leadership

2 Chronicles 27-28, Zechariah 10

Today we’re reading 2 Chronicles 27-28 and Zechariah 10.

This devotional is about Zechariah 10.

One of the metaphors that repeats throughout scripture is that people are like sheep. Like sheep, people are given to wandering off on their own. They will follow the voice of a leader--a shepherd--they trust but without a shepherd, they tend to wander into trouble. A good leader of people, then, both provides a clear voice for the people to follow and watches out for them to keep them from straying too far from the group. When sheep stray too far from the herd, they are vulnerable to predators and to accidents. A good shepherd leads his sheep and watches out for them.

Here in Zechariah 10:3 God expressed anger toward the leaders of his people. The reason for his anger is that these shepherds give voice to lies. Verse 2 says, “The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain.” The result of these false, destructive, deceitful instructions was that “the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.”

God promised to provide the leadership that the kings and priests and prophets were not providing. Verse 3c-d says, “the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, the people of Judah....” But notice the result of that leadership in the next phrase of verse 3, “and make them like a proud horse in battle.” The metaphor changes, then, from the pool being like wandering sheep to becoming strong, able horses in battle. This suggests that God’s leadership takes us when we are weak, foolish, and vulnerable but develops us into strong, capable creatures.

Jesus was the shepherd God had in mind for this as we see in verse 4a, “From Judah will come the cornerstone” which is one of the images used to describe Christ. Christ has become the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). He is the cornerstone on which God’s people and our lives are built (1 Peter 2:6-7). Part of the leadership he provides is to give undershepherds (1 Peter 5:2-3) to his people to serve the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). The elders of our church, then, are here to provide you with the spiritual leadership and nourishment you need to make you strong and able to serve the Lord like a warhorse in the spiritual battles we face in this life.

Thank you for spending the time to read the Old Testament with me this year and to mediate with me on the meaning of these texts each day. I trust this is helpful to your life and that you’re using the word to grow in your faith.

But be sure to put what we’ve been learning into practice in your life. This is the goal of spiritual growth--to make us useful to God and his cause. What have you learned as a believer this year? How have you grown in your faith? Where are you serving the Lord more capably than before?

2 Chronicles 9, Zephaniah 1

Today, read 2 Chronicles 9 and Zephaniah 1

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 9.

This chapter summarizes and wraps up the end of Solomon’s life but the chapter began by telling us about how the queen of Sheba came to visit and meet with Solomon (v. 1). The location of “Sheba” is debated, but it was not close of convenient to Israel. Jesus said that she came “from the ends of the earth” (Matt 12:42), so this was not an easy trip.

But it was a rewarding one. Verse 4 said, “she was overwhelmed” (v. 4) by her experience in Jerusalem. Her own testimony was that she “did not believe what they said” when she heard about Solomon until she “came and saw with my own eyes” (v. 6). She went from not believing the reports about Solomon to believing that the reports had been grossly understated. Verse 6 said, “Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard.”

Although her journey was difficult and costly (vv. 1, 6) it was financially beneficial (v. 12) and, I think the Bible suggests, administratively and spiritually advantageous as well. Other world leaders followed her lead and visited with Solomon, too, according to verse 23.

The lesson here is that wisdom and knowledge may be hard to get and costly but they are worth it. One of the best ways to solve a problem in your life or to move to a new level in your life is to find someone else who has excelled in that area, get with that person, and learn everything you can from him or her.

But you have to humble yourself to admit that you need help and that’s hard for most of us to do. If you were afraid to ask a teacher for extra help in school then you may find it hard to seek advice from others. Refusing to look for help from others may preserve your ego but it will also mean that you’ll be stuck at one level for a long time--maybe for the rest of your life.

Could you use a coach or a mentor in your: • walk with God? • parenting? • use of money? • physical health or fitness? • career?

Then make like the queen and find someone who can help you! There maybe (probably is) someone in our church family who could help you or introduce you to someone who could help you.

Where do you need help? Who could you ask for help?

1 Chronicles 26-27, Micah 4

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Chronicles 26-27 and Micah 4.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 26-27.

