2 Chronicles 33 and Proverbs 31

Read 2 Chronicles 33 and Proverbs 31 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 33.

Some human governments move back and forth like a pendulum and that’s what Judah’s leadership was like at times during the divided kingdom. After all the good that Hezekiah did during his lifetime, his son Manasseh came in and reversed it all.

Verse 2 declared that, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and verses 3-6 catalog his sins which included idolatry (of course), desecration of the temple, child sacrifice, divination, witchcraft, and spiritism. His actions were so evil that verse 9 said, “Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.”

God graciously sent his word to Judah (v. 10), then imposed punishment on him personally (v. 11). At his lowest point, however, “he humbled himself greatly” (v. 12b), “sought the Lord’s favor” (v. 12a) and God heard and delivered him (v. 13). It was genuine repentance, too, because verse 13c said, “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” He also “restored the altar of the the Lord” and “told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

So, if he was truly repentant and showed genuine fruit of repentance, why did verse 2 include him among the evil kings of Judah?

The answer is that the phrases, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” describes a king’s leadership more than it does his personal walk with God.

Of course, those two things are deeply linked and an ungodly leader is, of course, almost always an ungodly man. Manasseh is an unusual edge case. Although he repented, his repentance came after many years of ungodly living and ungodly leadership. His soul may have been saved after his repentance, but that did not erase the influence of his ungodly life and leadership. Despite his repentance, Manasseh was an unqualified evil influence as king of Judah, so that’s why he’ll always be considered an ungodly king, despite his repentance.

Here is a lesson for us about the foolishness of sin. I don’t know if anyone sins thinking, “I’ll just ask forgiveness for this later.” Our sinful choices usually involve more kind of self-deception and justification than that.

But if anyone does think that way, they are missing a very important truth: your sin and mine leaves its mark on others. It gives them a way to justify their own sinful actions, a sort of “moral permission” that really isn’t moral at all but quiets their conscience enough to let them choose evil.

If you have influence over many people, many more of those people will try out your sin for themselves. May God help us say no to sin not only for our own spiritual health but also to prevent sin from spreading to those who follow our lead.

1 Chronicles 11-12, Zechariah 6, John 19

Read 1 Chronicles 11-12, Zechariah 6, and John 19 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 11-12.

The first of the two chapters we read today opens by describing David’s appointment as king. It was the Lord who chose David to be king, of course (v. 2b) but God’s people recognized and affirmed that choice after witnessing David’s military leadership (v. 2a). Verses 4-9 described how David took Jerusalem and made it his home. Verse 9 concludes with this, “And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord Almighty was with him.”

That is the part that we all know. What follows in verses 10-47 is the part that we don’t usually think about. It is a collection of stories about the chiefs of David’s “mighty warriors” (vv. 10-25) followed by a list of the mighty warriors (vv. 26-47). Those men were skilled fighters and extremely loyal to David. Their loyalty to him and desire to please him led three of them to make a risky incursion into Bethlehem to get him a drink from the waters of home (vv. 16-19). Through these men God “gave his kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land, as the Lord had promised” (v. 10b). 

David was a great warrior and leader but he didn’t win battles by himself. He was successful because God was with him and God used these men to accomplish his will through David.

If you’re a leader, who are the other leaders on your team? Who shares the work of leading with you? If the answer is, “nobody,” then you need to ask God for help and look around for others who could be developed into that role.

If you’re someone who supports the leader, a leader under him or a “foot soldier” (so to speak), are you devoted to your leader? Assuming he or she is a leader God approves of, would you do whatever you could–even taking on some risk (v. 19)–to help your leader(s) accomplish the will of God?

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.