government

1 Kings 15, Ezekiel 45

Today, let’s read 1 Kings 15 and Ezekiel 45.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 45:7-9: “7 “The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The right to private property is foundational to righteousness. The eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” is a command that protects the right to own things. If there is no ownership--no private property--then it is impossible to steal anything. So God cares enough about private ownership of property that he protected it in the Big 10 (that is, the Ten Commandments).

Who has the power to steal and get away with it? Government, that’s who. If I walked over to my neighbor’s house, stuck a gun in his face and told him I was taking his land to build a private road to my house, I would be prosecuted for a number of crimes. But, if someone from the government shows up and says they are going to take your home using “immanent domain” what recourse do you have? You could sue them and you might win but the very court that will hear and decide your case is another branch of the same government, so good luck.

Here in Ezekiel 45, God commanded some specific things to protect private property in Israel when it would be restored to its land. in verses 1-4 God commanded a specific amount of land that would be set aside for the temple and the priests. In verse 5, he marked out more land for the Levites. In verse 6 he marked out some public land for “all Israel.”

Then in verse 7 he prescribed how much land “the prince” would own and where that land would be. Verse 8a said, “This land will be his possession in Israel” and then verse 8b went on to say, “And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.” This is a statement against the forcible seizure of land by the government. In verse 9 God took some time out to condemn the princes of Israel for taking too much land: “You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord.” These verses were for Israel, of course, but they are based on a universal ethic, an eternal standard of right and wrong when it comes to the human right of private property.

Our governments (federal, state, and local) have transgressed the principles applied in this passage, in my opinion. The amount that the government collects in taxes, the unjust way it seizes land using immanent domain, the way it imposes regulations on business and private transactions, the way it harasses American citizens at border patrol checkpoints, and the way that it monitors communication are just a few of the ways that it uses violence to oppress people. We have a lot more say in our government than most people who have lived in human history and I’m thankful for that, but the government is encroaching on more and more of our lives all the time.

We should use all the legal, peaceful means available to us to protect the freedoms we have and rollback, if possible, the ways government encroaches on our freedom and rights. Ultimately, however, there will be no perfect society until Jesus is king. When you see or hear of oppression, injustice, and violence--whether caused by our or another human government or by one person against another--that is an opportunity to ask God for his help and to remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 30

Read 2 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 30 today.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 23:3c-4: “‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’”

The writer of 2 Samuel has been wrapping up his account of the united kingdom of Israel in these past few chapters. There is still another important story about David to come in tomorrow’s readings, but this chapter began with “the last words of David” (v. 1).

In these last words David was conscious that God was speaking through him (v. 2) but, as with all writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, the human author was speaking just as much as God was. David, in this brief speech, reflected on what a godly leader is like. The main words of description for a godly leader is that he “rules over people in righteousness.” More simply put, he does the right thing. He is just in his judgment, not favoring his family, or the politically connected, or a special group, or even the disadvantaged. Instead, a godly leader seeks to do the right thing with impartiality, even if Satan himself was the victim of injustice and came seeking a hearing before the king.

What causes someone to rule in righteousness? Verse 3d tells us: a godly king rules in righteousness “when he rules in the fear of God.” Only a person who fears God will do what is right when he doesn’t want to, or when it is costly, inconvenient, or goes against a friend or family member. The “fear of God” teaches us that we are accountable to God for our actions and that we will answer to him if we deviate from his standard of righteousness. That’s what makes someone do the right thing even when he deeply wants to do wrong.

In verse 4 David described what life under a righteous government is like: “he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’” Notice the repetition of the idea of light: “he is like the light... like the brightness after rain....” A godly king brings light to his kingdom. He creates conditions where good things grow and thrive. Verse 4d says his brightness “brings grass from the earth.”

In a society where there is true, blind justice, bribes are ineffective. Governments pass laws that are applied equally without exceptions or “carve outs” for people or corporations who lobby effectively and make substantial campaign donations. In a nation with righteous government, contracts between people and parties will be honored because both sides know that the king will rule against them if they renege.

Contrast that to the way things are moving in our country. Things could be worse and are worse in other nations, but more and more our government favors certain [corporations(http://www.atimes.com/article/tariff-carve-outs-to-spare-apple-products-report/) or favors the government over the individual to cite just two examples. In our nation, legal documents are sometimes said to be “living” and “dynamic” allowing judges to read into them things that are not there.

I could keep going on, but I probably don’t need to go on for you to understand the point. David’s last words reveal what a good ruler looks like and what the results of his rule will be. But they also imply a warning that, when one rules over people unrighteously, darkness will pervade the land and, instead of flourishing, the society will wither and might even die.

