2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, Mark 16

Read 2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, and Mark 16.

This devotional is about Daniel 6.

The Babylonians who conquered Judah gave way to the Medo-Persian empire, yet Daniel remained influential even in the new administration (vv. 1-2). In fact, Daniel was so good at his job that King Darius intended to elevate him over all everyone but Darius himself (v. 3b).

When the other administrators heard about this, they were jealous of Daniel and sought to catch him in some kind of misconduct (v. 4a). Verse 4b says that “they were unable to do so.” Why? “…because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (v. 4d). Did you catch that? Not only was Daniel not corrupt, he was not “negligent” either. This means they could find no responsibility where he failed or refused to do his job.

That’s quite a statement. We all have responsibilities we like and those we dislike. If you’re like me at all, doing the stuff you like to do is easy but it is also easy to neglect the stuff you dislike doing. A busy man like Daniel would have had an abundance of excuses, too, for why he couldn’t do what he disliked. He could blame his busy schedule, the people under him for being incompetent, or trying to prioritize his work. But the men who wanted Daniel indicted couldn’t find any area to accuse him.

As followers of Jesus, this is something we should aspire to as well. Since we are working as to the Lord and not to men we should, of course, be honest and upstanding but we should also be so conscientious that even the things we dislike doing are done carefully and faithfully.

Not only is it remarkable that these men could not accuse Daniel of corruption or negligent, it is remarkable that they KNEW they could get him if they could make his faith illegal in some way. Daniel was faithful not only in his work but he was faithful in his walk with God. The men who were out to destroy Daniel knew that they could get him in trouble if they could make prayer against the law (vv. 5-13). If someone were looking to accuse us, would they go to our devotional life as the sure-fire way to trip us up?

You know the rest of the story as it is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Daniel was supernaturally protected from the lions (vv. 14-23) and eventually his accusers were brought to justice (v. 24). The result of all this was a decree from Darius commanding the people to fear Daniel’s God (vv. 25-28). He trusted in the Lord completely, consistently, devotedly and the Lord delivered him even in a hostile culture to his faith.

May God give us the same desire to be faithful and careful in our work and to be devoted to reading his word and praying daily, filling our minds with his truth and living obediently to it.

1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, Colossians 2

Read 1 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 23, and Colossians 2.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12.

When the people began clamoring for a king in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel took their demands before the Lord. Their desire for a king must have seemed like a personal rejection because God told Samuel not to feel as if he had been rejected: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:8).  Since Saul had been anointed king, announced as king, and ratified as king, Samuel was ready to retreat from the stage of public leadership.  

Here in 1 Samuel 12 we read Samuel’s retirement speech. In verses 1-2a, he acknowledged that leadership has fully and permanently passed from himself to Saul. In verses 2b-4, he challenged Israel to bring testimony against him. If he had abused his leadership in any way, the victims were now to speak up so that he could finish his administration cleanly by making restitution. No one brought any charges against him (v. 4-5).

But Samuel himself had a charge to make against God’s people. In verses 6-12, he rehearsed briefly Israel’s checkered spiritual history. Then in verses 14-15, he commanded the people to follow the Lord in obedience and warned them about the consequences of their disobedience. He then authenticated his message by calling on the Lord to send thunder and rain out of season which the Lord did (vv. 17-18). God’s people were afraid and felt regret (at least) and begged Samuel to pray that God would not kill them all (v. 19). Samuel reassured them and called on them to be faithful to the Lord (vv. 20-21), then reminded them of God’s covenant of love with them that he established through Abraham. Although God was loving toward his people (despite their lack of faithfulness to him), verse 22 reminded them that God would be faithful “for the sake of his great name.” In other words, to break his covenant with Israel, God would have act contrary to his nature.

Then, in verse 23, Samuel said: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” That is quite a statement.

First, the people did not ask Samuel to make it a habit of praying for them; they asked him to pray for them now so that they would not die in God’s wrath in that immediate moment (v. 19). Yet Samuel generalized their request and reassured them that he intended to pray for them continually. Secondly, Samuel not only prayed for God’s people because of his love for them, but because it saw it as his obligation. That’s what the phrase, “…that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” means in verse 23. Prayerlessness could only be a sin if Samuel was obligated to pray for God’s people and refused to do so. Yet, that’s exactly how Samuel saw the situation.

