1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, John 16

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, and John 16.

This devotional is about John 16.

This section in John continues the teaching of Jesus on his final day of freedom. John recorded the teachings Christ gave as he and his disciples walked from the upper room (where they ate the Passover & Christ’s began the Lord’s Supper, John 14:31) to the Garden of Gethsemane (where Judas would betray him, John 18:1).

According to our passage today, John 16:1, these teachings were designed to fortify the disciples against rejecting him. Hard times would come to them for their faith in Jesus, including excommunication from their local synagogues (v. 2a). Christ gave the reason that people would persecute his disciples in 16:2b: “…anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”

How foolish for anyone to think that the disciples were a threat to their lives or political power. Jesus’ students did not wish to overthrow the government and they weren’t trying to take over Judaism either. Yet governments would imprison them and religious people would persecute them, even taking their lives, in God’s name.

Verse 3: “…because they have not known the Father or me.” Unbelief exacts a high price; not only does it damn one’s soul for eternity, it skew’s one’s moral compass in this life as well. This is why morality is constantly being re-defined (downward) and why the ungodly are celebrated and followed while the loving, righteous people of God are shunned and persecuted. It is true that God created each of us with the voice of conscience. Conscience points the right way toward morality but that voice can be rationalized away, miseducated, dumbed-down, and even suppressed completely. The further we come toward the return of Christ, the farther our world moves away from what is right and good.

Yet Christ told us about these things ahead of time for our good: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). The peace Jesus promised in this verse is not the outer peace of an undisturbed, unpersecuted life. It is the inner peace that reassures us when things get rough on the outside that Christ is in control and will ultimately end this turmoil forever when his time comes. Lean on this promise as you encounter hostility and trouble in life due to your faith in Jesus. 

1 Kings 15, Amos 1, Proverbs 24:1-18

Read 1 Kings 15, Amos 1, and Proverbs 24:1-18.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 15.

Going forward it is important to remember a couple of things. First, the nation that has been called “Israel” for centuries was now divided. Ten and a half tribes revolted from Judah when Solomon’s son Rehoboam wouldn’t reduce the burden of the government on the people. The 10 1/2 tribes that revolted continued to be called “Israel” but we also call them the Northern Kingdom. The Bible doesn’t use that term, but it is a helpful one we’ve applied to help us remember that “Israel” now isn’t what it was under David and Solomon.

David’s family continued to reign over his tribe of Judah. They were now considered a separate nation. They were called Judah, but we also use the term Southern Kingdom to distinguish them from the Northern Kingdom / Israel.

In addition to Judah, the tribe of Levi continued to serve as priests; however, they had no tribal lands. Instead, they were scattered by God’s will among all the other tribes of the nation. Since they were responsible for Israel’s worship and the temple was in Judah, many of them were loyal to Judah. That’s why we say that Israel had 10 1/2 tribes.

The Northern Kingdom, Israel, had 19 kings from the time of Jeroboam until the Assyrians defeated them and scattered them from their national land. Of those 19 kings, not one of them is described in the Bible as a righteous or good king. They all did evil in God’s sight.

The Southern Kingdom, Judah, had 20 kings from the time of Rehoboam until the Babylonians took them captive. Of those 20 kings, 8 were described in the Bible as righteous or good kings. We met the first of these good kings, Asa, today here in 1 Kings 15.

Although his father and grandfather were wicked men, “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life” (v. 14). His devotion to the Lord was demonstrated by his commitment to rid the land of idolatry (vv. 12-13). Verse 14a began with the phrase, “Although he did not remove the high places…,” indicating that Asa was not fully able to extinguish idolatry in Judah, but that he did remove it from the public eye.

Idolatry was still practiced in Judah but it was done privately. It became like illegal drug use in our country—against the law and prosecuted when it was known about, but still practiced widely in secret. The fact that Asa “did not remove the high places” indicates that he knew idolatry was being practiced there, but did not channel government resources toward removing those high places of false worship.

