1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5

Today, our schedule calls for us to read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5.

This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on.

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can do rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture.

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves. Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23).

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “...let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about ti? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things--church attendance, etc.--are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.

1 Chronicles 5-6, Amos 4

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Chronicles 5-6 and Amos 4.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 5:1-2.

As you’ve already noticed, the book of 1 Chronicles begins with a massive genealogy that goes from Adam (1:1) through Saul, the first king of Israel (9:44). Here in chapter 5:1-2, the author of 1 Chronicles reminds us of Genesis 49 where we learned that Israel (Jacob)’s first born son, Reuben, lost his birthright because he had sex with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives (35:22). Israel used that incident to justify giving the right of firstborn to Joseph’s sons (v. 2b).

Reuben’s sin was costly to himself but that cost was carried forward and passed on to the generations that followed him. Did Reuben think he would get away it? Did he think at all or just follow his impulses? I don’t know the answer but I can’t help but wonder if he would have sinned with his stepmother if he knew what the price would be.

That’s how sin works, isn’t it? It never tells us the price up front and, because we all find our fallen nature so persuasive, we seldom think about what the cost of sin might be for us. Sin deludes us into thinking that we’ll never be discovered. It is only after the pleasure is gone and the consequences are revealed that we see how foolish our sinful decisions were.

I wonder how many other generations, besides Reuben’s, throughout human history have been altered by the sin of one man like Reuben. I wonder how many of us are leaving a legacy of damage to our children and their children for sins that we commit.

Thankfully, one of Judah’s descendants would come along and make peace with God for all our sins. That descendant, of course, is Jesus. Through his loving sacrifice we have forgiveness by faith which keeps us from the ultimate consequences of our sin--the wrath of God. But even though God has removed the ultimate penalty for sin, sin damages us in this life and, at times, can have ripple effects throughout generations that follow us.

God has graciously given us in his word examples of how people sinned throughout history and how much that sin cost them. Do we believe God’s word and prepare ourselves to say no to sin when temptation comes? Are you moving toward a course of sinful actions in your life that could affect generations after you? Learn from Reuben’s folly and repent before the damage is done.

1 Chronicles 3-4, Amos 3

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Amos 3.

This devotional is about Amos 3.

Judgment is coming to Israel but in this chapter God tells his people that they shouldn’t be surprised when it arrives. The chapter begins by reminding Israel that God chose them to be blessed and rescued them from Egypt (vv. 1-2a). Then in verses 3-6, God’s prophet reminds the people that things happen for a reason. Specifically:

People don’t randomly walk side by side; the reason they walk side by side is that they have agreed to take a walk together (v. 3). Lions don’t roar when they are hunting; that would scare off their prey. The reason they roar is that they have caught something and want to keep others from trying to take it (v. 4). Birds don’t fly into traps; they get caught in traps because they are drawn there by bait (v. 5a-b). The trap doesn’t close on its own; rather, the reason it closes is that something has taken the bait (v. 5c-d). When someone sounds an alarm, people get scared because the alarm was triggered by incoming armies. When you have a live person blowing the trumpet’s alarm, you don’t get alarm malfunctions or need drills like we have. So people had a reason to be scared when they heard the sound of a trumpet.

So, things usually happen for a reason and the reason that Samaria would fall and Jerusalem would, too, later is that “the Lord caused it” (v. 6d).

The good news, though, is that God warns his people before he sends judgment on them. That’s the message of verse 7, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” The rest of the chapter goes on to tell the people, again, that God has warned them through his prophets. The implication, then, is that they should repent.

People don’t like messages of judgment. Who would? No fortune cookie will tell you that within a year you’ll be dead of cancer. Who would want to read that? Some people would complain to restaurant’s management if they got a fortune like that. But if you were dying from cancer and didn’t know it, that’s exactly the message you’d need to hear, like it or not. An accurate diagnosis gives one a chance to avoid the inevitable disaster.

God has left us in this world to make disciples but also to warn the world of God’s coming judgment. People complain and call us unloving when we talk about sin, judgment, and hell; they should understand that the message of warning is a gracious act of God. On the day of judgment no one will escape by saying, “I didn’t know I was guilty before God.” On the contrary; many will have as part of their condemnation the fact that they heard the warning of God’s word and ignored it.

If you are reading this and have not come to faith in Jesus, please listen to the warnings of God’s word and turn to him in faith and repentance now. If you’ve already become a Christian, please don’t avoid talking about God’s justice and the need that everyone has for forgiveness.

1 Chronicles 1-2, Amos 2

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2 and Amos 2 today.

This devotional is about Amos 2

What made idols so attractive to God’s people? What benefit did they get out of worshipping pieces of wood and stone? What was so powerfully compelling about their theology that all the prophets, judges, and many kings could not root idolatry out of Israel?

