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 20, Ezekiel 9, Acts 2

Read Judges 20, Ezekiel 9, and Acts 2 today. This devotional is about Judges 20.

At the end of yesterday’s reading in Judges 19, each tribe in Israel received a piece of the dead body of a woman. Someone got her severed head, another received her right hand, and so on. Gross.

The people were naturally aghast at such a ghastly thing, so in today’s reading from Judges 20, they responded. Nothing unifies a nation like a dismembered body, I guess, so in verse 1 we read that “all Israel… came together as one… in Mizpah.”

One phrase that I omitted from that quotation was “before the Lord,” which describes a seriousness about the situation and a rare understanding from Israel’s leaders that their decisions were just a spiritually important as they were civilly. The first part of chapter 20 is an investigation. The people of Israel asked the man with the complaint, the woman’s “husband” to describe his grievance (v. 3). The tribe of Benjamin were aware of the ongoing trial, probably because they, too, had received one of the woman’s body parts. After listening to the man’s description of events in verses 4-6 and hearing the man call for a decision (v. 7), the leaders decide to prepare for a civil war on the entire tribe of Benjamin (vv. 8-11). While they prepared, they also sent messengers “throughout the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 12), asking the tribe of Benjamin to do justice and hand over the culprits who sinned against the Levite and his concubine.

There are perplexing aspects to this story. The most difficult one for me is why the Israelites suffered two defeats to the Benjaminites. The defeats happened despite the fact that Israel’s cause was just and they had submitted to the Lord’s will the decision to attack in both cases (vv. 17-18, 23). Maybe the Lord wanted to humble the Israelites and increase their sense of dependence on him (see vv. 26-28). I wish the Lord had given us more insight on this.

What I do know is that Benjamin paid a heavy price for refusing to deal justly with the men who brutally treated one of their sister Israelites. If they had handled the Levite’s case justly, this loss of life could have been completely avoided. If they had simply handed over, when confronted by Israel, the perpetrators (v. 12), they could have avoided this civil war. Their stubbornness, their loyalty to blood over the just application of God’s law, caused much greater turmoil for the whole nation than was necessary.

And then I think about how easy it is for us for us to excuse or defend our own sin or the sins of those we like and how hard it is for us to do the right thing when we are confronted and given the opportunity to turn and do the right thing. Although the consequences, thankfully, of our sins are not this sweeping and brutal, a passage like this reminds us how damaging sin and defensiveness about it, can be. If we think about this in terms of our own lives, hopefully we can be wise by learning from this brutal story.

Joshua 11, Jeremiah 37, Romans 2

Read Joshua 11, Jeremiah 37, and Romans 2 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 37:18: “Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, ‘What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?’”

The United States of America has laws in place to protect freedom of speech but, as with every right, the law protects the freedom of speech that God, the creator, gave you and me. It does not grant us that right; our freedom and right to say whatever we want to say is God-given, not America-given or constitutionally-given. The law merely protects that right. [1]

Israel did not have laws that protected freedom of speech but, like us, they had that freedom as a right granted to them by God. The only speech that was prohibited under God’s law was speech that was directly against the true God such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, blasphemy, and enticing someone to serve other gods. Beyond that category, people had the freedom to speak however and whatever they wanted to speak. There is no prohibition of one’s freedom where the law is silent.

Jeremiah’s question, here in Jeremiah 37:18 was, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?” The assumption behind his question was that speaking your mind is not a crime. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to another citizen of Judah or to the king of Judah, speech is not a crime and should not be prosecuted. Jeremiah experienced persecution because he was giving God’s message certainly. However, he also was a political dissident because God’s message was about the coming loss of national sovereignty for Judah and, therefore, the loss of political power for the king (v. 17). The king’s men used a bogus charge of “deserting to the Babylonians” (vv. 13-14) as an excuse censor Jeremiah’s message, as well as to beat, and prosecute God’s prophet unjustly (v. 15). This is what an oppressive government does. If it can’t silence you through threats, intimidation, or directly applicable laws, it will accuse you of violating other laws to punish you instead.

Our world–and our country–is steadily infringing on our rights. College campuses are a current battleground for the infringement of free speech. There are many troubling stories out there. I won’t get into them but you can see for yourself at https://www.thefire.org/newsdesk/. Note that this group is led by political liberals yet they are concerned by the loss of free speech in higher education. College may be the battleground now but as college students graduate and enter the mainstream of society, their distorted notions about speech will change what is considered acceptable and prosecutable in the country at large.

One might object that “college is not the government. The first amendment applies only to the government, not to entities such as colleges or private companies like YouTube/Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.” To counter that objection: First, I would argue that colleges are part of the government because most of these schools rely on federal funds through grants and student loans. Second, in the case of private companies like YouTube and others, we are told that it is morally wrong to discriminate against groups based on ethnicity, gender, “sexual orientation,” or religion. If it is morally wrong to discriminate against these groups, then it is also morally wrong to discriminate against political speech because every group’s ideology has political implications and applications. If it is wrong to exclude women or feminists from these platforms, then it is wrong to discriminate against anyone who has any kind of point of view.