That did not mean, however that Asa’s commitment to YHWH was weak or questionable or only for public consumption. The rest of verse 14 tells us that “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.” His commitment was total even if his actions were not perfect.

One incident in Asa’s life demonstrated his commitment to the Lord. Verse 13 told us, “He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley.”

Unlike many powerful people who give exemptions, special favors, and “carve outs” to their own family members and friends who are in violation of the law, Asa’s love for God and his commitment to the Lord outweighed his loyalty and love to his family.

Deposing his own grandmother must have been a difficult choice emotionally—and possibly a costly one relationally—for Asa. But he did it because he loved the Lord and wanted to be faithful to him even if it cost him a relationship he held dear.

Jesus expected a similar commitment from his disciples when he said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37).

So we must ask ourselves this question: “Do we love God enough to stand for what’s right even when another person we love deeply stands on the other side?” If someone we love sins and is unrepentant or clings to unbelief or false beliefs, will we choose faithfulness to the Lord or the preservation of peace in the relationship?

Asa’s devotion to the Lord was demonstrated by his choice to stand for God even when it hurt and cost him personally. May we never have to make such a choice but, if we do, may the Lord give us grace to do the right thing.

1 Kings 19, Amos 5, 1 Peter 5

Read 1 Kings 19, Amos 5, and 1 Peter 5 today. This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on. 

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can perform rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture. 

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves.

Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23). 

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about it? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things–church attendance, etc.–are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.

1 Kings 7, Hosea 10, 2 Timothy 1

Read 1 Kings 7, Hosea 10, and 2 Timothy 1.

This devotional is about Hosea 10.

God’s people in Israel and Judah committed many sins against him; chief among those sins was idolatry. If Israel had worshipped their God, he would have empowered them to keep the other commands and to offer the sin offerings he prescribed when they failed to keep his commands. But his people did not worship the Lord, therefore, they were slaves to ever other sin and wickedness that humanity can think of. 

But, as we see throughout scripture, God always leaves room for repentance. Although he is just in dealing out the judgments promised in his covenant, his prophets came to warn the people to repent and return to righteous living. Here in Hosea 10 we see one of the most beautiful pleadings by a prophet to God’s people. Verse 12 says, “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love….” Don’t those words give you hope? Righteousness, of course, means right living according to God’s laws. Do what God says is right and you will reap the fruit of unfailing love. 

Obedience to this command requires some heart-work to prepare for. Verse 12b says, “…break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord….” This is a visual way of describing repentance. The “unplowed ground” refers to the hardness of the human heart. This hardness causes people to seek anything but the Lord—we seek the prosperity or pleasure or protection offered to us by idols. Our idols are our selfish desires for materialism or pleasure or recognition or whatever else competes with the Lord for our full attention. The Lord in this passage calls people to repent of those idols, to “seek the Lord” from a repentant heart.

And how long should we do this? Verse 12b: “…until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Even in the Old Testament there are passages that show us that God’s righteousness comes as a gift, like the rain showers of heaven that cause plants on earth to grow. God wasn’t commanding his people to try harder to do right; he was calling them to turn to him in repentance, receive his righteousness as a gift, then “sow righteousness for yourselves [to] reap the fruit of unfailing love.”

Right here in Hosea, then, we find the basic outline of the gospel. The atonement of Christ is not spoken of here, but God’s people knew from the law that their sins needed to be atoned for. We believe and speak the same truths that Hosea held out to Israel. Turn to seek the Lord in repentance, preparing the soil of your heart, receive his righteousness like the gift of rain, then plant the seeds of righteous living in your life and watch how God grows them into the fruit of his unfailing love.

Do you believe that in Christ God has done all that you need to make this truth a reality? Are you living according to these truths, then, sowing the seeds of righteousness in your life?

1 Kings 4-5, Hosea 8, Titus 2

Read 1 Kings 4-5, Hosea 8, and Titus 2.

This devotional is about Titus 2.

BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Titus 2. 

Titus 2 beautifully describes why the church needs to be intergenerational.

