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 Kings 18, Amos 4, 1 Peter 4

Today read 1 Kings 18, Amos 4, and 1 Peter 4. This devotional is about 1 Peter 4.

Suffering is a key theme in this book and in this chapter. Persecution was the type of suffering that caused Peter to write these words (vv. 12-16), but he knew that what he taught about suffering applied to any kind of suffering caused by doing what is right (v. 4).

People who are doing what is right suffer and are persecuted for one reason–to silence them. Whenever we witness for Christ, we point out to unbelievers that they are sinners and accountable to God for their sins. Unless the Spirit moves to create repentance, that message of the gospel will be offensive to unbelievers.

It is not just our words of witness that cause conviction, guilt, and retaliation in unbelievers, however. The godly choices we make to live a sober, disciplined life are offensive to unbelievers as well. Verse 3 here in 1 Peter described how pagans live, “in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Those who live this way due to unbelief “are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you” (v. 4). That last phrase, “they heap abuse on you,” shows how convicting a godly life is to the unsaved-ungodly. The “heap abuse” to try to silence us, to get us to conform to the undisciplined norm.

Peter discussed persecution at the beginning of this chapter (vv. 1-6) and at the end (vv. 12-18). In between those two paragraphs, he commanded us to serve each other within the church in various ways, reminding us that our service to each other is ultimately done by God through us, for God and for his glory (vv. 7-11).

This section on service is not a digression, however. It is important to the teaching on suffering and persecution because the point of persecution (and any suffering brought on by Satan) is to shut down your witness for Christ and your service for him. If God’s enemies can discourage you, they can stop you from witnessing and from serving the body of Christ.

So what do you do if you feel discouraged by how people treat you as a Christian?

Two things: First, remember that God’s enemies will be held accountable (vv. 5, 17-18). Second, have faith in God. As verse 19 put it, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” That last part, “continue to do good” is so important. Don’t let the insults and discouragements of others stop you from serving the Lord! Part living life by faith is to continue to do what is right even when you don’t want to. What kind of faith would you need if you only served and obeyed God when you felt like it? But if you commit yourself to him and keep serving him when you are discouraged, then you will be living by faith.

Are you feeling some sort of affliction? Let this passage encourage you not to give up–don’t give up trusting Christ, don’t give up serving him, don’t give up living a godly life, and don’t give up testifying of his grace. He is with you in this and whatever you are suffering is happening “according to God’s will” (v. 19). He allowed it and will use it to strengthen and grow you, so don’t give up!

2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, Mark 16

Read 2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, and Mark 16 today. This devotional is about Daniel 6.

The Babylonians who conquered Judah gave way to the Medo-Persian empire, yet Daniel remained influential even in the new administration (vv. 1-2). In fact, Daniel was so good at his job that King Darius intended to elevate him over all everyone but Darius himself (v. 3b).

When the other administrators heard about this, they were jealous of Daniel and sought to catch him in some kind of misconduct (v. 4a). Verse 4b says that “they were unable to do so.” Why? “…because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (v. 4d). Did you catch that? Not only was Daniel not corrupt, he was not “negligent” either. This means they could find no responsibility where he failed or refused to do his job.

That’s quite a statement. We all have responsibilities we like and those we dislike. If you’re like me at all, doing the stuff you like to do is easy but it is also easy to neglect the stuff you dislike doing. A busy man like Daniel would have had an abundance of excuses, too, for why he couldn’t do what he disliked. He could blame his busy schedule, the people under him for being incompetent, or trying to prioritize his work. But the men who wanted Daniel indicted couldn’t find any area to accuse him. As followers of Jesus, this is something we should aspire to as well. Since we are working as to the Lord and not to men we should, of course, be honest and upstanding but we should also be so conscientious that even the things we dislike doing are done carefully and faithfully.

Not only is it remarkable that these men could not accuse Daniel of corruption or negligent, it is remarkable that they KNEW they could get him if they could make his faith illegal in some way. Daniel was faithful not only in his work but he was faithful in his walk with God. The men who were out to destroy Daniel knew that they could get him in trouble if they could make prayer against the law (vv. 5-13). If someone were looking to accuse us, would they go to our devotional life as the sure-fire way to trip us up?

You know the rest of the story as it is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Daniel was supernaturally protected from the lions (vv. 14-23) and eventually his accusers were brought to justice (v. 24). The result of all this was a decree from Darius commanding the people to fear Daniel’s God (vv. 25-28). He trusted in the Lord completely, consistently, devotedly and the Lord delivered him even in a hostile culture to his faith. May God give us the same desire to be faithful and careful in our work and to be devoted to reading his word and praying daily, filling our minds with his truth and living obediently to it.

1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, Philemon

Read 1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, and Philemon. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave Saul direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing.

Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9). God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11).

In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord with a few exceptions made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands.

Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience; the text does not tell us. But as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience.

It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not.

The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (1 Sam. 15:22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins, which were worse than Saul’s, were forgiven—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28).

What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”?

Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word.

We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, Ephesians 1

Today read Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, and Ephesians 1. This devotional is about Ruth 2.

As we read through the book of Ruth together, it is helpful to remember that this story took place during the period of the Judges (1:1). Because we’ve just completed reading through Judges, you are aware that not much was happening spiritually in Israel at the time. The nation of Israel worshipped idols, so God allowed their neighbors to oppress them. They would repent, so God would send a deliverer to defeat their attacking neighbors. This was a cycle that happened repeatedly throughout the book of Judges.

But even the judges God sent were poor spiritual leaders, often living in disobedience to the Lord themselves. The impression one gets from reading Judges is that nobody in Israel is really following and serving the Lord from the heart.

