1 Kings 14, Ezekiel 44

Read 1 Kings 14 and Ezekiel 44.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel should be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides.

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

  • First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.”
  • Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.”

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests.

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced.

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this.

But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

Judges 14, Jeremiah 27

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 14 and Jeremiah 27.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 27.

God commanded his prophets do some strange things at times. These strange things had a point, however, which was to deliver God’s truth in vivid, memorable ways. Here in Jeremiah 27, the prophet was commanded to take the yoke that oxen would wear and put it on his own neck. (v. 2). People used these yokes to get animals to submit to them and plow their fields. The yoke, then, is a symbol of submission. God told the prophet to use this visual aid to teach people that they should just go ahead and submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. It would be easier for everyone and cost many fewer human lives (v. 8) than trying to defeat Nebuchadnezzar outside the will of God (vv. 5-7).

This visual aid is unusual but so was the audience for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God told him to spread this message to “the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah” (v. 3). Most of the time God’s prophets were sent to his people, Israel and Judah. This time God sent his word from the prophet to several nations. That wasn’t unheard of but it was unusual.

The kings of these pagan lands had their own gods so I wonder if they would think it strange that the God of Israel would try to tell them what to do. God anticipated that objection and affirmed his Sovereign right because he is the Creator: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (v. 5).

Other nations have their gods but their gods are fake. Only Israel’s God–our God–is the true God. Because he created everything, he has the right to rule everyone and require everyone’s obedience. Keep this in mind when unbelievers tell you that they have their own religion or that they don’t believe the Bible so it is not important what the Bible says. These are attempts to evade their accountability to God. But because God is Creator, they are accountable to him. Indeed, everyone on earth will stand before God and answer to him whether they submitted to his word or not.

Every person who ever lived is responsible to obey God’s word. Unbelievers are not off the hook because of their unbelief; to the contrary, their unbelief is one of many ways in which they live in rebellion to the true God. Unbelievers are responsible to obey God but they are not capable of obeying him.

Neither are we.

That is why we needed Christ to come into the world. He obeyed God for us (we call this his “active obedience”) and to die for our sins (this is his “passive obedience”). Unbelievers don’t get out of accountability by denying God or his word; they avoid God’s judgment by receiving his grace.

James 3:1-2: Before you start teaching God’s word, develop your spiritual maturity as an Intentional Act of Faith.

James 3:1-2: Before you start teaching God’s word, develop your spiritual maturity as an Intentional Act of Faith.

Teaching God’s word is important, an essential function of the local church and necessary for the growth of every believer in Christ. But, who is qualified to teach God’s people in the church? Find out in this message.

This is message 21 in the series, Intentional Acts of Faith, a series about the New Testament book of James. It was developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Sunday, June 27, 2021.  

Deuteronomy 26, Isaiah 53

Read Deuteronomy 26 and Isaiah 53.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 26.

But, about Deuteronomy 26, yesterday I wrote about Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 and how it teaches us that God’s word has ongoing relevance to every believer in any age, even if if doesn’t directly apply to you. In other words, you don’t have to own oxen to be obedient to Deuteronomy 25:4.

As I mentioned yesterday, Paul saw the command in Deuteronomy 25:4 not to muzzle the ox as a specific instance of a universal truth: people who work should benefit from their labor. Specifically, he argued in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:9 that people who benefit from the ministry of apostles, evangelists, pastors, etc. should provide financial support to those church leaders. Today, in Deuteronomy 26, Moses commanded the people entering the promised land to bring 10% (a tithe, v. 12) of what the land produced and dedicate it to the Lord. This initial tithe was a thank-offering; they were to rehearse Israel’s history from Abraham to the present day when they brought it (vv. 5-10). It was an offering to God because it was called “the sacred portion” in verses 13 and 14.

But, although it was an offering to God, it was given for the benefit and blessing of specific people. Namely, it was giving to “the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (v. 13). The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow were people who unable to provide for themselves so they needed to be provided for by others. This tithe was God’s way of doing that.

The Levites, on the other hand, did not have an allotted portion of land like every other tribe. Instead, they were scattered among the towns and villages of all the tribes in order to teach the Law of God to the people. They were allowed to own and farm land, but their primary responsibility was to teach God’s people his word and to minister at the tabernacle (later, the temple) during assigned times. God’s command was that the tithe would provide financial support to these ministers of his word so that they could serve the spiritual lives and needs of his people.

There are no commands to tithe in the New Testament and some believers are convinced that tithing is not for the New Testament age. In principle, I agree. We are not under the law so Moses’s command to tithe does not have the same force as it did for the people of Israel.

However, as we saw yesterday, all of God’s word is written for us even though it was not written to us. God’s work still needs to be financially supported somehow and the New Testament (like the aforementioned 1 Timothy 5:18 & 1 Corinthians 9:9 but also Galatians 6 and other passages) commands believers to give financially for God’s work. The 10% rule is not commanded but God’s people are encouraged to give generously, to store up treasure in heaven.

Think about this: do you think that Paul, who was raised in Judaism and taught to give 10% would think that a few hundred bucks, or 1% or 5% or anything less than 10% would qualify as giving “generously?”

So, God’s word does not require anyone in this age to tithe but it does command God’s people to give to provide for the poor and for the work of God’s ministry. Here at Calvary, our membership covenant requires tithing so, if you’re a member, you agreed to tithe to our church even if you don’t think tithing is for Christians today.

