1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 3

Today read 1 Samuel 3, Ezekiel 16, and Ephesians 3. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 3.

In this chapter, Samuel receives some chilling news about Eli and his sons. Although this was news to Samuel, Eli had heard this prophecy before as we saw yesterday in 1 Samuel 2:27-36.

But the most interesting statement in this chapter is verse 7: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

On one hand, it is difficult to accept that Samuel did not “know the Lord.” He must have heard his mother’s testimony about how God provided him to her as an answer to prayer. More importantly, he served daily in the Tabernacle, seeing the sacrifices offered and hearing God’s word read. There is no way that Samuel was ignorant of the Lord at this point in his life. So why would the text say that he “did not yet know the Lord”? The next phrase is only somewhat helpful: “The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” This may refer to the prophetic word of God which he was about to receive for the first time. But it must mean more than just, “Samuel was not yet a prophet.”

Although I wish the passage said more than it does, it suggests an important truth that is present throughout scripture:

People can know God intellectually without knowing him personally.

In other words, people can believe that God exists and even have a correct and detailed theology about God. But that is not the same as knowing the Lord personally.

Knowing the Lord personally means a direct, personal faith in God. It is a way of life where God speaks to you personally and you speak to him personally.

The way in which we speak personally to God is basically the same for all of us—prayer. But the ways in which God speaks to us are different. Everyone who knows the Lord has had the experience of hearing his word taught and feeling deep conviction. Others in the same room will hear the same message from God’s word but as you hear it, it is accompanied by a personal consciousness that God is speaking directly to you through his word.

That is what happens when someone comes to faith in Christ. The unbeliever hears the gospel message that Christ died for our sins, but he doesn’t just believe that as a historical fact. Instead, he hears that message as good news—that Christ died for me; for my sins! This is how someone comes to know the Lord in this age.

As I said, every believer in every age has the experience of hearing God’s word—spoken by a teacher or read from a page–and knowing that the message was for him or her in that moment. Throughout the ages God has also spoken more directly, like he did to Samuel in this passage.

The important thing is not how miraculously and personally the word of the Lord came to you; the important thing is that God reveals himself to you personally—not as an abstract concept, an idea, a theory, or even as a personal God but as YOUR God, your Lord, your master, your father who loves you and that you are learning to love.

It is unlikely that someone reading this devotional each day might not know the Lord, but it is possible. Samuel heard plenty about God and more than once from God’s word before he knew the Lord personally. Have you come to know and believe in the Lord? Have you trusted his son, Jesus Christ, the one and only way to the Father?

This passage seems to be the beginning of Samuel’s personal relationship with God, for verse 21 says, “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” Likewise, hearing the gospel message and knowing that God is calling you to faith in him is the beginning of your personal relationship with God through Christ. So if you hear the Lord’s voice in these words, turn from your sins today and receive forgiveness and a new relationship with God.

Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, Psalms 93-95

Read Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, and Psalms 93-95 today. This devotional is about Psalm 93.

Why should God’s word be trusted? Why do we build our faith and our lives on ancient documents, especially since we have a much better understanding of the world and of human psychology than the ancient men who wrote these books?

The answer, simply, is that it is God’s word. Because it is God’s word, then we DON’T have a better understanding of anything than the ultimate writer of scripture, God himself, did or does.

In this brief song, the Psalmist began by describing God’s glory (v. 1), his eternality (v. 2), and the fact that his power is greater than the seas (vv. 3-4). All of these were mentioned to lead up to verse 5a: “Your statutes, Lord, stand firm….” The point, then, is if God is more majestic than anything we’ve ever seen, existing from all eternity, and mightier than anything we’ll ever experience in his creation, shouldn’t we depend on his word? Doesn’t everything we experience in creation call us to trust the word of our Creator? Haven’t we seen enough to know that obedience to his word will bring stability to our lives?

Let this song fill you with hope and strength and courage for whatever you’re facing today. If you live according to God’s word, your life is grounded on a firm foundation.

Joshua 22, Jeremiah 43, Romans 6

Today read Joshua 22, Jeremiah 43, and Romans 6. This devotional is about Jeremiah 43.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. The people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 5) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more to us than these people were to Judah or Babylon, Jeremiah excepted. I don’t say that to demean them; I say it because back in chapter 39, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, the Babylonians forced the vast majority of people who survived the battle to march to Babylon as exiles. Verse 10 of Jeremiah 39 says, “…the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.” So the people left in Judah, the remnant, were not considered high value people. That’s why they were left behind.

Yesterday, we read in Jeremiah 42 that the remnant of people left in Judah were scared and didn’t know what to do. They vacillated about going to Egypt or staying in Jerusalem. Finally, they asked Jeremiah to pray and ask God to reveal his will. But before Jeremiah prayed, they assured him that they would take whatever God said and do it. Their words were, in Jeremiah 42:5, “‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’”

And God responsed! He promised blessings to them if they remained in the land. What was the reaction? How did the people who pledged so eloquently to “obey the Lord our God” “whether it is favorable or unfavorable?” Their answer was recorded for us in our reading today, Jeremiah 43 verse 2: “Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, “You must not go to Egypt to settle there.”’”

