marriage

2 Chronicles 8, Habakkuk 3

Today, our schedule calls for us to read 2 Chronicles 8, Habakkuk 3.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 8:11: “Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter up from the City of David to the palace he had built for her, for he said, ‘My wife must not live in the palace of David king of Israel, because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.’”

Yesterday we read in 2 Chronicles 7 about how Solomon dedicated the temple and received assurance that the Lord would accept the sacrifices made in that temple and that he would bless Solomon’s kingdom for as long as he obeyed the Lord.

But here in 1 Chronicles 8, Solomon turned to other matters on his to do list. The one that interests me for this devotional is described in verse 11. In that verse, Solomon moved his wife, the Egyptian daughter of Pharaoh “up from the City of David.”

The “city of David” is the old part of Jerusalem. It is the fortress that the Jebusites built and lived in until David conquered them in 2 Samuel 5:6-10. David inhabited that fortress (2 Sam 5:9), built his personal palace there (2 Sam 5:11), and also put up the tent that served as the tabernacle there (2 Sam 6:12) until Solomon built the temple.

Here in 8:11, however, Solomon thought about the theological implications of being married to Pharoah’s daughter. Specifically, he did not want her to live “in the palace of David.” This was after Solomon had built his own palace (v. 1: “Solomon... built his own palace”) so maybe this suggests that Solomon’s wives lived in David’s palace(?). At any rate, Solomon’s words suggest that David had brought the ark of the covenant into his palace at some point. It is possible that David had the priests bring the ark many times, if he was bringing it there to inquire of the Lord. Solomon then reasoned that he shouldn’t bring his Egyptian wife into David’s house “because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.” As a result, Solomon built a separate palace for his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. This house was probably outside the city of David; Solomon’s many building projects expanded the city’s borders well beyond the original fortress that David took from the Jebusites and inhabited.

Follow me on this:

• Anywhere the ark went is holy and David’s palace was one of those places. • Solomon was concerned that his Egyptian wife NOT live somewhere that the ark had gone. • So he built Pharoah’s daughter her own palace outside the city of David (2 Chronicles 8:11).

Why did he do this? It seems to me that he was concerned for her life. If God killed Uzzah for touching the ark which was an act that dishonored the holiness of God (2 Sam 6:7) then it was dangerous business to let the Egyptian woman near David’s house lest she also defile a place that God’s ark had made holy.

What is the implicit assumption here? It is that Pharaoh’s daughter was unholy. She had not converted to Judaism but remained a worshipper of false gods despite her marriage to Solomon. His marriage to her was in disobedience to God’s commands so it put him in a tough situation that he “solved” by giving her a separate compartment to live in. That’s right, Solomon attempted to compartmentalize his life to keep a place where he could be disobedient to God’s direct will.

God’s word was proved right later when this woman (and others) turned Solomon’s heart toward other gods. Following God’s word is hard enough; we have God’s Spirit but our efforts to be holy are opposed by the sin nature within, the world, and the devil. Solomon put himself in a position to choose between pleasing God or pleasing his spouse. Guess which choice is the easiest to make?

If you’re not married, this is one reason why it is wrong to marry an unbeliever. Don’t even date an unbeliever because you will face temptations that challenge your faith over and over again.

But all of us, at times, try to compartmentalize our lives. We try to live a life that pleases God but keep a little workshop in the basement for our own pet sin projects. Solomon shows us that this compartmentalization does not work. Jesus said you can’t serve two masters--God and money--but there is more than money that wants to be your master.

Where are you compartmentalizing sin in your life? Will you remove it like a tumor or let it grow until it spills out of its compartment and takes over your spiritual life?

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15

Today, read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15.

This devotional is about Genesis 16.

Genesis 15 was such a beautiful chapter about Abram’s relationship to God. After Abram saved Lot and his cohorts but refused to take any gains for himself in Genesis 14, God appeared to him in Genesis 15 and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abram was honest with God about the pain of having no heir despite all God had promised him (vv. 2-3). God re-affirmed his promise to Abram (vv. 4-5) and even made an unconditional covenant ceremony for Abram (vv. 9-21). Verse 6 of chapter 15 told us that, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

What a beautiful chapter!

Once he left that metaphorical spiritual mountaintop, however, Abram acquiesced to the request of Sarai here in Genesis 16 (vv. 1-4). Her solution to the lack of an heir was reasonable and acceptable in their culture and it worked (v. 4)! But it was an act of unbelief in the promises of God and created all kinds of problems in Abram’s household (vv. 5-6). This is one of the ways that sin appeals to us. It offers us a direct and easy solution to the problems that bother us the most. And, it usually works, at least for a while. Because we are not all-knowing, we never see the consequences coming. We ignore God’s promises and his warnings, make choices in fear instead of faith, then are filled with regrets and complications.

