idolatry

1 Chronicles 1-2, Amos 2

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2 and Amos 2 today.

This devotional is about Amos 2

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

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

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

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

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

2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 14

Today we’re reading 2 Samuel 6 and Ezekiel 14.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 14.

Risk is a problem for many people, maybe most of us. While we think we may be right about something, we also know that we’ve been wrong in the past. The question, “What happens if I’m wrong?” haunts us when we feel that something is risky.

Because of this, people do things to try to eliminate risk or, at least, decrease the cost of being wrong. Buying insurance for on life, for your home, or your car, or anything else is one way to mitigate risk. You buy that insurance but hope that you never actually need it. Insurance is one form of risk mitigation that we all use. People who invest a lot of money have ways of mitigating risk; so do some people who gamble.

Ezekiel has been prophesying God’s judgment on Israel for their idolatry and here in Ezekiel 14:1, it looks like the elders of Israel are trying to mitigate their risk. Verse 1 told us that they came to Ezekiel and sat down in front of him. It doesn’t tell us what, if anything, they said but in verses 2-3 God asked Ezekiel, “Should I let them inquire of me at all?” God’s question, then, indicates that the elders came to seek God’s revelation about something, probably the disaster that Ezekiel was predicting.

God was not flattered or impressed by their attempts to reach him through Ezekiel. The reason was, “these men have set up idols in their hearts” (v. 3). In other words, they were not coming to God in repentance, genuinely seeking truth from the true God. They were hedging their bets, trying to mitigate their risk. They worshipped false gods genuinely, from the heart; their interest in the true God was self-interest only. They came to Ezekiel only to try to get a good answer the question, “What if Ezekiel is right and God really does judge us?” They were like large corporations in our day who make campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans so that whichever party becomes powerful will not treat them like the enemy.

The judgment that Ezekiel prophesied would become a spiritual heart transplant for God’s people. “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols” (v. 5). This is what God wants from people; a genuine worship, love, and devotion to him. Anything we do to try to appease him or “cover our bets” spiritually is offensive to him.

In Christ we have new life and a heart that genuinely desires to know and love God. Anyone who has an idol of the heart, be it materialism, pride, desire for admiration, or whatever, needs the spiritual heart transplant of regeneration that God spoke of in verse 5. That comes as a gift of God’s grace and has happened when someone follows God’s command to “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6).

Still, even as genuine followers of Christ, we are tempted by idols. A passage like this one calls us to reflect on our lives and consider which idols we may be flirting with in our hearts then repent and ask the Lord to purify us so that we “will no longer stray” from him (v. 11).

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7

Today, read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 7:19c-h: “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath. It will not satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs, for it has caused them to stumble into sin.”

Lack of money can create problems such starvation, inability to get healthcare, or homelessness. Almost as bad, the fear of those things happening if you run out of money can make life miserable before the problems even arrive. 
 On the other side of the ...um... coin, there is a certain amount of security that comes from having money. If your car breaks down, it is annoying to have to lay out the money to get it fixed but at least you have the ability to get it fixed. If your car breaks down and you don’t have enough money to get it fixed, then you might have a hard time getting to work, which can cause you to lose your job, which could lead to being evicted from your home.

Yeah..., better to have money in most situations in life. The Bible acknowledges this fact. Ecclesiastes 7:12 says, “Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter....” It can shelter you from many problems in life.

But it can’t protect you from every problem in life. The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. He was a billionaire many times over already and spent a lot of money treating his cancer but he could not buy a cure for himself. His money could not buy him health or even one more day on earth.

Another thing that money can’t buy you is peace with God. The currency and capital that we crave so much is worthless in the eyes of God. As creator, he owns everything but as a self-sustaining, uncaused spirit, he needs nothing. Those who are wealthy may feel as sense of security in this life but--like all of us--they too should fear the wrath of God. This piece of Ezekiel 7:19 warned the wealthy, “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath.” In Ezekiel’s prophecy that statement was a warning. When the Babylonians invaded Judah, the rich would not be able to buy off the soldiers. Those soldiers would kill them, then take their wealth as loot (v. 21).

