1 Kings 18, Ezekiel 48

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Kings 18 and Ezekiel 48.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 48:35b: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

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 promises 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 given to those tribes.

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.” This is the realization of the promise lost in the Garden of Eden, 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 this 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.

1 Kings 16, Ezekiel 46

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 16 and Ezekiel 46.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 46:9-10: “‘When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate. The prince is to be among them, going in when they go in and going out when they go out.”

This chapter continued the lengthy vision Ezekiel received way back in chapter 40. This vision described how Israel should rebuild the temple and worship as a nation at some point in the future.

Here in chapter 46 the Lord described how the people should gather and worship each Sabbath and during New Moon feasts (v. 3). The prince of Israel was commanded to bring a burnt offering as described in verses 4-7 and verse 8 described where he was to enter and exit the temple area.

Here in verses 9-10 we read these strange instructions. When the people came to worship in the temple on the Sabbath and the New Moons, God commanded them to enter by one gate and leave by the other. These gates were on the north and south sides of the temple. If you came in through the north gate, you were required to cover the rest of the distance and go out the through the south gate. If you came in through the south gate, you had to keep going forward and exit through the north gate. Just so nobody was confused, the end of verse 9 said, “No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.”

Verse 10 included the prince in all of this. He was required to use either the north or south gate and he must go out the gate opposite the one that he entered. He was not allowed to use some side entrance to avoid the people; the prince must travel in and out like everyone else did.

Why on earth would the Lord care about this?

We don’t know for sure because Ezekiel did not give any explanation for these instructions. But it is interesting to think about why the Lord might have commanded this. One commentator I glanced at said it was probably either:

for crowd control
or because turning around and showing your backside might be offensive to God
or because “every detail in the worship of Yahweh was ordered.”[1]

The first answer could be true, the second one is just weird and the last one makes decent sense. There were a lot of precise instructions given in these chapters; maybe this is just another one of those.

But think about it. You have two large groups of people. One came in from the North and is now facing South. The other came in from the South and is now facing North. They are facing each other and have to cross paths with everyone else on the other side to get out. To me, it seems like crowd control would be easier if everyone turned around and left the way they came in.

So it makes me wonder if God commanded this to make it harder for his people to avoid each other and for the prince to avoid the people. In any large group of people, there were bound to be some who were estranged from one another. There were some who may have sued each other, married and divorced each other, or just generally didn’t get along with each other. These instructions made hiding from people you dislike even harder to do. Remember Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” That could literally happen if you had to either walk in with half the crowd or cross paths with the other half of the crowd on your way out.

These commands also emphasized that the prince was just a worshipper like everyone else. He had greater responsibilities and recognition, but he was just a man before God like everyone else, a sinner allowed by God’s mercy and grace into his presence.

These thoughts of mine are totally speculative and may well be wrong. But it is interesting to think about the principles. Do you ever try to avoid someone on Sunday morning when you come to church? If we only had two doors open to the building and they were opposite each other and we wouldn’t let you leave through the door that you entered, don’t you think you’d see more people than you usually do?

We can’t really be the church without socializing with others in the church. Do you come late and leave early or immediately after the service just to avoid people? Do you think the Lord is pleased if we act that way toward our brothers and sisters in Christ?

[1] Daniel Isaac Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997–), 673.

1 Kings 15, Ezekiel 45

Today, let’s 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, in my opinion. 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 14, Ezekiel 44

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Kings 14 and Ezekiel 44.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel should be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides.

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.”
Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.”

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests.

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced.

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this. But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

1 Kings 13, Ezekiel 42

Today, read 1 Kings 1 3 and Ezekiel 43.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 43.

The exile of Judah to Babylon happened in three stages. Ezekiel and others were sent to Babylon in one of the earlier stages of exile and Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry happened there in Babylon (Ez 1:1).

Back in chapter 33:21-22, word came to Ezekiel and the other Jewish exiles in Babylon that Jerusalem had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar. This was the final stage of Judah’s exile, the one where Nebuchadnezzar killed many people and burned the city of Jerusalem, including the Lord’s temple.