One way people do this is by dating someone who is unsaved. Every Christian knows that it is wrong date an unbeliever. And, sometimes, God is gracious and saves an unbeliever who unequally yoked with a Christian.

More often, however, the believer compromises again and again. They know it is wrong to date an unbeliever, but they tell themselves that they won’t marry him or her. Besides, he’s a good guy or she’s a nice girl. They have strong qualities and good morals, so there’s really no risk. When a good Christian comes along, the believer thinks they’ll end the ungodly relationship. For now, though, it feels good to be loved.

And, in some cases, they tell themselves that they’ll remain pure even though their unsaved boy/girlfriend doesn’t understand the “wait until marriage” thing. That creates greater pressure to compromise morally than one already feels from his or her own physical body. When the unbeliever proposes, the Christian decides to marry him or her, hoping that God will save their spouse but feeling thankful for someone to love and marry.

Again, sometimes God is merciful and gracious, but that’s not usually how the story goes. Even when God is merciful and saves an unbelieving spouse, there are still tensions and temptations that go with compromising in this area. Not to mention that dating an unbeliever is a sin by itself.

I am burdened for some people in our church who are in relationships with unbelievers or with people who may profess Christ but don’t seem to walk with him much. I understand your desire and how tempting it is to compromise. But look at the problems that Abram and Sarai created by trying to solve their problems themselves instead of trusting the Lord to provide. The longer you live in one sinful situation, the greater the pressure will be to compromise morally again and again. It will not get easier to do right in the future. It will get harder, more painful and costly. Just trust the Lord and do what he tells you. I promise you, he won’t let you down.

Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Psalm 2

Today’s readings are Genesis 2, Ezra 2, and Psalm 2.

Well, I rang in the new year by getting really sick overnight so I’ve been in bed all day today (Monday). Because of that, and because I still really like what I wrote in 2016, I’m recycling that devotional from Genesis 2. Here you go:

After he described God’s break from work on the seventh day in verses 1-3, Moses, the author of Genesis, focused his attention on Day 6 of the creation week. The events of Day 6 were described in summary form in yesterday’s reading from Genesis 1:24-31. God’s work on that day was detailed more explicitly for us in today’s reading from Genesis 2. We know that the events of Genesis 2:18-25 all happened on Day 6 because Genesis 1:27 says “…male and female he created them” when it summarized God’s work on Day 6 of creation. Since Genesis 2:18-25 discussed the creation of woman, all that happened in today’s passage must have happened on Day 6 of the creation week.

According to Genesis 2:18-25, the creation of man and the creation of woman were separated by enough time for Adam to name the animals and to realize that there was no corresponding partner for him (vv. 18-20). This was an object lesson for Adam to teach him his absolute uniqueness among the living things God created. While he was to tame and make productive use of these animals, none of them was his equal nor could any of them provide what he needed to fulfill God’s command to fill the earth in Genesis 1:28.

This exercise also seems to have given Adam a profound sense of loneliness. His loneliness is indicated by Adam’s exclamation “at last” in verse 23. The NIV translates this “now” which lacks the punch and excitement of his original statement. Though it is not my favorite, the New Living Translation gets this one right by beginning verse 23 with “‘At last!’ the man exclaimed.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A23&version=NLT

Remember that feeling? Maybe it hit you on your wedding day when you saw your bride walking down the aisle or as you were walking down the aisle toward your groom. Maybe it was when you were walking arm-in-arm down the aisle together just after the pastor presented you to the congregation as husband and wife. Regardless of when you realized it, one blessing God intended for your marriage was to replace the sense of loneliness in your life with a partner who corresponds to you and complements you.

Moses applied the personal experience of Adam and Eve to humanity in general when he wrote in Genesis 1:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” What compels a man and a woman to get together? God’s creative work.

Do you believe that, for most of us, we are incomplete without a spouse? Do you understand that divorce breaks the blessing God created marriage to be in your life (see Matthew 19:8)? Do you know that adultery may awaken youthful passions that have been dormant for a while and may make you feel honored and desired but that it costs far too much (see Proverbs 5:1-14). How is the state of YOUR union? If things at home are troubled, unsatisfying, or just a bit dull, you may be tempted by divorce, infidelity, or just some “harmless flirting.” God’s prescription, however, is to recommit and reinvest in your spouse. Don’t believe me? See Proverbs 5:15-23.

Mark 10

Today’s reading is Mark 10.

