Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalms 33-35

Today read Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, and Psalms 33-35. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 4.

This chapter of scripture is not encouraging.

That is an understatement.

This chapter of scripture is bleak. It states in verse 1 that powerful people in this world used their power to oppress the weak and vulnerable. These victims “have no comforter.” Their lives are a miserable stretch of existence. From birth to grave, each day and night, they do what more powerful people want them to do and live in fear. What kind of fear?

  • fear of displeasing those powerful people
  • fear of more invasive abuse from the powerful
  • fear of starving, unable to provide a living for themselves because their abusers take so much from them

Although Solomon did not tell us how many were oppressed and how many were oppressors, the chapter may suggest that the vast majority were oppressed by a small minority. The way the chapter suggests this is in the words of verses 2-3. Those verses rank the happiest people from least happiest to most happy. The categories of people Solomon discussed were broad–the dead, the living, and the unborn. Those three broad groups include a whole lot of people. So who is the happiest?

  • The living are the least happy because they are oppressed (v. 1, 2c-d).
  • The dead are the next most happy because they are no longer oppressed (v. 2 a-b).
  • But the happiest people of all are people who never lived at all (v. 3). Why? Because they have “not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Bleak, right? You’re better off dead but best off if you never made it out of the womb alive in the first place because then no one could use and abuse you.

Of course, not everyone is enslaved by others. Some people go out and achieve, making all their dreams come true. They must be happy, right?

No, Solomon argued, because “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (v. 4). Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. That can make you work hard but you won’t enjoy it because your envy will move on to someone higher on the achievement ladder. If you could just enjoy the living you make, modest though it is (v. 6a), you’d be better off than a wealthier person who is does nothing but work, driven by envy.

Even a person who had no wife, no siblings, and no children isn’t happy (v. 8). Solomon thought that a single, solitary man should be happy because he only has to provide for himself. He can work hard enough to get what he wants and then spend it all on himself with no guilt. A single man who makes $30,000 per year can buy more pleasure than a man who makes $90,000 but supports a wife, five kids, a dog, and a deadbeat brother.

Seems logical; but it doesn’t work out that way. The single guy with no dependents still works really hard. “There was no end to his toil” (v. 8c) says but “his eyes were not content with his wealth” (v. 8d). He, too, was sucked into envy, unable to enjoy his life because he needed to prove to someone that he matters.

I told you this was bleak.

But all is not lost. The solution to this partnership. Verses 9-12 commends a partnership of two (v. 9) or even three (v. 12c). Partners who work together instead of envying one another can:

  • produce more as a unit and they could on their own (v. 9b)
  • give each other some time off when they are injured or sick or just tired (v. 10)
  • keep each other company (v. 11)
  • protect each other (v. 12).

So the man who makes $90k and has to split it up with others is happier than the single guy who makes $30k and can do whatever he wants with it. In fact, if the single guy made $90k or even $900k, the man with partners is happier because of the benefits that partners bring.

When God created Adam, he made the most capable man who ever lived–apart from Jesus Christ, of course. Adam, while he was still an unfallen person, had a greater mind and better body than any of us because he wasn’t afflicted by the curse of sin.

Yet God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He gave him a partner–even knowing that his partner’s (aka, Eve’s) weakness would lead him into sin. Having a life partner in your spouse or a business partner in your vocation can help you escape the hopeless life that the oppressed live. Even if you are oppressed, at least you have someone to keep you warm at night (v. 11).

Solomon was a powerful man who oppressed others. He taxed the nation so thoroughly for his own projects, pleasures, and luxuries that the people begged his son to lay off and then they revolted against him when he wouldn’t.

But Solomon seems to have been a lonely man, despite his wealth and power over others. If you have 1000 women in your life, can any one of them truly be your partner?

People can be the source of your greatest problems in life. They can make promises that they fail to keep or even intentionally break. They can see you as a rival when they should see you as an ally. If you have enough people-problems, you may be tempted to decide that isolation is better.

This chapter advises us to partner up. Share life generously with your partner–your spouse, your children, your business partner(s), your teammates. The benefits of companionship will outweigh the “freedom” that being alone promises. God created us to be teammates and the life he gave us is best enjoyed when it is shared.