But this verse in Ezekiel 7:19 not only warns that the wealth of the rich won’t save them from God’s wrath, it also says that their wealth is part of the reason for God’s wrath. The last phrase says, “for it has caused them to stumble into sin.” That sin is detailed in verse 20: “They took pride in their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols.” Wealth was a status symbol that caused the wealthy to be proud--something God hates. It also became an idol--literally--when they used it to make fake gods.

What is your relationship to money like? Does it give you a false sense of security? Do you view it as evidence that God is pleased with you even as there are sins and problems in your life that you are ignoring? Do you worship wealth--not literally as an idol--but through materialism? Is it hard for you to give generously to God’s work and to be kind to those who are poor?

Money can’t buy you anything with God but the way you think about money and use it reveals something about your relationship with God. If you’re in Christ, he’s absorbed the wrath of God for you; have you submitted the money and material things you have fully to his Lordship?

1 Samuel 11, Jeremiah 48

Today we’re reading 1 Samuel 11 and Jeremiah 48.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 48.

In this chapter, Jeremiah prophesied judgement for the people of Moab. Moab was established and lived a peaceful existence for many years (v. 11) but now God prophesied military defeat and exile for her (v. 12). The same Babylonians that took Judah would take Moab as well. This would be a military defeat (vv. 8, 15) but God would be the one causing this destruction. Verse 10 goes so far as to say that the invading, killing soldiers would be “doing the Lord’s work!” So the military loss would actually be an act of God’s judgment (v. 15).

One what basis would God judge Moab? Three verses in this chapter spell it out.

  • Verse 7 says, “Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive....”
  • Verse 42 says, “Moab will be destroyed as a nation because she defied the Lord.” And in what way specifically did Moab defy the Lord? The third verse answers:
  • Verse 35: “‘In Moab I will put an end to those who make offerings on the high places and burn incense to their gods,’ declares the Lord.”

Idolatry was the reason for Moab’s judgment. At the heart of idolatry is self-trust. Again, verse 7 says, “Since you trust in your deeds and riches....” Worshipping other gods is not a sincere attempt to find truth, to meet the real God; it is trust in self instead. Instead of believing God’s word, idolator’s say, “I think this religion has a better idea” or “I think this god is more to my liking.”

As Christians, we are tempted still to trust ourselves instead of submitting to the word of God. We trust our “deeds and riches” (v. 7) when we don’t like what God commands or when we think we see a better way than what the Bible teaches.

Are there any areas of your life where you are trusting yourself instead of trusting God and obeying his commands?

Judges 8, Jeremiah 21

Today we’re reading Judges 8 and Jeremiah 21.

This devotional is about Judges 8.

Gideon was a very reluctant leader from the beginning of God’s call on his life. Although he stepped up to the demands of leadership in verses 1-21 of today’s chapter, he didn’t fundamentally change. After he did what God commanded him to do, he retired as Israel’s judge and committed Israel’s further leadership to the Lord (v. 23).

But, before leaving the scene, he accepted a large amount of gold from the jewelry taken from the dead Midianites Israel had defeated (vv. 24-26). Verse 27 told us that “Gideon made the gold into an ephod” which is a garment worn by the priests when serving the Lord or asking for Him to reveal his will. Our passage doesn’t tell us why Gideon did this but it is very possible that Israel’s priesthood was not functioning well. In Judges 17 we’ll read about a man who hired a Levite to be his priest and in Judges 20 we’ll read about God’s people going to the ark to inquire of the Lord. That’s really about all we find of the formal aspects of worship in Judges. So Gideon may have made this ephod to assist his own personal worship of God.

Whatever his reason for making it, the ephod became an object of disobedient worship for Gideon, his family, and Israel. Verse 27c says, “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Instead of being something that honored the Lord, it became a means by which people broke the first two commandments.