Sometimes you call a company to talk to a specific person but you don’t have that person’s extension number. If a real, live person answers the phone you can just ask to be connected. Frequently, however, you will get an automated response to your call. It will tell you to press 1 for this, press 2 for that, etc. One of the options is usually, “For a list of all extensions, press *” or # or one of the numbers. Then you can listen as, one by one, in alphabetical order, the name and extension of each employee of the company is read to you.[1]

This portion of scripture is like that directory of extensions. Starting back in 1 Chronicles 22, David began making preparations for Solomon to become king and build the temple. From chapter 23 through chapter 26 today, we’ve been reading lists of names of people who served in the Lord’s tabernacle in some way. Here in 1 Chronicles 27, we have ...uh... chronicled for us the men who served as leaders in David’s army (vv. 1-15), the leaders of the tribes of Israel (vv. 16-24), and leaders in David’s administration (vv. 25-34). The impression this list makes is that David’s kingdom was large and well-organized. Each person who served was known by name and his role in the kingdom was documented. Notice just a few of these details: • There were royal storehouses (v. 25) and they were organized into districts, towns, villages, and watchtowers. Two men were responsible for these storehouses. • There were geographical assignments for certain things such as “the olive and sycamore-fig trees in the western foothills” (v. 28) and “the herds grazing in Sharon” (v. 29). • The king had men on his staff who were his confidant (Hushai) and counselors (Jonathan and Ahithophel (vv. 32-33).

Within these administrative lists, there are indications that some of the men were especially skilled in their jobs. Among the gatekeepers of the tabernacle, some “were leaders in their father’s family because they were very capable men” (26:6). Others were described as “capable men with the strength to do the work” (26:8). Jonathan, David’s uncle was “a man of insight and a scribe” (v. 32). He sounds like exactly the right man for that role.

My point in all of this is that sometimes people complain about “organized religion.” There are some who believe there is virtue in being disorganized and loose with details and responsibilities. Many people dislike accountability even though they accepted responsibility for the results of an area. These lists of men and their responsibilities show us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God’s servants in worship and kingdom administration were highly organized and their responsibilities were clearly defined. Not many people love administration--I sure don’t--but administration serves a purpose: it enables people to glorify God by serving others consistently and reliably.

Where is your place in the administration of God’s work in our church? If you are a leader, are your people well-organized with clear roles and responsibilities? Could it be that one of the best ways you could serve the Lord right now is to put some effort into administration?


[1] If you don’t know what I’m talking about, call 734-434-4044 can press 2 after my automated voice answers the phone.

1 Chronicles 13-14, Amos 8

Today, read 1 Chronicles 13-14 and Amos 8.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 14.

David was chosen by God to be king Israel. But, he lived in obscurity after God had him anointed until he defeated Goliath the Philistine. After that victory, David’s life became one battlefield after another. He was either fighting valiantly to defend God’s people and advance Israel’s territory or he was fighting for his life, trying to stay way from Saul.

After he was crowned king and began to put his government together, we read in verse 8 that, “When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, they went up in full force to search for him....” I don’t know about you, but I think I’d be battle-weary by this point. I would be ready to rule as king and not spend so much time fighting.

Not David. David heard about the Philistines plans and “...went out to meet them.” But before he met them in battle, he “...inquired of God: ‘Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?’” (v. 10). God assured him that He would give David victory (v. 10) and he did, even giving David the Philistines’ idols to burn (vv. 11-12).

Those Philistines were persistent, however, and attacked again (v. 13). Perhaps they hoped to kill David before he get any stronger as king but their pre-emptive strikes did not work. Once again David defeated the Philistines (v. 16) but only after he “inquired of God again, and God answered him” (v. 14). This time God even gave him the strategy to use in his attack (vv. 14-15).

The result of these battles was greater than subduing the Philistines. Verse 17 says that as a result of these wins, “David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him.” From the beginning of his reign, then, God cemented David’s leadership and strengthened his power internationally by allowing the Philistines to attack him and giving him those victories.

There are times in our lives when we feel like we go from one problem to the next. Fortunately for us, our problems don’t involve killing other people in war but none of us gets to be king, either. Our problems are smaller than David but we have a more modest calling to fulfill in our lives than he did. My point is that David could have complained to the Lord that he was tired of fighting. He could have tried to ignore the Philistines or buy them off. Their attacks against him were immediate tests of his will; they were designed by the Philistines to prevent David from becoming too powerful.

David did not shrink from the battles even though he’d had a long, difficult road to the throne. Instead, he used these attacks as an opportunity to honor God by seeking God’s will and acting according to whatever God revealed. The end result of these battles was less fighting for David because through these battles, “...the Lord made all the nations fear him” (v. 17b).

People, in my experience at least, usually don’t expect problems. So we are surprised when problems come and sometimes complain to the Lord as if we don’t deserve them.

If you think that you shouldn’t have any problems in life or that you’ve had enough problems and deserve something else, you’re going to be very disappointed with this life. Problems are a symptom of a sin-cursed world. If we don’t think we should have any problems, we don’t understand how the world works.

