1 Kings 16, Ezekiel 46

Read 1 Kings 16 and Ezekiel 46.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 46:9-10: “‘When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate. The prince is to be among them, going in when they go in and going out when they go out.”

This chapter continued the lengthy vision Ezekiel received way back in chapter 40. That vision described how Israel should rebuild the temple and worship as a nation at some point in the future.

Here in chapter 46 the Lord described how the people should gather and worship each Sabbath and during New Moon feasts (v. 3). The prince of Israel was commanded to bring a burnt offering as described in verses 4-7 and verse 8 described where he was to enter and exit the temple area.

Here in verses 9-10 we read these strange instructions. When the people came to worship in the temple on the Sabbath and the New Moons, God commanded them to enter by one gate and leave by the other. These gates were on the north and south sides of the temple. If you came in through the north gate, you were required to cover the rest of the distance and go out the through the south gate. If you came in through the south gate, you had to keep going forward and exit through the north gate. Just so nobody was confused, the end of verse 9 said, “No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.”

Verse 10 included the prince in all of this. He was required to use either the north or south gate and he must go out using the gate  on the opposite side of the one he entered. He was not allowed to use some side entrance to avoid the people; the prince must travel in and out like everyone else did.

Why on earth would the Lord care about this?

We don’t know for sure because Ezekiel did not give any explanation for these instructions. But it is interesting to think about why the Lord might have commanded this. One commentator I glanced at said it was probably either:

  • for crowd control
  • or because turning around and showing your backside might be offensive to God
  • or because “every detail in the worship of Yahweh was ordered.”[1]

The first answer could be true, the second one is just weird and the last one makes decent sense. There were a lot of precise instructions given in these chapters; maybe this is just another one of those.

But think about it. You have two large groups of people. One came in from the North and is now facing South. The other came in from the South and is now facing North. They are facing each other and have to cross paths with everyone else on the other side to get out. To me, it seems like crowd control would be easier if everyone turned around and left the way they came in.

So it makes me wonder if God commanded this to make it harder for his people to avoid each other and for the prince to avoid the people. In any large group of people, there were bound to be some who were estranged from one another. There were some who may have sued each other, married and divorced each other, or just generally didn’t get along with each other. These instructions made hiding from people you dislike even harder to do. Remember Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” That could literally happen if you had to either walk in with half the crowd or cross paths with the other half of the crowd on your way out.

These commands also emphasized that the prince was just a worshipper like everyone else. He had greater responsibilities and recognition, but he was just a man before God like everyone else, a sinner allowed by God’s mercy and grace into his presence.

Do you ever try to avoid someone on Sunday morning when you come to church? If we only had two doors open to the building and they were opposite each other and we wouldn’t let you leave through the door that you entered, don’t you think you would see more people than you usually do?

We can’t really be the church without socializing with others in the church. Do you come late and leave early or immediately after the service just to avoid people? Do you think the Lord is pleased if we act that way toward our brothers and sisters in Christ?

[1] Daniel Isaac Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997–), 673.

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, Psalm 111

Today we’re reading Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, and Psalm 111.

This devotional is about Leviticus 25.

The people of Israel were dependent on God for everything while they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. Here in Leviticus 25, verses 1-22, God gave some laws that would keep them dependent on him, if they obeyed them. These laws extended the notion of Sabbath rest to the land. God’s people were commanded to leave the land alone every 7th year (v. 4) and live by whatever it produced on its own without any sowing, cultivation or reaping (v. 6).

Think about that. The idea of having a Sabbatical year after every six years of work sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? “Take the next year off” your boss tells you. “We’ll send you a profit sharing check based on whatever money comes in, even though we’re not going to work or produce anything. It should be fine.”

When you put it that way, taking a year off sounds pretty terrifying. Land doesn’t ordinarily produce crops on its own, so just loafing around for a year and eating whatever shows up sounds incredibly risky.