There are several answers to that question but a powerful one is alluded to in Amos 2:7d-8b: “Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.” Those verses suggest that idols were attractive because “worshipping” them involved sex. It was immoral and against God’s law to commit adultery but, according to these false religions, you could have sex with someone else beside your spouse as part of your offering to a false god. This activity was wicked in God’s sight, as we see here Amos 2 but it was acceptable in the culture at large when it was done as an act of worship.

No wonder God’s people were so devoted to this type of false worship. “Sex sells,” as the advertising proverb goes. There are no false religions in our setting, that I know of, which offer sex as part of the liturgy. But, as you know, sex is used to sell products, to sell movie tickets, and to get plays on music videos. Sex is also packaged and sold as a product in itself through pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs. Our world is as interested in and as obsessed with sex as any generation in human history has been; sex is now the idol instead of being a feature of worshipping an idol.

The Bible commands us not to commit adultery or fornication but it also commands us not to lust after other people sexually. Loving and serving God requires us to guard our hearts and our eyes and to remind ourselves continually that our bodies belong to God and to our spouse.

Have you drifted into sexual sin or flirted with it in your mind? Are you careful about what you see and where your mind goes when it wanders? Are you thinking inappropriate thoughts about someone in your life who is not your spouse? Have you acted on those thoughts at all? Let this fragment of two verses this morning turn your mind in repentance toward God. Ask him to purify your heart and be obedient to that desire in how you act toward others, think, and look. Don’t join the idolatry of adultery; ask God to help you glorify him with your mind and body.

2 Kings 25, Amos 1

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 25, Amos 1.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 25.

Judah’s final defeat to the Babylonians was recorded in this chapter. Although the Babylonians were ruthless to the people of Judah, their ruthlessness was militarily shrewd. Consider:

Before invading Jerusalem, the Babylonians used a siege to starve the city, weakening both the bodies of Judah’s army and the spirit of everyone in Jerusalem (vv. 1-3). After Zedekiah, king of Judah failed to escape Jerusalem (v. 4), the Babylonians killed Zedekiah’s sons (v. 7a). So, there would be neither heirs to his throne nor retaliation from his family. Then the Babylonians blinded the king and made him a prisoner (v. 7b). The Babylonians then invaded Jerusalem and burned down “every important building” (v. 9c)--the Lord’s temple and the king’s palace included (v. 9). This signaled both complete spiritual and military domination. But before burning the temple, the Babylonians destroyed all of the furniture used in the worship of God (v. 13). They also carried away all the valuable things they found in the temple (vv. 14-17). But, that’s not all; the Babylonians rounded up key leaders in the temple worship (v. 18) and in the government (vv. 19-20). They forced these men to march to Nebuchadnezzar who ordered them executed (v. 21).

All of this was designed not only to defeat Judah but to grind their faces in the dust and emphasize to them that they had been decimated in every way--militarily, spiritually, and administratively.

Then the Babylonians sent in an administrator who promised they would be safe as long as they submitted to Babylon (vv. 22-24).

So here we have God’s chosen people and their Davidic king utterly defeated and humiliated by a pagan foreign nation. We understand that all of this happened because of Judah’s idolatry and disobedience to God. But why did God allow it to happen in such a brutal, thoroughgoing way?

The answer is that God wanted to show his people something that Jesus told his disciples hundreds of years later: “Without me you can do nothing.” Jesus said that in John 15:5 but God’s people proved it to be true over and over again.

God’s promise to his people was that in His will they would be unbeatable but outside of his will they would live in constant defeat. God still had plans for redemption for his people, but first he wanted them to experience absolute destruction without him.

As Christians, we don’t operate in a political and military context but the principle underneath this passage is as true for us as it was for Zedekiah and the rest of the people of Judah. We must trust God and be obedient to his commands if we will have any power in this life, any success spiritually. Are you living your Christian life in obedience to God’s word? Have you suffered some defeats and setbacks that might indicate your need to depend on God?

2 Kings 24, Joel 3

Today, read 2 Kings 24 and Joel 3.

This devotional is about Joel 3.

“How can a good God allow so much evil and injustice in the world?” This is one common question that opponents to our faith ask.

A big part of the answer is described here in Joel 3. Put simply, “God doesn’t. He does not allow any evil or injustice in the world” in the absolute sense. Instead, those who do any kind of evil or injustice at all are storing up judgment (Rom 2:5) for themselves. God is long-suffering and patient, so his wrath has not yet been turned on this world.

But it will be. Joel 3 describes one day in which God’s wrath will fall. Verse 2 says this to all the nations that abused Israel: “I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel....”

After this trial that God promised in verse 2, how many will find themselves guilty and receive God’s punishment as a result? Verse 14 says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” The Valley of Decision is not where people decide for or against God. It is the place where God dishes out what HE has decided; namely, the sentence of judgment he handed down to the guilty when he put them on trial in verse 2.

