2 Kings 13, Micah 6, John 7

Read 2 Kings 13, Micah 6, and John 7. This devotional is about Micah 6.

I was named (unjustly) in a lawsuit once in my life. The suit was withdrawn a few days later after the two main parties worked out a deal. Those few days when I thought I was getting sued were stressful, especially because the plaintiff suing us was a lawyer.

If you’ve ever been sued or even been on a jury or served as a witness, you know how stressful lawsuits can be. But imagine being sued by the Lord! That’s what’s happening here in Micah 6. This is a covenant lawsuit brought by God against his people. Verse 1 commanded Micah to initiate the lawsuit with the mountains serving as the jury. The earth was created before humanity was, so the mountains were personified in this chapter as witnesses to all that the Lord had done for his people (v. 2).

In verse 3 God asks the people of Israel why they have broken faith with him. The question in the second line, “How have I burdened you?” is an interesting one. It assumes that God’s people looked on his laws as burdensome and felt that serving him was difficult. God responds in verse 4a-b by reminding them that he relieved them of a true burden–the burden of slavery in Egypt. He also reviewed how he sent them leadership in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (v. 4c-d). Then he told them again how protected them from the oracles of Balaam (v. 5a-c) and in their journey to the promised land (v. 5).

Israel responded in verses 6-7 like a defendant would in a lawsuit. The implied question of these verses is, “Okay, Lord; how much do you want to settle this out of court?” The offer kept escalating. Verse 7 says, “How about thousands of rams? No? Ok, how about 10,000 rivers of oil (v. 7b)? Not good enough? OK, then how about a human sacrifice (v. 7c-d)?”  

Verse 8 responds that the Lord wants a few basic things from his people; namely

  • justice
  • mercy and 
  • to walk with God. 

Justice is about doing what is right and fair to others regardless of whether they are rich or poor, family or enemy. Mercy is about showing kindness to people who deserve justice but are repentant. It also means showing kindness to people in need even though you don’t have any legal or family obligation to them. Walking with God means loving him, worshipping him daily, and following in his ways.

The concepts outlined in Micah 6:8 are easy; living them out daily is hard. It is hard because of our sin nature; we like to favor people we like or people who can help us. We like to punish people who have mistreated us even if they are repentant. We also like to, sometimes, ignore people in need. Finally, walking with God is tough because we are, naturally speaking, enemies of God because of our sin nature.

This passage, then, describes the absolute need we all have for God to save us. We can’t save ourselves; we are guilty and unable to give our way out of the guilt. In Christ, however, we have both the forgiveness of sins that the gifts described in verse 7 could never buy for us and the ability now to walk with God by faith and to do justice and show mercy.

2 Kings 9, Micah 3, John 4

Read 2 Kings 9, Micah 3, and John 4. This devotional is about 2 Kings 9.

In God’s original plan for Israel, there was to be one nation ruled by a descendent of David. God decreed that Solomon’s sins would lead to a divided kingdom, but the rulers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not typically anointed by prophets as Saul and David were.

So, when Elisha sent one of the prophets in his prophetic school to anoint Jehu king over Israel in this chapter (vv. 1-3), that was a highly unusual move.

Furthermore, Jehu was not a godly man nor did he begin a great spiritual reformation in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He was just like every other king of the Northern Kingdom in the sense that he was an unbeliever who left in place the idolatry created by Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom.

So, then, why did God send a prophet to anoint Jehu? It was to bring Ahab, Jezebel, and their descendants to justice. Verse 7 says, “You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.” The violence that God commanded in this chapter and that Jehu carried out is difficult for us accept. Why would God anoint a man to wipe out another man’s entire family? Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, kings in this era of time had no legal check on their power. There was no legislature or court to bring Ahab to justice for his many sins. If there was going to be justice, it would have to be carried out by another king. Jehu’s killings in this passage were not acts of first degree murder; they were done to uphold the Law of Israel given through Moses which mandated the death penalty for the things that Ahab and Jezebel did.
  • Second, Ahab was warned repeatedly (1 Ki 20:41-43, 21:21-24, 22:17, 28) that his sins would lead to his death and the death of his wife and descendants. Although he expressed some remorse and received a merciful delay (1 Ki 21:25-29), he did not fundamentally change like he would have if he had truly repented.
  • Third, the descendants of Ahab were included in both the prophecy (1 Ki 21:21-24) and the fulfillment here in 2 Kings 9:8. It does not seem fair that they died for the sins of their parents. But the life of their son Joram shows a continuation of their godlessness and unbelief. Surely there would have been mercy for one of Ahab & Jezebel’s descendants if they had repented and followed the Lord. But even after they had been given the prophecy of Elijah that their would be justice for them, they continued in their sinful ways.

God is just and he established human governments to uphold justice and enforce the penalties of disobedience to his laws. The Bible says that unbelieving government leaders who exercise just judgment are God’s agents for good (Rom 13:4a). Jehu would answer for his own sins but, to the degree that he acted justly, he was doing God’s will. 

