2 Kings 17, Nahum 3, John 9

Read 2 Kings 17, Nahum 3, and John 9 today. This devotional is about Nahum 3.

As we read yesterday in Nahum 2 and again today in chapter 3, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. The kings and people of Nineveh were responsible before God and guilty before him for all the nations they attacked without cause and the soldiers and civilians who were killed by their military aggression.

Verse 1 here in Nahum 3 describes Ninevah, the capital city of Assyria, as “the city of blood.” Verses 2-3a vividly depict their powerful armies and verse 3b detailed the results of their attacks: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses…” Verses 5-19 warn this wicked city and her king (v. 18) of God’s impending humiliation (vv. 4-7) and defeat of Nineveh. The prosperity that the Assyrians enjoyed at that moment would be stripped from them like locusts decimating a farm (vv. 16-17).

Warfare and tyranny run through the history of humanity. As “civilization” has advanced, technology has improved our lives and, simultaneously, made the killing and destruction of war more efficient and massive. 

We should consider how our country wages war. Although we do not take over countries and enslave them the way that the Assyrians did, it is my opinion that the American presidents are far too quick to send troops into other nations. Our leaders use military might to advance their political agendas. In the process, they have sacrificed too many American soldiers, too many soldiers from foreign lands who were forced into service by their government or merely wanted to defend their land against our invading armies, and too many civilians.

Passages like this one in Nahum call world leaders to be careful about waging war and to repent for wars that were and are unjust. As American citizens, we should do what we can to hold our leaders accountable for how recklessly and needlessly they wage war and provide weapons to foreign governments. God is watching; if he held Nineveh accountable for her unjust wars, what will he do to us?

1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1

Read 1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1 today. This devotional is about Joel 2.

The locust plague described in Joel 1 was a devastation brought by literal locusts.

Here in chapter 2, however, many commentators see Joel using the locust plague of chapter 1 as a metaphor for the invasion of the Babylonian army upon Judah.

After describing how horrible the invasion of the Babylonians will be (vv. 1-11), Joel turned to urging his people to repent in verses 12-17. Verse 12 holds out the promise again that genuine repentance was still possible even with the Babylonian threat so close at hand. Verse 13 described the repentance God was seeking: “rend your heart and not your garments.”

It was not the symbol of repentance such as tearing their clothes or some other outward work that God wanted. Instead, God wanted a broken-hearted repentance, a complete turning away from the idolatry that was so common in Judah and a “return to the Lord your God” (v. 13). That was the way avoid the judgment of God that the Babylonians would bring.

Verse 13 also described the reason to return to God: “for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

We have read so much in the prophets about the promise of judgment and the delivery of that promise to Israel and then to Judah. It is easy to conclude, from those prophesies, that God is difficult, hard to please, and unreasonable toward his people.

The truth is just the opposite: God wanted nothing more than to be reconciled to his people. The judgment they experienced was due to their absolute refusal to be reconciled to him.

Although Judah did fall to the Babylonians, verses 18-32 hold out a promise of much greater hope. God would allow his people to be punished, but eventually he would bless his people with abundance (vv. 18-27) and with the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 28-32).

The Lord began keeping this promise on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-21) but the consummation is still to come. While we wait for Christ to return and finish fulfilling the promises, the promise for today is, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved….” This is why we are here and why the Lord has not returned. God is being reconciled to people as the Holy Spirit brings true conviction of sin and repentance and people put faith in Jesus Christ.

1 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 27, Proverbs 20:16-30

Read 1 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 27,. and Proverbs 20:16-30 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 27.

Tyre was an incredible place to live. Its location on the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea made it a pleasant place with sandy beaches and expansive views of the water (vv. 1-3).

Its location on the coast also made it a profitable place to be. Merchants would dock their ships there bringing goods from far away places. People—like the Israelites, for example—who were further inland would go to Tyre to buy what the ships brought; they would also go there to sell what they had to offer. It was a key marketplace for the nation of Israel and her neighbors (vv. 12-25).

Because there was so much interesting merchandise coming and going and so much money changing hands, Tyre was not only a naturally beautiful lakeshore, it was beautiful for human reasons as well. The very best building materials and the best craftsmen constructed an incredible city to live in and to visit (vv. 5-9).

Imagine what it must have been like for the people of Israel to travel to Tyre. They would arrive loaded with wheat, honey, olive oil and balm (v. 17). After selling it all off, they had money in their pockets so maybe they strolled the beaches for a day or two and enjoyed the food and entertainment the city offered.

All that Tyre had, however was taken away from them because of their wickedness (vv. 27-36).

The prosperity they enjoyed could not protect them from the wrath of almighty God.

It is an important lesson for us, too, given that we live in a prosperous nation. As Jesus told the Laodiceans: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

When someone has financial prosperity, many material things to enjoy, and a beautiful home situated near a picturesque setting, it is easy to forget God. May God’s word of warning and judgment to them cause us to fear him instead of depending on prosperity.