This passage specifically warns the nations that oppressed Israel but plenty of other passages in scripture show us that God will judge every sin and every sinner. The only escape will be God himself. Yes, the one who is angry, vengeful, and judging to those who oppose him will lay down his arms of war and open his arms of love. He will protect his people from the wrath poured out on the wicked. Verse 16d-e says, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” By grace God has grafted many Gentiles into the category called “his people.” By that same grace he not only rescues us from the coming wrath (1 These 1:10) but he pours out his love and provision on us instead (vv. 17-20 here in Joel 3).

All of the blessings of protection from God’s wrath and provision and prosperity for eternity comes to us through Christ. He bore God’s wrath for us so that, by grace, we could escape these terrible Day of the Lord events. Passages like this one remind us of what Christ has accomplished for us; they also remind us that God has given us the responsibility to spread this message of grace to the world until he comes.

Who could you reach out to with the grace of the good news this week?

2 Kings 23, Joel 2

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 23 and Joel 2.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 23.

The phrase, “Too little, too late” is a cliché that is self-explanatory. If you don’t pay your electric bill for months, then try to hand over $5 when someone comes to turn off your power, you are living the cliché.

Josiah’s reforms came too little to avoid God’s judgment on Judah (v. 25). Josiah cannot, however, be charged with doing “too little.” Verse 25 says, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” Josiah was a true reformer, a devoted servant of God who did everything in his power to live according to God’s law and lead God’s nation according to that law. The list of things that Josiah had to do in this chapter to excavate idolatry from Judah is incredible. Consider:

v. 4: He ordered the removal “from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem....” (v. 4 c-d). v. 5: “He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places....” v. 6: “He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there.” v. 7a: “He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord....” v. 7b: He also tore down “the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah.” v. 8b: Josiah “desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense....” v. 10: “He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek.” v. 11a: “He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun.” v. 11c: “Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.” v. 12: “He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz....”

[You get the idea. This list keeps going through 20, then more reforms are mentioned in verses 24-25.]

This list shows us how deeply rooted idolatry was in Judah, the land where 8 good kings reigned after Solomon. All of this work followed publicly reading God’s word (v. 2d) which, amazingly, had been lost for years in God’s own temple. After reading God’s word, Josiah led his nation to re-affirm their commitment to the covenant described in God’s word (v. 3). The actions he took in this chapter were acts of obedience that flowed from the covenant renewal he and the people of Judah pledged themselves to.

Have you ever made a commitment to God to (1) start tithing (2) stop sinning in some way (3) start reading his word daily and praying or to do something else? Commitments are great; they are often part of growing in grace. But once the commitment has been made, we have to show up and do the work of rooting out the old sins and idols and habits. If you’re like me, you’ve made many decisions before the Lord that you never followed through on. Why not? Because making the decision to repent feels like reformation; it isn’t. It is just the beginning of change, not the end.

What commitment to the Lord needs to be carried out in your life? Do the thorough acts of obedience described in this chapter encourage you to make some changes in your own life?

2 Kings 22, Joel 1

Today's OT18 readings are 2 Kings 22 and Joel 1.

This devotional is about Joel 1.

The prophet Joel tells us little about himself and it is difficult to know from his prophecy when exactly he lived and spoke the Lord's word. It seems likely that Joel ministered after God's people returned to the land under Cyrus, king of Persia. All of the prophecies about the Northern Kingdom's defeat to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom's exile by the Babylonians had been fulfilled. So, too, had God's promise to return his people to the promised land.

Even though the exiles were over, God's people were not immune from problems and suffering. Joel 1 describes a different kind of disaster than the military defeats the other prophets foretold. In verses 2-4 we are told that locusts had invaded the land and devastated the crops. Wave after wave (v. 4) of locusts came until there was no harvest left. This left God's people in dire economic circumstances. They had no grain, vegetables or fruit to eat and none to sell (v. 11). They still had animals, but what would they eat (v. 13)? In a farming-based economy, this would mean starvation and economic ruin for the whole nation.

Joel calls to the leaders of the land--the elders (v. 2) and priests (v. 13) to turn to God at this time (v. 19). This is one human resopnse to a problem like this; the other is to reject God, to curse him and die as Job's wife counseled him to do in another time and place.

What is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to you? Losing a war against a world power like Israel did to Samaria and Judah did to Babylon would be devastating. None of us reading this have experienced anything like that, thankfully.

But have you faced an economic wipeout--bankruptcy, unempoloyment, or something else? Did it bring you before the face of God in prayer, pleading for his help or did it make you bitter against him, turning away from him in anger?

God allows many kinds of trials into our lives (James 1:2-12). They are all designed to reveal whether we really love and trust him or if we say and act as if we love and trust him while things are good. In other words, trials reveal who the true believers are and who thinks they are a believer when they are not.

But trials also refine the faith of true believers. They show us where our faith in God is weak and teach us to fully depend on him and not on ourselves so much. If you're experiencing any kind of trial right now, how is your response to it? Does Joel's call to come before the Lord speak to you about your need to lean on the Lord more than ever at this time?

