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  • A miracle is when the normal laws of nature are superseded by God’s divine act.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?

1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 44.

The remnant in Judah went to Egypt (v. 1) even though God told them not to do that. They dragged Jeremiah there, too (Jer 43:6c). I’m not sure why they brought him because he did what he had always done, namely, confront their sins and call them to repent.

Recall from Jeremiah 42 that God had promised peace and prosperity for the remnant if they stayed in Judah (42:10) and disaster if they went to Egypt (42:19-22). Despite the fact that God had done exactly what Jeremiah prophesied when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jerusalem, the remnant still went to Egypt in open defiance to God’s word through Jeremiah. Why?

The answer to that question is contained in the way this chapter is framed: a direct confrontation between God and “the Queen of Heaven.” The people of the remnant reasoned that they were better off worshipping the Queen of Heaven. In verses 17b-18 we read, “...we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” So they re-interpreted God’s judgment as a bad consequence for forsaking the Queen of Heaven.

Jeremiah knew that God was more than equal to this challenge. Put God’s word up against the Queen of Heaven and God will win bigly. Verses 27-28 say, “...the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed.... Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand—mine or theirs.”

There are plenty of false religions offering false doctrine today. There are also a bevy of self-help gurus offering much different advice than God’s word does. They preach the message that happiness is not found in Christianity or in dying to self. Instead, they tell us to be true to ourselves, to follow our passions, to find a life that is worth living. In contrast to these false message, the Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The fact that everyone does wrong and suffers for it is daily proof that God’s word is true. Yet people still cling to the idea that truth to improve one’s life is available outside of God, outside of his word, and definitely outside of His church. When sinful life-happiness strategies crash, bringing disaster, sorrow, great pain, and death, God’s word is vindicated. When false doctrines fail to deliver what they promise, God’s word is likewise vindicated.

We cannot help but be exposed to false ideas and doctrines because we live in this world. But, are you believing their lies? Are you taking in those lies in greater number, not incidentally but deliberately? Be warned that God will prove his word to be correct; if you choose to sin because someone else is telling you that sin is the way to happiness, you will pay a heavy price as God’s word proves itself true again.

So, be wise. Believe God’s word and do what it says, even if someone makes a compelling argument for something else.

1 Samuel 5-6, Jeremiah 43

Today we reading 1 Samuel 5-6, Jeremiah 43.

Today’s devotional is about Jeremiah 43.

Yesterday, the remnant of people left in Judah were scared and didn’t know what to do. They vacillated about going to Egypt or staying in Jerusalem. Finally, they asked Jeremiah to pray and ask God to reveal his will. But before Jeremiah prayed, they assured him that they would take whatever God said and do it. Their words were, in Jeremiah 42:5, “‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’”

And God responsed! He promised blessings to them if they remained in the land. What was the reaction? How did the people who pledged so eloquently to “obey the Lord our God” “whether it is favorable or unfavorable?” Their answer was recorded for us in our reading today, Jeremiah 43 verse 2: “Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, “You must not go to Egypt to settle there.”’”

What did they do? “...all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah.... So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord” (v. 4). Our sinful hearts look for ways to sidestep God’s word, reinterpret what it says, claim that it doesn’t apply to us, and find some way to do what we want to do in disobedience to his will. Ultimately, though, we harm ourselves, because breaking God’s laws will bring consequences.

Do you have a heart to accept God’s word, even if “it is favorable or unfavorable?” Can you remember a time when you did what was right even though you wanted to do what was wrong? How did that turn out for you?

1 Samuel 4, Jeremiah 42

Today, read 1 Samuel 4 and Jeremiah 42.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 42.

A carpet remnant is what is left over from carpet installed in a room or hallway. Here in Jeremiah 42, the people who remained in Judah are called a “remnant” (v. 2b) but, honestly, carpet remnants might be worth more than these people were, Jeremiah excepted. I don’t say that to demean them; I say it because back in chapter 39, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, the Babylonians forced the vast majority of people who survived the battle to march to Babylon as exiles. Verse 10 of Jeremiah 39 says, “...the commander of the guard left behind in the land of Judah some of the poor people, who owned nothing; and at that time he gave them vineyards and fields.” So the people left in Judah, the remnant, were not considered high value people. That’s why they were left behind.

In between Jeremiah 39 and 42, this remnant became desperate. They assassinated the man the Babylonians had left to rule over them (40:7-41:3). Then they ran off to Egypt because they were afraid of the repercussions (41:16-18). Now, here in chapter 42, they turned to God for help. They implored Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance about “where we should go and what we should do” (v. 3).

