accused and imprisoned but God had not abandoned him. It would take years, but his faith in God would eventually rewarded. Reminds me of some other verses we read today, Psalm 37:

Psalm 37:5-6: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.”

Psalm 37:27-28: “Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.”

It’s often hard to do the right thing. Remembering that God is watching and believing his promises helps. In fact, it is what living by faith is all about.

Genesis 31, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Today, read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Psalm 30.

This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc. People do this kind of theft for different reasons but one of them is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. This kind of person feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice. He or she takes what the employer has and rationalizes it by telling themselves that they deserve it.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled? What if Laban refused to see both of his daughters married to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them. When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who embezzled money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned from employment if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite the absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping, a theme which recurs in the Bible over and over again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.