1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, Psalms 96-98

Read 1 Samuel 1, Ezekiel 14, and Psalms 96-98 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 1.

Hannah found herself in an unhappy situation here in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel. Her society greatly valued children, especially boys, yet she was unable to get pregnant.

If that weren’t bad enough, her husband had a “rival” (v. 6) wife named Peninnah. Elkanah may have married Peninnah specifically because of Hannah’s infertility (similar to Abraham and Hagar). Regardless of his motives, Peninnah delivered (pun intended) where Hannah could not; verse 2 tells us “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” So Hannah felt judged by her society, may have felt like she let her husband down, and felt inferior to his second wife.

Even worse, Peninnah mocked Hannah for her infertility (v. 6). Although Hannah was loved by her husband who did his best (verse 8 notwithstanding) to demonstrate his love and make her feel secure (vv. 4-5), she suffered emotionally due to all of these things.

Whatever faults he may have had, Elkanah was devoted to the Lord. We see this in his consistency to worship at the tabernacle “year after year” (v. 3). We also see it in how urged Hannah to keep her vow to the Lord (v. 23). When the sorrow of her situation became too much to bear, Hannah did what a believer should do; she poured out her heart to God in prayer (vv. 10-11).

Yet even her heartfelt prayer was became a source of pain because it was misinterpreted. As if she didn’t feel low enough, the High Priest of Israel rebuked her for being a drunk when he saw her praying (vv. 12-14). Fortunately, when she explained the situation, Eli gave her the reassurance she needed (v. 17). Note that Eli did not promise her an answer to her prayer; rather, he acknowledged the sincerity of her prayers and added his own prayer wish that the Lord would answer her favorably (v. 17). But Hannah took this blessing from the priest by faith and received the peace of God for her situation (v. 18).

And, God did answer her prayer, giving her the son she so deeply desired.

If only deep sorrow and total sincerity were enough to get answers to any prayer! Yet God does not always give us the answer we seek. This is why Jesus encouraged us to pray according to God’s will. God’s will is frequently different than our will is; therefore, God sometimes answers our prayers with “no.”

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

What made Hannah’s prayer effective was not her deep emotions and sincerity. It was, instead, her faith in God and her willingness to align her request with God’s will.

By promising to give her son to the Lord and to raise him under a Nazirite vow for life (v. 11), she was asking God to answer her prayer in a way that would bring glory to him.

Samuel would grow up to serve the Lord in a unique way, both as priest and as the last of the judges of Israel. In contrast to the spiritual scoundrels who served as Israel’s judges in the book of Judges, Samuel would be a man who led Israel spiritually as well as politically. Hannah’s prayer was answered in a way that was more profound than she probably could have imagined. Though she did not have the joy of raising her son throughout his childhood, she did have the joy of knowing that he was serving the Lord.

James 4:3 tells us that God is not in the habit of answering prayers that come from self-centered motives. When Hannah connected her desire for a son with God’s desire for a godly leader for Israel, her prayer aligned with God’s will and he answered her. When we ask God for things in our lives, are our requests selfish or are they connected to the things that God cares about? This is the kind of praying that is pleasing to God and, therefore, the kind of praying that God is most likely to answer with “yes.”

Judges 15, Ezekiel 4, Acts 23

Today’s readings are Judges 15, Ezekiel 4, Acts 23. This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2).

Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman meant to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hated” his wife, then, he broke the covenant and divorced* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” were secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their culture. It didn’t take lawyers and judges and paperwork and months of time.

But the husband had to initiate the divorce. A woman was not legally allowed to divorce her husband–at least, not in Israel.

And, in Israel at least, the divorce had to be put in writing (see Deut 24:1-4). So, Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give his bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of. So, he did his best to appease Samson here by offering a younger daughter to be his wife instead (v. 2).

Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right to be angry in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so, instead of attack him personally, they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with.

Their murders made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had a relationship with the Philistines that was way too cozy. Samson went outside of the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; they attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But he never became Israel’s leader at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God.
  • He also acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have, despite the unusual gifts God had given him and God’s promises to him and to Israel.