But beyond all of this, notice what Moses said would happen when God’s people brought a tithe to the Levites and the poor:

  • Verse 11: “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
  • Verse 12: “you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

These passages show the human benefit, the personal blessing that giving to God’s work and to the poor will bring. You will rejoice (v. 11) and so will the recipients (v. 11) because they will “eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

Do you tithe to our church? If not, do you think the Lord is pleased by your decision?

Deuteronomy 11, Isaiah 39

Read Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

This devotional touches on both Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

In Isaiah 39 a delegation from Babylon came to visit Hezekiah. Their mission was was peaceful and was designed to create goodwill between the two nations (v. 1). Hezekiah was eager (probably too eager) to welcome them and he showed them all of the material blessings God had given him (v. 2) making reconnoissance easy for the Babylonians who would soon become Judah’s enemy.

God used the occasion of their visit to send a message through Isaiah prophesying of the coming Babylonian captivity (vv. 6-7). Hezekiah was untroubled by the prophecy because it would be fulfilled after his death. As verse 8 said, “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” His viewpoint was self-centered and short-term in its focus. Instead of being concerned about Judah receiving the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel for many generations, Hezekiah only cared to know that there would be tranquility during his kingdom and lifetime.

Contrast Hezekiah’s attitude with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 11. While Moses was certainly concerned with the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the current generation (vv. 8-18), he also urged the current generation to pass on what they had seen and learned about God to the next generation (vv. 2, 5, 19-21).

All of us who love the Lord here in the church age should think this way, too. Unfortunately, many Christians do not and some of the common problems churches experience are the result of short-term thinking like Hezekiah’s. The more mature you are in Christ, the more you should care about the salvation and spiritual growth of young people. Of course the church should minister to every age group, but it should focus most on ministry to families. When you are a child, a teen, a young adult, and a parent with children, the church should be optimized to to minister to you. As your children become adults, they should, by God’s grace, be moving more and more toward leadership and service in the church. Then, the older you get, the more your growth in Christ and personal maturity should point you toward reaching and discipling the next generation.

Often, though, there becomes inter-generational conflict in the church. This is where some of the “worship wars” come from but also the inability of the church to prune ministries that once were effective but are now no longer serving a good spiritual purpose. A church can easily be born, grow strong, and then decline (or even die) in a 20 year span because it only ministers to one generation. People in that generation are content, even complacent, that the church offers “peace and security in my lifetime” (Is 39:8b) and so, like Hezekiah, they are unconcerned about what will come after them.

When you think about our church, are you looking to see if young people coming through our youth group stick around and get involved as young adults? Does it give you joy to see those young adults marry, have children, and raise them in our church? Are you praying that some of them will become elders in the days ahead? Are you looking to be involved in some of our ministries to children or young adults so that you can pass on what you’ve learned in your walk with God to others who haven’t seen what you’ve seen?

Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149

Read Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 8.

I have heard people who are encountering difficult times in their lives refer to that difficult period of time as “wandering in the wilderness.” That phrase is a metaphor drawn from Israel’s 40 years of literally wandering in the wilderness. Moses talked about that here in Deuteronomy 8. In verses 2-3, he described the reasons for that wilderness wandering. Those reasons were:

  • to humble the Israelites (v. 2b)
  • to test the Israelites in order to reveal whether or not they would keep God’s commands from the heart (v. 2c).
  • to teach the Israelites to rely on God (v. 3d).

If we think of times in our lives as wilderness wanderings, do we think about these purposes? Many times when we suffer we think that our suffering is has no purpose or we have a vague sense that our faith is being tested. These verses would challenge us to think more deeply about these problems. While this passage was not given to say that every problem or trial in life is like this, God’s ways do follow similar patterns. So it is appropriate, when we are suffering, to think about God’s reasons for bringing this suffering into our lives along the lines described in verses 2-3–to humble us, to test us, and to teach us.

Let’s focus on that third one, “to teach us.” Verse 3d tells us that God wanted to teach a very specific lesson which was that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This phrase relates to God’s miraculous gift of manna (v. 3b). The point of the lesson was that God would provide for his people if they trusted him and obeyed his word, even if they didn’t know how he would provide.

I am sure that it is hard to trust God when you have a credible fear of starving. With no food or access to the usual sources of food, a person may be tempted to curse God, to jettison faith, or to conclude that God does not exist. God and Moses wanted people to know that they needed to trust God to stay alive more than they needed everyday sources of food.

Israel wandered and suffered in the desert. Jesus also suffered in the desert. His suffering lasted 40 days rather than 40 years but he countered Satan’s first temptation by quoting this passage, Deuteronomy 8:3d. He knew well that it was more important to trust God the Father than it was to provide for his daily needs by any means necessary. When he refused to sin by turning stones into bread, he was depending on the promise that God the Father would provide for him if he trusted and obeyed God’s word.

Have you experienced a trial in your life that taught you to trust God and the promises of his word? If so, then you’ve seen him provide for you, not the miracle provision of manna but in some way showing himself faithful after you obeyed his word.

When we are tempted to sin, we need this message just as Jesus used this message when he was tempted to sin. Giving in to temptation might meet a need, relieve a problem, or satisfy a desire, but it is the opposite of trusting God. If you face temptation today, remember this–God has allowed this into your life to teach you to trust him. If you will trust him, he will provide for you just as he provided manna for Israel and angels to meet Jesus’s needs.

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.

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7

Today we’re reading Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7.

This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study… of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the… observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.