1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, Proverbs 20:1-15

Read 1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, and Proverbs 20:1-15 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 20:32:

“‘You say, ‘We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.’” 

Ezekiel 20:32

Peer pressure is something we warn teenagers about, but we adults are far from immune to it. Marketers use a form of peer pressure called “social proof” to get you and me to buy products. More importantly, ideas and actions that the Bible label as sinful have become acceptable in human societies because a majority of people consider them OK. Sexual activity apart from marriage, homosexuality, and transgenderism would all be in this category, but there are probably many more things that you and I could list if we took some time to think about it.

These things are now considered as acceptable, within the range of normal in our society. The Bible warns us Christians that we will be out of step with the world around us and that the world will pressure us (Rom 12:2) to conform.

Just as God’s people in Ezekiel’s time wanted to worship idols because other nations did, we Christians will feel external and internal pressure to conform to the world around us. At some point–probably soon–some major evangelical figure will come out and say that homosexuality is acceptable as long as it is practiced in a marriage covenant of some kind. Though many believers will resist, many others will jump on board and urge us all to change our understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

God warned his people of judgment here in Ezekiel and in all the other prophets of scripture for conforming to the practices of the world around them. Idolatry was the specific sin then but the desire to be like everyone else was the motivation then, just as it is now when we abandon God’s word and practice or condone in the church what the Lord says is sinful. Let’s prepare ourselves, then, to be faithful to God’s word even as we fall more and more out of step with the world around us. 

1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, Ephesians 6

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, and Ephesians 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 7-8.

I don’t know about you, but I always think of Samuel as a priest. It is true that he served in that role (see 7:10), but the Bible speaks of him more as a judge—think guys like Samson, Gideon, and other characters from the book of Judges—than as a priest (see 7:15 where he is called a “leader”).

Although he attempted to install his sons as as judges (8:1-2), they failed morally (v. 3) and were rightly rejected by the people (vv. 4-5). So Samuel was Israel’s greatest judge even though he and Deborah were the only non-military judges. The quality that Samuel and Deborah shared was spiritual: they feared God and judged justly as a result. Yet, godly as he was, Samuel’s own sons used their position as leaders for personal gain rather than to serve God’s people. Instead of becoming a spiritual dynasty, Israel continued the same cycle of deliverance in one generation and disobedience in the next.

One thing we’ve learned in the past three chapters of 1 Samuel is that God did not need a military ruler to defend himself or his people. Although God had decreed that battle would be the usual way that Israel secured and defended the land promised to them, their military successes were secured by God. He kept his promise to fight for them, as we see 7:7-12.

Yet despite God’s supernatural work on their behalf, Israel did not ask him for another godly judge like Samuel. They asked for (and, indeed, insisted on) a king (8:6, 19-20). Note their reason for wanting one: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” I have heard people emphasize the first phrase, “Then we will be like all the other nations…” and warn against wanting to be like the world. But I think the key phrase is the next one: “…with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Remember that God had told Samuel that their desire for a king was a rejection of him as their king (v. 7). God had shown himself more than capable of protecting and providing victory for his people if they followed his word, obeyed his leaders (like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.), and—believing his promise to go before them—fought in faith.

Although Samuel spelled out for Israel the high costs of having a human king (8:10-18), they chose to pay dearly for one to do the dirty work instead of believing God and fighting based on his promises.

We have the same kind of problem, frankly. God has given us his word, his Spirit, and his church. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). But how often do we want someone else to fight our spiritual battles for us—our parents, our spouse, our elder, some devotional writer, or someone else. Yes, we need leadership and all the people I mentioned in the previous sentence can and should provide spiritual leadership for us. But that’s all they can do for you. Consider this: I have always taught that people need to be in God’s word daily. That idea is not remotely unique to me; you knew that already if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. But it is easy to lose our way, to develop habits that crowd out Bible reading, or just to be overwhelmed with the task of finding a plan. I know how it is, so I created this devotional. Everyday it arrives in your inbox; all you have to do is click on the link and read the passages. If you don’t want to read them all, you can just read the one I’m commenting on. And, I write enough to hopefully get you thinking about what the passage means and how it might apply to your life. I do this because, as your pastor, I want to provide you with some tools to help you grow. That’s my role as a leader.

But I can’t come over to your house and read the passage to you. I can’t make you listen to it, I can’t make you think about it, and I can’t force conviction of sin on you.

I also can’t force you to obey what the Word says. Sometimes, though, people seem to think that I should; they think I have some magic power that can make them live a godly life. They think I should be calling them if they don’t come to church. Or they sometimes seem to think that my words or my presence or my prayers can cause them to do something they don’t want to do.

It doesn’t work like that.