Prayer is a privilege and it is our right as God’s children to do it, but have you ever thought about prayer as an obligation? We live in an age theologically where Christians do not like to talk about obligations. Because many of us grew up in legalistic environments, we have learned to lean on God’s grace in our failings—and we should! God’s grace is all over this passage. It is evident in God’s history with Israel (vv. 6-11) and in God’s mercy for not judging Israel for seeking a king (vv. 17-20). But the reason we need grace is because we fail in our obligations, not because no obligations exist. Grace does not relieve us of the responsibility to obey God’s word. It does not minimize our responsibilities as people who belong to God. Instead, it is an expression of God’s great compassion for us despite our weaknesses and failures. God’s grace is what put us in his favor and it is what keeps us in his favor when we fail to obey him—either through ignorance, or weakness, or direct disobedience.

So whom are we responsible to pray for? Here’s a quick list to think about: your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your nephews and nieces, your pastor, your church, your friends, your ministry team, your neighbors who need Christ, your co-workers, our missionaries, our nation. Are we prayerless toward any or all of these people? Do we seek God’s grace when we do fail to pray for them? 

Remember, too, that Samuel seemed to be wounded emotionally by Israel’s desire for a king. Yet his feeling of rejection did not give him an excuse to stop praying for God’s people. Although Saul was now responsible to lead them and to judge them, Samuel still felt responsible to intercede with God for them. Keep this in mind if you have a parent who wounded you deeply, or a spouse who divorced you unbiblically, or children who denounced you and walked out on you, or anyone else who has wounded you. Since God commands us to intercede and pray for one another (even our enemies—Luke 6:28b), we should realize that the gift of prayer is also, in a sense, an obligation—a command to obey. Here’s an opportunity to think about whom you should be praying for and to ask God’s forgiveness if your prayer life has gone prayer-less.

1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, Ephesians 5

Read 1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, and Ephesians 5.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 18.

Way back in the Ten Commandments God had said, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Ex 20:5). God said that to explain his command against making graven images to worship. It sure seems like God said that one generation sins but the generations that follow will pay the price for those sins by receiving God’s judgment.

The people in Ezekiel’s time seem to have interpreted God’s law that way. They believed they were being defeated and deported into exile by the Babylonians because of the sins of their parents. They even created a little proverb for their pity parties, which we read here in Ezekiel 18: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v. 2). Translation: “This bitter defeat and exile is all mom and dad’s fault! They drank the Drano but we’re the ones throwing up!” [Note: Do not drink Drano. Or Liquid Plumber.]

God used their pitiful proverb to raise the issue of responsibility here in Ezekiel’s prophecy, chapter 18. God promised to stop their proverb from spreading in Israel (v. 3) by teaching the people that the judgment they received was due to their own sins. Starting with Adam and Eve, people who are called to account for their sins have usually looked to shift at least some of the blame to someone else.

Here the Lord spoke through Ezekiel to tell him that God’s judgment falls on those who deserve it (v. 4c). He then illustrated this truth over three generations from one family. The patriarch of this family was a righteous man (v. 5) whose righteousness manifested itself in multiple ways (vv. 6-9a). God decreed then, “That man is righteous; he will surely live” (v. 9b).

Despite his righteousness, he had a son who was a very wicked man (vv. 10-13a). About him God said, “…he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head” (v. 13b). The sinful man’s son, however, followed his grandfather’s righteous steps, not his father’s wicked ways (vv. 14). His righteous life was despite the fact that he “…sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things” (v. 14b). Verses 17c-18 say, “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.”

Verses 19-30 are a restatement and defense of the principle that God will punish each person for his own sins. The point for the Jewish people in Ezekiel’s day was stated in verses 30b-32: “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

This is why God’s word speaks so directly and forcefully to us about our sins, allowing us no exceptions, excuses or blame-shifting. It isn’t that God wants to punish us; it’s that he DOES NOT WANT to punish us.

It assaults our pride to repent and take full responsibility, but it will save us so much pain if we simply repent and fall on God’s mercy.

If all of this is true, then what does Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” mean?

It means that sin often has consequences beyond the first generation. Those consequences are an indirect punishment.

Think about it this way: If one man kills another man and goes to prison for murder, he pays for his own crime. However, his children also pay. Although neither God nor the state hold the murderer’s children responsible for his crimes, they suffer the loss of their father, a bad reputation in the community, and the loss of his provision for the family. Those children are not responsible for his sins but they are paying a price for them.

