2 Kings 15, Nahum 1, Proverbs 25:15-28

Read 2 Kings 15, Nahum 1, and Proverbs 25:15-28 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 25:15-28.

In my life, I’ve had some positions of leadership and other positions where I was supposed to follow the leader. Being a good leader is hard but, at times, being a good follower can be hard, too. Being a good follower is the subject of this devotional.

It is helpful to understand that the main leader sees things differently than everyone else. The main leader is accountable for the whole situation–the things he knows and doesn’t know that are happening, the decisions he makes and that he doesn’t make, and the results of all of it.

So, the main leader is accountable for more than anyone and everyone else. Consequently, the main leader can often be slower to make decisions. A wise leader needs to consider what the outcome might be of any decision. He also needs to think about the cost of the decision. Every decision has a cost–people question or complain, people leave the church or become less active, customers take their business elsewhere, money and resources are denied to other things, etc.

Until you are the main leader, you rarely think about the costs of a decision. Until you are the main leader, you will tend to underestimate how much a decision might cost. This can make it frustrating to be a follower of the main leader.

Different kinds of people can be described as “influential followers.” An assistant pastor can be an influential follower; so can an elder, a deacon, or a respected church member. In other contexts, a staff member or vice-president or highly skilled worker can be an influential follower.  So can a customer. When you are an influential follower, you see things that the main leader might not see or might not want to see. You see things that need improving and have ideas about how to improve them. You see opportunities that the main leader might not see or appreciate. I know from being in this situation what it is like to see an opportunity that the main leader doesn’t see or doesn’t think is important. I know how frustrating it is to know that you’re right about something but get very little interest from your main leader. It is easy to get so frustrated that you become obnoxious to the main leader or to leave in order to become the main leader or find another main leader to follow.

So what do you do if you are an influential follower but you haven’t been able to persuade the main leader to take your advice or suggestion? You patiently keep proposing the idea to the main leader. As we read today in Proverbs 25:15, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Leaders often make mistakes by not listening to others with good ideas but followers often make the mistake of impatience when proposing new ideas. This proverb counsels us not to give up or leave or get mad when the main leader doesn’t listen. It counsels us to be patient and learn how to gently but persistently persuade those who lead you.

Do you have a leader that is frustrating you? A parent, a husband, a boss, or some other kind of leader? Please understand that the burden of leadership in these roles is heavy. You can’t appreciate how hard it is until you’ve done it. So be patient but don’t give up trying to influence the leaders above you. Be gentle but persistent, like a stream that slowly shapes and smooths the rock it flows over. You can persuade those who lead you, but you need to approach that persuasion the right way. This proverb gives excellent advice for how to do that.

1 Kings 21, Amos 7, 2 Peter 2

Read 1 Kings 21, Amos 7, and 2 Peter 2 today. This devotional is hopefully about 1 Kings 21.

There are two types of leadership: (1) positional leadership and (2) personal leadership. A personal leader is someone who is influential because of who they are. They have the right combination of characteristics that cause others to follow them naturally. This kind of person is sometimes called a “natural born leader.” 

A positional leader is someone who occupies a position that gives them influence over others. Your boss is a positional leader because s/he decides whether you keep your employment and pay, or get demoted or promoted. Even if you personally dislike your boss or wouldn’t follow that person (or any positional leader) if you didn’t have to, you have to follow him or her because they can help you or hurt you.

Ahab definitely had positional leadership. He was the king of Israel. But when it comes to personal leadership, he seems to have far less of that quality than his wife Jezebel had. In this chapter of scripture, Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard and attempted to get it in a righteous way. He made Naboth a fair offer (v. 2) and accepted Naboth’s rejection, even though it hurt his feelings (vv. 3-4). Later on in this chapter, after receiving the Lord’s declaration of judgment for his sin (vv. 21-24), he responded with a degree of repentance (v.  27). 