The book of Ruth, however, indicates that more was going on spiritually than Judges suggests. Although it is true that there was a lot of disobedience, there were also men like Boaz, whom we met here in Ruth 2. Everything about Boaz exudes a strong faith in the Lord and desire to please him:

  • When he greeted his workers, he pronounced a blessing on them in the Lord’s name (v. 4).
  • When he saw Ruth gleaning in the field, he did not throw her out; he followed God’s law and let her glean.
  • Even more than that, he invited her back (v. 8), protected her safety (v. 9a), and even encouraged her to use the water provided for his worker (v. 9b).
  • When asked why he would do this in verse 10, he acknowledged Ruth’s sacrifice for Naomi (v. 11) and asked for God to reward her for it (v. 12).

One thing to take away from this story is how God provided for Ruth based on her faith. The language in verse 3 could lead one to think that her choice of Boaz’s field was random (“as it turned out”). But this was God’s providence working in her life.

It is important to remember that the events our lives that seem like chance have been ordered by God who is working for his glory and our good.

Another thing to consider from this passage is not to despair when the people surrounding us are insensitive to God’s word and ungodly in their lives. Boaz stood out because of his faith. He not only spoke faithful words that glorified God, he lived a life that was obedient to God’s word because he trusted in the Lord.

Although we live in a culture that is darkening morally and may feel at times like we are the only ones trying to serve the Lord, we should not be fearful or tone down our faith. Instead, like Boaz, we should live what we believe no matter what and trust God for his provision and work in our lives.

Judges 6, Jeremiah 52, Romans 12

Read Judges 6, Jeremiah 52, Romans 12 today. This devotional is about Judges 6.

This chapter in Judges describes how the Lord disciplined Israel’s idolatry using the Midianites. The Midianites’ flavor of oppression was unusual. They weren’t into swordplay and slaughter; rather, stealing was their brand. They would enter your property and do whatever they wanted to your family and your stuff, so the Israelites fled to the hills for some privacy and protection (v. 2).

The Midianites treated Israel like slaves. They allowed God’s people plant crops on their own land, doing all the hard work of breaking up the ground, planting the seed, and nurturing the plants as they emerged from the ground (v. 3a). Then the Midianites would swoop in, camp on Israel’s land and take everything from the harvest (vv. 4-6). In desperation, Israel cried out to the Lord for help (vv. 6-7). Before sending a military leader, God sent a prophet (vv. 8a). His prescription was repentance, reminding Israel of their disobedience to God’s covenant (vv. 8b-10).

There is no indication that Israel repented of their sins, but God identified a military man anyway; his name was Gideon. The only problem was that he was a military man disguised as a complete coward. We see this first of all based where God met him. Verse 11 says he “was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” This was an impractical place to thresh wheat. The best threshing was out in an open place where the wind blew freely, not down in a pit where the grapes were crushed. But what the winepress lacked in practicality it made up for in privacy. Gideon went there “…to keep it from the Midianites.” Only a complete moron would thresh in the winepress, so Gideon went there on purpose, not because he was a moron but because they wouldn’t look for the wheat there.

That choice of Gideon’s, however, shows that he was not a mighty man by nature despite what the angel of the Lord said of him in verse 12. If he were a mighty man by nature, he would have threshed in the open with his sword strapped to his belt. He would have been ready to defend his food against the Midianites instead of hiding from them. So, when God spoke to Gideon, he was designated a “mighty warrior” not because he really was but because “The Lord is with you” (v. 12b).

In addition to being a weakling warrior, he was also not much of a theologian. His response to the assertion that God was with him was to question God’s faithfulness in verse 13. Maybe he believed that God’s promises were only positive; if so, he hadn’t read the law very well. The kind of oppression he experienced was exactly what God had promised if Israel worshipped idols. Ignoring the idols in his very own household (v. 25), Gideon blamed God for Israel’s problems rather than realizing their problem was sin.

What he lacked in military strength and theological prowess was more than matched by his lack of leadership positioning. In verse 15, Gideon pointed out that he was the youngest member of his family, which was from a weak clan, in a weak tribe. In a culture that valued positional leadership, there was nothing in his position to suggest that Gideon was poised for leadership.

Then there is the issue of his faith. God urged him twice to stand on God’s promises to Israel and defeat the Midianites (vv. 14, 16). God’s written word in the Law alone was more than enough for Gideon, or any other man in Israel, to liberate God’s people. But even after hearing God’s direct call (v. 16), seeing God face to face in the angel of the Lord (vv. 17-23), being used by God to destroy the altar to Baal and replace it with a proper altar to Israel’s God (vv. 25-32) and to summon an Israelite army when Israel’s enemies threatened invasion (vv. 33-35), Gideon got scared again and tests God twice (vv. 36-40). Christians talk all the time about “putting out a fleece” to discern the will of God, but that’s not what Gideon was doing. He was looking for a loophole, a way out of doing what God had commanded him to do (v. 36b: “…If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised…”).

It is hard to respect Gideon after reading this passage, yet God used him as we’ll see in the next two chapters of Judges. When it comes to our own lives, however, we are often like Gideon. We sin, then blame God for the consequences. We know that we should live obediently to God’s commands because we’re banking on God’s promises, but we get scared and we look for loopholes, exceptions, and emergency exits. Yet, God is gracious to us still. He does not become angry with us, judge us, and move on from us in anger. He works through our unbelief with us and shows us that, if we will just trust him by living obediently, he’ll be with us. So, can you trust him today and do the right thing—the thing that scares you but that you know from God’s word is the thing you’re supposed to do?

If God can use a guy like Gideon, certainly he can use us. We’re made of the same weak stuff that Gideon was made of but we have the same almighty God who stands by us when we live in faith to his promises.

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?