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 14, Ezekiel 3, Acts 22

Read Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, and Acts 22 today. This devotional is about Acts 22.

Yesterday we read in Acts 21 about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to placate the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted. Today’s chapter, Acts 22, is the written record of that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say?

He gave his personal testimony.

He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to the time in his life when he persecuted Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience.

The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication.

Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ. A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ?

You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old carjacker or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out, even, to help you prepare to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

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.

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.

Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7

Read Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 19:23-25:

In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’”

Isaiah 19 and the little stub of a chapter that is called Isaiah 20 are both about Egypt. Egypt had a long and mostly negative relationship with God’s people in Israel/Judah. Abraham nearly lost his wife there (Gen 12:10ff) and Joseph was enslaved there first before God caused him to rise and become powerful. Joseph’s situation saved God’s people from starving in a famine, but within a few hundred years the Israelites were completely enslaved to the Egyptians.

I could go on here but you get the point: other than during the days of Joseph’s leadership, Egypt and Israel were basically enemies.

The same is definitely true of the Assyrians. They were cruel, oppressive people to Israel and everyone else which is why Jonah did not want to go and preach grace to them. God used the Assyrians to remove the Northern kingdom of Israel from the land in exile.

God’s people may have enjoyed hearing Isaiah prophecy judgment on the Egyptians here in Isaiah 19-20 as he did in 19:1-17 and 20:1-6. But they may also have been confused by Isaiah’s statements quoted above in 19:23-25. These verses prophesied a peaceful situation between Egypt, Assyria, and Israel. God went so far as to say, “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.'” That must have sounded almost like heresy, except that it came from the mouth of God himself. 

But God made this statement based on his plan to show grace to all the nations. This peace accord would be accomplished by these nations becoming genuine believers in YHWH. As verse 23-24 says, “The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.” 

The phrase, “a blessing on the earth” bears the echoes of the Abrahamic covenant. God promised Abraham in Genesis 20:3c-d, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” and now, here in Isaiah 19 he restates the promise with more detail. God’s plan, then, was always to save the world through the people of Israel. That salvation came to us through the Lord Jesus Christ and now God is gathering people for himself from every nation on earth. This prophecy will be fulfilled when Jesus reigns on earth during the time we call the Millennium and then beyond that through all eternity. 

Does this passage give you hope? Does it remind you that, despite all the racial, ethnic, and religious tension we see in the world, God is working to resolve that tension by saving different kinds of people all over the world?

Does this give you a desire to pray for world missions? Do you feel any desire to be part of God’s work in missions either by supporting missionaries financially or by volunteering to go to other parts of the world yourself?

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Matthew 3

Read Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Matthew 3 today. This devotional will be about Ezra 3.

The book of Ezra describes events late in the chronology of the Old Testament. God’s people, Israel and Judah, had been exiled from the promised land. After 70 years in captivity first to the Babylonians then to the Medo-Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great had allowed the people of Judah to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. We read about the decree of Cyrus back in Ezra 1 on New Year’s Day.

Here in Ezra 3, the seventh month on the Jewish calendar has arrived (v. 1). This is the month for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 23:27). Without a temple, however, atonement cannot be made. Instead, God’s people rebuilt the altar of burnt offerings (v. 2) so that daily morning and evening offerings could commence while the temple was rebuilt.

They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. Notice, however, the words of verse 3: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord….” Isn’t it interesting that, despite the decree of Cyrus that authorized them to return, God’s people felt fear? Isn’t it interesting that the fear they felt was centered on their public worship of YHWH? Yet, how courageous these people were. Despite their fear, they sacrificed to the Lord anyway. Despite their fear, they began rebuilding his temple.

The fear they felt was from a real threat, too. The people surrounding them could attack them at any time. The edict of Cyrus might have caused consequences for their attackers someday, but there was no army was protecting them at that moment. They only thing they had to combat their fear was faith in God’s promises and hope in his covenant. That faith was strong enough to call them to obedience to God’s word despite the real threat of danger.

How often do we allow the fear to stifle our obedience to Christ? And, what do we fear? The possible disapproval of others. Not violence; just embarrassment.

Do we withhold the good news of Christ when the opportunity opens because we fear the disapproval of the unbeliever—the very one who needs to hear of Christ’s love?

Do we imagine that when we bow to thank God for our food in a restaurant, unbelievers around us stop chewing and look over at us in scorn? Or do we use that imaginary scorn as an excuse to keep us from giving thanks to God altogether?

Do we tell people that we go to church each Sunday and even invite them to come with us or do we avoid getting too specific about our plans for the weekend when we’re asked?

God has done so much for us and promises so much more—both for us and to all who join us as his followers by faith. Yet, we are so easily ashamed of being identified with him and his people. Let the faith of these ancient Hebrews encourage you to live without fear in your public worship of the Lord.

Revelation 14

Today’s reading is Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone. Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5; they were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c). As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.