consequences

2 Chronicles 21, Zechariah 5

Today, read 2 Chronicles 21 and Zechariah 5.

This devotional is about Zechariah 5:1-3.

In these verses, the prophet saw a large scroll flying through the air. The scroll measured 30 feet long by 15 feet wide (v. 2) which indicates that it was unrolled. There was writing on both sides of the scroll and in both cases the writing was a curse. One curse was against “every thief” and the other was against “anyone who swears falsely” in God’s name (v. 3). The curse itself was that the person who either stole or lied “will be banished.” That meant the person would be removed from the community. The thief or liar would no longer be recognized as one of God’s people but instead be treated like an unbelieving Gentile.

Verse 4 said that the scroll would “will enter the house...” of the thief or robber and “remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.” This is a visual way of describing the deterioration of the building, the physical structure that the liar or thief lived in. God’s curse would cause a person’s house to rot--not literally but it is described literally to create fear in the heart of the thief or the liar.

Like many sins, people think theft won’t hurt them unless it is detected. Likewise, we think that dishonesty in our words will only harm us if we’re actually caught lying. But, of course, God sees our sins and knows our dishonesty. This chapter suggests that maybe the consequences to our sins--even when undetected--are like termites silently but consistently eating away at the structure of our lives. God himself pronounces a curse on our sins and, when our sins are unconfessed and unforsaken, those curses “will remain in that house and destroy it completely” (v. 4c-d).

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” according to Galatians 3:13. In Christ, then, God’s curses for our sins have been borne by him. As believers, though, we still need to ongoing cleansing of sin and for the Holy Spirit to expose and remove the rot that sin brings about in our lives.

Is your life rotting away because of unconfessed sin? It could be theft or dishonesty or any number of hidden sins. Problems in your life that you’ve never connected to any particular sin might be the result of sins you’ve committed and covered up rather than confessed and forsaken. December gives us a good opportunity to inventory our lives. Find some time to think about your life and take care of any unconfessed sin, even if it happened a long time ago.

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 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 9

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 31 and Ezekiel 9.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 31.

Because of his disobedience, Samuel told Saul back in 1 Samuel 15 that the Lord had “torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). That was when God decreed that David would take over but it took years to reach the day when it happened. That day is the one we read about here in 1 Samuel 31, but notice that verse 2 in our passage says, “The Philistines... killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.” Eventually, Saul died too (vv. 3-5). As verse 6 concluded, “So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.”

Now, back in 1 Samuel 15, whose sin caused the kingdom was torn away from Saul and his house? Saul. The answer is that Saul alone sinned.

Jonathan, according to everything we read about him, was a righteous man. His moral compass operated properly even when his father’s did not. Furthermore, Jonathan was more than willing to let David become king (1 Sam 23:17) so he was humble and eagerly surrendered to God’s will. Yet, as good as he was, Jonathan died in this battle along with his father and two of his brothers. There is something about that which seems fundamentally unjust. Saul sinned but the consequences for his sin affected more than just him. His righteous son died in the prime of his life through no fault of his own.

This story illustrates, then, an important truth to remember which is that our sins affect more people than just us. When we sin, often we alone are the ones who enjoy the sin but, when the wages of sin are paid, others--sometimes many others--suffer the consequences alongside us. Anyone who has lost a friend or family member to a drunk driver can attest to the truth of this. So can anyone who has ever been robbed, or had their reputation ruined when someone lied or gossiped about them. We choose to sin but the fallout of sin often affects others.

Now, it is important to remember that in our representative Adam all died. Except for Jesus, not one of us has lived a perfect life so we all pay the wages of sin when we die (Rom 6:23). This goes for Jonathan, too. As great as he was, he was a sinner; it was not unjust, therefore, for the Lord to allow him to die in this battle. As a sinner, he would die sometime and justly so. That fact that he lived this long was a testament to God’s mercy; so is the fact that you are alive to read this.

But the point is not that Jonathan got what was just; the point is that he died because of his father’s sin. Makes you wonder, then, this: What kind of damage will my sin cause to others? The answer to that question is unknowable but it is worth thinking about nonetheless. If thinking about it deters you from doing the sin, then God has been gracious to you by bringing you his word.

Obey it and see what God does.

1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44

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

This devotional is about Jeremiah 44.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua 9, Jeremiah 3

Today we’re scheduled to read Joshua 9 and Jeremiah 3.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 3:11: “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

In this chapter God compared his people to a wife and their idolatry to adultery. The wife imagery was a better analogy when Israel was one nation because, of course, God made his covenant with one nation not with two. After Solomon, however, the nation of Israel became two nations governed by different kings. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and the Southern Kingdom was called Judah. Israel had 19 kings after Solomon and Judah had 20 kings. None of Israel’s 19 kings walked in the ways of God but eight of Judah’s 20 kings did to some degree or other.

