blessings

1 Kings 10, Ezekiel 40

Today, please read 1 Kings 10 and Ezekiel 40.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 10.

Sometimes things seem too good to be true. Someone describes to you how great a place is or how funny someone is, or what a great place to work a certain company might be and, from a distance, it does look good. But, once you’ve gotten a closer look and experienced it for yourself, you find yourself disappointed. After the first course of my doctorate was complete I was talking with a new friend I’d made in the class. He said something I’ll never forget: “This was one of the few things in life that actually turned out better than I thought it would.”

If only there were more experiences in life that fit that description! In this chapter, the Queen of Sheba had one of those experiences. Verse 1 told us that she’d “heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord....” So she showed up to Jerusalem “to test Solomon with hard questions” (v. 1c). At the end of her visit, verse 5 says, “she was overwhelmed.” Her words were even more potent in their description: “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard” (vv. 6-7).

In verse 8 she went on to say this: “How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” But were Solomon’s people happy? Were they as blown away by his wisdom as she was?

Maybe, but I doubt it, because of human nature. Human nature tends to feel entitled. We tend to think that whatever good things we’ve always had are to be expected. That causes us to take valuable things for granted and, often, we don’t realize how precious, how unusual, or what a blessing the thing we take for granted is... until it is gone. People take good health, a loving spouse, good kids, a good job, or close friends for granted too often. Then, if death or some other circumstance takes that away, they feel both the sorrow of loss and the regret of not having enjoyed and appreciated what they had.

Is this happening in your life at all? Do you have a blessing (or more than one) that other people would dearly love to have? Do you realize how gracious God was to give that to you? Do you thank him for it and just savor and enjoy it?

Or, do you complain or just never express gratitude because you feel entitled. You may not know that you feel entitled, but you may reach a point in life where you realize what a great blessing you had.

The Queen of Sheba went on to praise the Lord (v. 9) who was the source of it all (v. 1: “his relationship to the Lord”). Think about what God has given to you and take some time to thank him for it. If it is a person, find a way to let that person know how blessed you feel and are to have him or her in your life.

Numbers 6, Song of Songs 4, Psalm 119:1-24

Today we’re reading Numbers 6, Song of Songs 4, and Psalm 119:1-24.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:1-24.

Being blessed is something that happens to you. It is an aspect of God’s grace, the result of his choice to bring benefits into your life. You don’t earn blessings any more than you earn God’s forgiveness or eternal life. It is a gift and God bestows blessings when he wills, how much he wills, and to whom he wills according to the purpose of his will.

Nevertheless, our passage this morning described people who “are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord... who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart” as blessed. And other passages of scripture tell us that God blesses those who hear, meditate on, and obey his word (Josh 1:8, Jas 1:25). Doesn’t this indicate that if we “do” certain things we will get God’s blessings? In other words, don’t these passages that commend hearing and obeying God’s word in some sense refute what I wrote in the first paragraph about blessings being something that happens to you rather than what you earn?

No, because the very desire to know God’s word that compels you to learn and obey it is part of God’s gracious work in your life. In verse 10 the Psalmist cried out, “do not let me stray from your commands,” demonstrating that it was God’s work in the songwriter’s heart that gave him a desire to read, learn and follow God’s word. Furthermore, God’s word is one of the ways in which God gives grace to us. The desire to learn and practice God’s word is a gift of God. So is the word itself. With these gifts God has left promises that the one who lives by God’s word will find God’s blessings in his or her life.

Is there anywhere in your life where you are resisting obedience to God’s word? Has it ever occurred to you that you may be missing out on God’s blessing because of it?

Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112

Today’s readings are Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26 and Psalm 112.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God. But notice that God’s described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Psalm 112 re-affirms many of the positive promises God made here in Leviticus 26, and Leviticus 26:44-45 affirmed for Israel that God would not forget them or forsake his promises to them. Instead, verses 40-42 promised that “if they confess their sins... I will remember my covenant....”