1 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 21, Psalms 99-101

Read 1 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 21, and Psalms 99-101 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 21.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 21:6-7: “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 7 And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

God is holy and God is just.

God’s holiness means that he is separate from sin so he hates sin and loves righteousness.

His justice means that every sin must be appropriately punished. All is right within God’s creation when sin is punished. 

Despite these truths, we should not conclude that God enjoys the suffering that his judgment brings to people. Just the opposite is true:

God is satisfied when justice is done but he mourns the pain and suffering that just punishment brings to his creation.

In these verses, then, God commanded Ezekiel to groan and express sadness, grief, and fear for the judgment of God that was coming on his people. 

Similarly, as Christians we should feel a sense of satisfaction when justice is done but also empathize with the sinner who experiences the pain and loss that come with judgment. That empathy can best be expressed through the gospel of Christ. In Christ, every bit of God’s wrath was poured out in justice but it fell on our Lord Jesus Christ rather than on us sinners. Because God’s justice has been satisfied, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are possible. When we groan and grieve for sinners, God’s love and the offer of forgiveness in Christ is expressed. If God is pleased, then, sinners can be saved.

Do you empathize with criminals when they are found guilty and sentenced for their crimes? Or, are you happy in a vindictive way for their suffering? The people Ezekiel prophesied to were wicked people who deserved every bit of God’s judgment that they got. Yet God ordered his prophet to “groan before them with a broken heart and bitter grief” because God loves his creation. Are we developing that ability in our hearts? Do we truly “love the sinner but hate the sin” or do we secretly hate the sin and the sinner too?

1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, Ephesians 5

Today read 1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, and Ephesians 5. This devotional is about Ezekiel 18.

Way back in the Ten Commandments God had said, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Ex 20:5). God said that to explain his command against making graven images to worship. It sure seems like God said that one generation sins but the generations that follow will pay the price for those sins by receiving God’s judgment.

The people in Ezekiel’s time seem to have interpreted God’s law that way. They believed they were being defeated and deported into exile by the Babylonians because of the sins of their parents. They even created a little proverb for their pity parties, which we read here in Ezekiel 18: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v. 2). Translation: “This bitter defeat and exile is all mom and dad’s fault! They drank the Drano but we’re the ones throwing up!” [Note: Do not drink Drano. Or Liquid Plumber.]

God used their pitiful proverb to raise the issue of responsibility here in Ezekiel’s prophecy, chapter 18. God promised to stop their proverb from spreading in Israel (v. 3) by teaching the people that the judgment they received was due to their own sins. Starting with Adam and Eve, people who are called to account for their sins have usually looked to shift at least some of the blame to someone else.

Here the Lord spoke through Ezekiel to tell him that God’s judgment falls on those who deserve it (v. 4c). He then illustrated this truth over three generations from one family. The patriarch of this family was a righteous man (v. 5) whose righteousness manifested itself in multiple ways (vv. 6-9a). God decreed then, “That man is righteous; he will surely live” (v. 9b).

Despite his righteousness, he had a son who was a very wicked man (vv. 10-13a). About him God said, “…he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head” (v. 13b). The sinful man’s son, however, followed his grandfather’s righteous steps, not his father’s wicked ways (vv. 14). His righteous life was despite the fact that he “…sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things” (v. 14b). Verses 17c-18 say, “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.”

Verses 19-30 are a restatement and defense of the principle that God will punish each person for his own sins. The point for the Jewish people in Ezekiel’s day was stated in verses 30b-32: “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

This is why God’s word speaks so directly and forcefully to us about our sins, allowing us no exceptions, excuses or blame-shifting. It isn’t that God wants to punish us; it’s that he DOES NOT WANT to punish us.

It assaults our pride to repent and take full responsibility, but it will save us so much pain if we simply fall on God’s mercy.

If all of this is true, then what does Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” mean?

It means that sin often has consequences beyond the first generation. Those consequences are an indirect punishment.

Think about it this way: If one man kills another man and goes to prison for murder, he pays for his own crime. However, his children also pay. Although neither God nor the state hold the murderer’s children responsible for his crimes, they suffer the loss of their father, a bad reputation in the community, and his provision for the family. Those children are not responsible for his sins but they are paying a price for them. Exodus 20:5 is a warning, then, about the snowball effect of sin on your children; it is not a promise that God will be vindictive.

Judges 17, Ezekiel 6, Proverbs 18:13-24

Read Judges 17, Ezekiel 6, and Proverbs 18:13-24 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 6.

One of God’s goals for Israel was to proclaim his glory through their greatness. If Israel had obeyed God’s laws and worshipped him wholeheartedly, God promised abundance to them—long lives, plenty of healthy children, bumper crops, and material prosperity. These promises had multiple purposes such as (a) to bless and benefit his people (b) to give them tangible incentives for doing what was right and (c) to demonstrate to the idolatrous nations around them that there is only one true God—YHWH, the God of Israel.

