1 Kings 19, Amos 5, 1 Peter 5

Read 1 Kings 19, Amos 5, and 1 Peter 5 today. This devotional is about Amos 5.

Idol worship in Israel was a constant problem after the kingdom was divided. Not all of God’s people neglected the Lord, however. There were some who maintained their worship of the Lord. These people, apparently, were longing for God’s judgment which is often called “the day of the Lord.” That phrase is used about prophetic, end time events in the Bible that are still future to us, but it was also used for days of judgment in the Old Testament that have already happened.

Verses 18-20 warned those who wanted to see their countrymen punished: “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light…” (v. 18). Those who wanted God’s judgment to fall on Israel must have believed that they would be safe. They reasoned that performing the rituals of worship that the Lord commanded would protect them for his judgment. They must have been surprised, then, when the Lord said through Amos, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps” (vv. 21-23).

It is quite surprising to see God reject the worship of his people, especially since the prophets were constantly calling them to repentance (v. 6). What was the problem with the worship of those Amos described in this chapter?

There are two problems with it. First, they joined with the rest of their idol worshipping countrymen in exploiting others in court (compare verses 7, 10, and 15a with 24). Although these Israelites may have been obedient to the Lord’s commands about worship, they were disobedient to his commands in their ethics and morals. They lived a dual, hypocritical life so that they appeared devout on Saturday but lived like pagans on Sunday through Friday.

The second problem with this group was that their worship of the Lord was not exclusive and wholehearted. Verse 26 says, “You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.” The God who had redeemed them from Egypt long before (v. 25) was now just like every other false god they worshipped. They may have kept the ceremonial law of God but they broke the very first law of his commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

We face the same kind of temptation—to worship the gods of materialism, worldliness, self-centeredness, or whatever—while showing up faithfully to church on Sunday and performing the outward acts common to Christians. We also can be tempted to worship the Lord with our lips while abusing his children in our everyday life. Let’s look within today and consider whether our devotion to the Lord is complete and whether or not it is reflected in our daily ethics and morals. That’s the kind of worship that God wants because it is the kind of worship that comes from a changed heart.

1 Kings 16, Amos 2, Psalm 119:41-88

Read 1 Kings 16, Amos 2, and Psalm 119:41-88 today. This devotional is about Amos 2.

What made idols so attractive to God’s people?

What benefit did they get out of worshipping pieces of wood and stone?

What was so powerfully compelling about their theology that all the prophets, judges, and many kings could not root idolatry out of Israel?

There are several answers to that question but a powerful one is alluded to in Amos 2:7d-8b: “Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.” Those verses suggest that idols were attractive because “worshipping” them involved sex. It was immoral and against God’s law to commit adultery but, according to these false religions, you could have sex with someone else beside your spouse as part of your offering to a false god. That activity was wicked in God’s sight, as we see here Amos 2 but it was acceptable in the culture at large when it was done as an act of worship.

No wonder God’s people were so devoted to this type of false worship. “Sex sells,” as the advertising proverb goes. There are no false religions in our setting, that I know of, which offer sex as part of the liturgy. But, as you know, sex is used to sell products, to sell movie tickets, and to get plays on music videos.

Sex is also packaged and sold as a product in itself through pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs. Our world is as interested in and as obsessed with sex as any generation in human history has been; sex is now the idol instead of being a feature of worshipping an idol.

The Bible commands us not to commit adultery or fornication but it also commands us not to lust after other people sexually. Loving and serving God requires us to guard our hearts and our eyes and to remind ourselves continually that our bodies belong to God and to our spouse. 

Have you drifted into sexual sin or flirted with it in your mind?

Are you careful about what you see and where your mind goes when it wanders?

Are you thinking inappropriate thoughts about someone in your life who is not your spouse?

Have you acted on those thoughts at all?

Let this fragment of two verses this morning turn your mind in repentance toward God. Ask him to purify your heart and be obedient to that desire in how you act toward others, think, and look. Don’t join the idolatry of adultery; ask God to help you glorify him with your mind and body.

Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, Acts 12

Read Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, and Acts 12 today. This devotional is about Acts 12.

In this chapter, Herod wanted the accolades of the Jewish people under his rule (v. 3), so he killed James and intended to kill Peter (vv. 1-5).

God answered the prayers of the church and rescued Peter miraculously (vv. 6-18). Then the people of Tyre and Sidon appealed to Herod’s pride by praising him as a god after they settled a dispute with him (vv. 19b-22). God took Herod’s life for accepting this blasphemous praise (v. 23) but God’s word kept on growing and reaching more and more people (v. 24).