This is why God commanded his people not to make graven images in the Second Commandment. Graven images can become “other gods” by which some people break the first commandment. Anytime we give more reverence to an object of worship than we give to God, we are in the territory of idolatry. It might be a cross on a pendant or hung on the wall, a painting or stained glass window of Jesus, water from the Jordan river, the elements of communion, the old Bible of a family member or loved one, or the writings of some Christian author that we study with more reverence than we do God’s word itself.

Is there anything that started out as a reminder of God that has taken on too much reverence for you? Is there any person or writing who has become more authoritative in your life than God’s word? Are you more likely to ask for the advice of a trusted Christian pastor/teacher/friend than to ask God directly for wisdom? Don’t let tools for serving the Lord become more important than the Lord himself.

Judges 4, Jeremiah 19

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 4 and Jeremiah 19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 19.

Idolatry is the most frequently mentions of all the sins of Israel and Judah that God complained about through the prophets. God’s judgment against his people was closely tied to breaking the commandments about having any other gods and making idols for worship. From God’s perspective, we can understand this. God is real and other gods are not so it is offensive to give his glory to false gods and deeply unjust to worship something that people created instead of the true Creator.

For those who don’t know God, however, it may seem strange that the Old Testament spends so much time and ink addressing idolatry. The list of human problems is long. It contains moral issues like murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, as well as societal problems like starvation, poverty, war, infant mortality, etc. These are more pressing issues, when it comes to human life and the quality of it, than idolatry. At least, that’s what people might think.

Here in Jeremiah 19, however, we see another reason why idolatry was so offensive to God. Of course it was offensive because he is the true God and idols are not but it is also true that human problems sprout from bad theology like branches sprout from the trunk of a tree. In verse 3 God prophesied “a disaster” on Judah and Jerusalem and, in verse 4, the reason he gave for doing so was “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew.” But notice what followed his complaint about their false worship: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Israel’s idolatry wasn’t just a waste of time caused by praying to something that wasn’t real. Israel’s idolatry led them into unimaginable human wickedness. Thank about how depraved someone would have to be to take their beautiful newborn baby and burn it alive as an “offering” to Baal. It is incredibly cruel and unspeakably evil.

This is what happens with bad theology. Bad theology is a symptom of a wicked, unredeemed heart but it also leads to greater wickedness such as cruelty and inhumanity toward other people. We Americans don’t worship Baal but we do worship unrestrained sexuality which leads to abortion. We worship money and wealth which leads to many other kinds of sins. There is only one true God and only he can say what is truly right and wrong. Worship any other god--even one called YHWH or Jesus but detached from God’s revelation--and you will get all kinds of human wickedness, too.

Deuteronomy 20, Isaiah 47

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 20 and Isaiah 47.

This devotional is about Isaiah 47.

There have been many empires in human history. During their days of dominance, most people considered those empires impossible to defeat. In this chapter, Isaiah was inspired to speak against the Babylonian Empire, warning them that they were not as invincible as they believed. Verses 1-3 predicted Babylon’s humiliating defeat. Staring in verse 4, God explained that Babylon’s dominance was part of his plan to discipline Israel for her sins (v. 6). Their God-given domination seemed to them to be an eternal entitlement to rule (vv. 7-8) but God said that they will suddenly fall in defeat without knowing how it happened (vv. 9-11). The chapter ended with God mocking the religious practices of the Babylonians (vv. 12-15) and predicting that these prophets would not even be able to save themselves (v. 14c) much less the whole nation.

This chapter reminds us again that nations are under God’s sovereign authority and control, too. They may desire strength and domination but they cannot achieve either apart from God willing or allowing it to happen. In Babylon’s case, God had decreed that, for his own purposes, God would allow the Babylonians to defeat and exile his people in Judah. They served God’s purpose and, when that purpose had been served, God moved on to other nations to exercise his will, leaving the Babylonians weak and exposed and ultimately defeated by the Persian Empire.