Exodus 20:5 is a warning, then, about the snowball effect of sin on your children; it is not a promise that God will be vindictive.

1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, Ephesians 2

Read 1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, and Ephesians 2.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

There is such a contrast in this chapter between the godly praise of Hannah in verses 1-10 and the evil acts of Eli’s sons in verses 12-26. Hannah not only gave praise and glory to God in her words, but she described who the Lord would honor and who he would humble. She also prophesied in verse 10 when she said, “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” At that point, there was no king in Israel, nor was any king on the horizon. Late in Samuel’s life, when his mother had almost certainly been dead for some time, Samuel, her son, would anoint the first and the second king of Israel.

Meanwhile, Eli and his sons were acting dishonorably before the Lord and, instead of giving prophesies, they were being prophesied against (vv. 27-36). The author of 1 Samuel described Eli’s sons in a general way in verse 12. Then in verses 13-17 he gave specific instances of their sin of having “no regard for the Lord” (v. 12). The manifestation of their ungodly attitude toward the Lord was first of all their treatment of his offerings. When the people brought sacrifices to the Lord, they were acts of worship to him, of course. But God had also decreed that some sacrifices were to also provide food for the priests (see Lev 6:25-26 for one example). The problem was not that Eli’s sons ate the sacrificial meat; the problem was that they cared nothing for the Lord, the worshipper, or the Law’s instructions about the sacrifices. All they cared about was getting the best portion of meat from the sacrifice and the ability to cook it as they wanted. 

Eli’s sons treated the meat of the sacrifices as property they could take for their own appetites. They also viewed the women who served in tabernacle as property they could take for their sexual appetites (vv. 22b). Eli’s sons, then, used their privileged position as priests to serve themselves with no regard for how the Lord was to be served. Eli did confront his sons about their sins and did urge them to stop (vv. 23-26), but he would not use the position and power the Lord gave them to make them stop. He had every right—responsibility even—to remove them as priests for their wicked acts, but he cared more about honoring them than he did about honoring the Lord (v. 29). 

All three of these men, then, were sinning in their capacity as leaders. His sons abused the privilege of leadership to bring them pleasure. Eli refused to use the power he had as a leader for the Lord’s glory. Instead, he used it to protect his sons, even though he was disgusted by their sins.

The problem with power is that it can seduce those who have it into using for their own enrichment or for their own protection rather than for doing what is good. The boss who takes credit for the work of his team, the pastor who steals from the church’s treasury or preys on women who come to him for spiritual help, the father or mother takes out their own frustrations on their children, the politician who uses public office to enrich himself or herself—these are all ways in which people use a position for selfish gratification instead of to serve the Lord by using that power for his glory.

Is there any area in your life where your actions as a leader benefit you but displease the Lord?

Samuel was brought to serve in the tabernacle by his mother, but God brought him there to replace the house of Eli with godly leadership. Samuel will show us how a godly leader operates and, of course, the sacrifice of Christ a little over a thousand years after this will show us how God wants us to use our leadership to serve not to be served. Think about where God has called you to lead; now, is your leadership there glorifying to him or gratifying to you?

Leviticus 8, Isaiah 3-4, Luke 23

Read Leviticus 8, Isaiah 3-4, and Luke 23.

This devotional is about Isaiah 3-4.

Like all of God’s prophets, Isaiah’s job was to speak out about the sins among his people, call them to repentance, and warn about God’s coming judgment if they do not repent. This is exactly what we read about today in Isaiah 3-4.

In other prophesies of judgment, idolatry is the main issue God addressed followed by the exploitation of others. There is plenty about the exploitation of others in this chapter (vv. 5, 12, 15) but nothing about idolatry.

Instead, the most specific sin addressed in this chapter is the seductive actions of women in those days (3:16-4:1). Verse 16 described their “outstretched necks,” which may refer to how they looked around to see if they had been noticed. If they did get a man’s attention they looked at him flirtatiously (v. 16d), and walked in ways that drew attention to the lower half of their bodies (v. 16e-f).