We also don’t understand God. God knows that problems are part of living in a fallen world. He, therefore, uses problems for our good. They give us the opportunity either to seek his help and follow his word or to lean on our own understanding. They strengthen our faith when we look to him for help and he delivers. They also increase our stature with other people (v. 17) when we handle them well with the Lord’s help. Problems, then, are opportunities. We should embrace them, believing that God will both help us and strengthen us through them.

What problems are you facing today? Can you look at them as opportunities for God to use you and to grow you?

1 Chronicles 11-12, Amos 7

Today our readings are 1 Chronicles 11-12 and Amos 7.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 11-12.

The first of the two chapters we read today opens by describing David’s appointment as king. It was the Lord who chose David to be king, of course (v. 2b) but God’s people recognized and affirmed that choice after witnessing David’s military leadership (v. 2a). Verses 4-9 described how David took Jerusalem and made it his home. Verse 9 concludes with this, “And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord Almighty was with him.”

This is the part that we all know. What follows in verses 10-47 is the part that we don’t usually think about. It is a collection of stories about the chiefs of David’s “mighty warriors” (vv. 10-25) followed by a list of the mighty warriors (vv. 26-47). These men were skilled fighters and extremely loyal to David. Their loyalty to him and desire to please him led three of them to make a risky incursion into Bethlehem to get him a drink from the waters of home (vv. 16-19). Through these men “gave his kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land, as the Lord had promised” (v. 10b).

David was a great warrior and leader but he didn’t win battles by himself. He was successful because God was with him and God used these men to accomplish his will through David.

If you’re a leader, who are the other leaders on your team? Who shares the work of leading with you? If the answer is, “nobody,” then you need to ask God for help and look around for others who could be developed into that role.

If you’re someone who supports the leader, a leader under him or a “foot soldier” (so to speak), are you devoted to your leader? Assuming he or she is a leader God approves of, would you do whatever you could--even taking on some risk (v. 19)--to help your leader(s) accomplish the will of God?

1 Kings 21, Daniel 3

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 21 and Daniel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 21.

There are two types of leadership: (1) positional leadership and (2) personal leadership. A personal leader is someone who is influential because of who they are. They have the right combination of characteristics that cause others to follow them naturally. This kind of person is sometimes called a “natural born leader.”

A positional leader is someone who occupies a position that gives them influence over others. Your boss is a positional leader because s/he decides whether you keep your employment and pay, or get demoted or promoted. Even if you personally dislike your boss or wouldn’t follow that person (or any positional leader) if you didn’t have to, you have to follow him or her because they can help you or hurt you.

Ahab definitely had positional leadership. He was the king of Israel. But when it comes to personal leadership, he seems to have far less of that quality than his wife Jezebel had. In this chapter of scripture, Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard and attempted to get it in a righteous way. He made Naboth a fair offer (v. 2) and accepted Naboth’s rejection, even though it hurt his feelings (vv. 3-4). Later on in this chapter, after receiving the Lord’s declaration of judgment for his sin (vv. 21-24), he responded with a degree of repentance (v. 27).

So if Ahab had a few principles, why was he said to be unlike anyone else “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 25)? One answer to that is his own idolatry (v. 26) but a key component was the personal leadership influence of his wife Jezebel. The last phrase of verse 25 told us that he did all this evil, “...urged on by Jezebel his wife.” It was was her personal leadership--her influence--that gave Ahab the confidence to follow some of his own sinful tendencies. Furthermore, we read in this chapter that it was her idea to frame and kill Naboth (vv. 7-14) in order to make it easy for Ahab unjustly to take Naboth’s vineyard (vv. 15-16). Jezebel led her husband into sinful actions that he (apparently) would not have taken himself (v. 7).

One important lesson, then, is to be careful about who you marry and, generally, who your friends are. Relationships give people great power over the choices and decisions of others. If you’ve ever done something you were reluctant to do (or that it never occurred to you to do), you know how powerful personal leadership can be. So be careful to choose people who are growing Christians with high moral character to be the closest people in your life.

Even though it was Jezebel’s idea, Ahab was still accountable for what happened. Don’t ever let yourself believe that your sin is excusable just because you were following someone else. Ultimately we will answer to God for everything we do regardless of what led us to do it.

Who are the biggest personal influences in your life? Are those people leading you (influencing you) in godly ways or ungodly ways? Would making some changes in your relationships help you to make better, more righteous decisions?

1 Kings 4-5, Ezekiel 35

Today, read 1 Kings 4-5 and Ezekiel 35.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 4.

