Matthew 18

Read Matthew 18.

Matthew 18 open by telling us that the disciples have asked Jesus a question: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1).

There are no dumb questions because only people can be dumb; questions cannot. But this question came close to being a dumb one.

It was so foolish and backward that Christ didn’t even try to answer it. Instead, he reframed the issue.

As the disciples stood there in a circle waiting for his answer, Christ called a child over and put that child in the middle of the circle. Then he told them, you won’t even get IN to the kingdom of heaven unless you lower your estimation of yourself spiritually to the level of a child (vv. 3-4). 

Why was a child a good object lesson for true faith that saves?

A child is completely dependent on his/her parents. Our kids need us to provide them with food and shelter, they need us to tell them when to go to bed and when to get up. They need us to teach them (or put them where they will be taught) about language and math and science but also about how to tie their shoes. Although children can be skeptical and argue with us at times, for the most part they believe that their parents are a trustworthy source of information that is necessary to life. 

Did Peter believe he was the greatest disciple? Andrew? John? Judas?

What a joke; the only one who can be called great in heaven is God. The rest of us depend completely on him for everything, starting with the right to enter heaven in the first place.

And, to advance in the kingdom of heaven, we must maintain a childlike spirit of trust and dependence on God along with a healthy sense of our own weakness and inadequacy before our perfect creator.

2 Chronicles 32 and Revelation 20

Today read 2 Chronicles 32 and Revelation 20. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 32.

Hezekiah honored the Lord from his heart, led Judah to honor and seek the Lord, and God blessed the nation with spiritual renewal.

That did not mean, however, that Hezekiah had it easy. Here in chapter 32 he had to deal with a significant military threat from Sennacherib king of Assyria. The Assyrians had built a powerful army and were intent on subjugating as many other nations as possible to their control.

In verse 1, Sennacherib picked off some of the smaller fortified cities in Judah, then set his sights on defeating Jerusalem. Remember that David chose Jerusalem to be his capital because it was built on a high hill and surrounded by other mountains which made it difficult to attack successfully. Hezekiah did what he could to prepare Jerusalem for Sennacherib’s attack. He blocked off the springs of water outside the city so it wouldn’t be easy for the Assyrian army to camp there indefinitely (vv. 2-4). He also fixed the broken sections of Jerusalem’s wall and built some towers to improve surveillance around the city (v. 5a-b). He manufactured “large numbers of weapons and shields” (v. 5d) and built an outer wall and “reinforced the terraces of the City of David” (v. 5c).

Hezekiah also prepared his army for the attack (vv. 7-8) and held fast against the propaganda war that Sennacherib waged (vv. 9-19). Most importantly, he prayed. He and Isaiah the great prophet waged war on their knees in this moment of crisis (v. 20) and God honored them by miraculously delivering Judah from Sennacherib (vv. 21-23). Later, when he contracted a fatal illness, God honored his faith and his prayers by healing him (v. 24).

What an amazing life this man led, yet because he was a man he was not immune from sin. He had many victories and much success (vv. 27-29) but he also struggled with pride (vv. 25-26). This temptation follows many people who achieve everything, or most things, they want in life. We forget how much God and others contribute to our success and we start thinking that we have all the answers and deserve everything we’ve gotten.

God hates pride and those who succumb to its temptation usually find themselves humbled in some way before him. The ultimate test of pride is whether one is repentant or not when God deals a blow to their pride. Hezekiah did repent (v. 26) and God was merciful to him to a degree (v. 26b). His story reminds us to be careful about our thoughts when things go well for us. If you’ve had a great year in 2018, I am happy for you and wish you even better things in 2020 but remember to thank and praise God rather than taking too much credit in your heart. God loves humility and rewards the humble but the proud he usually brings to humility.

1 Chronicles 21, Zechariah 13:2-9, 1 John 3

Read 1 Chronicles 21, Zechariah 13:2-9, and 1 John 3 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 21.

When Satan wanted to hurt Israel, he tempted Israel’s leader David (v. 1). The focus of his temptation this time was David’s pride. The census that David ordered was to count all the men in Israel who were young enough and healthy enough to fight in Israel’s army (v. 5). There was no good reason for David to collect this information as Joab tried to point out to him (v. 3). The only reason to do it was to take pride the size of his army. 

