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God’s People, part 89: Jeremiah

Read Jeremiah 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Take both this sealed deed and the unsealed copy, and put them into a pottery jar to preserve them for a long time.’ For this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Someday people will again own property here in this land and will buy and sell houses and vineyards and fields.'” (Jeremiah 32:14-15 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JeremiahPart 89: Jeremiah. Jeremiah is one of my favorite prophets. In our last devotion we talked about how he was prophet during the time of King Zedekiah, who refused to listen to Jeremiah’s counsel on how to deal with King Nebuchadnezzar II. Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, told the king that he ought to submit himself, and all of Jerusalem with him, to the will of Babylonian King. This would have meant that Zedekiah would merely have been a vassal, or puppet king, of Nebuchadnezzar.

Zedekiah had other ideas and, not only did he not listen to Jeremiah, he detested his advice. How dare this prophet tell him how to handle the Babylonian King! How dare this loud-mouthed, whiny prophet tell him to submit to the will of a foreign empire. Zedekiah was not going to let that happen if he could hep it.

Well, we all know now that Zedekiah really couldn’t help it. Jerusalem didn’t have the forces to stand up to the great Babylonian army; therefore, they had to rely on the enemy of their enemy for military support. We all know how such alliances end up, or at least many of them. They ended up allying themselves with Egypt (a former enemy themselves) who never, in the end, came through for them because it really wasn’t in their interest to. In the end, all that alliance did was anger the Babylonian King and cause him to set off for Jerusalem to beseige, conquer and exile them. We all know how that ended: it was utterly catastrophic for Jerusalem, its king, his family and the people of Jerusalem as a whole.

In the process of standing up to the king and warning him of the destruction that laid ahead, Jeremiah endured all sorts of abuse. He was mocked, beaten up, thrown into cistern where he sat for days, and imprisoned. The king and many of his other advisers did not take him seriously; however, Jeremiah’s prophecy did end up getting fulfilled in the end. Sadly, that meant the destruction of everything that was dear to the Jews, as well as the exile of countless people to Babylon. Jerusalem and Judah would never, ever be the same again.

But Jeremiah was not always so bold. When God first called him into the role of prophet, he could not believe that God would actually choose him. “But Lord,” Jeremiah protested, “I cannot speak for you, for I am too young” God would not have any of those excuses.

“The LORD replied, ‘Don’t say, “I’m too young,” for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!’ Then the LORD reached out and touched my mouth and said, ‘Look, I have put My words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.’” (Jeremiah 1:7-10 NLT)

God’s appointment of him as a prophet, I am sure, was not comforting to him; however, he did, inevitably, say yes to God. The rest is history, as the phrase goes, and the prophet does end up witnessing the end of one kingdom all the while ensuring the future of another kingdom, yet to come. The question for us is this, do we automatically reject God’s call on our lives? Do we fail to see the potential God sees in us? Perhaps, like Jeremiah, it is time to trust that God knows what God is doing and say “yes” to God’s call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
God knows us better than we even know ourselves. Trust in God’s call.

PRAYER
Lord, while I do not see in me what you see in me, I put my trust in you. Amen.

God’s People, part 88: Zedekiah

Read 2 Kings 25:1-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Zedekiah did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, just as Jehoiakim had done.” (Jeremiah 52:2 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ZedekiahPart 88: Zedekiah. Zedekiah was the great-grandson of Josiah; however, he wasn’t even half of the king that his great-grandfather was. Following the death of Josiah, the third eldest son of the great king succeeded him. This certainly attests to the fact that Josiah must have seen him as being in line with his agenda and policies; however, Johoahaz reigned for only three short months before being deposed by the Eyptian Pharaoh Necho II, and was exiled to Egypt.

The Kingdom of Judah was given over to Jehoiakim, Josiah’s second eldest son. At first, he was a vassal of the Egyptian Pharaoh until Egypt was beseiged and conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. At that point Jehoiakim switched allegiance to avert the destruction of Jerusalem. As a part of the agreement, Jehoiakim paid a tribute from the national treasury, handed over Temple artifacts, and handed over some of the royal family and nobility as hostages to the ruthless Babylonian king.

