1 Chronicles 9-10, Zechariah 5, Psalms 127-129

Read 1 Chronicles 9-10, Zechariah 5, and Psalms 127-129 today. This devotional is about Psalm 127.

Human beings are builders. We build houses, cities, gardens but also families, companies, and teams. There is something very satisfying about having an idea, formulating it into a plan, then step-by-step putting that plan into action until it is finished. Once it is finished, the thing you built needs to be protected from thieves, vandals, and natural disasters.

Solomon knew a lot about building; he built Jerusalem into a world-class city from the simple fortress town it had been when David ruled over Israel. Yet, as the wisest man who ever lived, he reflected on all his projects and realized something profound: If God is not behind your project, it will not succeed (v. 1a). If he isn’t defending it, all the elite guards in the world won’t be able to protect what is so important to you (v. 1b).

In verse 2 Solomon moved from general notions about building a home and defending a city to a more personal application to us all. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat….” People work themselves to death trying to achieve their dreams or trying to avoid being a failure; but Solomon claims that it is useless—“vain”—to spend so much time and effort on the projects in our lives. The reason he says this is in the last line of verse 2: “for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

The Hebrew in this verse is not 100% clear, so it could be translated, “…for while they sleep he provides for those he loves” as the NIV’s footnote says. I think that is probably what Solomon was saying because verse 3a says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord….” Verse 2’s “he provides for those he loves while they sleep” is a euphemism for the conception of children with your spouse.

People work so hard building a career, building wealth, building a company, creating whatever; then they go home and create what really matters—children—between the sheets. It is not hard work; it is a gift from God—both the intimacy that creates children and the children that result from that intimacy. Solomon says they are God’s “reward” for those whom he loves (v. 3).

Verses 4-5 explain that one of the benefits of your children is that they will defend you when you are old and others try to take advantage of you. Your wealth may diminish over time, your athletic achievements will be forgotten, you will someday retire from your stellar career, the hobbies that take so much of your time will someday bore you to tears. It will be your children that matter to you when you look back on your life; they will care for you when you get older. The implication, then, is: put your energy and effort there. You know God thinks children are important (v. 3), so why not build into their lives while you work on your other projects? God will bless you if you do.

1 Chronicles 7-8, Zechariah 4, Proverbs 26:17-28

Today read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Zechariah 4, and Proverbs 26:17-28. This devotional is about Zechariah 4.

God was moving his people back to Jerusalem in the days of Zechariah and, in this chapter, the Lord sent some encouragement to the leaders. Zerubbabel was the leader in charge of rebuilding God’s temple (v. 9) and he is the leader named in this chapter. 

When the people returned to Jerusalem, they were poor. They had an immense amount of work to do rebuilding the city and the temple; but the resources they had to do that work were minuscule.

A massive job to do and few resources to use are the perfect prescription for discouragement.

God sent Zechariah to Zerubbabel to remind him that he had the ultimate resource in God. How would he be able to rebuild that temple? “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (v. 6). The natural, financial, and human resources  at Zerubbabel’s disposal were few but only resource he needed was spiritual, the power of almighty God. 

As a result, neither Zerubbabel nor God’s people should give up or be discouraged by meager beginnings. As verse 10 says, “Who dares despise the day of small things….” Everything that exists once started as something small and modest. Every large church, for example, was once a small church; indeed, it was once merely the idea and desire of a small group of people. If God is in the project, it will not be stopped; if he is not in it, it will not ultimately succeed. 

Are you ever tempted to look at your ministry or your life or something else that belongs to God and think, “This is never going to amount to anything!” Verse 10 would rebuke you: “Who dares despise the day of small things…?” Trust God that the desire to serve him matters. Your resources may be few and the beginning may be humble but God is more than powerful enough to make something great. 

1 Chronicles 5-6, Zechariah 3, John 18

Read 1 Chronicles 5-6, Zechariah 3, and John 18 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 5.

As you’ve already noticed, the book of 1 Chronicles begins with a massive genealogy that goes from Adam (1:1) through Saul, the first king of Israel (9:44). Here in chapter 5:1-2, the author of 1 Chronicles reminds us of Genesis 49 where we learned that Israel (Jacob)’s first born son, Reuben, lost his birthright because he had sex with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives (35:22). Israel used that incident to justify giving the right of firstborn to Joseph’s sons (v. 2b). 

Reuben’s sin was costly to himself but that cost was carried forward and passed on to the generations that followed him. Did Reuben think he would get away it? Did he think at all or just follow his impulses?

I don’t know the answer but I can’t help but wonder if he would have sinned with his stepmother if he knew what the price would be. 

That’s how sin works, isn’t it? It never tells us the price up front and, because we all find our fallen nature so persuasive, we seldom think about what the cost of sin might be for us. Sin deludes us into thinking that we’ll never be discovered. It is only after the pleasure is gone and the consequences are revealed that we see how foolish our sinful decisions were. 