That act stands in contrast to young David who fought and defeated Goliath. That version of David knew that “the battle is the Lord’s” and that all it would take to defeat the Philistines was faith in God as he went out into battle. By counting the fighting men in his kingdom, David was moving the foundation of his faith from God’s promises to the sheer size of his army.

If David had trusted God and not counted his men, God would have worked through those men to deliver Israel from her enemies. So the problem wasn’t that David relied on the army instead of on God’s miraculous power to deliver Israel. God often uses common human methods to accomplish his purpose. The problem, then, was in David’s heart which migrated from trusting God fully in battle to trusting himself and his army. His problem was pride and self-sufficiency rather than faith.

Are you planning to provide for yourself when you encounter problems? There is nothing wrong with good preparation unless that’s what you look to for confidence in your life. Remember to trust the Lord and lean on his understanding rather than on your own resources and knowhow. Anything less than that is sin against God which may bring his correction.

2 Kings 14, Micah 7, John 8

Read 2 Kings 14, Micah 7, and John 8 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 14.

Here in 2 Kings 14, Joash’s son Amaziah became king of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). Like his father, he was king who ruled righteously (v. 3) but did not remove the idolatry from Judah (v. 4). After becoming king, Amaziah experienced some initial success with his military, defeating a large army of the Edomites (v. 7).

When he challenged the king of Israel to battle, however, he received a proverb and a rebuke (vv. 9-10). The king of Israel compared him to the nerdy kid from high school who asks out the prom queen (v. 9).

Actually, the image is much stronger than that. A weed in the woods tried to marry the daughter of one of the grand, majestic cedars of Lebanon but before he could be laughed out of the forest, an animal came and trampled him. That was the proverb; the application to Amaziah and Judah came in verse 10: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”

The king of Israel’s reply was insulting, but it was also true. Judah had no business attacking Israel and was miserably defeated when they tried (vv. 11-14). It was pure hubris, not the Lord’s will or a desire to please him, that led Amaziah to attack. Although Jehoash king of Israel was an ungodly man, Amaziah would have been wise to take his advice.

As Christians we should not allow our thoughts to be conformed to the pattern of this world or let the morals of unbelievers influence our perception of what is right or our tolerance for what is wrong.

But there are many areas of life where we would do well to listen to wise counsel, even if it comes from an unbeliever. An unbeliever might be the best person to treat your medical condition or to repair the foundation of your house or to write a will or create a financial plan or give you legal advice or manufacture your breakfast cereal. At times, the rebuke of an unbeliever for a sinful act or attitude in your life might be just what you need to keep you from pursuing a sinful or foolish action. Amaziah’s defeat reminds us to watch our ego; godly people can overreach, so consider yourself whenever anyone offers you rebuke or correction or instruction that is wise.

2 Samuel 24, Hosea 2, Proverbs 23:1-18

Read 2 Samuel 24, Hosea 2, Proverbs 23:1-18 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 24.

Of all the disturbing things recorded about David’s life, 2 Samuel 24 is one of the tougher ones. Verse 1 tells us that “the anger of the Lord burned against Israel.” God is not angry by nature; his anger is a righteous response to sin. The problem is that we are not told what sin(s) Israel did that caused God to become angry in this instance. Since idols were the biggest problem during the era of Judges, that might be the reason but we just are not told. The fact that God was said to be angry with Israel without a stated reason might make you wonder if he was angry for no reason at all. That’s the first disturbing aspect of this passage.

A second issue comes from the phrase, also in verse 1, “…he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.’” This sounds like God commanded David to take the census; however, in verse 10 David said, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done….” So how could God command David to do something that was sinful for David to do?

The answer is that God did not directly command David to take the census; instead, verse 1 says that God “incited him.” This word means to “suggest” in the original Hebrew, so it isn’t a direct command. Still, would God suggest that anyone do something sinful?

Of course not.

Yet sometimes God lets us go our own way in order to accomplish something he had decided to do. The phrase does not mean that God directly tempted David or created evil in David’s heart. Instead, God allowed David to be tempted and to fall into that temptations.

The point of the census was to count the number of available fighting men. That was a sin because a large army may become an expression of pride for the leader. By knowing exactly how large his army was, David could feel very proud about himself as a leader. And pride is a sin that beats in every human heart; unrestrained by the Holy Spirit, people are highly susceptible to pride.