2 Kings 21, Hosea 14

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 20 and Hosea 14.

This devotional is about Hosea 14.

This chapter is yet another plea from one of God’s prophets to God’s people to repent of their sins (vv. 1-3) and serve God alone (v. 8a-b). Sandwiched between these two elements are the ardent promises of God to “love them freely” (v. 4) and cause the nation to blossom (v. 5b, 7c) and flourish (v. 7b).

With promises like these, repeated over and over and over by God’s prophets, why didn’t God’s people at least try it? Why--with few exceptions--did generation after generation follow idols and forsake the Lord?

The answers are in verse 9: “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” The sinfulness, the rebellion that comes naturally to our human hearts causes us to stumble over God’s commands. We are unable to “walk in them” until we are righteous and only God can declare and make someone righteous.

This is the BIG lesson of the Old Testament. God makes promises and teaches humanity his ways but humanity rebels against God and stumbles in his ways unless God breathes new life into our dead spirits. The Israelites should have read the words of these prophets and cried out to God for help to overcome the rebellion of unbelief. Instead, people rejected God’s word or tried to cobble together their own religion of Judaistic “good works” plus something else like Baal worship. Note that before God said the righteous would walk in his ways in verse 9 he first said in verse 4, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely....”

If you find yourself trying to live the Christian life but failing, this is what you need. You need to cry out for the righteousness of God and the new life he gives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is what our kids need, our friends need, our neighbors need; it is what we all need. We don’t need to try harder to walk in God’s ways or reduce God’s ways to a list of requirements. We need God’s grace and the righteousness of Christ given to us by faith.

Then we will grow and flourish and blossom and show all the other signs of life and blessing that are described in this chapter. Then God will be glorified in us and we will bless us “like the dew” (v. 5).

2 Kings 20, Hosea 13

Read 2 Kings 20 and Hosea 13 today.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 20.

The most outstanding quality Hezekiah had was his ability to pray. In verses 1-11 of this chapter, Hezekiah gets some kind of deathly illness (v. 1) which involved a boil on his skin (v. 7). Isaiah came along and told him to meet with his estate attorney immediately because he was going to die and not recover (v. 1).

Unlike all the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah actually believed the word of the Lord’s prophet. He did not order Isaiah to be imprisoned like Jeremiah was or killed like Jezebel tried to do to Elijah. Instead, he accepted that Isaiah’s words were God’s word.

Next, he didn’t argue with God or try to say that God’s will was unjust. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23a). Hezekiah was a sinner, therefore he was going to die someday, somehow. We live different amounts of time but we all are destined to die by some method at some time. This was Hezekiah’s time and the illness was the way. Hezekiah accepted that as true.

But he didn’t believe that it had to be true. Instead, he believed in the power of God. His first instinct, then, was to turn to God in prayer. HIs prayer is simple--“Remember, Lord” (v. 3). He did not claim perfection or any right to healing but Hezekiah did remind the Lord that he had lived a faithful, devoted life. He also reminded God that, as Judah’s leader, he did “what is good in your eyes” (v. 3). So personally and “professionally” Hezekiah could say that he had done the will of God.

And that’s it. That’s all he told God in his prayer. He did not directly ask for God’s healing; instead, he said, “remember me” and how I have lived my life and led your people.

God knew what Hezekiah wanted and how sincerely, based on his tears, he wanted it. So God both healed him (v. 7), promised him both another fifteen years of life (v. 6a) and deliverance from Assyria, the nation that had swallowed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God also performed a miracle, the first daylight saving time fallback (vv. 10-11) to confirm Isaiah’s word.

All of this was accomplished because Hezekiah prayed.

There is no guarantee that God will answer your prayers or mine in this way. Honestly, there was no guarantee that he would answer Hezekiah this way. Hezekiah was the recipient of God’s goodness and love, not a shrewd negotiator with the Almighty.

So there are no guarantees. But. What might be different in your life if you prayed like Hezekiah prayed in this passage?

2 Kings 19, Hosea 12

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 19 and Hosea 12.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 19.

Hezekiah had a child-like simplicity as we saw in today’s passage from 2 Kings 19. Yesterday we read that, after the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians, the Assyrians made a play for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, too. At first Hezekiah tried to buy them off, but that was merely a temporary fix. The Assyrians returned and wanted total surrender; they laid siege to Jerusalem, cutting off the food and water and urged the people to surrender.

Chapter 19 continued the story and told us that Hezekiah had a very simple response: he turned to God for help. His first act was to demonstrate his complete humility and dependence on God (v. 1). Was it dignified for the king of Judah, one of David’s descendants, to tear his clothes and put on sackcloth? Of course not; Hezekiah was more concerned about the gravity of the situation than he was with maintaining his dignity. Hezekiah’s second act was to contact Isaiah and ask him to pray (vv. 2-4). Note that Hezekiah understood what was at stake. The Assyrians were not merely trying to defeat Judah in war; they were attacking Judah’s God as much as they were attacking Judah’s capital city (v. 4). Hezekiah suggested in his message to Isaiah that God might intervene because of the blasphemy spoken by Assyria’s commander. That’s key to understanding what happened later.