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age. We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship. If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, Psalm 111

Today we’re reading Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, and Psalm 111.

This devotional is about Leviticus 25.

The people of Israel were dependent on God for everything while they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. Here in Leviticus 25, verses 1-22, God gave some laws that would keep them dependent on him, if they obeyed them. These laws extended the notion of Sabbath rest to the land. God’s people were commanded to leave the land alone every 7th year (v. 4) and live by whatever it produced on its own without any sowing, cultivation or reaping (v. 6).

Think about that. The idea of having a Sabbatical year after every six years of work sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? “Take the next year off” your boss tells you. “We’ll send you a profit sharing check based on whatever money comes in, even though we’re not going to work or produce anything. It should be fine.”

When you put it that way, taking a year off sounds pretty terrifying. Land doesn’t ordinarily produce crops on its own, so just loafing around for a year and eating whatever shows up sounds incredibly risky.

That’s exactly the point. As the Lord said in verse 21, “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” Taking a Sabbatical was an act of faith. It was taking God at his word that he would provide for his people. It wasn’t exactly a miraculous provision, like the manna from heaven was, but it was a divine provision. It would be an extraordinary event for God to make the land produce in this way, a reversal of the curse in Genesis 3:17-19, but that’s what God promised. He was promising a blessing to his people--the blessing of rest--if they simply trusted him.

God’s people didn’t trust him, so they did not observe this command. When God allowed Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians, it was in part to fulfill this passage. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” A great blessing was there for the taking but unbelief and fear kept it from happening.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What blessings you and I might be missing because unbelief and fear cause us to disobey God’s commands?

Psalms 111-113

Today you can prepare for our worship service by reading Psalms 111-113.

At times we can look at God’s word as a burden. It is filled with commands and obligations and we are called to obey it all. The scripture warns of great judgement for those who refuse to obey God’s word and, even when we find forgiveness in Christ for our disobedience to God, we often still suffer sorrowful affects of our sin. These things can make God’s word feel heavy to us and cause us to be fearful whenever we open the scripture.

What we need to remember, though, is that God’s commands are not burdensome. They are not tedious, meaningless regulations like sitting at stoplight when there is absolutely no traffic coming from any direction but you have to sit there because it is the law. That’s not what God’s commands are like. In fact, according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us. They are given to us to make us happy, not burden us.

Verse 6 of Psalm 111 says, “all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” This is something to be happy about because they give us something solid on which we can build our lives. One of the scariest things about life is the uncertainty of it. There is no guarantee that the plans you make in life will succeed. There is no certainty that the market will want your product. Even if people want it today, something better might come along tomorrow. Even though you may feel completely healthy, things can change.

If our plans, our jobs, our health, and many other things are uncertain, then how can we ever really feel joy and contentment? The answer is by building our lives on what is certain rather than hoping in things that are very uncertain. What is certain are God’s precepts--his commands and teachings. Verse 8 says, “They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.” You might lose everything, but if your life is built on God’s commands, they will uphold you when everything else falls apart.

Without Christ we cannot build our lives on God’s faithful commands because each of us has an unfaithful heart that leads us astray. But, in Christ we have a new heart that desires to obey God’s word and the Holy Spirit who leads us to walk in his ways. These are great blessings to God’s people for, as verse 10 says, “all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” It is only when God turns on the lights in our hearts through regeneration that we understand how wise it is to follow God’s commands in obedience. But when we obey God and experience a stable life because of his commands, we can’t take credit. Verse 10 ends the Psalm by saying, “To him belongs eternal praise.” This is why I wrote earlier that, “according to Psalm 111, the commands of God’s words are a great blessing to us.” It is God’s word that gives us insight on which we can build a stable life so all glory and praise go to him for his revelation and the blessed life that results from being built on it. This is something to praise God for as we gather to worship him today.

Proverbs 22:1-16

For your weekend reading pleasure, read Proverbs 22:1-16 today.