Here in the USA in 2018, we too feel dominant and that our power will continue for as long as American’s can imagine. But what if God has other plans? What will happen to your faith if God moves on from America and allows another country to dominate us? Would you lose your faith in God if Canada, our mighty neighbors to the North, ascended in power and brought us nationally into subjection? What about if Russia or Brazil subjugated us to their rule; would your faith be disturbed then?

God has blessed our nation and I’m thankful for the freedom and benefits we have. Nevertheless, this is not God’s kingdom and someday Christ’s kingdom will defeat and supplant every human nation and power on earth, including ours. That is, unless he allows some other powerful nation to take us down first. If that seems impossible to you read verses 7-11 again. The Babylonians thought they were incapable of defeat and they were... right up until God was finished with them. It is foolish for anyone to trust in human rulers or nations but this especially goes for believers. We belong to King Jesus; any other allegiance we have is far less powerful, important, or meaningful to us. If it isn’t, we are idol worshippers. Check your heart; is it with the Lord and his will or is it set on Americanism?

Deuteronomy 19, Isaiah 46

Read Deuteronomy 19 and Isaiah 46.

This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13). The purpose for this revelation was (1) to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12), (2) to teach those who would read this later during that judgment not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1), and (3) to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness....” This rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong stick because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.” As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e). Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Deuteronomy 13-14, Isaiah 41

Today’s scheduled readings are Deuteronomy 13-14 and Isaiah 41.

This devotional is about Isaiah 41.

Verse 1 speaks to “you islands” and verse 5 also makes reference to “the islands.” Commentators say that the islands are a way of speaking about all the nations on the whole earth. If the islands are doing something against God, the argument goes, then the larger, more populous countries must have an equal antagonism against God, or worse. So this chapter challenges all the nations and people of the earth to a direct confrontation with God. As verse 1b put it, “Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.”

So how do the gods of the rest of the nations on earth fare against Israel’s God? Not well; according to verses 2-4, God has easily defeated the nations and their kings and, in verse 5, they fear God as a result.

Still, people don’t want to give up their false gods so instead of repenting, they redouble their efforts and try to psych each other up. In verse 6 they tell each other to “be strong” and in verse 7 the craftsmen who make idols encourage each other. Just to be on the safe side, they nail down their idol “so it will not topple” (v. 7e). Israel, on the other hand, has a special covenant with God (vv. 8-9) and, therefore, should not fear (v. 10). Their enemies will be defeated (vv. 11-12) because “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” This contest between the gods of every nation--including the islands--and God is no contest at all.

Although we are not Israel, we’ve been graced with Israel’s God as our God through adoption. The nations of earth are still every bit as hostile to God; their gods are still every bit as weak, too. Though the tides of politics and culture may have turned against us, God commands us not to fear. He is greater than all other gods; his plans cannot be foiled or defeated. So don’t let the hostility of unbelievers or of the world’s system in general scare you or wear you down. Trust in the Lord; lean completely on him. He will defeat his enemies and ours; we have nothing to fear.

Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, Psalm 80

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, and Psalm 80.

This devotional is about Exodus 32.

The people of Israel had been slaves for 400 years. They knew how to follow orders, make bricks out of straw, and that’s about it. In the recent past, they rode a roller coaster of emotions as God liberated his people from Egypt but then allowed them to be chased by the Egyptians as well as struggle with hunger and thirst. These were all traumatic events. Without God, they were helpless against armies. Without Moses, they had no direction, no leadership.

This is why they freaked out when Moses stayed with God on Mount Sinai for so long (v. 1). They were fearful that the powerful, awe-inspiring God that liberated them from Egypt had killed Moses for insufficient holiness, leaving them on their own. Without any ability to provide for themselves or defend themselves, they were fearful, vulnerable, and directionless. This is why they insisted that Aaron create a god for them (v. 1); it was an attempt to tranquilize their fear and give them a new hope for the future.

