God's Will

2 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 24

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Samuel 17 and Ezekiel 24.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

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

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

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

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

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

1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 26 and Ezekiel 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11).

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this must be God providing David with this opportunity which is why he said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here.

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

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?

Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, Psalm 129

Today’s readings are Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, and Psalm 129.

This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. He assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings. But we act this way ourselves sometimes. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, it bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king....” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important--which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over his unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. In the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred. Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23). Trust God, then, your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114

Today’s readings are Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too. In verse 5 he wrote, “...you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.” Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

James 4

James 4 Today we’re reading James 4.

Do you tend to focus on the past or think about the future? That can be good thing if the good stuff in our past causes us to be thankful for people and opportunities and memories that God has allowed into our lives. Reflecting sometimes on the bad stuff in our past can be good, too, if we think about lessons we’ve learned from it rather than focusing on the hurt or shame or whatever other negative consequences came.

Focusing too much on the past, however, can be unhealthy. The past cannot be changed so the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” that sometimes accompanies thinking about the past only makes you feel bad in the present. Likewise, if you think your best days are behind you and think about the good times too much, it can take away your motivation to use the time you have today.

So, while some thinking about the past can be helpful, it is usually best to focus on the present and the future. Verse 13-17 here in James 4 give us some guidance in that area. Verse 13 raises the issue of the future and how we tend to make plans for the future optimistically. When we make plans for the future we often assume that the future will be exactly as we envision it with very little thought about what might disrupt our plans. Verse 15 reminds us, however, that we can’t be certain about what will happen tomorrow. The reason is that we are finite; someday our days will come to an end. Somewhere someone driving to work this morning was thinking about closing a big deal that would pay a large commission. That person was counting the money in his or her mind and what could be done with it once the check was safely cashed. Maybe that person had fun plans for the weekend, too, so they were smiling about the prospects for today and tomorrow. But that person’s life was cut short by a traffic accident or a heart attack or some other emergency that landed them in the hospital or at the bedside of someone they loved. We make plans quite naturally, but we cannot control the variables.

James does not discourage us from planning or looking forward to events in the future. Instead, according to verse 15, he encouraged us to remember that God’s will is bigger than our will and that His will may disrupt the plans we have for ourselves in the future. His command to us, then, is to plan while also submitting our plans to the sovereign will of God. This saves us from arrogance (v. 16); it also prepares us not to be overly disappointed when “life happens” and interrupts our plans.

Maybe you’re dealing with an unplanned setback in your life and struggling with the disappointment that quite naturally flows from a setback. Can you believe that God has a will for your life that is bigger than your plans? Do you trust that setbacks he allows in your life are for your good--to make you holy, to teach you to trust him, to prepare you to do good rather than living for yourself (see v. 17)? If you face an interrupted plan soon, remember this truth about God and his good will for your life. Finally, whenever you make plans, remember that God may have something else in mind for you. Some Christians actually add the phrase, “If the Lord wills...” to the things that they say about the future. There is nothing wrong with that but that’s not the point of James instruction in verse 15. Instead, James wants us to remember to submit our plans to the good will of God. If he disposes of our plans, then we hope in him. If he allows them to happen, then we thank him. This is the attitude God calls us to take into our daily lives because it is an attitude and an approach to life that glorifies him.

So...., got any plans for the weekend?

Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 14.

After a great start as parents to Samson, things go wrong here in Judges 14. Old enough to marry now, Samson chooses a bride based completely on her looks. Note that he “saw” her in verse 1 but didn’t talk with her until verse 7. So his decision was based on attraction alone. Being attracted to your spouse is a good thing, but if that’s your only reason for marrying him or her, you are taking a great risk (see Prov 31:30). 

Beyond the shallow basis for Solomon’s desire to marry her, marrying a non-Israelite was forbidden in the Old Testament law (Deut 7:3). Samson’s parents may have known that or they may not have. It is hard to know how well the law had been taught to the people during the dark days of the judges. Their response in verse 3 shows that they at least knew it was not wise; yet it was Manoah’s responsibility to secure a wife for Samson. He could have put his foot down and refused Samson’s command, “Get her for me.” Why didn’t he? Perhaps the prophecy he and his wife had received about Samson and the fact that “the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him” (Judges 13:24) when he was young man caused Manoah to defer to Samson when he was young. Regardless of why, this passage shows that the early concern Manoah and his wife had for raising Samson according to the Lord’s commands that we saw yesterday in Judges 13 was not sustained into Samson’s young adulthood. Since Samson was an adult, he probably could have overridden his parents’ wishes and married her anyway, but it still would have been right for Manoah to encourage Samson to live by God’s word. It would also have been best for him to stand by his convictions and not cave to his son’s foolish desires.

As we’ve seen recently, God can use the sinful desires of people to work his will; that’s what Judges 14:4 is showing us. Although Samson was living in violation of God’s commands, God was using his sinful choices to accomplish his will and start the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines. So although Samson’s great start before he was born and as a young child did not produce a young adult who was strong for God, he still was used by God to accomplish God’s will for Israel. 

