Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99

Today’s readings are Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99.

This devotional is about Proverbs 27:22: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.”

Why do some people make a bad decision once and learn from it while others make the same bad decision many times? The answer is that the one who learns from their bad decisions is on the path to wisdom. Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and humbly accepting rebuke–either from God or from friends (vv. 5-6, 17) or from the consequences that bad decisions inevitably bring.

The wisest person believes what God’s word says and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade A Wisdom.” This person does not try to test God’s word by making moral choices that are against what it says. Instead, he or she obeys God’s word because they believe it to be true. This person will avoid many heartaches and problems simply because they believed God. In this case, God’s word provides the rebuke in advance and teaches the wise person not to give into that sinful desire of his or her heart. Nobody does this perfectly; after all, we’re all sinners. But God’s grace allows some people to sin less than others because they wisely believe and obey God’s commands.

A step below the wisest person is the person who watches the decisions made by others, notices whether the outcome is good or bad, and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade B Wisdom.” This person learns from the mistakes/misdeeds of others and avoids many heartaches and problems as a result. In other words, the rebuke is found in the life and consequences produced by those who live immorally. The person with “Grade B Wisdom” believes that the bad consequences that follow the sinful choices of others will come to him or her if they make the same sinful choice.

Next we have the person who sins–either because they are ignorant of God’s commands and the bad outcomes others have or because they ignore the sources of rebuke from “Grade A” and “Grade B” wisdom. This person learns wisdom by experience and acquires “Grade C” wisdom. They experience the consequences and pain of their sins and, at that point, choose to believe and act differently in the future as a result.

Finally, we have the fool. He’s got “Grade F ‘wisdom’” which is equivalent to straight up folly. This person does whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not God has commanded against it or others have experienced the pain that comes from it. This person believes that he is some kind of exception. While God’s word may be true for everyone else, he or she will not be hurt by their sins like everyone else is. And, if this person sins once and pays the price for it, they believe it is an anomaly so they sin again expecting a different result. Proverbs 27:22 addressed this kind of person. It says that you can try as many ways as you want or as often as you want to drive the folly out of a fool, but “you will not remove their folly from them” even if you “grind a fool in a motar.” This person learns nothing from anyone–not God’s word, not the mistakes and misdeeds of others, and not even from their own experiences.

A few years ago, someone was planning an unwise, sinful action and several of us spoke to him about it. We pleaded with him not to do what he intended to do. This encounter was not our first with this person. I had personally witnessed him disregarding his parent’s instructions, even though he was warned. When that decision got him in trouble, he tried to sin his way out of it again even though I and others urged him not to. Finally, when I heard of this person’s plans to sin again, I told him: “Haven’t you learned anything from your experience? You sin, it gets you into trouble, so you sin more to try to get yourself out of it.”

Our rebuke did not work. Showing him scripture did not change his actions. Pleading with him to at least try a different path fell on deaf ears. This person was determined to prove God’s word right not by obeying it to avoid trouble but by disobeying it, making their own sinful, selfish choices. He thought he was an exception to the rule; I think he made a foolish choice that would hurt him, just as God’s word said.

Are you one who accepts good confrontation or someone who argues or ignores it? Few people like to confront others and nobody enjoys being confronted. A wise person, however, will accept rebuke–from God’s word, from the experience of others or from their own experiences–and change course. Is that you? Or will you keep making morally foolish decisions despite God’s clear commands or the pain that results?

God is gracious and merciful but not to the fool. He is gracious and merciful to those who accept rebuke and repent, changing their minds and choosing a different path. If you’re on an unwise path, please let these verses turn your thinking. Don’t be a fool.

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. So when Solomon wrote here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he taught us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful–critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker–the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

Exodus 8, Job 25-26, Psalm 56

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 8, Job 25-26, and Psalm 56.

This devotional is about Exodus 8.

In Exodus 7, we read yesterday that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened after Moses did two incredible miracles. Part of his hardening, it would seem, was related to the fact that his sorcerers were able to turn their staffs into snakes and were able to turn water into blood. Although Moses’s snake ate theirs and Moses was able to generate a whole lot more blood, in Pharaoh’s mind, perhaps, he had access to as much supernatural power as Moses did.

Today, however, as we read Exodus 8, Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to make frogs just as Moses and Aaron did (v. 7). Still, there was something about the plague of frogs that affected Pharaoh in a different way than the previous plagues because even though “the magicians did the same things by their secret arts” (v. 7), “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away….’” (v. 8). Maybe the plagues were having a cumulative affect but, for the first time, Pharaoh looked to the Lord for relief.

He received that relief, too, but to emphasize to Pharaoh that this really was an act of God and not a mere coincidence, Moses allowed Pharaoh to choose the time when the frogs would go away (v. 10b). I don’t know why he said, “tomorrow” (v. 10a); I would have said, “Immediately! ASAP!” Just as he asked, however, the frogs all… um… croaked the next day (v. 13). Before the sun went down, however, Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (v. 15b) and would not let God’s people go.