God has given you everything you need to develop into a godly man or woman. He will do some of the work for you—purging and purifying your desires through conviction of sin and causing you to realize areas where you still need to grow through trials and discipline. But he’s promised us that we can overcome sin by the new nature he’s planted in us (see 1 John 2:1-6). It takes faith to believe that promise of God, then obedience to God’s word to make it happen. You can look all you want to someone outside of you, but only you can walk with God.

1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, Ephesians 5

Today read 1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, and Ephesians 5. This devotional is about Ezekiel 18.

Way back in the Ten Commandments God had said, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Ex 20:5). God said that to explain his command against making graven images to worship. It sure seems like God said that one generation sins but the generations that follow will pay the price for those sins by receiving God’s judgment.

The people in Ezekiel’s time seem to have interpreted God’s law that way. They believed they were being defeated and deported into exile by the Babylonians because of the sins of their parents. They even created a little proverb for their pity parties, which we read here in Ezekiel 18: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v. 2). Translation: “This bitter defeat and exile is all mom and dad’s fault! They drank the Drano but we’re the ones throwing up!” [Note: Do not drink Drano. Or Liquid Plumber.]

God used their pitiful proverb to raise the issue of responsibility here in Ezekiel’s prophecy, chapter 18. God promised to stop their proverb from spreading in Israel (v. 3) by teaching the people that the judgment they received was due to their own sins. Starting with Adam and Eve, people who are called to account for their sins have usually looked to shift at least some of the blame to someone else.

Here the Lord spoke through Ezekiel to tell him that God’s judgment falls on those who deserve it (v. 4c). He then illustrated this truth over three generations from one family. The patriarch of this family was a righteous man (v. 5) whose righteousness manifested itself in multiple ways (vv. 6-9a). God decreed then, “That man is righteous; he will surely live” (v. 9b).

Despite his righteousness, he had a son who was a very wicked man (vv. 10-13a). About him God said, “…he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head” (v. 13b). The sinful man’s son, however, followed his grandfather’s righteous steps, not his father’s wicked ways (vv. 14). His righteous life was despite the fact that he “…sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things” (v. 14b). Verses 17c-18 say, “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.”

Verses 19-30 are a restatement and defense of the principle that God will punish each person for his own sins. The point for the Jewish people in Ezekiel’s day was stated in verses 30b-32: “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

This is why God’s word speaks so directly and forcefully to us about our sins, allowing us no exceptions, excuses or blame-shifting. It isn’t that God wants to punish us; it’s that he DOES NOT WANT to punish us.

It assaults our pride to repent and take full responsibility, but it will save us so much pain if we simply fall on God’s mercy.

If all of this is true, then what does Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” mean?

It means that sin often has consequences beyond the first generation. Those consequences are an indirect punishment.

Think about it this way: If one man kills another man and goes to prison for murder, he pays for his own crime. However, his children also pay. Although neither God nor the state hold the murderer’s children responsible for his crimes, they suffer the loss of their father, a bad reputation in the community, and his provision for the family. Those children are not responsible for his sins but they are paying a price for them. Exodus 20:5 is a warning, then, about the snowball effect of sin on your children; it is not a promise that God will be vindictive.

1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, Ephesians 4

Read 1 Samuel 4, Ezekiel 17, and Ephesians 4 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 17.

God’s word through Ezekiel in this chapter came in the form of an allegorical parable about two eagles and one vine. The images in this parable are too intricate for me to explain in this devotional. But the main points are as follows:

  • The two eagles represent the kings of Babylon (v. 12) and Egypt (v. 15). 
  • The branch that became a vine represents Judah’s king (v. 12). He’s not named in this chapter but we know historically that it was Zedekiah. He was planted like a seedling (v. 5) in the sense that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed him as a vassal king in Judah (v. 13). He had everything he needed to thrive under the rule of Babylon (v. 5: “fertile soil” and “abundant water”).
  • Although Zedekiah was thriving under a deal he made with Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 13) he reached out to Egypt (the second eagle in this story–v. 7) for help getting liberated from Babylon (v. 15).
  • Because his thriving was dependent on the deal he made with Babylon (v. 14) and reaching out to Egypt was a violation of the deal (v. 18) Zedekiah king of Judah would be punished severely by the Babylonians, ultimately dying in Babylon (v. 20).

This was a prophecy to Zedekiah but it speaks volumes to anyone about making oaths and covenants before God with other people.

Zedekiah made a deal with Nebuchadnezzar but he made that deal before God. When he decided to break it, he was being unfaithful to God. Note verses 19-20: “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, I will repay him for despising my oath and breaking my covenant. I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare.”

So it is with us whenever we make a covenant. It could be the covenant you made with your spouse on the day you married. It could be a covenant you made in business or by becoming a member of this church.

We make covenants with people but when we break them, we put ourselves under the judgment of God.