It begins in verse 1 by telling us that there is an appropriate way to live if you believe in the truth of the Christian faith. Verses 2-10 describes what that appropriate way of life looks like. Titus was to teach:

  • older men how sound doctrine should lead them to live carefully and in ways that are healthy in faith, love, and endurance (v 2.).
  • older women to live reverent, good lives. But, the purpose for living such lives was, in part, to teach younger women.

And what were the older to women to teach?

  • “…urge the younger women” to live lives devoted in purity to their families (v. 5).

Meanwhile, younger men needed to be taught how to control their actions (v. 6) with Timothy himself being an example for them to follow in every way (vv. 7-8).

Slaves should seek to serve their masters as best as they can in all honesty (vv. 9-10).

The reason for all of this is God’s grace (v. 11). It has appeared to “all people”; this phrase, in context refers to “all types of people” whether old (vv. 2-3) young (vv. 4-6), men (vv. 2, 6) or women (vv. 3-4), free or slave (vv. 9-10). Although we never lose our sinful desires in this life, God’s grace teaches us to say no to them (v. 12a). This is what being “self-controlled” (vv. 2, 5 & 6) means. It is learning to say no to sin no matter how strong our desire is for it.

Older people have had more experience with sin—in their own lives and in seeing its effects in the lives of other—so they can tell younger people how much sinful passions lie to us in what they promise and how to avoid giving into those passions.

The result of this teaching is that believers will learn how “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (v. 12) while we wait for the return of Christ (v. 13). One of Christ’s main purposes in coming the first time was “to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (v. 14b). Without older men to lead the way for younger men, without older women to mentor and instruct younger women, a local church’s adults will make the same sinful choices over and over again, generation after generation.

But one of God’s gracious gifts to us is the gift of older, wiser believers who can encourage, instruct, guide, and lead (by example and by words) the younger adults in the church. Then, as each generation grows in its understanding of the gospel and person holiness, the church gets stronger and Christ accomplishes the goals he came here to accomplish (v. 14).

If you’re an older person, are you having an effect in the life of someone younger? If you’re a younger person, do you have relationships with older believers who can help you grow in your faith? This is what Christ wants for his church so consider how you can serve or benefit from the service of others to grow more like him in your faith and walk with God.

2 Samuel 15, Daniel 5, Mark 15

Read 2 Samuel 15, Daniel 5, and Mark 15.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 15.

One of the consequences that Nathan prophesied would result from David’s sin with Bathsheba was that “the sword would never depart” from David’s house (2 Sam 12:10a).

The fulfillment of that prophecy began when Absalom killed Amnon after Amnon raped Tamar, Absalom’s sister. You will recall that David was angry when he heard about the rape, but he did nothing—not a rebuke of Amnon or, as far as we know, an attempt to comfort Tamar.

Where David left a leadership vacuum, Absalom stepped in. He comforted and cared for his sister and plotted for a way to get revenge against Amnon.

Once Absalom killed Amnon, he went into hiding and was only restored to Jerusalem when Joab interceded with David on his behalf, as we read yesterday. Still, there was plenty of friction between David and Absalom. Though he was allowed to live in Jerusalem, David would not allow Absalom to see him. Their relationship as father and son, then, was still broken.

Although the text does not tell us this exactly, Absalom’s actions in today’s passage indicate that resentment remained in the heart of Absalom. According to verse 1, Absalom began raising his profile within Jerusalem. Then he began to undermine David’s function as Israel’s judge; verses 2-4 tell us that he would stand waiting for those who had legal issues to resolve. Instead of allowing them to come to David for justice, Absalom would tell the petitioner that no one was available to hear his case and give him justice (v. 3). Absalom would then moan that he should be appointed judge so that the people could get justice (v. 4). When they would bow in deference to Absalom, he would treat them as a someone would a friend, not a subject in his kingdom (v. 5). All these actions caused people to think well of Absalom; indeed, verse 6 says that “he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.”