God knew well that humanity was infected with depravity and were incapable of keeping his laws without an infusion of new spiritual life that we call regeneration. So, in every generation God regenerated some Israelites. They loved him, obeyed his laws, worshipped him from the heart, and enjoyed some of the benefits of his promises.

But most of the people of Israel lived in sinful rebellion against him. Although God sent judges and prophets and even some godly kings to provide them with spiritual leadership, most of Israel’s history was dominated by spiritual and moral failure generation after generation.

Where did that leave God, then? If his goal was to make himself famous through the obedience of Israel and his consequent blessings to them, what did Israel’s failures teach about God?

Ezekiel 6 contains the answer. Remember that not only did God’s law (through Moses) spell out the blessings of obedience; it also spelled out the consequences of disobedience. Just as God promised blessing and prosperity to his people if they served him and obeyed him, he also promised judgment and exile to them if they rejected him and disobeyed him. In Ezekiel 6, the Lord’s word through the prophet explained to the people in exile all of the destruction and death that would happen in their beloved homeland (vv. 2-7a). The reason: “…you will know that I am the Lord” (v. 7b).

Yet God would never fully abandon his promises. In God’s grace, some would be saved from the destruction that their sins deserved. Verses 8-9 described what would happen to them; namely, that they would be taken captive and suffer but in their suffering they “will remember me” (v. 9a), “…will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord” (vv. 9c-10).

Have you ever thought that the painful events in your life actually prove both the existence of God and of his love for you?

  • If you’ve sinned and suffered the consequences for it (and who among us hasn’t?), then your own experience proves the teaching of God’s word that a person reaps what he sows.
  • If you’ve ever experienced the Lord’s discipline in your life that corrected you from a sinful path and brought you back to obedience, then you know that the Lord loves you because “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Prov 3:11-12, Heb 12:6).

God’s people needed a painful lesson in God’s faithfulness to prepare them to deliver Christ into the world. Though most of them were in unbelief when Christ came to the world, and most live in that unbelief even today, God will still make good on his promises for Israel in the kingdom of Christ.

Until then, see how the struggles that Israel had historically were unprecedented and difficult, yet God did not allow his people to be permanently extinguished from the earth.

All of this is a testimony to the existence and power of God. Because we know him by faith and have the regeneration that most of Israel lacked, let’s take his word seriously and live obedient lives to it.

Joshua 14-15, Jeremiah 39, Romans 4

Read Joshua 14-15, Jeremiah 39, and Romans 4 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 39.

In this chapter of scripture we read how God kept his promise to Judah.

But, it was not the kind of promise you would want God to keep because what happened in this chapter was an act of God’s judgment, the fulfillment of God’s covenant curse. God had promised in his law and through the prophets that Judah’s idolatry and sinfulness would cause them to be taken from their land as exiles to a foreign nation. That’s exactly what happened in this chapter through the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 1).

When the Babylonians broke through the wall of Jerusalem and invaded the city (v. 2), the entire nation of Judah was affected. Many people died and many of those who lived were carried off to live in exile in Babylon (vv. 9-10).

But this chapter describes the Babylonian captivity through the experience of three men: Zedekiah, king of Judah, Jeremiah the prophet, and Ebed-Melek the Cushite. Let’s look briefly at how each man experienced this traumatic event:

  • Zedekiah could have saved a lot of lives and made his own life easier had he surrendered to the Babylonians as Jeremiah told him to do in 38:17-18. He did not surrender, however, and here in chapter 39:5-7 we read that he was captured, blinded, and taken to Babylon in chains.
  • Jeremiah, by contrast, was left in Judah. Verse 14 says, “So he remained among his own people.” He had treated terribly by his people when he preached the truth to them and urged them to repent. Now, although his nation was in bad shape, at least he was able to live in his homeland.
  • Finally, Ebed-Melek the Cushite was given a promise by God though Jeremiah that he would be rescued from harm when the Babylonians invaded. Verse 18 says, “I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be given into the hands of those you fear. I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life….”

There we have it: the story of Judah’s defeat as told through the experience of three different men.

Two of them escaped the worst of God’s wrath and were able to live out their lives in relative peace. One of them lost everything, including his eyesight.

What made the difference in the lives of these men?

Verse 18b told us: “‘you… will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord.’” Faith in God and his promises rescued these men from the worst of God’s judgment. They had to deal with some of God’s punishment because that punishment fell on the whole nation and they were there when it happened. But they escaped the worst of God’s punishment because of their faith in God.

When God promises to deliver us when we trust in him, that is not a blanket promise of a trouble-free life. Jeremiah had a lot of problems in his life because he stood virtually alone in delivering God’s truth.

God’s promises to deliver us refer to the outcome of our lives, not every incident in our lives.

For Jeremiah and Ebed-Melek, trusting in God meant deliverance from the same fate as most people in their society. For us it means deliverance from God’s eternal wrath because of sin. You may face some difficult problems in life, even problems created by your faith like Jeremiah did. But, take heart, if you trust in God he will deliver you in eternity. God is faithful to his promises; we are called to trust in him to keep those promises and wait for his deliverance.