Isaiah responded to Hezekiah’s message with an encouraging word: Don’t be afraid of their blasphemy; this Assyrian king Sennacherib will abandon his siege when he gets concerning news from home (vv. 5-7). This prophecy through Isaiah began to be fulfilled immediately (v. 8), but Sennacherib did not leave the siege without petitioning Hezekiah—in writing—to surrender (vv. 9-13). This led to Hezekiah’s third response to threat of the Assyrians which was to pray directly to God for help (vv. 14-19). God responded through Isaiah with a direct answer to prayer (v. 20) and a prophecy of the downfall of Sennacherib (vv. 21-28). God’s words to Sennacherib were to defend his glory against the blasphemous boasts of the Assyrian king (vv. 21-26) followed by two direct promises. The first direct promise was that Sennacherib would retreat because of what the Lord would do (vv. 27-28). The second direct promise was that Hezekiah and his kingdom would thrive again because of the Lord’s blessing (vv. 29-34). True to his word, the Lord defeated the Assyrians supernaturally (v. 35) causing Sennacherib to retreat as the Lord had prophesied (v. 36). Finally his own sons consipired against him and killed him (v. 37).

So Hezekiah was a simple guy; he had no grand scheme for defeating Assyria. He didn’t even try to muster an army to attack them. He simply humbled himself before the Lord, asked Isaiah to pray and prayed himself. Yet in his simple trust in the Lord there was great wisdom and great faith. Both his wisdom and his faith were tied to a deep belief that God was real, that what Hezekiah knew about God’s miraculous power was true, and that God was able if he chose to rescue Judah. Hezekiah’s prayer, though, was focused on God and his glory, not just begging God to fix the problem. His reason for asking for God’s help was simple: “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

Do we care about that when we ask God to answer our prayers? Does it matter to us at all if God’s glory and fame are extended? Do we tie our requests to a desire to show more and more people that God is real? Or are we so myopically focused on our own problems that we never consider how God might be glorified by answering our request with a yes. If you look at the scripture’s teaching on prayer, you will see that what Hezekiah said in his prayer was exactly what God wants to hear. God wants our dependence on prayer to be about him and his glory. Whatever you’re praying for today, are you asking God to use his answer to you as a method to reach people for Jesus? That’s the kind of prayer God loves to answer with yes.

2 Kings 18, Hosea 11

Today, read 2 Kings 18 and Hosea 11.

This devotional is about Hosea 11.

Some people look at family life as restrictive. They describe it as being “tied down” or call their spouse a “ball and chain.” Children are, to them, a burden rather than a blessing. Or, if they are children, they think of their parents as taskmasters instead of loving leaders and protectors.

This is how Israel looked at God. It is true that God gave them a number of laws to regulate their worship and their lives. But it is also true that God released them from true bondage, the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In this chapter, God explains his side of his relationship with Israel. In verse 1, he proclaimed his love for Israel like a loving father for his child. God called them out of bondage in Egypt, and nurtured them like a loving parent would to his infant or toddler. Look at the terms of tender love in this passage. God:

  • loved Israel “when Israel was a child” (v. 1a).
  • He called his son “out of Egypt” (v. 1b).
  • He “taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (v. 3a-b).
  • He “healed them” (v. 3d).
  • He “led them with cords of human kindness” and “ties of love” (vv. 4a-b).
  • He lifted them to his cheek (v. 4c-d)
  • He “bend down to feed them” (v. 4e)

How did Israel respond to God’s many acts of tender love? They “went away from me” (v. 2b) sacrificing “to the Baals” (v. 2c).

Israel’s idolatry, then, was a refusal of his love. It was like a child who receives his parents’ love and then, when he turns 18, spits on his mom and dad and leaves the house for good.

God explained that he would allow Assyria to rule over Israel because “they refuse to repent” (v. 5). But he also promised not to give up on his people (vv. 8-9). Though they totally rejected him and would suffer the consequences, God would not reject them forever. Instead, he would change them spiritually for good. Verse 10 says, “They will follow the Lord....” This phrase looks forward to the day when Israel will be genuinely converted. They will stop pretending to obey God and instead will love and obey him from the heart.

This did not happen when Jesus came the first time. When God became a man in the person of Christ, “He came to his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). This happened so that the few Jews who did receive Jesus would fan out into the world with the message of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Some day, soon, Christ will return and will fulfill this promise. He will give new life to the people of Israel, saving them and causing them to worship him--finally--from the heart.

