Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7

Read 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 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.

1 Kings 1, Hosea 3-4, Psalms 117-118

Read 1 Kings 1, Hosea 3-4, and Psalms 117-118.

This devotional is about Hosea 3-4.

Hosea 4:6a is probably the best known saying from the book of Hosea: “…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” That passage is often quoted like a proverb even in our secular world. The way that it is used in the secular world suggests that more education is the answer for every human problem. If people were just more knowledgable, they would not be “destroyed.”

I do think that knowledge is important and, perhaps, you could extend the application of this verse into a principle that ignorance in general is damaging. But that is not the message the Lord was sending through Hosea.

The “lack of knowledge” God decries here is a lack of knowing God. This verse comes in the larger context of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and their covenant with him (3:1, 4:1b-2). Toward the end of 4:1, the phrase “no acknowledgment of God in the land” could (should) be translated, “no knowledge of God in the land” as in the ESV. One of the charges the Lord brings against his people, then, is that they do not know him (v. 1). The consequence of not knowing him in v. 5 is that “my people are destroyed.”

And why did the people lack knowledge? Verse 6b says, “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.”

The Lord traced the ignorance of his people back to the unfaithful teaching of the priests. One of the role of the priests was to teach God’s law to his people but the priests had “ignored” God’s law. Whatever they were teaching was so much less than the greatness of God for verse 7 says, “they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful.”

It seems that spiritual leaders in all ages and eras can be tempted to move away from teaching about God to teaching something else—idolatry, indulgences, psychology, or whatever. The result is that God’s people no longer know him; having been deprived of his word, they have no means by which to know what he is truly like.

Churches today are filled with big entertainment and therapeutic messages but very little content about God. When people do not know God, their worship becomes shallow and self-centered and their desire to learn and obey his commands dries up.

This is why it is important to teach God’s word in our churches and to read God’s word on our own. I hope these daily readings (most importantly) and my devotionals have helped you know God better.

Judges 15, Ezekiel 4, Acts 23

Today’s readings are Judges 15, Ezekiel 4, Acts 23.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 4.

God seems to have tailored his revelation to the personality of the one who received it. Ezekiel was an unusual man so the revelation he received and recorded in this book was, likewise, unusual. The opening vision of Ezekiel 1 and the “eat this scroll” revelation of chapter 3 are two examples that we’ve already read about.

Here in chapter 4, Ezekiel was commanded to act out his prophecy. God commanded him to make a little model of the city of Jerusalem (v. 1), then pretend that he was putting the city under siege (vv. 2-3). Then he was to lie on his left side for 390 days to symbolize the sin of Israel and 40 days for the sin of Judah [1]. There are other elements to his act as well; the most offensive was a command to cook food over his own poop (v. 12). God relented on that last detail and let him cook it over animal poo instead, but the point was to show God’s people that the siege would hit them hard–so hard that they would be desperate enough to break their kosher laws.

Why would God command Ezekiel to prophesy in this unusual way? One reason, as I mentioned, was that it fit Ezekiel’s personality. A more important reason, however, was to communicate his word even more powerfully than the spoken oracles of other prophets like his contemporary Jeremiah. Visual aids and object lessons can make a deep impression on our minds and hearts that is more powerful than declarative preaching and teaching.

Note that this kind of visual aid was the exception, not the norm. Declarative preaching and teaching is more efficient at conveying a lot of information. Much of God’s word, then, was given to us that way. But because David was musical, God inspired him to write Psalms. Because Jesus was God, he used a wide variety of teaching styles. Likewise, because Ezekiel was a visual person, God inspired him to prophecy in striking, highly visual ways.

So, if you are a creative person, have you tapped your creative gifts to speak for God? If you are musical, do you write songs? If you like making videos, could you make some that convey truth in an emotionally impactful way?

We should never replace the careful explanation of the Word with drama or video or other creative expressions of truth. But, if we have the gifts and desire, we can and should supplement the careful explanation of the Word using media that can make an impact on people in a more emotional way.

What gifts has God given you that you could use to serve him? Are you using those gifts creatively to serve the Lord?


[1] Note: it is unlikely that he laid there without getting up for all those days. Instead, he did it every day for a period of time each day, probably somewhere public at a time when the most people possible would be likely to see him.

Judges 2, Jeremiah 48, Romans 10

Read Judges 2, Jeremiah 48, and Romans 10 today.

This devotional is about Judges 2.

