2 Samuel 17, Daniel 7, Proverbs 22:17-29

Read 2 Samuel 17, Daniel 7, and Proverbs 22:17-29 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

Over the past few chapters in 2 Samuel, David has been reaping the bad harvest of the sin seeds he sowed in his adultery with Bathsheba.

Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 12:10: “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The “sword,” a metaphor for violence, showed up when David’s son Amnon raped David’s son Tamar and when Absolom retaliated by killing Amnon in chapter 13. In chapters 14-15a Absolom began positioning himself to challenge David as king. Then he did attempt to overthrow David as king in 2 Samuel 15b-16.

Here in chapter 17, David was running for his life and Absolom was seeking wisdom for how to defeat his father and solidify his hold on the kingdom of Israel. Absolom consulted two men for advice. Both had been advisors to David and were known to be men who gave wise advice. We do not know why Ahithophel began to advise Absolom instead of David but the advice Ahithophel gave was shrewd and accurate and would have benefited Absolom had he chosen to follow it.

The other advisor, Hushai the Arkite, was secretly loyal to David and, consequently, gave different advice to Absolom than Ahithophel gave. God was working in all of this, both through the presence of Hushai and the inclination of Absolom to listen to him. Verse 14 says, “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.” 

The book of Proverbs advises us to seek and follow the advice of wise counselors and Ahithophel certainly qualified. But it is better to be on the Lord’s side than to have the best advisors in the world. Absolom could not win because his cause was unjust, selfish, and opposed to the will of God. God had made an everlasting covenant with David and the Lord would not fail to keep his side of the bargain. The best tactics, strategy, advice, and execution will be ineffective if it is not aligned with what God has chosen to do. 

When you make decisions and seek advice, do you filter that advice according to scripture? Are you thinking about the commands of God and the moral truths his word teaches first before you follow the advice you are given? As Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” So seek and follow wise counsel, by all means, but remember to consult God’s word as your first and primary counselor. 

1 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 31, Philippians 3

Read 1 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 31, and Philippians 3. This devotional is about Ezekiel 31.

This portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy was directed to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God began by favorably describing Pharaoh’s majesty (v. 2) but then pointed Pharaoh to the nation of Assyria (v. 3). Remember that the Assyrians were once a world power before the Babylonians came along. In fact, it was the Assyrians who defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God used them as an agent of judgment for Israel but they conquered many other Middle Eastern nations as well. The Assyrians were fierce warriors and cruel to their enemies. People and nations feared them, so they had a lofty position, like “a cedar in Lebanon” (v. 3a). Verses 3-9 poetically described the greatness of the Assyrian empire but then in verses 10-11, God described how he punished the Assyrians because they were proud of all they had attained. 

At the end of this description of Assyria’s greatness and downfall, God applied the lesson of Assyria to the Egyptians. Verse 18a says, Yes, you are great. If you were a tree, you’d be mightier than any tree in the Garden of Eden.” Verse 18b, however, says, “Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below; you will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword. “‘This is Pharaoh and all his hordes, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” 

So what was the point of this chapter? It was that Egypt should learn a lesson from Assyria. Egypt was great, yes, but so was Assyria once. Yet God cut them down like a lumberjack fells a tree and he would do the same to Egypt, too, unless they repented. 

There are three ways to become wise: (1) Fear God, believe his word and obey it. (2) Despise God, disobey his Word, then watch as he brings the consequences into your life that he promised for disobedience. (3) Notice how God keeps his promises when he punishes others for their sins and repent because you learned a lesson from them. Egypt had the opportunity to be wise in the third way, but they did not repent at the Word of the Lord from Ezekiel.

You and I should learn from Egypt’s bad example. When we see others sin and suffer the consequences, we should repent if we’re involved in that sin or avoid that sin if we are tempted. If you think you can commit the same sins as someone else but that you will escape the consequences, you are a fool. So learn the lesson of Assyria that the Egyptians failed to learn or learn from the Egyptians. Avoid the sins that destroy the lives of others and, if you’re already involved in them, repent now and ask for God’s mercy.

Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, Acts 27

Today read Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, and Acts 27. This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead had showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That helped but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership.

When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other: overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, Romans 16

Read Judges 12, Ezekiel 1, and Romans 16 today. This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15).

I wrote that these men were “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family–thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses suggest a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So, the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil.

Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan (v. 9b), Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. That would have been good for trade and commerce, too.

Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful. Dull times politically result in stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper-serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So, evidence suggests that God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring.

Those are the kinds of leaders we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our country has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, and go to war against nations that have not attacked us. The people who voted for that party love it, too. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views.

I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Personally, I’d like to see Washington become a lot less relevant to everything and a lot more boring. I’d prefer any of these guys Ibzan, Elon, or Abdon to The Donald or Hilary or Obama or Biden or Notorious AOC.

I think God would, too. Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

Judges 3, Jeremiah 49, Proverbs 17:15-28

Read Judges 3, Jeremiah 49, and Proverbs 17:15-28 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 17.

One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor.

Proverbs 17:18

When I was in seminary, I was a volunteer assistant pastor at a small church in Lansing. There was a woman who was a member of the church and her brother also attended. The woman was married and had several children; her brother was single. For some reason that I can’t remember, he became unemployed. He didn’t have a lot of expenses except for a $700 a month payment for a new truck he had purchased. It turned out, though, that his sister and her husband had co-signed the loan for that truck so, when he couldn’t pay, they became responsible for those high monthly payments.