Three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.

2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when someone does the right thing out of selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.

3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

Before you read this devotional, you might have thought that you have nothing in common with Samson. Do you think that now? Or, do you see yourself leading out of selfishness and trying to do everything yourself instead of engaging other people and leading them?

How could you change your leadership to be less Samsonian?


This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Deuteronomy 29, Jeremiah 21, 2 Corinthians 5

Read Deuteronomy 29, Jeremiah 21, 2 Corinthians 5 today. This devotional is about Deuteronomy 29.

Having repeated God’s laws and the terms of his covenant in the previous chapters of Deuteronomy (29:1), these last few chapters of Deuteronomy record some of Moses’ direct teachings to God’s people. Verse 2 indicates the beginning of one of these talks when it says, “Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them….” Today’s passage emphasized once again the importance of obedience to God’s laws. Although God’s people were hardheaded and hardhearted (vv. 2-4), Moses reminded them of how God had provided for them (vv. 5-6) and fought for them, when necessary (vv. 7-8), on their long journey to the promised land.

Then, in verses 9-28, Moses stated his intention to have Israel re-affirm their covenant to the Lord (vv. 9-14), reminding them not to worship idols (vv. 16-18) and that curses would come if they did turn aside to idols (vv. 19-28).

Then verse 29 droped this intriguing statement: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” There is so much about God’s will that is impossible for us to understand.

  • How can one God be three persons?
  • How can Christ be both human and divine?
  • When will Christ return?
  • Why did God allow a particular trial into my life?

These and other questions are beyond us. They require infinite knowledge to understand; therefore, they are secrets for God himself only to know. The middle of verse 29 reminds us that “the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever….” That refers to the promise of blessing they would have if they obeyed God’s covenant and the promise of curses if they disobeyed. God had revealed these things, so Israel should know them and claim them as belonging “to us.” The reason God revealed these things is “…that we may follow all the words of this law” (v. 29c). The promises of blessing and curse exist to provide God’s people with all the motivation they should need to be obedient to God’s covenant commands.

This is a verse to memorize or at least remember, because we tend to reverse it in our thinking. We can easily become obsessed with “the secret things” that belong only to God. They can occupy our minds and thoughts and become the sole subject of our discussion and debates with others. When that happens, we tend to forget “the revealed things” that “belong to us.”

In other words, we ignore God’s commands which God has revealed and give ourselves to meditation on things that not only are not necessary for our obedience but are not even possible for us to understand. If parts of God’s word do not make sense to you–if you have unanswered questions, especially if they begin with the word “why”–this verse is a good one to keep in mind.

Some things are understandable only to God. In those cases, we are not responsible to understand the “secret things;” instead, we should give ourselves to obedience to “the things revealed.” There is more than enough truth revealed in scripture for us to learn, think about, and live out. Focus on those and leave to God the stuff that only he is capable of handling.

Exodus 35, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalms 36-38

Read Exodus 35, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalms 36-38. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too, a long time before I did. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.”  Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

2 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 24

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Samuel 17 and Ezekiel 24.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

Over the past few chapters in 2 Samuel, David has been reaping the bad harvest of the sin seeds he sowed in his adultery with Bathsheba. Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 12:10: “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The “sword,” a metaphor for violence, showed up when David’s son Amnon raped David’s son Tamar and when Absolom retaliated by killing Amnon in chapter 13. In chapters 14-15a Absolom began positioning himself to challenge David as king. Then he did attempt to overthrow David as king in 2 Samuel 15b-16.

Here in chapter 17, David is running for his life and Absolom is seeking wisdom for how to defeat his father and solidify his hold on the kingdom of Israel. Absolom consulted two men for advice. Both had been advisors to David and were known to be men who gave wise advice. We do not know why Ahithophel began to advise Absolom instead of David but the advice Ahithophel gave was shrewd and accurate and would benefited Absolom had he chosen to follow it.

