Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, Proverbs 10:1-16

Read Leviticus 9, Isaiah 5, and Proverbs 10:1-16 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

This chapter is more about why God will punish his people for doing wrong than what will happen in the future. One of the many reasons for punishment in this chapter is that God’s people intentionally re-defined morality. They said that good was evil and evil is good. Instead of measuring what is moral by the character of God–the only true righteous standard there is–the people of Judah substituted their own opinions for the genuine will of God. The “woe” pronounced in verse 20 was a statement that God would judge them so they should feel a great sense of angst.

Calling good evil and evil good was not something that only Judah did. In fact, throughout human history people have been trying to substitute our own opinions for the word of God. The same is true today. All kinds of things that God’s word condemns as evil are called “good” by our society. Some examples might be: unmitigated materialism, lying in order to win in politics or business, “open” relationships, same-sex marriage and opposite sex cohabitation without marriage, and many others.

God pronounced a woe on his people here in Isaiah 5 because they had forsaken truth. That’s what the next two phrases in verse 20 say: “…who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” Since God is truth, he is the only true standard for what is true of false, right or wrong. When you reject God and his revelation, you are then left with only your preferences and thought patterns. Since each of us is a sinner, we have a strong tendency to try to rationalize our sins, leaving us with no light but only darkness. God provides us with the light of his truth. If we reject that, the best we can do is to try to redefine truth based on our own preferences. This thrusts us into the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. But, if we humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for his truth, he gives us the light of his wisdom to guide us daily.

It is very easy to point out the ways in which others all evil good and good evil but all scriptural application should start with ourselves. If we rationalize sin in our own lives, we are doing exactly what God pronounces a woe upon in this chapter. Maybe that means “saving money” by not giving to God’s work or using your faithful service in the church as a reason not to attend worship or small group faithfully. Maybe it involves calling gossip a prayer request or a warning to watch out for someone.

Are our lives consistently, even radically, aligned with God’s truth? Or do we re-define or re-interpret truth to relabel our own disobedience?

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and covenant-keeping.
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Matthew 7

Read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Matthew 7 and this devotional which is about Matthew 7, particularly verses 24-27.

As Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, he left us with a memorable image. Two homes were built. One was built on a rock foundation, the other was built on sand.

Both homes were beaten by rough weather.

The one founded on the rock remained; the one with a sandy foundation was not only damaged; it was completely destroyed.

Each house corresponds to a type of person. Both types of people heard the message of Jesus. It was not a question of ignorance versus knowledge. Both had the knowledge they needed.

No, the difference is that one type of person “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.” The other type of person hears the words, too, but never acts in obedience to them.

We need to be continually reminded of this warning because we deceive ourselves into thinking that knowledge is enough. If we know God’s word, we think our lives will be rock solid. Temptations may come, trials may blow, but knowing God’s word will carry us through, right?

Wrong.

We often succumb to temptation or lose our way in trials because we have not obeyed God’s word. Obedience to God’s word is what builds a stable life. Knowledge is important, but not enough.

Is there an area (or more than one) in your life where you are living disobdiently to God’s word? I mean a situation where you know what the right thing to do is but you won’t do it.

And day after day after day you keep choosing to do wrong or, at least, you keep choosing not to do right.

If so, please realize that you are building your life on an inadequate, unstable foundation. When life gets rough, your house will collapse.

Jesus said so.

Be wise and change your mind and your ways today.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 2

Today we’re reading 1 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 2.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time. This was the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was in decline and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians. The difference between them is that Jeremiah prophesied before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and after it fell where as Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell while he was with the other exiles in Babylon (1:1). Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile. Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). God’s people may have rejected his message, but God would not withhold that message from them.

What purpose was served by sending prophets to people who would not listen and repent? The answer is that it removes their excuse and renders them guilty before God (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it. Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can transform a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit. What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes. Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger. The only time we have failed to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 1

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 21-22 and Ezekiel 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul. In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him. What possible reason could have justified David’s lie? It is possible that he was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul but the text gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed. This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul. Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed. Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful.

1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David. According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to prove to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing him still or if he was faithful to his word to Jonathan. Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie
So what do we make of a passage like this?

First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” so that someone else will like us.

Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell.

It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance. But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.

Judges 5, Jeremiah 16

Today, read Judges 5 and Jeremiah 16.

Somehow on Friday I jumped to Jeremiah 18 instead of Jeremiah 16 and I continued this mistake yesterday. So we need to read Jeremiah 16 today and 17 tomorrow and we’ll be back on it by Tuesday. Sorry.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 16:19-21.

The forecast for Judah, according to Jeremiah, continued to be bleak. There was going to be so many deaths from disease, famine, and sword that God told Jeremiah not to get married or have any children (vv. 1-4). Don’t start a family, Jeremiah, because you will lose some or all of them in death. That was God’s word to Jeremiah. Bleak.

Furthermore Jeremiah was prohibited from paying his respects at anyone’s funeral (vv. 5-7) or enjoying a feast at someone’s home (vv. 6-13). When the Lord’s punishment for Judah came, people would be terrified and then many of them would die.

As usual, the Lord made no apology for bringing this punishment. God’s people had forsaken him and done much evil in his sight (vv. 11-12, 17-18). As hard as it is for us to accept, they deserved to be punished by a just and holy God, just as all of us do.

Compounding their sin was the fact that they had the truth. The true Lord, the one real God, had revealed himself to them but they exchanged that for false gods (v. 18).

As bleak as all of this was, Jeremiah held out hope in the Lord and his promises. Someday, he knew, God would restore his people (vv. 14-15) and the knowledge of God would spread throughout the world (v. 19). Those who worship false gods would realize that their gods were false and would come “from the ends of the earth” to know the true God. This is a prophecy of us Gentiles coming to know God through Christ and, when they come, they will not find an angry God who is looking for people to kill. Instead they will find a willing instructor: “I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord” (v. 21).

This is what we’re doing in evangelism. We are exposing the false gods that people worship (v. 20) and calling them to find truth in the LORD. This is the only hope that anyone has for avoiding the justice of our holy God. Better than that, when God has gathered in everyone he will save, we will enter his kingdom together and spend eternity at the feet of a God who said, “I will teach them” (v. 21). Instead of looking at his word as a burden to bear, something to choke down like a vegetable because it is good for us, we will eagerly feed ourselves with God’s nourishing truth and rejoice and be satisfied in his presence as he teaches us.

Who can you share this saving message with in the coming week?