So if Ahab had a few principles, why was he said to be unlike anyone else “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 25)? One answer to that is his own idolatry (v. 26) but a key component was the personal leadership influence of his wife Jezebel. The last phrase of verse 25 told us that he did all this evil, “…urged on by Jezebel his wife.” It was was her personal leadership–her influence–that gave Ahab the confidence to follow some of his own sinful tendencies. Furthermore, we read in this chapter that it was her idea to frame and kill Naboth (vv. 7-14) in order to make it easy for Ahab unjustly to take Naboth’s vineyard (vv. 15-16). Jezebel led her husband into sinful actions that he (apparently) would not have taken himself (v. 7). 

One important lesson, then, is to be careful about who you marry and, generally, who your friends are. Relationships give people great power over the choices and decisions of others. If you’ve ever done something you were reluctant to do (or that it never occurred to you to do) because of someone else’s influence, you know how powerful personal leadership can be. So be careful to choose people who are growing Christians with high moral character to be the closest people in your life.

Even though it was Jezebel’s idea, Ahab was still accountable for what happened. Don’t ever let yourself believe that your sin is excusable just because you were following someone else. Ultimately we will answer to God for everything we do regardless of what led us to do it.

Who are the biggest personal influences in your life? Are those people leading you (influencing you) in godly ways or ungodly ways? Would making some changes in your relationships help you to make better, more righteous decisions?

2 Samuel 20, Daniel 10, 1 Timothy 2

Read 2 Samuel 20, Daniel 10, and 1 Timothy 2 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 20.

Joab was an outstanding military leader for David. Violence, however, was not just his thing on the battlefield; it was just about the only language he knew. Earlier in 2 Samuel, his brother Asahel was killed in battle by Saul’s top general Abner (2 Sam 2:22-32). Joab retaliated by murdering Abner in a non-military setting (3:27). That happened early on in David’s administration as king of all Israel and he did not deal justly with Joab, though he did condemn his actions (2 Sam 3:29).

David paid a price for not dealing with Joab. In chapter 18 Joab killed David’s son Absolom against David’s explicit command and when Absolom was completely defenseless (18:9-15). As a result, David turned over leadership of his army to Amasa in chapter 19. As we read yesterday in 2 Samuel 19:13, David said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.’” 

Here in chapter 20 Amasa had an opportunity to serve David and demonstrate his prowess as a military leader. Sheba rebelled against David (vv. 1-3) and David commanded Amasa to get the men of Judah ready to fight against Sheba. Verse 5 told us, however, that Amasa failed to do what David commanded. “But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him.” To keep matters from getting worse, David had to turn to Abishai and Joab used the uncertainty of leadership to reassert himself as Israel’s military leader again (vv. 9-10, 13-23a). 

The lessons here are two: 

  1. Procrastination is a costly error for leaders. When verse 5 says that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” I interpret that to be describing some amount of incompetence as a leader. David was an experienced fighter and leader; he knew how long it should take to muster the men of Judah and prepare them for battle. The fact that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” suggests either a lack of persuasion skills or (more likely) some amount of procrastination. Procrastination is a killer because it squanders opportunity. When you and I do other things to avoid the thing we should be doing, we are wasting time, energy, (possibly) money and opportunity. Except for money, all of those things are impossible to recover. If you’re going to be an effective leader, then, don’t be crippled by an inability to decide and take action. 
  2. Effective people under your leadership may get the job done but at what cost? Joab was very successful as a military leader but David treated him as untouchable because of his great success. That was a mistake; David excused the unjust way Joab acted and it came back to hurt David in multiple ways.

As you serve the Lord in your daily work, don’t procrastinate; get to work ASAP and be effective at whatever you are planning or leading.

Similarly, if you are a leader with an employee who is effective but cruel to others, fire that person ASAP. It will be hard to do because he or she is so effective but it will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

2 Samuel 13, Daniel 3, Mark 13

Read 2 Samuel 13, Daniel 3, and Mark 13 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 13.

I wonder what family life looked like for David?

Whatever it looked like, it certainly did not resemble the lives of most other families in his kingdom. He was married to multiple women who bore him multiple children. By contrast, most Israelite marriages were monogamous. The few men who had more than one wife probably only had two wives and all of them lived in small homes. There was very little privacy and very little free time as everyone in the household had multiple jobs to do in order to provide for the entire family. David’s family, by contrast, lived in a sprawling palace and had everything provided for them.