Because the Northern Kingdom of Israel was the most wicked, they came under the covenant curse first. The Assyrians invaded their land and carried them off into exile. Here in Jeremiah 3:8 God compared the Northern Kingdom’s exile to divorce; verse 8 says, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”

The Southern Kingdom had some good kings, as I mentioned, so they remained a free nation for longer than the Northern Kingdom did. Given the 8 good kings Judah had, it is surprising to read in verse 11 that, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” In what way was Israel “more righteous” than Judah?

That question was answered in verses 8b-10 which say, “‘Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the Lord.” In other words, Judah saw God keep his promise and punish Israel but they did not genuinely repent and turn to the Lord. Instead, they made religious gestures rather than sincere worship. Israel was “more righteous” then because Judah had more truth, more information, yet they still rejected God. Their idolatry was more deliberate; they chose to follow the same path as their “sister” Israel despite the negative consequences it brought to the Northern Kingdom.

There are three ways to learn moral and spiritual truths: (1) Believe God’s revelation. (2) Reject God’s revelation and figure it out for yourself by receiving all the consequences God’s word promised for those who reject his word. Or, (3) notice the experience of others--either the blessings they receive by faith or the curses they receive for disobedience, and choose accordingly. Judah had the Temple and the priests and scribes and God sent them prophets, too, so option (1) was there for them. They saw the devastation that Israel’s disobedience brought so they could have learned using option (3). Nevertheless, they chose option (2) and paid the price for it. A wise person--in the Proverbs sense--will receive God’s instruction (option 1) and will also notice how his word is fulfilled (option 3). We are fools when we go our own way, proving God’s word when we receive the pain and misery that sin brings. And, as verse 11 suggests (and Jesus also taught) we are worse (and receive greater condemnation) when we have God’s word and reject it than those who sin but have little to none of God’s truth.

Is it possible that right now you are considering a sin, playing with a sin that you’ve seen others commit? Will you learn from their experience to trust God and follow his ways, even when the attraction of sin is strong?

Numbers 25, Psalm 68, Isaiah 15, 1 Peter 3

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 25, Psalm 68, Isaiah 15, 1 Peter 3. 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 Numbers 25.

With God as their Lord, Israel was like a military freight train—an unstoppable army that would blast through any nation that opposed her or lived in her land. Way back in Numbers 22, the king of Moab, “Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites” (Num 22:2-3). For the past several chapters in Numbers we have been reading about how the king of Moab tried to stop this freight train from plowing through his kingdom. His strategy was to entice Balaam to call down a curse on Israel. It is unclear whether Balaam was a true prophet and non-Jewish worshipper of God or a false prophet that God decided to use in this case but, whichever it was, God was clearly speaking through Balaam. Although Balak king of Moab was looking for someone to curse Israel, all Balaam did was pronounce prophetic blessings on God’s people. This angered Balak (24:10-11) and, at the end of yesterday’s reading in Numbers 24, these two men ended their collaboration and Balaam returned to his home (Num 24:25). 

Here in Numbers 25, however, we see, unexpectedly, a curse fall on Israel. It was not a curse brought on supernaturally by God by a prophetic utterance. Instead, it was brought on them by their own disobedience to God’s commands. God had preserved Israel as a separate nation in Egypt and kept them from intermarrying with the Egyptians which would cause them to lose their distinct national identity. God gave them all kinds of laws many of which were non-moral but designed to keep Israel worshipping the true God and  to keep them distinct and separate from their neighbors. But, despite God’s commands not to worship other gods and not to commit adultery, here in Numbers 25 God’s people forsake God’s commands and engage in idolatry and adultery with the Moabites. Passages such as Revelation 2:14 (and others) tell us what Numbers does not—that although he could not prophetically curse God’s people, Balaam taught the Moabites how to create a curse organically by sinning against God in adultery and idolatry. Because they disobeyed God’s word, which was designed to bless them, “the Lord’s anger burned against them” (v. 3). The rest of chapter 25 describes the devastation that God’s punishment brought on his people. 

Israel’s experience in this passage should sober us and warn us. We ask for God’s blessings in our lives and God has blessed us immensely in Christ. While the world and the devil would love to see us fall under the curse of God’s judgment, God’s promises in Christ stand between us and their desire to harm us. What removes God’s blessings in our lives and causes us to miss all he wants for us to have in Christ is our own choices to sin against God’s word. Remember James 4:4, which we read last week: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Sin is so damaging in so many ways but one of them that we should keep in mind is how it cuts us off from God’s blessings and makes us an object of his displeasure. Because Christ bore the wrath for our sins, we don’t ever need to fear being lost and becoming God’s enemies in the sense of losing our salvation. But when we sin, we do lose the power of God and his blessings in our lives and, instead, expose ourselves to the consequences that are embedded automatically in many sins. Our worship and daily exposure to God’s word is designed by our Lord to protect us from the deceitfulness of sin so that we can live in God’s power and enjoy his blessings in our lives.

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.