It was also an opportunity to forget God’s law that they’d received in the preceding chapters of Exodus. God’s law prescribed duties and penalties, but also promised blessings, including built-in blessings such as Sabbath and feast days. By contrast, the new golden calf god gave them no laws to follow and threatened no penalties for disobedience. This god, made by men, conformed to and appealed to human desires. It let them have a festival without any moral constraints; the word translated “revelry” has sexual overtones. It sure seems like they broke the first, second, sixth, and tenth commandments as they worshipped their false god.

This is how idolatry works. It promises power by taking credit what the true God did in the past, v. 4b. It liberates the sinful nature within with lawlessness. Israel may have felt better for a while during their festival, but they paid dearly because of God’s justice. The same thing happens to us when we worship an idol. It offers us relief from fear and momentary pleasure but it cannot protect us from the consequences of our sin.

Although Moses was angry with his Hebrew brothers and sisters for their sins, verses 30-34 show us his tender love and compassion for these difficult, sinful people. Moses pleaded with God for his forgiveness for them (vv. 31-32a). He went so far as to insist that God remove him from his elect (v. 32b). This is a powerful statement, asking for God to send him to hell if He would not forgive the Israelites. In this way Moses foreshadowed our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although Jesus could not be blotted out of the book of life because he IS life, he identified with us sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself. When God poured out his justice on Jesus for our sins, Jesus took the punishment due to those who are not in God’s book of life. Then he rose from the dead to restore us sinners to eternal life.

A sinner like Moses could never substitute for anyone else’s sin, much less the idolatry of a whole nation. Yet Moses’s statement in verse 32b shows the depth of his love for the people of Israel. Christ DID die for our sins. By doing that, Jesus demonstrated how great his love for us is.

2 Chronicles 25, Revelation 12:1–13:1, Zechariah 8, John 11

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 25, Revelation 12:1–13:1, Zechariah 8, John 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 2 Chronicles 25.

Amaziah followed his father Joash as king of Israel. He also followed his inconsistent spiritual leadership. Verse 2 said, “ He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.” He was obedient to the Law when it came to punishing his father’s assassins (vv. 3-4) and when he was told not to hire soldiers from Israel (vv. 5-10). But he stooped to idolatry after defeating the Edomites and taking their gods even though, as a prophet put it to him, “Why do you consult this people’s gods, which could not save their own people from your hand?”

That question makes the folly of idolatry so clear, doesn’t it? But it is easy for us to fall into the same kinds of traps. We fall for materialism even though God’s word warns us against it and we know from our own experience that new possessions lose their allure quickly. We turn to secular wisdom when we need advice and counsel instead of God’s word. We follow our own desires or our own thinking even though it runs counter to God’s commands and has led us astray before. This is why we need a steady supply of truth in our lives, through daily Bible reading and consistent Bible teaching, to remind us and help guard us against the folly of false gods and unbiblical ideas.

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.

2 Kings 21, Hebrews 3, Hosea 14, Psalm 139

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 21, Hebrews 3, Hosea 14, Psalm 139. 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 2 Kings 21.

Hezekiah and his son Manasseh lived on opposite poles of the worship globe. Hezekiah was devoted to the Lord with all his heart and even did the hard work of rooting out the private places of idol worship in the hills and mountains around Jerusalem. That was great during the twenty-nine years he reigned, but then it all ended. Manasseh his son devoted himself to the worship of every kind of god other than the God of Israel. He rebuilt all those shrines of idolatry that Hezekiah had torn down in the hills (v. 3a) and introduced the worship of Baal and Asherah to Judah (v. 3b). He began to worship the stars and planets in space (v. 3c) and even built idol altars in Solomon’s magnificent temple to the Lord (v. 5). He burned his son alive as a human sacrifice to pagan gods (v. 6a) and practiced every kind of witchcraft (v. 6). Later he added Asherah worship to the temple along with the altars he had built there to the celestial bodies (v. 7). God had forewarned Hezekiah that his judgment would come to Jerusalem for sins like this (20:16-19) and he sent prophets again to warn Manasseh and the people of Judah (vv. 10-15). When God sends messages of judgment through is prophets, the goal is always repentance but Manasseh was unrepentant for his idolatry. In addition to being an idolator, Manasseh was a killer, executing people in bulk who had not committed crimes worthy of execution (v. 16). This should not be a surprise. Worship is about far more than who receives your prayers and sacrifices; it also determines your morals, ethics, and your actions. Find an ungodly ruler, one obsessed with idol worship and you will see unjust ruler, one oblivious to justice or the value of human life. If a man is so hardened that he is willing to offer his infant son as a burnt offering to a false god, why would he grant justice to adults or show compassion to those who oppose his will?