Wisdom, defined basically, is “skill.” There are people in the Bible who are said to have had wisdom in the area of making garments, for instance (Exodus 28:3). That is a skill that God gave them but that they developed.

In Proverbs, Solomon described the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. Most of the Proverbs speak of wisdom in a moral context--worship the Lord, follow his commands, and you will be a wise person. But people can have skill in many areas of life and Solomon’s God-given wisdom extended broadly. He not only had spiritual insight, as we read today in1 Kings 4:32 but he also had administrative insight. Most of this chapter, 1 Kings 4, is dedicated to how Solomon skillfully built administration into his kingdom.

But verse 29 goes on to say that Solomon had wisdom in many areas of life. Verse 33 tells us that Solomon lectured on “plant life... animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” This suggests a curiosity about the world in general and a focused effort to study and understand things.

We believe that God created all things and we believe that he charged humanity with responsibility to develop and use the world around us. Given that, many things that we don’t ordinarily think of a spiritual can actually be acts of worship for a dedicated Christian. Geology, astronomy, physics, business administration, investing, money management, medicine, law, technology, botany, art, music, and many other things that I can’t think of just now can all be areas where God gives someone wisdom and where someone who fears the Lord can demonstrate that wisdom and give glory to God with it.

What areas are you gifted in? Can you sell? Persuade other people? Write? Crunch numbers? Fix electrical problems or computer problems? Learn foreign languages? Write code for computer applications? Have you considered that the interest and ability you have in one or more of these so-called “secular” areas of life could actually be a gift of wisdom to you from God? What, as a Christian, are you doing with that ability to bring glory to God?

1 Kings 3, Ezekiel 34

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?

2 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 27

Today, read 2 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 27.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 20.

Joab was an outstanding military leader for David. Violence, however, was not just his thing on the battlefield; it was just about the only language he knew. Earlier in 2 Samuel, his brother Asahel was killed in battle by Saul’s top general Abner (2 Sam 2:22-32). Joab retaliated by murdering Abner in a non-military setting (3:27). That happened early on in David’s administration as king of all Israel and he did not deal justly with Joab, though he did condemn his actions (2 Sam 3:29).

David paid a price for not dealing with Joab. In chapter 18 Joab killed David’s son Absolom against David’s explicit command and when Absolom was completely defenseless (18:9-15). As a result, David turned over leadership of his army to Amasa in chapter 19. As we read yesterday in 2 Samuel 19:13, David said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.’”

Here in chapter 20 Amasa had an opportunity to serve David and demonstrate his prowess as a military leader. Sheba rebelled against David (vv. 1-3) and David commanded Amasa to get the men of Judah ready to fight against Sheba. Verse 5 told us, however, that Amasa failed to do what David commanded. “But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him.” To keep matters from getting worse, David had to turn to Abishai and Joab used the uncertainty of leadership to reassert himself as Israel’s military leader again (vv. 9-10, 13-23a).

The lessons here are two:

Procrastination is a costly error for leaders. When verse 5 says that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” I interpret that to be describing some amount of incompetence as a leader. David was an experienced fighter and leader; he knew how long it should take to muster the men of Judah and prepare them for battle. The fact that Amasa “took longer than the time the king had set for him” suggests either a lack of persuasion skills or (more likely) some amount of procrastination. Procrastination is a killer because it squanders opportunity. When you and I do other things to avoid the thing we should be doing, we are wasting time, energy, (possibly) money and opportunity. Except for money, all of those things are impossible to recover. If you’re going to be an effective leader, then, don’t be crippled by an inability to decide and take action. Effective people under your leadership may get the job done but at what cost? Joab was very successful as a military leader but David treated him as untouchable because of his great success. That was a mistake; David excused the unjust way Joab acted and it came back to hurt David in multiple ways.

As you serve the Lord in your daily work, don’t procrastinate; get to work ASAP and be effective at whatever you are planning or leading.

Similarly, if you are a leader with an employee who is effective but cruel to others, fire that person ASAP. It will be hard to do because he or she is so effective but it will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 3

Today read 1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 24.

Before David was anointed to be king of Israel (1 Sam 16), Saul was told that his sin would keep the kingdom from passing through his family. 1 Samuel 15:28 says, “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors--to one better than you.’” So it was Saul’s disobedience that opened the door for David to be king; it was not true that David was an ambitious soldier who decided to dethrone Saul.

But once God chose David to be king, Saul’s ability to lead as king began to unravel. Instead of leading as well as he could for the rest of his life, he was out there in the Desert of En Gedi looking for David (vv. 1-2).