Many people--most of us, probably, at some point in our lives--live under the delusion that more stuff or better stuff will make us happy. We think that nicer clothes, or a new car, or a house in a better neighborhood, or just some more spending money to go out when we want is what we need. We think that money is the antidote to worry because if we had the money, we wouldn’t have to worry if the car breaks down. Or, we think that spending is the cure for boredom because dinner and a movie sounds better than leftovers and reruns.

One symptom of our materialism is stinginess. The person who wants more and better stuff has a hard time giving anything to someone else because each dollar spent on others is one less that could go toward that new iPhone.

Proverbs 22:9 urges us to reconsider. It says, “The generous will themselves be blessed....” Being “blessed” means being “prospered” in the loosest sense of the word “prosper.” Sometimes that blessing is material prosperity. The Bible tells us that the things we have and the money that comes into us is God’s blessing in our lives. Other times, though, being “blessed” in scripture refers to the joy or contentment that only God can give. That joy or contentment is usually distinct from our circumstances. There poor people with joy and wealthy people who are miserable. There are people who are ill or aging or who have experienced many problems in life who live each day happily as a gift from God. Likewise, there are some very bitter, unpleasant people who have only first-world problems. This verse told us that those who are generous will be blessed in some way. Is that blessing the blessing of joy or is it the blessing of material prosperity?

The last half of verse 9 may hold the answer. It says that they generous will be blessed “for they share their food with the poor.” This phrase gives the reason why God blesses them. Because they share with others, God shares blessings with them. But what if sharing “food with the poor” IS the blessing? In other words, what if the blessing God gives to the generous is the joy of helping others? What if God is telling us that there is a blessing built in to generosity because it triggers gratitude in those who have their needs met by your gift? What if God wants us to know that within every poor person there is a potential relationship that your generosity might unlock?

If you have no needs, no threats, no real problems in your life but you lack real joy, it’s time to open up your wallet and start sharing. When you share your time serving others in need and spend your money on those who don’t have it, you might find joy like you’ve never experienced before. Take this truth statement and think about how to apply it in your life; the result might make you happier than you can possibly imagine because it will make a real, meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

1 Kings 10, Philippians 1, Ezekiel 40, Psalm 91

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 10, Philippians 1, Ezekiel 40, Psalm 91. 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 1 Kings 10.

I had an unusually busy day today, so here’s just a brief thought about today’s reading. At the end of her visit with Solomon, the queen of Sheba said, “How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” She said this because she not only met and talked with Solomon, but she watched him administrate the growing kingdom of Israel. Solomon’s great success, however, had not gone to his head. At this point in his life, he must have been humble, deflecting the credit away from himself and giving glory to God for all the wisdom that God had given him. The result of Solomon’s humility was both that God was glorified and that the people of Israel were happy. Whenever we live to serve rather than be served and give the credit to God instead of taking it for ourselves, the happiness of everyone around us is enhanced because we are leading in the way that God blesses.

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 11:12–40, Acts 15, Jeremiah 24, Mark 10

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 11:12–40, Acts 15, Jeremiah 24, Mark 10. 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 24.

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we see passage after passage that condemns the people for their sins and warns of coming judgment. The language that describes their disobedience seems so all-encompassing that we might conclude that there were no faithful people in Israel except for the prophets themselves. Today’s passage in Jeremiah 24 shows that this is not true. Although most of God’s people were disobedient to his covenant, the basket of figs shows that there were some who loved God and lived obediently to him. The fact that Jeremiah described the good figs as “very good” in verse 3 shows that there were some strong believers scattered among the idol worshippers and other unfaithful people of Judah. Yet, due to the unfaithfulness of the majority, even these “good figs” were carried away into exile, experiencing the curse of the covenant for the disobedience of the whole kingdom. This seems terribly unjust, but God did not abandon these faithful believers altogether. Instead, today’s chapter offers hope for these believers. God promised in verse 6, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.” So his promises would be kept in his time. However, in the meantime, God promised to reward these faithful ones with the thing they really needed anyway: a deeper discipleship with him. Verse 7 says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” 

Just as even the faithful among God’s people experienced the effects of God’s judgment due to the sins and unbelief of others, so we will have pain and setbacks in our own lives, even if we faithfully follow the Lord. God’s promise to us is not a pain-free life or peaceful, material abundance. God’s promise to us is himself; and that will be more than enough if our hope is truly in him. 