This incident was a taste of the kingdom clash that Jesus began and will complete when he returns. This world wants to suppress God’s word and silence God’s messengers so that it can take the praise and adoration that belongs to God alone. Although God rarely brings the kind of immediate judgment on the foolish, proud kings of this world, he will eventually defeat them and rule all creation. Then he alone will finally receive the worship that he alone deserves.

Until his kingdom comes in its fullness, the gospel of it continues to spread and grow, making more and more citizens who will worship him now and rejoice with him when his kingdom finally does come.

Very few rulers today would demand or even accept overt worship as God but there are plenty of people who still enjoy the ego boost that comes from the praise of people. The power they have, however, is not due to them because they deserve it; it is entrusted to them temporarily as managers of God’s authority as king.

We should never give much credit, praise, or admiration to men or women who are politically powerful. Our Lord and king is Jesus; only he will rule perfectly.

1 Kings 12, Ezekiel 41

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 12 and Ezekiel 42.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 12.

Just as God promised, the kingdom of David and Solomon was torn apart into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel (aka “the Northern Kingdom”). This division happened as a consequence of Solomon’s idolatry, a divine act of judgment, as we read yesterday. That was the divine side of the division. The human side was accomplished by the foolishness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Instead of lightening the burden of taxation on the people of Israel, he promised to make things worse than ever. The Northern kingdom rallied around Jeroboam, a capable leader from Solomon’s administration, and made him king.

David and Solomon reigned over Israel for a combined 80 years and the two of them centralized political, economic, and spiritual power in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was delighted to be king but he worried that his fragile kingdom would “likely revert to the house of David” (v. 26) if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship. Instead of trusting God, who decreed this division and prophesied about it before it happened, Jeroboam decided to make his own gods to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem. Verse 28 told us that he ordered the creation of two golden calves. If you’re making your own religion, you might as well make it easy for people and offer them two convenient locations (vv. 28, 29). Everything he did made sense on a human level. What does not make sense is his statement in verse 28: “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

What?! These idols were so new, so freshly manufactured, that they were still warm from the gold smelting furnace. Yet somehow the people were to believe that these idols had led God’s people out of Egypt generations earlier?

Well, yes, if the calves represented gods rather than actually being gods. That seems to be what Jeroboam was saying to the people. “You don’t need no stinkin’ Ark of the Covenant to be the place where God is represented. Let these calves represent our gods instead.

This was a clear attempt to appropriate Israel’s redemption story for Jeroboam’s advantage and apply it to the idols he made. This is often what false doctrine, false religion does. It claims aspects of God’s true revelation and reapplies it some significant but false way. A little bit of truth can help people swallow a whole lot of error. Ask Jeroboam; he built his career on that principle.

Someone who knew God and wanted to be faithful to Him should have pointed out that the God who brought Israel out of Egypt was One Lord (Deut 6:4) not two calves. A faithful servant of the Lord should also have said that the God who rescued them from Egypt commanded no graven images. The same person should have pointed out what happened when Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship after the Exodus.

Instead, the Northern Kingdom liked the ease of having two convenient locations for worship as well as the ability to keep their redemption story without maintaining any connection to Jerusalem. As Christians, we should be very careful. Many self-help books quote scripture but are filled with advice that is directly unscriptural. Don’t allow our faith to be pasted like a label on a can of manmade ideas.

1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 44.

The remnant in Judah went to Egypt (v. 1) even though God told them not to do that. They dragged Jeremiah there, too (Jer 43:6c). I’m not sure why they brought him because he did what he had always done, namely, confront their sins and call them to repent.

Recall from Jeremiah 42 that God had promised peace and prosperity for the remnant if they stayed in Judah (42:10) and disaster if they went to Egypt (42:19-22). Despite the fact that God had done exactly what Jeremiah prophesied when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jerusalem, the remnant still went to Egypt in open defiance to God’s word through Jeremiah. Why?

The answer to that question is contained in the way this chapter is framed: a direct confrontation between God and “the Queen of Heaven.” The people of the remnant reasoned that they were better off worshipping the Queen of Heaven. In verses 17b-18 we read, “…we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” So they re-interpreted God’s judgment as a bad consequence for forsaking the Queen of Heaven.

Jeremiah knew that God was more than equal to this challenge. Put God’s word up against the Queen of Heaven and God will win bigly. Verses 27-28 say, “…the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed…. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand—mine or theirs.”

There are plenty of false religions offering false doctrine today. There are also a bevy of self-help gurus offering much different advice than God’s word does. They preach the message that happiness is not found in Christianity or in dying to self. Instead, they tell us to be true to ourselves, to follow our passions, to find a life that is worth living. In contrast to these false message, the Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The fact that everyone does wrong and suffers for it is daily proof that God’s word is true. Yet people still cling to the idea that truth to improve one’s life is available outside of God, outside of his word, and definitely outside of His church. When sinful life-happiness strategies crash, bringing disaster, sorrow, great pain, and death, God’s word is vindicated. When false doctrines fail to deliver what they promise, God’s word is likewise vindicated.

