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.

2 Chronicles 17, Zechariah 2

Read 2 Chronicles 17 and Zechariah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 17.

The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were all evil in God’s sight. The kings of Judah were a mixed bag. After the kingdom divided, Judah had twenty kings; eight of them were described as men who were righteous in the sight of God. Today we read about one of the most faithful of the godly kings in Judah; namely, Jehoshaphat. It would be hard to get a better description of your life than:

  • “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him” (v. 3a).
  • He “sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel.” (v. 4).
  • “His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord” (v. 6a).

So, clearly, Jehoshaphat was an exemplary man.

But this chapter goes beyond these general descriptions of his godliness and gives us some specifics. One specific demonstration of Jehoshaphat’s godliness was his separation from idolatry:

  • Verse 3 said, “He did not consult the Baals….” This shows that he was personally free from idolatry.
  • Verse 6 said, “…he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.” He not only abstained from idolatry personally but he did not tolerate the practice of idolatry in his kingdom.

When we read that a king of Judah did right in the eyes of the Lord, it means that king, at the bare minimum, had some kind of separation from idolatry.

Jehoshaphat, though, went so much further than that. Verses 7-9 say that Jehoshaphat sent government leaders “to teach the towns of Judah” (v. 7). With those government officials he sent Levites who “taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people” (v. 9). So he both removed idols from Judah and replaced those idols with the teaching of truth.

Systematic instruction from God’s word is essential to the growth of godliness in a person or group of people’s lives. It is, of course, possible to teach God’s word in a way that is dry and lacking spiritual life. It is also possible to learn God’s word academically without receiving it spiritually.

But people who are growing spiritually are people who want to know God’s word. There is a hunger for truth in a godly person’s heart that can only be filled by the teaching of God’s word. Godly leaders and godly people do what is right but they also desire to know more of God’s truth. The better we know God’s truth, the more clearly and powerfully we encounter God himself.

Jesus created the church, in part, to provide the kind of instruction to us Christians that Jehoshaphat starting giving the people of Judah in this chapter. Are you showing up to receive the teaching our church offers? Do you come hungry, ready to learn what God has spoken?

2 Chronicles 11-12, Zephaniah 3

Read 2 Chronicles 11 and Zephaniah 3.

This devotional is from 2 Chronicles 11-12.

When God chose the tribe of Levi to serve as the priests, he decreed that they would receive no allotment of territory in the promised land. Instead, God wanted the Levites to be disbursed throughout the land of Israel in every tribe, every town, all over the nation. When it was time for their service, they came to Jerusalem to serve, but most of the year they lived elsewhere.

There were multiple reasons for this. First, God wanted them throughout Israel so that they could teach his law to all the people of Israel. Second, He also wanted them all over the area so that they could examine people who had skin diseases and homes that had mold (see Leviticus 13 for this exhilarating information).

The priests and Levites were paid from the offerings that were brought to the tabernacle and the temple and they used that money to buy land in the towns and villages where they lived. God did not forbid them from owning land; he decreed that they would not have a segment of tribal land in Israel. In addition to the money they earned serving the Lord, these Levites and priests had time to farm and raise animals like everyone else in Israel did, so many of them bought property among the tribes of Israel.

Israel rebelled from the heavy taxation of Rehaboam and Israel became two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom, led by Jeroboam, created idols and worship areas in the northern kingdom as we read in verse 15. That left the Levites and priests in these towns with a choice:

  • Would they conform and condone the idolatry of the northern kingdom and keep the land and relationships they had built in the 10 tribes of Israel?
  • Or, would they remain faithful to the Lord and abandon their land and their friends to continue to serve him?

The answer was given to us in verse 14: “The Levites even abandoned their pasturelands and property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them as priests of the Lord.” Although they did not leave their land and their homes, many in Israel continued to worship the Lord faithfully in Jerusalem as we read in verse 16: “Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of their ancestors.”

This illustrates two important truths:

  1. First, in a pagan culture (which Israel had become), there is a cost to serving God and that cost may be very high. Although over time even the priests became wicked (as we’ve read in many of the prophets), many from the generation that saw Israel split were willing to sacrifice everything and start over in order to serve God.
  2. The second important truth is that when people reject the Lord, God’s word is withdrawn from them. Remember that one of the functions of the priests was to teach God’s word to Israel (Lev 10:11, Deut 33:10, Mal 2:7) and they were distributed within Israel to perform that work for the Lord. As these men and their families abandoned their land in the northern kingdom, access to God’s truth was also withdrawn from them.

Sadly, over generations the priests stopped teaching God’s law to anyone. God sent prophets call them to repentance and then sent his judgment on the people for their disobedience. These things all teach us to be prepared to count the cost of serving the Lord and to realize that we lose access to his truth when we refuse to accept it, believe it, and live by it.

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?