What’s the answer to all this? One answer is to use the power we have--voting, lobbying, speaking out--while we still have it. But the better answer is to cry out for Christ to come and establish his true kingdom. Until Jesus is king, there will be unrighteous rule to some degree or other. This is why our hopes and dreams should never reside in any nation but only in the one true King, our Lord Jesus Christ. So live for him and pray for his kingdom to come.

Judges 12, Jeremiah 25

Today, read Judges 12 and Jeremiah 25.

This devotional is about Judges 12:8-15.

This little paragraph of scripture described three insignificant regional judges in Israel: Ibzan (vv. 8-10), Elon (vv. 11-12), and Abdon (vv. 13-15). I wrote that these men were “insignificant” but their names are recorded in Scripture; that’s more than anyone can say about me. But they were insignificant in the sense that nothing remarkable happened during their tenure as Israel’s leaders. Other than his tribe and burial place, all we learned about Elon was that he was a judge for 10 years (vv. 11-12).

This chapter gives us a bit more information about the other two men. Ibzan had a large family--thirty sons AND thirty daughters. Only a wealthy man could provide for such a large family, so these verses indicate a time of peace and prosperity in Judah. If the other nations around Judah were attacking her and oppressing her people, it would be hard to keep such a large family alive and thriving. So this shows us that the period of the Judges was not all about war, oppression, and turmoil. Ibzan had some political savvy, too. By making sure that all sixty of his children married outside their clan, Ibzan created a network of positive relationships with other Israelite clans and (possibly) tribes. This is good for trade and commerce, too. Ibzan may have left a boring historical legacy but that’s only because there were no major problems during his leadership. We find him forgettable but I’m sure the people he led were grateful; dull political situations mean stable communities where people can thrive.

Abdon, in verses 13-15 was likewise a pretty boring guy. His strength was delegation; he led using other people, namely, his forty sons and thirty grandsons. An effective leader is not someone who burns himself trying to hyper serve those he leads, doing all the work himself. An effective leader is one who can enlist and train others who can bear the responsibilities of leadership with him. The fact that these men rode around on seventy donkeys also indicates a time of prosperity. Donkeys were useful farm animals, the pickup trucks of the ancient world. They could carry heavy loads as well as pull a plow through the field. If God’s people were having a hard time providing for themselves, these 70 men would have had a hard time justifying using 70 donkeys to ride around town on. So God was good to his people during the days of Abdon. The lack of crises recorded in Judges during Abdon’s days can be traced to prosperous times and good leadership.

We do not read in these verses that these men were godly, righteous men but they must have been. Judges 2:12-15 told us that the squabbles God’s people had with other nations were actions of God’s divine justice for the idolatry and sins of the people. When we read about times like these where there were no raids or conflicts, it stands to reason that people were faithful to the Lord, including their leaders. Proverbs 29:2 says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” We tend to think that great leaders are kings and presidents and prime ministers are people who fight and win political and military battles. God’s word indicates that the best leaders are those who stay out of the news. They lead righteous lives, judge with justice, manage with diplomacy, and generally are pretty boring. These are the kinds of conditions we should seek. First Timothy 2:1-4 commands us to pray for rulers who will leave people alone and cultivate a peaceful, predictable world: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When men in authority leave us alone to “live peaceful and quiet lives” God is pleased because the gospel can spread.

Let me just get really specific here: politics in our world has become sport and entertainment. The party in power in Washington will change laws, pick fights with political enemies, go to war against nations that have not attacked us and people who vote for that party love it. They love winning these skirmishes and mocking the other side. Both major political parties do it and news channels on TV and online love it because it gives them something to talk about, something to generate controversy with which drives up their ratings or page views. I guess this provides people with entertainment but I think it makes society less productive, less happy, less prosperous and, most importantly, makes Christians less focused on the mission Christ gave us.

Personally, I’d like to see Washington become a lot less relevant to everything and a lot more boring. I’d prefer any of these guys Ibzan, Elon, or Abdon to The Donald or Obama. I think God would, too. Let’s pray for our leaders to get out of the way and let us live our lives. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3).

Psalms 72-74

Today’s Sunday Psalms are Psalms 72-74.

The problem with political power is that there is an ever-present temptation to use that power for the benefit of the powerful rather than for the benefit of the nation. Probably every government scandal ever happened because the leader(s) acted in their own best interest against the interest of the whole nation. This is true in other power centers such as business, sports teams, and, yes, even churches.