If you have a partnership–a marriage and family, a business partnership, a ministry partnership, etc.–are you a good partner? Are you thankful for the benefits that partnership brings you or do you selfishly wish you had all the control and all the benefits to yourself?

If your partnership is broken, the answer isn’t to go off on your own; it is to become and build a true partnership rather than a rivalry based on envy.

Genesis 49, Job 15, Proverbs 5

Today read Genesis 49, Job 15, and Proverbs 5. This devotional is about Proverbs 5.

The first four chapters of Proverbs have mostly consisted of exhortations to become wise and descriptions of the benefits of wisdom. Here in chapter 5, Solomon turned to describing the kind of practical life choices that a wise person makes.

He began with a lengthy, passionate plea to his son not to commit adultery. Verses 3-6 described the deceptive dangers of an adulterous woman. Verses 7-14 urged us not to go anywhere near adultery. Verses 15-20 gave us the antidote to adultery which is to cultivate a passionate relationship with your spouse. Finally, verses 21-23 explains why all of this is important: God is watching and his judgment will come on those who disobey his commands, including this command.

Although this passage is written from the male perspective, it takes two to commit adultery. Just as there are seductive women in the world, there are also men who are skilled “pick up artists.” Adultery is tempting because it makes you feel wanted; it revives the thrill that you had when you and the person you’re married to now felt the passion of attraction. Adultery happens in secret, so there is the added thrill of danger.

Like many risky activities, the risk itself heightens the experience. But the costs of adultery far outweigh the price tag. I read somewhere that the average extramarital affair lasts about six months. After that point, the thrill begins to wane and the stress of feeling guilty, the dishonesty of keeping it secret, the deception required to avoid detection, and the unexpected strain it causes to one’s marriage begins to add up. The momentary pleasure that adultery promises does not last but the consequences do. God’s command, “Do not commit adultery” is a command for your good. It is designed for your happiness not to keep you from being happy. It takes faith in God in the moments of temptation, but that faith will be rewarded.

If your marriage is suffering from neglect or worse, you and your spouse are both potentially at risk and vulnerable to the seductions of a third party (vv. 3-4). The Lord urges us to turn away from that temptation and turn toward your spouse. Addressing pain and problems in your relationship is harder than falling for someone who acts sweetly toward you and promises pleasure with no string attached, but the rewards of working on your marriage and finding satisfaction there are so much greater than the temporary pleasures of sin.

Ask God for the faith to do right if you encounter a temptation to adultery. Pray for yourself to have a pure heart and for your spouse to have an open heart toward you. If you are not yet married, trust the Lord that purity will be better for you over the course of your life than the temporary thrill that sexual sins offer. May God protect all of our marriages and our hearts as we read these words and think about how to apply them to our lives today.

2 Chronicles 8, Habakkuk 3

Today, our schedule calls for us to read 2 Chronicles 8, Habakkuk 3.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 8:11: “Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter up from the City of David to the palace he had built for her, for he said, ‘My wife must not live in the palace of David king of Israel, because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.’”

Yesterday we read in 2 Chronicles 7 about how Solomon dedicated the temple and received assurance that the Lord would accept the sacrifices made in that temple and that he would bless Solomon’s kingdom for as long as he obeyed the Lord.

But here in 1 Chronicles 8, Solomon turned to other matters on his to do list. The one that interests me for this devotional is described in verse 11. In that verse, Solomon moved his wife, the Egyptian daughter of Pharaoh “up from the City of David.”

The “city of David” is the old part of Jerusalem. It is the fortress that the Jebusites built and lived in until David conquered them in 2 Samuel 5:6-10. David inhabited that fortress (2 Sam 5:9), built his personal palace there (2 Sam 5:11), and also put up the tent that served as the tabernacle there (2 Sam 6:12) until Solomon built the temple.

Here in 8:11, however, Solomon thought about the theological implications of being married to Pharoah’s daughter. Specifically, he did not want her to live “in the palace of David.” This was after Solomon had built his own palace (v. 1: “Solomon… built his own palace”) so maybe this suggests that Solomon’s wives lived in David’s palace(?). At any rate, Solomon’s words suggest that David had brought the ark of the covenant into his palace at some point. It is possible that David had the priests bring the ark many times, if he was bringing it there to inquire of the Lord. Solomon then reasoned that he shouldn’t bring his Egyptian wife into David’s house “because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.” As a result, Solomon built a separate palace for his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. This house was probably outside the city of David; Solomon’s many building projects expanded the city’s borders well beyond the original fortress that David took from the Jebusites and inhabited.