After four years of daily undermining David (v. 7a) when enough goodwill had been accumulated, Absalom made his move and got people to proclaim him king (vv. 8-12). David found himself being hunted again just as Saul had once hunted him in his youth (vv. 13-37). Though the Lord was still with David, the Lord also allowed David to experience this challenge to his kingdom. The challenge resulted both from David’s sin with Bathsheba and from David’s passivity in dealing with Tamar’s rape and Absalom’s murder of Amnon.

Similarly, many of the trials we face in life are, in fact, the harvest of our own sins or our own failure to deal properly with the sins of others. Although confrontation, correction, and restoration are unpleasant things to do, they are righteous in God’s sight and can save us from many problems down the road.

Are you avoiding a hard conversation you need to have with a friend, a co-worker, your spouse, or your child? Don’t let fear keep you from doing what is right; failing to do what is right usually leads to even more problems later. Don’t run away from issues that need to be addressed; run toward them seeking a resolution that glorifies God.

1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, Mark 5

Read 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, and Mark 5.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 39.

This chapter prophesies military disaster for Gog (a man described as “chief prince of Meshek and Tubal” (v. 1b) and Magog (a place—v. 6). Identifying this person and place is a subject too complex for a simple devotional like this one. The chapters surrounding this one in Ezekiel as well as the use of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:8 locates these events in the end times after the Millennium. So, what is described here in Ezekiel 39 is still future to Israel and to us. 

But two items in this prophecy are helpful for us today in our walk with God. First, in verses 7-8 God explained why his judgment will fall on Magog so severely. Verse 7 says, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.”

It is God’s holiness that causes him to judge humanity and bring punishment on people. God is not angry with humanity for no reason and he is not unreasonably brutal toward people. People deserve God’s wrath because we profane his holy name. People do this when they use his name in vain, when they use it to curse others, when they mock biblical standards of righteousness, when they try to deny God’s existence or explain away his word. Our biggest problem spiritually is that, apart from Christ, we hate God. That’s why we disobey his word and try to live life on our own terms. Humanity’s antipathy toward God causes people to speak against him and live in violation of his word. God has been very merciful and patient; allowing humanity thousands of years to enjoy life on earth and the gifts of creation God gave to us. Despite his mercy and patience, humanity has become more evil, more depraved over time. God’s patience will run out and, as he promised, his wrath will fall, and everyone who experiences his wrath more than deserves it. 

We recoil from passages that describe God’s wrath because we are human. We can identify with the pain and horror of human beings suffering the wrath of God. But, in addition to being human, we are also sinners, so most sins are not nearly as evil or offensive to us as they are to a holy God. 

A second item in this prophecy that is helpful to us is the reassurance in verses 25-29 that God is compassionate. This is specifically applied to Israel, but we know that Christ came and died not only to redeem Israel but also people all over the world. So although it is true that God will punish his enemies, his punishment is not unjust nor is it applied without mercy. God is merciful to those who look to him in faith; indeed, Christ himself came to bear the punishment for the sins of all whom God has chosen to be his children. 

1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, Psalms 105-107

Read 1 Samuel 25, Ezekiel 35, and Psalms 105-107.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 25.

David was an emotional guy. That is a good thing; we have the incredible gift of so many Psalms that came from the deep feeling he had in his walk with God. Being corrupted by depravity means, however, that most human strengths can also be human weaknesses. In the hands of God, our strengths are great tools for his glory; when in the grasp of our sinful nature, our strengths can do great damage to ourselves and others.

Here in 1 Samuel 25, David asks Nabal, a wealthy rancher, for food (vv. 2-8). David’s request was sent respectfully. David started his message with a friendly greeting (vv. 4-6). He pointed out that Nabal’s sheep had not been forcibly taken by David’s men even though they were hungry and had the opportunity (vv. 7-8a). David did not make demands, but rather asked for “whatever you can find for them” (v. 8b).

Nabal, on the other hand, acted according to his nature (v. 3c) and was, therefore, rude and selfish in his response (vv. 10-11). 

David, emotional guy that he was, reacted with anger to Nabal’s response and was ready to be the warrior that he was (vv. 12-13). David’s response was completely unjustified; Nabal should have been generous to David, but he was under no moral or legal obligation to give David anything. David’s intention to respond with violence to Nabal shows that he was acting out of his sinful nature, not in wisdom, self-control, or in reverence to God.