Jeremiah said he would pray for them and tell them what God said (v. 4). Then, in verse 5, the remnant “said to Jeremiah, ‘May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.’” So they made strong, grand promises to do what the Lord commanded, no matter what it was.

God did answer Jeremiah’s prayer (v.7). His answer was:

  • Stay here and I’ll bless you (vv. 8-12)
  • Don’t go to Egypt or “my wrath will be poured out on you” (v. 18).

Jeremiah urged the people to do what God said, just as they promised they would (vv. 19-22). You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what happened because the story continued into the next chapter. But let’s consider what God’s people did here:

First, what happened to them was traumatic. Imagine a foreign nation breaching the walls of your city, killing tons of people and carrying off most of the rest of them to a foreign city. That would be terrifying.

Second, they didn’t know what to do next. These people were left because they were poor. That means either (a) they had some kind of disability that made providing for themselves impossible or (b) they lacked basic intelligence and skill and were therefore incapable of earning a living for themselves. These are the people who were left; the smartest, most gifted one of them (again, excepting Jeremiah) was a failure. They had legitimate reasons to wonder whether or not they would be able to provide for themselves or whether they would starve to death from their own incompetence.

Turning to the Lord for guidance was the exact right move to make. Tomorrow we’ll find out if they actually wanted God’s guidance or if they wanted God’s stamp of approval on what they had already decided to do.

How often do we do the latter--ask for God’s help and guidance but really what we want is for him to approve of our plans? If you or I violate a command or principle of scripture because we think we have some exceptional case but we ask God to “give us wisdom,” we’re not really seeking wisdom but divine favor for our own ways.

God’s word tells us to act differently. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This verse isn’t designed to give us comfort when we make a decision that we’re not sure about. In other words, if we buy a car or house but we’re afraid it might be a bad decision, Proverbs 3:5 isn’t telling us just to trust the Lord and it will work out OK.

No, Proverbs 3:5 is telling us to trust the Lord by doing what he has revealed. So, for instance, if you marry an unsaved person, you’re leaning on your own understanding. It doesn’t matter how much you ask for God’s guidance and help, your prayer is not sincere. It might come from great fear and desperation but it isn’t sincere.

The remnant went to great pains in verses 5-6 to say that they would do whatever God said. Are you fully committed to that--to doing the will of God, obeying God’s word--or is that something you just paste onto the plans you’ve already made in hopes that God will approve?

1 Samuel 3, Jeremiah 41

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Samuel 3 and Jeremiah 41.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 3.

In this chapter, Samuel receives some chilling news about Eli and his sons. Although this was news to Samuel, Eli had heard this prophecy before as we saw yesterday in 1 Samuel 2:27-36.

But the most interesting statement in this chapter is verse 7: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” On one hand, it is difficult to accept that Samuel did not “know the Lord.” He must have heard his mother’s testimony about how God provided him to her as an answer to prayer. More importantly, he served daily in the Tabernacle, seeing the sacrifices offered and hearing God’s word read. There is no way that Samuel was ignorant of the Lord at this point in his life. So why would the text say that he “did not yet know the Lord”? The next phrase is only somewhat helpful: “The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” This may refer to the prophetic word of God which he was about to receive for the first time. But it must mean more than just, “Samuel was not yet a prophet.”

Although I wish the passage said more than it does, it indicates an important truth that is present throughout scripture: people can know God intellectually without knowing him personally. In other words, people can believe that God exists and even have a correct and detailed theology about God. But that is not the same as knowing the Lord personally. Knowing the Lord personally means a direct, personal faith in God. It is a way of life where God speaks to you personally and you speak to him personally. The way in which we speak personally to God is basically the same for all of us—prayer. But the ways in which God speaks to us are different. All those who know the Lord have had the experience of hearing his word with deep conviction. Others may hear the same message from God’s word, but our hearing of it is accompanied by a consciousness that God is speaking directly to us through his word. This happens when someone comes to faith in Christ. A person hears the gospel message that Christ died for our sins, but he doesn’t just believe that as a fact. Instead, he hears that as good news—that Christ died for me; for my sins! This is how someone comes to know the Lord in this age.

As I said, every believer in every age has the experience of hearing God’s word—spoken by a prophet or read from a page and knowing that the message was for him or her in that moment. Throughout the ages God has also spoken more directly, like he did to Samuel in this passage. The important thing is not how miraculously and personally the word of the Lord came to you; the important thing is that God reveals himself to you personally—not as an abstraction, an idea, or even as a personal God but as YOUR God, your Lord, your master, your father who loves you and that you are learning to love. It is unlikely that someone reading this devotional each day might not know the Lord, but it is possible. Samuel heard plenty about God and more than once from God’s word before he knew the Lord personally. Have you come to know and believe in the Lord? Have you trusted his son, Jesus Christ, the one and only way to the Father?