What strikes me in this passage is how a great start in following the Lord can be easily disrupted through sin. Samson had every advantage a spiritual leader could need. He could have been a man after God’s own heart years before David was even born. But instead of developing into the man he could have been based on all the grace God had poured into his life, Samson settled for positional leadership and leaned on his miraculous physical strength instead of developing strength of character. He became a successful military leader, yes, but not a godly man or a spiritual leader for Israel. 

It’s easy to start coasting in our Christian life, isn’t it? We see how much God has blessed us and grown us by his grace and we start living by what seems right in our own eyes rather than how God has commanded us to live. Even before his marriage week ended, Samson was paying the price for his foolish decisions (vv. 10-19). His “marriage” was over faster than many of the celebrity marriages we’ve heard about that last a year or less (v. 20). The seeds of his own moral destruction were being sown, but he was blind to it. Later in his life, decisions like this would lead to him literally becoming blind as well as limiting his effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. The message to me is, don’t coast on the grace the Lord has given in the past. Recognize how easily we fool ourselves and be diligent, by the grace of God, to follow his word day by day.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 12, Acts 16, Jeremiah 25, Mark 11

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 12, Acts 16, Jeremiah 25, Mark 11. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Jeremiah 25.

People sometimes talk about God’s will and the will of humanity as if they are in conflict with each other. In the moral sense, they are. Morally, God’s will for humanity is to obey his commands but in our fallenness our human wills choose to disobey him. But I am referring to God’s will and the human will in a different sense here. I am talking about what God has willed to happen on earth in terms of human events—the rise of nations, political rulers, the winners of war, and so on. The Bible teaches that God has decided what world history will look like. He chooses who becomes the president, who wins wars, which nations become powerful and prosperous, and which nations wither and die. Since God has decided all of this in advance, people sometimes wonder if we have any free will at all. Are we mere puppets manipulated by God to do his will in human history? Or is humanity ultimately in control of all things and, if so, are God’s prophesies about what will happen merely him guessing really well or being able to see in advance what will happen?

The Bible’s teaching on this is that God has decided what will happen and he controls the outcome of all things, but that his will is carried out by humans who are acting according to their own will and desire. In other words, God is sovereign over history, making his will happen but humanity cooperates with God’s will, often without realizing it, by doing what comes naturally to humans. Even our sins and the evil acts of emperors are in some way accounted for within the overall will of God.

As created beings, it is impossible for us to fully understand how this is true. The most important thing for us to know, however, is that God’s will works on a different plane than our wills do. Because God is the Creator and we are the creation, we should not assume that God’s will and our wills are on the same continuum, the same spectrum. We are not on one end of a rope and God on the other end in a cosmic game of tug-of-war. No, as Creator, God can accomplish his will without sharing any guilt for our sins or without violating human will. We are not robots; we do not act because we have been controlled or coerced by God in some way. God wills in a completely different way than we do, which is how His will is accomplished even while he allows us to follow our own desires, even the wicked ones.

Today’s passage contains language that suggests all of what I have written in the preceding paragraphs. As you know, Jeremiah had been prophesying for over twenty years (see verse 3) that God would judge Judah for their sins and idolatry. God’s method for bringing this punishment would be a foreign nation, just as the curses of Moses’ law had declared. In this case, it would be a foreign nation called Babylon, led by a king named Nebuchadnezzar. Because it was God’s will for Judah to be punished in this way, Jeremiah’s prophecy was, “Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.’” Did you catch how he described Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant” in verse 9? This indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s success against Israel was due to God’s will to punish his people. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were agents for carrying out the will of God in human history.

And yet, although it was God’s decree that Nebuchadnezzar be the agent of discipline for God’s people, what Nebuchadnezzar did was still sinful in the eyes of God. Verse 12 put it this way: “‘But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will make it desolate forever.’” In verse 9, Nebuchadnezzar was described as God’s servant, carrying out the will of God in his attack on Judah. In verse 12, however, God promised to punish Babylon for attacking Judah, suggesting that their attack was sinful by using the word “guilt.” This shows that Nebuchadnezzar was acting out of his sinful nature, attacking all these other nations, including Judah, for his own selfish reasons. But God used his sinful attacks to chasten his people, so Nebuchadnezzar was also God’s “servant” in that he was accomplishing the will of God, bringing the covenant curse that God had warned Judah about. If Judah had repented or had been faithful to God all along, God would have prevented Nebuchadnezzar from defeating Judah. But, given their disobedience, God instead used Babylon to accomplish his will.

This shows us that we do not need to fear the things that happen in our world. Wars, evil rulers, corrupt politicians, injustice, and even persecutions all happen under the sovereign will of God. God is not surprised at who is running for President right now nor will he be surprised at who wins. Since neither major party candidate is a genuine follower of Christ (as I see it, at least), neither one of them is serving God from the heart. Yet, whichever one wins will be serving God in the sense that their decisions—unjust, cruel, corrupt, flawed, or good—will be used by God to accomplish his will. 