Eventually, however, Jehoiakim switched his allegiance back to Egypt and sealed his own fate and the fate of Jerusalem. Jehoiakim died during the first Babylonian seige of Jerusalem and was succeeded by Jechoniah (aka Jehoiachin), Josiah’s grandson and Jehoiakim’s son. Three months later, fearing retribution from a possibly vengeful king, Nebuchadnezzar deposed Jechoniah and replaced him with his son, Josiah’s great-grandson, Zedekiah. It wasinto this treacherous and precarious situation that his reign began.

Zedekiah proved to be a head-strong young king who was determined on revolting against the great Babylonian king, which sealed his fate. It was during his rule that Jeremiah was prophesying. The great prophet’s counsel, and the counsel of the Zedekiah’s other advisers and family member, was to acquiesce to Babylon’s rule and spare Jerusalem and it’s people from certain disaster. Jeremiah’s message was that it was because of Judah’s sin and pride that they were in this predicament to begin with. The prophet counseled Zedekiah to humble himself and remain a vassal king of Nebuchadnezzar.

Zedekiah, on the other hand, had other ideas and he, following the example of his grandfather, allied himself with Egypt and revolted against the Babylonians. This, sadly, ended in Jerusalem being beseiged for two long years. The author of 2 Kings wrote: “By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley” (2 Kings 25:3-4 NLT).

The results were catastrophic. Babylon beseiged the city, meaning that they blocked anything and/or anyone from getting into the city, and they blocked anything and/or anyone from getting out of the city. That resulted in famine within the walls of Jerusalem, and people starving to death. Some resorted to cannibalism and, eventually, Jerusalem was so weak that Nebuchadnezzar could just waltz into the city and take it with very little resistance. Once he did, he slaughtered tons of people, took treasures out of the Temple, and leveled the Temple to the ground.

The priests, scribes, nobles and other prominent people were taken alive from Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon. Zedekiah took a secret escape route out of the city, but was caught by Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers. They slaughtered his sons as he watched and then gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes. The deaths of his sons was the last thing, literally, that Zedekiah would see.

The challenge for us here is humility? Are we like Zedekiah, too proud to listen to painfully true advice, or are we the type of people who swallow our pride, listen to good advice, and make the necessary changes in order to avoid catastrophe? If we are the former, we can expect that we will, at some point, find ourselves humbled by the catastrophic unintended consequences of our pride; however, if we are the latter, then will be honoring God and following in the footsteps of Christ, who embodied humility. Let us all, by the power of the Holy Spirit, find ourselves walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Jesus of Nazareth in the New Living Translation of Matthew 23:12

PRAYER
Lord, keep us humble so that we may not stumble on our pride. Amen.

God’s People, part 87: Josiah

Read 2 Kings 23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Jesus replied, ‘Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.’” (John‬ ‭4:21‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 87: Josiah. Josiah was one of the most important kings. It could be argued that he was was beneath only David and Solomon in importance. This is because Josiah is seen as a reformer, as someone who had the most success in bringing Judah back to a right relationship with God.

This reform started when the high priest, Hilkiah, found a scroll while clearing the treasure room of the Temple. This scroll is believed by most scholars to either be a copy of the Deuteronomy or went on to become a part of Deuteronomy, had that book already existed during the time period. Either way, this scroll magically appears in the Temple where no one, evidently, had ever seen it before. It is, when one thinks of it, kind of odd that a sacred scroll was left “hidden” in the treasure room; however, that will be dealt with later.

According to the story, Hilkiah brought the scroll to Josiah’s attention. The king sent Hilkiah and other leaders to consult with the prophetess Huldah, who told him that indeed God was going to allow the curses mentioned in the scroll to befall Jerusalem, and all of Judah, as a result of their sins; however, she also assured that this would not take place during King’s reign due to his humility.

This word from the prophetess, according to the Chronicler, sparked a fire within Josiah, who had the entire scroll read to the people. He then set into place new rules. There could only ever be one place to worship: the Temple. All foreign idols and shrines were to be destroyed. In fact, Josiah had all areas of worship (outside of the Temple of Jerusalem) destroyed, even if they were to Yahweh. Thus, Josiah centralized worship and mandated that the Jerusalem Temple was the ONLY place that God could be properly worshiped. This had NEVER been the case prior to Josiah.

