Judges 13, Ezekiel 2, Acts 21

Read Judges 13, Ezekiel 2, and Acts 21 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time. It was the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was in decline and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians.

Jeremiah prophesied both before and after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. But Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell.

Jeremiah was left in Jerusalem where he continued to speak for God. Ezekiel was taken to Babylon along with the other exiles (1:1). 

The Babylonian invasion changed the course of everyone’s life in Judah and Ezekiel was no exception. Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile.

Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). God’s people may have rejected his message, but God would not withhold that message from them.

What purpose was served by sending prophets to people who would not listen and repent? God’s purpose was to remove their excuses and render them guilty before him (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it.

Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can cause someone to respond to his word by transforming a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit.

What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes.

Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger.

The only time we ever fail to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

Joshua 8, Jeremiah 34, Proverbs 16:16-33

Today, read Joshua 8, Jeremiah 34, and Proverbs 16:16-33. This devotional is about Jeremiah 34.

Zedekiah, though he was an ungodly king, had led Israel to free their Hebrew slaves (vv. 8-9). It was never God’s plan to have Jews who were permanently held as slaves in Israel or Judah. Instead, God’s law created a form of indentured servitude. A Jewish person who was in a financial corner could sell himself to another Jewish man for up to six years. On the seventh year, he was to be set free. Jeremiah pointed this out in verse 14. In verse 15-16, he had positive words for how they had freed their Hebrew slaves and even made a covenant with God about it (vv. 8, 15c).

Unfortunately, God’s people broke their covenant with him and took back the very slaves they had freed (v. 16). God prophesied again that they would be taken into exile by the Babylonians (vv. 17-20) as this act of unfaithfulness to the covenant was added to many other sins of the nation.

Entering a covenant to free the slaves was not necessary. They could have simply freed the slaves and honored that verbal decision accordingly. But making that covenant was a good thing, even if it was unnecessary. It is pleasing to God when we resolve to do the things that we know from his word. What isn’t pleasing to God, however, is when we tell God we will do something and then we change our minds and refuse to do it.

Have you told God you would do something–read the Word, tithe, attend church more faithfully, find a way to serve the poor, or something else–and then took it back? I’m not talking about obeying imperfectly; I’m talking about deliberately changing your mind about a good decision you made for God? Jesus died to save us from the covenants we make and break but he also empowers us to keep the covenants we make with God and others. If this passage reminds you of something you promised to God but either changed your mind about or just became lax about, then resolve today to return to that thing and do it for the glory of God.

Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 24, 2 Corinthians 8

Read Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 24, 2 Corinthians 8 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 24.

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we see passage after passage that condemns the people for their sins and warns of coming judgment. The language that describes their disobedience seems so all-encompassing that we might conclude that there were no faithful people in Israel except for the prophets themselves.

Today’s passage in Jeremiah 24 shows that this is not true. Although most of God’s people were disobedient to his covenant, the basket of figs shows that there were some who loved God and lived obediently to him. The fact that Jeremiah described the good figs as “very good” in verse 3 shows that there were some strong believers scattered among the idol worshippers and other unfaithful people of Judah.

But, due to the unfaithfulness of the majority, even these “good figs” were carried away into exile, experiencing the curse of the covenant for the disobedience of the whole kingdom. That seems terribly unjust, but God did not abandon these faithful believers altogether. Instead, today’s reading offers hope for these believers. God promised in verse 6, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.” So his promises would be kept in his time.

However, in the meantime, God promised to reward these faithful ones with the thing they really needed anyway: a deeper discipleship with him. Verse 7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

Just as even the faithful among God’s people experienced the effects of God’s judgment due to the sins and unbelief of others, so we will have pain and setbacks in our own lives, even if we faithfully follow the Lord. God’s promise to us is not a pain-free life or peaceful, material abundance. God’s promise to us is himself; and that will be more than enough if our hope is truly in him.

Exodus 5, Job 22, Hebrews 11

Read Exodus 5, Job 22, and Hebrews 11 today. This devotional is about Exodus 5.

With God’s direct command, some impressive miracles at his disposal, and the promise of success, you would think that getting the Israelites out of Egypt would be snap-your-fingers simple for Moses.

Right? It should have been like riding a bicycle downhill with the wind at your back.

Not so much.