God’s judgment would remove all the things that accentuated their beauty (3:18-23). He would replace these items with things that humiliated, rather than accentuated (3:24). The men whose attention they worked so hard to get would become scarce because they would die in battle (3:25-26). It would get so bad that women would drastically outnumber men and would promise to provide for themselves if only one of the few men left would marry them (4:1).

The situation described in these verses is very different from the times we live in but there are some parallels. Young women today seem to prefer athletic wear to “fine clothing” (vv. 18, 24) so the apparel is different. Though women may prefer yoga pants and tank tops, those outfits can be tight and revealing. That makes it hard to look away from if you are a man.

Likewise, men today have not been exterminated in battle as the men of Israel and Judah were, but many men today are absent from life for other reasons. Too busy playing video games and living in mom’s basement, many young men never learn a trade or skill or earn a college degree. Young women go to college and get good jobs but have a hard time finding a good man to marry. I’ve met some women who willingly pay the rent and provide for the food (similar to 4:1) so that a guy can move in with her to keep her company while he continues to be jobless and unproductive.

While some of the specific manifestations of sin have changed, we live in a culture where many women choose immodesty and make moral compromises in order get the attention of men. As God looks at our sinful culture, he could say to men and women in our world, “It is you who have ruined my vineyard” (3:14c). In our world, “the elders and leaders of the people” would be entertainers and educators. Entertainers change what is acceptable for women and men to wear and do through the stories they tell and the looks they cultivate. Educators change what is acceptable in culture by shaming men for being masculine and encouraging women to be forward, aggressive, and sexual.

Not one of us can change an entire culture and this passage does not suggest that we seize the levers of government to make women and men act differently. Instead, the lesson for us is that “The LORD,,, rises to judge the people” (v. 13). The way you live, the look you cultivate, and the way you interact with the opposite sex may be acceptable in our world but that does not mean that it is pleasing in the eyes of God.

The lesson here, then, is to change yourself. Be modest in the way you dress and look, women, and raise your daughters to be modest and to trust God’s provision rather than seeking a man’s attention any way you can get it.

Men, take responsibility for your life. Find your place in society instead of letting “women rule” (3:12). Watch where your eyes go when you’re around other women and be faithful to the wife God gives you.

God will judge our society for the ungodly way people live. Christ offers the only way of escape–both from the judgment to come and from the sinful lifestyles that are accepted. As his followers, let’s live the way he calls and commands us to live even in a world that is ungodly.

Exodus 39, Song of Songs 3, Luke 17

Read Exodus 39, Song of Songs 3, and Luke 17.

This devotional is about Luke 17.

Each one of us is responsible for himself or herself. When you stand before God, you will give an account of your life. You will not answer for the sins of others nor will you be able to shift blame to others for your sins.

But…

…none of us lives alone, unaffected by others or able to avoid affecting others. In verse 1a-b, Jesus acknowledged that: “‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come….'” The word “stumble” in verse 1 means to sin. The first part of verse 1, then, says that people cause other people to fall into sin. Just as Eve gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, people continue do things that entice others to sin. Adam was responsible for his choice to sin but Eve was held responsible for her sin and her role in Adam’s sin. 

So, fact one is that sinners lead other sinners into sin. No one can make another person sin but we can cause others to sin by leading them into temptations that their sinful natures cannot resist.

When we do that–when we entice others to sin and they choose that sin–we’ve sinned, too. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “…but woe to anyone through whom they come” in verse 1c. Verse 2 goes on to say that there will be severe punishment for those who entice others to sin so, as verse 3 says, “So watch yourselves.”

One of the ways we entice others to sin is by sinning against others. If I insult you and you punch me, we’ve both sinned but my sin provided you with the occasion for your sin. But instead of choosing to sin when we are sinned against, Jesus taught us the right way to respond in verse 3b: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”

This, then, is how we should treat each other. Be careful not to put others in the way of temptation. Don’t recommend actions that cause others to feel tempted, don’t sin against them and give them the occasion to sin themselves. Finally, if someone sins against you, resist the temptation to sin yourself and, instead, call them into accountability and invite them to repent and receive your forgiveness.

It is impossible for anyone of us not to lead others into sin so the “woe” that Jesus announced in verse 1c applies to all of us. The word “woe” describes the kind of deep sorrow that comes from knowing you are under the wrath of God for your sins. Jesus told us, then, that we are in big trouble.

