Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, Ephesians 1

Today read Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, and Ephesians 1. This devotional is about Ruth 2.

As we read through the book of Ruth together, it is helpful to remember that this story took place during the period of the Judges (1:1). Because we’ve just completed reading through Judges, you are aware that not much was happening spiritually in Israel at the time. The nation of Israel worshipped idols, so God allowed their neighbors to oppress them. They would repent, so God would send a deliverer to defeat their attacking neighbors. This was a cycle that happened repeatedly throughout the book of Judges.

But even the judges God sent were poor spiritual leaders, often living in disobedience to the Lord themselves. The impression one gets from reading Judges is that nobody in Israel is really following and serving the Lord from the heart.

The book of Ruth, however, indicates that more was going on spiritually than Judges suggests. Although it is true that there was a lot of disobedience, there were also men like Boaz, whom we met here in Ruth 2. Everything about Boaz exudes a strong faith in the Lord and desire to please him:

  • When he greeted his workers, he pronounced a blessing on them in the Lord’s name (v. 4).
  • When he saw Ruth gleaning in the field, he did not throw her out; he followed God’s law and let her glean.
  • Even more than that, he invited her back (v. 8), protected her safety (v. 9a), and even encouraged her to use the water provided for his worker (v. 9b).
  • When asked why he would do this in verse 10, he acknowledged Ruth’s sacrifice for Naomi (v. 11) and asked for God to reward her for it (v. 12).

One thing to take away from this story is how God provided for Ruth based on her faith. The language in verse 3 could lead one to think that her choice of Boaz’s field was random (“as it turned out”). But this was God’s providence working in her life.

It is important to remember that the events our lives that seem like chance have been ordered by God who is working for his glory and our good.

Another thing to consider from this passage is not to despair when the people surrounding us are insensitive to God’s word and ungodly in their lives. Boaz stood out because of his faith. He not only spoke faithful words that glorified God, he lived a life that was obedient to God’s word because he trusted in the Lord.

Although we live in a culture that is darkening morally and may feel at times like we are the only ones trying to serve the Lord, we should not be fearful or tone down our faith. Instead, like Boaz, we should live what we believe no matter what and trust God for his provision and work in our lives.

Judges 19, Ezekiel 8, Acts 25

Read Judges 19, Ezekiel 8, and Acts 25 today. This devotional is about Acts 25.

Acts 24:27, which we read on Friday, told us that Paul had been in prison in Caesarea for two years. Caesarea is a nice place, right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea but, if you’re in prison, that doesn’t matter. If I had to be in prison somewhere, I ‘d rather be locked up in Miami or Hawaii than in Alaska or Minneapolis, but I’m sure prisoners in Hawaii don’t feel like they’re in paradise, even though they technically are.

Anyway, Paul was in prison there in Caesarea for two years. He was left there by Felix, a Roman government official over Judea. Felix detained Paul for two years without a trial because he was looking for a bribe from Paul (24:26). When he didn’t get his bribe, he decided to do a favor to Paul’s Jewish opponents (24:26-27). Leaving Paul in prison without a trial was unjust but Felix was a sinful man, so I doubt he felt any guilt in his conscience about it.

The Jewish leaders asked Felix’s successor, Festus to send Paul back to Jerusalem from Caesarea for trial (vv. 1-3a) because they planned to kill Paul en route (v. 3b). Paul argued against a transfer back to Jerusalem and, to ensure his safety, appealed to Caesar (vv. 4ish-11). Paul had the right to that appeal because he was a Roman citizen (remember Acts 22:27).

King Agrippa–Herod Agrippa–was a Jewish client king over the same area as Festus, and Agrippa came with is wife to Caesarea to congratulate Festus on his sweet new job (v. 13). What do a Roman governor and a Jewish “king” have to talk about? Not much besides work, so that’s what Festus and Agrippa talked about–including Paul’s case (vv. 14-21). Agrippa was intrigued by Paul’s case so Festus set up a meet-n-greet between Agrippa and Paul (v. 22). The end of our passage today (vv. 23-27) set the table for Paul’s speech to Agrippa which we’ll read tomorrow in Acts 26.

Paul used his valuable Roman citizenship back in Acts 16:37 to avoid a beating by a Roman solider and to protect his life from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem back in Acts 22:25. Here in Acts 25, Paul used his citizenship again. This time, he used it to get a free trip to Rome where he wanted to go next anyway (Rom 15:23-33). That was a wise move; Paul creatively used what he had at his disposal to move toward the goal he wanted to reach for the glory of God.

But notice this one thing: in Acts 22:28 Paul said, “I was born a citizen” of Rome. That was a highly unusual status for a Jewish man or anyone else who lived in a territory Rome had conquered. For Paul to be born a Roman citizen, his father must have forked over a lot of money (see 22:27) or he did some heroic act for the Roman empire that got him honored with citizenship. Either way, Paul’s Roman citizenship came to him as a gift. He did nothing to earn it; it was conferred on him at birth.

The fact that Paul was able to use it for the Lord’s work shows us the importance of God’s providence.