The boys in David’s household almost certainly had a distorted view of women and the relationship that men had to women. For all his virtues, the fact that David had so many wives and still committed adultery indicates that his view of women was very narrow.

Maybe this is why his son Amnon treated Tamar the way he did in this chapter. Verse 1 says that he “fell in love” with her. Does this indicate that he was merely obsessed with her as a sex object? Possibly, but it also might mean that he had a narrow, deficient view of what love is and what a male-female relationship was about.

Regardless, his intentions toward Tamar were entirely sexual. Verse 2 tells us that her virginity made it “impossible for him to do anything to her.” He was not troubled that they could not marry because they were siblings. Since she was his sister, he could have talked with her and spent time with her without anyone thinking it was inappropriate. When he finally did get her alone in his room, thanks to the devious engineering of Jonadab, he did not pour out his heart to her, pledging his undying love to her.

No, he told her that he wanted to have sex with her (v. 11). When she did not cooperate, he raped her, but then “he hated her” (v. 15). I’ve always wondered why his attraction turned to antipathy so quickly. Maybe his fantasies all assumed she be just as hot for him as he was for her. Since she resisted instead of reciprocating, the whole illusion of a passionate relationship with her was now ruined for him.

As sad as this story is, David’s responses made it all so much worse. Verse 21 says that David “was furious.”

That’s it.

There is no mention of David rebuking Amnon, much less executing judgment on him for his act. There is no suggestion that David tried to console his daughter and by not bringing her attacker to justice, he diminished her value as a person.

No wonder she was so devastated: Her innocence was forcibly taken from her. Her ability to marry was taken from her, for men wanted only virgins as their wives. And, to make it all worse, her father got mad but did nothing.

Although Absalom cared for his sister and took up her cause in ways her father should have but didn’t, his approach was sinful. The right thing for Absalom to do was to become David’s conscience on behalf of Tamar. He should have vigorously lobbied David to do what was righteous and just for Tamar. Instead, Absalom sought and got revenge.

In response to this, David sinned again. Although he mourned the death of Amnon (vv. 36-37), he got over it and wanted to normalize his relationship with Absalom quickly (v. 39).

The problem David demonstrated in this passage was passivity in his family. Instead of showing leadership and doing what was right when one family member sinned against another, David emoted then did not act for justice and reconciliation.

I think family life, for some reason, is susceptible to this. It seems easy to just assume (hope?) that family members will get over it when they are abused or taken advantage of by their siblings. I feel this in my own life as a husband and father. It is easier for me to act, to know and do the right thing as an elder in our church than it is to know and do the right thing as a father.

But that’s no excuse to allow sin to go unaddressed, to allow problems to be left alone, hoping they go away. Godly leadership calls us to run toward issues, not away from them.

May God give us wisdom and courage to show this godly leadership; maybe that will rub off on our kids rather than a poor view of the opposite sex.

1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 37, Mark 3

Read 1 Samuel 27, Ezekiel 37, and Mark 3 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 27.

It must have been discouraging and exhausting for David to live like a nomad in the desert because he was constantly on the run from Saul. The logistics of living like that are hard to imagine. Verse 2 told us that David had 600 men with him and verse 3 records, “Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives….” So the number of people involved in David’s nomadic group was at least 1,200 and probably many more assuming that these families had children. It was a big job, I’m sure, finding food and water for these people day after day plus a suitable place to camp when they needed to move to maintain their security.

On top of the difficulty of living this way, Saul’s hunt for David left Israel at risk from her enemies. Back in 1 Samuel 23, the Philistines attacked Israel while Saul was out chasing David (23:27-28). Maybe their timing was coincidental or maybe they knew that Saul was preoccupied with David; either way, Israel was not ready to defend itself while the king and his army was out trying to kill the next man who would be king.