Follow me on this:

• Anywhere the ark went is holy and David’s palace was one of those places.
• Solomon was concerned that his Egyptian wife NOT live somewhere that the ark had gone.
• So he built Pharoah’s daughter her own palace outside the city of David (2 Chronicles 8:11).

Why did he do this? It seems to me that he was concerned for her life. If God killed Uzzah for touching the ark which was an act that dishonored the holiness of God (2 Sam 6:7) then it was dangerous business to let the Egyptian woman near David’s house lest she also defile a place that God’s ark had made holy.

What is the implicit assumption here? It is that Pharaoh’s daughter was unholy. She had not converted to Judaism but remained a worshipper of false gods despite her marriage to Solomon. His marriage to her was in disobedience to God’s commands so it put him in a tough situation that he “solved” by giving her a separate compartment to live in. That’s right, Solomon attempted to compartmentalize his life to keep a place where he could be disobedient to God’s direct will.

God’s word was proved right later when this woman (and others) turned Solomon’s heart toward other gods. Following God’s word is hard enough; we have God’s Spirit but our efforts to be holy are opposed by the sin nature within, the world, and the devil. Solomon put himself in a position to choose between pleasing God or pleasing his spouse. Guess which choice is the easiest to make?

If you’re not married, this is one reason why it is wrong to marry an unbeliever. Don’t even date an unbeliever because you will face temptations that challenge your faith over and over again.

But all of us, at times, try to compartmentalize our lives. We try to live a life that pleases God but keep a little workshop in the basement for our own pet sin projects. Solomon shows us that this compartmentalization does not work. Jesus said you can’t serve two masters–God and money–but there is more than money that wants to be your master.

Where are you compartmentalizing sin in your life? Will you remove it like a tumor or let it grow until it spills out of its compartment and takes over your spiritual life?

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15

Today, read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15.

This devotional is about Genesis 16.

Genesis 15 was such a beautiful chapter about Abram’s relationship to God. After Abram saved Lot and his cohorts but refused to take any gains for himself in Genesis 14, God appeared to him in Genesis 15 and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abram was honest with God about the pain of having no heir despite all God had promised him (vv. 2-3). God re-affirmed his promise to Abram (vv. 4-5) and even made an unconditional covenant ceremony for Abram (vv. 9-21). Verse 6 of chapter 15 told us that, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

What a beautiful chapter!

Once he left that metaphorical spiritual mountaintop, however, Abram acquiesced to the request of Sarai here in Genesis 16 (vv. 1-4). Her solution to the lack of an heir was reasonable and acceptable in their culture and it worked (v. 4)! But it was an act of unbelief in the promises of God and created all kinds of problems in Abram’s household (vv. 5-6). This is one of the ways that sin appeals to us. It offers us a direct and easy solution to the problems that bother us the most. And, it usually works, at least for a while. Because we are not all-knowing, we never see the consequences coming. We ignore God’s promises and his warnings, make choices in fear instead of faith, then are filled with regrets and complications.

One way people do this is by dating someone who is unsaved. Every Christian knows that it is wrong date an unbeliever. And, sometimes, God is gracious and saves an unbeliever who unequally yoked with a Christian.

More often, however, the believer compromises again and again. They know it is wrong to date an unbeliever, but they tell themselves that they won’t marry him or her. Besides, he’s a good guy or she’s a nice girl. They have strong qualities and good morals, so there’s really no risk. When a good Christian comes along, the believer thinks they’ll end the ungodly relationship. For now, though, it feels good to be loved.

And, in some cases, they tell themselves that they’ll remain pure even though their unsaved boy/girlfriend doesn’t understand the “wait until marriage” thing. That creates greater pressure to compromise morally than one already feels from his or her own physical body. When the unbeliever proposes, the Christian decides to marry him or her, hoping that God will save their spouse but feeling thankful for someone to love and marry.