Psalm 72 is refreshing in its cry to God for a king who rules with justice and desires to “bring prosperity to the people.” Solomon, at least at this point in his life, wanted God’s grace so that Solomon would put what was right ahead of what was best for himself. His song here Psalm 72 is refreshing compared to the self-serving words and actions of too many leaders. How blessed, prosperous, and joyful a nation (or corporation or church or family or whatever) would be if its leaders had this kind of servant’s heart.

Unfortunately, Solomon’s ambition in this chapter did not work out fully in his life. No leader is perfect but Solomon gave way to the temptations of leadership as Israel’s king. Only Christ, the perfect king, could rule and reign in the way Solomon described in this chapter. The failures and abuses of our human leaders should, because we know Christ, make us long for his kingdom to be established when we will rule and reign with him in righteousness.

Until then, though, we have the mind of Christ, the wisdom of God in the scriptures, and the Holy Spirit within us to help us be the kind of leader that Solomon described in this chapter but failed to be on his own. If you are a leader of any kind--ministry, civic, government, family, business, etc.--do you view your position as a platform to benefit others to the glory of God? Do you try to embody the traits of a servant leader who makes decisions and sets a course for the good and service of others instead of the enrichment of yourself? Ask God to endow you with righteousness and justice (v. 1), to bring prosperity to those you serve (v. 2), to deliver the needy around you (vv. 12ff) for the glory of God.

And, as we come together to worship the Lord this morning, let the failures of human leaders turn your heart to claim God’s promise of a future kingdom by faith and to long for the day when he will rule over us more perfectly and completely than Solomon could have imagined in this chapter.

1 Kings 12, Philippians 3, Ezekiel 42, Psalm 94

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 12, Philippians 3, Ezekiel 42, Psalm 94. 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 12.

Today’s devotional is too easy to write. One verse explains what happened to Solomon’s son Rehoboam and what happens to anyone who thinks that authority is for them: “They replied, ‘If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.’” Did you catch it: “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them…?” This is what leadership is all about—serving those you lead. Solomon, despite his great wisdom, imposed a heavy tax burden on his people to build all the grand structures that made Jerusalem a world-class city and to support all his wives and girlfriends. The people went from prosperous and happy (1 Ki 4:20, 10:8) to begging his son for relief (12:3). That’s because Solomon turned from having a servant’s heart (1 Ki 3:7b-9) to believing he was entitled to whomever and whatever he wanted. 

An entitled attitude can develop at any stage of life—witness Solomon who had a servant’s heart when he was young and gradually began to feel that he was entitled. But I wonder if youth and immaturity don’t make people especially susceptible to a feeling of entitlement. When you’re young, everything is done for you because you haven’t learned to do it yourself. But at some point in your life you must learn to do things for yourself, to set goals and accomplish them, to understand that setbacks and hurdles are part of life and that you have to find ways to overcome them. Nobody but your parents owes you devoted love; you have to cultivate that with another person if you want to get married and have a happy family yourself. Nobody owes you a job or a decent standard of living. Your employer does not owe you a promotion or a raise or a carefully mapped out career path where you ascend to greater leadership and prosperity. Because you are human—made in God’s image—society does not have the right to take your life or to mistreat you. You have the right to life, to private property, and to justice. With those basic protections in place, whatever else happens in your life is up to God’s providence and your decision-making. 

Rehoboam, I’m sure, lived a very entitled life. He never had to tend sheep or fight in battles as his grandfather did. His friends (v. 10), likewise, were probably sons of high officials in Solomon’s administration (see 1 Ki 9:20-23). None of these kids had to work for anything; the good life was provided to them in abundance and they all saw how Solomon did whatever he wanted. Their advice to Rehoboam was not to serve his citizens by getting off their backs and out of their way so they could provide for themselves (12:4, 9); rather, their advice was to push them harder, to show them who’s boss (vv. 10-15). The result was a rebellion that nearly led to civil war (vv. 16-21). Only God’s direct revelation kept Israel from decimating itself (vv. 22-24). All of this happened in God’s providence (v. 24: “…this is my doing…”) as a consequence of Solomon’s sins (11:34-39). But it reminds us to watch out for the sin of pride manifested in an entitlement mentality. If you use your power and influence for yourself, that is a sin against God. It is also a prescription for trouble because eventually those you use and abuse will seek relief.

If anyone in our government were paying attention, it should warn them of the potentially devastating consequences of helping themselves to too much of the wealth of a nation’s citizens. Many people in our country are upset by “welfare mothers” and others who are accused of abusing our welfare system. But what about the politicians, regulators, lawyers, bureaucrats, defense contractors, and consultants? What about the lobbyists, bankers, farmers and workers in other industries who get government subsidies or exemptions from laws everyone else has to follow? What about government employee unions who vote for politicians who then give greater wages and benefits? Are these groups of people truly serving the citizens or are they using the public for their own enrichment? Instead of condemning the poor for being poor, we should look first toward the prosperous who do not design, manufacture, or sell anything but instead become prosperous by confiscating the profits of those are productive. 