We cannot help but be exposed to false ideas and doctrines because we live in this world. But, are you believing their lies? Are you taking in those lies in greater number, not incidentally but deliberately? Be warned that God will prove his word to be correct; if you choose to sin because someone else is telling you that sin is the way to happiness, you will pay a heavy price as God’s word proves itself true again.

So, be wise. Believe God’s word and do what it says, even if someone makes a compelling argument for something else.

Judges 8, Jeremiah 21

Today we’re reading Judges 8 and Jeremiah 21.

This devotional is about Judges 8.

Gideon was a very reluctant leader from the beginning of God’s call on his life. Although he stepped up to the demands of leadership in verses 1-21 of today’s chapter, he didn’t fundamentally change. After he did what God commanded him to do, he retired as Israel’s judge and committed Israel’s further leadership to the Lord (v. 23).

But, before leaving the scene, he accepted a large amount of gold from the jewelry taken from the dead Midianites Israel had defeated (vv. 24-26). Verse 27 told us that “Gideon made the gold into an ephod” which is a garment worn by the priests when serving the Lord or asking for Him to reveal his will. Our passage doesn’t tell us why Gideon did this but it is very possible that Israel’s priesthood was not functioning well. In Judges 17 we’ll read about a man who hired a Levite to be his priest and in Judges 20 we’ll read about God’s people going to the ark to inquire of the Lord. That’s really about all we find of the formal aspects of worship in Judges. So Gideon may have made this ephod to assist his own personal worship of God.

Whatever his reason for making it, the ephod became an object of disobedient worship for Gideon, his family, and Israel. Verse 27c says, “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Instead of being something that honored the Lord, it became a means by which people broke the first two commandments.

This is why God commanded his people not to make graven images in the Second Commandment. Graven images can become “other gods” by which some people break the first commandment. Anytime we give more reverence to an object of worship than we give to God, we are in the territory of idolatry. It might be a cross on a pendant or hung on the wall, a painting or stained glass window of Jesus, water from the Jordan river, the elements of communion, the old Bible of a family member or loved one, or the writings of some Christian author that we study with more reverence than we do God’s word itself.

Is there anything that started out as a reminder of God that has taken on too much reverence for you? Is there any person or writing who has become more authoritative in your life than God’s word? Are you more likely to ask for the advice of a trusted Christian pastor/teacher/friend than to ask God directly for wisdom? Don’t let tools for serving the Lord become more important than the Lord himself.

Judges 4, Jeremiah 19

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 4 and Jeremiah 19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 19.

Idolatry is the most frequently mentions of all the sins of Israel and Judah that God complained about through the prophets. God’s judgment against his people was closely tied to breaking the commandments about having any other gods and making idols for worship. From God’s perspective, we can understand this. God is real and other gods are not so it is offensive to give his glory to false gods and deeply unjust to worship something that people created instead of the true Creator.

For those who don’t know God, however, it may seem strange that the Old Testament spends so much time and ink addressing idolatry. The list of human problems is long. It contains moral issues like murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, as well as societal problems like starvation, poverty, war, infant mortality, etc. These are more pressing issues, when it comes to human life and the quality of it, than idolatry. At least, that’s what people might think.

Here in Jeremiah 19, however, we see another reason why idolatry was so offensive to God. Of course it was offensive because he is the true God and idols are not but it is also true that human problems sprout from bad theology like branches sprout from the trunk of a tree. In verse 3 God prophesied “a disaster” on Judah and Jerusalem and, in verse 4, the reason he gave for doing so was “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew.” But notice what followed his complaint about their false worship: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Israel’s idolatry wasn’t just a waste of time caused by praying to something that wasn’t real. Israel’s idolatry led them into unimaginable human wickedness. Thank about how depraved someone would have to be to take their beautiful newborn baby and burn it alive as an “offering” to Baal. It is incredibly cruel and unspeakably evil.

This is what happens with bad theology. Bad theology is a symptom of a wicked, unredeemed heart but it also leads to greater wickedness such as cruelty and inhumanity toward other people. We Americans don’t worship Baal but we do worship unrestrained sexuality which leads to abortion. We worship money and wealth which leads to many other kinds of sins. There is only one true God and only he can say what is truly right and wrong. Worship any other god–even one called YHWH or Jesus but detached from God’s revelation–and you will get all kinds of human wickedness, too.