In light of all of this, David decided, according to verse 1 here in chapter 27, to try living with the Philistines again. Remember that he had come to Achish king of the Philistines back in 1 Samuel 21:10 but that time he was alone (21:1) and vulnerable.

This time, here in 1 Samuel 27, he was traveling with a large group of fighting men and their families; furthermore, it was now known that Saul regarded him as an enemy (v. 12). You’ve heard the secular, military proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Achish felt it applied in this situation. So David and his men were given asylum first in the capital city of Gath (v. 4) and then a more private and comfortable distance from Achish in Ziklag (vv. 5-6).

That move allowed these families to settle down and lead a more peaceful life because Saul did not go looking for David in Philistine territory (v. 4).

What did David and his men do during this year and four months living in Ziklag (vv. 6-7)? One thing they did was make Ziklag part of Israel (v. 6b). This town was located in the territory God had assigned to Judah but God’s people had not obeyed the Lord and taken control of it yet. Now, through David’s actions, they owned this place God had promised to them.

In addition to Ziklag, David and his army invaded other nations south of the promised land that God had told Israel to conquer, namely “the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites” (v. 8). Again, God had commanded Israel to attack and extinguish these people because of their sins against him. Although David was evasive with his reports to Achish about where he was fighting (v. 10), he and his men were doing what Israel’s army was supposed to be doing.

So David and his men were at risk from their true king, Saul, and, for their own safety and well-being, were temporarily subject to a king who did not know God. They were subordinate to ungodly, disobedient leaders yet they had the ability to do the will of God anyway by attacking Israel’s enemies.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you were accountable to an ungodly or maybe just an unwise leader and there was little you could do about it? Maybe you’re in that position now–you’re married to an unbelieving husband, have unbelieving parents, are trying to graduate from a school taught and run by unbelievers, or work a job under a foolish boss.

What do you do?

The answer is you do the will of God as much as possible. God’s commands provided the moral compass David and his men needed during this strange period in their lives. Let God’s word point you in the direction where you should go, too. Do what is moral and right and just in God’s sight with whatever freedom you have. Let the wisdom sayings of Proverbs help you do what will bring prosperity within the will of God. Put your hope in God and look for deliverance from that situation, but while you wait for the deliverance, do what you can to advance God’s interests and will.

1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, Colossians 1

Read 1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, and Colossians 1 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 11.

Considering what became of Saul later in life, it is surprising how powerfully he began as a leader. After being identified as king in chapter 10, Saul may have wondered, “Now what do I do?” Samuel, when he told Saul privately that he would become king, told him, “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you“ (1 Sam 10:7). Not much to go on there, if you were looking for what to do next as king.

Here in chapter 11, however, a crisis jump started Saul’s career as king. The people of Jabesh Gilead were under siege from Nahash the Ammonite. Although they offered to surrender, the terms Nahash said he would accept were inhumane (vv. 1-2). Given how unreasonable his demands were, it is quite surprising that he was willing to give the people of Jabesh Gilead time to seek someone to rescue them, but he did (v. 3).

When Saul heard of this, God guided him just as he had promised to do, and Saul acted quickly. First, he creatively compelled the Israelites to join him as his army (vv. 6-10). Then he attacked the Ammonite army with strategic skill and was effective in defeating them (v. 11). His actions united Israel around him as king to the point that they wanted to execute his detractors (v. 12), but Saul wisely decreed no retaliation against those who had opposed him. Instead, he deflected the attention to God who had chosen and empowered him (v. 13). God used this incident and Saul’s wise leadership throughout it to solidify his kingdom and unify the people under his leadership (vv. 14-15).

This incident illustrates and proves the importance of humility in leadership. Sometimes you need to leverage your position as a leader to get people to move quickly in the right direction as Saul did in verses 7-8. But a leader who is constantly overbearing, who demands respect instead of earning through skillful leadership, and who retaliates against those who question him will eventually weaken his leadership and, probably, lose his position altogether. If you can learn to live with humility, to lead people in the right direction, for the right reasons, to the glory of God, you won’t have to pound on the table and insist that people follow you. You won’t have to humiliate and punish your critics. Instead, people will voluntarily follow you because this kind of leadership is so rare.