Two people join together in the covenant of marriage with great hope for what their lives together will be like, great intentions about how they interact with each other, and an expectation that their marriage will last for the duration of their lives. This is how God intended it to be, as Jesus said in verses 6-7, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” If Adam and Eve had not sinned, every marriage would be perfect because two perfect people would enter it with the ability to have perfect obedience to God’s intentions and commands for marriage.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. When two people marry, both of them bring a sin nature, a sinful past, and sinful desires and impulses into the marriage. No matter how strong their resolve and how good their intentions may be, they will have an imperfect marriage. If problems accumulate and are unresolved, one or both of them may start thinking about what it would be like to be married to someone else.

In Moses’ time, men held all the power. They decided whom their daughters would marry and a man who had the means could accumulate several wives (or several hundred wives, in the case of Solomon). Part of the reason for polygamy was that war and farm accidents created a world where there were not enough men available to marry all the women who existed. A man who disliked his wife, then, could just add another one to his life and hope she would do for him what the first wife did not. But if he disliked one of his wives enough, he could kick her out. Because he inherited his property from his father, he had absolute ownership and his wife had no legal ownership at all. If he told her to leave, she was trespassing if she didn’t go immediately.

If a man sent his wife away, she didn’t have many options. She could return to her father’s house but dad might not be able (due to age or poverty) to care for her and her children. If another man liked her, he would be in a tough position because what if her husband cooled off and wanted her to come home? Moses, in the words of verse 4, “...permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” The certificate of divorce clarified a woman’s status. It told a potential second husband that a woman was free to remarry because her original husband had repudiated her and dissolved their relationship legally. This is why Jesus said, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law” in verse 5. The “hardness of heart” referred to the tendency of men to marry a woman, then kick her out but without actually divorcing her so that he would have the option of bringing her back into his life and his home again. This would be an abuse of his power so, to protect a woman from being starved and homeless due to a husband who wouldn’t decide whether to live with her or break it off legally with her, Moses required any man who kicked his wife out to make it all official and legal-like.

Divorce came into existence, then, to protect women from being legally bound to men who wouldn’t keep his commitment to his wife. If a woman is legally married but moves in with another man, we call that adultery. If she has been divorced, however, there is no adultery--legally speaking--because the divorce legally dissolved the marriage agreement.

All of this makes sense to us and it made sense to Jesus and his audience. If you sign a contract with Comcast but then decide that they are not keeping up their half of the bargain, you can dissolve the contract. There may be penalties to pay (as there are in divorce, actually) but nobody will judge you for using legal means to end a bad contract.

Jesus, however, taught that marriage is more than just a legal contract. His teaching reflected the intentions of God as stated in Genesis 2:24 and quoted by Jesus in verses 7-8 of our passage, Mark 10: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” We know from 1 Corinthians 6:16 that “one flesh” refers to sexual intercourse. God created sex not only so that a couple could make children together but also so that they would be bound together at a physical level, not just a legal level. Divorce dissolves the legal aspect of marriage, but it is impossible to dissolve the psychological bond that physical intimacy creates. Sex permanently bonds you to your partner in a way that is impossible to completely break. This is why remarriage is, according to Jesus, an act of adultery because God created and intended marriage to be one man and one woman for one’s lifetime.

The disciples were concerned by how strict Jesus was about divorce so they asked him to clarify his remarks in verse 10 of our chapter today. Jesus explained that someone who divorces his wife to marry another person has committed adultery. Legally, they can do that but morally and spiritually, they cannot. Notice that Mark here did not include the exception clause that Matthew included in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. The exception clauses allows someone to divorce and remarry for “sexual immorality.” In that case, Jesus said, the divorcing spouse has not committed adultery because the sin of adultery was already committed by the spouse who was sexually immoral. Sexual immorality is a breach not only of the legal covenant of marriage but of the “one flesh” relationship. You are supposed to be “one flesh” with only one person so adultery separates “what God has joined together.” Mark did not include the exception clause because most divorces are not due to adultery. Jesus warned us all in this passage that, although divorce is legal and (regrettably) sometimes necessary because of a hard hearted spouse, it is not what God wants nor what God intended for marriage.

The application to all of us is obvious, isn’t it? If you’re unmarried, don’t become one flesh with anyone except for your spouse after the wedding. If you are married, be faithful to your spouse and determine to stick with the marriage for the duration of your life.

Although it takes two consenting adults to get married, it only takes one to divorce. It is sad, but true, that your spouse can unilaterally end your marriage whether you want it to end or not. If you’re divorced and this passage opens an old wound for you, I understand and am sorry. The application for all of us is really the same, however: be obedient to what God wants no matter what situation you are in now. If you are married, don’t get divorced or commit adultery. If you are single (whether because you’ve never been married or because you’ve been divorced), live a pure life now and seek to uphold God’s design for marriage in your own life as best as you can.

1 Corinthians 7

Today’s reading comes from 1 Corinthians 7.