For us, it is important to see in this passage how tenderly God thinks of us. John 1 says that those who received Jesus were given the right to be called God’s sons (Jn 1:12). Think about how lovingly God describes himself in relationship to his sons in this passage--teaching them to walk, lifting them to his cheek, bending down to feed them (vv. 1-4). Realize, then, that God’s commands to us are not burdensome regulations designed to weigh us down but they are protections against the pain and ugliness of sin just as your household rules protect your children from injury and exposure to wickedness.

2 Kings 17, Hosea 10

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

This devotional is about 2 Kings 17.

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

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

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

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

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

2 Kings 16, Hosea 9

Today’s readings are [2 Kings 16 and Hosea 9] (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2kings16%2C+hosea8&version=NIV).

This devotional is about Hosea 9:7d-g: “Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired person a maniac.”

Our society pretends that it has rejected God and our faith because it has advanced beyond belief in anything beyond the natural world. Scientific study has yielded so much truth about things that used to mystify people in the past. So many people to equate our faith with superstitions from the past that should be rejected in this modern age.

This passage confronts that thinking. People reject God’s word because they want to live an immoral, godless life. The verse says that the greatness of humanity’s sins is what causes people to think God’s servants are stupid. People today may have a more secular mindset in general. But they deny historical facts that are biblical, despise the moral commands of the Bible, or laugh at the miracles in scripture because of their sons. The greater the sin and unbelief, the stronger the negative reaction one will have to the commands of God’s word.

The cure for this is not to emphasize the points where some unbeliever might agree with the Bible or show how wise advice from the Bible makes for better living. The cure is more of God’s word; that’s what God gave Hosea despite the fact that prophets were considered “fools” and “maniacs” in Hosea’s day. Although sinners try hard to suppress the truth of God’s word, God’s word is like a hammer that breaks hard hearts and fire that melts them down (Jer 23:29).

The same is true for us believers. Although our faith in Christ inclines us to receive and believe God’s word, our sin nature at times may cause us to react to some of God’s commands as crazy. In those moments we need to immerse ourselves deeper in scripture, not sit in skepticism toward it. May God give us the grace to receive his word obediently ourselves, hold it out unflinchingly to the world around us, and find some who will believe it and obey it for eternal life just as we have.

2 Kings 15, Hosea 8

Today we’re reading 2 Kings 15, Hosea 8.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 15:12: “So the word of the Lord spoken to Jehu was fulfilled: “Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.”

In this verse, the author of 2 Kings is careful to show us that the promise God made to Jehu back in 10:30 was fulfilled. Jesu’s descendants had the mini-dynasty God promised to him. God keeps his promises!

However, what was the quality of that fulfillment like? Jehu was king of Israel (Northern Kingdom) for 28 years (10:36). After Jehu:

  • Jehoahaz, Jehu’s son reigned for 17 years (13:1).
  • Jehoash, son of Jehoahaz reigned for 16 years (13:10).
  • Jeroboam 2, son of Jehoash, reigned for 41 years (14:23).
  • Zechariah, son of Jeroboam 2, also became king completing the “4th generation” promise of 10:30. But how long was his reign?

According to 2 Kings 15:8, “he reigned six months,” then he was assassinated by another man. So God kept his promise, but the final fulfillment of that promise was quick. It was almost as if God gave him a token reign just to keep his promise.

But what could have given Zechariah a different outcome? Could he have reigned longer--much longer--than his six month term?

The answer to that question is ultimately up to God but my strong suspicion is that the answer is yes. Zechariah could have lived and been king much longer if he had aligned himself with God’s will and obeyed God’s word personally and as Israel’s leader. The fact that he didn’t reign longer suggests that God was displeased with him but a promise is a promise. Zechariah missed out on a greater blessing because of his own unbelief and disobedience.

Isn’t that usually how it works? The God who promised a mini-dynasty to Jehu could have easily given Zechariah a longer life and even a new promise for a new dynasty. Instead of trusting God and doing God’s will, however, Zechariah trusted his own ways and did his own thing. God could have done so much more for this man and with his life but his own unbelief and disobedience kept Zechariah from enjoying those blessings.

What might God do in your life if you turned and followed him wholeheartedly instead of dabbling in sin?

2 Kings 14, Hosea 7

Today, read 2 Kings 14, Hosea 7.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 14.

2 Kings 13 focused on the kings of Israel but here in chapter 14 our attention is directed to Judah again. In 2 Kings 12 we read about Joash, a 7-year old kid king (2 Ki 11:21) who turned out to be one of Judah’s best, at least as long as he followed the instructions of Jehoiada the priest (2 Ki 12:2). His life was cut short prematurely, however, when he was assassinated by some of the officials in his government (2 Ki 12:17-21).

