prosperity

1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2.

This devotional is about Micah 2.

Micah fought a two-front war in this chapter.

First he spoke out against powerful, greedy people who used power to take the land and homes of others (vv. 1-2). Because of their sins, God would take all the land and hand it over others (vv. 3-5).

The second front Micah battled was from false prophets who attempted to silence Micah’s message (vv. 6-11). The message of these false prophets was summarized in the last line of verse 6 and the first three lines of verse 7. I will paraphrase their false message this way: “Shut up! We’re not going to lose to another nation, Micah! God’s patience is infinite (vv. 7b). He will never turn on his people.” Their argument was that God’s promises to his people were completely unconditional. No matter how much God’s people sinned, they would be safe because God loves them just that much.

It is always more pleasant to believe the prediction that we’ll be OK. If one economist is predicting a recession and another is saying that current problems in the economy are temporary but then a big boom is coming, which one would you want to believe? If one doctor tells you that your cough will clear up in a few days while the other says you have lung cancer, which message is more appealing?

Micah’s situation was similar. He predicted pain and suffering for all of God’s people because the wealthy were exploiting average citizens. Meanwhile, the prophets of eternal optimism rebuked him and told these unrighteous businessmen that everything would be fine.

We want things to be fine; we want good times. God’s message, however, wasn’t that good times were impossible. Instead, he offered a better way to prosperity: “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?” (v. 7d-e). God wanted his people to prosper but he wanted their prosperity to come as a blessing for obedience to his word. “Take the medicine,” God was telling his people. “Repent of your greedy oppression and do what is right and then everyone will prosper because I will bless you.”

Ultimately, God does have good plans in store for his people (vv. 12) when Jesus comes as king (v. 13). Before that, however, they would pay a heavy price for their sins. The best course of action was to believe God’s word, pay the price to undo what they had sinfully done, and do what was right going forward. Instead, they chose to listen to the sunny-side up prophets. Verse 11 sarcastically describes the kind of prophets we all, in our sinful nature, want: “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be just the prophet for this people!”

Are you listening to the hard truths of God’s word? Do we pay attention and change our ways when God’s word rebukes us? Or do we change the channel and listen instead to a message that offers more encouragement? Encouragement is good unless it distorts God’s word (as in verse 7a-c) and comforts us in our sinful ways. Everyone would rather get a massage than have surgery but only one of those ways will remove cancer and put you on the road to health again. Let God’s word surgically address your sins and shortcomings; then you will walk more righteously and follow Christ right into his kingdom.

2 Samuel 21, Ezekiel 28

Today’s scheduled readings are 2 Samuel 21 and Ezekiel 28.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 28.

The tirade against Tyre that began in Ezekiel 26 continued into this chapter. The focus this time was on the king of Tyre (v. 2). God’s issue with him was his pride: “‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god....”’” His pride was based on his wisdom (v. 2i) and wealth (v. 4). These are related issues.

Tyre became a wealthy place because of its location on the Mediterranean sea. The people of Tyre used that location wisely by learning to navigate that sea and creating trade relationships with other costal towns. All of this is to their credit and God acknowledged that in verse 4 when he said, “By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself.” And, as verse 5 said, “By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth....” The king of Tyre sat atop all of this prosperity and all of it went to his head. Verse 5c-d says, “...because of your wealth your heart has grown proud.”

People who are intelligent and wise may become wealthy, but not always. Some people who excelled academically in school choose jobs in academia or government because those jobs feel safe. You can make a good living working for someone else but most wealth is created by working for yourself. Working for yourself, though, feels insecure and requires taking some risks. Those who make it and become wealthy, therefore, may use their wealth as a scorecard to inflate their own egos. “I took a chance on myself and look how well it turned out,” they may think, “so I must be smarter and wiser than most people.” Apparently the king of Tyre thought so much of his success that he ascribed to himself godlike qualities (vv. 2, 6). God, therefore, decided to douse him with a cold bucket of reality. The Babylonians, then, defeated Tyre just as they defeated the other nations around them.

Over and over again the Bible tells us that God hates pride and loves humility. A humble person can enjoy success and even wealth while realizing that (a) others contributed to one’s ability to generate wealth and (b) God ultimately decides who prospers and who does not. Someone once said that, “The world turns over every 24 hours on someone who thought they were on top of it.” The king of Tyre was about to find that out for himself. A humble, godly man like Job found that out, too.

Don’t follow his example. If you’re doing well, thank God for it and be a good steward of what you get.

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).

Exodus 27, Proverbs 3, Psalm 74-75

(I misread the schedule and had you read Psalm 72 twice. Today’s readings catch you up with the schedule).

Today we’re reading Exodus 27, Proverbs 3, Psalm 74-75.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:9-10.

In this chapter, Solomon gives some general encouragements to be wise (vv. 1-4, 13-26) and some specific ways in which he should be wise (vv. 5-12, 27-31). Remember that wisdom is simply skillful living but, because God is Creator of life and its rules, one cannot be truly wise unless he knows and submits to God. The specific ways in which Solomon wants his son to be wise are stated first followed by the benefits of that wisdom. For instance, in verse 9 he told his son to “Honor the Lord with your wealth” and in verse 10 he wrote that the benefit would be financial abundance.