We ought to stand for what is morally right and to do whatever we can to bring about righteous results in our nation. But we must also remember that God is acting at a whole different level than we can comprehend and that he will accomplish his will as he promised it in his time. So whether your candidate gets elected or not, God will accomplish his purposes in this world. Whether the next President is good or bad for America, God will accomplish his purposes in this world. Take comfort in this; let it encourage you. God is in control.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 5, Acts 9, Jeremiah 18, Mark 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 5, Acts 9, Jeremiah 18, Mark 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Jeremiah 18.

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth. But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel indestructible. In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” indicates that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” This explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a), allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e). Those are harsh words, to be sure. Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them? Possibly (as we’ll see on Sunday), but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of their rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.” This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understands, for the first time in his life, how God feels. He knows personally what it is like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and be personally rejected despite that gracious offer. He knows what it is like now to be righteous and have sinners hate him because of it. If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness and he is so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross. What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness. This is something to keep in mind when we struggle with temptation; if we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Joshua 10, Psalms 142–143, Jeremiah 4, Matthew 18

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 10, Psalms 142–143, Jeremiah 4, Matthew 18. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalms 143.

Few men in world history have faced the number of immanent dangers to life that David faced. In addition to fighting in several traditional battles, he also was hunted by his father-in-law the king and, later in life, by his own son as well. Many of the songs we’ve read this year were written by David while on the run. His musical gifting provided comfort to him in fearful situations and gave God’s people a gift that enhanced their worship. Today we’ve read two of these “songs in the key of fear.” What impresses me so often in these songs is David’s concern for his walk with God even while he pleads with the Lord to spare his life. In verse 8 of Psalm 143, David sang, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.” I take that phrase, “let the morning bring me word” to be a poetic and spiritual way of saying, “Please give me deliverance by tomorrow morning.” I think this because verse 9 echoes with, “Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you.” But, concerned though he is with his physical deliverance, he also sang, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God….” This line shows how much David wanted to walk with God in his moral life in addition to saving his neck. 

Think about how we and Christians in our church pray. Many of us are completely prayerless until we or someone we love gets a serious diagnosis or is in financial distress, or has a wayward child, or faces some other kind of distress. There is nothing wrong, of course, with praying for God’s help and deliverance in these situations. David did, after all, pray for God’s deliverance. But how often do our prayers cry out for God’s help in the immediate problems and circumstances of life but say nothing about learning holiness? Yet God is far more concerned to “teach [us] to do [his] will” (v. 10a) than he is with solving our immediate problems. In fact, the Bible teaches us that the problems of life are allowed into our lives by God because he wants to root our pride and self-dependence out of us, as well as loosening our love of this world. 

Of course we should pray for God’s help and deliverance from the difficult circumstances we face in life. But we should also, like David, learn to ask God to train us and others we pray for to live for his will. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 18, Psalm 105, Isaiah 45, Revelation 15

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 18, Psalm 105, Isaiah 45, Revelation 15. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Isaiah 45.

Long before Cyrus became the king of Persia, Isaiah wrote about him by name (vv. 1, 3d, 4c). In Isaiah’s prophecy, God called Cyrus “his anointed,” meaning that he was a man chosen to do the Lord’s will. In this case the Lord’s will was to return Israel to the promised land (v. 4a-b, 13c-d). Remarkably, God would use Cyrus to do this “though you do not acknowledge me” (v. 4e, 5d) and, as a result of what Cyrus would do, “…people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

In verses 9ff, the Lord anticipated an objection to this plan to use Cyrus. The unstated objection was, “How can God use a heathen king who does not serve the Lord to do his will? Why would God do that?” The answer was stated in verses 9-11 and could be summarized as, “None of your business.” Because God is the creator (v. 12), he has the right to do whatever he wants with his creation. If we dislike what God does, we have no right to judge him or question him. He is the potter, we are the clay (v. 9), he is the parent, we are the child (v. 10). We have no more right to question what God does, how he does it, or why he does it than a coffee cup has the right to question its maker or a child has to question his or her parents. 

This is difficult for us to accept! Our perverse sin nature wants to put God on the same level as we are. We want a God we can understand, one we can control by telling him that his actions are unjust. We want God to be subject to a standard just as we are so that we can accuse him of failing to meet the objective standard. But God cannot be measured by an objective standard; he IS the standard. Because he is God, he has the right to do whatever he wants because whatever he wants and whatever he does will be perfectly consistent with his holy nature and character.

If you find yourself questioning God for something he allowed that you do not understand, or something he did that you found difficult to accept, you need a change of perspective. We may want God to explain himself to us, but he is under know obligation to do so. Since his wisdom is higher than ours, his understanding is perfect, and his ways are beyond our comprehension, the best thing we can do is trust him no matter what he does. Since God will never do anything that is unjust, we can be confident that what he does will be best—at least, in the long run of eternity it will be best. God will be glorified and that is the only thing that matters.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.