Again, sometimes God is merciful and gracious, but that’s not usually how the story goes. Even when God is merciful and saves an unbelieving spouse, there are still tensions and temptations that go with compromising in this area. Not to mention that dating an unbeliever is a sin by itself.

I am burdened for some people in our church who are in relationships with unbelievers or with people who may profess Christ but don’t seem to walk with him much. I understand your desire and how tempting it is to compromise. But look at the problems that Abram and Sarai created by trying to solve their problems themselves instead of trusting the Lord to provide. The longer you live in one sinful situation, the greater the pressure will be to compromise morally again and again. It will not get easier to do right in the future. It will get harder, more painful and costly. Just trust the Lord and do what he tells you. I promise you, he won’t let you down.

Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Psalm 2

Today’s readings are Genesis 2, Ezra 2, and Psalm 2.

Well, I rang in the new year by getting really sick overnight so I’ve been in bed all day today (Monday). Because of that, and because I still really like what I wrote in 2016, I’m recycling that devotional from Genesis 2. Here you go:

After he described God’s break from work on the seventh day in verses 1-3, Moses, the author of Genesis, focused his attention on Day 6 of the creation week. The events of Day 6 were described in summary form in yesterday’s reading from Genesis 1:24-31. God’s work on that day was detailed more explicitly for us in today’s reading from Genesis 2. We know that the events of Genesis 2:18-25 all happened on Day 6 because Genesis 1:27 says “…male and female he created them” when it summarized God’s work on Day 6 of creation. Since Genesis 2:18-25 discussed the creation of woman, all that happened in today’s passage must have happened on Day 6 of the creation week.

According to Genesis 2:18-25, the creation of man and the creation of woman were separated by enough time for Adam to name the animals and to realize that there was no corresponding partner for him (vv. 18-20). This was an object lesson for Adam to teach him his absolute uniqueness among the living things God created. While he was to tame and make productive use of these animals, none of them was his equal nor could any of them provide what he needed to fulfill God’s command to fill the earth in Genesis 1:28.

This exercise also seems to have given Adam a profound sense of loneliness. His loneliness is indicated by Adam’s exclamation “at last” in verse 23. The NIV translates this “now” which lacks the punch and excitement of his original statement. Though it is not my favorite, the New Living Translation gets this one right by beginning verse 23 with “‘At last!’ the man exclaimed.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A23&version=NLT

Remember that feeling? Maybe it hit you on your wedding day when you saw your bride walking down the aisle or as you were walking down the aisle toward your groom. Maybe it was when you were walking arm-in-arm down the aisle together just after the pastor presented you to the congregation as husband and wife. Regardless of when you realized it, one blessing God intended for your marriage was to replace the sense of loneliness in your life with a partner who corresponds to you and complements you.

Moses applied the personal experience of Adam and Eve to humanity in general when he wrote in Genesis 1:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” What compels a man and a woman to get together? God’s creative work.

Do you believe that, for most of us, we are incomplete without a spouse? Do you understand that divorce breaks the blessing God created marriage to be in your life (see Matthew 19:8)? Do you know that adultery may awaken youthful passions that have been dormant for a while and may make you feel honored and desired but that it costs far too much (see Proverbs 5:1-14). How is the state of YOUR union? If things at home are troubled, unsatisfying, or just a bit dull, you may be tempted by divorce, infidelity, or just some “harmless flirting.” God’s prescription, however, is to recommit and reinvest in your spouse. Don’t believe me? See Proverbs 5:15-23.

Mark 10

Today’s reading is Mark 10.

Two people join together in the covenant of marriage with great hope for what their lives together will be like, great intentions about how they interact with each other, and an expectation that their marriage will last for the duration of their lives. This is how God intended it to be, as Jesus said in verses 6-7, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” If Adam and Eve had not sinned, every marriage would be perfect because two perfect people would enter it with the ability to have perfect obedience to God’s intentions and commands for marriage.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. When two people marry, both of them bring a sin nature, a sinful past, and sinful desires and impulses into the marriage. No matter how strong their resolve and how good their intentions may be, they will have an imperfect marriage. If problems accumulate and are unresolved, one or both of them may start thinking about what it would be like to be married to someone else.

