providence

2 Kings 17, Hosea 10

Today’s readings are 2 Kings 17 and Hosea 10.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 17.

The first six verses of 2 Kings 17 tell a diplomatic story. They say that Assyria attacked and conquered Samaria, the capitol of Israel (vv. 3, 5-6). The Assyrians did this because Hoshea, king of Israel, quit paying tribute to Assyria and tried to form an alliance with Egypt instead (v. 4). Those were the human reasons for Israel’s destruction as a nation.

Starting in verse 7, the Bible told us that there were spiritual reasons behind this defeat of Israel to Assyria. These spiritual reasons had nothing whatsoever to do with the human reasons described in verses 1-6. Instead, verse 7 told us, “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God” and the next several verses catalog the ways in which Israel sinned against God. The author of this book knew that what happened to Israel was an act of God even though it was accomplished by the Assyrians. This is an example of God’s working in divine providence. Providence is one of two ways in which God works in this world; the other way is through miracles, and that way is rare.

Providence is when God does his will using secondary causes--the actions of other people, natural disasters, or things that seem like luck or coincidence. God used providence--the national aggression of the Assyrians, to punish Israel for her sins.

Miracles are when God acts directly, superseding the laws of nature, to accomplish his will. The destruction of Sodom in Genesis is an example of a miracle--a direct, miraculous outpouring of God’s judgment on a city.

If you wonder where God is and why he doesn’t act, it might be because you are looking for miracles rather than actually seeing the indirect work of God through providence. What happens in your life, events around you, or even things that happen on the world stage all happen under God’s divine supervision. Don’t let the fact that there are human causes distract you from seeing the work of God. God’s ordinary way of working is to use human causes to accomplish his will.

1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 26 and Ezekiel 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11).

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this must be God providing David with this opportunity which is why he said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here.

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

1 Samuel 9, Jeremiah 46

Today, read 1 Samuel 9 and Jeremiah 46.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 9.

We are told at the beginning of this chapter that Saul comes from a good family. Verse 1 told us that his father Kish was “a man of standing.” Saul’s personal appearance was striking, too; verse 2 said he was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”

Still, Kish was a farmer like most of the other people in Israel. Farming is labor-intensive, especially for farmers who lived before tractors were invented. So, like everyone else, Saul worked in the family business from a young age. His family was prosperous and he was tall, dark, and handsome (as they say) but he was by no means a trust fund baby.

After the general introduction to Saul in verses 1-2, we are given a glimpse into his daily life. Some of his families donkeys were lost and Saul and one of their slaves was sent out to look for them. This was a hassle and a drag on productivity but searching for missing animals was not out of the ordinary. Saul and his helper looked for the donkeys but could not find them (v. 4) so Saul was ready to give up (v. 5). The servant who was sent with him decided to try divine intervention, and urged Saul to go with him to see Samuel. Perhaps God would give them some insight through Samuel that would help them find the missing donkeys (v. 6).

So far there is nothing spectacular about this story. They lost some animals and couldn’t find them so they asked for God’s help through one of his prophets. Could have happened to anyone on any day.

Yet God was working. The lost donkeys were God’s method for introducing Saul to Samuel and for showing Samuel the man he should anoint to be Israel’s first king (vv. 15-17). God has two ways of working in the world: (1) miracles and (2) providence.

  • A miracle is when the normal laws of nature are superseded by God’s divine act. We see that happening in this passage when God spoke audibly to Samuel (vv. 15-17).
  • Providence is when God works his will through the non-miraculous events and choices of everyday life. The lost donkeys were an act of providence; so was the idea that Saul’s servant had to consult with Samuel (v. 6).

God is capable of miracles, of course, but he uses that method rarely. God’s providence is the normal, everyday means by which he accomplishes his will in this world. What felt like an annoying fact of life to Saul--the stray donkeys---was actually an act of God to lead him somewhere good. If you look back at your life, where you are today is the sum total of the choices you’ve made and some “random” things that just happened to you but that took you in a different direction, even if it was only slightly different at the outset. Where you are today, then, is not an accident or a random event. It is the providential work of a loving, gracious God.

Not every nuisance in life, like losing your donkeys, leads to some amazing place in the providence of God. A few days ago, my car key broke off in the ignition of my car. It was annoying but a pair of pliers and a spare car key kept it from being anything more than annoying. As far as I can tell, that problem did not change the trajectory of my life at all. It is just one of the things that we deal with in a fallen world.

But there are times when ordinary problems or seemingly random things take us to a new place in the will of God. We don’t know when it is happening, but we can see it in reverse. My point here is not to say, “Don’t complain about the nuisances in your life because maybe God’s gonna make you king through them!” Rather, my point is to say, do you see the loving hand of God working in your life to lead you to places where you wouldn’t have chosen to go? If so, can you keep that in mind when things don’t go as expected in the future? And, can you trust that God will work in your life through providence today and tomorrow just as he has in the past?

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Psalm 14

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, and Psalm 14.