Manasseh was his own man. Like every person, he was responsible for his choices. But I can’t read his story without wondering: Did he not see how God delivered Hezekiah from Sennacherib when all Hezekiah did was pray (2 Kings 18-19)? Was he not informed about Hezekiah’s fatal illness and how God extended his life after he prayed (2 Kings 20)? Hezekiah tore down those idol altars in the hills because he believed God. He worshipped one God and one alone. He gravitated toward the Lord’s temple (see 2 Kings 19:14, 20:8) suggesting that he spent much time there learning God’s law and observing the worship ceremonies devoted to the Lord. Did Manasseh fail or just refuse to see the depth of his father’s devotion and how God honored Hezekiah’s faith and obedience to the Lord’s word? Or did Hezekiah neglect to instruct his son to follow the Lord? Hezekiah is implicated in any of Manasseh’s idolatry of disobedience. But recall 2 Kings 20:19, which we read yesterday: “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’” For all his virtues, Hezekiah may have spent too much time thinking about himself, his lifetime, his walk with the Lord and not enough time preparing and passing on what he knew about God to others, particularly his own son, his successor. 

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.

1 Kings 15, Colossians 2, Ezekiel 45, Psalms 99–101

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 15, Colossians 2, Ezekiel 45, Psalms 99–101. 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 15.

Going forward it is important to remember a couple of things. First, the nation that has been called “Israel” for centuries is now divided. 10 1/2 tribes revolted from Judah when Solomon’s son Rehoboam wouldn’t reduce the burden of the government on the people. The 10 1/2 tribes that revolted continued to be called “Israel” but we also call them the Northern Kingdom. The Bible doesn’t use that term, but it is a helpful one we’ve applied to remember that “Israel” now isn’t what it was under David and Solomon. You will probably see me use that term several times in coming devotionals.

David’s family continued to reign over his tribe of Judah. They were now considered a separate nation. They were called Judah, but we also use the term Southern Kingdom to distinguish them from the Northern Kingdom / Israel. In addition to Judah, the tribe of Levi continued to serve as priests; however, they had no tribal lands but were scattered by God’s will among all the other tribes of the nation. Since they were responsible for Israel’s worship and the temple was in Judah, many of them were loyal to Judah. That’s why we say that Israel had 10 1/2 tribes.

The Northern Kingdom, Israel, had 19 kings from the time of Jeroboam until the Assyrians defeated them and scattered them from their national land. Of those 19 kings, not one of them is described in the Bible as a righteous or good king. They all did evil in God’s sight.

The Southern Kingdom, Judah, had 20 kings from the time of Rehoboam until the Babylonians took them captive. Of those 20 kings, 8 were described in the Bible as righteous or good kings. The first of these good kings, Asa, we met today here in 1 Kings 15. Although his father and grandfather were wicked men, “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life” (v. 14). His devotion to the Lord was demonstrated by his commitment to rid the land of idolatry (vv. 12-13). Verse 14a began with the phrase,“Although he did not remove the high places….” This indicates that Asa was not fully able to extinguish idolatry in Judah, but that he did remove it from the public eye. Idolatry was still practiced in Judah but it was done privately. It became like illegal drug use in our country—against the law and prosecuted when it was known about, but still practiced in privacy. The fact that Asa “did not remove the high places” indicates that he knew idolatry was being practiced there, but did not channel government resources toward their removal. That did not mean, however that Asa’s commitment to YHWH was weak or questionable or only for public consumption. The rest of verse 14 tells us that “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.” His commitment was total even if his actions were not perfect. 