That’s exactly the point. As the Lord said in verse 21, “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” Taking a Sabbatical was an act of faith. It was taking God at his word that he would provide for his people. It wasn’t exactly a miraculous provision, like the manna from heaven was, but it was a divine provision. It would be an extraordinary event for God to make the land produce in this way, a reversal of the curse in Genesis 3:17-19, but that’s what God promised. He was promising a blessing to his people–the blessing of rest–if they simply trusted him.

God’s people didn’t trust him, so they did not obey this command. When God allowed Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians, it was in part to fulfill this passage. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” A great blessing was there for the taking but unbelief and fear kept it from happening.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What blessings you and I might be missing because unbelief and fear cause us to disobey God’s commands?

Exodus 35, Proverbs 11, Psalm 83

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Exodus 35, Proverbs 11, and Psalm 83.

This devotional is about Exodus 35 with a cross-reference to Proverbs 11:24-25.

God’s law was given and God’s promise to lead Israel to victory was secured in the preceding chapters. Those who were unbelieving and worshiped the golden calf had been punished for their sins. Now, here in Exodus 35, it was time for God’s people to do what God had commanded them to do for worship.

The passage began with a reminder of the importance of rest and worship on the Sabbath in verses 1-3. Then, in verses 4-9, God commanded his people to “take an offering for the LORD” (v. 5a). The people were invited to give God the resources that would be needed to create the tabernacle and all its furnishings and equipment. This is how they would have the materials they needed to build a place for worship.

In verses 10-19, a different kind of offering was commanded; it the offering of one’s time and talent. God’s people were commanded to “make everything the LORD has commanded” (v. 10). “Everything” was detailed in verses 11-19. Those who had skills were to help Bezalel do the work (vv. 30-33). They were to learn what they needed to know from Bezalal and Oholiab, both of whom had “the ability to teach others” (v. 34b).

In verses 20-29, the people responded to God’s commands through Moses. They dug around in their luggage and belongings and found all the stuff that was needed to make the tabernacle and the tools of worship. Notice, however, that nobody forced them to give. Although the Lord had commanded them to give, nobody forced them to do so. In fact, the words of the passage communicate directly that their gifts were voluntary. Verse 22 says, “All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought” these items to give to the Lord. Verse 29 repeated the point twice by saying again, “All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord…” and by calling their gifts “freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.”

This is how God’s work is provided for–by the willing gifts of his people. Although the things they gave (both their treasures and their time/talents) were used by the priests, what they gave was given to the Lord for his work (v. 29: “for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do”).

Proverbs 11:24-25 discussed the blessings that come through generosity. In verse 24, Solomon observed that generous people give stuff away, but gain more while the stingy get poor: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” Verse 25 repeats the prediction when it says, “A generous person will prosper” but then it adds a blessing, “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” These verses commend generosity in every aspect of life, not just for the Lord’s work but the principles taught here in Proverbs 11:24 -25 and modeled for us by Israel in Exodus 35 still apply. God provides for his work through the generous giving of his people. Are you giving generously to the Lord or are you withholding from supporting God’s work?

Some withholding is motivated by materialism; some is motivated by fear. In both cases, faith is needed. Do you believe that God will provide for you and even prosper you if you give generously out of love for him?

Exodus 20, Job 38, Psalm 68

Today’s readings are Exodus 20, Job 38, and Psalm 68.

This devotional is about Exodus 20.

Here it is: the original Big 10. Although God later gave these commands to Moses on a tablet, the commands given in this chapter were spoken by the voice of God and all the people of Israel heard his voice. We see that in verse 1 which says, “And God spoke all these words” and in verse 19 where the people “said to Moses, “‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’”

This is really what separates the Ten Commandments from the rest of God’s laws given in by Moses. The Ten Commandments were not more inspired or more important to Israel than the rest of God’s commands. They were simply the ones that God gave audibly, directly to his people while the rest of his commands were mediated through Moses.

