Genesis 31, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Psalm 30.

This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc. People do this kind of theft for different reasons but one of them is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. This kind of person feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice. He or she takes what the employer has and rationalizes it by telling themselves that they deserve it.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled? What if Laban refused to see both of his daughters married to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them. When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who embezzled money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned from employment if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite the absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping, a theme which recurs in the Bible over and over again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.

2 Chronicles 24 and Revelation 15

Read 2 Chronicles 24 and Revelation 15.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’” That was a plea for God’s justice.

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life because we live in a fallen world.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest–Zechariah’s father–was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death. 

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order.

But, as Zechariah said, King Joash died prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19). 

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, Psalms 124-126

Read 2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, and Psalms 124-126.

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 exceptional 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 (v. 5), 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.”

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 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, Mark 4

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, and Mark 4.

This devotional is about Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41).

The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25 uses a farm metaphor to demonstrate that failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers.

The parable in verses 26-29 also uses a farm metaphor to teach about the kingdom of God. In this parable, a farmer scatters the seed into the ground and…. that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.”

Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c says that the farmer’s planting works even “though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

A lot of effective processes work this way. You do not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works, nor do we need to do anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know… how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

Many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure.

But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come.

Are you planting anything?

Genesis 31, Esther 7, Matthew 22

Read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Matthew 22 today.

This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc.

One (of many) reasons people use to rationalize this theft is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. He or she feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled and decided not to marry Rachel after all? What if Laban refused to marry both of his daughters to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them.

When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly she felt Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who was caught embezzling money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite his absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.