1 Kings 4-5, Ezekiel 35

Read 1 Kings 4-5 and Ezekiel 35.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 4.

Wisdom, defined basically, is “skill.” There are people in the Bible who are said to have had wisdom in the area of making garments, for instance (Exodus 28:3). That is a skill that God gave them but that they developed.

In Proverbs, Solomon described the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. Most of the Proverbs speak of wisdom in a moral context–worship the Lord, follow his commands, and you will be a wise person. But people can have skill in many areas of life and Solomon’s God-given wisdom extended broadly. He not only had spiritual insight, as we read today in1 Kings 4:32 but he also had administrative insight. Most of this chapter, 1 Kings 4, is dedicated to how Solomon skillfully built administration into his kingdom.

But verse 29 goes on to say that Solomon had wisdom in many areas of life. Verse 33 tells us that Solomon lectured on “plant life… animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” This suggests a curiosity about the world in general and a focused effort to study and understand things.

We believe that God created all things and we believe that he charged humanity with responsibility to develop and use the world around us. Given that, many things that we don’t ordinarily think of a spiritual can actually be acts of worship for a dedicated Christian. Geology, astronomy, physics, business administration, investing, money management, medicine, law, technology, botany, art, music, and many other things that I can’t think of just now can all be areas where God gives someone wisdom and where someone who fears the Lord can demonstrate that wisdom and give glory to God with it.

What areas are you gifted in? Can you sell? Persuade other people? Write? Crunch numbers? Fix electrical problems or computer problems? Learn foreign languages? Write code for computer applications? Have you considered that the interest and ability you have in one or more of these so-called “secular” areas of life could actually be a gift of wisdom to you from God? What, as a Christian, are you doing with that ability to bring glory to God?

2 Samuel 22, Ezekiel 29

Read 2 Samuel 22 and Ezekiel 29.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 22, which is nearly identical to Psalm 18.

In this Psalm, David praised God for the protection God gave him during his many years as a man of warfare. One of the things he praised God for was described in verse 35: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”

Undoubtedly David practiced wielding weapons of warfare. The boring hours and days he spent watching the sheep as a boy gave him plenty of time to practice his aim with a sling, not to mention the amount of harp-playing he did during those same days. After he defeated Goliath, he learned to handle a sword and a bow and arrow with lethal accuracy. All that practice gave him the skills that made people sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands (1 Sam 18:7).

Yet in verse 35 he praised God for training him for battle. Unlike the pride of the king of Tyre, whom we read about yesterday in Ezekiel 28, David was humble enough to realize that every skill and ability he had came from God. He cultivated that skill, yes, but God was the one who gave him the time and physical ability to practice and perfect that skill. As he sang God’s praises for protection, he also credited him publicly and worshipfully for the fighting skills he developed which enabled him to be victorious and avoid being killed in battle.

What is the one skill you’re good at–the one that friends of your wish they had and maybe even the one that provides you with a good living? Do you realize that skill is a gift from God and so were the time, the teachers, and the opportunities you’ve had to develop it? Do you take time periodically to thank God for that provision? Do you deflect praise from yourself to the Lord when others praise you for that skill?

2 Samuel 21, Ezekiel 28

Read 2 Samuel 21 and Ezekiel 28.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 28.

The tirade against Tyre that began in Ezekiel 26 continued into this chapter. The focus this time was on the king of Tyre (v. 2). God’s issue with him was his pride: “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god….'” His pride was based on his wisdom (v. 2i) and wealth (v. 4). These are related issues.

Tyre became a wealthy place because of its location on the Mediterranean sea. The people of Tyre used that location wisely by learning to navigate that sea and creating trade relationships with other costal towns. All of this is to their credit and God acknowledged that in verse 4 when he said, “By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself.” And, as verse 5 said, “By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth….” The king of Tyre sat atop all of this prosperity and all of it went to his head. Verse 5c-d says, “…because of your wealth your heart has grown proud.”