The first attempt Moses made to persuade Pharaoh was a spectacular failure. Not only did Pharaoh say no, he punished the Israelites for asking (vv. 6-18). Like dominoes falling and knocking down the next, Pharaoh’s punishment caused the Jewish men and women Moses was trying to lead to turn against him. In verse 21 they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses himself was less than thrilled with God. In verses 22-23 we read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’” Moses began his ministry very reluctant to do what God commanded him to do and, then when he did it despite his reluctance, God made things worse for His people, not better! You can almost hear the frustration in Moses’s voice when he said, Pharaoh “has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (v. 23).

Unfortunately for us, this is God’s typical way. God does not promise that a life of faith will be easy; he does not make all opposition disappear after our first act of obedience.

Sometimes, in fact, things get worse and harder for us before we see any fruit or success for our labor. But, when we persevere in faith and continue in good works, God is faithful. The trials we face for our obedience make us stronger; they also cause us to see God’s greatness and power in even more magnificent ways.

So don’t quit believing in God or give up obeying him when things don’t immediately fall into place. Keep serving, keep trusting, be faithful. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

So don’t give up before “the proper time” of harvest arrives.

2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 17

Today, read 2 Samuel 10 and Ezekiel 17.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 17.

God’s word through Ezekiel in this chapter came in the form of an allegorical parable about two eagles and one vine. The images in this parable are too intricate for me to explain in this devotional. But the main points are as follows:

The two eagles represent the kings of Babylon (v. 12) and Egypt (v. 15) respectively.
The branch that became a vine represents Judah’s king (v. 12). He’s not named in this chapter but we know historically that it was Zedekiah. He was planted like a seedling (v. 5) in the sense that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed him as a vassal king in Judah (v. 13). He had everything he needed to thrive under the rule of Babylon (v. 5: “fertile soil” and “abundant water”).
Although Zedekiah was thriving under a deal he made with Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 13) he reached out to Egypt (the second eagle in this story–v. 7) for help getting liberated from Babylon (v. 15).
Because his thriving was dependent on the deal he made with Babylon (v. 14) and reaching out to Egypt was a violation of the deal (v. 18) Zedekiah king of Judah would be punished severely by the Babylonians, ultimately dying in Babylon (v. 20).

This was a prophecy to Zedekiah but it speaks volumes to anyone about making oaths and covenants before God with other people. Zedekiah made a deal with Nebuchadnezzar but he made that deal before God. When he decided to break it, he was being unfaithful to God. Note verses 19-20: “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, I will repay him for despising my oath and breaking my covenant. I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare.”

So it is with us whenever we make a covenant. It could be the covenant you made with your spouse on the day you married. It could be a covenant you made in business or by becoming a member of this church. We make covenants with people but when we break them, we put ourselves under the judgment of God. The question, “Will it thrive?” (v. 9 and repeated in v. 10), is one that we should consider before we commit adultery, get divorced, change churches, or break business agreements unilaterally.

People break their agreements with others because they think they will thrive in a different arrangement. A “better” person comes along than the one they married, a cooler church entices them to visit and reconsider their decision to join Calvary, a more lucrative deal is presented to them than the one they’ve already made. People break their commitments because they think they can get a better deal but if God is displeased by your broken agreement, you should ask yourself, “Will [your new deal] thrive?”

Will your new relationship thrive if you’re cheating on your wife?
Will your remarriage thrive if you broke faith with your first husband to get with this new guy?
Will your family thrive in a new church if you left the last one for unbiblical reasons?
Will your business thrive if you won’t honor your contracts and keep the promises you’ve made to vendors or employees or shareholders or business partners or customers?

There are biblical reasons for divorce and for leaving a church. There are also biblical ways to address problems in covenant relationships and even biblical ways for seeking to be released from a bad covenant you’ve made. In my experience, though, people don’t want to do the right thing in order to get out. They just want to get out and enjoy that greener grass over on the other side of the fence.

Are you considering breaking faith in some way? Let this passage cause you to reconsider.

Have you broken faith already in some way? Let this passage cause you to repent.

Jesus died to remove the wrath of God from us for our broken commitments so there is forgiveness and relief available in Him. That’s good because none of us is perfect at keeping our part of a bargain. If you’re tormented by broken covenants, look to Christ for forgiveness and look to his word for ways to get back on a righteous path. This is how you can thrive again.

