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.

Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, Acts 27

Today read Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, and Acts 27. This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead had showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That helped but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership.

When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other: overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 15, Ezekiel 4, Acts 23

Today’s readings are Judges 15, Ezekiel 4, Acts 23. This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2).

Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman meant to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hated” his wife, then, he broke the covenant and divorced* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” were secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their culture. It didn’t take lawyers and judges and paperwork and months of time.

But the husband had to initiate the divorce. A woman was not legally allowed to divorce her husband–at least, not in Israel.

And, in Israel at least, the divorce had to be put in writing (see Deut 24:1-4). So, Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give his bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of. So, he did his best to appease Samson here by offering a younger daughter to be his wife instead (v. 2).

Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right to be angry in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so, instead of attack him personally, they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with.

Their murders made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had a relationship with the Philistines that was way too cozy. Samson went outside of the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; they attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But he never became Israel’s leader at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God.
  • He also acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have, despite the unusual gifts God had given him and God’s promises to him and to Israel.

Three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.

2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when someone does the right thing out of selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.

3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

Before you read this devotional, you might have thought that you have nothing in common with Samson. Do you think that now? Or, do you see yourself leading out of selfishness and trying to do everything yourself instead of engaging other people and leading them?

How could you change your leadership to be less Samsonian?


This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, Romans 16

Read Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, and Romans 16 today. This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15).

I wrote that these men were “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family–thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses suggest a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So, the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil.

Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan (v. 9b), Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. That would have been good for trade and commerce, too.

Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful. Dull times politically result in stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper-serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So, evidence suggests that God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring.

Those are the kinds of leaders we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our country has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, and go to war against nations that have not attacked us. The people who voted for that party love it, too. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views.

I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Personally, I’d like to see Washington become a lot less relevant to everything and a lot more boring. I’d prefer any of these guys Ibzan, Elon, or Abdon to The Donald or Hilary or Obama or Biden or Notorious AOC.

I think God would, too. Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 22, 2 Corinthians 6

Read Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 22, 2 Corinthians 6 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 22 which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah.

There are three kings addressed in this chapter.

The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

The second king addressed in this chapter was Jehoiakim (v. 18). He was the brother of Shallum/Jehoahaz and became king when he was appointed by Pharaoh after Pharoah took Shallum away (2 Chron 36:4b-8). Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive. God, however, calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 60, 1 Corinthians 2

Read Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 60, 1 Corinthians 2 today. This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. The entire book is essentially a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

Chapter 1 here begins the book with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges (vv. 9-18). As Moses summarized the ordination of judges in the past, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. They get what they want because of their position. Sometimes they get what they want due to their reputation. Or, they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Do you fear God and trust God enough to provide for you if you choose to fear God more than another person?

Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14. This devotional is about Numbers 27.

Although his sin prevented him from entering the land, Moses did not mourn his own loss or spend the rest of his life moping about how he deserved better. In fact, his focus was not on himself at all; he was concerned about the future of Israel without a clear leader. We saw this in today’s reading in verses 15-17: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’” Israel had such a hard time living in obedience to God’s word with a clear leader like Moses; how could they possibly follow the Lord without someone who would care for them and watch over them like Moses did? What an incredibly tender heart Moses had for the people who had treated him so poorly. When they sinned, he interceded for them. When they were ready to receive God’s promises without him, he prayed that the Lord would send them a good leader to shepherd them.

God answered Moses’s prayer with Joshua in verse 18. Notice, though, that Joshua would not fulfill 100% of Moses’ responsibilities. Moses led the people, spoke to God directly on behalf of the people, and received God’s communication for the people. Joshua would fill the role of leader, especially in a military sense, but Eleazar would take the role of communicating with God (v. 21). And this transition of leadership did not wait until Moses died; God wanted to begin answering Moses’ prayer now, so in verse 20 God commanded Moses to begin handing over leadership to Joshua even while Moses was still alive. In obedience to God, Moses publicly designated Joshua as his successor and commissioned him in the sight of all the people (vv. 22-23). Many leaders would be threatened by this, but not Moses. His concern was for the people, not for himself. Truly “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3).

The lesson for us is clear. Godly leadership is concerned with providing what the people need to be obedient to God; it is not concerned with receiving as much power, respect, success, or whatever as possible. This is the difference between humble, godly leadership and the worldly leadership that thinks it is all about me. As you consider how you lead your family, or the ministry at church that you’re involved in, or whatever  you find yourself leading, is your concern to find the best way to provide godly leadership—even if it takes the spotlight off you? Or, do we let the strength of our sin nature corrupt how we lead so that we think of ourselves first and our flock last?