2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, Psalms 124-126

Read 2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, and Psalms 124-126 today. This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.”

Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done. Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever.

Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring.

This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.” But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears.

God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are exceptional events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else?

Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore?

This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it.

Even if you’re crying while you do the work (v. 5), the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort!

So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, Proverbs 26:1-16

Read 2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, and Proverbs 26:1-16 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 22.

Josiah was eight years old when he became king.

When he was a mere twenty-six years old, however (v. 3: “in the eighteenth year”), he supervised the renovation of Solomon’s temple (vv. 3-7). During that renovation, the “Book of the Law” was discovered. This is a reference to Moses’ law; whether it meant all five books of Moses or just one book (such as Exodus or Deuteronomy) is unclear. What is clear is that God’s word had been neglected. Whatever Josiah and any other observant person in Judah knew about God was known by oral tradition, not direct instruction from God’s written word.

Having re-discovered God’s word, however, the secretary (v. 8)  and the king (v. 10) read it. The king immediately accepted the words he heard as God’s word (v. 11) and realized that God had promised judgment for disobedience to this covenant—disobedience that was common throughout his kingdom.

His response to the message in verse 13 was, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me….” This inquiry was to find out what the Lord’s will was for the king and his people. Had the Lord already determined to bring judgement to them or would he accept the king’s repentance?

Having consulted the prophet Huldah (v. 14), they learned that God had indeed willed judgment for Judah (vv. 16-17).

However, verses 18-19 tell us that Josiah’s responsiveness to God’s word would mean mercy for him and the people during his life. Verse 19 put it this way, “Because your heart was responsive….” He, therefore, modeled for Judah and for anyone who follows God what walking with God looks like.

We must read God’s word—not someone else’s description or summary of God’s word —but the word itself. We must believe that it is true and applies to us and we must turn to God in repentance when we are convicted of disobedience to it.

I’m glad you’re reading these devotionals but are you reading the Bible passages first? Are you finding truth for yourself in these daily chapters from scripture in addition to the truth I email you every morning?

Most importantly, are you doing anything about the truths that God is bringing to your attention from the word?

2 Kings 21, Zephaniah 1, John 13

Read 2 Kings 21, Zephaniah 1, and John 13 today. This devotional is about Zephaniah 1.

The prophets and the historical books of the Old Testament document for us centuries of idolatry, injustice to the poor, violence, sexual misconduct, and many other sins among the people of God.  God’s punishment for these sins came when the Assyrians defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel and–later–the Babylonians defeated the Southern Kingdom of Judah. 

But God was not only displeased by the sins of his people; he was also angry about the lack of spiritual desire and growth among the people. In verse 12 here in Zephaniah 1 God said, “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent…” A complacent person is one who is stagnant. It is a person who is not growing or getting stronger; instead, the complacent person has given up. He or she is someone who has concluded that “the way it is” is “the way it will be.”

The next three phrases in verse 12 tell us that the complacent “are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’” They think, “God won’t judge us” but also “God isn’t going to bless us.” They are resigned to the situation as it is and have no expectation that it will get better or worse.

The reality is, however, that unless you are striving to get better, things are getting worse. You know this as an adult; your level of physical fitness declines as you get older unless you work on getting stronger and fitter. Your diet may stay the same for years but your health does not stay the same; it gets poorer. It may take a long time before it gets really bad, but it won’t get better without effort.

The Bible teaches us to be content but that is not at all the same as being complacent. Contentment means being satisfied with the results God gives you for your work and your effort. It is the opposite of being jealous or envious or materialistic; it is not the opposite of working hard or striving for improvement. God sees complacency as a sin to be addressed as well (see verse 13). It isn’t the same as idolatry but neither one is glorifying to God.

Where in your life are you complacent? Have you put your ministry in our church on autopilot? By that I mean that you’re still showing up and doing it but not with the same level of excellence or creativity or heart that you once had? 

Is your walk with God hindered by complacency? How about your family life or your financial health? Is it your physical body or your work that you’ve given up on? 

Complacency stems from a lack of faith. The last phrase of verse 12 teaches the mindset of the complacent; this person thinks, “The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.” That’s the motto of a man or woman who doesn’t expect anything from God–either judgment or blessing. Is that where you are?

What would your life be like if you expected to be disciplined by the Lord for your sin or to be blessed by him for your faithfulness? Repent of your complacency and ask God to breathe fresh life into your life by faith.

2 Kings 20, Habakkuk 3, John 12

Today read 2 Kings 20, Habakkuk 3, and John 12. This devotional is about John 12.

There is a strong contrast between a disciple who loves Jesus and is unashamed of being his servant and those who believe in Jesus but want to follow him secretly.

We can see the contrast right here in John 12. It opens with Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with “about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume” (v. 3a) which she poured on his feet then removed with her hair (v. 3b). Her appreciation for who Jesus is, her gratitude for what he had done, and her desire to glorify and worship him overcame any inhibitions she had. Giving this gift of anointing to Jesus was far more important to her than blessing the poor with it (vv. 5-6), not because the poor were unimportant but because she was devoted to Jesus.

