2 Chronicles 6:2-42, Habakkuk 1

Read 2 Chronicles 6:2-42 and Habakkuk 1.

This devotional is about Habakkuk 1.

Habakkuk, a prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was very upset with the Lord in the first four verses of this chapter. He saw so much sin and violence (v. 3) among the Lord’s people but, when he called for God’s justice, he got nothing (v. 1).

God may have declined to respond to Habakkuk’s earlier complaints but he was more than happy to answer Habbakuk’s questions in verses 2-4 with an answer in verses 5-11. And what was that answer? God would punish the violence and sinfulness of the Jews by delivering his peopel in defeat to the Babylonians (v. 6).

Now Habakkuk had a much bigger theological problem. He couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t judge his countrymen but, when God did promise to punish them, Habakkuk couldn’t understand why he’d use a wicked nation like the Babylonians (v. 15). God is holy and eternal (v. 12a-b), so why would he use such unholy people? It made no sense.

We’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s reading of chapter 2 for God’s response but, in the meantime, consider the problem of the sliding scale of righteousenss. Habakkuk knew God’s people were doing evil (vv. 2-4) but the Babylonians were worse! Verse 13 asked the Lord, “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

We can probably identify with Habakkuk’s complaint. If you’ve ever felt outrage when a good person died young while evil men live into their 90s, you know how Habakkuk felt. If you ever cried, “Unfair!” when you were punished for something when someone else was doing something worse, you’re using the same kind of reasoning that Habakkuk used.

The truth is that we are all guilty before a holy God. What Habakkuk said in verse 13a was right on the money: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” so his next statement could have been, “…so we deserve your punishment, no matter how it comes.” But part of our sinful state is to demand that we be tested on a curve. “I am sinful, but not as bad as others” we reason, “so let God go after the worst offenders first! And, when he comes for me, I should get a much lighter sentence!”

But God’s justice is always just; that is, he pays out the wages of sin according to the pricetag that every sin has—death–regardless of how many or how few sins we accumulate. Instead of complaining to God about our circumstances and wondering why he hasn’t treated others worse than he treated us, we should take a very hard look at ourselves. We are guilty before a holy God. One violation of his law carries the death penalty so none of us has anything to complain about.

In fact, Judah had God’s law, their own history, and prophets like Habakkuk. The Babylonians were wicked but they were also going on much less truth than Judah had. As Jessu told us, the more truth you have, the greater your accountabilty will be before God.

In God’s great mercy, he poured out his justice on Jesus so that you and I could be saved from the eternal condemnation we deserve. God may allow the natural consequences of our sin to play out on this earth but at least we will be delivered from hell based on the righteousness of Christ. So we should be thankful for that.

But more than that, the awful cost of our sins that Jesus bore should teach us the truth about divine justice and adjust our expectations accordingly. So, have you found yourself complaining that you’re paying too much for your sins why others are not paying enough? Then think about this passage and let it realign your understanding of justice accordingly.

We have nothing to complain about and everything–because of God’s mercy–to be thankful about. Let’s thank God, then, for his perfect justice and for the mercy that Jesus provided us with by taking God’s justice for us on the cross.

2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3

Read 2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3.

This devotional is about Nahum 3.

As we’ve read already in Nahum 1-2, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. Remember that God’s law–imprinted in our consciences and written in his word–is the standard by which we are judged. It is impossible to keep the law of God because of our sin natures but that does not exempt us from accountability to the Lord and judgment by the Lord for breaking his laws. What our inability to keep his laws requires is his grace. Christ secured that grace by taking our penalty on the cross and he forgives us by grace when we trust in Christ’s cross-work for us.

So the kings and people of Nineveh were responsible before God and guilty before him for all the nations they attacked without cause and the soldiers and civilians who were killed by their military aggression. Verse 1 here in Nahum 3 describes this city as “the city of blood.” Verses 2-3a vividly depict their powerful armies and verse 3b detailed the results of their attacks: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses…” Verses 5-19 warn this wicked city and her king (v. 18) of God’s impending humiliation (vv. 4-7) and defeat of Nineveh. The prosperity that the Assyrians enjoyed at that moment would be stripped from them like locusts decimating a farm (vv. 16-17).