After looking for David for a time, Saul started looking for somewhere to use the bathroom (v. 3: “to relieve himself”). He found a cave that would work well but--wouldn’t your know it--it was the very cave where David and his men were hiding (v. 3). What are the odds?

Zero; that’s what the odds were. This was a divine appointment; David’s men thought so, too: “The men said, ‘This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.”’” God is sovereign and works his will using non-miraculous situations that we call “providence.” This sure looked like a prime opportunity that God in his providence delivered up for David. While Saul was squatting, David could have crept up behind him and cut his throat. Saul would never know what happened to him. He would die and David would get what God promised him.

This whole chapter looks like God set things up for David to take the kingdom. In addition to all of this, Saul was actively hunting David. If the situations were reversed, Saul would have immediately killed David, no questions asked. Since that is true, a valid argument can be made that David’s actions were done in self-defense if he were to kill Saul in this incident. And, honestly, I don’t think it would have been a sin for David to kill Saul at this moment given everything we know about these two men.

So why did David spare Saul’s life? Why did his conscience bother him for merely cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe? The answer is given in verse 6, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” Unless and until God removed Saul from the throne of Israel, David did not want to be king.

Saul knew that it was God’s will for David to be the next king of Israel (v.20). After all, he was there when Samuel told him that his kingdom would not endure in 1 Sam 15:28. He also heard Samuel say that the kingdom would go to someone, “...better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). This incident proves that David is morally and spiritually a better man that Saul (v. 17a) because David, in this passage, loved his enemy. As he told David in verse 19, “When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.” Long before Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, David did it.

Do you love your enemies? Are you merciful to others who sin against you or are you vindictive toward them? We know how the story concluded: Saul died in battle and David did, in fact, become king. His patience to wait for what God had promised to come to him paid off. If we trust God, we can do the same knowing that He will provide for us in His timing and according to his ways.

1 Samuel 19, Lamentations 4

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Samuel 19 & Lamentations 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 19.

There was simply no good reason why Saul should want to kill David, yet that was order that Saul gave to his son Jonathan (v. 1a). Instead executing the order (and David), Jonathan reported to his close friend David Saul’s intentions (v. 1b-2a). Jonathan encouraged David to hide (v. 2b) while Jonathan attempted to to talk his father out of killing David (vv. 4-5). Although it was God’s will to replace Saul as king with David, it was not nearly God’s time for that to happen. David was more than content to serve Saul and wait for the Lord to make his will happen in his timing. There was no threat to Saul, either imminently or in the long-term. In fact, David had been a great benefit to Saul as Jonathan pointed out in verse 5a. The penetrating question Jonathan had for Saul was, “Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” (v. 5b). Since there was no reason for Saul to kill David, Saul relented and even put himself under oath to Jonathan not to kill David (v. 6). Although this restored David to Saul’s service for a time (vv. 7-8), it was only a matter of time until the demons that tormented Saul incited him to try to kill David again (vv. 9-17).

Although Saul and David are the main characters in this story, it is impossible not to be impressed with the selfless character of Jonathan. HE was the man who could have been fearful and jealous and homicidal toward David, yet he took “a great liking to David” (v. 1b), protected David’s life (v. 2) and sought to make peace between his father and his friend.

I wonder how often we try to make peace when there is obvious turmoil between people we know? Remember that Jonathan was not jumping to conclusions about Saul’s intentions toward David; Saul had ordered him and all his other men to kill David (v. 1a). We should certainly avoid jumping to conclusions and gossiping about others; those actions are sinful and create problems instead of solving them. But when we are aware of problems between others, how often do we stand on the sidelines and tell ourselves, “It’s none of my business.” Jonathan could easily have done that. He could have let his father sin or even become the agent of his father’s sin if he had obeyed the order in verse 1; he could have let his friend be killed because he did not want to get involved. But instead of passivity, Jonathan chose to have the hard, right conversation. Imagine confronting the king about his murderous intent; imagine telling your father that he was attempting to do wrong and sinning against God. These are not easy things to do and most of us (myself definitely included) would look for an excuse to stay out of it. Jonathan, the one who had the most to gain by David’s death and the most to lose if he and Saul were reconciled, disregarded his own discomfort and advantage and did the right thing. Is there anyone in your life who is harboring sinful intentions that you know about? Are their people in your circle of relationships who need to be encouraged toward reconciliation? Could it be that God wants you to step in and try to do the right thing?

Ultimately, Jonathan was unsuccessful. He achieved a temporary cease-fire from Saul, but not a permanent solution. It doesn’t matter; Jonathan did everything in his power to do the right thing. It was a testament to his faith in God and desire to please Him. May we step up and follow his sterling example.