Fortunately, there were two people who were able to think clearly, rationally, and strategically in this situation.

The first person to act appropriately was an unnamed servant of Nabal who knew all the relevant information about the situation and knew who to contact about the impending threat (vv. 14-17).

The other person who did well was Nabal’s wife Abigail. As soon as she heard what was going on, she quickly formulated and executed a plan. She prepared food for David and his men and went on the road to meet David before he brought violence to her house (vv. 18-22). Where her husband was brash and rude, she was apologetic and reverent (vv. 23-25). Although she may have said more about her husband than she should have (v. 25), she was acting in his best interests. The things she said about Nabal in verse 25 demonstrate her frustration. It must have been very difficult to be married to someone who was as unkind, self-centered, and sinful as Nabal was. Yet Abigail was not defecting from his team and trying to join David’s instead. Although she seems to have dropped a hint of her interest in David (see v. 31b), everything she did in this passage is righteous. It was righteous of her to protect her husband and their household from the danger his foolishness was bringing. It was righteous of her to see what God was doing in David’s life and to dissuade him from sinning against God in a way that would hurt him later (vv. 26, 28-31a). It was righteous of her, having saved her family, to tell her husband what she had done and not keep it secret from him (v. 37). No wonder David wanted to marry her once she became a widow; not only was she “intelligent and beautiful” (v. 3) she was faithful to her husband despite his foolishness and truly acted in his—their—best interest. Because she trusted God and acted righteously in a very tough situation, God brought justice into her life by punishing her husband and bringing her a spouse she could truly admire.

I wonder how many people would have acted this way? I wonder how many people would have just gotten themselves to safety and let David do what he wanted to do? I wonder how many would be tempted to defect to David’s army and overtly court David’s attention, feeling justified that Nabal deserved to get what was coming to him through David? I have talked to enough people with troubled marriages to know how hard it is to do what is right when your spouse does what is wrong. Yet the Lord’s will for his people is not to give up on one’s marriage, betray one’s spouse, or hope for God’s judgment so that you can have another chance at a better life. Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. Read that sentence again: Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. It impacts the lives of your children and the relationships they’ll have with their spouses and children, creating a legacy that, potentially, will replicate itself for generations. If you cultivate a good marriage, your spouse will be there for you when life goes sideways; in fact, he or she may bail you out of your own foolishness just as Abigail did for Nabal. What your spouse says about you and thinks of you may be the most accurate assessment of your life that anyone but God will ever have. Others may be impressed by your professional achievements and think you to be a great man or woman, but if your spouse thinks differently, what does that suggest about you? Wouldn’t it be wise to strive to be the spouse your spouse wants and needs? 

Nabal had so much wealth but apparently took the incredible wife he had for granted. It is easy to do that with any of God’s blessings. Yet for all of Nabal’s problems and failings, she was good and faithful to him until the very end. If you’re mentally comparing your spouse to Nabal after reading this, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Focus on being like Abigail. Do you have your spouse’s back, even when he or she does something foolish? If you have issues with your spouse, are you looking at things objectively or are you too focused on his or her flaws to see what a blessing, overall, he or she is to you? Seek to live like Abigail and ask God to build the same desire in your spouse. 

If you’re single, be wise about who you date. Someone said, “Every date is a potential mate” and that’s a very good, wise way to look at it. If you can’t see yourself married to the person you’re dating, or know that you shouldn’t marry him/her, those are clear signs that you shouldn’t be dating that person. Abigail, likely, had no choice but to marry Nabal with arranged marriages being what they were. You have the freedom to choose your spouse, so look for someone who will bring the same blessing into your life through wisdom, loyalty, and righteousness.

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.

Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, Ephesians 2

Read Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, and Ephesians 2.

This devotional is about Ruth 3-4.