1 Kings 19, Amos 5, 1 Peter 5

Read 1 Kings 19, Amos 5, and 1 Peter 5 today. This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on. 

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can perform rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture. 

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves.

Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23). 

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about it? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things–church attendance, etc.–are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.

1 Kings 2, Hosea 5-6, 1 Timothy 6

Read 1 Kings 2, Hosea 5-6, and 1 Timothy 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 2.

In today’s passage, David formally passed the baton of leadership to his son Solomon, the one God had chosen to be his successor as king. Along with the privilege of becoming king, Solomon would now bear the responsibility of leading the nation. David began, therefore, by charging him to take his responsibility seriously, with the maturity of a man (v. 2). That meant living in obedience to God’s word as recorded in the law of Moses (v. 3). If Solomon would lead that way, David explained that he would “prosper in all you do.” It was a reminder of God’s covenant promise of blessing to those who obeyed his word.

David finished the first part of his instruction by reminding Solomon of the Davidic covenant; namely, the Lord had promised an unbroken line of succession on Israel’s throne to David’s family if they lived in faithful obedience to the Lord (v. 4). No pressure or anything, Solomon, but you’d hate to be the first and only successor to David, the one who messed up an eternal covenant.

Having charged Solomon with the important principles of serving as king, David turned now to some unfinished business. He charged Solomon to:

  • punish Joab for his ruthless killings (vv. 5-6).
  • reward the descendants of Barzillai (isn’t that a brand of pasta?) for their loyalty to David (v. 7).
  • deal with Shimei son of Gera (vv. 8-9). More on him in a few paragraphs.

Before dealing with family business, however, Solomon was confronted with an immediate challenge to his rulership. Solomon’s brother Adonijah, the very one who tried to take a shortcut to the throne, requested Solomon’s permission to marry David’s, um, platonic companion Abishag the Shunamite (vv. 12-21). Adonijah even used Solomon’s own mother, Bathsheba, to make the request. Maybe she was just a kind-hearted soul or maybe she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but somehow she did not see what a dangerous move this was politically.

Solomon did see the danger, however (v. 22), and had Adonijah killed (vv. 23-25). Solomon was gracious to Abiathar, letting him live out of respect to his service to the Lord (v. 26), though removing him as priest. That move, incidentally, fulfilled God’s prophecy to Eli (v. 27).

Finally, Solomon executed Joab (vv. 28-35). That action both fulfilled David’s charge to Solomon (cf. vv. 5-6) and brought punishment on Joab for backing Adonijah.

Finally, Solomon turned his attention to Shimei. You will remember that Shimei was from the same tribe as Saul and that he cursed David as David was fleeing Jerusalem from Absalom (cf. 2 Samuel 16). David had mercy on Shimei, both at the time he cursed David (2 Sam 16:8-13) and when David returned to power after defeating Absalom (2 Sam 19:9-12). Although David had been merciful to Shimei for many years, David had not forgotten what Shimei did. That’s why he commanded Solomon to deal with him (vv. 8-9).

Some have argued that David carried a grudge against Shimei but that he held off on following through on that grudge during his lifetime. I’m not sure I agree that David held a grudge, but he certainly remembered him. By waiting until Solomon was king and then charging Solomon to deal with Shimei, David was appealing to the king for justice. It is the responsibility of a king to deal justly with people. David had a legitimate complaint with Shimei. While he was king, however, if he were to deal with Shimei himself, David risked losing the confidence of the people by acting (or appearing act) in vindictiveness and cruelty.

So instead of being the plaintiff and judge in Shimei’s case, David waited until there as a king–namely Solomon–that David could contact about his case. So what we have here, as I see it, is an appeal for justice from David to King Solomon. David recused himself during his lifetime and administration as king. When David’s rulership effectively ended, it was appropriate for David to ask the next king for justice, even if the next ruler was his own son.

Like his father before him, Solomon was gracious to Shimei, allowing him to live under a sort of house arrest (vv. 36-38) in Jerusalem. But, when Shimei broke Solomon’s rule, Solomon did what he promised David he would do—he took Shimei’s life.

I see David’s instructions and Solomon’s actions here as not vindictive but as merciful. They gave Shimei time to live and repent and space to live and work in. However, it was only after he broke their very reasonable rules, that justice fell on him.

The passage leads me to think about Jesus’ command to love our enemies. Whenever life is unfair and seemingly unjust to so, Christ commanded us to commit our cause to God and to expect him to repay. Sometimes God’s work of justice may be accomplished through the human justice system and that may take a long time. David’s patience and the way he went about getting justice through the next king provides us with an example to follow.

Have you been treated unjustly? Have you sought to deal with that injustice in a way that loves your enemies, treating them with mercy when there is repentance but committing the matter to God and appropriate human leaders?

Or, are you seeking revenge of some kind on your own? Follow David’s example to glorify God in your life.

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.