This chapter from 1 Corinthians contains several instructions around the subject of marriage. Verse 1 began the chapter with the phrase, “Now for the matters you wrote about.” The Corinthian believers had many questions about what was right and wrong for Christians to do, so they wrote a letter to Paul spelling out their questions. The first question was about sexual ethics: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” This is not a statement from Paul; rather, Paul is quoting back to them their first question or point of confusion: “Is celibacy Christian?”

Paul explored this question from a number of angles. First, there is nothing morally wrong with marriage and a person should marry (v. 2) and have regular sexual relations with his or her spouse (vv. 3-5). One reason for this is to protect against a church full of single people giving into their sexual desires (v. 2a), committing adultery (v. 5b) or burning with lust (v. 9).

Second, Paul commended the single life if a person can be single without giving into temptation (vv. 8-9, 25-40).

Third, he commanded believers not to divorce (vv. 10-14) but also not to contest a divorce if an unbeliever divorces his or her unbelieving spouse (vv. 15-16). This is the passage which gives an additional exception for divorce to the exception Jesus gave in Matthew 18.

The main principle in this passage is “remain as you are” (vv. 17-24). If you are a married person, give your spouse what you promised (vv. 3-5) and don’t divorce him or her--even if he or she is an unbeliever (vv. 12-14). In fact, faith in Christ has a sanctifying effect on the unbelieving spouse which is a reason to stay in the marriage (v. 14). But if your non-Christian spouse leaves you, you do not have to contest the divorce and are free to remarry (vv. 15-16).

Although marriage is the dominant topic in this chapter, Paul suddenly references circumcision (vv. 18-19) and slavery (vv. 21-24). These have nothing to do with decisions about marriage, but they are other applications of the principle, “remain as you are” (v. 17, 20) In other words, your faith in Christ applies to your life whether you are single or married, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free (vv. 21-24). There are no second class Christians; whatever situation you are in is an opportunity for you to live for God today. Christians who are married to other Christians have advantages that others do not have, but God isn’t evaluating you based on your circumstances. He’s called you and empowered you to live a godly life in whatever circumstances you are in today.

What circumstance are you in today that you wish were different? Do you find yourself thinking that you could be a more godly Christian if you had a different spouse--or no spouse at all? Do you think it would be easier to be holy if you had a different job or that God would be more pleased with you if left your secular job to work in the ministry full-time? This passage should cause you to reconsider. There is nothing wrong with changing your circumstances if you can do it without sinning (vv. 21b-23), but a change of circumstances is not what you need to live a godly life. You already have what you need to live a godly life--God’s divine power--no matter what circumstances you are in. So believe that by faith and live within your situation differently for the glory of God.

Matthew 14

Today we’re reading Matthew 14.

John the Baptist died as he lived--outspoken about right and wrong. He lived in a society where freedom of speech was not protected by law. Though most people could speak their mind without fear of punishment, there was no guarantee--legal or otherwise--that a person would not be prosecuted or persecuted for what he or she said. The safe thing to do in a society like John’s was to keep your mouth shut about the behavior of anyone who had the power to hurt you. If you did speak about someone’s behavior or morals, it was safest to do it in private with people you could trust.

John, however, disregarded all these safeguards. Herod Archelaus (Matthew calls him “Herod the tetrarch” in verse 1) had an affair with his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. She divorced Philip to be with Herod Archelaus. Her divorce was not legally valid nor was it morally acceptable, so her marriage to Herod Archelaus was both illegal and sinful. Since Herod was in charge of Judea, however, there was nobody but Caesar, way off in Rome, who could hold him accountable. Caesar didn’t care, so Herod was able to get away with his sin. He also could harm anyone who spoke out about his sin, so there was no pressure on him at all to do the right thing.

John the Baptist did not allow Herod’s protected status or his power to keep him from speaking the truth about Herod’s sham marriage. Verse 4 told us that John confronted Herod directly (“John had been saying to him”) about his sin and called for repentance. It was costly to John personally to do this because Herod put him into prison (v. 3) and then reluctantly put him to death (vv. 6-12).

We live in a society that legally protects speech. While there are definitely those in our society who want to punish speech they dislike, for now we have legal protection to say almost anything we want to say. I don’t know about you, but I will admit that I am reluctant to say anything directly about the sins of our culture. I am not afraid to call sin what it is, but my approach has been to speak to people within our church family or those who attend our worship services about sin but not to society at large. John’s example has me re-thinking this. He was willing to speak out about a sin that everyone in his society knew about but nobody else had the courage to confront. His bravery cost him his freedom and eventually his life, but God highly approved of his message and his method.

If we are going to reach people for Jesus, we need to stand for righteousness. That requires speaking out against evil. We need to emulate the boldness of John. It is important, however, to remember that the purpose of speaking out is to turn hearts toward the forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus. It is also important to remember to speak in a way that shows gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15c). Many Christians can be downright obnoxious when speaking out against sin. That neither glorifies God nor wins a hearing for his word. So, let’s be bold but also wise about the way in which we speak.

