2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, John 3

Read 2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, and John 3 today. This devotional is about Jonah 4.

At least once in our lives, I’d guess, we all allow someone to talk us into doing something we don’t want to do. Either we don’t want to do the activity itself or we are unsure, skeptical even, if the activity will be fun or productive or helpful or produce whatever result it promises.

We also may be reluctant because we see real risks. We’ve all had that sinking feeling that happens when we are reluctant to do something, do it anyway, then see that the very thing we feared is happening.

Jonah can relate. The people of Nineveh were wicked people. This is why Jonah hated them and resisted coming to preach to them in the first place back in Jonah 1. When he did come, Jonah came to them preaching God’s judgment and offering no grace, as we saw yesterday. As I mentioned in the devotional on Jonah 1. Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh because they were cruel to people they conquered and captured in war. Maybe some of Jonah’s friends or relatives had been tortured by the Babylonians or maybe he’d just heard enough reports to know how violent they were. Regardless of the specific reasons why, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He did not want to preach to the people who lived in Nineveh. He did not want to see them respond well to his message. He did not want the king to repent in sackcloth and sit in dirt as he did in Jonah 3:6. Jonah was willing to die—“throw me into the sea“ (1:12)—rather than preach to the people of Nineveh. But God, in his inimitable way, changed Jonah’s mind and persuaded him to go to Nineveh and speak against their sins.

Our reading today tells us why Jonah did what he did in chapter 1 and chapter 3. He went the opposite direction from Nineveh in chapter 1 and preached judgment without grace in chapter 3 because he was afraid the Lord would forgive the Assyrians of Nineveh: “He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’” (v. 2). In our language, Jonah is saying, “I knew it! I knew this would happen!” If you’ve ever regretted letting someone talk you into something, you know the feeling. But in Jonah’s case, it was the positive result that he feared. He did not want to preach to the people of Nineveh lest they repent and avoid God’s judgment. When exactly what he feared happened, his hatred for the Assyrian people turned into anger at God himself.

God dealt with Jonah by confronting his anger (v. 4, 9). He asked Jonah whether he had any right to be angry in verse 4. Jonah ignored God’s question and went outside the city to see if God’s judgment would fall on them despite their repentance (v. 5a). God was gracious to Jonah, giving him a plant to provide him shade (v. 5b-6). Then God took away the shade (v. 7) and turned up the heat (literally) on Jonah (v. 8). After this object lesson, God asked Jonah again if he was angry (v. 9a); this time he got the answer–of course I’m angry (v. 9b). God then used this object lesson to show how self-centered Jonah was. He was concerned about the plant, but not about the vast number of children (“who cannot tell their right hand from their left”) and animals who would be lost if Nineveh were destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah style.

Verse 11 of our passage is the point of this entire book of Jonah. It was written to bring us face to face with our own poor priorities. We care passionately about things that do not matter at all and can be indifferent (or worse) toward people we hate. This happens when we stop seeing people for what they are–eternal souls made in the image of God but bound as we once were by sin natures that distort everything. When we start to think of people not as individuals but as groups–atheists, Scientologists, Hindus, or whatever–we might lose sight of the fact that they are people. People have strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, beliefs and doubts, parents and children. Generation after generation can be lost to the gospel if we assume that entire groups of people won’t listen to us, don’t care about God, are too proud to repent, or too sinful to desire forgiveness. We notice when the comforts of life are gone and we regret their loss just as Jonah regretting losing his shade. But do we ever consider the eternal destiny of people in groups we are inclined to dislike and avoid?

2 Kings 4, Jonah 2, John 1

Read 2 Kings 4, Jonah 2, and John 1 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 4.

Ahab and Jezebel were both dead, relieving Israel of her two most evil influences. Their son Joram, who was now king, was not as bad as Ahab and Jezebel (2 Ki 3:2), but he was far from a godly man. He faced some political problems, too, as we read about yesterday when Moab rebelled against the tribute Ahab had imposed.

Meanwhile, though Israel as a whole remained idolatrous, the work God had been doing continued. Elijah had been taken to heaven but that was not at all the end of God’s activity in Israel. Instead, just as Elisha had asked, God blessed his ministry twice as much as He blessed Elijah’s works. Here in 2 Kings 4 we see God working miracles through Elisha:

  • God spoke through Elisha to miraculously provided for a poor widow on the edge of starvation (vv. 1-7).
  • He raised a dead boy to life again, restoring a family that feared God despite the idolatrous times they lived in (vv. 8-37). 
  • He cured a group of prophets who were eating poisonous potluck (vv. 38-41).
  • He multiplied loaves to feed a large number of people, foreshadowing a miracle that Christ would do many hundreds of years in the future (vv. 42-44).

All of this miraculous activity happened despite the godlessness of the people of Israel. In fact, this is often how God works. His power is often displayed most directly in the most ungodly of times and situations.