This passage seems to be the beginning of Samuel’s personal relationship with God, for verse 21 says, “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.”

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Today’s we’re scheduled to read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord. Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped of Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy she prayed so earnestly for but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

1 Samuel 1, Jeremiah 39

Today we’re reading 1 Samuel 1, Jeremiah 39.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 39.

In this chapter of scripture we read how God kept his promise to Judah. You can call what happened in this chapter an act of God’s judgment and/or the fulfillment of God’s covenant curse. Either way, God had promised in his law and through the prophets that Judah’s idolatry and sinfulness would cause them to be taken from their land as exiles to a foreign nation. That’s exactly what happened in this chapter through the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (v. 1).

When the Babylonians broke through the wall of Jerusalem and invaded the city (v. 2), the entire nation of Judah was affected. Many people died and many of those who lived were carried off to live in exile in Babylon (vv. 9-10). But this chapter describes the Babylonian captivity through the experience of three men: Zedekiah, king of Judah, Jeremiah the prophet, and Ebed-Melek the Cushite. Let’s look briefly at how each man experienced this traumatic event:

  • Zedekiah could have saved a lot of lives and made his own life easier had he surrendered to the Babylonians as Jeremiah told him to do in 38:17-18. He did not surrender, however, and here in chapter 39:5-7 we read that he was captured, blinded, and taken to Babylon in chains.
  • Jeremiah, by contrast, was left in Judah. Verse 14 says, “So he remained among his own people.” He had treated terribly by his people when he preached the truth to them and urged them to repent. Now, although his nation was in bad shape, at least he was able to live in his homeland.
  • Finally, Ebed-Melek the Cushite was given a promise by God though Jeremiah that he would be rescued from harm when the Babylonians invaded. Verse 18 says, “I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be given into the hands of those you fear. I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life....”

There we have the story of Judah’s defeat as told through the experience of three different men. Two of them escaped the worst of God’s wrath and were able to live out their lives in relative peace. One of them lost everything, including his eyesight. What made the difference in the lives of these men? Verse 18b told us: “‘you... will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord.’” Faith in God and his promises rescued these men from the worst of God’s judgment. They had to deal with some of God’s punishment because that punishment fell on the whole nation and they were there when it happened. But they escaped the worst of it because of their faith in God.

When God promises to deliver us when we trust in him, that is not a blanket promise of a trouble-free life. Jeremiah had a lot of problems in his life because he stood virtually alone in delivering God’s truth. God’s promises to deliver us refer to the outcome of our lives, not every incident in our lives. For Jeremiah and Ebed-Melek, trusting in God meant deliverance from the same fate as most people in their society. For us it means deliverance from God’s eternal wrath because of sin. You may face some difficult problems in life, even problems created by your faith like Jeremiah did. But, take heart, if you trust in God he will deliver you in eternity. God is faithful to his promises; we are called to trust in him to keep those promises and wait for his deliverance.

Ruth 3-4, Jeremiah 38

Ruth 3-4, Jeremiah 38 Today’s readings are Ruth 3-4 and Jeremiah 38.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 38:24-27.

Is it ever right to lie? The ninth commandment commands us not to give false testimony against someone else (Ex 20:16). The first object of this command is in a legal situation when you or I witness a crime or can truthfully be an alibi witness to exonerate someone from a crime. It is always wrong to give false or misleading testimony. You shouldn’t lie to save your friends or family if they’re guilty nor should you lie to get your enemy convicted unjustly.

Like all of God’s commands, however, there are applications beyond the original, primary situation addressed in the command [1]. While the ninth commandment requires us to tell the truth legally, it also teaches us that it is ethically and morally wrong to lie, mislead, and be dishonest. The reason is the same as the one behind the command: when we lie, it is usually to create an unrighteous advantage for ourselves. Here are some examples of that:

  • We lie to make ourselves look better than we are, like Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts 5
  • We lie to cover something sinful or embarrassing that we did, like Sarah did in Genesis 18:15.
  • We lie because we’re afraid of what will happen to us even if we did nothing wrong. Jacob did this in Genesis 26:7-9.

In our passage for today, Jeremiah 38:24-27, Jeremiah is summoned by Zedekiah, king of Judah. He was a constant spiritual opponent of God and his prophet Jeremiah, even imprisoning Jeremiah unjustly in Jeremiah 37. But Zedekiah was also afraid of the possibility that Jeremiah might be right. Here in chapter 38, he consulted privately with Jeremiah to see if surrender to the Babylonians was the wisest move he could make. Spoiler alert: it was.