The other advisor, Hushai the Arkite, was secretly loyal to David and, consequently, gave different advice to Absolom than Ahithophel gave. God was working in all of this, both through the presence of Hushai and the inclination of Absolom to listen to him. Verse 14 says, “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

The book of Proverbs advises us to seek and follow the advice of wise counselors and Ahithophel certainly qualified. But it is better to be on the Lord’s side than to have the best advisors in the world. Absolom could not win because his cause was unjust, selfish, and opposed to the will of God. God had made an everlasting covenant with David and the Lord would not fail to keep his side of the bargain. The best tactics, strategy, advice, and execution will be ineffective if it is not aligned with what God has chosen to do.

When you make decisions and seek advice, do you filter that advice according to scripture? Are you thinking about the commands of God and the moral truths his word teaches first before you follow the advice you are given? As Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” So seek and follow wise counsel, by all means, but remember to consult God’s word as your first and primary counselor.

1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 26 and Ezekiel 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11).

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this must be God providing David with this opportunity which is why he said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here.

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

1 Samuel 9, Jeremiah 46

Today, read 1 Samuel 9 and Jeremiah 46.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 9.

We are told at the beginning of this chapter that Saul comes from a good family. Verse 1 told us that his father Kish was “a man of standing.” Saul’s personal appearance was striking, too; verse 2 said he was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”

Still, Kish was a farmer like most of the other people in Israel. Farming is labor-intensive, especially for farmers who lived before tractors were invented. So, like everyone else, Saul worked in the family business from a young age. His family was prosperous and he was tall, dark, and handsome (as they say) but he was by no means a trust fund baby.

After the general introduction to Saul in verses 1-2, we are given a glimpse into his daily life. Some of his families donkeys were lost and Saul and one of their slaves was sent out to look for them. This was a hassle and a drag on productivity but searching for missing animals was not out of the ordinary. Saul and his helper looked for the donkeys but could not find them (v. 4) so Saul was ready to give up (v. 5). The servant who was sent with him decided to try divine intervention, and urged Saul to go with him to see Samuel. Perhaps God would give them some insight through Samuel that would help them find the missing donkeys (v. 6).

So far there is nothing spectacular about this story. They lost some animals and couldn’t find them so they asked for God’s help through one of his prophets. Could have happened to anyone on any day.

Yet God was working. The lost donkeys were God’s method for introducing Saul to Samuel and for showing Samuel the man he should anoint to be Israel’s first king (vv. 15-17). God has two ways of working in the world: (1) miracles and (2) providence.

  • A miracle is when the normal laws of nature are superseded by God’s divine act. We see that happening in this passage when God spoke audibly to Samuel (vv. 15-17).
  • Providence is when God works his will through the non-miraculous events and choices of everyday life. The lost donkeys were an act of providence; so was the idea that Saul’s servant had to consult with Samuel (v. 6).

God is capable of miracles, of course, but he uses that method rarely. God’s providence is the normal, everyday means by which he accomplishes his will in this world. What felt like an annoying fact of life to Saul–the stray donkeys—was actually an act of God to lead him somewhere good. If you look back at your life, where you are today is the sum total of the choices you’ve made and some “random” things that just happened to you but that took you in a different direction, even if it was only slightly different at the outset. Where you are today, then, is not an accident or a random event. It is the providential work of a loving, gracious God.

Not every nuisance in life, like losing your donkeys, leads to some amazing place in the providence of God. A few days ago, my car key broke off in the ignition of my car. It was annoying but a pair of pliers and a spare car key kept it from being anything more than annoying. As far as I can tell, that problem did not change the trajectory of my life at all. It is just one of the things that we deal with in a fallen world.

But there are times when ordinary problems or seemingly random things take us to a new place in the will of God. We don’t know when it is happening, but we can see it in reverse. My point here is not to say, “Don’t complain about the nuisances in your life because maybe God’s gonna make you king through them!” Rather, my point is to say, do you see the loving hand of God working in your life to lead you to places where you wouldn’t have chosen to go? If so, can you keep that in mind when things don’t go as expected in the future? And, can you trust that God will work in your life through providence today and tomorrow just as he has in the past?