He didn’t just reform Judah either, but he had his troops march up into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and had their places of worship destroyed and their high priests put to death. In fact, he exumed the graves of religious leaders who were already dead and had their bodies burned on the pagan altars. Nice, right?

Josiah is seen as one of the greatest kings of Judah’s history. His unwavering zeal for God has been recorded and endured the test of time; however, it must be acknowledged that this opinion of Josiah comes from those who wrote his history. These were people who were in favor of his reforms. Surely, his methods of reform were sometimes questionable and there had to be people who saw him as a power hungry tyrannt who wanted nothing more than to bring all of the tithes and wealth into Jerusalem (through making the Temple the only place one could worship).

What’s more, it is certainly “fishy” that a scroll miraculously appears in the Temple where it had never been seen before. It is not impossible that such a find happened; however, it is suspect at the very least, and seems improbable. Many scholars conjecture that Josiah had the scroll created in order to lend Scriptural authority to his reform agenda. If it was God’s will for this to be done, who could then rightfully argue with the king?

That begs the question, was it God’s will that all worship be centralized in one place? Was God upset with people worshiping (so long as they were worshiping the one, true God of Israel) up in Samaria (aka Northern Israel)? Was this reform agenda completely God’s will, or was Josiah seeking more power and control. Perhaps it was a combination of those two things? One thing is for sure, Josiah’s descendent, Jesus of Nazareth, pushed back against the centralized worship policy when discussing who he was to a woman at a well in Samaria.

Have you ever gotten over zealous in your religious beliefs? Have you ever gone too far in pushing your religious agenda? Have you ever burned others with your attempt to show them the “love” of God? We cannot be sure, one way or the other, as to whether Josiah falls in this category; however, I find it unlikely that God would want dead corpses exumed and burned at the very least. Let us learn from this. Even when God is calling us to bring reform into the world around, that does not mean God wishes for us to overzealously abuse our authority in doing so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Wisdom without faith is dead. Faith without wisdom is deadly.”

PRAYER

Lord, grant us the wisdom to know when we are going to far to carry out our faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 86: Micah

Read Micah 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“They said, “Remember when Micah of Moresheth prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. He told the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field; Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins! A thicket will grow on the heights where the Temple now stands.’” (Jeremiah‬ ‭26:18‬ ‭NLT‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 86: Micah. To put it plainly, Micah is one of my favorite prophets in the Hebrew tradition, because of his bold prophecy and the concise, but profoundly divine, counsel he gives at the end of his eponymous book. Micah was also a prophet during the same time period that Isaiah and Hosea were prophesying. His message is consistent with there’s.

Before I get into the specifics of Micah’s prophecy, I want to remind us that this series is intent on finding the flaws in the Biblical characters so that we may see how close to us, how down to earth, and how human they were. Unfortunately, the prophets didn’t write autobiographies; rather, their writings consisted of their prophecies. Conversely, the scribes of the Kings did not write historical biographies of the prophets and so there is little to gleen from their lives, unless they happen to reveal that in their writings. Some did, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah; however, most did not and I am not about to “make up” flaws.

With that said, I can speak to what they were prophesying against, and we can explore how that relates to us today. In that way, we can see that the people of the ancient times were not more religious, more obedient, more sinless than we are. The times have changed, technology has changed, geography has changed; however, humanity has not changed.

Now back to Micah. Jeremiah reveals to us that chapter 3 was written against the king of Judah, Hezekiah. Remember that Hezekiah was actually one of the more righteous kings; however, he was not perfect. The king, to refresh you, had fallen victim to his pride. Because of the tremendous flattery given to him by the Babylonians, he had allied himself with Babylon, which was something that would go on to bear terrible consequences.

Isaiah had scolded the king for that decision. It cannot be certain whether this was what Micah was scolding Hezekiah or not; however, what can be certain is that Hezekiah humbled himself and listened. According to the Jeremiah, the warning was heeded and so God did not allow calamity to fall upon Jerusalem. If only more leaders could find themselves constructively humbled to avert the unintended pride-consequence of disaster.