1 Samuel 16, Lamentations 1

Today, read 1 Samuel 16 and Lamentations 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 16.

The writer of First Samuel has given us very few time references to help us mark the events recorded in this book. Since the author focused on the significant events without telling us how much time passed between them, it seems like Saul’s kingdom rose rapidly and collapsed over night as we read 1 Samuel. But the truth is that Saul reigned over Israel for a long time—forty-two years, according 1 Samuel 13:1. It may have been a long time between when Samuel officially announced to Saul his rejection as king in 1 Samuel 15 and David’s anointing as king in 1 Samuel 16. The Lord’s word to Samuel in 16:1, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?”, suggests that a good amount of time may have passed. Despite that, a long time will transpire between when David was anointed king here in 1 Samuel 16 and when he became king in 2 Samuel 2. During this time, God would prepare David for the role He had chosen David to fill.

God commanded Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons in verse 1 to replace Saul as king. Since Samuel feared for his life while obeying this command (v. 2a), God told him how to use the worship ritual of sacrifice to provide cover for this assignment (vv. 2b-5). Although offering a sacrifice gave Samuel an overt occasion to accomplish his covert mission of choosing Israel’s king, the sacrifice itself was more than just a cover story. As the leader of God’s people, it was appropriate for David’s ministry as king to begin with a sacrifice followed by his anointing because his kingship would be a spiritual thing—an act of obedient worship, of direct service to the Lord his God.

The importance of choosing a godly man to succeed Saul was emphasized in how God revealed to Samuel whom to anoint. Traditionally, the eldest son would have been the natural choice and Jesse’s son Eliab looked like a winner to Samuel (v. 6). But God taught Samuel and us an important lesson about spiritual leadership in verse 7 of our chapter for today: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We humans are wired to be impressed by someone’s physical appearance. We admire those who are tall, “looking up” to them metaphorically as well as literally. Studies show that a good looking job candidate is more likely to be hired than an average (or worse) looking person, even if the good-looking one is less qualified. We are easily impressed by appearances. God, however, is not. Although David was plenty good-looking and athletic (vv. 12, 18), it was his walk with God that qualified him to be a leader for God’s people, not his physical attributes.

This passage should cause us to stop and reflect on our own decision-making. How much of a factor was the character and spiritual life of your spouse when you chose to start dating him or her? How much was it a factor when you chose to get married? Do you choose to read books (or receive other kinds of spiritual input) from pastors and teachers who are popular, lead large ministries, and have impressive sales numbers or are you looking for strong, biblical content? What about choosing a church—is it about how cool and flashy the worship team is or how trendy the pastor’s clothes or how good his message makes you feel? When your kids start to get interested in the opposite sex, are you concerned that they climb the social ladder by dating the best looking, or most popular, or biggest athlete? As long as that person claims to be a Christian, is that good enough for you or are you looking for evidence of a growing Christian life?

David had a lot to learn before he could lead God’s people as king, so in God’s providence he was brought into close contact with Saul in verses 13-23. But the most important qualification in David’s life was that he walked with God. Since he walked with God, God would lead him through the circumstances and events (many of them painful) that would prepare him to be the leader of God’s people. If you aspire to be a leader or to become somebody’s husband or wife, or to see your children grow up and become good, godly adults, the most important thing to do is walk with God yourself. The second most important thing to do is to learn to look beneath appearances for genuine evidence of a growing walk with God in the other person. We can’t see the heart like God does, but we can ask him to lead us and to show us the truth about others. If our desire is to please God, we can trust that he will lead us just as he lead in David’s life.

1 Samuel 14, Jeremiah 51

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 14 and Jeremiah 51.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 14.

Although Saul was the king and was responsible for fighting Israel’s war, it was Jonathan who seemed to have the courage to keep taking on the Philistines. Yesterday in 1 Samuel 13 we read about Jonathan’s attack on Geba (13:3) and today we read about another attack of Jonathan on a Philistine outpost (vv. 1-14). God was with Jonathan and even did sent a little earthquake to help him (v. 15), but Saul delayed joining the fight (vv. 16-19). When Saul and his men finally did join the fight, they won a great victory for Israel; however, Saul had foolishly caused the armies to take an oath not to eat until the battle was finished (v. 24). Although everyone knew that Jonathan had not heard Saul’s decree or taken the oath himself, Saul was determined to hold Jonathan accountable for breaking the terms of the oath by eating some of the honey he encountered (vv. 43-44). Only the direct intervention of the people saved Jonathan’s life from being taken foolishly and needlessly (v. 45). The wording of verse 45 is general, but the intent of the verse is that the rest of the army rallied to Jonathan’s cause. The phrase, “…As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground” in verse 45 is a threat against Saul. The army is telling Saul that they will fight against him to protect Jonathan’s life.