At the end of their consultation, Zedekiah ordered Jeremiah to lie. Verses 24-26 say,

Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die. 25 If the officials hear that I talked with you, and they come to you and say, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; do not hide it from us or we will kill you,’ 26 then tell them, ‘I was pleading with the king not to send me back to Jonathan’s house to die there.’”

This is a lie. There is no way to fudge it or nuance it away. Zedekiah was a wicked man, so lying was probably his second language. The problem for us is that Jeremiah went along with it and lied just as Zedekiah told him to do. Verse 27 says:

All the officials did come to Jeremiah and question him, and he told them everything the king had ordered him to say. So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king.

What do we make of this?

It doesn’t help us that Zedekiah was worried about Jeremiah. Verse 24 told us that concern about Jeremiah’s life was behind the king’s order because Zedekiah said, “Do not let anyone know about this conversation, or you may die.” It is true that people were out for Jeremiah’s life (see verse 4). It is also true that the king could have ordered the people not to touch Jeremiah, or else. See verse 5 where he gave tacit permission to Jeremiah’s enemies to kill him or let him die in the pit. If they came to Zedekiah for permission to kill Jeremiah, then Zedekiah certainly had the power to forbid him from being harmed, his statement, “The king can do nothing to oppose you” (v. 5) notwithstanding. No, Zedekiah’s dishonest cover story was to protect him because he was afraid of the implications of consulting with Jeremiah, according to verses 5 and 19. So the lie may have helped Jeremiah but it was really more designed for Zedekiah’s sake.

Yet Jeremiah went along with this lie and there is nothing in the chapter to suggest that God was displeased by his lying or that Jeremiah would face any consequences for it. In fact, the end of verse 27 seems to downplay any moral problems with the lie when it says, “So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king.” In other words, “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.” Since the lie was truly harmless, the implication seems to be that it was not wrong.

The bottom line is this: God is truth and his people should speak truthfully. The ONLY exceptions we see in scripture are lies that protect human life without endangering anyone else. That applies in this chapter, in the case of Rahab (Josh 2:4-7), and in the case of the Hebrew midwives who probably didn’t directly lie but did give an answer what was only partially true (Ex 1:18-21).

Unless you’ve lied to protect a life that was in immediate danger, you’ve sinned. Lying may not be the best way to save a life that’s in danger, but God’s word indicates that it is an acceptable way. Every other lie or bit of dishonesty is sin.


[1] Of course, there are plenty of other scripture passages that teach that lying is sinful even in non-legal situations. See this page for a nice list: https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/lying-bible-verses/.

Ruth 2, Jeremiah 37

Today we’re scheduled to read Ruth 2 and Jeremiah 37.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 37:18: “Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, ‘What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?’”

The United States of America has laws in place to protect freedom of speech but, as with every right, the law protects the freedom of speech that God, the creator, gave you and me. It does not grant us that right; our freedom and right to say whatever we want to say is God-given, not America-given or constitutionally-given. The law merely protects that right.[1]

Israel did not have laws that protected freedom of speech but, like us, they had that freedom as a right granted to them by God. The only speech that was prohibited under God’s law was speech that was directly against the true God such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, blasphemy, and enticing someone to serve other gods. Beyond that category, people had the freedom to speak however and whatever they wanted to speak. There is no prohibition of one’s freedom where the law is silent.

Jeremiah’s question, here in Jeremiah 37:18 was, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?” The assumption behind his question was that speaking your mind is not a crime. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to another citizen of Judah or to the king of Judah, speech is not a crime and should not be prosecuted. Jeremiah experienced persecution because he was giving God’s message certainly. However, he also was a political dissident because God’s message was about the coming loss of national sovereignty for Judah and, therefore, the loss of political power for the king (v. 17). The king’s men used a bogus charge of “deserting to the Babylonians” (vv. 13-14) as an excuse censor Jeremiah’s message, as well as to beat, and prosecute God’s prophet unjustly (v. 15). This is what an oppressive government does. If it can’t silence you through threats, intimidation, or directly applicable laws, it will accuse you of violating other laws to punish you instead.

Our world--and our country--is steadily infringing on our rights. College campuses are a current battleground for the infringement of free speech. There are many troubling stories out there. I won’t get into them but you can see for yourself at https://www.thefire.org/newsdesk/. Note that this group is led by political liberals yet they are concerned by the loss of free speech in higher education. College may be the battleground now but as college students graduate and enter the mainstream of society, their distorted notions about speech will change what is considered acceptable and prosecutable in the country at large.