In Moses’ time, men held all the power. They decided whom their daughters would marry and a man who had the means could accumulate several wives (or several hundred wives, in the case of Solomon). Part of the reason for polygamy was that war and farm accidents created a world where there were not enough men available to marry all the women who existed. A man who disliked his wife, then, could just add another one to his life and hope she would do for him what the first wife did not. But if he disliked one of his wives enough, he could kick her out. Because he inherited his property from his father, he had absolute ownership and his wife had no legal ownership at all. If he told her to leave, she was trespassing if she didn’t go immediately.

If a man sent his wife away, she didn’t have many options. She could return to her father’s house but dad might not be able (due to age or poverty) to care for her and her children. If another man liked her, he would be in a tough position because what if her husband cooled off and wanted her to come home? Moses, in the words of verse 4, “…permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” The certificate of divorce clarified a woman’s status. It told a potential second husband that a woman was free to remarry because her original husband had repudiated her and dissolved their relationship legally. This is why Jesus said, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law” in verse 5. The “hardness of heart” referred to the tendency of men to marry a woman, then kick her out but without actually divorcing her so that he would have the option of bringing her back into his life and his home again. This would be an abuse of his power so, to protect a woman from being starved and homeless due to a husband who wouldn’t decide whether to live with her or break it off legally with her, Moses required any man who kicked his wife out to make it all official and legal-like.

Divorce came into existence, then, to protect women from being legally bound to men who wouldn’t keep his commitment to his wife. If a woman is legally married but moves in with another man, we call that adultery. If she has been divorced, however, there is no adultery–legally speaking–because the divorce legally dissolved the marriage agreement.

All of this makes sense to us and it made sense to Jesus and his audience. If you sign a contract with Comcast but then decide that they are not keeping up their half of the bargain, you can dissolve the contract. There may be penalties to pay (as there are in divorce, actually) but nobody will judge you for using legal means to end a bad contract.

Jesus, however, taught that marriage is more than just a legal contract. His teaching reflected the intentions of God as stated in Genesis 2:24 and quoted by Jesus in verses 7-8 of our passage, Mark 10: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” We know from 1 Corinthians 6:16 that “one flesh” refers to sexual intercourse. God created sex not only so that a couple could make children together but also so that they would be bound together at a physical level, not just a legal level. Divorce dissolves the legal aspect of marriage, but it is impossible to dissolve the psychological bond that physical intimacy creates. Sex permanently bonds you to your partner in a way that is impossible to completely break. This is why remarriage is, according to Jesus, an act of adultery because God created and intended marriage to be one man and one woman for one’s lifetime.

The disciples were concerned by how strict Jesus was about divorce so they asked him to clarify his remarks in verse 10 of our chapter today. Jesus explained that someone who divorces his wife to marry another person has committed adultery. Legally, they can do that but morally and spiritually, they cannot. Notice that Mark here did not include the exception clause that Matthew included in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. The exception clauses allows someone to divorce and remarry for “sexual immorality.” In that case, Jesus said, the divorcing spouse has not committed adultery because the sin of adultery was already committed by the spouse who was sexually immoral. Sexual immorality is a breach not only of the legal covenant of marriage but of the “one flesh” relationship. You are supposed to be “one flesh” with only one person so adultery separates “what God has joined together.” Mark did not include the exception clause because most divorces are not due to adultery. Jesus warned us all in this passage that, although divorce is legal and (regrettably) sometimes necessary because of a hard hearted spouse, it is not what God wants nor what God intended for marriage.

The application to all of us is obvious, isn’t it? If you’re unmarried, don’t become one flesh with anyone except for your spouse after the wedding. If you are married, be faithful to your spouse and determine to stick with the marriage for the duration of your life.

Although it takes two consenting adults to get married, it only takes one to divorce. It is sad, but true, that your spouse can unilaterally end your marriage whether you want it to end or not. If you’re divorced and this passage opens an old wound for you, I understand and am sorry. The application for all of us is really the same, however: be obedient to what God wants no matter what situation you are in now. If you are married, don’t get divorced or commit adultery. If you are single (whether because you’ve never been married or because you’ve been divorced), live a pure life now and seek to uphold God’s design for marriage in your own life as best as you can.