People who are intelligent and wise may become wealthy, but not always. Some people who excelled academically in school choose jobs in academia or government because those jobs feel safe. You can make a good living working for someone else but most wealth is created by working for yourself. Working for yourself, though, feels insecure and requires taking some risks. Those who make it and become wealthy, therefore, may use their wealth as a scorecard to inflate their own egos. “I took a chance on myself and look how well it turned out,” they may think, “so I must be smarter and wiser than most people.” Apparently the king of Tyre thought so much of his success that he ascribed to himself godlike qualities (vv. 2, 6). God, therefore, decided to douse him with a cold bucket of reality. The Babylonians, then, defeated Tyre just as they defeated the other nations around them.

Over and over again the Bible tells us that God hates pride and loves humility. A humble person can enjoy success and even wealth while realizing that (a) others contributed to one’s ability to generate wealth and (b) God ultimately decides who prospers and who does not. Someone once said that, “The world turns over every 24 hours on someone who thought they were on top of it.” The king of Tyre was about to find that out for himself. A humble, godly man like Job found that out, too.

Don’t follow his example. If you’re doing well, thank God for it and be a good steward of what you get.

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of risk or hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful.

I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book about God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, Psalm 79

Today’s readings are Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, and Psalm 79.

This devotional is about Exodus 31.

At times in my life I have heard people make negative comparisons between “secular” work and the work of the ministry. For example, one successful businessman said he’s just “building a bonfire” because 1 Corinthians 3 talks about a man’s work being either “gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay, and precious stones.” I don’t think he was interpreting that passage correctly but his interpretation was that saving souls, teaching the Word, and building up Christians was work that would last for eternity while everything else would just burn up.

The previous chapters in Exodus described the tabernacle and all the furniture and tools that the priests would need to minister before the Lord. Here in Exodus 31:1-5 we read, “Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” This man Bezalel was a godly man; he was filled with God’s spirit, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. But he had other gifts, too, ones that are not usually connected to godliness. Those gifts were “skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” Where did he get these skills? They were gifts of God which probably means that he had some natural ability in these areas. Where were these gifts honed? Making bricks and tools and other stuff as a slave in Egypt. For the first time in his life, this godly man had the opportunity to use his “secular” gifts for the Lord’s work. But was this the first time in his life when his work mattered?

No.

Read that again: No.

This was not the first time in his life that his work mattered. The rest of his work life was not “building a bonfire” at all. The same is true for you, no matter how you earn your living. The work you do as a Christian matters whether or not it is done in secular or sacred contexts. Here are some reasons why:

  1. God created us to work and to make skillful and practical use of this earth an the resources in it. In Genesis 1:28 God commanded Adam and Eve to “…fill the earth and subdue it.” In Genesis 2, before Eve was even created, verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Working the garden and taking care of it was God’s will for Adam. The curse on Adam when he sinned was not that he would have to work but that his work would be hard (Gen 3:17-19). When you do work that makes good use of God’s creation, you are doing the will of God. That work matters.
  2. Doing “secular” work develops skills that can be used in “sacred” contexts. That’s what’s happened to Bezalel. If you’ve ever used anything you’ve learned in your profession to help our church or some other ministry, you’ve been used by God to serve him. That work matters.
  3. Doing “secular” work gives you the opportunity to develop godliness in your life. Working in a frustrating world (because of the curse of Gen 3) and with frustrating people gives a believer the opportunity to develop the fruit of the Spirit. It can teach you to love the unlovely, have joy when things fail or disappoint you, be at peace when there is turmoil around you and so on. Note that in our text, Exodus 31:3, God described Bezalel as a godly man. He was “filled with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge.” That godliness was cultivated as a slave in Egypt, using his skills to serve godless men. It was hardly a waste of time, then, given the difference it made in his life.
  4. Doing “secular” work pays you which supports your family and, through giving, it supports God’s work financially.

I put the word “secular” in quotes throughout this devotional for a reason. I don’t really think there is a true distinction between “secular” and “sacred” work. Please do not consider your work futile and unimportant. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent, a CEO, an assembly line worker, a brain scientist, or a pastor. What matters is that you are faithful to do what God calls you to do and to cultivate Christlikeness as you do it.

Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, Psalm 78

Today’s readings are Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, and Psalm 78.

This devotional is about Proverbs 6:6-11.

Ants are disgusting creatures who have no business being in my house.

That said, they are remarkable workers. There are some time-lapse videos on the Internet that show how hard they work to break down large food items for their colony. Some of the items, like a grapefruit, are huge compared to the size of one ant. Working together diligently, however, they can pick the whole thing apart in a few hours.