Once again we see the godly character of Boaz on display in today’s two chapters from Ruth. His actions protecting and providing for Ruth in chapter 2 may indicate his personal attraction to her, but he was aware of the age difference (v. 10) as well as the existence of another man who was a closer relative to Ruth than Boaz. This other relative, then, had the first right to marry her (vv. 12-13).

According to Old Testament law, the other man was supposed to marry Ruth and, with her, produce a son who would be heir to Elimelek’s estate. This nearer relative (plus the age thing) may have been why Boaz did not make a move for Ruth himself. Regardless, Ruth came to him secretly, at night, and requested his protection for her and Naomi through marriage. Although some have suggested that Ruth’s actions of “uncovering Boaz’s feet” was a sexual act, the text indicates the opposite. The wording in the passage was “uncovered his feet and lay down” (3:7) so this would have to be some kind of Hebrew idiom/euphemism for sex, such as when we say two people “slept together” in modern English. But the fact that Boaz slept through Ruth’s actions and, later something “startled him” (v. 8), indicates that the plain reading of the text is the correct one. Ruth pulled the covers off Boaz’s feet, laid down on the ground by his feet and waited for him to wake up. Her reason for doing this was to create an opportunity where she could speak privately to Boaz without anyone else knowing.

Although the passage does not say so, it seems clear that Boaz was an unmarried man. Singleness was highly unusual in Israel, so perhaps Boaz was a widower whose original wife died before giving him any heirs, but we do not know. What we do know is that his blessing on Ruth (3:10) indicated his desire to be married to Ruth. Given that life during the period of the Judges resembled the wild west, Boaz might have been able to get away with undercutting the nearer relative of Ruth by marrying her before the other guy was aware of her existence. However, Boaz wanted to do the right thing. And, in chapter 4, he did. He gave the closer relative the opportunity to do right, then got what he wanted when the other man refused to do his duty. 

You have to admire Boaz and give him some style points for how he approached Ruth’s nearer relative. Boaz mentioned the benefit of doing the right thing first when he asked the man if he would redeem the land that Elimelek owned (4:3). Only after the man stated his intention to buy the land from Naomi did Boaz mention the string that was attached, namely the responsibility to marry Ruth, too (4:5). Notice how, at the end of Ruth 4, when Obed was born, the women said, “Naomi has a son!” (v. 17). The reason they said this is that Obed was the legal heir to Elimelek’s land. That legal entanglement was the reason the closer relative to Ruth did not want to buy the land if it required marrying Ruth, too. If Ruth were to have a son before the other man’s original wife had a son, there would be “firstborn issues” and Obed might get everything. That is what the other man meant in verse 6 when he said, “…I might endanger my own estate.”

Boaz had thought about this before he invited the man to buy Naomi’s property. In other words, although Boaz was determined to do the right thing, even if that meant losing Ruth, he still presented the situation in the best possible way to get what he wanted, namely the legal right to marry Ruth.

The lesson from this, for us, is this: As you pursue what you want in life, will you do that within obedience to the moral will of God?

It is so easy for us to see situations like this in clear black and white terms when we are looking at the responsibilities and actions of others. But, when we ourselves want something that maybe outside of God’s will for us, we can easily make excuses that justify doing what we want to do. Couples who are considering marriage can do this kind of justifying when it comes to crossing lines of sexual activity. “We’re planning on getting married,” they might reason, “so it’s not wrong for us as long as we do get married anyway.” It is so easy to justify what we want to do and so hard, when our desires are engaged, to do what God commands us to do. But a man of moral character like Boaz and a woman of godly character like Ruth will seek to do right, then wait to see what God has decided to do.

Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, Romans 3

Read Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, and Romans 3.

This devotional is about Romans 3.

Romans 2 told us that God is just as angry with self-righteous Jews as he is with the rest of the world (Rom 1). Here in chapter 3, Paul acknowledged that God used the Jewish race to deliver God’s word (vv. 1-2) and to illustrate God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people (vv. 3-8). The bottom line, however, is that Jewish people have no greater status before God than anyone else (v. 9). Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners deserving the wrath of God (vv. 10-19) and unable to earn God’s favor on their own (v. 20).