Nehemiah lived and led Jerusalem as a civic leader at the same time that Ezra was leading the people spiritually. As we read the book of Ezra, we saw how the temple was rebuilt, worship was reinstated, and God’s word was instructed and applied by Ezra the priest.

There were more problems in Jerusalem than the ones Ezra was called to address. The city was virtually defenseless because the wall that had surrounded it was demolished and gates were burned beyond usefulness. God had placed Nehemiah in a position of influence over king of Persia and then God burdened Nehemiah’s heart with a desire to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That’s a summary of what we’ve been reading the past few days in Nehemiah 1-3.

Here in chapter 4, some of Israel’s enemies engaged in psychological warfare, scorning the people of Jerusalem in hopes of discouraging them so that they would quit (vv. 1-3). In response to their taunts, Nehemiah prayed (vv. 4-5) and asked God to treat them justly for how they had abused his people.

Progress was made on the walls (v. 6), so things got worse--not better--in spite of Nehemiah’s prayers. The enemies of God conspired together to attack Jerusalem physically (vv. 7-8). What did Nehemiah do this time? Verse 9 says, “we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

There are times in life when trusting human solutions presents a bad testimony. Ezra felt this in Ezra 8:22-23: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

But most of the time in scripture, the human leaders God appointed see no tension between trusting God and asking him for protection and taking human measures to defend themselves. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard. Later, Nehemiah took some men off the project and had them stand guard (v. 16) and he even armed the men who were working in case of an attack.

You and I can learn from this in our own walk with God. Don’t put all your confidence in human measures. God is not honored when we ignore him and are too proud to ask for his help and favor. But asking for God’s help is usually not the opposite of using human means. God created us to make tools--including weapons--so that we can defend ourselves. He works, through divine providence, within human means. In fact, most of the time God’s work is done through providence, not through miraculous works. So there is nothing wrong with praying about your health concern AND seeing a doctor for treatment. There is nothing unspiritual about trusting God for your daily needs AND saving money and preparing for retirement. Be wise in the way that you live your life even while you ask God to help you and protect you daily. That’s a godly way to live and lead, just as Nehemiah did.

1 Samuel 26, 1 Corinthians 7, Ezekiel 5, Psalms 42–43

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 26, 1 Corinthians 7, Ezekiel 5, Psalms 42–43. 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 26.

Twice now while being hunted by Saul, David found himself in the perfect position to kill Saul and become king. The first incident was in 1 Samuel 24:3b when Saul went into a cave to “relieve himself” (e.g., “go to the bathroom”). Now here in 1 Samuel 26, Saul and his men are soundly sleeping (vv. 5, 7). Although Saul’s army surrounded him to provide him with protection (vv. 5c, 7c), apparently the watchmen have fallen asleep also. David and Abishai were able to walk right through the camp, right up to Saul’s head. Saul’s own spear was conveniently ready for them (v. 7). Abishai interpreted this situation as God’s providence and volunteered to take Saul’s life so that David would be king (v. 8). But David rebuked Abishai, reminding him that God chose for Saul to be anointed king (v. 9). Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get what God had promised him, he saw it instead as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Saul (vv. 16, 22-24). David reasoned—correctly—that since God had chosen Saul, God would be the one who would remove Saul in his time (vv. 10-11). 

I have already used the word “providence” in the preceding paragraph. Let me take a minute to define it because it is not, unfortunately, a word that people use much anymore. God’s providence is his non-miraculous way of working in this world. It is how God uses the seemingly ordinary (thus, non-miraculous) events of life to accomplish his will on this earth. Throughout human history, most of God’s working has been through providence; miracles are the exception, not the norm. Abishai (a) knows that David has been chosen by God to succeed Saul as king and (b) knows that David is a mighty warrior who has killed men before and (c) knows that Saul WOULD kill David in a situation like this, so he reasoned that this must be God providing David with this opportunity which is why he said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands.” This situation was not caused by a miracle, yet Abishai believes that this opportunity was provided by God himself. So, he saw it as an instance of what we would call God’s providence. And, given everything we know, it is hard not to think that Abishai might be right.

The tricky thing about God’s providence is that sometimes God uses circumstances and opportunities to lead us where he wants us to go next. God’s providential leading through circumstances is how I came to Calvary Bible Church. There were no miracles involved, yet I am convinced that God brought me here after looking at all the circumstances that led me here. 

But sometimes God allows things that look like opportunities but are actually tests. God does this, not to lead us into sin, but to give us an opportunity to choose to trust him and do what is right. Two years before I came to Calvary, I was on the brink of being offered a key position at a very large church. A lot of the circumstances looked right, but the timing was wrong and I had a serious disagreement with the church’s doctrine on one key issue. What looked like an opportunity to build my “career” might actually have been an opportunity to trust the Lord by waiting for better timing and no theological red flags. It was pretty tough for me to turn down the opportunity and I felt sad about it when I did it, but God provided another opportunity a few months later that was a better fit all-around. and eventually he brought me to Calvary.