In the interest of full-disclosure, this post by Douglas Wilson got me thinking about this application of John’s message. There are things I like about Wilson and his ministry and some things I strongly dislike about his theology. So, don’t take this as a blanket endorsement but it might be helpful for you to read his post that inspired my devotional on this text.

2 Chronicles 34, Revelation 20, Malachi 2, John 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Chronicles 34, Revelation 20, Malachi 2, John 19. 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 Malachi 2.

Malachi was the last prophet before the New Testament era whose prophecies were written down and included in the scriptures. This means, of course, that he lived and served the Lord after Israel and Judah had returned to the promised land after they were defeated and dislocated from the land by Assyria and Babylon. God’s people, who had struggled with idolatry all the way back to Moses, were finally cured of it after they returned to the land. Although they did not serve idols any more, they still struggled with genuine worship and service to God. Malachi wrote to God’s people to remind them of God’s love (1:1-5) and call them to genuine worship. He started with the priests who were offering damaged animals as sacrifices (1:6-14) and were not teaching the Law faithfully (2:1-9).

Starting in verse 10 Malachi broadened his audience from the priests to the Jewish people generally. He accuses them of breaking faith with God by marrying foreign women who did not worship the Lord (vv. 10-12). Although these Jewish men continued to worship the Lord (v. 13) their godless wives would eventually have turned their hearts back to idols; we’ve seen this numerous times in the Old Testament with Solomon being the highest profile example. So the Lord’s concern here was preserving the exclusive worship that the Assyrian and Babylonian defeats achieved.

The issue of foreign wives is deeper, however, than the idol worship of those foreign women. In order to marry these foreign wives, these Jewish men had divorced their Jewish wives (v. 14). Malachi reminded them that God was witness to the vows they made to their Jewish wives (v. 14) and that the spiritual problems they now faced were his judgment on their unfaithfulness (v. 13). Verse 15 reminded these Jewish men that they belonged to God who made them (v. 15a) and that what he wanted from them more than anything else was a family that worshipped him just as they did (v. 15b). Unfaithfulness and divorce destroyed God’s plan for godly families and it harmed women (v. 16) who would have to provide for themselves in a society where that was very difficult for a woman to do.

Times have changed. In the Bible only men had the legal authority to divorce; now husbands and wives both can terminate a marriage. Now, women can work to earn a living for themselves if they get divorced but in the Bible, men kept their ancestral property after a divorce so they could continue to earn a living. All a woman got when she was divorced was the bride-price her husband paid to her father when they were betrothed (engaged) and even that was sometimes spent. So a woman had only a few options when her husband divorced her--become a beggar, become a prostitute, or get remarried. Moses allowed for divorce so that women could remarry; it was designed to protect them from poverty or prostitution by forcing a man to clarify that he was completely releasing (repudiating, really) his wife. It gave her the ability to show another man that she was no longer legally bound to her first husband, so it was legally acceptable for the second man to marry her.

Although times have changed, God’s will regarding marriage has not. Those of us who worship God because of Christ made a covenant to our spouse before God. God is witness to that covenant and wants you to work together with your spouse to raise godly children. Unfaithfulness to your spouse puts God on his or her side against you (vv. 13-14) so it damages your spiritual life and jeopardizes God’s plan for your family. Divorce does the same thing which is why Jesus equated divorce with adultery and only allowed it if adultery had already occurred (Matt 5:32; 19:9).

So, protect your marriage! Guard it against outsiders who may be attracted to you and may seem attractive to you. Keep the covenant you made with your spouse and work with him or her as a team to raise a godly family and to have the loving relationship you both want from somebody.

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 Samuel 25, 1 Corinthians 6, Ezekiel 4, Psalms 40–41

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 25, 1 Corinthians 6, Ezekiel 4, Psalms 40–41. 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 25.

David was an emotional guy. That is a good thing; we have the incredible gift of so many Psalms that came from the deep feeling he had in his walk with God. Being corrupted by depravity means, however, that most human strengths can also be human weaknesses. In the hands of God, our strengths are great tools for his glory; when in the grasp of our sinful nature, our strengths can do great damage to ourselves and others.

Here in 1 Samuel 25, David asks Nabal, a wealthy rancher, for food (vv. 2-8). David’s request was sent respectfully. It started with a friendly greeting (vv. 4-6), pointed out that Nabal’s sheep had not been forcibly taken by David’s men even though they were hungry and had the opportunity (vv. 7-8a), and did not make demands, but rather asked for “whatever you can find for them” (v. 8b). Nabal, acting according to his nature (v. 3c), was rude and selfish in his response (vv. 10-11). 