Here in 2 Kings 14, Joash’s son Amaziah became king. Like his father, he was king who ruled righteously (v. 3) but did not remove the idolatry from Judah (v. 4). In addition to worshipping the Lord, Amaziah saw to it that the men who conspired against his father received justice for their treason (v. 6). But Amaziah’s execution of this justice was in obedience to God’s word (v. 6). He also experienced some initial success with his military, defeating a large army of the Edomites (v. 7). When he challenged the king of Israel to battle, however, he received a proverb and a rebuke (vv. 9-10). The king of Israel compared him to the nerdy kid from high school who asks out the prom queen (v. 9). Actually, the image is much stronger than that. A weed in the woods tried to marry the daughter of one of the grand, majestic cedars of Lebanon but before he could be laughed out of the forest, an animal came and trampled him. That was the proverb; the application to Amaziah and Judah came in verse 10: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”

The king of Israel’s reply was insulting, but it was also true. Judah had no business attacking Israel and was miserably defeated when they tried (vv. 11-14). It was pure hubris, not the Lord’s will or a desire to please him, that led Amaziah to attack. Although Jehoash king of Israel was an ungodly man, Amaziah would have been wise to take his advice. As Christians we should not allow our thoughts to be conformed to the pattern of this world or let the morals of unbelievers influence our perception of what is right or our tolerance for what is wrong. But there are many areas of life where we would do well to listen to wise counsel, even if it comes from an unbeliever. An unbeliever might be the best person to treat your medical condition or to repair the foundation of your house or to write a will or create a financial plan or give you legal advice or manufacture your breakfast cereal. At times, the rebuke of an unbeliever for a sinful act or attitude in your life might be just what you need to keep you from pursuing a sinful or foolish action. Amaziah’s defeat reminds us to watch our ego; godly people can overreach, so consider yourself whenever anyone offers you rebuke or correction or instruction that is wise.

2 Kings 13, Hosea 4-5

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 13 and Hosea 5-6.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 13.

Have you ever spoken to someone who was clearly not a Christian but who prayed to God--to our God--for something and he or she believes that God answered that prayer?

If so, then you know how difficult it is to reconcile that with our theology. Either God answered the prayer of the wicked or the person is mistaken. This chapter of scripture may provide some insight for us. In it, Israel’s new king, Jehoahaz “did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them” (v. 2). As a result, he and the rest of Israel were oppressed by the Aramaeans (v. 3). This is all pretty standard stuff for unbelieving Israel in the divided kingdom age.

Until we get to verse 4, that is. Weary of the oppression of Hazael king of Aram, “Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and [amazingly] the Lord listened to him” (v. 4a). God provided a deliverer for Israel and they were relieved of their oppression. But this was not an act of genuine spiritual repentance. Verse 6 says, “But they did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit; they continued in them. Also, the Asherah pole remained standing in Samaria.” Jehoahaz did not turn in repentance and faith to YHWH when oppressed by the Aramaeans; he simply cried out for relief and, when he got it, changed nothing about his worship or his life.

So why did God answer the prayer of this unbeliever? Because God is compassionate and gracious, that’s why. Verse 4b says that God did it “for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel.” Despite the unbelief and disobedience of Jehoahaz and most of the rest of Israel, God answered the king’s prayer because of who HE is not because of who was asking for help.

God certainly is not obligated to answer the prayer of unbelievers and I don’t think he regularly does so. See Proverbs 15:29 for a verse about that.

Also, it is important to see what the author of 2 Kings wrote in verse 23: “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.” Note that phrase, “because of his covenant with Abraham....” God’s compassion was tied to his covenant with Abraham. That covenant may be the only reason that God answered Jehoahaz’s prayer. But I think this passage at least suggests that God, at times, will hear and answer the prayers of unbelievers just because he is loving, gracious, and compassionate.

Theologians call God’s kindness to humanity in general, that is, to both believers and unbelievers, “common grace.” If God ever answers the prayers of an unbeliever, it is an act of his common grace. No unbeliever should ever look to answered prayer as confirmation that God is pleased with him or her. All the answered prayers in the world do not neutralize the need of everyone for the gospel. But this passage is a good reminder of the loving, gracious nature of God. He answers prayer, not because we deserve it but because of who he is.

Are you regularly seeking the Lord’s favor in prayer as Jehoahaz did? If God was gracious to an unbelieving king of Israel, how much more will he listen and answer us, his children, who know him by faith?

2 Kings 11-12, Hosea 3-4

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Kings 11-12, Hosea 3-4.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 11-12.

God’s covenant with David was that one of David’s descendants would always be king while Israel was a nation. That promise was why Solomon’s son Rehoboam remained king over Judah even though the rest of Israel was torn away from him and became the Northern Kingdom.

These two chapters of scripture show us a situation where the promise of God almost was broken. Athaliah married into the Davidic family when she married king Jehoram and he gave birth Judah’s next king, Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:26). But her son, King Ahaziah of Judah was killed by Jehu in his zeal to rid the earth of Ahab’s descendants (2 Kings 9:27-28). This was outside of God’s command to Jehu who was supposed to bring Ahab’s family to justice.