So how do you know whether “chance” events are God’s providence or God’s testing? If the choice involves something that is clearly sinful, then it is not God’s providence. If the choice would involve you violating your conscience (which is what guided David here), then it is best to follow your conscience or consult with wise counsel to educate your conscience. The point of this passage for us is that not every good looking opportunity is automatically God’s will. God allows opportunities to lead us but also to test us to see if we’ll trust him to provide and lead in his will at his time.

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 5–6, Romans 5, Jeremiah 43, Psalm 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 5–6, Romans 5, Jeremiah 43, Psalm 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 1 Samuel 5-6.

The Philistines must have been delighted by their success in 1 Samuel 4. You may remember from reading that chapter yesterday that they were terrified to learn that Israel was bringing the Ark of the Lord into battle with them (4:7-9). Yet the Philistines won that battle and captured the ark. Here in 1 Samuel 5, they brought they ark into the temple of their god Dagon (vv. 1-2), but Dagon kept falling before the Ark of the Lord (vv. 3-4). Furthermore, the people of Ashdod, where Dagon’s temple was, were suffering while the ark was in their town (v. 6). The people readily identified that the Lord was the cause of their suffering (v. 7). It was obvious that Israel’s God was far superior to theirs and that God could defend himself. Though the Philistines won a great victory against Israel, it was not because of a deficiency in God; rather, it was God’s discipline on Israel for their sins and disobedience. But instead of falling before the Lord in faith, it was easier just to move the ark to another town (vv. 7-12). As chapter 6 opened, the Philistines prepared to return the ark to Israel (6:1-8). But despite all the things that had happened—Dagon falling before the ark twice, the afflictions in two different towns, the Philistines are still not convinced that God is at work behind all of this. In 6:9, the Philistines decided to test to see whether or not God was orchestrating these problems or if it was all happening “by chance” (v. 9). Their test was to see whether the oxen pulling the cart would find their way back to Israel alone or if they would just wander away somewhere. If the ark went straight back to Israel, which it did according to verse 12, then the Philistines would conclude that God was behind all of this. If the ark went anywhere else, they could safely conclude that all of these problems were “by chance.”

It is amazing, isn’t it, how must the human heart wants to deny the existence and power of the true God. The Philistines have seen all kinds of evidence that Israel’s God is real and powerful, yet they kept hoping that it wasn’t true. The same is true today. Naturalists around us see the order and beauty in our world and conclude that it must have taken a long time for chance to work out all the coincidences and random changes needed to produce all of this. The idea that there is a personal God who designed it all is too absurd for them to consider, not because it really is absurd but because it makes them all accountable before God.

Not every coincidence is an act of God or a revelation of his will. Sometimes the enemy will use coincidences and seemingly random occurrences to draw us into temptation. But the doctrine of the Providence of God teaches us that everything that happens is either directed by God or allowed by him. More than once my life has turned in a new, important direction based on something that happened “by chance.” As believers, we should see these non-miraculous events as opportunities to see God’s working in our lives. 

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.

Deuteronomy 18, Psalm 105, Isaiah 45, Revelation 15

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 18, Psalm 105, Isaiah 45, Revelation 15. 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 Isaiah 45.

Long before Cyrus became the king of Persia, Isaiah wrote about him by name (vv. 1, 3d, 4c). In Isaiah’s prophecy, God called Cyrus “his anointed,” meaning that he was a man chosen to do the Lord’s will. In this case the Lord’s will was to return Israel to the promised land (v. 4a-b, 13c-d). Remarkably, God would use Cyrus to do this “though you do not acknowledge me” (v. 4e, 5d) and, as a result of what Cyrus would do, “…people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

In verses 9ff, the Lord anticipated an objection to this plan to use Cyrus. The unstated objection was, “How can God use a heathen king who does not serve the Lord to do his will? Why would God do that?” The answer was stated in verses 9-11 and could be summarized as, “None of your business.” Because God is the creator (v. 12), he has the right to do whatever he wants with his creation. If we dislike what God does, we have no right to judge him or question him. He is the potter, we are the clay (v. 9), he is the parent, we are the child (v. 10). We have no more right to question what God does, how he does it, or why he does it than a coffee cup has the right to question its maker or a child has to question his or her parents. 

This is difficult for us to accept! Our perverse sin nature wants to put God on the same level as we are. We want a God we can understand, one we can control by telling him that his actions are unjust. We want God to be subject to a standard just as we are so that we can accuse him of failing to meet the objective standard. But God cannot be measured by an objective standard; he IS the standard. Because he is God, he has the right to do whatever he wants because whatever he wants and whatever he does will be perfectly consistent with his holy nature and character.

If you find yourself questioning God for something he allowed that you do not understand, or something he did that you found difficult to accept, you need a change of perspective. We may want God to explain himself to us, but he is under know obligation to do so. Since his wisdom is higher than ours, his understanding is perfect, and his ways are beyond our comprehension, the best thing we can do is trust him no matter what he does. Since God will never do anything that is unjust, we can be confident that what he does will be best—at least, in the long run of eternity it will be best. God will be glorified and that is the only thing that matters.

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.