David, emotional guy that he was, reacted with anger to Nabal’s response and was ready to be the warrior that he was (vv. 12-13). David’s response was completely unjustified; Nabal should have been generous to David, but he was under no moral or legal obligation to give David anything. David’s intention to respond with violence to Nabal shows that he was acting out of his sinful nature, not in wisdom, self-control, or in reverence to God.

Fortunately, there were two people who were able to think clearly, rationally, and strategically in this situation. The first person to act appropriately was an unnamed servant of Nabal who knew all the relevant information about the situation and knew who to contact about the impending threat (vv.     14-17). The other person who did well was Nabal’s wife Abigail. As soon as she heard what was going on, she quickly formulated and executed a plan. She prepared food for David and his men and went on the road to meet David before he brought violence to her house (vv. 18-22). Where her husband was brash and rude, she was apologetic and reverent (vv. 23-25). Although she may have said more about her husband than she should have (v. 25), she was acting in his best interests. The things she said about Nabal in verse 25 demonstrate her frustration; it must have been very difficult to be married to someone who was as unkind, self-centered, and sinful as Nabal was. Yet Abigail was not defecting from his team and trying to join David’s instead. Although she seems to have dropped a hint of her interest in David (see v. 31b), everything she does in this passage is righteous. It was righteous of her to protect her husband and their household from the danger his foolishness was bringing. It was righteous of her to see what God was doing in David’s life and to dissuade him from sinning against God in a way that would hurt him later (vv. 26, 28-31a). It was righteous of her, having saved her family, to tell her husband what she had done and not keep it secret from him (v. 37). No wonder David wanted to marry her once she became a widow; not only was she “intelligent and beautiful” (v. 3) she was faithful to her husband despite his foolishness and truly acted in his—their—best interest. Because she trusted God and acted righteously in a very tough situation, God brought justice into her life by punishing her husband and bringing her a spouse she could truly admire.

I wonder how many people would have acted this way? I wonder how many people would have just gotten themselves to safety and let David do what he wanted to do? I wonder how many would be tempted to defect to David’s army and overtly court David’s attention, feeling justified that Nabal deserved to get what was coming to him through David? I have talked to enough people with troubled marriages to know how hard it is to do what is right when your spouse does what is wrong. Yet the Lord’s will for his people is not to give up on one’s marriage, betray one’s spouse, or hope for God’s judgment so that you can have another chance at a better life. Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. Read that sentence again: Your marriage is the most important thing you will do with your life. It impacts the lives of your children and the relationships they’ll have with their spouse and children, creating a legacy that potentially will replicate itself for generations. If you cultivate a good marriage, your spouse will be there for you when life goes sideways; in fact, he or she may bail you out of your own foolishness just as Abigail did for Nabal. What your spouse says about you and thinks of you may be the most accurate assessment of your life that anyone but God will ever have. Others may be impressed by your professional achievements and think you to be a great man or woman, but if your spouse thinks differently, what does that suggest about you? Wouldn’t it be wise to strive to be the spouse your spouse wants and needs? 

Nabal had so much wealth but apparently took the incredible wife he had for granted. It is easy to do with any of God’s blessings. Yet for all of his problems and failings, she was good and faithful to him until the very end. If you’re mentally comparing your spouse to Nabal after reading this, you’re looking at it the wrong way. Focus on being like Abigail. Do you have your spouse’s back, even when he or she does something foolish? If you have issues with your spouse, are you looking at things objectively or are you too focused on his or her flaws to see what a blessing, overall, he or she is to you? Seek to live like Abigail and ask God to build the same desire in your spouse. 

If you’re single, be wise about who you date. Someone said, “Every date is a potential mate” and that’s a very good, wise way to look at it. If you can’t see yourself married to the person you’re dating, or know that you shouldn’t marry him/her, those are clear signs that you shouldn’t be dating that person. Abigail, likely, had no choice but to marry Nabal with arranged marriages being what they were. You have the freedom to choose your spouse, so look for someone who will bring the same blessing into your life through wisdom, loyalty, and righteousness.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 14, Acts 18, Jeremiah 27, Mark 13. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 14.

After a great start as parents to Samson, things go wrong here in Judges 14. Old enough to marry now, Samson chooses a bride based completely on her looks. Note that he “saw” her in verse 1 but didn’t talk with her until verse 7. So his decision was based on attraction alone. Being attracted to your spouse is a good thing, but if that’s your only reason for marrying him or her, you are taking a great risk (see Prov 31:30). 

