2 Kings 10, Hosea 2

Read 2 Kings 10 and Hosea 2.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 10.

Jehu was enthusiastic and brutal in carrying out justice against the house of Ahab (vv. 16-17). He not only made sure to extinguish Ahab’s family, he also removed the Baal worship that Ahab and Jezebel had brought to Israel (vv. 18-28). God commended him and rewarded him for doing what God anointed him to do (vv. 30).

Yet God’s blessing on Jehu was less than it could have been. Verse 32a says, “In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel,” and verses 32b-33 tell us in more specific terms how Israel’s turf was reduced. God’s law said that his people’s territory would expand if they were obedient to his word but here, despite Jehu’s obedience, Israel’s land contracted under his leadership. Why?

The answer is that Jehu’s obedience was partial. Yes, he did what God specifically anointed him to do by wiping out Ahab and Baal worship. But verse 29 told us, “However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.” Later, verse 31 said, “Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit.” So although he removed Baal worship, he did not extinguish all state-sanctioned idolatry from Israel. One form of idolatry was removed but another form was allowed to continue. Although Jehu was blessed with a bit of a dynasty (v. 30), he was not considered a good king nor did the land of the kingdom grow under his leadership. All of this happened because of his incomplete obedience to God’s word.

Are there any areas in your life where your obedience to God is partial? Are you serving the Lord but not consistently walking with him? Or are you walking with him but not witnessing for him? Maybe you’re walking with Christ and serving and even witnessing but you’re not giving to God’s work. Maybe there’s something else entirely.

Have you ever considered that God might bring more blessings into your life if you were more complete in your obedience to his word?

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Read Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing according to Deuteronomy 24:1. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army. They attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But, he never really led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also…
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

  1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
  2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
  3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Deuteronomy 22, Isaiah 49

Read Deuteronomy 22 and Isaiah 49.

This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands… distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel….” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, may have felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Psalm 17

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Psalm 17.

This devotional is about Psalm 17.

We don’t know the circumstances that led David to sing this song of prayer to God. Was it because Saul was pursuing him? We don’t know. What we do know is that David was distressed (vv. 1-2) and that whatever he was concerned about was not caused by his own sins (vv. 3-5).

Tucked away in this song is the phrase, “save me… from those of this world whose reward is in this life” (v. 14b). Why is do people lie? Why do they make promises they don’t intend to keep? Why do they take advantage of others? Why do people commit so many sins against other people?

The answer, often, is fear.

People fear getting passed over for a promotion they want, so they spread gossip about other worthy candidates. People use deception to get you to buy something or overpay for it because they fear the financial problems they’ve created for themselves. In short, people act they way that they do because they don’t fear accountability to God and they believe, on some level, that all that matters is what happens in this life. There is a certain, twisted logic to the idea that if your reward is in this life, then you’d better get all you can, even if you have to do unrighteous things to get it and keep it.

By contrast, David lived as he did because he believed a greater reward was waiting for him after this life. And what was that reward? It wasn’t streets of gold, or a mansion over the hilltop, or a crown of self-righteousness.

God was the reward he wanted: “As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (v. 15).

Since you love the Lord and belong to him, keep this in mind when you are afraid. When you’re afraid of the consequences of doing the right thing, remember that a greater award awaits: seeing God. Then, call on God to protect you and save you in this life (vv. 6-9) until the time comes when you will be with him.