Where do you serve as a leader now? In your workplace, your ministry here at Calvary, your home as a parent, or somewhere else, someone looks to you for leadership. At times you may need to be bold and dramatic, but if you are godly and effective at what you do, God will reward you. Your reputation and your following will grow because you will be a leader who serves. Think about how these truths can impact your life in your leadership role today.

1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, Ephesians 6

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, and Ephesians 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 7-8.

I don’t know about you, but I always think of Samuel as a priest. It is true that he served in that role (see 7:10), but the Bible speaks of him more as a judge—think guys like Samson, Gideon, and other characters from the book of Judges—than as a priest (see 7:15 where he is called a “leader”).

Although he attempted to install his sons as as judges (8:1-2), they failed morally (v. 3) and were rightly rejected by the people (vv. 4-5). So Samuel was Israel’s greatest judge even though he and Deborah were the only non-military judges. The quality that Samuel and Deborah shared was spiritual: they feared God and judged justly as a result. Yet, godly as he was, Samuel’s own sons used their position as leaders for personal gain rather than to serve God’s people. Instead of becoming a spiritual dynasty, Israel continued the same cycle of deliverance in one generation and disobedience in the next.

One thing we’ve learned in the past three chapters of 1 Samuel is that God did not need a military ruler to defend himself or his people. Although God had decreed that battle would be the usual way that Israel secured and defended the land promised to them, their military successes were secured by God. He kept his promise to fight for them, as we see 7:7-12.

Yet despite God’s supernatural work on their behalf, Israel did not ask him for another godly judge like Samuel. They asked for (and, indeed, insisted on) a king (8:6, 19-20). Note their reason for wanting one: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” I have heard people emphasize the first phrase, “Then we will be like all the other nations…” and warn against wanting to be like the world. But I think the key phrase is the next one: “…with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Remember that God had told Samuel that their desire for a king was a rejection of him as their king (v. 7). God had shown himself more than capable of protecting and providing victory for his people if they followed his word, obeyed his leaders (like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.), and—believing his promise to go before them—fought in faith.

Although Samuel spelled out for Israel the high costs of having a human king (8:10-18), they chose to pay dearly for one to do the dirty work instead of believing God and fighting based on his promises.

We have the same kind of problem, frankly. God has given us his word, his Spirit, and his church. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). But how often do we want someone else to fight our spiritual battles for us—our parents, our spouse, our elder, some devotional writer, or someone else. Yes, we need leadership and all the people I mentioned in the previous sentence can and should provide spiritual leadership for us. But that’s all they can do for you. Consider this: I have always taught that people need to be in God’s word daily. That idea is not remotely unique to me; you knew that already if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. But it is easy to lose our way, to develop habits that crowd out Bible reading, or just to be overwhelmed with the task of finding a plan. I know how it is, so I created this devotional. Everyday it arrives in your inbox; all you have to do is click on the link and read the passages. If you don’t want to read them all, you can just read the one I’m commenting on. And, I write enough to hopefully get you thinking about what the passage means and how it might apply to your life. I do this because, as your pastor, I want to provide you with some tools to help you grow. That’s my role as a leader.

But I can’t come over to your house and read the passage to you. I can’t make you listen to it, I can’t make you think about it, and I can’t force conviction of sin on you.

I also can’t force you to obey what the Word says. Sometimes, though, people seem to think that I should; they think I have some magic power that can make them live a godly life. They think I should be calling them if they don’t come to church. Or they sometimes seem to think that my words or my presence or my prayers can cause them to do something they don’t want to do.

It doesn’t work like that.

God has given you everything you need to develop into a godly man or woman. He will do some of the work for you—purging and purifying your desires through conviction of sin and causing you to realize areas where you still need to grow through trials and discipline. But he’s promised us that we can overcome sin by the new nature he’s planted in us (see 1 John 2:1-6). It takes faith to believe that promise of God, then obedience to God’s word to make it happen. You can look all you want to someone outside of you, but only you can walk with God.