Instead of putting his confidence in God, David would be tempted to trust his large, highly experienced army. Since pride is inherent in the fallen hearts of humanity, God did not have to tempt David directly. All God had to do was remove the restraints on David’s life and let him do what he wanted.

I believe that is what happened in this passage. David’s choice to count the troops was his sin because of the attitude of pride that prompted it. Don’t let pride become a tool for Satan in your life; maintain a humble spirit and cry out to God daily for his blessings as you go about your daily life.

2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, Psalms 114-116

Read 2 Samuel 18, Daniel 8, and Psalms 114-116 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 18.

Of all the battles David fought in his life, none created as much anxiety for him as this one must have. His anxiety had nothing to do with fear of losing; God had made an eternal covenant with David, so David could be confident that God would be with him.

David also had an impressive army with him (v. 1) led by Joab, his experienced, successful field general (v. 2). Although David expressed his willingness to enter the battle personally (v. 2f), his soldiers convinced him to stay in the fortified city of Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24 compare to 2 Samuel 2:8) while they fought on his behalf (18:3-6).

As expected, God gave David’s troops this victory (vv. 7-8). Absalom certainly believed he was a capable judge (remember 15:1-4); apparently he also believed he was a mighty warrior. There is no mention of him fighting in Israel’s army because he probably wasn’t needed in David’s army . Alhough Jonathan fought in his father, King Saul’s army, David’s kingdom and army were more highly developed than Saul’s. It seems unlikely to me, therefore that Absalom had ever fought in any battle prior to this battle here in 2 Samuel 18.

Though the Bible does not accuse Absalom of arrogance, its description of him suggests an arrogant man. He had hired men to go before his chariots and horsemen to announce his arrival (15:1). Unlike most men who have receding hairlines or some type of balding problem, Absalom had a thick head of hair that he allowed to grow long (14:26), maybe to stand out in a crowd and draw attention to himself. Our passage today told us that Absalom built a monument to himself so that he would not be forgotten, since he had no son (v. 18). Despite his great self-confidence, Absalom’s army was no match for his father’s and his thick hair was instrumental in bringing him to a humiliating defeat (vv. 9-17).

Unlike his father, David, who was chosen and anointed king by God and who waited until Saul was dead and Israel was ready for him to become king, Absalom anointed himself king and tried to take David’s kingdom from him by force, despite what God had promised to David.

Absalom’s life and death illustrate the truth Jesus taught in Luke 14:11: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” May the Lord protect us from the high risk foolishness of arrogance.

I think that we are especially susceptible to arrogance when we are young. I know that I, as a younger man, thought I saw things more clearly at times than the leaders I followed. I remember thinking that I could do better and agitating for more authority. Now that I am older and have struggled with the realities of the adult world and spiritual /church leadership, I have a much lower view of my own abilities.

If you are young, take a lesson from Absalom; there is great virtue in following your leaders as your leaders do their best to follow and obey the Lord. Don’t let arrogance put you into a self-destructive place.

One final thought: I do not believe in allegorical interpretation of the Bible and I think it often produces theology that is untrue and even reckless. But since we are made in God’s image, aspects of human life recorded in scripture can sometimes help us relate personally to God’s own heart. So I can’t help but see God’s heart in David’s deep anguish at the loss of Absalom (v. 33). Like Absalom, humanity—we—have rebelled against God’s authority and rulership. Like Absalom, we think too much of ourselves and act as if we know better than the King.

Like Absalom marching against David’s army, we try to overthrow the Almighty Warrior with logic, science, and other gifts of God that we try to employ perversely as weapons against him. Yet, like David, God still cares for us in our rebellion. He wants to be the king that he rightfully is, but he wants to show us mercy when we try to overthrow him. Our rebellion stirs the heart of God in anger but also in pain, yet he longs to be reconciled to us because he loves us. Unlike David, however, God was able to redeem us, reconcile us, and change our rebellious hearts through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Samuel 14, Daniel 4, Mark 14

Read 2 Samuel 14, Daniel 4, and Mark 14. This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it.

The opposite is often believed, too; namely, that the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27). 

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experience humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they deserve? That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak.

Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?