I wonder how many other generations, besides Reuben’s, throughout human history have been altered by the sin of one man like Reuben. I wonder how many of us are leaving a legacy of damage to our children and their children for sins that we commit.

Thankfully, one of Judah’s descendants would come along and make peace with God for all our sins. That descendant, of course, is Jesus. Through his loving sacrifice we have forgiveness by faith which keeps us from the ultimate consequences of our sin–the wrath of God.

But even though God has removed the ultimate penalty for sin, sin damages us in this life and, at times, can have ripple effects throughout generations that follow us.

God has graciously given us in his word examples of how people sinned throughout history and how much that sin cost them. Do we believe God’s word and prepare ourselves to say no to sin when temptation comes? Are you moving toward a course of sinful actions in your life that could affect generations after you? Learn from Reuben’s folly and repent before the damage is done.

1 Chronicles 3-4, Zechariah 2, John 17

Read 1 Chronicles 3-4, Zechariah 2, and John 17 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 4.

In 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book titled The Prayer of Jabez based on our passage for today, specifically 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. That book was a monster best seller with over 9 million copies sold. Many people—Christians and non-Christians—following the teaching in Wilkinson’s book have prayed the prayer of Jabez, asking God’s blessing on their lives. They treat this passage, again because of Wilkinson’s book, like it is a secret formula, almost a magic incantation for bringing God’s blessing on your life anywhere you want it.

But 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 is not an incantation or a secret formula to unleash God’s blessings in your life.

To understand Jabez’s prayer, we need to understand that God had promised material prosperity to the Jewish people if they walked in obedience to his laws. This goes all the way back to God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12. There, and in later passages, God promised land to Abram’s descendants.

What made Jabez “more honorable than his brothers” was that he believed God’s promise and asked God to fulfill it in his life. Jabez’s prayer was consistent with the covenant God made with Israel. The other descendants of Judah after David turned to idols as the source of their prosperity. They worshipped other gods in disobedience to God’s law and hoped to obtain more land and more prosperity from these gods. They also abused others to get what they wanted.

Jabez was different and “more honorable” because he had faith in God and prayed consistently with God’s promises for his people.

What Jabez’s prayer teaches us is that God is honored when we pray according to his revealed will—that is, according to what the Bible says.

When we pray in faith asking God to honor his promises to us in the word, God is pleased and will answer us according to his will. No Christian is promised the kind of material prosperity that Jabez prayed for. What God promises to us is to provide for our needs, to give us spiritual power to overcome sin and to become like Jesus, and to be with us as we go spreading the gospel to all the nations.

What if we prayed for those things instead of asking God to heal our chronic problems?

How would that transform our prayer life?

How would it change our church?

What might God do in this world if we prayed like Jabez—not aping his requests but applying the spirit of them to pray according to God’s promises?

1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, John 16

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, and John 16 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 1.

When Zechariah wrote these words (v. 1) there were still 18 years or so to go in Judah’s 70 year exile. The end was not yet in sight but it was much closer than it was at the beginning. God’s message to the people in the first 6 verses of this chapter can be described as follows:

  • Your parents and grandparents refused to repent when the prophets preached to them that the exile that we’re in was coming. Don’t be like them (v. 4).
  • What happened to those ancestors off yours, anyway? Oh, yeah, they died in exile just like the prophets said. The prophets themselves died too, by the way (v. 5).
  • What survives from those days? God’s word; that’s what (v. 6). Everything God said would happen, did happen.

The point of these first 6 verses is that God’s word through the predictions of the prophets had proved to be true. His word was so clearly true that even the rebellious ancestors were forced to admit, “The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do” (v. 6d). God’s punishment for their sins was clear proof of the truthfulness of his word.

So, “‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Don’t wait for the punishment of sin to prove the truth of God’s word. Believe that God’s word is true now and turn to him accordingly.

People in every generation have rejected and tried to discredit God’s word. They argue that there is no proof that the Bible is God’s word; it is just a human book, they think.

Leaving aside the prophecies that have already been fulfilled, God’s word is fulfilled day after day in the consequences that people experience for their sins. “The wages of sin is death” according to Romans 6:23; the fact that every sinner dies proves this word of the Lord to be true. The Bible also promises blessings for faith in and obedience to his word as well as judgment for unbelief and disobedience to his word.

You and I have the benefit of history. We can see how others who lived before us have disregarded God’s commands and sinned because the wanted to sin. What became of their lives? In every case I can think of, they proved that faithlessness and disobedience bring heartbreak and sorrow. 

Receive the grace of God in the warning of these words and choose to believe that obeying God’s commands will be far better for you than disobeying them. That’s the lesson God wanted the people of Zechariah’s generation to learn from the exile. Likewise, it is the same lesson he wants us to learn, too.