Beyond the shallow basis for Solomon’s desire to marry her, marrying a non-Israelite was forbidden in the Old Testament law (Deut 7:3). Samson’s parents may have known that or they may not have. It is hard to know how well the law had been taught to the people during the dark days of the judges. Their response in verse 3 shows that they at least knew it was not wise; yet it was Manoah’s responsibility to secure a wife for Samson. He could have put his foot down and refused Samson’s command, “Get her for me.” Why didn’t he? Perhaps the prophecy he and his wife had received about Samson and the fact that “the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him” (Judges 13:24) when he was young man caused Manoah to defer to Samson when he was young. Regardless of why, this passage shows that the early concern Manoah and his wife had for raising Samson according to the Lord’s commands that we saw yesterday in Judges 13 was not sustained into Samson’s young adulthood. Since Samson was an adult, he probably could have overridden his parents’ wishes and married her anyway, but it still would have been right for Manoah to encourage Samson to live by God’s word. It would also have been best for him to stand by his convictions and not cave to his son’s foolish desires.

As we’ve seen recently, God can use the sinful desires of people to work his will; that’s what Judges 14:4 is showing us. Although Samson was living in violation of God’s commands, God was using his sinful choices to accomplish his will and start the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines. So although Samson’s great start before he was born and as a young child did not produce a young adult who was strong for God, he still was used by God to accomplish God’s will for Israel. 

What strikes me in this passage is how a great start in following the Lord can be easily disrupted through sin. Samson had every advantage a spiritual leader could need. He could have been a man after God’s own heart years before David was even born. But instead of developing into the man he could have been based on all the grace God had poured into his life, Samson settled for positional leadership and leaned on his miraculous physical strength instead of developing strength of character. He became a successful military leader, yes, but not a godly man or a spiritual leader for Israel. 

It’s easy to start coasting in our Christian life, isn’t it? We see how much God has blessed us and grown us by his grace and we start living by what seems right in our own eyes rather than how God has commanded us to live. Even before his marriage week ended, Samson was paying the price for his foolish decisions (vv. 10-19). His “marriage” was over faster than many of the celebrity marriages we’ve heard about that last a year or less (v. 20). The seeds of his own moral destruction were being sown, but he was blind to it. Later in his life, decisions like this would lead to him literally becoming blind as well as limiting his effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. The message to me is, don’t coast on the grace the Lord has given in the past. Recognize how easily we fool ourselves and be diligent, by the grace of God, to follow his word day by day.

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.

Numbers 36, Psalm 80, Isaiah 28, 2 John

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 36, Psalm 80, Isaiah 28, 2 John. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Numbers 36.

This passage in Numbers discusses how property rights in Israel’s promised land were to be managed, but in the middle of this passage there is an interesting statement. In order for the daughters of Zelophehad to retain their family property, they had to marry within their own family. Verse 6 says, “This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan.” Notice that phrase, “They may marry anyone they please….” When I was a young, unmarried man, I wondered and worried about who the Lord wanted me to marry. Since I believed (and still do) that God knows all things because he has sovereignly decreed all things either directly or by allowing them to occur, I believed that God had chosen my wife. But how would I find her and, when I did, how would I know that she was “the one?” Furthermore, what if I misjudged the will of God or wanted to be with someone so much that I missed the will of God for my life? These are heavy questions and the Bible seems to give little to no insight on them.

Until I read this passage, that is. When I read this passage I noticed that God did not specify who the daughters of Zelophehad must marry. He could have! He could have revealed their names to Moses and paired them up right then and there. Instead, however, he said that they had the freedom to marry “anyone they please.” This was a great relief to me. God’s will for my life would not be someone revealed by mysticism nor would I be forced to pledge my faith to someone I might actually dislike. No, God’s word allows his people to marry “anyone they please” as long as that person meets a few other important qualifications. Instead of giving us steps for finding “the one,” God’s word tells us that there are certain things that a godly believer should be looking for in a spouse. God wants us as believers to marry other believers (see 1 Cor 7:39 and notice that the widow “…is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord”). This is not just someone who claims to be a believer, but who claims it and shows it by a growing Christian life so that together they can raise a godly family (see Mal 2:15). Further, the book of Proverbs specifies some characteristics of a wise woman. So, instead of looking for “the one” and wondering how I would find her, I sought out Christian girls I thought were attractive and looked to see if they had evidence of a growing faith and the character qualities that would contribute to a godly marriage. And, in God’s grace, he led me to a beautiful woman who compliments me well and has been an excellent companion for me for over 20 years now.

Did God decree that I would marry Suzanne? Yes, but the factors that explain that decree are complex. God knew what would be attractive to me and who would find me attractive. He knew how we would meet and the circumstances under which we would get to know each other and want to be together. There are many, many factors that God in his infinite wisdom understands that we never will. Although there is much more to this than I can explain in this simple devotional, I think it is important to understand that making godly decisions in key areas of your life is not so much about discerning or divining what God had decreed. Rather, it is about understanding that God has designed you in a certain way and he has allowed your life to develop in certain ways and he has given you the scriptures and the Spirit and godly counselors to purify your desires and give you wisdom about making these key decisions. If you make them in faith, applying God’s wisdom from the Word as best as you can, you can follow your desires with confidence that God’s providence will lead you to his will in your life.