Beyond Jerusalem, Micah had much to say against Israel and its detestable practices. In the end he wrote: “What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah‬ ‭6:6-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

While it is clear that Micah stood opposed to idolatry, to human sacrifice, and to the injustice the rulers and leaders were perpetrating against their own people. Unfortunately, while Hezekiah turned from his sin and repented, the Israelites did not. They continued on with their practices and shorthly thereafter, the Assyrians came in, conquered and exiled them.

No one likes a prophet. No one likes to hear they are wrong or that they need to change; however, the wise person heeds advice no matter how painful it is to hear. The wise person listens, prays, discerns, and changes. This takes great humility. The question for us is this, are we willing to humble ourselves and listen to the words of God’s prophets. Not just the prophets of old, but are we willing to listen to those through whom God is speaking now? Let us reflect on that.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” (Proverbs‬ ‭19:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

PRAYER

Lord, advise me in your ways and count me among the humble who are wise. Amen.

God’s People, part 85: Gomer

Read Hosea 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more.’” (John 8:10-11 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

GomerPart 85: Gomer. I bet that most of you never realized that there was a person named “Gomer” in the Bible. Most people have probably not known many people with the name Gomer aside from, perhaps, Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show.” No doubt, Gomer is not the most “well-known” character in the Bible.

What’s more, her profession did not help her go down in the annals of notability. Being a sex worker, she would have been the sex toy of lustful men, and the scorn of pious people. Her line of work was not, nor is it now, a “respectable” vocation and she would have, no doubt, been judged by the majority of society. This would have been the case, even in the wicked Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The truth is, we are just as judgmental toward such people as well. I was just listening to an conversation on CNN between Anderson Cooper, Michael Avenatti, and some other guest. Mr. Avenatti was discussing a law suit he is filing on behalf of his client, stating that she had been defamed by the president. As such, she was seeking damages. The guest next to him began to object and push back against the lawyer. He asked, “Do you think a jury is going to buy into the claim that her character had been defamed, knowing that she is a Porn Star and has starred in over 500 porn films.” Following that question, Cooper pushed back and ask, “Wait, are you saying that her character cannot be defamed because she’s a porn star?”

Regardless of your political worldview, that question is a good one. Is Stormy Daniels not a human being, beloved of God, Created in the divine image of God, deserving of being treated with dignity and respect, simply because her line of work is sinful? What’s more, what is our part in her sin? Yes, you read that right. What is our part in her sin. What makes pornography even a thing? What causes a woman (or a man) to sell their bodies in order to make money?

The fact is that pornography, like prostitution, is driven by socio-economic factors. Women, most of whom are desparate for money (for various reasons), are being exploited by other people for the sake of making money. Money they make, indeed. It is estimated that pornography is a $97 billion industry. That’s net, not gross! So, let me ask this question again. What is our part in her sin?

I want you to make note of this. Gomer was NOT rejected by God, despite her position. Some may see God’s working in Gomer’s life to be strange. He has Hosea, his holy prophet, marry her and have children with her. Not to love her, but to prove a point to Israel that they had prostituted themselves out other nations and other gods, and there were steep consequences coming as a result.

Yet, strange as that may be, Gomer becomes the wife of a prophet and is redeemed. She’s given a new opportunity to leave her profession and raise a family. She does not even love Hosea and, evidently, leaves him for another man. Yet, Hosea pursues her and pays the other man so that he can have his wife back. What we have here is the PERFECT example of God’s love and grace. Hosea brings her back to be with him, and invites her back into faithfulness. Gomer finds redemption through God’s unconditional love, and the hope was that Israel would one day find such redemption too.

Of course, that redemption comes through Jesus Christ who, unlike his ancestor kings, would not fall away from faithfulness to God. It is through this savior that Israel, and the world, would be redeemed and reunited with God. We have been, like Gomer, married to Christ and are being asked to remain faithful.