By God’s grace, however, Jesus is also the way out of that trouble. He took our “woe” before God by his death on the cross. We all can (and do) lead others to sin but in Christ, our sins are forgiven.

Now that they are forgiven, we have the power to deal with sin properly. We should think about how our lives might tempt others–our families, friends, co-workers, etc. By the power of God’s Spirit, we should strive to live a life that doesn’t trip anyone else up and we should deal with the trip hazards others put in front of us with loving confrontation and forgiveness.

Have you knowingly enticed someone else to sin? Have you seen in hindsight how your actions created a sin situation for someone even though you did not intend it? Seek God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with that person if possible. Then “watch yourself” (v. 3a) in the future.

Has someone put temptation into your pathway? Can you learn to bring correction to those who sin against you instead of justifying your sinful response?

These are challenging truths for us but they important ones for us to live by. Blessed is the person who is careful not to cause others to be tempted. Blessed, too, is the person who can resist temptation and restore to righteousness the brother or sister whose sin caused your temptation.

How much better would the world be if we disciples of Christ responded to sin in these ways?

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Matthew 11

Read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, and Matthew 11 and this devotional which is about Genesis 16.

Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

From the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 until the judgment day, people have blamed other people for decisions that turned out badly. This means sinful decisions, of course, but also decisions that were reckless, unwise, or that just didn’t turn out well.

We humans have a strong tendency to deflect blame from ourselves by blaming others. We see that tendency here in Genesis 16.

Yesterday in Genesis 15, God repeated the promise to Abram that Abram would physically father a great nation. Here in chapter 16, Abram’s wife Sarai came up with a plan to make it happen. The text of this chapter tells us three timess that this was Sarai’s plan. Notice:

  • Verse 2: “she said to Abram… sleep with my slave.”
  • Verse 3: “Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.”
  • Verse 5: “I put my slave in your arms….”

What was Abram’s role in this? “Abram agreed to what Sarai said” (v. 2) and “He slept with Hagar” (v. 4).

The plan succeded in creating an heir because “she concieved” (v. 4b). The unexpected side effect of the plan, however, was that the master-slave relationship between Sarai and Hagar was disrupted. Verse 4c-d says, “When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.” 

This is the point at which Sarai began to blame Abram. She took some responsibility when she said, “I put my slave in your arms” in verse 5c. But before she said that she said, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering” in verse 5b. Then after she admittted her role she said, “May the Lord judge between you and me” in verse 5f.

Did you notice the blame sandwich Sarai made there?

  • You are at fault: “You are responsible for the wrong” (v. 5b)
  • I played a role in it, sure: “I put my slave in your arms….” (v. 5c)
  • But you’re the one who is really at fault: “May the Lord judge between you and me” (v. 5f)

The implication of these statements is that Abram was ultimately responsible because he should not have agreed to Sarai’s plan.

And, she’s right; he should not have agreed to the plan. Abram is guilty for going along with a plan that took a shortcut to achieving God’s promise. But God did not instruct Abram or Sarai to follow this plan nor did the plan require any great amount of faith to see God’s promise fulfilled.

Instead of continuing to wait for God to keep his word, Sarai came up with her own way and Abram expressed no concern or refusal to cooperate. His passivity continued when Sarai complained about how Hagar was acting. “’Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.'” Abram was wrong to agree to the plan without consulting God and he was wrong to withdraw from the situation once it became a problem. The angel of the LORD told Hagar, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her” but those words should have come out of Abram’s mouth. He should have addressed the problem, taking responsibility for his part in it, and calling both Sarai and Hagar to do right.

But Sarai has to answer for this situation, too. It was her idea, after all. Despite her attempt to downplay her role when she said, “I put my slave in your arms,” she was still responsible for this happening.

So, let’s go back to the questions I opened this devotional with: Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

You are.

God is gracious to us; he forgives our sins when we change our minds about them and he sometimes even withholds or minimizes the consequences for our sins and unwise decisions.

What he doesn’t do, however, is absolve us from responsibility. In fact, “he shows favor to the humble” (Prov 3:34, 1 Pet 5:5, Jas 4:6). The forgiveness you want from God and the road back to righteousness runs through the town of repentance and confession. When we step up and admit what we did wrong, we are ready to receive God’s grace.

When we blame others, however, and minimize our role, problems go unsolved and unresolved. There are always other factors that lead us to do what is wrong or to make unwise choices. Often, other people are one or more of those factors. But until we accept responsibility for what we decided and did, the situation will get worse, not better.