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.

Numbers 6, Psalms 40–41, Song of Songs 4, Hebrews 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 6, Psalms 40–41, Song of Songs 4, Hebrews 4. 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 Song of Songs 4.

They say confession is good for the soul so I will confess that, of all the books of the Bible, I’ve spent the least amount of time, I think, in the Song of Songs.* Not that I find the content uninteresting, but there is little to nothing in this book revealed about God or that is theologically important. You can be a strong believer without ever reading Song of Songs, so this book tends to be a lower priority for Bible study.

Still, God saw fit to inspire this book and include it in the canon of Scripture, so it is not without importance. But what does this book contribute to our walk with God? Here are a few thoughts.

First, this book debunks the notion that marriage is a contractual arrangement that, until recently, was romance-optional. Some Christian writers and some secular thinkers have postulated that marriage came into being for bearing and raising children and for forming family alliances that increased an extended family’s prosperity. Two fathers would collaborate to arrange a marriage for their children, whether they cared for each other or not. Once married, a couple would want children, so whatever else their relationship meant was secondary to bearing the children and creating the family. A family would grow to become a clan and that clan would grow to include tribes and eventually a nation would be formed—all through marriage and child bearing. There is no doubt that bearing and raising children was one of God’s key reasons for creating the family. But remember that God’s reason for creating Eve was because “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 3:18) and, after he created her and gave her to Adam, Moses said, “ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The phrase “that is why” refers to the whole account of Eve’s creation and Adam’s union with her, but that all started with the problem of man being alone. In other words, it is the drive for companionship—the special kind of companionship that the intimacy of marriage can create—that compelled God to create marriage. Song of Songs reminds us that romance and desire are not modern, Western drivers for marriage; they are God-given drives that he created marriage to satisfy.

Second, Song of Songs teaches us that romantic passion doesn’t have to fade or die. Neither you or your spouse looks like you did when you met or when you married, but those characteristics that attracted you aren’t gone completely. Men, read the description Solomon wrote in verses 1-7 of today’s chapter. None of us has the literary prowess of Solomon, but how would you feel if you spent as much time thinking positively about your wife’s body as Solomon did? Instead of focusing on her “flaws” or comparing her to what she was or, God forbid, to other women, what if you looked her over from head to toe with admiration like Solomon did? What if you told her, as passionately as you could, how pretty you find her eyes or how much you enjoy looking at her curves? Maybe she would respond as positively as the woman in today’s passage did to Solomon’s words (see verse 16 which commentators interpret as an invitation to have sex). 

Third, Song of Songs teaches us that love and desire are not incompatible with faith in God or outside the realm of our relationship with God. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be desired nor is there any problem with having lustful thoughts. The problem is when we want to be desired by someone instead of or in addition to our spouse; our lustful thoughts are sinful when they are directed toward another person or when they drive us to sinful behaviors instead of toward the one to whom we promised our love and passion. God wants you to have a private, passionate relationship with someone of the opposite sex. He made you to crave that attention and to direct that attention and he wants you to enjoy this as an aspect of your life. When a spouse’s heart goes wandering there may be many reasons but one of them is that we want passion to be fresh and easy like it was when we first got married. But your marriage can have all the fire and satisfaction—and none of the guilt—if you see your desires as gifts of God to be enjoyed within God’s will—your marriage. It takes effort, at times, not because we’re incapable of loving and desiring our spouse but because we focus on the flaws instead of the strengths or we idealize another person we don’t really know instead of prizing the blessing of someone who knows us intimately and wants us anyway. Or desire may have faded because we’re looking at our marriage through a thick residue of resentment or through tears of disappointment. If we learn to obsess on what is attractive rather than a host of unmet, unstated and possibly unrealistic expectations, we can find the old passion again. Fan it into a flame and enjoy the love God wants  you to have in the one he brought into your life.

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.

*If you grew up reading the King James Bible, as I did, you probably refer to this book as Song of Solomon. I’m pretty sure my kids learned it as Song of Solomon, too, when they were memorizing the books of the Bible. And, honestly, I just noticed yesterday that it is Song of Songs in the NIV, not Song of Solomon. Why did the NIV change from the KJV’s Song of Solomon? To better reflect the Hebrew title for the book which is Solomon’s Song of Songs or, a better English translation: Solomon’s Most Excellent Song. But, that’s too lengthy a title, by Western standards, anyway, for a book of the Bible. Here’s an article from the NIV Study Bible that gives some good background information about the book.