[Just a word about Jephthah’s rash vow in Judges 11: Of course God did not want him to sacrifice his daughter. It was explicitly against the law of Moses to do so (Deut 12:31, 18:9-12). So what should he have done? He should have asked the priests to inquire of the Lord for him (see Ex 28:30, Deut 33:8, 1 Sam 14:41, Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65), then done whatever he was told. For more on how the Urim & Thummim were used to help discern God’s will, see this article: https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function ]

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 11, Psalms 95–96, Isaiah 39, Revelation 9

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 11, Psalms 95–96, Isaiah 39, Revelation 9. 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 Deuteronomy 11.

Here in Deuteronomy 11, as Israel was just about to enter the promised land, Moses urged the Israelites to Love God and keep his commands (v. 1). It should be easy for them to trust the Lord because they saw with their own eyes God’s greatness and power (v. 2), his deliverance from Egypt (vv. 3-4), and his judgments on those who rebelled against him and his servants (vv. 5-7). If this generation who saw all these things didn’t recognize from experience that there are immense benefits to obedience and high costs for disobedience to God’s word, then nobody would ever recognize it. So Moses urged them to live in obedience to these commands (v. 8) so that they could enjoy all the blessings of obedience (vv. 9-12). 

The generation to which Moses wrote these words did have a measure of obedience and did experience some of these blessings. Unlike their parents, they did not disobey when God commanded them to take the promised land. Instead, they marched in boldly, in faith, and defeated Jericho and many surrounding cities. Yet they did not obey consistently because the were not able to drive out the Canaanites even though God promised he would do it for them if they obeyed him (vv. 22-25). Despite all the blessings and curses they had seen and all that God had promised, they did not serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Instead, the history of Israel in the promised land was one of enslavement to idolatry and struggle to survive, just as God had promised in verses 16-17.

So what led to the failure of God’s people to get everything that God had promised to them? It was a matter of grace; God’s laws are righteous and just and bring blessing to those who obey them, but without a gracious change of heart through regeneration, no one can obey them. Though the Lord urged them to know his word and keep it always before them (vv. 16-21), they had the same sinful hearts that you and I came into the world with and still struggle with today. Israel’s history demonstrates again and again how much all of humanity needs the saving power of God. Even when we know all that can come from obedience, our sinful hearts turn to unrighteousness automatically apart from the grace of God.

These passages to Israel, while encouraging in what they promise, should cause any reader (including the original readers) to cry out to God for help. There is no way sinners, on our own, can live up to God’s righteousness laws and thus receive his blessings. This is why Jesus came; if we could obey God on our own, we would never need a savior. But, lacking the ability to serve God on our own, the promises and commands in this passage should overwhelm us with their human impossibility and drive us to cry out to God for the grace of Christ to believe and obey his word despite all our human inklings against faith and obedience. 

As believers, we have the changed heart within that most Israelites lacked throughout their history. God’s grace in salvation teaches us to reject the passions of idolatry and worship and serve God alone (Titus 2:11-14) and it also empowers us to do what God commands us to do in his word (Phil 2:13). But since we retain our sinful nature even after trusting Christ, we need to be reminded again and again of all that God has promised us if we obey his word. Christ also need to be continually reminded that God made obeying his word possible through his grace on the cross. Since we have these things—everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)—let’s claim those promises by faith and receive the blessings God offers by living obediently to his word.

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.