Are you in a bad situation that you’ve tried to blame on others? Humble yourself. Own up to your role and do the right thing now. God will meet you there with forgiveness based on the blood of Christ and he’ll give you grace to deal with the situation in the best possible way.

1 Chronicles 26-27, Micah 4

Read 1 Chronicles 26-27 and Micah 4.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 26-27.

Sometimes you call a company to talk to a specific person but you don’t have that person’s extension number. If a real, live person answers the phone you can just ask to be connected. Frequently, however, you will get an automated response to your call. It will tell you to press 1 for this, press 2 for that, etc. One of the options is usually, “For a list of all extensions, press *” or # or one of the numbers. Then you can listen as, one by one, in alphabetical order, the name and extension of each employee of the company is read to you.[1]

This portion of scripture is like that directory of extensions. Starting back in 1 Chronicles 22, David began making preparations for Solomon to become king and build the temple. From chapter 23 through chapter 26 today, we’ve been reading lists of names of people who served in the Lord’s tabernacle in some way. Here in 1 Chronicles 27, we have …uh… chronicled for us the men who served as leaders in David’s army (vv. 1-15), the leaders of the tribes of Israel (vv. 16-24), and leaders in David’s administration (vv. 25-34). The impression this list makes is that David’s kingdom was large and well-organized. Each person who served was known by name and his role in the kingdom was documented. Notice just a few of these details:

  • There were royal storehouses (v. 25) and they were organized into districts, towns, villages, and watchtowers. Two men were responsible for these storehouses.
  • There were geographical assignments for certain things such as “the olive and sycamore-fig trees in the western foothills” (v. 28) and “the herds grazing in Sharon” (v. 29).
  • The king had men on his staff who were his confidant (Hushai) and counselors (Jonathan and Ahithophel (vv. 32-33)).
  • Within these administrative lists, there are indications that some of the men were especially skilled in their jobs. Among the gatekeepers of the tabernacle, some “were leaders in their father’s family because they were very capable men” (26:6). Others were described as “capable men with the strength to do the work” (26:8). Jonathan, David’s uncle was “a man of insight and a scribe” (v. 32). He sounds like exactly the right man for that role.

My point in all of this is that sometimes people complain about “organized religion.” There are some who believe there is virtue in being disorganized and loose with details and responsibilities. Many people dislike accountability even though they accepted responsibility for the results of an area. These lists of men and their responsibilities show us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God’s servants in worship and kingdom administration were highly organized and their responsibilities were clearly defined. Not many people love administration–I sure don’t–but administration serves a purpose: it enables people to glorify God by serving others consistently and reliably.

Where is your place in the administration of God’s work in our church? If you are a leader, are your people well-organized with clear roles and responsibilities? Could it be that one of the best ways you could serve the Lord right now is to put some effort into administration?


[1] If you don’t know what I’m talking about, call 734-434-4044 can press 2 after my automated voice answers the phone.

1 Chronicles 19-20, Jonah 3

Read 1 Chronicles 19-20, Jonah 3.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 19.

Chapter 19 began by describing the foolish decision of Hanun son of the Ammonites to insult and assault David’s delegation (vv. 1-4). That decision flowed from a cynical assumption about David’s motives (v. 3). We read about this incident back in 2 Samuel 10.

But there is more to think about in this passage than just the conclusion that Hanun did something stupid. There were reasons to be cautious about a foreign king sending a delegation like this. Years after this incident Hezekiah received a delegation from Babylon and he showed them everything. God said that they would eventually come back and take all Judah’s wealth. See Isaiah 39 and/or 2 Kings 20:12-19.

So Hanun could have been cautious toward the delegation David sent but open about an alliance between the two of them. Being “open but cautious” is a wise approach to many things in life. Hanun’s approach, however, made him “obnoxious to David” (v. 6). Most of us have probably provoked that kind of reaction in someone else during our lives. What do you do then?

Hanun compounded his stupidity by preparing for war. He hired fighters from other nations (vv. 6-7) and still was soundly defeated by David’s army (vv. 16, 18). His cynical response to David was costly but that cost was compounded by what he did after insulting David and his men.