Israel avoided losing a great warrior, but this passage should cause us to consider how great of an impact a foolish, snap decision can be. When we create arbitrary rules that serve no purpose or ruthlessly enforce them without any regard to the consequences, we are acting like Saul did here in 1 Samuel 14. The stakes and the potential impact on us are not as high as they were for Jonathan and Saul, but the principle remains the same. A godly leader does not decide things impetuously or foolishly. If he does make a foolish decision, he will not enforce it without thinking. The passage shows us the effect that God’s rejection of Saul in 1 Samuel 13 was beginning to have on his ministry as king. Saul, the once courageous leader that Israel had began to become a tentative follower when it came to doing God’s will (vv. 12b, 15-19).

How is your leadership today? Are you moving forward when God’s will is clear? Are you careful about the decisions you make, thinking carefully about the possible consequences and outcomes?

1 Samuel 12, Jeremiah 49

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 12 and Jeremiah 49.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12:2b-4: “‘I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.’ ‘You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.’

In this chapter, Samuel made his farewell to Israel as the leader and judge of the nation. One thing that was important to him was his integrity. Could anyone in the entire nation accuse him of exploiting them in any way? No; the people affirmed that Samuel’s life and ministry as Israel’s judge was free of any kind of scandal at all.

It takes either a clean conscience or incredible hubris to say what Samuel said in this passage. He knew that he had never used his position of power to exploit anyone. Still, there is always the chance of misunderstanding so Samuel invited anyone in the nation to present their grievance so he could make it right (v. 3).

Many national leaders throughout history have used their position of authority to enrich themselves at the expense of the people they lead. This happens when a leader feels entitled. If he believes that he got to be the leader because he is special or that he is special because he is the leader, then instead of seeing others as people to be led, the leader begins to see them as resources to be used for his own benefit.

In other words, someone who uses a position of power to enrich and enjoy himself at the expense of others is not a leader; he is a leech. A true leader, a godly leader, a leader that people respect and want to follow uses resources to benefit others, not to enrich himself.

There are abundant examples in our own world of “leaders” who practice “leechership.” There are examples of leaders who lead like Samuel, too, but you don’t usually get credit for doing the right thing.

Think about the areas where you lead. Do you lead others for their benefit or for yours? What would it mean to change your leadership to bring the most benefit to others for the glory of God?

1 Samuel 10, Jeremiah 47

Today's readings are 1 Samuel 10 and Jeremiah 47.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 10 and is reposted from 66in16.

Yesterday’s reading in 1 Samuel 9 began to tell us the story of Saul’s anointing to be king and today’s reading in chapter 10 concluded the story. Although chapter 9 verse 1 told us that Saul’s father Kish was “a man of standing” in the tribe of Benjamin, Saul himself displayed quite a bit of humility about his family. In chapter 9:20 Samuel asked Saul rhetorically, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” Saul’s response in 9:21 was, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” So, while Kish himself may have been an elder in his town and a man with a good reputation, Saul did not think of his family or himself as particularly noteworthy—not in the nation of Israel or in his tribe. Yet here in chapter 10, we read that Samuel anointed Saul to be king (v. 1), then prophesied about a distinct series of events that would happen to Saul. These events would be unremarkable. Two men Saul knew would meet him and tell him that his father was worried about him (v. 2), three men would greet Saul and give him some bread (vv. 3-4), and “a procession of prophets” would encounter Saul (v. 5). After he met the prophets, the extraordinary thing in this prophecy would happen: Saul himself would receive a powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit and would prophesy and “be changed into a different person” (v. 6). Bible scholars refer to this event as the “theocratic anointing,” meaning that, in this event Saul was receiving God’s power and God’s public confirmation that he was God’s choice to serve as king.

Samuel referred to these as “signs” (v. 7). They were designed to give a humble rancher like Saul the conviction that God had indeed chosen him to be king. Everything about 1 Samuel 9-10 indicates that Saul had no ambition to be anything more than a rancher like his father Kish. Although Saul was tall and good-looking (9:2), he did no politicking, no self-promotion, not even any military exploits that would indicate that Saul wanted any kind of leadership, much less to become Israel’s king. He was truly a humble man of the people.