Warfare and tyranny run through the history of humanity. As “civilization” has advanced, technology has improved our lives and, simultaneously, made the killing and destruction of war more efficient and massive.

We should consider how our country wages war. Although we do not take over countries and enslave them the way that the Assyrians did, it is my opinion that the American presidents are far too quick to drop bombs on and send troops into other nations. Our leaders use military might to advance their political agendas. In the process, they have sacrificed too many American soldiers, too many soldiers from foreign lands who were forced into service by their government or merely wanted to defend their land against our invading armies, and too many civilians.

Passages like this one in Nahum call world leaders to be careful about waging war and to repent for wars that were and are unjust. As American citizens, we should do what we can to hold our leaders accountable for how recklessly and needlessly they wage war and provide weapons to foreign governments. God is watching; if he held Nineveh accountable for her unjust wars, what will he do to us?

1 Chronicles 16, Obadiah

Read 1 Chronicles 16 and Obadiah.

This devotional is about the book of Obadiah.

Obadiah wrote this prophecy against Edom (v. 1), a nation that bordered Judah to the south. This nation traced its ancestry to Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel. The Edomites are condemned here for two sins:

  1. Pride: Verses 3-4 describes a smug feeling of invincibility that the Edomites possessed. Then, verses 5-9 prophesied an easy defeat for the nation. Later in verses 18-20 Obadiah prophesied that no one would survive from the family of the Edomites after God’s judgment fell on them.
  2. Victimizing Judah: Verses 10-14 describe how the Edomites responded to the invasion of Jerusalem. 

Let’s focus this devotional on sin #2 described above.

Verse 11 says, “you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth” which tells us that the first response of the Edomites was no response at all. They did nothing while Jerusalem was being attacked.

Refusing to try to help God’s people was, according to Obadiah, tacit approval of the invasion. We see that in verse 11 where Obadiah said, “while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” That last phrase, “you were like one of them” equates Edom with Jerusalem’s attackers even though they “stood aloof” (v. 11a) while it was happening.

Was Edom obliged to come to Jerusalem’s defense? They shared a border with Judah and hundreds of years before their patriarch Esau was brothers with Israel (v. 10a). Normally, I wouldn’t think that those two facts mean much in a context like this. They were now separate nations and their “brotherhood” was ancient history (literally). So were they really obligated to help?

Apparently, yes, they were. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians as an act of punishment for their sins and idolatry. That’s the spiritual/theological reason for their demise. But on a human level, Nebuchadnezzar had no moral right to invade Israel. They were, politically and militarily speaking, victims of Babylonian aggression. Their common ancestry, though ancient, should have caused them to have some affinity for God’s people. Their common border should have caused them to want to help their neighbors to the north.

The argumentation in this passage reminds me of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told that story to teach us that “loving your neighbor” means helping anyone who needs help who is within your reach. The Samaritan was a step-brother (in a sense) of the Jewish man who was victimized by robbers. The victim’s countrymen, his brothers, who passed by without helping him were “standing aloof” to borrow the image of verse 11a. But Jesus praised the Samaritan for giving assistance when he saw the plight of the Israelite.

The application, then, for us is to understand that God expects us to help when we see someone being victimized. We shouldn’t stand by and do nothing and we certainly shouldn’t join in the victimization as Edom did in verses 13-14. We should help the oppressed fend off the oppressor.

Now, in our globally-connected world, we know about world problems and injustices that people in other eras of time would never have known about. I don’t think God requires us to find every problem in the world and get involved in it. The Good Samaritan, after all, was walking by; he wasn’t like an ancient Batman looking for crime to fight. So the Bible isn’t teaching that we have an unlimited responsibility for everyone else’s problems. Instead, we should understand that it is not acceptable in the Lord’s sight to be a bystander when we see injustice or violence or exploitation.

So, if you saw someone abusing a child or a woman, would you do anything about it? If you saw two men punching each other–or two men punching and kicking a third man–would you call for help? Would you try to stop them? If your neighbor’s land was being polluted by a corporation or seized by the county unjustly, would you try to help?

God commands us to help when we can, where we can. When we refuse to help, we are sinning. Keep that in mind the next time you see someone who needs help.

2 Kings 9, Hosea 1

Read 2 Kings 9 and Hosea 1 today.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 9.