So what do we do with this? One thing we should do is not worry if our country and culture becomes more secular. The more godless the culture, the more God works in power.

We also should consider the situations we are in. Do you work in a godless company? Live in an unsaved family? How might God use you to pray for people and, in answering your prayers, reveal to those around you that God is real? 

So look for needs that need prayer and offer to pray for people. Let them know that God is real and that he still is active and working, not only meeting human needs but–more importantly–saving people from their ungodliness and unbelief. 

One of the most effective people in personal evangelism I know begins most encounters with people by offering to pray for them and their problems. Have you tried that in your situation?

1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1

Read 1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1 today. This devotional is about Joel 2.

The locust plague described in Joel 1 was a devastation brought by literal locusts.

Here in chapter 2, however, many commentators see Joel using the locust plague of chapter 1 as a metaphor for the invasion of the Babylonian army upon Judah.

After describing how horrible the invasion of the Babylonians will be (vv. 1-11), Joel turned to urging his people to repent in verses 12-17. Verse 12 holds out the promise again that genuine repentance was still possible even with the Babylonian threat so close at hand. Verse 13 described the repentance God was seeking: “rend your heart and not your garments.”

It was not the symbol of repentance such as tearing their clothes or some other outward work that God wanted. Instead, God wanted a broken-hearted repentance, a complete turning away from the idolatry that was so common in Judah and a “return to the Lord your God” (v. 13). That was the way avoid the judgment of God that the Babylonians would bring.

Verse 13 also described the reason to return to God: “for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

We have read so much in the prophets about the promise of judgment and the delivery of that promise to Israel and then to Judah. It is easy to conclude, from those prophesies, that God is difficult, hard to please, and unreasonable toward his people.

The truth is just the opposite: God wanted nothing more than to be reconciled to his people. The judgment they experienced was due to their absolute refusal to be reconciled to him.

Although Judah did fall to the Babylonians, verses 18-32 hold out a promise of much greater hope. God would allow his people to be punished, but eventually he would bless his people with abundance (vv. 18-27) and with the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 28-32).

The Lord began keeping this promise on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-21) but the consummation is still to come. While we wait for Christ to return and finish fulfilling the promises, the promise for today is, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved….” This is why we are here and why the Lord has not returned. God is being reconciled to people as the Holy Spirit brings true conviction of sin and repentance and people put faith in Jesus Christ.

2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, Proverbs 22:1-16

Read 2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, and Proverbs 22:1-16 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 48.

“And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

Ezekiel 48:35b:

This final chapter in the prophecy of Ezekiel described in detail the land God promised to a restored nation of Israel. The chapter reaffirms the land-based portion of the covenants God had made with his people. It states that the promise of land given to Abraham in Genesis 12:7b: “To your offspring I will give this land” will be fulfilled literally. The chapter promised again that the portions of land promised generally to the twelve tribes of Israel in Genesis 49 and more specifically in Joshua 13-19 would be owned and occupied by those tribes…. someday.

There are good, godly men who believe that the promises God gave to Israel in his covenants have been fulfilled in us here in the church age. I do not agree with that interpretation and I don’t see how passages like this which are so specific could be fulfilled generally or “spiritually” in the church. The only alternative, then, is to believe that these promises have yet to be fulfilled and that they will be fulfilled in the time period we call the Millennium. 

This is not the place to go into specifics about the Millennium or other prophecies in the Bible about the end times. The final verse of Ezekiel, however, sums up the great hope that all believers in every age have: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

When that promise is fulfilled, it will be the realization of the promise lost in the Garden of Eden; namely, that humanity will live under the loving rule of God, knowing him, worshipping, and fellowshipping with him constantly.

When the Lord lives on earth among us, when his name is the name of the city because he is there, when we are free of our sin and shame and can worship him truthfully, fully, constantly and live completely for his purpose–then life will be everything it could be and should be but cannot be in this unredeemed state.

Is that a focus in your life? As you live each day, do you think about what it means to live for the glory of God? Do you think about Christ’s return ever and ask for him to come?

Is there anyone around you today that you could speak to about their need for Christ and what Christ has done for them? This is how God wants us to live once we come to know him by faith. We live faithfully for him, obeying his word and trusting him while also longing for and looking for his return. 

2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 45, Mark 9

Read 2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 45, and Mark 9 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 6.

In 2 Samuel 5 David became king of all Israel (vv. 1-5) and established Jerusalem as his capital city (vv. 6-10). Having accomplished these things, he then desired to make Jerusalem the religious capital as well as being the political capital of Israel. That goal required him to move the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

Moving the Tabernacle was no big deal; it was a tent that was designed to be taken down and moved. The Ark of the Covenant was designed to be moved, too. It was built so that poles could be inserted into it. Those poles would allow it to be carried without any human hand touching it.

