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?

Judges 16, Ezekiel 5, Acts 24

Read Judges 16, Ezekiel 5, and Acts 24. This devotional is about Judges 16.

After the events of Judges 15, Samson found himself unexpectedly single and still feeling lonely. So he turned to a prostitute here in Judges 16:1 to find the satisfaction he did not find with his now late ex-wife. The Philistines thought they would gang up on him and defeat him when he left the next morning (v. 2), but Samson decided to leave in the middle of the night (v. 3).

The gates to the city were undoubtedly locked, both due to the hour of the night and to keep Samson from escaping so they could take him in the morning. But Samson, never one to miss a chance to mess with the Philistines, let himself out of the city by ripping off the gates and carrying them to a hill (v. 3). where everyone would know that something unusual and terrifying had happened overnight.

Then he met Delilah (v. 4) and even “fell in love with her.” These words suggests that Samson’s infatuation with her was more than physical and his intentions toward her were more than temporary. Since his first marriage had gone so poorly and since the Philistines had loose morals anyway, Samson apparently had a “sleep-over” arrangement with Delilah that allowed him to spend personal time with her without the costly entanglements of marriage.

Delilah, however, remained loyal to her nation, especially given the promise of her rulers to pay her well if she betrayed Samson (v. 5). She agreed, then, to obtain “the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him” (v. 5). Despite what we tend to think and may have heard, Samson may not have been an unusually muscular man. The great feats of strength that Samson accomplished were done by God’s power, not because he was a workout warrior. If the Philistines could discover his secret, they could eliminate him as a problem in their lives.

Delilah dedicated herself to the task, asking him to tell her his secret in order to deepen their relational intimacy (v. 15), then keeping Samson around her house until he was good and sleepy. Each time he lied to her but each time she did exactly what he told her would sap his great strength. I suppose her excuse was that she wanted to test him to see if she was telling the truth, but you’d think that he would have gotten suspicious after she repeatedly tried to weaken him using the information he gave her.

Foolishly, after all the times she had tried to use his words against him, Samson trusted her and told her the truth. They say “love is blind” but it can also be really stupid, too.

I said that Samson “trusted her and told her the truth” in the paragraph above, but that’s not exactly correct. He told her what he thought the truth was; the real truth was that his strength had nothing to do with his hair. It was God’s spirit coming on him in power that gave him such super-human strength.

But Samson had been disobedient to God repeatedly—marrying a Philistine woman, consorting with a prostitute, and living with a woman he had married. When he started revealing his Nazarite vow, that was when the Lord “left him” (v. 20). It was not the length of his hair or anything else about him as a man that made him so strong. It was the power of God in his life, but his repeated selfishness and sin caused God to withdraw that power from Samson.

This is what happens to us when we stop relying on the Lord and start to arrogantly trust ourselves instead. Although God used Samson for one mighty final act, his story is mostly about how one man presumed on the grace of God and lived his own sinful way, without regard to the consequences in his life.

Instead of cultivating a strong relationship with God, Samson cultivated his sin nature. Instead of becoming the godly leader he could have been, Samson became a tragic figure who was used by God despite his lack of faith, not because of it.

Don’t ever let success in any area of your life be the barometer of your walk with God. Walk with God and let him handle the rest.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones: then whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.