With that said, we can never be faithful to Christ though self-righteous judgmentalism. The challenge for us is to not point our fingers at another’s sins, as if we have not played our part in those sins, as well as others. Instead, let us embrace Christ remain faithful to Christ our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer, the Lover of our Souls.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” – Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:1-2 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to reflect redemption rather than rejection. For I have not been rejected by you, but have been redeemed for your glory. Amen.

God’s People, part 84: Hosea

Read Hosea 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before.’” (Romans‬ ‭9:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 84: Hosea. You know that your message was stark when you get nicknamed, “The Prophet of Doom”. Hosea was, indeed, seen to be a prophet of doom because he had the duty of proclaiming God’s judgment against a wicked, and wayward northern kingdom of Israel. Someone had to do it and, as you can imagine, the messages were not well-received or well-heeded.

Hosea was a prophet in the Kingdom of Israel at the same time that Isaiah was a prophet in the Kingdom of Judah. His prophecy, similar to Isaiah’s, spanned 60 years, through the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Kingdom of Judah) and Jeroboam II (Kingdom of Israel). His ministry, being located in the northern Kingdom of Israel, was centered on Israel’s lack of faithfulness to Yahweh, the one, true God.

Thus, in order to speak out against the Israelite leaders in ways that would get their attention, Hosea took up some extreme measures. At the outset of his epynonymous book, Hosea marries a prostitute named Gomer so that some of the children born to him were actually children conceived during her prostitution. And to think that people say the Bible is “boring.” Clearly they are not reading it.

All the same, this sort of action would have been seen as despicable in the eyes of the Jewish culture and religous leaders. Such a woman was seen to be unclean and under God’s curse. Why would a holy man marry such a woman of low character. The message, given to Hosea by God, was clear, “This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods” (Hosea‬ ‭1:2‬b ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

What’s more, Hosea named his children to be walking prophecies. His first son he named Jezreel to prophecy that God would bring destruction upon a former king of Israel, Jehu, and his dynasty for the murders he had committed at Jezreel. This punishment would bring an end to the independence of Israel.

His second child, a daughter, he named Lo-ruhamah, which means “unloved”. God did this to state, according to Hosea, that he would no longer show love or favor to Israel or give them anymore passes. Then Gomer gave birth to a third child, a second son, and Hosea named him Lo-ammi, meaning “not my people”. This was to declare that the Kingdom of Israel were no longer the people of God.

This may seem to be a punishment, but the context of Hosea shows it to be more of a proclamation of fact. They had strayed too far away from God to be called God’s people. The reality is that Israel no longer looked to the LORD, but to other Gods. This separation was self-inflicted; yet, in the same breath as that pronouncement, God declares that God will still be their LORD in time.

Hosea reveals to us some things about ourselves. First, sometimes God calls us to do things that just go against everything we seem to hold to be true. With that said, just because we hold it to be untrue, or unworthy, or beneath us, or sinful, does not mean that God deems it to be that way. If it is in line with God, if it is in line with grace, love, compassion, accountability, and humility, then chances are God is calling you to do it no matter what your “sensibilities are”.

Second, Hosea reminds us that just because a prophet’s words and actions seem so out there, does not mean that God is not on his/her side. The people of Israel chose not to listen to Hosea or see him as a prophet; however, that did not mean that the prophet’s word did not come true. They did come true and during Hosea’s lifetime, the Assyrians came in, conquered, and exiled them.

Today’s challenge is to be prayerful toward the messages God is giving us. Just because someone is doing something seemingly outlandish, does not automatically make it wrong. A good example are the protests currently taking place. People kneeling during the national anthem, people marching in the streets, people protesting for justice. Before you condemn and turn your back, ask yourselves the following question, does God stand for justice or injustice? Outlandish deeds catch the attention or many, and sometimes the prophet uses the tactic of being outlandish tactics to bring God’s word to the attention to many. Listen, pray, discern, and change yourself in accordance to God’s will.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” —Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew‬ ‭23:37‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

PRAYER

Lord, help me to humble myself to hear your message, no matter how outlandish or out there it may seem. You are Lord, and my desire is to submit to you. Amen.