Still, the Ten Commandments are important because they apply to everyone and teach general principles that can be applied in many ways. Many of God’s other laws are more specific either in audience or in application.

Of all the Ten Commandments, there is only one in particular that does not apply to us, according to many Christians. The one I’m talking about is the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” (vv. 8-11). The way Israel was to “keep it holy” was for everyone to rest, just as God did on the first Sabbath day. Everyone was to rest–man and animal alike; no exceptions.

This command was a gift to God’s people. In the days of Moses and beyond, the vast majority of people lived in near poverty. They were able to produce enough to stay alive, but that’s about it. Imagine how fearful you would be in those conditions. The idea of taking a day off could mean starvation for you and everyone else in your family. Fear would keep you working non-stop, every day, every week, every year, for as long as there was daylight outside. A family in these conditions may stay alive, but how much can you enjoy a life where the work never ends? By observing the Sabbath, God’s people put their trust in him fully to provide for them. They could trust God by sleeping in, lazing about, talking with family and friends, and recharging their proverbial batteries.

By the time of Jesus, the Sabbath was transformed from a day of rest into a day of religious performance. Instead of being a blessing to God’s people, it became a burden to them by making them objects of judgment by judgmental people. I agree that Jesus liberated us from this law; we are not commanded as Christians to observe the Sabbath.

But how much better off would we be physically and spiritually if we did rest one day, every week? Think about how harried and anxious we are much of the time. We may not fear starving, but we do seem to fear missing out on some activity or making our kids’s coaches mad, or losing a job that requires you to be available at all times. You don’t have to treat Sunday like the Pharisees treated the Sabbath. But wouldn’t your life be better if you protected Sunday for rest and worship?

And, isn’t it an act of faith to draw some boundaries around Sunday to enjoy the rest and relationship renewal that God wants you to have?

Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23

Today’s readings are Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 13.

Nehemiah was a real jerk. At least, that’s how other people probably regarded him. He insisted on obedience to God’s word. When he found out that others were letting disobedience slide, Nehemiah reacted strongly and emotionally. Consider these incidents:

  1. When a priest allowed one of God’s enemies to have a big apartment in the temple, Nehemiah personally carried his belongings out and threw them on the front lawn (v. 8). When he found out that God’s servants weren’t being paid, Nehemiah called out the civic leaders and made them pay up (vv. 10-12), even designating some stand-up guys to be responsible for this in the future (v. 13).
  2. When he learned that non-Jews who lived in Jerusalem were selling stuff on Saturday (the Sabbath), Nehemiah “rebuked the nobles of Judah” (v. 17), stopped the city gates from opening so that nothing could come in for sale (v. 19) and threatened to arrest those who still came hoping to sell (vv. 20-22).
  3. When he found out that men of Judah had married foreign wives, he “rebuked them and called curses down on them… beat some of the men and pulled out their hair “(v. 25)!

Yep, he was a jerk if it was your hair that he was pulling out. The thing is, he had scriptural reasons for everything he did. He also had some anxiety about it. I say that because of these repeated statements:

  • “Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services” (v. 14).
  • “Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love” (v. 22b).
  • “Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites” (v. 29).
  • “Remember me with favor, my God” (v. 31b).

If you want to live a godly life, you will be forced to choose, at times, either (a) to say nothing in order to preserve your reputation and likability or (b) to speak up about sin and be thought a jerk. When Nehemiah asked God to remember him after these incidents, he is showing us the human side of doing what is right. He paid a price in his relationships in order to lead God’s people to obedience; but he did that because he believed in God’s word and trusted in God to reward him for doing the right thing.

Are you up to that? Have you been looking the other way when people sin around you so that people will like you? Nehemiah understood the pressure. I do, too; in fact, I wish I could say I was better and more consistent about showing the kind of moral leadership that Nehemiah showed. May the Lord help us all to be bolder in our stand for His commands.

[Probably not necessary to beat anyone or pull out his/her hair….]