Here in 2 Kings 11:1, Athaliah decided to become the ruling queen. She killed every possible heir to the throne except Joash, her grandson, who was an infant at the time (vv. 203). The priests in the temple understood how important it was to defend Joash and to put him on Judah’s throne as soon as possible. They organized a constant guard for Joash (vv. 4-10) and then anointed him king when he was only seven years old (v. 21). Their actions were used by God to keep the promise he made to David that his house would be a dynasty.

These priests could easily have said no they were approached to hide Joash in the temple (v. 3a) and then to guard him (vv. 4ff). They could have said, “That’s a political problem. It’s none of our business; we’ll just continue to do the Lord’s work.” Instead, they put themselves at risk of Athaliah’s unjust punishment in order to do the right thing.

None of us will ever find ourselves in this serious of a situation but the faith these men had in God’s promises and his protection should encourage us. It should teach us to be willing to put ourselves at risk to do the right thing because we trust God to keep his promises and to take care of us.

Are you avoiding doing the right(eous) thing somewhere in your life right now?

2 Kings 10, Hosea 2

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

This devotional is about 2 Kings 10.

Jehu was enthusiastic and brutal in carrying out justice against the house of Ahab (vv. 16-17). He not only made sure to extinguish Ahab’s family, he also removed the Baal worship that Ahab and Jezebel had brought to Israel (vv. 18-28). God commended him and rewarded him for doing what God anointed him to do (vv. 30).

Yet God’s blessing on Jehu was less than it could have been. Verse 32a says, “In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel,” and verses 32b-33 tell us in more specific terms how Israel’s turf was reduced. God’s law said that his people’s territory would expand if they were obedient to his word but here, despite Jehu’s obedience, Israel’s land contracted under his leadership. Why?

The answer is that Jehu’s obedience was partial. Yes, he did what God specifically anointed him to do by wiping out Ahab and Baal worship. But verse 29 told us, “However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.” Later, verse 31 said, “Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit.” So although he removed Baal worship, he did not extinguish all state-sanctioned idolatry from Israel. One form of idolatry was removed but another form was allowed to continue. Although Jehu was blessed with a bit of a dynasty (v. 30), he was not considered a good king nor did the land of the kingdom grow under his leadership. All of this happened because of his incomplete obedience to God’s word.

Are there any areas in your life where your obedience to God is partial? Are you serving the Lord but not consistently walking with him? Or are you walking with him but not witnessing for him? Maybe you’re walking with Christ and serving and even witnessing but you’re not giving to God’s work. Maybe there’s something else entirely.

Have you ever considered that God might bring more blessings into your life if you were more complete in your obedience to his word?

2 Kings 9, Hosea 1

Read 2 Kings 9 and Hosea 1 today.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 9.

In God’s original plan for Israel, there was to be one nation ruled by a descendent of David. God decreed that Solomon’s sins would lead to a divided kingdom, but the rulers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not typically anointed by prophets as Saul and David were. So, when Elisha sent one of the prophets in his prophetic school to anoint Jehu king over Israel in this chapter (vv. 1-3), that was a highly unusual move. Furthermore, Jehu was not a godly man nor did he begin a great spiritual reformation in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He was just like every other king of the Northern Kingdom in the sense that he was an unbeliever who left in place the idolatry created by Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom.

So, then, why did God send a prophet to anoint Jehu? It was to bring Ahab, Jezebel, and their descendants to justice. Verse 7 says, “You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.” The violence that God commanded in this chapter and that Jehu carried out is difficult for us accept. Why would God anoint a man to wipe out another man’s entire family? Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, kings in this era of time had no legal check on their power. There was no legislature or court to bring Ahab to justice for his many sins. If there was going to be justice, it would have to be carried out by another king. Jehu’s killings in this passage were not acts of first degree murder; they were done to uphold the Law of Israel given through Moses which mandated the death penalty for the things that Ahab and Jezebel did.
  • Second, Ahab was warned repeatedly (1 Ki 20:41-43, 21:21-24, 22:17, 28) that his sins would lead to his death and the death of his wife and descendants. Although he expressed some remorse and received a merciful delay (1 Ki 21:25-29), he did not fundamentally change like he would have if he had truly repented.
  • Third, the descendants of Ahab were included in both the prophecy (1 Ki 21:21-24) and the fulfillment here in 2 Kings 9:8. It does not seem fair that they died for the sins of their parents. But the life of their son Joram shows a continuation of their godlessness and unbelief. Surely there would have been mercy for one of Ahab & Jezebel’s descendants if they had repented and followed the Lord. But even after they had been given the prophecy of Elijah that their would be justice for them, they continued in their sinful ways.

God is just and he established human governments to uphold justice and enforce the penalties of disobedience to his laws. The Bible says that unbelieving government leaders who exercise just judgment are God’s agents for good (Rom 13:4a). Jehu would answer for his own sins but, to the degree that he acted justly, he was doing God’s will.