God’s People, part 83: Isaiah

Read Isaiah 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So Isaiah the prophet asked the Lord to do this, and he caused the shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!” (2 Kings‬ ‭20:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 83: Isaiah. Isaiah is a name well-known in Christianity because of the prophetic book named after, and traditionally considered to be written by, the prophet. While Christians may not know much about the prophet himself, they know some of his famous prophecies such as, the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), pastoral images of heaven such as the lion laying down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), and other such prophecies in which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah was a prophet who was actively prophesying for 64 years. He played an adviosry role with a number of kings. His early ministry started in the last few years of King Uzziah and he died under the reign of King Hezekiah, whom he was influential in advising. With that said, not all of Isaiah’s ministry was smooth and easy. A number of years were spent standing up to the wickedness of King Ahaz. In fact, Isaiah 7 was written as a message to be sent to that wicked king.

In that chapter of the prophet’s book that God challenges Ahaz to demand a “sign”. The king refused the challenge and answered in a “religiously correct” way. He said, “I will not ask for a sign. I refuse to put the LORD to the test.” Yet, the king was insincere and Isaiah called him out on it. He may not have asked God for a test; however, he was TESTING God’s patience with all of the injustice and unrighteousness Ahaz and his courts were engaging in. God had enough and sent Isaiah to call him out on it.

It is to Ahaz that Isaiah declared that God would, indeed, provide a sign anyway. The sign would be a “virgin” or a “young woman” giving birth to a child. This child would one day grow up to be righteous, to reject what is wrong, and before fully maturing destruction would come upon the wicked king. This prophecy, in the moment, was announcing the end of Ahaz’ reign. Of course, as with all reigns, Ahaz’ did come to an end and his son, Hezekiah, was a righteous king.

With that said, it is wrong to only read the prophecy as having to do with Ahaz. God was announcing the end of the wicked world order. While Hezekiah may have been righteous, he was still sinful in some areas, and most of the kings who succeeded him fell short of even his standard, let alone Gods. This prophecy, through the eyes of those who knew him and came to believe in him, pointed right to Jesus Christ who would reject wrong and live a perfectly righteous life. It is the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ that sets God’s plan of redemption and the upheaval of the wicked world order in place.

Powerful words for Isaiah to deliver to a king who, know doubt, might have had Isaiah thrown in prison or executed. Yet, the bold prophet was not always so bold. At the outset of his call, according to his own words in Isaiah 6, the Isaiah had a vision of God. The vision was so intense that he feared he might die from having looked upon God’s holy presence as a sinful man. As is a common human experience, Isaiah could not believe that God was choosing him. Clearly he was wrong and, when God affirmed his call in the vision, Isaiah’s response was “Here I am, Lord send me.”

From that point on, everything changed for Isaiah, who went down as one of the most influential prophets in the history of Israel. The same is true for you. As you read this, you are probably thinking, “Who? Me? I am not called! Not me!” That, my friend, is the response most of us have when we feel God’s call. Let me put it this way, God is calling you! God is calling us all. You may be called in the same way as me, or you may be called differently than me, but you are called. The question is, what will your response be? If you answer yes to the call, I can promise you this, nothing will ever be the same again! Everything will change for you and for the world around you. May it be so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Denial is a common human response, but it seldom exacts any change.

PRAYER

Lord, here I am. Show me what you are calling me to do and send me to do it. Amen.

God’s People, part 82: The Bronze Snake

Read Numbers 21:4-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.” (2 Kings‬ ‭18:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_1005Part 82: The Bronze Snake. For today’s devotion, I want us to travel back in time for a moment. Before we do, I would like to remind you that that King Hezekiah was a godly king who lived in the ways of the Lord and brought the people of Judah back into a right relationship with God. One of the things that he did was destroyed all of the foreign shrines and idols and enforced that all worship be done in the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem.

One of the idols that he destroyed was named Nehushtan. That, according to 2 Kings, was the bronze serpent mounted staff that Moses made hundreds of years earlier. It is written that Hezekiah destroyed this relic “because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it.”

Now let us time travel back to the time of Moses. If you recall, Moses had led the people out of Egypt and they had been wandering around the wilderness for 40 years. The reason it took them so long to cross what was relatively a short distance was because they were constantly griping, complaining, and disobeying God. The greatest of those instances came when they abandoned God and demanded that Aaron build a golden calf for them to worship.