One might object that “college is not the government. The first amendment applies only to the government, not to entities such as colleges or private companies like YouTube/Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.” To counter that objection: First, I would argue that colleges are part of the government because most of these schools rely on federal funds through grants and student loans. Second, in the case of private companies like YouTube and others, we are told that it is morally wrong to discriminate against groups based on ethnicity, gender, “sexual orientation,” or religion. If it is morally wrong to discriminate against these groups, then it is also morally wrong to discriminate against political speech because every group’s ideology has political implications and applications. If it is wrong to exclude women or feminists from these platforms, then it is wrong to discriminate against anyone who has any kind of point of view.

A lot more could be said about all of this but I’ll finish by saying this: If we lose freedom of speech--either by government persecution or by corporate/societal exclusion, then the loss of freedom of religion will follow quickly. That may be God’s will for us; it was for Jeremiah. As Christians, we must be committed to God’s word and willing to say what it says even if we are persecuted for it. But, it is also right and just for us to point out when God’s enemies are violating our God-given rights just as Jeremiah did here.


[1]Keep this in mind whenever you hear someone say that some group, like illegal immigrants, don’t have rights. They do have rights because rights are not granted by the government; instead, they are supposed to be protected by the government. Or, more precisely, the law is supposed to protect everyone’s rights FROM the government or anyone else who would seek to use power to infringe on someone’s God-given rights.

Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and 45

Today’s OT18 readings are Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and Jeremiah 45.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 36 & 45.

Many years ago, I was writing an academic paper that I was supposed to discuss at a conference of scholars on preaching. I was more than 70% finished with the paper when the hard drive on my computer died. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how disheartening it is to lose all your work and have to start over.

Fortunately, I had backed up my hard drive the night before so I didn’t actually lose all my work; I only lost one day’s work on the paper, the pages I had written the day the hard drive died. It was frustrating and created some stress because the deadline was approaching, but it wasn’t as disheartening as starting over from scratch would be.

Here in Jeremiah 36, Jeremiah dictated a sermon to be delivered at the temple (vv. 1-4). Then, because Jeremiah was no longer allowed in the temple, he sent Baruch, the man who wrote down the message Jeremiah dictated, to read the scroll aloud in the temple (vv. 5-8). This message started a season of repentance in Judah (vv. 9-10). Then, some of Judah’s government officials were told about the message and they wanted to Baruch to read it to them (vv. 11-18). Finally, these government officials decided that the king needed to hear these words (vv. 20-21). Baruch and Jeremiah were told to hide so the king, Jehoiakim, had one of his guys read the scroll (v. 22). He was not nearly as impressed (v. 24) by the Lord’s words as the others were; instead, he cut off pieces of the scroll as it was read and burned Jeremiah’s entire message one piece at a time (v. 23). Like having a hard drive crash or having your forthcoming book manuscript burned up in a house fire, Jeremiah had to do the work of dictating the message all over again (vv. 27-30).

Few people would have the audacity to cut pages out of God’s word and burn them. This is doubly true for Christians; most of us don’t even know what to do with our warn our Bibles because we would never throw them in the trash can.

But, when we ignore sections of God’s word or reinterpret parts of it that are distasteful to us, we are doing something similar to what Jehoiakim did when he burned Jeremiah’s scroll. We are reading a heavily-edited copy of the Word, but the editing is done in our minds or in our choices of what to read rather than in real life. This is one reason, by the way, that I do verse-by-verse, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book expository preaching. Preaching the next passage in the Bible prevents me from ignoring the harder passages to interpret or avoiding the passages that might be painful or controversial.

Reading through the Old Testament like this also helps us to get exposure to all of God’s Word, not just the parts that we find comforting. But we can still do our own editing of God’s word by applying and obeying some parts of it while living in disobedience to other parts.

Are there any areas in your life where you are ignoring or avoiding God’s word?

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Today’s readings are Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

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 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 worked somewhat 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 20, Jeremiah 34

Today, read Judges 20 and Jeremiah 34.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 34.

Zedekiah, though he was an ungodly king, had led Israel to free their Hebrew slaves (vv. 8-9). It was never God’s plan to have Jews who were permanently held as slaves in Israel or Judah. Instead, God’s law created a form of indentured servitude. A Jewish person who was in a financial corner could sell himself to another Jewish man for up to six years. On the seventh years, he was to be set free. Jeremiah pointed this out in verse 14. In verse 15-16, he had positive words for how they had freed their Hebrew slaves and even made a covenant with God about it (vv. 8, 15c).