In God’s original plan for Israel, there was to be one nation ruled by a descendent of David. God decreed that Solomon’s sins would lead to a divided kingdom, but the rulers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not typically anointed by prophets as Saul and David were. So, when Elisha sent one of the prophets in his prophetic school to anoint Jehu king over Israel in this chapter (vv. 1-3), that was a highly unusual move. Furthermore, Jehu was not a godly man nor did he begin a great spiritual reformation in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He was just like every other king of the Northern Kingdom in the sense that he was an unbeliever who left in place the idolatry created by Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom.

So, then, why did God send a prophet to anoint Jehu? It was to bring Ahab, Jezebel, and their descendants to justice. Verse 7 says, “You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.”

The violence that God commanded in this chapter and that Jehu carried out is difficult for us accept. Why would God anoint a man to wipe out another man’s entire family? Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, kings in this era of time had no legal check on their power. There was no legislature or court to bring Ahab to justice for his many sins. If there was going to be justice, it would have to be carried out by another king. Jehu’s killings in this passage were not acts of first degree murder; they were done to uphold the Law of Israel given through Moses which mandated the death penalty for the things that Ahab and Jezebel did.
  • Second, Ahab was warned repeatedly (1 Ki 20:41-43, 21:21-24, 22:17, 28) that his sins would lead to his death and the death of his wife and descendants. Although he expressed some remorse and received a merciful delay (1 Ki 21:25-29), he did not fundamentally change like he would have if he had truly repented.
  • Third, the descendants of Ahab were included in both the prophecy (1 Ki 21:21-24) and the fulfillment here in 2 Kings 9:8. It does not seem fair that they died for the sins of their parents. But the life of their son Joram shows a continuation of their godlessness and unbelief. Surely there would have been mercy for one of Ahab & Jezebel’s descendants if they had repented and followed the Lord. But even after they had been given the prophecy of Elijah that their would be justice for them, they continued in their sinful ways.

God is just and he established human governments to uphold justice and enforce the penalties of disobedience to his laws. The Bible says that unbelieving government leaders who exercise just judgment are God’s agents for good (Rom 13:4a). Jehu would answer for his own sins but, to the degree that he acted justly, he was doing God’s will.

1 Kings 15, Ezekiel 45

Read 1 Kings 15 and Ezekiel 45.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 45:7-9: “7 “The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The right to private property is foundational to righteousness. The eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” is a command that protects the right to own things. If there is no ownership–no private property–then it is impossible to steal anything. So God cares enough about private ownership of property that he protected it in the Big 10 (that is, the Ten Commandments).

Who has the power to steal and get away with it? Government, that’s who.

If I walked over to my neighbor’s house, stuck a gun in his face and told him I was taking his land to build a private road to my house, I would be prosecuted for a number of crimes. But, if someone from the government shows up and says they are going to take your home using “immanent domain” what recourse do you have? You could sue them and you might win but the very court that will hear and decide your case is another branch of the same government, so good luck.

Here in Ezekiel 45, God commanded some specific things to protect private property in Israel when it would be restored to its land. in verses 1-4 God commanded a specific amount of land that would be set aside for the temple and the priests. In verse 5, he marked out more land for the Levites. In verse 6 he marked out some public land for “all Israel.”

Then in verse 7 he prescribed how much land “the prince” would own and where that land would be. Verse 8a said, “This land will be his possession in Israel” and then verse 8b went on to say, “And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.” This is a statement against the forcible seizure of land by the government. In verse 9 God took some time out to condemn the princes of Israel for taking too much land: “You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.” These verses were for Israel, of course, but they are based on a universal ethic, an eternal standard of right and wrong when it comes to the human right of private property.

Our governments (federal, state, and local) have transgressed the principles applied in this passage. The amount that the government collects in taxes, the unjust way it seizes land using immanent domain, the way it imposes regulations on business and private transactions, the way it harasses American citizens at border patrol checkpoints, and the way that it monitors communication are just a few of the ways that it uses violence to oppress people. We have a lot more say in our government than most people who have lived in human history and I’m thankful for that, but the government is encroaching on more and more of our lives all the time.

We should use all the legal, peaceful means available to us to protect the freedoms we have and rollback, if possible, the ways government encroaches on our freedom and rights. Ultimately, however, there will be no perfect society until Jesus is king. When you see or hear of oppression, injustice, and violence–whether caused by our or another human government or by one person against another–that is an opportunity to ask God for his help and to remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven.