2 Kings 25, Haggai 2, John 15

Read 2 Kings 25, Haggai 2, and John 15 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 25.

Judah’s final defeat to the Babylonians was recorded in this chapter. Although the Babylonians were ruthless to the people of Judah, their ruthlessness was militarily shrewd. Consider:

  • Before invading Jerusalem, the Babylonians used a siege to starve the city, weakening both the bodies of Judah’s army and the spirit of everyone in Jerusalem (vv. 1-3).
  • After Zedekiah, king of Judah failed to escape Jerusalem (v. 4), the Babylonians killed Zedekiah’s sons (v. 7a). So, there would be neither heirs to his throne nor retaliation from his family.
  • Then the Babylonians blinded the king and made him a prisoner (v. 7b).
  • The Babylonians then invaded Jerusalem and burned down “every important building” (v. 9c)–the Lord’s temple and the king’s palace included (v. 9). This signaled both complete spiritual and military domination.
  • But before burning the temple, the Babylonians destroyed all of the furniture used in the worship of God (v. 13).
  • They also carried away all the valuable things they found in the temple (vv. 14-17).
  • But, that’s not all; the Babylonians rounded up key leaders in the temple worship (v. 18) and in the government (vv. 19-20). They forced these men to march to Nebuchadnezzar who ordered them executed (v. 21).

All of this was designed not only to defeat Judah but to grind their faces in the dust and emphasize to them that they had been decimated in every way–militarily, spiritually, and administratively. 

Then the Babylonians sent in an administrator who promised they would be safe as long as they submitted to Babylon (vv. 22-24). 

So here we have God’s chosen people and their Davidic king utterly defeated and humiliated by a pagan foreign nation. We understand that all of this happened because of Judah’s idolatry and disobedience to God.

But why did God allow it to happen in such a brutal, thoroughgoing way? 

The answer is that God wanted to show his people something that Jesus told his disciples hundreds of years later: “Without me you can do nothing.” Jesus said that in John 15:5 but God’s people proved it to be true over and over again.

God’s promise to his people was that in His will they would be unbeatable but outside of his will they would live in constant defeat. God still had plans for redemption for his people, but first he wanted them to experience absolute destruction without him.

As Christians, we don’t operate in a political and military context but the principle underneath this passage is as true for us as it was for Zedekiah and the rest of the people of Judah. We must trust God and be obedient to his commands if we will have any power in this life, any success spiritually. Are you living your Christian life in obedience to God’s word? Have you suffered some defeats and setbacks that might indicate your need to depend on God?

2 Kings 24, Haggai 1, John 14

Read 2 Kings 24, Haggai 1, and John 14 today. This devotional is about Haggai 1.

Most of the prophets we’ve read prophesied that judgment was coming for Israel or Judah or both. Haggai was one of the prophets who spoke the Lord’s word after his people were returned from exile.

Here in chapter 1, the Lord challenged the people through Haggai for returning to the land and building their own houses (v. 4) but doing nothing to rebuild the temple (v. 2, 4). Their reasoning for this was, “’The time has not yet come…’” (v. 2).

Undoubtedly there was still a lot of work to be done in Jerusalem. A city that has been destroyed by the Babylonians would take a long time to rebuild. Their plan to leave the temple until “the time comes,” however, suggested wrong priorities. Instead of understanding that their security and prosperity were consequences of faith in and obedience to God, they believed that taking care of business was most important and then, “we’ll get to the Lord’s work when things are humming along nicely again.”

Verses 5-11 explained the outcome of their misplaced priorities. Though they had worked hard (“planted much”) they were struggling to make ends meet (“harvest little… earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (v. 6)). This was all the Lord’s doing as he explained in verses 9-10: “‘What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops.’” Through Haggai, then, the Lord taught his people to change their priorities and see worship as far more important by rebuilding the temple (v. 8).

Unlike the past, God’s people at this time received the message of the Lord’s prophet (v. 12). Their resolve to rebuild the temple and their obedience to that intention (v. 14) was met with the Lord’s favor: “I am with you” (v. 13b).

  • What struggles are you facing now?
  • Work problems or business struggles?
  • Rebellious children?
  • Strained friendships?
  • A too-tight budget at home?

Maybe you are struggling as part of the Lord’s will for you now to teach you patience and strengthen your faith.

But, have you considered that maybe the Lord is holding too low a priority in your life?

You’re working harder than ever but that leaves less time for prayer and Bible reading. You’re trying to spend more time with your kids but that means you’re choosing recreation over church attendance frequently.

Consider the possibility that the frustrations you face in your life might be the Lord’s discipline in your life and that this passage is calling you to reassess your priorities and put more attention into your walk with God.

Then, do what it takes to give the Lord his proper place. It may seem tough to find time to rebuild your walk with God but remember the Lord’s encouraging promise: “‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord.”