2 Chronicles 7, Proverbs 28

Read 2 Chronicles 7 and Proverbs 28. This devotional is about Proverbs 28:1 & 13.

A number of years ago I read a newspaper story about a man who was arrested in Chicago for a crime he had committed in Boston. I don’t remember all the details—and I haven’t been able to find the article online again—but whatever crime he committed was serious and something like 10 or 20 years had passed between the crime and his arrest.

If my memory is correct, he said he was relieved when they finally arrested him. Though he had managed to build a new life for himself and live undetected for a long time, the witness of his conscience and his fear of being captured weighted on his heart during the entire time. This is what verse 1 of Proverbs 28 means when it says, “The wicked flee though no one pursues….” It is the fear of being caught and the witness of one’s conscience that makes us panic when we’ve done something wrong and “gotten away with it.”

The contrast in verse 1b is, “…but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” This boldness is boldness in daily living, it is the confidence that comes from a clean conscience.

As sinners, we all know how nerve-wracking it is to have sin that you’re trying to cover. So, while “the righteous are as bold as a lion,” we have many moments in our life when we lack that boldness.

What should we do to recover a clean conscience? Verse 13: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Only confession and true repentance can restore a clean conscience. It is incredibly hard to voluntarily confess your sins, especially if there are consequences—even criminal penalties—that may result from confessing. But, God is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4) and offers us forgiveness in Christ. Often people will be merciful, too, especially when someone voluntarily confesses without getting caught and demonstrates true repentance.

These verses remind us not only to repent of our sins; they give us good reasons to avoid sinning in the first place. There is moral power in living a righteous life and, by the grace of God, we can choose to do what is right and enjoy the freedom of a clear conscience.

1 Chronicles 13-14, Zechariah 7, John 20

Read 1 Chronicles 13-14, Zechariah 7, and John 20 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 7.

During the 70 years that Judah was captive to Babylon, the Jewish people began a tradition of fasting in the fifth and seventh month of each year (vv. 3-4). The purpose of this fast was, on the surface at least, to beg the Lord to end the captivity, return his people to the promised land, and restore the temple. But the temple was now being rebuilt and many people were returning to Judah, so this delegation wanted to know if the fasting was still necessary.

Zechariah’s answer was long and did not conclude until chapter 8, but his entire answer challenged the questioners more than it answered the question. The Lord asked the people, “…was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?” (vv. 6-7). A fast of true repentance would have honored the Lord but a mere ritual that everyone observed as a matter of custom meant as little to the Lord as it did to the people observing the fast. Likewise, their “normal” days of eating and drinking were done without any regard for the Lord. They did not give thanks for the food he provided or enjoy it as an act of worship from grateful hearts. Both their religious observance and their daily habits were done for themselves, not as servants of God seeking to please him.

Instead, God wanted his people to live like him daily, showing justice, mercy and compassion (v. 9) by caring for widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor rather than using the vulnerabilities of these groups as levers to exploit them (v. 10). That is the kind of worship God wants, not because he expected people to work to earn his favor but because these ethics were evidence of a truly changed heart.

Think about your daily choices–to eat or not to eat, to read God’s word and pray or not, to attend church or sleep in, to be kind and helpful to others or to ignore their needs. Does your walk with God drive the decisions you make on these (and other) things or do you choose what you will and won’t do based on your own personal motivations?

When you have the opportunity to help someone in need, do you do it as an act of worship and obedience to the Lord?

2 Kings 16, Nahum 2, Psalms 120-123

Read 2 Kings 16, Nahum 2, and Psalms 120-123 today. This devotional is about Psalm 123.

The songwriter of this song felt belittled. Verses 3b-4 say, “…we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” The problem he experienced, as described here, was less serious than many others addressed in the Psalms. Nobody was out to kill the songwriter the way that Saul and others tried to kill David. No army was attacking. This psalm appears to have been written before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. So the situation that gave rise to this song is unclear, but probably not life-threatening.

But it appears to have been more than just a personal issue between two Hebrew men. Whoever the “proud” and “arrogant” of verse 4 were, they were likely unbelieving Gentiles who were taunting and terrorizing many of God’s people.

The response of the songwriter was to look to God: “I lift up my eyes to you…,” he wrote in verse 1. In verse 2 he compared looking to God with how slaves look to their masters. This probably refers to the provision of food and other needs that masters provided to their slaves. Slaves were in a state of complete dependence on their masters. This is how the Psalmist thought of his and other Jewish people’s relationship to God–absolute dependence. The songwriter was not planning to attack his opponents with fists or swords or even words. Instead, he looked to the Lord for “mercy” (v. 2d, 3a). His reaction to the problem behind this Psalm, then, was a Godward reaction. It drove him to his knees in utter dependence on God; it caused him to plead with God for help.

This Psalm is a “song of ascents” as you saw in the superscription. That means it was one of a collection of Psalms the men would sing three times a year as they made their way from their homes to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory times of worship. I imagine that this Psalm had a slow, somber melody. The men singing it were leaving behind their homes and possessions to venture to Jerusalem. Given the presence of hostile people around them, who would protect their home and possessions while they were gone? The answer is the Lord himself, the one they were traveling to worship. The people looked to him for help and were completely dependent on his help since they would be unable to do anything to protect their stuff while they were gone. Looking to the Lord, though, provided them with a measure of hope and comfort. Surely God would keep his promises faithfully and watch over them and their families and possessions.

As our nation becomes more secular, attacks against our faith are becoming more frequent and more direct. Maybe there are people in your life–at work or in your family or neighborhood–who are taunting you because of your faith. Maybe they treat you with contempt, ridiculing you for your faith in God and devotion to Christ. Maybe there is little you can do about it; you can’t move, can’t change jobs, can’t disown your faith.

What you can do is look to the Lord in humble dependence. You can pray every day and every time you feel belittled, persecuted, or threatened. Do that, and may the Lord give you strength until he shows mercy on you and deals with the threats you face in answer to your prayers.

2 Kings 13, Micah 6, John 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • justice
  • mercy and 
  • to walk with God. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, 1 Corinthians 6

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, and 1 Corinthians 6 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no.

They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty but to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. To see his creation slaughtered in this way was not a delight to God; it should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered his people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

The condemnation in these verses, of course, applied to unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means.

In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK.

It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants. Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, Acts 11

Read Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, and Acts 11 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “… we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked. Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant. In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the miraculous working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise–let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.