The question, “Will it thrive?” (v. 9 and repeated in v. 10), is one that we should consider before we commit adultery, get divorced, change churches, or break business agreements unilaterally. 

People break their agreements with others because they think they will thrive in a different arrangement. A “better” person comes along than the one they married, a cooler church entices them to visit and reconsider their decision to join Calvary, a more lucrative deal is presented to them than the one they’ve already made.

People break their commitments because they think they can get a better deal but if God is displeased by your broken agreement, you should ask yourself, “Will [your new deal] thrive?”

  • Will your new relationship thrive if you’re cheating on your wife?
  • Will your remarriage thrive if you broke faith with your first husband to get with this new guy?
  • Will your family thrive in a new church if you left the last one for unbiblical reasons?
  • Will your business thrive if you won’t honor your contracts and keep the promises you’ve made to vendors or employees or shareholders or business partners or customers?

There are biblical reasons for divorce and for leaving a church. There are also biblical ways to address problems in covenant relationships and even biblical ways for seeking to be released from a bad covenant you’ve made. In my experience, though, people don’t want to do the right thing in order to get out. They just want to get out and enjoy that greener grass over on the other side of the fence. 

Are you considering breaking faith in some way? Let this passage cause you to reconsider.

Have you broken faith already in some way? Let this passage cause you to repent.

Jesus died to remove the wrath of God from us for our broken commitments so there is forgiveness and relief available in Him. That’s good because none of us is perfect at keeping our part of a bargain. If you’re tormented by broken covenants, look to Christ for forgiveness and look to his word for ways to get back on a righteous path. This is how you can thrive again.

But if you’re in Christ, you should do everything in your power to keep the covenants you’ve made with others. That is the righteous thing to do and Jesus died not only to become our righteousness before God but also to teach and empower us to live righteously.

So be careful about the commitments you make and be conscientious about keeping them once you’ve made them.

1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 3

Today read 1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, and Ephesians 3. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 3.

In this chapter, Samuel receives some chilling news about Eli and his sons. Although this was news to Samuel, Eli had heard this prophecy before as we saw yesterday in 1 Samuel 2:27-36.

But the most interesting statement in this chapter is verse 7: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

On one hand, it is difficult to accept that Samuel did not “know the Lord.” He must have heard his mother’s testimony about how God provided him to her as an answer to prayer. More importantly, he served daily in the Tabernacle, seeing the sacrifices offered and hearing God’s word read. There is no way that Samuel was ignorant of the Lord at this point in his life. So why would the text say that he “did not yet know the Lord”? The next phrase is only somewhat helpful: “The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” This may refer to the prophetic word of God which he was about to receive for the first time. But it must mean more than just, “Samuel was not yet a prophet.”

Although I wish the passage said more than it does, it suggests an important truth that is present throughout scripture:

People can know God intellectually without knowing him personally.

In other words, people can believe that God exists and even have a correct and detailed theology about God. But that is not the same as knowing the Lord personally.

Knowing the Lord personally means a direct, personal faith in God. It is a way of life where God speaks to you personally and you speak to him personally.

The way in which we speak personally to God is basically the same for all of us—prayer. But the ways in which God speaks to us are different. Everyone who knows the Lord has had the experience of hearing his word taught and feeling deep conviction. Others in the same room will hear the same message from God’s word but as you hear it, it is accompanied by a personal consciousness that God is speaking directly to you through his word.

That is what happens when someone comes to faith in Christ. The unbeliever hears the gospel message that Christ died for our sins, but he doesn’t just believe that as a historical fact. Instead, he hears that message as good news—that Christ died for me; for my sins! This is how someone comes to know the Lord in this age.

As I said, every believer in every age has the experience of hearing God’s word—spoken by a teacher or read from a page–and knowing that the message was for him or her in that moment. Throughout the ages God has also spoken more directly, like he did to Samuel in this passage.

The important thing is not how miraculously and personally the word of the Lord came to you; the important thing is that God reveals himself to you personally—not as an abstract concept, an idea, a theory, or even as a personal God but as YOUR God, your Lord, your master, your father who loves you and that you are learning to love.

It is unlikely that someone reading this devotional each day might not know the Lord, but it is possible. Samuel heard plenty about God and more than once from God’s word before he knew the Lord personally. Have you come to know and believe in the Lord? Have you trusted his son, Jesus Christ, the one and only way to the Father?

This passage seems to be the beginning of Samuel’s personal relationship with God, for verse 21 says, “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” Likewise, hearing the gospel message and knowing that God is calling you to faith in him is the beginning of your personal relationship with God through Christ. So if you hear the Lord’s voice in these words, turn from your sins today and receive forgiveness and a new relationship with God.

1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, Ephesians 2

Read 1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, and Ephesians 2 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 15.