The opposite of her unique act of worship was exemplified by the “leaders” (v. 42a) who “believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue” (v. 42b). They wanted to follow Christ in secret. Why? Because “they loved human praise more than praise from God” (v. 43). Mary was unashamed because she was devoted to God and, therefore, worshipped his Son openly without shame. These men who were leaders feared God but they feared social ostracism more.

Most, if not all of us, go through phases in our lives where we want to hide our faith in Christ because we fear people. It is a common spiritual issue, one that even the great Simon Peter experienced when he denied our Lord three times. So if you’ve ever hidden your faith or been embarrassed to admit that you’re a Christian, that does not automatically mean that you are not sincerely saved.

Eventually, though, the time comes when we must confess Christ openly. We must do so to become part of the local church through baptism. We must confess him openly to tell others about salvation in him. And, some of us must confess him openly by giving up our lives to follow him. As Jesus said in verses 24-25, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Are you willing to die for Jesus? Then why are you afraid to talk about him in your workplace? Why are you unwilling to sacrifice financially for his work? May God use this chapter to pull us out of our protective shells, to teach us to fear Him more than we fear others and even to love him more than we desire the praise of men. Then we will show ourselves to be his true disciples.

2 Kings 19, Habakkuk 2, John 11

Read 2 Kings 19, Habakkuk 2, and John 11 today. This devotional is about Habakkuk 2.

We have read so many prophesies about the judgment and destruction the Lord promises to visit on Israel and all the nations of the world that forsake him. The purpose of this destruction is justice–to punish all those who have defied the Lord and who are disobedient to him.

But as important as God’s justice is, there is a greater reason for the coming judgment. After talking about the ultimate futility of all the hard work people do for the kingdoms of this world that will be destroyed, verse 14 said, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Think of how deep the chasms in our oceans are and how vast the oceans are in width. Yet the waters cover those chasms completely.

That is the image the Lord chose for how the knowledge of him will some day fill the earth completely. The destruction of earthly kingdoms and the punishment of all unredeemed sinners not only satisfies God’s justice, it removes all the barriers to the full Christianization of the earth. God judges the nations to make room for his kingdom where everyone will know him, the only true God. The only way to experience this amazing promise is described in verse 4, “…the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” The New Testament quotes this passage again and again to urge us to put our faith in God for righteousness not in our own good works. God is the source of spiritual life and, at the time he has appointed, he will establish his kingdom on earth fill the earth with his knowledge.

2 Kings 18, Habakkuk 1, John 10

Read 2 Kings 18, Habakkuk 1, and John 10 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 18.

Our passage for today, 2 Kings 18, told us that Hezekiah was a godly king, like David (v. 3). Other kings of Judah were described as good kings but often with the caveat that they did not remove the high places used for idolatry. These kings, then, worshipped the Lord themselves and stressed covenant obedience to God’s law for the nation but they did not try to stop the private idol worship that was going on away from Jerusalem.

Hezekiah, however, did put a stop to that idolatry. Verse 4 told us, “ He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

The reason he did this was that, “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel.” His faith in God led him to do what was unpopular with the people but right in the eyes of God. As a result God said of him, “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.” He stood alone among the kings of Judah because of his faith and God blessed him with success accordingly, just as He had promised to do in the law.

That doesn’t mean that Hezekiah did not face adversity. Verse 7b told us that, “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.” This statement is quite meaningful; Assyria was taking over the known world at that time. Verses 9-12 told us that Israel was invaded, defeated, and exiled from their land due to their disobedience to God’s law. Then the Assyrians attacked Hezekiah (v. 13). At first Hezekiah tried to buy peace from the Assyrians by giving them silver and gold, even gold harvested from Solomon’s temple (vv. 14-16). That peace lasted temporarily, then the Assyrians were back again like a 6th grade bully taking 3rd graders’ lunch money.

This time the Assyrians stopped water from flowing into Jerusalem, trapping the people in the city with no way for water or food to enter. They taunted God’s people and urged them (in their own Hebrew language, no less) to surrender despite what Hezekiah said. The Assyrians made this conflict about God, not just about world domination. In verse 22 they said, “But if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” They misunderstood how worship was supposed to work in Judah, but their words resonated with the people whose idol altars Hezekiah had torn down.

Later they said that it was God’s will for them to attack Judah: “ Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’” (v. 25) Finally, the Assyrians appealed to their record of success against all other kinds of gods: “Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (v. 35).

The lesson from this is that the promise of God’s presence with the godly does not mean an absence of adversity in your life.

In fact, the more you trust God, the more likely you are to face challenges to your faith from those who have rejected the Lord. If you’re facing some trials and hardships right now, understand that this is part of walking with the Lord. God hasn’t abandoned you or failed you; he has led you into an opportunity to test and strengthen your faith even more.

2 Kings 17, Nahum 3, John 9

Read 2 Kings 17, Nahum 3, and John 9 today. This devotional is about Nahum 3.

As we read yesterday in Nahum 2 and again today in chapter 3, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. 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 Ninevah, the capital city of Assyria, 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 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?