For the moment, we can not do much about the burdensome government we elected and empowered. But we can learn how to serve those we lead instead of using them for our own enrichment. Learn the lesson of Rehoboam and banish the entitlement mentality from  your heart. Be a servant just as God served us in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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 9, Acts 13, Jeremiah 22, Mark 8

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 9, Acts 13, Jeremiah 22, Mark 8. 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 9.

Of all the horrible things described in the book of Judges, few are worse than the chapter we read today, Judges 9. Gideon, in chapter 8, refused to become the ruler of Israel (Judges 8:22-23). He was too busy impregnating his many wives, apparently (Judges 8:30) to be bothered with national leadership. But he wasn’t too busy to find a girlfriend in addition to his wives; she lived in the city of Shechem and Gideon had a son with her named Abimelek (Judges 8:29-32). Here in Judges 9, which we read today, Abimelek, Gideon’s illegitimate son, convinced the citizens of Shechem to pay him to become their king. Remember that he, unlike the rest of Gideon’s kids, was from Shechem (8:31), which is why he said to the citizens of Shechem, “I am your flesh and blood” (9:2). 

There is a bit of a gap in the story here that we have to fill in by implication. Although Gideon (aka “Jerub-Baal”) said he and his children would not rule over Israel (8:22), some people in Israel must have looked to Gideon’s many, many sons for some kind of leadership. If they didn’t, then Abimelek’s offer in 9:1-2 would have made no sense. Probably, whatever leadership Gideon’s boys gave to Shechem also came with some kind of price tag. It also seems probable to me that it was confusing and probably oppressive to have seventy guys as “leaders” for one town, where they didn’t even live. Gideon’s sons, then, may have offered protection to Shechem in exchange for money and authority. Abimelek offered them a simpler, cheaper solution. “Pay me to become your king and I’ll do a better job because this is my neighborhood, too.” 

The people of Shechem thought this was a good deal, so they gave Abimelek some money. He hired some street thugs to be his army (v. 4) and they slaughtered all the rest of Gideon’s son except his youngest, Jotham, who escaped (vv. 5-6). Jotham called to the Shechemites and told them a weird little parable about trees (vv. 8-15). The parable makes sense for a while—truly productive trees want to continue to be productive. It is the unproductive plant, the thrornbush, that wants to be king. Every citizen of America should reflect on this parable. People who seek power want to portray themselves as wise public servants who could be very successful in private enterprise but instead seek to serve humanity by ruling over everyone else. There may be some examples where that is true, but we should be skeptical. Rulers have incredible power to enrich themselves at the expense of the productive. In God’s providence, Jeremiah railed against this tendency in our reading from Jeremiah today: Jeremiah 22:11-17. 

The point of Judges 9 is to show how God did not allow Abimelek’s murders to stand unaddressed (see verses 23-24, 57). Although he was a reckless, unaccountable, self-anointed “leader,” his brutality did not escape the notice of a just God. But I think the lesson of the trees and the message of Jeremiah 22:11-17 is one for us to consider this election season. God gave Israel very specific, very limited laws. Most of God’s laws were ceremonial and those were regulated by the priests. So there was central government for Israel in terms of religion. But Israel’s civil laws were few and specific and so were their moral laws. These laws were not only written down in the books of Moses but so was the penalty for them. God’s intention was not for Israel to have a central, civil government. Rather, the elders of individual tribes and clans were to read God’s laws for themselves and interpret and apply them as a group of leaders when there was an infraction. In other words, they were supposed to live productive lives farming, ranching, manufacturing, etc. and only govern when necessary. There were not supposed to be permanent government  leaders, just family leaders (aka “fathers” or “patriarchs”) who worked together with other family leaders when necessary. Moses’ law did contemplate Israel having a king but that king was to be the Messiah, not a human ruler. What we see again and again in the Old Testament is that most human rulers are unproductive themselves and seek power to enrich themselves by taking, forcefully if necessary, from the productive. If they men of Shechem had stepped up to their responsibilities—teaching their families God’s laws, living by God’s laws themselves, and working together with other fathers to punish offenders appropriately—none of Judges 9 would have happened.

What would happen in our country if the productive people in our nation limited the power of its “leaders,” kept the laws simple and few, held leaders accountable to follow the law themselves, and worked out issues on a local level rather than letting the big federal government impose its will on everyone?

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.