A lot more could be said about all of this but I’ll finish by saying this: If we lose freedom of speech–either by government persecution or by corporate/societal exclusion, then the loss of freedom of religion will follow quickly. That may be God’s will for us; it was for Jeremiah. As Christians, we must be committed to God’s word and willing to say what it says even if we are persecuted for it. But, it is also right and just for us to point out when God’s enemies are violating our God-given rights just as Jeremiah did here.


[1]Keep this in mind whenever you hear someone say that some group, like illegal immigrants, don’t have rights. They do have rights because rights are not granted by the government; instead, they are supposed to be protected by the government. Or, more precisely, the law is supposed to protect everyone’s rights FROM the government or anyone else who would seek to use power to infringe on someone’s God-given rights.

Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today. This devotional is about Psalms 75.

Psalm 75-76 sing praises to God for his sovereign justice.

As his chosen people, Israel praised God for his favor to them (75:1). In verses 2-10 the Psalmist explains that God’s justice happens in his time (v. 2) and that those he judges are powerless to avoid the judgment he brings (vv. 3-8). In the middle of Psalm 75, the Psalmist sings, “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (vv. 6-7). We think that military might or political success are matters of human strength and ingenuity; this Psalm mocks our foolish assumptions and tells us that God sovereignly and precisely rules over the affairs of humanity:

  • No one can become powerful unless God allows them to become powerful (vv. 6-7).
  • No one can hold on to power if God determines to take it away (vv. 3-5).

While obedience to God should cause us to do all we can to bring righteousness and justice in our world, God has his own plans and those plans sometimes involve exalting the wicked so that his will can be done. But justice will be executed in God’s time.

Given all this, does it make sense to worry so much about who who occupies the oval office, controls the House of Representative, or has a majority on the Supreme Court?

Yes, we want righteous leaders who will make righteous laws and enforce them justly, so we should vote biblically and conscientiously.

But what if God allows unrighteous, unjust, unscrupulous, and unethical leadership to be elected because of his own purpose? When that happens, can you join the Psalmist in singing, “As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob, who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up’” (vv. 9-10)?

Can we trust God—and praise him—even when we don’t understand why he allows troubling things to happen? Can we wait for him to do justice according to his will in the time that he chooses?

Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, 2 Corinthians 4

Read Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, and 2 Corinthians 4 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 18.

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth.

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel indestructible.

In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse the phrase, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” suggests that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” That explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure. Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them? Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of their rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”

This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understood, for the first time in his life, how God feels every time you or I or anyone else in humanity sins. He knows personally what it is like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and then be personally rejected despite that gracious offer.

Jeremiah knew, after the plot described in this chapter, what it was like to be righteous but have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness. God was so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross.

What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness. Only by his grace through our Lord Jesus Christ is that wrath turned away from me and everyone else who is in Christ.

But the anger Jeremiah felt at the plot against him and how it resembled God’s anger against all sinners is something we should keep in mind when we struggle with temptation. If we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3

Read Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3 today. This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25.

This chapter from God’s law is about justice and injustice. It begins in verses 1-3 by describing how disputes would be handled in Israel. They would be heard by judges would be charged with “acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.” Verses 2-3 describe the punishment that the guilty should receive if the judge feels it is appropriate (v. 2a).

Verse 4 commands the farmer to be just to the ox. As the ox works for the farmer, he creates value through his threshing work. It would be unjust to deny him food while he works, so the law prohibits the farmer from muzzling him.

Verses 5-10 are strange to us but we need to remember how important the land was to God’s people. Due war, farm accidents, and other factors, men tend to die before their wives. If a woman was to continue living, she would need to remarry as she would need a man’s work to provide for her. But if she did remarry, her husband’s family line would not continue and they would lose their family land. Over time, the tribes of Israel would start to look very different; to prevent that, God commanded a man’s brother to marry his widow so that she would be provided for and his land would remain in his family and his family name would continue (v. 6). But some brothers would not want responsibility for their sister-in-law; if a man refused to obey the commands in this chapter, he was denying justice to his sister-in-law and hurting his own family. This passage specifies embarrassing social consequences to the man who refused to continue his brother’s family (vv. 9-10).

Verses 11-12 were designed to protect a man’s ability to continue his family line. Though you could see how a woman might want to protect her husband from having the tar beat out of him, it was unjust to damage his family so an equally damaging consequence was prescribed for a woman who did this.

Verses 13-16 command God’s people not to be unjust in their commercial dealings with each other. Each person was to pay a fair price for what he bought. The “differing weights” were designed to deceive the buyer and the  Bible her says that “the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly” (v. 16). People who make tax policy in this country should read and consider this passage. It is fundamentally unjust to require one person to pay more than another person does (v. 16).

Finally, God commanded his people to treat the Amalekites with justice for attacking Israel when they were defenseless as they left Egypt (vv. 17-18).

While some of the things specified in this chapter seem arbitrary and petty, they emphasize to God’s people that God is just. It is part of his fundamental nature and, as his people, we it should become important to us to treat others fairly, with justice. So, how about it? Are there some people in your life who are getting less than what they deserve from you? If you have power over someone’s life in some way, do you treat that person with fairness?