Unfortunately, God’s people broke their covenant with him and took back the very slaves they had freed (v. 16). God prophesied again that they would be taken into exile by the Babylonians (vv. 17-20) as this act of unfaithfulness to the covenant was added to many other sins of the nation.

Entering a covenant to free the slaves was not necessary. They could have simply freed the slaves and honored that verbal decision accordingly. But making that covenant was a good thing, even if it was unnecessary. It is pleasing to God when we resolve to do the things that we know from his word. What isn’t pleasing to God, however, is when we tell God we will do something and then we change our minds and refuse to do it.

Have you told God you would do something--read the Word, tithe, attend church more faithfully, find a way to serve the poor, or something else--and then took it back? I’m not talking about obeying imperfectly; I’m talking about deliberately changing your mind about a good decision you made for God? Jesus died to save us from the covenants we make and break but he also empowers us to keep the covenants we make with God and others. If this passage reminds you of something you promised to God but either changed your mind about or just became lax about, then resolve today to return to that thing and do it for the glory of God.

Judges 19, Jeremiah 33

Today we’re reading Judges 19 and Jeremiah 33.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 33.

Jeremiah 33:3 is one of the better known verses in Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is often assigned in Bible memory programs because of the compelling invitation to prayer it contains: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” This is a great verse on prayer, but like every verse in the Bible, it needs to be interpreted in context. When you read this verse alone, it sounds like a blank check from God. “Just pray and I’ll show you such delightful things that you never knew before.” But what are these “great and unsearchable things”? Before answering that question, Jeremiah reminded us of the situation he was living in. Verse 1 reminded us that he was still a political and religious prisoner in the palace. Verse 4 reminded us that severe judgment was coming to the city of Jerusalem: “They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.”

Yet God was not about to abandon his promise to Israel. After a period of defeat and exile, the people of Jerusalem would “enjoy abundant peace and security” (v. 6) as well as cleansing “from all the sin they have committed against men” (v. 8). There would be great worship in the city: “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.” (v. 9). Though Jerusalem was about to deserted and demolished (v. 10), someday it would be a place of great happiness and joy and worship (vv. 11-12). All of this will happen when Jesus rules on earth over Israel in the period of time we call “the Millennium” (vv. 15-16). So God was calling, through Jeremiah, to his people urging them to pray for the spiritual restoration that would come through the work of Messiah. God wanted to bless his people so much! The joy he wanted them to experience was far beyond what they had ever known. But they needed to call out to him in repentance and call upon him in faith, asking him to make good on the promise. When Israel put their trust in the Lord that wholeheartedly, God would establish his kingdom just as he promised he would (vv. 19-26).

Part of God’s purpose in allowing Israel to live in this unbelief is so that Gentiles, like us, would be gathered into his kingdom as well. But, like Israel, we wait for God’s timing to be accomplished when this great joy will be realized. Until then, we should call on God, as Jesus taught us to do, saying “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” The prayer of Jeremiah 33:3, then, is not that God will do wondrous things in your life today as much as it is urging us to pray for God’s kingdom growth and Christ’s return so that we can experience the beautiful promises of peace, joy, and prosperity described in this passage.

Judges 18, Jeremiah 32

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 18, Jeremiah 32.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 32, from 66in16

In the first section of Jeremiah 32, Jerusalem is in big trouble. Nebuchadnezzar had the city under siege (v. 2), which means he was going to starve the people into surrender. Jeremiah, likewise, was in trouble. Not only was he in Jerusalem, he was incarcerated in the palace (v. 2b-5). While in this predicament, Jeremiah’s uncle approaches him wanting to do business; specifically, he wanted Jeremiah to buy some land from him (v. 8). God had told Jeremiah this would happen (vv. 6-7), so Jeremiah bought the field and made it all official (vv. 9-12). Then Jeremiah had the deed preserved in a clay jar (vv. 14-15). The purpose of this was to demonstrate that God was not finished with Jerusalem. Although he was warning the people that their city would fall to the Babylonians, after 70 years in captivity, God’s people would be returned to this land. Jeremiah’s family, then, would be able to use the field that Jeremiah purchased.

After this, Jeremiah prayed an eloquent, worshipful, God-honoring prayer (vv. 17-25). He praised the Lord as Creator (v. 17a), all-powerful (v. 17b), loving and just (v. 18a-b), exalted and powerful (v. 18c), wise and all-knowing (v. 19), revealing (v. 20), redeeming (v. 21), and covenant-keeping (v. 22). He also acknowledged the guilt of Israel (v. 23), a form of repentance. This is a great, great model for us in our prayers. In a very dire situation, Jeremiah worshipped God personally and specifically and confessed sin before asking for God’s help in verse 24-25.