Here in Proverbs 6:6-11, Solomon encouraged the “sluggard” to think about the hard work of ants. A sluggard is foolish because he his lazy. The first thing Solomon encouraged the sluggard to notice about ants is that they don’t need a boss. Verse 7 says that it “has no commander, no overseer or ruler.” This sounds like a dream life to many people; a life with no boss, no authority. If a lazy person had no one in authority over him, he would do nothing productive all day, day after day (vv. 9-10). An ant, however, “stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Each one works hard to provide for the colony even without a supervisor.

The point here is that the sluggard needs to learn how to be productive without external supervision or discipline. Many people will do nothing unless they are told to do it but a wise man will learn to work diligently without supervision to be profitable and prepared for the future. The foolish lazy man, by contrast, is warned that “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”

Many people are hardworking in most areas of life or lazy in most areas of life. Many of us, however, work hard in some areas while neglecting to work hard in other areas. We may be productive employees, even without much supervision, but we’re lazy about managing the money we make. Or perhaps we’re diligent about physical fitness but not about our spiritual lives. What area in your life should you apply wisdom to be more ant-like?

We would also be wise to teach our kids to be self-starters and diligent without supervision. These are essential skills for success in our world and very rare. Encourage your kids to work on that term paper for a little while every night instead of trying to do it all in one weekend or–worse–one caffeine-fueled all-nighter. It will serve them well all the days of their lives.

You might enjoy watching this brief video about ants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgtepw39NX4

Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, Psalm 73

Read Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, and Psalm 73.

This devotional is about Proverbs 1.

We live in the information age. Knowledge abounds and most people carry a device in their pocket or purse that can access it. Although knowledge is readily available, wisdom is rare. People in our society know more than ever but seem to have fewer and fewer basic life skills.

The word “wisdom,” biblically speaking, at least, refers to skill. It is the skill of living a successful life according to God’s definition of success. Although I said that wisdom is rare in our society, Proverbs 1:20-21 claims that wisdom is ubiquitous—nearly as common as oxygen. To demonstrate this, Solomon imagined wisdom as if it were a woman and wrote, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:”

If wisdom is everywhere then why is it so rare? The speech of “woman wisdom” in verse 23 tells us why: “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you….” Wisdom is rare because only the humble receive it. It takes humility to admit that you lack skills with God, with money, with other people, with the opposite sex, with career choices, with your own bad habit like laziness, etc. Most of us are too proud in one or more of the areas where we need wisdom which is why we continue to make foolish decisions.

As we read the book of Proverbs over the next 30 days, note how often the idea that your own ideas or understanding will lead you astray. That’s how our pride manifests itself. We try to figure everything out on our own, so we don’t ask God for wisdom, turn to his Word for wisdom, or seek the counsel of wise people. If we would only change our minds (v. 23: “repent”) and admit that we’re on the edge of big trouble most of the time, wisdom would be right there waiting to give us a great big kiss.

Sometimes we succeed or avoid danger / failure despite our lack of wisdom but very often our foolishness gets the better of us. But living in folly and making decisions without wisdom catches up with us most of the time. The reason is that there are built-in effects to the decisions we make. When we make wise decisions, good things happen; when we make foolish decisions, we suffer for it. Verses 25-27 promise that disaster and calamity will come to those who refuse wisdom’s rebuke. Verse 30-31 tell us that this disaster and calamity is embedded in folly; it is the direct consequences of unwise choices: “Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them….”

Wisdom is a moral thing. That’s why it starts with fearing the Lord (v. 7). God’s commands are wisdom. When we sin, we choose folly and put ourselves directly in the path of a category 5 hurricane of disaster. But our sin nature fools us into believing that we know better than God and his Word; consequently, we humans make the same foolish decisions over and over, generation after generation, never learning from foolish disasters created by those older than us. We need God’s grace to overcome our foolishness so that we can be wise. This is what we have in Christ.

Is there anything in your life right now that you need to repent of? Any sins you’ve committed or have committed that you need to change your mind about? Wisdom is begging you to do it before calamity comes. Turn toward her open arms! God’s promise to you through her is, “whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (v. 33).