From Ezekiel 34 onward, Ezekiel’s message to Judah turned to a hopeful one. He still prophesied pain and loss for God’s enemies (like in Ez 35, for instance) but for God’s people his message was God’s promise of restoration.

Whenever someone has a catastrophic loss–a business or personal bankruptcy, the death of a spouse or one that leaves in divorce–it can seem like things will never be good again. Imagine if the catastrophe happened to your nation–a nation of God’s chosen people. Imagine that the capitol city, the palace, and the temple that one of your greatest kings in history built was completely destroyed. Imagine that everyone you knew was either killed or carried off as a prisoner by the nation that invaded you. I think there would be a strong tendency for any of us to think, “That’s it; it’s over. Israel will never exist again.” These later chapters in Ezekiel’s prophecy were promises from God that the nation would not be over. In fact, God’s people would have a brighter future than ever someday. Judah and Israel would be reunited as one nation again (37:15-23) and God himself would be their king (37:24-28).

Starting in chapter 40, Ezekiel had a vision of a restored temple of the Lord. The past few chapters we’ve read in Ezekiel have described that new temple in great detail. So much detail, in fact, that Ezekiel was measuring it out by hand so that there would be a specific record of what God was promising to do.

There is more description to come of this temple in the chapters that remain of Ezekiel but in today’s chapter, Ezekiel 43, God explained why he described this temple to Ezekiel in such detail. Verse 10 says, “Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple—its arrangement, its exits and entrances—its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations.” To summarize those verses, God is telling Ezekiel to be specific about the temple so that God’s people would “be ashamed of their sins.” How exactly would a vision of a temple for the Lord with precise measurements make the people ashamed of their sins? The answer lies in the idea behind all of this: God’s people may have given up on him but he had not given up on them. God was able to restore them to the land, be their perfect king, and dwell among them in a perfect temple. What they needed to do was repent of their sins and hope in him for the fulfillment of these promises.

Truthfully, our ambitions for God are extremely limited but God wants to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v. 20). Reading about God’s promises like this in his word should give us great hope and align us with his program and will again. God has promised incredible things for his people; do we believe that he will do them?

If we did believe that God will accomplish his promises, what would we do (or try) that we won’t do or try today?

1 Kings 6, Ezekiel 36

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 6 and Ezekiel 36.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 36:16-38.

In this chapter, God gave more insight about why he sent his people away into exile for their sins. Every sin is an offense to God. Every sinner is guilty in his sight. But there are additional consequences to sin then just to the sinner. God said that the sins of Israel “defiled” their land (vv. 17, 18). But their sins also “…profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people….’” Israel was supposed to flourish as a nation because of its covenant with God. When Israel didn’t flourish as a nation, it gave other nations reasons to reject God. They did not know (or ignored) the fact that Israel was unfaithful to God and that God had promised punishment to them if they were unfaithful. The struggles and defeat of Israel and Judah caused idol-worshipping nations to reject and even mock the true God.

I wonder how often we consider how our words and our actions reflect on God. We call ourselves Christians. If we are lazy, dishonest, profane, difficult to reason with, racist, or guilty of a host of other sins, what does that say about our faith? What might an unbeliever conclude about our God?

These words of judgment were not the final story, however. In verses 24-31 God promised to redeem Israel from the exile in other nations. He promised to install them back in the land (v. 28a) but also to change their hearts. Verses 26-27 say, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” This is the promise of regeneration, God’s gift of new spiritual life to the spiritually dead. And why would God do this? Verse 32 says, “I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And verse 36 says, “…the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” Just as Israel’s sins gave God’s enemies an excuse to reject him, Israel’s spiritual life and prosperity would demonstrate the truth about God powerfully to those nations.

I wrote in an earlier graph today about how our sins reflect on God to unbelievers. But just as Israel’s redemption would testify to God’s power, so his transforming grace in your life speaks volumes about him to unbelievers who know you. As God deletes sins from your life and causes you to grow strong in faith and obedience, the people who know you will see a silent but potent witness that God is real.

1 Kings 3, Ezekiel 34

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?