One incident in Asa’s life demonstrated his commitment to the Lord. Verse 13 told us, “He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley.” Unlike many powerful people who give exemptions, special favors, and “carve outs” to their own family members and friends who are in violation of the law, Asa’s love for God and his commitment to the Lord outweighed his loyalty and love to his family. This must have been a difficult choice emotionally—and possibly a costly one relationally—for Asa, but he did it because he loved the Lord and wanted to be faithful to him even if it cost him a relationship he held dear. Jesus expected a similar commitment from his disciples when he said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). So we must ask ourselves this question: “Do we love God enough to stand for what’s right even when another person we love deeply stands on the other side?” If someone we love sins and is unrepentant or clings to unbelief or false beliefs, will we choose faithfulness to the Lord or the preservation of peace in the relationship? Asa’s devotion to the Lord was demonstrated by his choice to stand for God even when it hurt and cost him personally. May we never have to make such a choice but, if we do, may the Lord give us grace to do the right thing.

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.

1 Kings 11, Philippians 2, Ezekiel 41, Psalms 92–93

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 11, Philippians 2, Ezekiel 41, Psalms 92–93. 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 11.

Yesterday’s passage from 1 Kings 10 seems to represent the apex of Solomon’s career as king. The queen of Sheba had heard about “the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord (10:1a). That last phrase is key because after she tested him with hard questions (10:1b-3), she saw everything there was to see about his kingdom (vv. 3-5). Her response was to praise God and give him glory for it all (v. 9). As I suggested yesterday, her praise for God seems to show that Solomon gave praise to God for it all. It was his humility, his faith in God, and his obedience that led to such an amazing golden era in Israel’s history.

All of that started to unravel in today’s reading from 1 Kings 11. Contrary to God’s commands (11:2), Solomon married women from every foreign nation around Israel in addition to his Egyptian wife (v. 1). And his marriages to them were not merely tokens binding a peace accord with him and these other countries; verse 2c says, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” Indeed, he must have really, really been enamored with women because verse 3a-b says, “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines….” At some point, Solomon’s harem became the idol in his life that displaced God for verse 3c-4 says, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” The symptom of his romantic idolatry was real idolatry as we see in verse 5, “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.” The implication I see in this passage was that his desire to please his wives led him to do what they wanted him to do, namely worship idols with them. 

God was not passive about Solomon’s idolatry. Instead God promised that Solomon’s heir would lose the whole kingdom except for David’s tribe Judah (vv. 9-13). In addition to this promise, God raised up threats to Solomon’s kingdom from outside of it (vv. 14-25) and inside of it (vv. 26-40). Instead of finishing his reign in peace and prosperity, he left behind a disorderly, divided kingdom.

The lesson here, of course, is to be careful what you love. If you want to please anyone more than you want to please God, the temptations that follow that desire will be intense—too intense for most of us to resist. While God is gracious and merciful to forgive our sins, what he wants from us who know Christ is obedience from an undivided, loyal heart to him.

So, what is it or who is it that competes with God for your attention? Who do you want to please so much that disobeying God’s commands becomes an option or even a decision or habit? What pastime, or hobby, or ambition, or goal, or whatever captures your attention when your mind wanders? What do you daydream about? What habit are you developing that is disobedient to God’s word? Whatever it is, get rid of it! Remove it from your life as much as possible and, when you find yourself turning your attention to it, turn to God in prayer and ask him to remove that affection from your heart. 

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 http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

2 Samuel 17, 2 Corinthians 10, Ezekiel 24, Psalm 72

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Samuel 17, 2 Corinthians 10, Ezekiel 24, Psalm 72. 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 Ezekiel 24.