So what did they do? “…all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah…. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord” (v. 4). Having promised to obey God’s word–whatever it was–they rejected God’s word when they didn’t like it and disobeyed it despite God’s promise of blessing.

This is typical of us, too, as human beings. Our sinful hearts look for ways to sidestep God’s word, reinterpret what it says, claim that it doesn’t apply to us, and find some way to do what we want to do in disobedience to his will. Ultimately, though, we harm ourselves, because breaking God’s laws will bring consequences.

Do you have a heart to accept God’s word, even if “it is favorable or unfavorable?” Can you remember a time when you did what was right even though you wanted to do what was wrong? How did that turn out for you?

Joshua 10, Jeremiah 36 and 45, Romans 1

Read Joshua 10, Jeremiah 36 & 45, and Romans 1 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 36 & 45.

Many years ago, I was writing an academic paper that I was supposed to discuss at a conference of scholars on preaching. I was more than 70% finished with the paper when the hard drive on my computer died. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how disheartening it is to lose all your work and have to start over.

Fortunately, I had backed up my hard drive the night before so I didn’t actually lose all my work; I only lost one day’s work on the paper, the pages I had written the day the hard drive died. It was frustrating and created some stress because the deadline was approaching, but it wasn’t as disheartening as starting over from scratch would be.

Here in Jeremiah 36, Jeremiah dictated a sermon to be delivered at the temple (vv. 1-4). Then, because Jeremiah was no longer allowed in the temple, he sent Baruch, the man who wrote down the message Jeremiah dictated, to read the scroll aloud in the temple (vv. 5-8).

That message started a season of repentance in Judah (vv. 9-10). Then, some of Judah’s government officials were told about the message and they wanted to Baruch to read it to them (vv. 11-18). Finally, those government officials decided that the king needed to hear these words (vv. 20-21). Baruch and Jeremiah were told to hide so the king, Jehoiakim, had one of his guys read the scroll (v. 22).

The king was not nearly as impressed (v. 24) by the Lord’s words as the others were; instead, he cut off pieces of the scroll as it was read and burned Jeremiah’s entire message one piece at a time (v. 23). Like having a hard drive crash or having your forthcoming book manuscript burned up in a house fire, Jeremiah had to do the work of dictating the message all over again (vv. 27-30).

Few people would have the audacity to cut pages out of God’s word and burn them. This is doubly true for Christians; most of us don’t even know what to do with our warn our Bibles because we would never throw them in the trash can.

But, when we ignore sections of God’s word or reinterpret parts of it that are distasteful to us, we are doing something similar to what Jehoiakim did when he burned Jeremiah’s scroll. We are reading a heavily-edited copy of the Word, but the editing is done in our minds or in our choices of what to read rather than in real life. This is one reason, by the way, that I do verse-by-verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book expository preaching. Preaching the next passage in the Bible prevents me from ignoring the harder passages to interpret or avoiding the passages that might be painful or controversial.

Reading through the Old Testament like this also helps us to get exposure to all of God’s Word, not just the parts that we find comforting. But we can still do our own editing of God’s word by applying and obeying some parts of it while living in disobedience to other parts.

Are there any areas in your life where you are ignoring or avoiding God’s word?

Joshua 3, Jeremiah 28, 2 Corinthians 10

Read Joshua 3, Jeremiah 28, and 2 Corinthians 10 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 28.

In Jeremiah 27, God commanded Jeremiah to develop a little object lesson for the kings of his era. He commanded Jeremiah to make a yoke and wear it around his neck (27:1-2), then to send a message to them urging them to submit voluntarily to the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 3-12).

Here in Jeremiah 28 a prophet named Hananiah confronted Jeremiah with a prophecy of his own. He spoke his words “in the house of the Lord in the presence of the priests and all the people” (v. 1) and told them that God would break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon within two years (vv. 3-4). He even removed the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it to emphasize the message (vv. 10-12).

Jeremiah responded with an enthusiastic, “Amen!” (literally, v. 5). However, he warned Hananiah about making untrue prophecies (v. 9). With only two years or less for his prophecy to become true, his role as a prophet would either be validated or he would lose all credibility as a spokesman for God (v. 9). Later, God himself spoke to Jeremiah and sent him to warn Hananiah about the consequences of prophesying falsely in God’s name.

Predicting that God will do something within a period of time where you will probably be alive is a bad idea. If it doesn’t happen, people will know that you are a fraud. Jeremiah, however, made a prophecy with an even shorter runway to fulfillment; he predicted that Hananiah would die within the year. The reason for this prediction was God’s judgment on him “because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.” Although Hananiah’s word was rosy and optimistic and encouraged people’s hearts, it was, in fact, urging them to rebel against the Lord instead of obediently following the word that came through Jeremiah.

God honored his true prophet, Jeremiah, by causing his prophecy to come to pass: “ In the seventh month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died.” Hananiah didn’t make it two months (see v. 1) before God vindicated Jeremiah and discredited him.

God does not seem to bring such swift and clear punishment against those who speak lies in his name today. Why? Because God is merciful to them.