The word “providence” speaks of God’s working his will in this world without using miracles.

Often God’s providence is only visible to us when we look back at events in the past. When things are happening to us in the present, we don’t necessarily see God working out his will but, if we look back at our lives, we can often see how seemingly “random” things were actually given or arranged by God to accomplish his will in us. Maybe Paul’s dad was proud to be a Roman citizen or maybe he was embarrassed about it and lost some credibility with his Pharisaic friends. Maybe as Paul was growing up he thought his Roman citizenship had very little use to him but now he could see why God gave it to Paul. I’m certain he was grateful to have that benefit when Acts 25 was happening.

Think back over your life as a Christian for a little bit. Have there been any “chance” events in your life that protected you from harm or helped you serve God or walk with Him? Think back over what God has done in you and for you. Do you see anything that happened before you were born that made you the man or woman you are now?

Make a list of those things, then thank God for his providence and how it has worked out in your life. Then determine, as Paul did, to use whatever advantages you have–be they small or insignificant or great and valuable–to the glory of God by the expansion of the gospel.

Joshua 5:1-6:5, Jeremiah 30-31, 2 Corinthians 12

Read Joshua 5:1-6:5, Jeremiah 30-31, and 2 Corinthians 12 today. This devotional is about Joshua 5:1-6:5.

For decades God had provided manna for his people to eat in the desert. For most of the people in this generation, that was all they knew. Six days a week manna was waiting for them in the morning; on the sixth day, they gathered enough to feed them for the Sabbath as well. I wonder if it ever occurred to the younger adults in Israel that the manna would stop some day? Or, if they did ever think about that, if they thought it would continue until they had conquered some territory and were settled?

Regardless of what they expected, the manna stopped when they entered the promised land. They ate a Passover meal and the manna was no more (v. 12).

Yet God was not done caring for his people. The crazy instructions that the Lord gave to Joshua about how to conquer Jericho is proof of that. Instead of laying siege to this fortified city or doing a frontal assault, God just told them to march around it.

Day after day for one whole week, they played ring-around-the-rosies with Jericho. On day 7, they did that seven times and, boom, the walls of the city sang “we all fall down.” This strategy was designed to show Israel that God was in control of their conquest and that their victories were due to him fighting on their behalf. There would be more traditional battles in the future, ones where God’s people would use conventional weapons and warfare to take cities. But this conquest of Jericho was to show them that it was God’s might, God’s power, God’s promises that would give them the land, not their military prowess.

Isn’t the Christian life just this way? We look for God to provide for us and make it easy. Sometimes he does that to show us that he is with us. But, more often, God calls us to trust his promises and cultivate the land ourselves. God commands us to claim his power but show it by doing battle with our will, our sin nature. We get deeply disappointed with God for not causing holiness to descend into our lives like manna. We are thankful when he gives victory in our lives one day, but then calls us to do battle ourselves in faith that he is fighting with us and for us.

Israel’s failure to get everything God promised them was a failure of faith. Instead of learning the lessons of the manna and Jericho and boldly taking the rest of the land, God’s people became too satisfied too soon.

Don’t allow a complacent attitude to keep you from striving, from growing strong in Christ. Although this passage has to do with miraculous food and miraculous military victory, God works in the same way in all domains in life. Trust that the God who provided for Israel miraculously until they could reap his provision providentially will provide providentially for you, too, if you work at your life in faith. Trust that he’ll be there to provide supernaturally when you need him to, but that he’s already providing what you need through his divine providence. Claim all this by faith and do the hard work of daily Bible study, daily prayer, daily fighting the sinful impulses of the flesh, daily working hard at your profession and your relationships.

Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1

Read Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1 and today’s devotional which is about Genesis 41.

To me, the amazing thing about Joseph’s story is not how quickly he rose after having so many down years and experiences. Throughout the painful parts of his story we were told that God was with him and was blessing him, so it isn’t surprising that things turned around for him quickly.

What’s amazing is how grateful and God-honoring Joseph was during his vindication, which we read about today here in Genesis 41.

  • When he appeared before Pharaoh to hear Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph gave glory to God for the ability to interpret his dream: “‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’” (v. 16).
  • Later, when he named his sons, Joseph chose the name Manasseh and explained, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (v. 51b). When he named his son Ephraim, he explained, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (v. 52b).

These statements ring with gratitude to God; they completely lack any sense of indignation about what had happened. I don’t know what the Hebrew would be, but I’d be tempted to name my kids, “It’s about time something good happened to me for a change” and “Take that everyone who tried to hurt me!”

What made Joseph so grateful and so quick to honor and thank God?

It was his faith in God. His faith in God is what carried him through all the problems he had faced in his life. So how could he be angry with God when it was his confidence in God that sustained him in the darkest days?

Although Joseph’s life went in unexpected directions and the pain of all that was real, it was ultimately God–not Joseph–who was vindicated here in Genesis 41. The confusing, unhappy moments in Joseph’s life were necessary to get him to this place where God would use him.