What is our prayer life like? Is it like ordering in a fast-food drive in? We fly in, demand what we want from God, and expect it to be “hot and ready” when we expect? Or do we take time to love God with our words, asking for his help but acknowledging that his will may be very different from what we want. This is reverent prayer; this is what it means to bow before the Lord, not just symbolically with our posture but in every way submitting ourselves to our almighty master? Are we willing to accept the kind of “no” to our prayers that Jeremiah received in this passage? Can we hold on to his promises even if he waits for generations before keeping them?

Judges 17, Jeremiah 30-31

Today we’re reading Judges 17 and Jeremiah 30-31.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 31:36, “‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.’”

There is a method of interpreting scripture that interprets the promises God made to Israel, the nation, as fulfilled in us, the church. The church, according to this interpretation, is a full replacement for Israel.

There are significant problems to that method of interpretation. A primary problem is the specificity of God’s promises to Israel. Note in verses 38-39 how specific the proper place names are: “... this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah.” How can these specific places be “spiritualized?” If you believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16), then why did God keep making these promises to the nation, including specific places in the Promised Land, if he meant them in some kind of spiritualized way?

The only answer that makes sense and takes these promises seriously is a literal interpretation of them. In the future, after Christ returns, God will re-establish the nation of Israel in the land on earth with Jesus as king. We Gentiles will take part in that kingdom because we’ve been grafted in (Rom 11:13-17) and because it was always God’s plan to include people from all nations, not because we have replaced Israel.

The fact that Jewish people still claim a unique identity is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to these promises. Someday he will make good on every promise. When that happens, his people will be redeemed spiritually (vv. 33-34) and everyone on earth will “know the Lord” (v. 34). Human life will finally be restored to the condition God created us in--holy, devoted to him, and perfect in our faith and obedience. All of this will happen, of course, only by the grace of God: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Judges 16, Jeremiah 29

Today, read Judges 16 and Jeremiah 29.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 29.

After decades of idolatry, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was defeated by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar (v. 1). Jeremiah and other prophets had predicted this defeat as God’s punishment, but his people did not repent. Many Israelites were killed and many were carried off to Babylon to live as exiles in a foreign land. God’s promised land still contained some of God’s chosen people, but they existed in the land as vassals to Babylon.

Here in Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the people who survived and were carried off to Babylon (v. 1). The gist of his letter was, “Thrive in Babylon as much as you can and in as many ways as possible (vv. 4-6) because you’re going to be there for 70 years (v. 10) and then I’ll bring you home.” They were to make Babylon home even to the point of praying for it, its peace and prosperity (v. 7) which is surprising giving the godlessness of the Babylonians.

The point of these instructions was to teach God’s people that this exile would not be over quickly. Imagine if you were a 30 years old or older and read that this exile would last for 70 years. Your life would end in Babylon and your children would probably not live to see Israel again, either. The only hope offered to these Jewish people is that in the future God would redeem and restore them (vv. 10-11) in conjunction with their spiritual renewal (vv. 12-13). This is hopeful in the sense that the people would understand that God had not abandoned his promises to Israel.

This passage can be applied to us in a couple of different ways, at least, but the one I want to highlight in this devotional is one I learned from Dr. John Piper. I would link to the source, but I think it was in some old sermon tape that someone gave me two decades ago.

Anyway, Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ....” We are citizens of heaven but we live here on earth until Jesus returns. In a sense, then, we are like exiles living in a place that is not our home. How should exiles live? Jeremiah 29 tells us. It says that we should “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

This world will never be our promised land but until Jesus returns, it is where we are planted. We should not love this world or its system but we should live a God-glorifying existence here by living a productive life. Your work matters to God, your family life matters to him, and so does the place where you live. So put effort into these things not because they are worth living for but because God is glorified when we live for eternity while also making the most of our lives here within his will and for his glory.

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who...
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to ...um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society--and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; the attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies, but he never led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also...
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

    1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
    1. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
    1. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Judges 14, Jeremiah 27

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 14 and Jeremiah 27.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 27.

God commanded his prophets do some strange things at times. These strange things had a point to them which was to deliver truth in vivid, memorable ways. Here in Jeremiah 27, the prophet is commanded to take the yoke that oxen would wear and put it on his own neck. (v. 2). People used these yokes to get animals to submit to them and plow their fields. The yoke, then, is a symbol of submission. God told the prophet to use this visual aid to teach people that they should just go ahead and submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. It would be easier for everyone and cost many fewer human lives (v. 8) than trying to defeat Nebuchadnezzar outside the will of God (vv. 5-7).