When the Philistines captured the ark in 1 Samuel, they returned it to Israel on a cart carried by oxen. Apparently this seemed like a good idea to David and the others because they followed the same strategy for moving the ark from Abinadab’s house to Jerusalem (v. 3). The poles that were designed to carry the ark must have still been around; the men probably used them to move the ark onto the cart. But it must have seemed easier to use oxen and the cart than to have two men carry the ark using the poles.

Although God’s people were technically disobedient by using the cart instead of the poles, God was merciful to them and allowed them to start the move using the carts. But when the oxen stumbled and the cart began to fall, Uzzah touched the ark in an attempt to keep it from being destroyed (v. 6).

Verse 3 tells us that Uzzah and the other guy escorting the cart, Ahio, were “sons of Abinadab.” Abinadab was the man who took the ark into his home to protect it when the Philistines returned it in 1 Samuel 7. So Ahio and Uzzah grew up with the ark in their home. They cared for it and watched over it as a family. It was a special responsibility that they took seriously. When David decided to move the ark, these two men wanted to personally escort it.

So when Uzzah touched the ark in verse 6, he was trying to do something good. He was trying to save the ark from accidental damage or destruction. He was trying to do what his family had done for 20 years which was watch over and protect the physical symbol of God’s presence in Israel. Yet verse 7 tells us that God was quick to punish Uzzah when he touched the ark, taking his life immediately for “his irreverent act” (v.  7).

Why would God do this, especially given that Uzzah was trying to save the ark, to protect it? He was not trying to defy the Lord or do something forbidden and get away with it. He was trying to help God out and watch over the ark for him.

My phrase there “help God out” describes why Uzzah died. God did not judge him or his brother (or David) for moving the ark improperly using a cart instead of the poles. God could have judged them for this, but he did not.

Yet their choice to put the ark on the cart in the first place exposed the ark to risk. God was merciful when the ark was moved improperly, but his mercy ran out when Uzzah disobeyed the Lord by touching the ark. His act was “irreverent’ (v. 7) not because he was leaning against it casually or sitting on it, or using it like a step-stool. His act of touching the ark was irreverent because the whole process was done carelessly, irreverently.

Instead of consulting God’s laws to see how the ark was to be moved, the people assumed that it would be OK to move it the same way the Philistines had moved it. When their method of moving it put the ark at risk, Uzzah did not trust the Lord to protect the ark himself; he instinctively felt it would be better to sin by touching the ark than to let the unthinkable happen and see the ark fall. But God wanted his people to learn to be careful in their worship through obedience.

David did learn the right lesson from Uzzah’s death, In verse 13 we see a reference to ‘those who were carrying the ark.” The word “carrying” indicates they were using the poles that God had commanded them to use.

This passage is difficult to apply directly to our lives because there is nothing like the ark of the covenant in our worship. That object was chosen by God to visually and physically portray his presence. There is no object similar to that in our New Testament worship.

But there are times in which we are irreverent toward God. When we do what seems right to us without consulting his word, we are acting a bit like Uzzah. Even if our motives are good and we desire to honor God, if we disobey God’s commands, God is not honored, he is disrespected.

Christians today do all kinds of things in God’s name. Approaches to evangelism try to downplay the Bible’s teaching on creation or miracles or historical events in the Bible. “Just focus on Jesus” the well-intentioned Christian or preacher says; don’t worry about the rest of the Bible. But this is dishonoring to the Lord.

It is dishonoring to the Lord because it relies on human ingenuity (like the cart or a steadying human hand) rather than seeking to understand and obey what God’s word said and trusting him.

Whenever we try to make it easier to become a Christian or to follow the Lord or to worship him, we ought to be very careful. While God does not often judge as immediately and severely as he did Uzzah, he wants us to understand how important it is to reverence Him and treat him as holy.

Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, Acts 22

Read Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, and Acts 22 today. This devotional is about Acts 22.

Yesterday we read in Acts 21 about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to placate the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted. Today’s chapter, Acts 22, is the written record of that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say?

He gave his personal testimony.

He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to the time in his life when he persecuted Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience.

The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication.

Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ. A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ?

You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old carjacker or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out, even, to help you prepare to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, Romans 10

Read Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, and Romans 10 today. This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land God promised to them, but not completely. Their territory was larger at times and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied all the land God promised them.

Why not?

Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) but Israel still procrastinated when it came to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later.

Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots.

In other words, they were willing to follow God to a point. But, when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage.

Do you ever do that?

God has made many promises to us. You’ve believed and acted on one or more of those promises. And, God blessed your faith with results. But, then, the challenge started to look hard. So, you quit and settled for less than what God promised.

Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has.

But, how much effort do you put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has.

But how much effort do you put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for you?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? Why, yes, the Bible does say these things.

But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament encourage generous giving to see God provide? Consider 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?