According to Numbers 21:4-9, the people were in such crazed fit, angry at God and at Moses for leading them out of Egypt. Now imagine this, they had been miraculously liberated from slavery in Egypt; yet, there they were complaining that God and Moses had led them to where they were. Were they hungry? No. Were they thirsty? No. They had been provided for by God from the beginning.

So, you might ask, why were they angry? Well, they were pulling what kids often pull on their parents. “Dad, we have nothing to eat, nothing to drink in this house.” Of course, if you open up the refrigerator you will see plenty of food and drink; however, what is really being said is, “we don’t have what we would like to eat, we are tired of eating this stuff.” That is exactly what the Hebrews were doing. They were griping against eating the manna that God was sending them, calling it “nothing.” How ungrateful.

So, angry, God sent out poisonous snakes to bite them. Okay, this seems like an outlandish response, but suspend disbelief and bear with it for a moment more. Moses, naturally horrified, prayed to God and repented for the people. He stated, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes” (Numbers‬ ‭21:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬). So, God instructed Moses to create a bronze snake and put it on staff. God then instructed the people to look at the snake. Once the people did, they were instantly healed from the snake bites. God’s point was made.‬‬

Unfortunately, what was once holy and healing became perverted into an idol that people worshiped. What was once a reminder of God’s sovereignty and God’s holy presence, became a god unto itself. People forgot that the healing source of the bronze snake was God, and instead worshiped the snake as if it had the power to heal. So, for this reason, Hezekiah destroyed the idol and redirected people to the Temple, where the one, the true, the imageless God was to be worshiped!

What has God done to bring healing and wholeness into your life? How have you taken such things and made idols of them? How have you forgotten what God has done for you? How have you forgotten the sovereignty of God? How have you forgotten our gracious, holy God and how have you turned your eyes away toward other, less-than-holy things? Today is the day for honesty. What has become your bronze snake? What has become your idol. Today’s challenge is to assess what those things are and to eradicate them, as Hezekiah eradicated the bronze snake, from your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.” — John Calvin

PRAYER

Lord, purge me of my idols and set my heart and eyes back toward you. Amen.

God’s People, part 81: Hezekiah

Read 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Hezekiah welcomed them; he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.” (Isaiah 39:2 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

King_Hezekiah,_clouthed_in_sackcloth,_spreads_open_the_letter_before_the_LordPart 81: Hezekiah. I love the story of Hezekiah. For me it proves that God is at work at all times and in all places. Hezekiah is evidence that no matter what, God can and will break through to the hearts that are open to God. Hezekiah is proof that “guilt by association” is nothing more than a logical fallacy. Just because one is born to a father or mother who is wicked, unjust and swayed by evil, does not mean that one will automatically go down that road.

King Hezekiah was the son of King Ahaz who, as was discussed in the last devotion, was a wicked king who followed the ways of evil, rather than following God. Ahaz was also proof that just because one has good parents does not mean that one will end up being good or righteous. Let’s call the stories of Ahaz and Hezekiah to be ancient myth-busters.

I am not sure how Hezekiah came to be in relationship with God, having a parent like his dad. Let’s not forget that his dad made his “first-born” son “pass through the fire.” As was mentioned in the last devotion, there is debate as to what that means. The most common interpretation, and the one that the New Living Translation goes with, is that his sacrificed his first-born son to the Canaanite god Molech by burning him. That would mean that Hezekiah would have been the second-born son and next in line for the throne.

With that said, it could also mean that he put his first-born son through a pagan initiation rite involving fire, dedicating him to the god Molech. If that was the case, Hezekiah would have been that son. Either way, Hezekiah clearly grew up detesting the ways of his father and found his faith in YHWH, the God of his ancestor David.

What that meant is that Hezekiah had all of the shrines and idols throughout Judah destroyed. He brought the people of Israel back to the one, true God by strictly enforcing that the worship only the LORD and that they do so only in the LORD’s Temple. He also thought ahead and began to work for the safety of Jerusalem. When Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and exiled many of its leaders, King Hezekiah had already begun fortifying Jerusalem, ensuring that the city would be harder to take.