Maybe this is a message you need today, that the confusing, unhappy experiences you’re going through right now are preparing you for what God has next for you. In that case, don’t give up on God or become bitter toward him. Things might get worse before they get better, but it is all part of making you into who God wants you to be so that he can use you and bless you according to his will.

2 Kings 17, Hosea 10

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 17 and Hosea 10.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 17.

The first six verses of 2 Kings 17 tell a diplomatic story. They say that Assyria attacked and conquered Samaria, the capitol of Israel (vv. 3, 5-6). The Assyrians did this because Hoshea, king of Israel, quit paying tribute to Assyria and tried to form an alliance with Egypt instead (v. 4). Those were the human reasons for Israel’s destruction as a nation.

Starting in verse 7, the Bible told us that there were spiritual reasons behind this defeat of Israel to Assyria. These spiritual reasons had nothing whatsoever to do with the human reasons described in verses 1-6. Instead, verse 7 told us, “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God” and the next several verses catalog the ways in which Israel sinned against God. The author of this book knew that what happened to Israel was an act of God even though it was accomplished by the Assyrians. This is an example of God’s working in divine providence. Providence is one of two ways in which God works in this world; the other way is through miracles, and that way is rare.

Providence is when God does his will using secondary causes–the actions of other people, natural disasters, or things that seem like luck or coincidence. God used providence–the national aggression of the Assyrians, to punish Israel for her sins.

Miracles are when God acts directly, superseding the laws of nature, to accomplish his will. The destruction of Sodom in Genesis is an example of a miracle–a direct, miraculous outpouring of God’s judgment on a city.

If you wonder where God is and why he doesn’t act, it might be because you are looking for miracles rather than actually seeing the indirect work of God through providence. What happens in your life, events around you, or even things that happen on the world stage all happen under God’s divine supervision. Don’t let the fact that there are human causes distract you from seeing the work of God. God’s ordinary way of working is to use human causes to accomplish his will.

1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 26 and Ezekiel 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11).

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this must be God providing David with this opportunity which is why he said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here.

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

1 Samuel 9, Jeremiah 46

Today, read 1 Samuel 9 and Jeremiah 46.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 9.

We are told at the beginning of this chapter that Saul comes from a good family. Verse 1 told us that his father Kish was “a man of standing.” Saul’s personal appearance was striking, too; verse 2 said he was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”

Still, Kish was a farmer like most of the other people in Israel. Farming is labor-intensive, especially for farmers who lived before tractors were invented. So, like everyone else, Saul worked in the family business from a young age. His family was prosperous and he was tall, dark, and handsome (as they say) but he was by no means a trust fund baby.

After the general introduction to Saul in verses 1-2, we are given a glimpse into his daily life. Some of his families donkeys were lost and Saul and one of their slaves was sent out to look for them. This was a hassle and a drag on productivity but searching for missing animals was not out of the ordinary. Saul and his helper looked for the donkeys but could not find them (v. 4) so Saul was ready to give up (v. 5). The servant who was sent with him decided to try divine intervention, and urged Saul to go with him to see Samuel. Perhaps God would give them some insight through Samuel that would help them find the missing donkeys (v. 6).

So far there is nothing spectacular about this story. They lost some animals and couldn’t find them so they asked for God’s help through one of his prophets. Could have happened to anyone on any day.

Yet God was working. The lost donkeys were God’s method for introducing Saul to Samuel and for showing Samuel the man he should anoint to be Israel’s first king (vv. 15-17). God has two ways of working in the world: (1) miracles and (2) providence.

  • A miracle is when the normal laws of nature are superseded by God’s divine act. We see that happening in this passage when God spoke audibly to Samuel (vv. 15-17).
  • Providence is when God works his will through the non-miraculous events and choices of everyday life. The lost donkeys were an act of providence; so was the idea that Saul’s servant had to consult with Samuel (v. 6).

God is capable of miracles, of course, but he uses that method rarely. God’s providence is the normal, everyday means by which he accomplishes his will in this world. What felt like an annoying fact of life to Saul–the stray donkeys—was actually an act of God to lead him somewhere good. If you look back at your life, where you are today is the sum total of the choices you’ve made and some “random” things that just happened to you but that took you in a different direction, even if it was only slightly different at the outset. Where you are today, then, is not an accident or a random event. It is the providential work of a loving, gracious God.

Not every nuisance in life, like losing your donkeys, leads to some amazing place in the providence of God. A few days ago, my car key broke off in the ignition of my car. It was annoying but a pair of pliers and a spare car key kept it from being anything more than annoying. As far as I can tell, that problem did not change the trajectory of my life at all. It is just one of the things that we deal with in a fallen world.

But there are times when ordinary problems or seemingly random things take us to a new place in the will of God. We don’t know when it is happening, but we can see it in reverse. My point here is not to say, “Don’t complain about the nuisances in your life because maybe God’s gonna make you king through them!” Rather, my point is to say, do you see the loving hand of God working in your life to lead you to places where you wouldn’t have chosen to go? If so, can you keep that in mind when things don’t go as expected in the future? And, can you trust that God will work in your life through providence today and tomorrow just as he has in the past?