In fact, that was the point of Jeremiah’s prophecy to Hananiah. The reason he was told that his death was approaching was so that he could repent. Had he repented, God would likely have let him live for many more years. This is always why God’s word warns us—to lead us to repentance.

While disobedience to God’s commands may not lead to premature death, there are always painful consequences to sin. Let’s consider this when we are convicted of sin in our lives. It is unwise and unsafe to ignore the confrontations and warnings of the Lord. Conviction of sin is for our good; let’s welcome it and respond to it in repentance for God’s glory and our good (see Heb 12:4-11, esp. verses 10-11).

Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Acts 1

Read Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, and Acts 1 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 8:1-9:7.

Although they had the great prophet Isaiah living among them and speaking constantly on behalf of God, Judah was in deep rebellion to God’s word and cared nothing for Isaiah’s prophecies. As people tend to do, they looked to more mystical sources for revelation instead of the written Law of God and the spoken teachings and prophecies of Isaiah.

God rebuked his people for this in Isaiah 8:19. Instead of fooling around with false sources of spirituality, God through Isaiah called them back to his word: “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (v. 20).

When people look outside God’s word, they are dissatisfied (v. 21a) and end up cursing God (v. 21b). Instead of finding light in these sources, they find “distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (v. 22).

Chapter 9 opened against this bleak backdrop by promising “no more gloom” (v. 1). Instead, the prophet stated that “people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (v. 2). Isaiah was prophesying a day of victory for God’s people (vv. 3-5) but it started with the birth of Christ, foretold in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Whether people look to God for truth or not, God would (and did!) send his Son to bring light into the world and he will come again to finish the work and establish his kingdom on earth. That is our hope, so let’s look to his word only for guidance and revelation and truth about how to live until his kingdom comes.

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14

Read Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14 today. This devotional is about Nehemiah 8.

There are (roughly) three kinds of sermons:

  • Topical: A topical sermon is one where the preacher chooses a topic, studies that topic from all the relevant scripture passages, then organizes the sermon as he sees fit and delivers it. Topical sermons usually reference many different passages from the Bible. In my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical.
  • Textual: A textual message happens when the preacher takes one verse (usually) which provides the main point (Big Idea) of the message. Sometimes one or more points of the message is also drawn from the same verse as the Big Idea. But other passages of scripture are brought in to develop the Big Idea. I don’t do a lot of textual preaching but my series on prayer titled How to Talk So that God Will Listen has several textual messages. In that series, each line of the Lord’s Prayer provides the Big Idea like, “Our Father in heaven,” but I went to other scripture passages to explain what the Bible says about God as Father.
  • Expository: An expository message is about one passage of scripture, usually an entire paragraph of scripture. The paragraph that is chosen provides most, if not all,  the biblical content for the sermon–the Big Idea, the main points, the sub-points, and so on are all drawn from the same paragraph and are explained in the message. Preachers often quote or reference other scripture passages in an expository sermon, but those quotes/references are used to clarify, explain, illustrate, or apply the truth in the main paragraph of scripture.

Most of my preaching is expository. Even in a series or message that is topical, I will usually spend extended time in the message in one passage of scripture. I wrote above that in my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical. That is true; however, my message on God’s eternality is mostly an exposition of Psalm 90. And the series I’ve done preaching through Genesis, Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and many other books are all examples of expository messages. They go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, explaining and applying God’s word until every passage in that book has been explained and applied.

What does any of this have to do with Nehemiah 8? Consider:

At the end of Nehemiah 7, which we read yesterday, verse 73 told us that “When the seventh month came….” but the end of that sentence is here in Nehemiah 8 which we read today. What happened in “the seventh month” (7:73) is that “all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”

Why did they do this? Because they were celebrating the Feast of Trumpets which is commanded in Leviticus 23:23-25 to happen “on the first day of the seventh month” (Lev 23:24b). Leviticus 23 doesn’t say much about this feast. All it commands is “trumpet blasts” (Lev 23:24c), “a day of sabbath rest” (Lev 23:24b) and “a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:25).

As the people observed this festival, they wanted to hear God’s word. So they asked Ezra to read the scripture to them. Verse 3 here in Nehemiah 7 told us that “he read it aloud.” But verses 7-8 told us that he and other Levites did two more things in addition to reading God’s word aloud:

  1. They translated the Hebrew text into Aramaic which was the common spoken language of God’s people at that time. The phrase, “making it clear” in verse 8b refers to that translation.
  2. They explained the passages they were reading. The phrase, “giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” in verse 8c refers that explanation.

What they were doing was, in basic form, expository preaching. They read the text and then explained it.

This is what I try to do in every message I preach: read God’s word, then explain it. I also try to apply it and that happened, too, in verses 13-18.

Why do I preach this way? Because it feeds God’s people. When a true believer hears God’s word read, explained, and apply, they are nourished in their faith and in the truth of God’s word.

Topical and textual messages have their place; when they are done properly, they teach God’s word, too. But the paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse teaching of God’s word is what God’s people need to grow. They needed it here in Nehemiah after they returned to Jerusalem from exile.

You and I need it, too. So come to our Sunday assemblies hungry for truth and ready to be taught God’s word. It’s the best thing for you and your faith.