This short chapter in Ezekiel is based on a simple observation: Vines are made of wood but they are not useful the way that wood from trees is useful. The wood that makes up a vine is too weak to be fashioned into a useful product. It can’t even be used to “…make pegs from it to hang things on?” (v. 3b). It’s greatest utility comes from the fact that you can burn it, so it can fuel your fire (v. 4). Other than that, it is essentially worthless. You can’t make furniture or build homes with it.

In verses 6-8 God compared his people in Jerusalem to those grapevines. Just as the vines are thrown onto the fire, so God will burn his people for their disobedience (vv. 7-8).

The keyword in this chapter is the word “useful.” Just as wood from the trees is very useful for many tasks, so God wanted his people to be useful for Him. Sometimes people object to the idea of being “useful for God” or “used by God.” Shouldn’t God love us for who we are not for what we do that’s useful? Don’t we have value as people that is genuine value apart from any usefulness or uselessness in our lives? As someone said on a podcast, “You’re a human being not a human doing.” 

As creatures made in God’s image, we do have intrinsic value. But, because God created us for a purpose–to glorify him–we are incomplete and unhappy when we are not being used.

If your refrigerator had feelings, don’t you think it would be happier being useful than sitting in the garage, unplugged, gathering dust, and useless? The most fulfilling thing in life is to be useful to the one who owns you.

If you’re dealing with unhappiness that doesn’t seem to have a cause, could it be that you are unhappy because your life is passing by but isn’t contributing much to your Creator?

Assess your usefulness for God and how much you’re being used by God. If you conclude that you are not as useful as you could be, what can you do to become more useful for the Lord? And if you are potentially useful but not being used much, where could you apply your usefulness to be used by God more and more effectively?

1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, Psalms 96-98

Read 1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, and Psalms 96-98 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 1.

Hannah found herself in an unhappy situation here in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel. Her society greatly valued children, especially boys, yet she was unable to get pregnant.

If that weren’t bad enough, her husband had a “rival” (v. 6) wife named Peninnah. Elkanah may have married Peninnah specifically because of Hannah’s infertility (similar to Abraham and Hagar). Regardless of his motives, Peninnah delivered (pun intended) where Hannah could not; verse 2 tells us “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” So Hannah felt judged by her society, may have felt like she let her husband down, and felt inferior to his second wife.

Even worse, Peninnah mocked Hannah for her infertility (v. 6). Although Hannah was loved by her husband who did his best (verse 8 notwithstanding) to demonstrate his love and make her feel secure (vv. 4-5), she suffered emotionally due to all of these things.

Whatever faults he may have had, Elkanah was devoted to the Lord. We see this in his consistency to worship at the tabernacle “year after year” (v. 3). We also see it in how urged Hannah to keep her vow to the Lord (v. 23). When the sorrow of her situation became too much to bear, Hannah did what a believer should do; she poured out her heart to God in prayer (vv. 10-11).

Yet even her heartfelt prayer was became a source of pain because it was misinterpreted. As if she didn’t feel low enough, the High Priest of Israel rebuked her for being a drunk when he saw her praying (vv. 12-14). Fortunately, when she explained the situation, Eli gave her the reassurance she needed (v. 17). Note that Eli did not promise her an answer to her prayer; rather, he acknowledged the sincerity of her prayers and added his own prayer wish that the Lord would answer her favorably (v. 17). But Hannah took this blessing from the priest by faith and received the peace of God for her situation (v. 18).

And, God did answer her prayer, giving her the son she so deeply desired.

If only deep sorrow and total sincerity were enough to get answers to any prayer! Yet God does not always give us the answer we seek. This is why Jesus encouraged us to pray according to God’s will. God’s will is frequently different than our will is; therefore, God sometimes answers our prayers with “no.”

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

By promising to give her son to the Lord and to raise him under a Nazirite vow for life (v. 11), she was asking God to answer her prayer in a way that would bring glory to him.

Samuel would grow up to serve the Lord in a unique way, both as priest and as the last of the judges of Israel. In contrast to the spiritual scoundrels who served as Israel’s judges in the book of Judges, Samuel would be a man who led Israel spiritually as well as politically. Hannah’s prayer was answered in a way that was more profound than she probably could have imagined. Though she did not have the joy of raising her son throughout his childhood, she did have the joy of knowing that he was serving the Lord.

James 4:3 tells us that God is not in the habit of answering prayers that come from self-centered motives. When Hannah connected her desire for a son with God’s desire for a godly leader for Israel, her prayer aligned with God’s will and he answered her. When we ask God for things in our lives, are our requests selfish or are they connected to the things that God cares about? This is the kind of praying that is pleasing to God and, therefore, the kind of praying that God is most likely to answer with “yes.”