1 Kings 2, Ezekiel 33

Read 1 Kings 2 and Ezekiel 33.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 33:31-32: “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

It is difficult for us servants of the Lord to speak to people who come faithfully to hear but who leave unchanged Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year. On one hand, I am grateful for the audience. It is much easier to speak to a room full of people than it is to speak to an empty room. I’m always grateful for the people who are there and I try to give my best effort no matter how many or how few come, but it is discouraging to see a lot of empty chairs and only a few people.

On the other hand, it is tough to teach God’s word week after week and see little if any change in many people who come to hear it. Again, I’m glad they come to listen; after all, if nobody is listening, nobody will change or grow. But after a while, you start to feel more like an entertainer than a servant of the Lord. That’s what God said to Ezekiel in verse 32: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

This chapter lists several ways the people in Ezekiel’s day did not practice what Ezekiel preached:

  • Verse 25c says, “…you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood….”’
  • Verse 26 says, “You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife.”
  • Verse 31e says, “Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.”

So what were God’s people involved in? Idolatry, adultery, violence, greed, and dishonesty. Ezekiel faithfully pronounced God’s verdict on these things as sin; he predicted God’s judgment for such sins. People came routinely and listened, but only for entertainment purposes. After they were done, they returned to living wicked lives again.

But how has your life changed as a Christian in the past month? How about this year, as you’ve read these devotionals. Are you more generous with what you have–to the poor and to God’s work? Are your thoughts and actions toward other people purer, sexually speaking, then before? Are you serving the Lord somewhere in his work or, if you’ve been serving right along, are you more conscious of how your service is an act of worship to God?

One more thing here: Verse 32, as I noted, describes how Ezekiel was treated like a singer instead of a prophet. He was a form of entertainment for people more than a source of spiritual conviction and growth. As I visit other churches when I’m on vacation or watch videos of worship services and messages, I feel like churches are embracing entertainment more and more. The preaching in particular is therapeutic. Pastors give “talks” about “believing in yourself” or “leading great.” They may be interesting, thoughtful, and might contain some good advice. But where’s the need for repentance? Where’s the blood of Christ? Pastors need to read the first 20 verses of our chapter today, Ezekiel 33 and remember that we are watchmen who are called to warn people that God’s judgment is coming not entertain them until his judgment falls.

2 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 27

Read 2 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 27.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 20.

Joab was an outstanding military leader for David. Violence, however, was not just his thing on the battlefield; it was just about the only skill he knew. Earlier in 2 Samuel, his brother Asahel was killed in battle by Saul’s top general Abner (2 Sam 2:22-32). Joab retaliated by murdering Abner in a non-military setting (3:27). That happened early on in David’s administration as king of all Israel and he did not deal justly with Joab, though he did condemn his actions (2 Sam 3:29).

David paid a price for not dealing with Joab. In chapter 18 Joab killed David’s son Absolom against David’s explicit command and when Absolom was completely defenseless (18:9-15). As a result, David turned over leadership of his army to Amasa in chapter 19. As we read yesterday in 2 Samuel 19:13, David said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.’”

Here in chapter 20 Amasa had an opportunity to serve David and demonstrate his prowess as a military leader. Sheba rebelled against David (vv. 1-3) and David commanded Amasa to get the men of Judah ready to fight against Sheba. Verse 5 told us, however, that Amasa failed to do what David commanded. “But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him.” To keep matters from getting worse, David had to turn to Abishai and Joab used the uncertainty of leadership to reassert himself as Israel’s military leader again (vv. 9-10, 13-23a).

The lessons here are two:

  1. Procrastination is a costly error for leaders. When verse 5 says that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” I interpret that to be describing some amount of incompetence as a leader. David was an experienced fighter and leader; he knew how long it should take to muster the men of Judah and prepare them for battle. The fact that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” suggests either a lack of persuasion skills or (more likely) some amount of procrastination. Procrastination is a killer because it squanders opportunity. When you and I do other things to avoid the thing we should be doing, we are wasting time, energy, (possibly) money and opportunity. Except for money, all of those things are impossible to recover. If you’re going to be an effective leader, then, don’t be crippled by an inability to decide and take action.
  2. Effective people under your leadership may get the job done but at what cost? Joab was very successful as a military leader but David treated him as untouchable because of his great success. That was a mistake; David excused the unjust way Joab acted and it came back to hurt David in multiple ways.