After telling Saul he would experience these signs, Samuel told Saul he would have God’s favor in whatever leadership he exerted: “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (v. 7). But Saul was to wait in Gilgal for seven days and then he would be unveiled publicly as Israel’s king (v. 8). Every sign that Samuel predicted came true (vv. 9-10) and Saul’s prophesying got the attention of everyone who knew him (vv. 11-13). After an unassuming re-entry to family life (vv. 14-16), Saul was publicly revealed to be the king by Samuel (vv. 17-21). Saul knew he was about to be revealed as Israel’s new king—all of Samuel’s prophesies had come true, after all—so he hid himself to avoid being chosen (vv. 22-24), once again showing the humility with which he entered the office.

The final demonstration of Saul’s humility in this passage was demonstrated in verses 26-27. Some men volunteered because God had given them the desire to serve Saul (v. 26) but others questioned and overtly disrespected Saul (v. 27a). Yet, Saul did not retaliate or insist on being honored as king; instead he remained quiet (v. 27b).

This passage demonstrates once again what God is looking for in a leader. Although Saul had some of the physical characteristics that mark human leaders (9:1, 10:23-24), he was not well-born nor was he ambitious or attention-seeking. The Bible tells us over and over that God opposes those who are proud but is gracious to those who are humble. This is a good quality for anyone who finds himself in leadership or aspires to leadership because leadership is about serving, not about being served. Still, position can corrupt someone who starts out well (as we’ll see later in Saul’s life), so we should never assume that because we started out humble we will have God’s favor for our whole lives. Humility is such an elusive quality; as soon as you feel satisfied the you have it, the odds are good that pride has actually started to take root in your heart. Keep your eyes on God and remember that leading his people is an opportunity that he entrusts to the humble and that the humility that got you chosen for leadership is necessary constantly to keep you serving in the will of God rather than acting like someone who feels he deserves to be served.

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Today’s readings are Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly. Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began--11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns--a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7). Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That worked somewhat but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership. When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other, overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges. But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail. The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who...
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to ...um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society--and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; the attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies, but he never led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also...
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

    1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
    1. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
    1. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

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).

Judges 11:12-40, Jeremiah 24

Today’s readings are Judges 11:12-40 and Jeremiah 24.

This devotional is about Judges 11:12-40.

Jephthah was born of a sinful union and was horribly mistreated by his half brothers as we read yesterday. Despite this difficult beginning, he had leadership qualities (11:3) so he was ready when his people needed help.

He also knew his Bible (vv. 12-28) and, when the time came, God used him powerfully to deliver Gilead from the Ammonites. Although he had pure motives to honor God for the victory, the vow he made was stupid (vv. 30-31). His reaction (vv. 34-35) shows how little thought he put into the vow he had made and how there was no malice whatsoever in his heart when he made the vow.

I heard a pastor say once that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter and offer her as a burnt offering; instead, he just sent her off to the tabernacle to serve the priests like Hannah would later do with her son Samuel. I wish that were true, but the evidence to the contrary in the passage is too strong. In verse 31b he said, “I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” and verse 39b says, “...he did to her as he had vowed” so there is every reason to believe that she died as a human sacrifice and no reason to believe that she lived as a religious servant.

So what do we do with this awful text? First, we should understand that the whole book of Judges was given to show us what a moral and spiritual mess Israel was. Even the good guys in Judges do foolish, even ungodly things.

More importantly, we should understand that Jephthah’s vow was outside of the moral will of God. Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-12 clearly prohibit human sacrifice and those passages tell us that Israel would kill the people of these Canaanite nations in war because of this very kind of sinful thing. Promising God that you will do something and then doing it when it is a sin does not bring glory to God in any way.

So what should Jephthah have done? He should have asked the priests to inquire of the Lord for him (see Ex 28:30, Deut 33:8, 1 Sam 14:41, Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65)*, then done whatever he was told. I am certain the Lord would have commanded him to redeem his daughter in some way rather than put her to death.

We can learn two lessons from this gruesome story. First, being zealous for God’s glory does not automatically protect you from doing foolish, even sinful things. Sometimes Christians make excuses for themselves or others because someone “has a good heart.” They may have a good heart but that doesn’t mean they always make good decisions. Wisdom is just as important as personal godliness; in fact, it IS an important aspect of godliness.

Second, when you put yourself in a moral quandary--intentional or not--you need to seek godly counsel for help. So many problems could have been prevented, solved, or at least had the damage contained if God’s people reached out to godly leaders for help sooner and more often. Consult your elders when you’re in over your head. God gave elders to the church to shepherd his people out of difficult situations. Use us.

*For more on how the Urim & Thummim were used to help discern God’s will, see this article: https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function ]

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22 which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?