The end of Judges 1, which we read yesterday, chronicles Israel’s failure to be fully obedient to the Lord and drive out all the nations that had occupied Canaan, the promised land. Here in chapter 2, “the angel of the Lord” which is a title for Christ appearing on earth before his birth, showed up in Israel. (Note that he said “I” in verses 1-3, not “the Lord,” which is one evidence that it is the Lord himself speaking.) He reminded the people of God’s covenant with them (v. 1b), his commands to them (v. 2a), and their disobedience (v. 2b). In verse 3 he spoke judgment to the people, telling them that these occupying nations and their gods “will become snares to you.” The people wept and rededicated themselves to the Lord (vv. 4-5) and set out in obedience (v. 6), serving God for the rest of their days (vv. 7-9).

Then they all died. Verse 10 tells us that, after their deaths, “…another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” But why didn’t they know the Lord? Because their fathers did not teach them the ways of the Lord. When we read through the law of Moses, we saw again and again how God told the people to teach his word to their children. Apparently this is one area where Joshua’s generation utterly failed to be obedient to the Lord. Because of their failure, “…the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” The rest of chapter 2 lays out the cycle that we will see again and again in the book of Judges:

1. Israel sinned (vv. 11-12).
2. God disciplined them (vv. 13-15).
3. God sent judges to save them and call them back to obedience (vv. 16-18).
4. That generation died and Israel went back to step 1 in the cycle. 

Remember this cycle because we’re going to see it played out over and over throughout the book of Judges. In scripture, historical events are not merely interesting and informative about the past. Instead, they reveal tendencies that people have regardless of what age they live in.

And, so, many churches that once were strong for God have given up the faith completely or have shriveled as the second (or third, etc.) generation did not know the Lord for themselves. This chapter reminds us how important it is for us to tell our children what we’ve seen the Lord do in our lives and to instruct them in God’s word, urging them to believe and obey the Lord themselves so that they can see God work in their own lives.

Each generation needs to find the Lord for itself personally, but each will only find him if God’s word has been communicated by the previous generation. Knowing God’s word enables us to see God working in our everyday life. Our responsibility, then, both to the Lord and to our children, is to teach our children his word but also to pray for them and encourage them to believe God’s word and act in faith by obeying what it says. As they see God keeping his promises, the faith we passed on to them by precept will become theirs in practice. Then the cycle of disobedience will be broken—as long as our children continue to obey the Lord themselves and teach their children.

Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13.

This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved nearly every day and those who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches.

Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “…to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have desired to stay there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8–just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing.

What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar–even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again.

This is also why we send 10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work–even good, spiritual work–we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change–giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you reconsider that in light of this passage?

Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2

Read Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2.

This devotional is about Acts 2.

Christians use the phrase, “the Day of Pentecost” to describe the event in this chapter. To us, the “Day of Pentecost” is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a way that could be observed. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (v. 2) and the sight of “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). These were supernatural, outward, observable evidences of a spiritual reality which is that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). The result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit was that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v. 4b). There has been a lot of discussion in recent church history about whether what the disciples experienced here is supposed to be the normal Christian experience or whether this kind of power was unique to that time in church history. A devotional on this passage is not the best place to talk about that dispute.

What is important to understand, however, is what happened after this demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, after Peter’s message of the gospel, and after “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41). What happened after the Day of Pentecost is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). They did not devote themselves to speaking in tongues or doing other miraculous works. In fact, verse 43 references “wonders and signs performed by the apostles” not “performed by everyone.” No, what followed this experience was great teaching and fellowship around God’s word and prayer as well as “praising God” (v. 47a) and having “those who were being saved” added “to their number” (v. 47b). In other words, the effect of God’s power was salvation, teaching, fellowship, and worship.

We need God’s power as much as they needed it on the Day of Pentecost and the days that followed. And, we have the promise of God’s power, too, just as they did then. What we should be looking for as believers is not the proof of God’s power through miracles but the results of God’s power in true spiritual change–people coming to Christ, hungry for God’s word, fellowship, and prayer. May God give us hearts that desire these things more than we desire great, dramatic displays of his power.

Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, James 3

Read Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, James 3.

This devotional which is about James 3.

This chapter in scripture tackles one of the hardest sins to overcome–the sinful use of words. James himself acknowledged how hard it is to control what we say in verse 2 where he wrote, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” Again, in verse 8 he acknowledged that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

This passage about the tongue exists to explain James’ statement in verse 1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” That verse told us teachers in the church will be held to greater accountability by God for how we live our lives. It warns anyone thinking about teaching about the extra layer of accountability God will hold teachers to. Verse 2 gives one of the major ways in which God will evaluate our lives and our teaching. If we teach God’s truth but don’t have a tamed tongue, we will answer to God for that.