What should he have done instead? He should have admitted his stupidity to David and begged for mercy. Proverbs 6:1-5 counsels us to beg to be released if we foolishly guarantee someone else’s loan but the advice Solomon gave there is equally applicable here: “So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter (vv. 3-5).

We’ve all done stupid things that made us obnoxious to others but how have you handled those situations after you realized how foolish you had been? Did you lie about the situation? Make excuses for your behavior? Try to shift the blame to someone else? Just try to avoid the person? Wage war (metaphorically, of course) when you were ill-equipped to win?

We should take ownership of our bad decisions and beg for mercy. It is the right thing to do and the wise thing to do. It is a hard thing to do because it will hurt your pride but better a wounded pride than a dead army.

Is there anyone out there who finds your obnoxious because of how you treated him or her? Humble yourself today and do everything you can to repair the situation.

1 Chronicles 16, Obadiah

Read 1 Chronicles 16 and Obadiah.

This devotional is about the book of Obadiah.

Obadiah wrote this prophecy against Edom (v. 1), a nation that bordered Judah to the south. This nation traced its ancestry to Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel. The Edomites are condemned here for two sins:

  1. Pride: Verses 3-4 describes a smug feeling of invincibility that the Edomites possessed. Then, verses 5-9 prophesied an easy defeat for the nation. Later in verses 18-20 Obadiah prophesied that no one would survive from the family of the Edomites after God’s judgment fell on them.
  2. Victimizing Judah: Verses 10-14 describe how the Edomites responded to the invasion of Jerusalem. 

Let’s focus this devotional on sin #2 described above.

Verse 11 says, “you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth” which tells us that the first response of the Edomites was no response at all. They did nothing while Jerusalem was being attacked.

Refusing to try to help God’s people was, according to Obadiah, tacit approval of the invasion. We see that in verse 11 where Obadiah said, “while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” That last phrase, “you were like one of them” equates Edom with Jerusalem’s attackers even though they “stood aloof” (v. 11a) while it was happening.

Was Edom obliged to come to Jerusalem’s defense? They shared a border with Judah and hundreds of years before their patriarch Esau was brothers with Israel (v. 10a). Normally, I wouldn’t think that those two facts mean much in a context like this. They were now separate nations and their “brotherhood” was ancient history (literally). So were they really obligated to help?

Apparently, yes, they were. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians as an act of punishment for their sins and idolatry. That’s the spiritual/theological reason for their demise. But on a human level, Nebuchadnezzar had no moral right to invade Israel. They were, politically and militarily speaking, victims of Babylonian aggression. Their common ancestry, though ancient, should have caused them to have some affinity for God’s people. Their common border should have caused them to want to help their neighbors to the north.

The argumentation in this passage reminds me of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told that story to teach us that “loving your neighbor” means helping anyone who needs help who is within your reach. The Samaritan was a step-brother (in a sense) of the Jewish man who was victimized by robbers. The victim’s countrymen, his brothers, who passed by without helping him were “standing aloof” to borrow the image of verse 11a. But Jesus praised the Samaritan for giving assistance when he saw the plight of the Israelite.

The application, then, for us is to understand that God expects us to help when we see someone being victimized. We shouldn’t stand by and do nothing and we certainly shouldn’t join in the victimization as Edom did in verses 13-14. We should help the oppressed fend off the oppressor.

Now, in our globally-connected world, we know about world problems and injustices that people in other eras of time would never have known about. I don’t think God requires us to find every problem in the world and get involved in it. The Good Samaritan, after all, was walking by; he wasn’t like an ancient Batman looking for crime to fight. So the Bible isn’t teaching that we have an unlimited responsibility for everyone else’s problems. Instead, we should understand that it is not acceptable in the Lord’s sight to be a bystander when we see injustice or violence or exploitation.

So, if you saw someone abusing a child or a woman, would you do anything about it? If you saw two men punching each other–or two men punching and kicking a third man–would you call for help? Would you try to stop them? If your neighbor’s land was being polluted by a corporation or seized by the county unjustly, would you try to help?

God commands us to help when we can, where we can. When we refuse to help, we are sinning. Keep that in mind the next time you see someone who needs help.

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 1

Read 1 Samuel 21-22 and Ezekiel 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul.

In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him.

What possible reason could have justified David’s lie?

One possibility is that David was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul. The text, however, gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed.

This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul.

Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed.

Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful.

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).