But if you’re in Christ, you should do everything in your power to keep the covenants you’ve made with others. That is the righteous thing to do and Jesus died not only to become our righteousness before God but also to teach and empower us to live righteously (see Titus 2:11-12 “in this present age.” So let’s be careful about the commitments we make and be conscientious about keeping them once we’ve made them.

Judges 20, Jeremiah 34

Today, read Judges 20 and Jeremiah 34.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 34.

Zedekiah, though he was an ungodly king, had led Israel to free their Hebrew slaves (vv. 8-9). It was never God’s plan to have Jews who were permanently held as slaves in Israel or Judah. Instead, God’s law created a form of indentured servitude. A Jewish person who was in a financial corner could sell himself to another Jewish man for up to six years. On the seventh years, he was to be set free. Jeremiah pointed this out in verse 14. In verse 15-16, he had positive words for how they had freed their Hebrew slaves and even made a covenant with God about it (vv. 8, 15c).

Unfortunately, God’s people broke their covenant with him and took back the very slaves they had freed (v. 16). God prophesied again that they would be taken into exile by the Babylonians (vv. 17-20) as this act of unfaithfulness to the covenant was added to many other sins of the nation.

Entering a covenant to free the slaves was not necessary. They could have simply freed the slaves and honored that verbal decision accordingly. But making that covenant was a good thing, even if it was unnecessary. It is pleasing to God when we resolve to do the things that we know from his word. What isn’t pleasing to God, however, is when we tell God we will do something and then we change our minds and refuse to do it.

Have you told God you would do something–read the Word, tithe, attend church more faithfully, find a way to serve the poor, or something else–and then took it back? I’m not talking about obeying imperfectly; I’m talking about deliberately changing your mind about a good decision you made for God? Jesus died to save us from the covenants we make and break but he also empowers us to keep the covenants we make with God and others. If this passage reminds you of something you promised to God but either changed your mind about or just became lax about, then resolve today to return to that thing and do it for the glory of God.

Numbers 32, Isaiah 24, Psalm 137

Today, read Numbers 32, Isaiah 24, and Psalm 137.

This devotional is about Numbers 32.

Have you ever made plans based on something someone else promised they would do? For instance, have you ever signed a purchase agreement to buy a home because you had a contract to sell your home to someone else? Every had that other person that you were counting on back out?

If so, then you know how painful it is to take someone at his word, make plans based on him keeping his word, then have to scramble when that person didn’t want to do what they said they would do.

That’s where Moses was here in Numbers 32 and why he was so mad at the Gadites and Reubenites in this chapter. For Israel to take the Promised Land, they needed their army at full strength. When the Reubenites and Gadites decided that they wanted to stay and occupy the land East of the Jordan (vv. 1-5), it seemed like a breach of trust, a refusal to do what all God’s people had believed God for and had agreed together to do. It looked to Moses like Kadesh Barnea, part 2 (vv. 6-13). Moses went so far as to call them “you brood of sinners” (v. 14) for not wanting to possess the land with the rest of the tribes of Israel.

People often make agreements and then break them without cause. Sometimes we cannot keep an agreement we’ve made because we have an illness or injury that makes it impossible or a financial setback that leaves us without the money we need to do what we said we’d do. In those cases, you haven’t broken your agreement; God allowed circumstances into your life that prevented you from keeping it. Other passages in scripture talk about what to do if you can’t keep an agreement you’ve made, but the basic principle of scripture is that God expects us to do what we’ve said we will do. When we decide to renege on an agreement we’ve made, we’ve acted contrary to the nature of our Father. He is faithful to his promises and always does what he said he would do. As we grow in Christlikeness, we should be more and more trustworthy and faithful to the promises and agreements we make to others.

Are you a man or woman of your word? When you say that you’ll do something, do you do it even if it is costly? Is there something you said you’d do that you’re thinking about backing out of today?

Ultimately Moses brokered a deal that allowed these tribes to have the land they wanted outside the Promised land while still helping the rest of God’s people to inherit the land (vv. 16-22). If Gad and Reuben refused to abide by the new agreement, they would “be sinning against the Lord” (v. 23). So are you and I if we do not keep our word to others.