Ezekiel truly lived his prophesies. Many of his actions were object lessons to Israel. Ezekiel 24 records the most difficult object lesson of Ezekiel’s life. The chapter begins with the Lord commanding Ezekiel to record the date because the siege of Jerusalem began on that day (vv. 1-2). Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat and exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah happened in stages; Ezekiel was taken as one of the exiles in an early stage of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack. Now that he has Jerusalem under siege, the final stage of the Babylonian conquest of Judah has begun. 

The toll that being God’s prophet took on Ezekiel’s life is explained in verses 15-27. Because God’s people had idolized the temple, God wanted to show them what losing to Nebuchadnezzar would be like. So the Lord told Ezekiel that his wife was about to die (v. 16) and that he was not to do the customary acts of mourning for her (vv. 16-17). Instead, he was supposed to go about his life looking as he always did, though the Lord did concede in the phrase “groan quietly” that it would be painful and difficult for him (v. 17). Ezekiel gave the prophecy one morning and by that evening his wife died, just as the Lord had said (v. 18). When Ezekiel refused to mourn for her outwardly, everyone wanted to know what to make of his actions (v. 19). His answer was that they also would not mourn when the thing they loved the most—the temple—was destroyed (v. 21). 

By why wouldn’t they mourn if they loved the temple so much? The answer is not stated in this chapter. I usually don’t consult any sources when I write these devotionals, but today I took a peek at one commentary. The commentator wrote that the people would not mourn because they should have expected that it was coming. Jeremiah in Jerusalem was prophesying that Jerusalem would fall and the temple would be destroyed. Ezekiel was prophesying the same thing in Babylon, so when it happened it should not have been surprising. Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar was laying siege to Jerusalem. That meant his army was camped around the city preventing anyone or anything from coming or going. This would kill commerce in the city and, being a city, would prevent adequate food from coming in. The people of Jerusalem, then, would slowly starve until many of them died and those who lived were too weak to mount a threat to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. It took a long time for a siege to work and the people would have known that day after day they were getting weaker and more vulnerable. At some point, they would know that defending the city would be impossible so losing their freedom, their city, and their temple would be inevitable. Though they inwardly mourned the loss of these things, there was no sense in grieving because they knew it was coming for a long time.

What a hard price Ezekiel had to pay to be the Lord’s servant! But his loss illustrates something important that every person—even us believers—needs to understand. We cling to idols too much and to the Lord too little. Our idols maybe our relationships that we trust more than we trust God; they might be the job or the income that job provides that gives us a comfortable life. Our idols might be softer, too, or more spiritual. They might be a pastor or Christian author that we admire. May it is our reputation of godliness or service to the Lord. Whatever it is that we love and desire, if it replaces the Lord at the top of our affections, do not be surprised if the Lord topples it. It will be painful and it may seem like God is harsh and unloving. But the truth is that no idol is what God is, and no idol can do for you what God can do. To to cling to anything instead of the Lord will cause problems in your life. God may allow unbelievers to have their idols in this life and deal with them in the next; for his children, though, God loves us too much to let us worship something that is not him.

If you’ve faced a loss in your life that has you questioning God, you should consider whether that thing you have lost meant too much to you. It is never pleasant to lose what you love, but if what you love is keeping you from God, it is necessary for the Lord to prune it from our lives. May God give us grace to look to him in those hard moments of pruning.

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 http://www.facebook.com/calvarybiblechurch/. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

1 Samuel 15, Romans 13, Jeremiah 52, Psalm 31

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 15, Romans 13, Jeremiah 52, Psalm 31. 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 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave him direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing. Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9). God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11). In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord with a few exceptions made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands. Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience. The text does not tell us, but as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience. It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not. The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (vv. 22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins which were worse than Saul’s—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28). What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” 

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”? Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word. We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God. 

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “…  and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions  suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator. 

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord? 

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.