Having demonstrated the guilt of humanity and our inability to save ourselves, the passage turned to the good news that is at the core of our faith as Christians. Although (and because!) we could not earn righteousness with God on our own, God gives righteousness to those who believe him for it (v. 21). God does this for any sinner who believes (v. 22a), Jew or Gentile (v. 22b-23a). He is able to do this without compromising his justice because the penalty for every sin was paid for in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26).

The reason why neither you nor I can take pride in our own morality or our own spirituality is that we have not earned and could not earn any righteous favor with God (v. 27). So Gentiles like us are on the same level with the Jewish people. God is our God just as he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, or whomever else you want to name.

Think about the implications of this. Do you think God was more willing to answer David’s prayers than yours because David was a man after God’s heart? Think again; David was guilty as a sinner and needed Christ to atone for his sins just like you and I do. Every advantage that God offers to his people is offered to you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.

The problems you and I have spiritually are not due to insufficient grace from God. They are also not due to our lack of effort. Have you ever thought something like this, “If I only spent more time in prayer (or Bible memorization, or whatever), then God would love me more and work more powerfully in my life”? If so, please understand–there is nothing you can do to make God like you or love you more. You don’t get more grace from him by doing more good works. It isn’t like a vending machine where you put in more dollars and are able to buy more bags of chips. Everything you could ever need as a Christian, all the spiritual life and spiritual power you desire is available to you right now in Jesus Christ.

Believe it and live like it is true; that’s what you and I need to change.

Joshua 2, Jeremiah 27, Psalms 78-80

Read Joshua 2, Jeremiah 27, and Psalms 78-80.

This devotional is about Joshua 2.

So much is different this time from the first time the Israelites sent spies into the promised land:

  • The first time, twelve men were sent to be spies—one from each tribe (Num 13:2). This time only two were sent (v. 1).
  • Instead of looking at the land exhaustively (Num 13:17, 21-22), they were told to “look over the land… especially Jericho” (v. 2b), so their task was to survey but with a particular focus on one city.
  • Instead of having to investigate the people, the land, the towns, the soil, and the trees (Num 13:18-20), this time they seemed to be looking more strategically.
  • Another difference was that this time the spies found an ally, although an unlikely one—a prostitute named Rahab (v. 1). Verse 1 says they entered her house “and stayed there.” I suppose that was a strategic decision; a house like hers frequently had men coming and going so maybe they decided it would be easier to avoid detection this way.

Regardless of what they may have thought, they were spotted and their mission and lives were jeopardized (vv. 2-3). While some have faulted Rahab for lying, the scriptures never suggest that she sinned; in fact, she is heralded for her faith and was protected from the death that her questioners received for their unbelief (Heb 11:31).

But above everything else that happened in this passage, Rahab provided the insight that Israel needed to move forward in faith. In verse 9 she said, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.” Later she said it again: “…our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you…” (v. 11).

Out of all the things they learned in their survey trip, this seems to have made the biggest impression on the spies. When they gave their report to Joshua, they used her own words to express their confidence: “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us,” (v. 24).

Both Rahab and the spies understood that this was going to be a spiritual victory; as she put it: “…for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (v. 11). It was not Israel’s military might, superior weaponry, or ingenious tactics that would give them victory. It was the power of God and their faith (this time) in the promises he made to them.

But isn’t it interesting how God provided them with reassurance through Rahab? God could have found fault, I suppose, with them sending spies in the first place. There’s no indication that he directed Joshua to send them. His command was clear, as were his promises of victory, so the very act of sending spies could be seen as an act of unbelief. Instead of rebuking them, however, God gave them Rahab and her words of faith as the final boost they needed.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been ready to do the right thing morally in your life or the wise thing scripturally in your life and, just as you’re about to move forward, God provides just a little bit of reassurance that, yes, he’s in this decision? How gracious of the Lord to confirm his word; how merciful he was to spare a sinful woman like Rahab when she believed in him and acted accordingly. I hope this passage gives you some confidence today as you go out to live for him.