Solomon’s command to, “Honor the Lord with your wealth” is explained by the second phrase, “with the firstfruits of all your crops.” This refers to the command to bring the first things harvested to the priests to support their work for the Lord (Deut 18:4-5). Israel was to support the Lord’s work first, then sell or trade the rest of the food they harvested to provide for their families. Living in a farming economy could be a scary thing. A bad harvest or total crop failure could leave people starving. It would take an act of faith, then, to give to God’s work first and then live on what was left over. Solomon taught that the wise way to live was to do what God commanded and give to his work first, then live on the rest. His promise was that “the rest” would be an abundance for the faithful believer: “then [after you honor the Lord] your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

This advice runs counter to most advice that is given on how to build wealth. Financial advisors will tell you to “pay yourself first” and “give to charity” last if at all. If you learn to save, they will tell you, you will prosper. That’s true--and Solomon will teach that in Proverbs, too--but a more important principle is that if you honor God he will bless your work.

Have you tried this? I know that we live in the age of grace and that tithing is not commanded in the New Testament. But does that mean that God no longer provides for and blesses those who honor him with their wealth? I don’t think so and there are New Testament passages that teach the opposite (see 2 Cor 9:6-12). While we don’t give to the Lord in this age because the Law demands it, we should want to honor the Lord with everything we have, including our money. If you don’t give to God’s work faithfully and regularly, take a one month challenge. Give 10% of your income to the Lord for one month; then see if you are as well or better off than you would have been. I think you’ll find that God still blesses those who honor him with their earnings.

1 Chronicles 9–10, Hebrews 12, Amos 6, Luke 1:39–80

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Chronicles 9–10, Hebrews 12, Amos 6, Luke 1:39–80. 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 Amos 6.

A stable life is a peaceful life but, if we’re not careful, it can become a complacent life. Complacency, to me, is very similar to laziness. It is a satisfaction with life that causes someone to quit striving for excellence. This is the attitude that the Lord, through Amos, addressed here in Amos 6. Verse 1 tells us that this is directed to two groups of people—those “in Zion” which was Jerusalem, the capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and “on Mount Samaria” which was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Who lives in these places? “Notable men” as verse 1 calls them live there; in other words, this is a prophecy directed to the leadership of both nations. Verses 4-7 describe the life of leisure these people have. They “lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches” (v. 4a). They “dine on choice lambs and fattened calves” (v. 4b). They “strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments” (v. 5). they “drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions” (v. 6). Sounds nice, yes? “But you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.” This is a reference to the spiritual decline of the nation. 

This is one reason why materialism is so dangerous to spiritual growth. When you have everything you want, it is easy to believe that God is not important. Our struggles may be painful, but they keep us dependent on Christ. As we move toward Thanksgiving, this is a helpful warning. If it has been a good year for you financially, how’s your walk with God going?

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

2 Kings 20, Hebrews 2, Hosea 13, Psalms 137–138

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 20, Hebrews 2, Hosea 13, Psalms 137–138. 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 Hosea 13.

Temptations await us at every point in our lives, in every circumstance in our lives. When we are discouraged or suffering or just discontent, we will be tempted to blame God or to reject him completely. But when we are prosperous, thriving, excited about the future and happy with the present, the temptation we face is to forget God. Israel faced all of these temptations and vast numbers of people in the nation surrendered to them throughout the history of the nation. 

Although the people of Israel complained a lot about the Lord, the truth is that God was very good to his people. He led them out of Egypt  and called them to worship him exclusively (v. 4). He provided for them in the desert—a place hostile to human life (v. 5). Yet verse 6 says, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” Ungrateful for what the Lord did, forgetful of how badly they needed his divine intervention, they took credit for surviving on their own for verse 6 says, “they became proud.” Whenever we think we have succeeded on our own, we think we can continue to succeed on our own. We buy into the myth of self-sufficiency, so we do not praise God for what he’s done and is doing in our lives, we do not worship God based on what he has revealed to us about himself, we do not ask God for help to serve him today, we do not look to God for wisdom in the decisions we make, we do not think about God and what he wants to do in the future. This is the temptation we face when times are good. 

Israel and Judah encountered these temptations as unbelievers, for the most part. There were people who worshipped the Lord from the heart but most of God’s chosen people forgot him because they never knew him in the first place. This is why God brought severe judgment on them (vv. 7-16). Although they had his word, his covenant, they rejected him and put their faith in other gods. Although we have come to know God by faith, we still encounter the temptation that verse 6 described. It happens when our prayer life diminishes during good times; we stop praying altogether or pray token prayers only. As we approach Thanksgiving, it is a good time for us to remember the Lord and evaluate our relationship to him. We need God far more than we realize and it glorifies God when we live in dependence on him.

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.