My guess is that this couple wanted to do something kind for the woman’s brother. She was older–maybe she’d always mothered him a little bit. Maybe he really wanted that truck and had enough income to afford the monthly payment but was too much of a credit risk for anyone to extend him an auto loan. Instead of saving the money to buy it, he asked or convinced or guilted his sister and brother-in-law into helping him get the financing he couldn’t get for himself. I don’t really know what the backstory is but I do know that the husband and wife in this situation made a decision to help her brother that they later regretted.

That’s what is going on here in Proverbs 17:18. When verse 18 says, “One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge…” it is describing a third party (like the woman and husband in my story) who promises to guarantee someone else’s loan.

The idea is that Fred the Farmer wants to buy a new plow for his field. After the next harvest, he’ll be able to pay for it but he wants it now for this year’s planting. Peter, the Plow Salesman, agrees to let him have the plow in May with full payment due sometime in November but Peter insists that he has someone else guarantee payment. Fred the Farmer comes to you and says, “I can totally pay for this myself after the harvest. You’re at no risk. Would you mind putting up your mule as collateral for this loan?”

Proverbs 17:18 says you have “no sense” if you do that. The final phrase in that verse, “and puts up security for a neighbor” makes the same point. If you guarantee someone else’s debt, you are making an unwise decision.

Usually there is a good reason why someone like Pete the Plow Salesman wants a third party to guarantee payment. Maybe Fred the Farmer is already deeply in debt and Pete the Plow Salesman doesn’t want to be the last creditor to be paid. Certainly Fred the Farmer is broke, otherwise he’d have saved the money and paid for the plow in cash. But you and I might not think about those risks when someone asks us to help them, especially if that someone is your mother or father-in-law or sister or son or nephew or close friend from way back in high school. We tend to trust people we love and our love for them makes us want to help. So it is hard to say no when someone asks you to put your finances at risk.

But Solomon warns us here not to let our desire to be liked and to be helpful deceive us into a bad situation.

Deuteronomy 27, Jeremiah 19, Proverbs 15:18-33

Read Deuteronomy 27, Jeremiah 19, Proverbs 15:18-33 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 15:18-33.

“It’s for your own good” is a phrase that people say when they are about to say something you won’t like. Oftentimes, they’re not really saying for your good but as justification for the verbal punishment they are about to let you have.

Every one of us hates criticism. It hurts to receive and often feels unfair. Yet the Bible says that wisdom comes through hearing critical feedback and changing your life accordingly. Verse 31, which we read today says, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.” If you receive criticism–even harsh, punishing criticism–and learn something from it, you will become a wiser person.

By contrast, verse 32 says, “Those who disregard discipline despise themselves….” We do ourselves no favors–and lots of harm, really–when we hit back at our critics and refuse to receive anything they say. The path of wisdom is found through correction; wise is the man who listens carefully to any criticism and tries to learn and get better from it.

Is that who you are? Ask God for the grace to grow through the negative encounters we have with others in our lives.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 57, Proverbs 13:15-25

Read Numbers 34, Isaiah 57, Proverbs 13:15-25 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 13, specifically:

“Good judgment wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful leads to their destruction. 16 All who are prudent act with knowledge, but fools expose their folly.”

– Proverbs 13:15-16

These two proverbs speak to how we make decisions.

The first proverb, 13:15, talks about the choices that we make in life. “Good judgment” in this proverb is contrasted with “the way of the unfaithful.” By calling it “the way of the unfaithful,” Solomon is indicating is a pattern of choices. The pattern of choices someone makes leads them down a path–“the way.” All of us use poor judgment at times in our lives and that leads us to make bad choices accordingly. But there is a difference between taking a wrong turn but correcting it and making one wrong turn after another. The “unfaithful” has a habit of making bad choices. He or she shows poor judgment over and over again. The “unfaithful” in verse 15 is a description of unfaithfulness to God’s word. That indicates a person who leaves behind a pattern of sinful choices. At the end of the road for that person is “destruction”–a destination nobody wants for his or her life.

The contrast to the destructive way of the unfaithful is the person who shows “good judgment” (v. 15a). Because it is contrasted with “the way of the unfaithful,” “good judgment” probably also refers to a pattern of decisions but in this case it is a pattern of good decisions, moral decisions, decisions that are informed by God’s word and obedient to his commands. And what happens to the person who shows “good judgment?” That person “wins favor.” God’s favor is certainly included in this but I think Solomon left the identity of the one who is favorable unspecified because both God and people look favorably on those who live morally good lives.

Have you ever been to a funeral where hardly anyone else showed up and those who did struggled to find something good to say about the deceased? Those who are disobedient to God’s commands may find prosperity. They may be fun to be around at times and may seem cool for being so carefree. But one by one, sinful decisions stack up and leave a lack of trust, hurt feelings, a bad reputation, and a lonely decline and end.

So how does one avoid the way of the unfaithful that leads to destruction? How do you become a person who wins favor by having good judgment?

Verse 16 supplies the answer:

All who are prudent act with knowledge,
    but fools expose their folly.

– Proverbs 13:16

You show “good judgment” (v. 15) by getting knowledge before you act. That knowledge causes “prudent” actions. Seek wisdom, get knowledge–from God’s word, from godly parents, from wiser, godly friends and mentors. Then you’ll have the knowledge to act prudently, show good judgment, and win favor in life.