Teachers will be held to greater accountability because a person’s words reflect what is in his heart. Jesus said that in Luke 6:45.

So if God changes hearts, that then changes lives. Therefore, how a person speaks to other people is one of the clearest evidences of the growth (or lack of growth) in the Christian life. That’s what we see here James 3:2-18. Verses 3-6 describe how very large things (horses in verse 3, ships in verse 4) can be controlled by something very small. Likewise, the tongue is very small but has power to do great damage (vv. 5-6). Despite humanity’s ability to tame all kinds of animals, no man or woman has the power to tame the tongue (vv. 7-8); only God can do that (v.v 13-18).

We’ve all been hurt by the words of others and each of us has hurt others with things that we’ve said. Let’s not dwell on that today; instead, let’s focus on this thought in verse 18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” This verse is connected to the idea of the power of the tongue. When God’s truth makes us wise (vv. 13, 17), we seek to become peacemakers with our words.

Have you learned how to use words to make peace with others in your life? Who in your life do you need to talk with to make peace, as God wants?

Or, do you know people who are in conflict with one another? Could you use God’s wisdom and good words to help solve that conflict? These are good ways to put today’s truth into practice in your life today.

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14

Read Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 8.

There are (roughly) three types of sermons:

  • Topical: A topical sermon is one where the preacher chooses a topic, studies that topic from all the relevant scripture passages, then organizes the sermon as he sees fit and delivers it. Topical sermons usually reference many different passages from the Bible. In my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical.
  • Textual: A textual message happens when the preacher takes one verse (usually) which provides the main point (Big Idea) of the message. Sometimes one or more points of the message is also drawn from the same verse as the Big Idea. But other passages of scripture are brought in to develop the Big Idea. I don’t do a lot of textual preaching but my series on prayer titled How to Talk So that God Will Listen contains several textual messages. In that series, each line of the Lord’s Prayer provides the Big Idea like, “Our Father in heaven,” but I went to other scripture passages to explain what the Bible says about God as Father.
  • Expository: An expository message is about one passage of scripture, usually an entire paragraph of scripture. The paragraph that is chosen provides most, if not all,  the biblical content for the sermon–the Big Idea, the main points, the sub-points, and so on are all drawn from the same paragraph and are explained in the message. Preachers often quote or reference other scripture passages in an expository sermon, but those quotes/references are used to clarify, explain, illustrate, or apply the truth in the main paragraph of scripture.

Most of my preaching is expository. Even in a series or message that is topical, I will usually spend extended time in the message in one passage of scripture. I wrote above that in my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical. That is true; however, my message on God’s eternality is mostly an exposition of Psalm 90. And the series I’ve done preaching through Genesis, Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, and many other books are all examples of expository messages. They go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, explaining and applying God’s word until every passage in that book has been explained and applied.

What does any of this have to do with Nehemiah 8? Consider:

At the end of Nehemiah 7, which we read yesterday, verse 73 told us that “When the seventh month came….” but the end of that sentence is here in Nehemiah 8 which we read today. What happened in “the seventh month” (7:73) is that “all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”

Why did they do this? Because they were celebrating the Feast of Trumpets which is commanded in Leviticus 23:23-25 to happen “on the first day of the seventh month” (Lev 23:24b). Leviticus 23 doesn’t say much about this feast. All it commands is “trumpet blasts” (Lev 23:24c), “a day of sabbath rest” (Lev 23:24b) and “a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:25).

As the people observed this festival, they wanted to hear God’s word. So they asked Ezra to read the scripture to them. Verse 3 here in Nehemiah 7 told us that “he read it aloud.” But verses 7-8 told us that he and other Levites did two more things in addition to reading God’s word aloud:

  1. They translated the Hebrew text into Aramaic which was the common spoken language of God’s people at that time. The phrase, “making it clear” in verse 8b refers to that translation.
  2. They explained the passages they were reading. The phrase, “giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” in verse 8c refers that explanation.

What they were doing was, in basic form, expository preaching. They read the text and then explained it.

This is what I try to do in every message I preach: read God’s word, then explain it. I also try to apply it and that happened, too, in verses 13-18.

Why do I preach this way? Because it feeds God’s people. When a true believer hears God’s word read, explained, and apply, they are nourished in their faith and in the truth of God’s word.

Topical and textual messages have their place; when they are done properly, they teach God’s word, too. But the paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse teaching of God’s word is what God’s people need to grow. They needed it here in Nehemiah after they returned to Jerusalem from exile.

You and I need it, too. So come to our Sunday assemblies hungry for truth and ready to be taught God’s word. It’s the best thing for you and your faith.