That is not to say that the king was perfect, after all, he was a human being. Isaiah recorded that the king was visited by envoy from the Babylonian Empire. He was so flattered by the visit that he let it go to the place of vanity and began to show off all of his wealth and power to the visitors. This, of course, got fully reported back to the King of Babylon. That empire would be setting its sights on Jerusalem and would eventually conquer her.

The challenge for us is this: even when we are following God, we are still not immune from sin and vanity is the sin, along with pride, that tends to get us when we least expect it. Let us not worry about what people think of us. Let us not boast so that people can think we are all that and a bag of chips; rather, let us be humble and remember that the only One we need to please is God. The challenge is to LOVE GOD and to keep our vanity at bay so that we can serve God and others in LOVE and in TRUTH. Humanly speaking, this may be impossible, but with God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.” – Jane Austen

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from vanity and shelter me in humility. Amen.

God’s People, part 80: Ahaz

Read 2 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 28

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Uzziah was the father of Jotham. Jotham was the father of Ahaz. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.” (Matthew 1:9 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

KingAhazPart 80: Ahaz. Oh boy. We’ve all heard that phrase, “The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.” Well, this was certainly NOT the case for Ahaz who wasn’t even a quarter of the king his father Jotham was. With that said, Ahaz didn’t grow up in a vacuum and the things that his father let slide during his reign, ended up manifesting in his son, Ahaz, who “did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kings 16:2 NLT).

If you recall, King Jotham was mostly a good king; however, he carried on some of his father, Uzziah’s, policies. The policy that ended up affecting Judah the most was the one that allowed the foreign shrines to remain and the idol worshipping to continue. More than likely, this was done in order to be welcoming of foreigners traveling through the land and the more welcoming a nation is the more money it generates through tourism and other such things. Think about all the money being offered to the gods at the pagan shrines, and then you might begin to see, from the king’s perspective, the benefit to leaving them there.

With that said, the question should always be, “do the benefits outweigh the risks?” Would Jotham have followed those policies if he knew what would become of his son…or his grandson? 2 Kings 16:3 tells us that Ahaz “had his son pass through the fire.” Though there is some discrepency as to what that means, the probable meaning, as you can imagine, is that he sacrificed his son to the gods by burning him alive. Nice, right? I am pretty sure Ahaz didn’t make “father of the year” that year.

What’s more, when people attacked him, and large portions of his people were exiled to Damascus in Assyria (2 Chronicles , he allied himself and made himself a “vassal”, or subordinate) to the King of Assyria. He even visited Damascus (in what is modern-day Syria) and admired the altar to the gods they had set up there. So, he instructed his high priest to design a duplicate altar for God’s Temple and to remove the bronze one for the king’s own personal use. He also had a canopy that was used for the Sabbath removed from the Temple, among other things. What’s more, the Chronicler recorded that Ahaz ended up closing the temple so no one could worship there, and set up shrines to Baal all over Jerusalem. Yikes.

In the end, there was no direct consequence to Ahaz for his actions; however, he left Judah forever weakened, vulerable, and a subordinate to an enemy state that would one day come in and threaten the safety and sovereignty of Judah, in which Jerusalem would eventually be beseiged by the Assyrians. Similarly, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (whom the Ahaz followed the ways of), would be attacked and held captive by the Assyrians.

The challenge for us is to realize that just because God is our God, and just because we are God’s people, does not mean we are immune to sin and evil. What’s more, we asbolutely must recognize the sovereignty of God and trust that God’s way is better than our own ways.

Our actions have a greater impact than we realize. It is not just us who experience the consequences of our sin. In fact, sometimes we are not the ones at all who experience those consequences, but the ones we love and the ones who follow us. Let us turn to our God, who is graceful and sovereign, and fully rely on the Holy Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ, to lead us from where we are to where God is calling us to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If our sins do not catch up with us, they will fall like bricks on the ones we love and those who follow after us.

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your grace and your forgiveness of my sins. Lead me to where it is you are calling me. Amen.