This visual aid is unusual but so was the audience for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God told him to spread this message to “the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah” (v. 3). Most of the time God’s prophets were sent to his people, Israel and Judah. This time God sent his word from the prophet to several nations. That wasn’t unheard of but it was unusual.

The kings of these pagan lands had their own gods so I wonder if they would think it strange that the God of Israel would try to tell them what to do. God anticipated that objection and affirmed his Sovereign right because he is the Creator: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (v. 5).

Other nations have their gods but their gods are fake. Only Israel’s God--our God--is the true God and because he created everything, he has the right to rule everyone and require everyone’s obedience. Keep this in mind when unbelievers tell you that they have their own religion or that they don’t believe the Bible so it is not important what the Bible says. These are attempts to evade their accountability to God but because God is Creator, they are accountable to him. Indeed, everyone on earth will stand before God and answer to him whether they submitted to his word or not.

Every person who ever lived is responsible to obey God’s word. Unbelievers are not off the hook because of their unbelief; to the contrary, their unbelief is one of many ways in which they live in rebellion to the true God. Unbelievers are responsible to obey God but they are not capable of obeying him. Neither are we. This is why we needed Christ to come into the world. He obeyed God for us (we call this his “active obedience”) and to die for our sins (this is his “passive obedience”). Unbelievers don’t get out of accountability by denying God or his word; they avoid God’s judgment by receiving his grace.

Judges 13, Jeremiah 26

Today we’re reading Judges 13 and Jeremiah 26.

This devotional is about Judges 13.

Although they lived in evil times, Samson’s parents certainly feared the Lord. Their reverence for God is visible throughout this chapter. One quick lesson we can take from them is that even in the most evil days there is always someone who loves God and lives by his commands. This is called a remnant in other scripture passages; just as carpet is measured, cut, and used but some is left behind as a remnant, so God always leaves behind some who believe in him.

Anyway, Manoah’s wife received a revelation from someone who “looked like an angel of God, very awesome” (v. 6). After her husband prayed for this one to return (v. 8), God sent this heavenly messenger to both of them (vv. 9-14). Manoah, apparently, thought he was talking talking to a prophet or something because he offered the messenger food (vv. 15-16) and “did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord” (v. 16e). When he asked this messenger for his name he was told, “It is beyond understanding” (v. 18). This should have been a strong clue that the “man” they were talking to was the Lord God himself. It wasn’t, however, until “the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame” (vv. 19d-20b). At that point, Manoah and his wife knew what was going on. They fell down in worship (v. 20c) and said in verse 22, “‘We are doomed to die...! We have seen God!’” Notice that neither God nor the writer of Judges disputed Manoah’s interpretation. His wife knew that they wouldn’t die (v. 23) but nobody refuted the statement that they had “seen God.” Why not? Because this is one of a few places in the Old Testament where God appeared in human form.

Theologians call these kind of visitations by God “theophanies” “Theo-“ means “God” and the rest of the word comes from a Greek word that means “to show.” This certainly is a theophany; however, it is more correct to call it a “Christophany,” which when Christ, the 2nd person of God, shows up in human form. The fact that this is a theophany is easy to see in verse 22 in the phrase, “We have seen God!” But how do we know that this was Christ and not God the Father or the Holy Spirit?

The answer is that Christ is called “the Word” in John 1:1 which describes his divine role in the Trinity. Christ’s role is to reveal God, to be the mediator between God and creation. Anytime God reveals himself directly to humanity, then, Christ is the one making that revelation. Colossians 1:15-16 told us that “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” These passages teach the communication role that Christ plays in the Three Persons of God.

I wrote, regarding Joshua 5, that the “‘commander of the Lord’s army’ was Jesus himself but I didn’t explain why I believe it was Jesus and not the Father or the Spirit. Today’s devotional allowed me to return to this subject and explain a bit more about how God revealed himself in Christ in the Old Testament. Note that Jesus was not yet fully human; that didn’t happen until the virgin conception. But he appeared in human form as part of his role as the Word, the Logos, the communication of God to us.

Judges 12, Jeremiah 25

Today, read Judges 12 and Jeremiah 25.

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 indicate 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 this shows us that 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, Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. This is 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 political situations mean 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 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 are people 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. These are the kinds of conditions 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 world has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, go to war against nations that have not attacked us and people who vote for that party love it. 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 Obama. 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).