As you serve the Lord in your daily work, don’t procrastinate; get to work ASAP and be effective at whatever you are planning or leading.

Similarly, if you are a leader with an employee who is effective but cruel to others, fire that person ASAP. It will be hard to do because he or she is so effective but it will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

2 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 24

Read 2 Samuel 17 and Ezekiel 24.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

Over the past few chapters in 2 Samuel, David has been reaping the bad harvest of the sin seeds he sowed in his adultery with Bathsheba. Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 12:10: “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The “sword,” a metaphor for violence, showed up when David’s son Amnon raped David’s son Tamar and when Absolom retaliated by killing Amnon in chapter 13. In chapters 14-15a Absolom began positioning himself to challenge David as king. Then he did attempt to overthrow David as king in 2 Samuel 15b-16.

Here in chapter 17, David is running for his life and Absolom is seeking wisdom for how to defeat his father and solidify his hold on the kingdom of Israel. Absolom consulted two men for advice. Both had been advisors to David and were known to be men who gave wise advice. We do not know why Ahithophel began to advise Absolom instead of David but the advice Ahithophel gave was shrewd and accurate and would benefited Absolom had he chosen to follow it.

The other advisor, Hushai the Arkite, was secretly loyal to David and, consequently, gave different advice to Absolom than Ahithophel gave. God was working in all of this, both through the presence of Hushai and the inclination of Absolom to listen to him. Verse 14 says, “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

The book of Proverbs advises us to seek and follow the advice of wise counselors and Ahithophel certainly qualified. But it is better to be on the Lord’s side than to have the best advisors in the world. Absolom could not win because his cause was unjust, selfish, and opposed to the will of God. God had made an everlasting covenant with David and the Lord would not fail to keep his side of the bargain. The best tactics, strategy, advice, and execution will be ineffective if it is not aligned with what God has chosen to do.

When you make decisions and seek advice, do you filter that advice according to scripture? Are you thinking about the commands of God and the moral truths his word teaches first before you follow the advice you are given? As Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” So seek and follow wise counsel, by all means, but remember to consult God’s word as your first and primary counselor.

2 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 22

Read 2 Samuel 15 and Ezekiel 22.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 22.

This chapter in Ezekiel details many of the sins that Jerusalem (a representative of the whole nation) committed against God. These sins were the reasons for God’s judgment that would fall on them through the Babylonian empire. Their sins can be put into three stacks:

  1. The leaders used their power selfishly. The main power that any government has that nobody else has is the power to use physical force–including death–without accountability for it. The leaders of Jerusalem were guilty of this according to verses 6 and 25.
  2. The people in general mistreated people who needed protection (vv. 7, 12), thought very little of God and his worship (v. 8), were violent (v. 9a), idolatrous (v. 9b), and committed many kinds of sexual sins (vv. 9c-11).
  3. The priests and prophets refused to lead God’s people to worship and obey him (vv. 26-28).

These are all symptoms of the same problem: “…you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord.” This is listed last, in verse 12, in the long list of sins in verses 6-12. For us, the last thing on the list is usually the least important but in ancient societies, the last thing on a list was the MOST important thing. The most important thing was placed last so that it would be remembered. In this passage, then, God is complaining that his people have forgotten him and, because of that they were guilty of many other sins against him.

When believers like you and me neglect our spiritual life and choose not to walk with God daily, we deviate in many ways from God’s will. Our sins are symptoms of how we live life on our own terms rather than obeying God because we love him and worship him daily.

How is your spiritual life? I hope these daily devotionals have helped you walk with God and build a habit of meeting with him daily. It is possible, however, to read the word daily and still not fellowship with God in prayer and worship. What’s the state of your heart? How is your relationship with God? Have you forgotten him? Is that starting to show up in sinful choices you make with your daily life?

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Read Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly, but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight had taken an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children of Benjamin, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce. Consequently, the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That worked, somewhat, but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites. So they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership. When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other, overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created.

A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they showed much better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader, because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us, but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to function.

Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?