Why exactly did he harden his heart? Verse 15 says it happened, “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief.” We do this sometimes, too. We suffer because of our sin or just because of foolish choices we make, so we get really serious about our faith. We cry out to God for help earnestly, with tears even, maybe. As soon as there is relief, however, we return to our unbelieving ways. I’ve seen this too many times to count in the lives of people I’ve tried to help. They come to me in pain and in fear, admitting that they’ve neglected the Lord and sinned against him. I pray with them and for them and try to encourage them but as soon as the pressure is off, they return to their routines and show no more interest in walking with God than they did before.

This is a symptom of unbelief. Pharaoh was an unbeliever which is why he responded to God’s work as he did. Unbelievers around us respond to God this way, too. We believers, however, are capable of nearly every sin that unbelievers do, including this one. We treat God like a spare tire, riding unseen and unthought about in the trunk of our lives until we find ourselves in an emergency. We turn to God when we need him, then return him to the trunk when life is back on track again.

Does that describe your walk with God? If so, learn from Pharaoh the difference between true repentance, which makes you want to know and glorify God, and the kind that only looks to God in emergencies. Ask God to give you true repentance and faith and learn to cultivate your faith in bad times and good times.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Psalm 26

Today, read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Psalm 26.

This devotional is about Genesis 27.

God’s will for Isaac’s successor was clear. Before Esau and Jacob were born, the Lord told her “…the older will serve the younger” (Gen 25:23e). Later, Esau sold his birthright to Jocob as we read in Genesis 25:27-34. Despite these things, Isaac favored Esau over Jacob (25:28) and was determined to bless Esau, giving him the right to become the patriarch. Isaac was attempting, then, to do this outside of what God had willed, to get his own way regardless of what God wanted and decreed. In other words, he did not have faith in God when it came to his heir; Isaac wanted his own will to be done.

Rebekah and Jacob, likewise, knew what God had said and that Jacob would be the one to carry the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant and become a great nation. Instead of confronting Isaac with this fact or waiting for God to intervene in Isaac’s plan, Rebekah and Jacob hatched a plot of their own to engineer the outcome they wanted.

Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob, then, were not acting obediently to God’s will. None of them was trusting God’s word and living in obedience to it; they were, to borrow the words of Proverbs 3: “leaning on their own understanding.” God used the disobedience of Rebekah and Jacob to accomplish his will over the desired will of Isaac. But the disobedience of all of them created problems in their family that would be painful for each of them.

How often do we do the same thing? How often do we seek to engineer our own desire instead of seeking to align ourselves with what God has revealed and living in faith and obedience to that? If you’re in the middle of that kind of situation now, let this passage lead you to repentance. Turn to God and trust him. Let him accomplish his will and have faith that it will be best.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news–the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well…, I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think–given that he knew about Noah and Lot–that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry–so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like this. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was but we are interconnected with one another spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans* but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

*Apologies to those who read this in Kingston, Ontario and elsewhere in the world.

Your First Instinct

Reflex test
Neurologist using hammer to make a reflex test

What is your first instinct when you face a problem in your life? Do you:

  • Get really anxious?
  • Go into denial that the problem even exists?
  • Enter problem-solving mode and start to develop a plan?
  • Call your mother? Or father? Or someone else whose advice you trust?

As a Christian, your first instinct should be to pray:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

James 1:5

God has promised his presence with us and his help for us. But that help comes to us when we turn to him in prayer.

Everything else–anxiety, anger, denial, planning, complaining, etc.–we do when we have a problem, comes from a place of self-dependence. We feel those emotions and do those actions because we feel the responsibility to fix the problem. Our instinct is toward self-dependence but we know we might fail! It is hard to depend on yourself because you know your own weaknesses, limitations, and track-record of failure.

The Christian life is about God-dependence. You became a Christian when you stopped trying to do it yourself and turned in repentance to God in faith for forgiveness and salvation. That’s how your Christian life began.

But your Christian life proceeds in dependence on God, too. Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

Here’s a truth I read in a Bible commentary today:

“Most of us turn to God only when we have exhausted every other option.”


Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell, James, vol. 16, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 62–63.

It’s true, isn’t it?

One reason why God allows and even brings problems into our lives is to teach us to depend on him. He wants to retrain our instincts so that we turn to him FIRST instead of as a last resort.

What problems are you dealing with today? Why not take a moment and ask for God’s help in prayer?

Jonah 3

Jonah 3

Yes, God is angry with humanity. But does he have a good reason to be angry? And, if people turn to him, does he continue to be angry with them?

This is a message from chapter 3 of the Old Testament book of Jonah by Pastor Brian Jones.

This message was delivered on Sunday, October 4, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.

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