4/3/16 “Called Up To Heaven in a Blaze of Glory” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Kings 1-3)

“Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!’ So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces” (2 Kings 2:11-12).

The prophet Elijah had served God faithfully even though He struggled at times with discouragement. He proclaimed God’s message before kings, challenged the false prophets of Baal, and persevered when his life was pursued by Ahab’s wicked wife Jezebel. After training his successor Elisha, God was now ready to take his faithful prophet Elijah to his heavenly reward.

As the opening verses above indicate, as Elijah and Elisha were walking along, suddenly a chariot and horses of fire came down from heaven and picked up Elijah and carried him up to heaven in a swirling whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11-12). The sons of the prophets doubted that God has actually carried Elijah into heaven and believed that, perhaps, the Spirit of the Lord has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley so they began to search for him in vain (2 Kings 2:15-18). But Elijah had gone into heaven. No eyes of man on earth would behold him again until he appeared with Moses at the transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-3). What a breathtaking sight it must have been for Elisha to see his mentor Elijah taken up to heaven in a blaze of glory!

As I read these verses I am encouraged because I am reminded of the reward that is waiting for those who faithfully follow Christ. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). One of the basic principles of Christianity is the teaching of the resurrection. The apostle Paul said, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have great hope that we who follow him will rise from the dead as well. Again, the apostle Paul writes, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Hope is so essential to living the Christian life. It is the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19). Believing in and looking forward to our resurrection from the dead is a source of great encouragement for me and my walk with God. Forgetting the importance of the resurrection can lead to discouragement. The apostle Paul wrote, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

As Elijah was caught up in a whirlwind and carried to heaven, even so those Christians who are living on the earth when Christ comes again will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. If I die before the Lord comes again, then I am assured that the Lord will raise me up out of the grave. Today, I will rejoice as I look forward to going to be with the Lord at the sound of the last trumpet!

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

4/2/16 “Dealing With Discouragement” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 19-22)

“… and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ So he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life’” (1 Kings 19:9-10).

Elijah the prophet was a great man of God. He was God’s spokesman who faced the great challenge of trying to lead Israel back to God at a time when the forces of government opposed him and God’s people had backslidden into idol worship. He was a great man of faith who, when he called upon God to cause it not to rain in order to chasten God’s people to see the error of their ways, God answered his prayer by causing it not to rain for 3 ½ years (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17-18). Elijah courageously opposed the wicked King Ahab and won a great challenge against the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in order to get the people of Israel to see and proclaim that “The Lord, He is God!”(1 Kings 18:22-40). Elijah would be rewarded for his faithfulness to God by not having to experience death as he was called up to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). The apostles James, Peter, and John would later see Elijah at the transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-3).

However, as great a man of faith as Elijah was, he was a man who struggled with discouragement. As the opening verses above indicate, following his challenge against the 450 prophets of Baal and Jezebel’s vow to take Elijah’s life, Elijah becomes very discouraged. He felt like he was all alone. He believed in his heart that there were no more faithful followers of God. In fact, his despair is so great that he prayed that he might die and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4). He was so depressed he wanted to die!

God intervened to encourage his faithful follower Elijah. God sends an angel to give him nourishment (1 Kings 19:5-8). However, Elijah’s struggle with discouragement is not over (1 Kings 19:9-10). God has Elijah stand on the mountain before the Lord to witnesses a great and strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire (1 Kings 19:11-12a). After witnessing these strong and mighty acts of the Lord, Elijah will hear the Lord speak to him in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12a-18). In the midst of all these awesome acts of the Lord (i.e. great wind, earthquake, and fire) and in the midst of all the crazy things happening in Israel, what Elijah needed to do was to take heed to carefully listen to God’s voice. As God speaks to Elijah, He says, “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him" (1 Kings 19:18).

As I consider Elijah and the challenges he faced in serving God in the midst of a godless nation, it is easy for me to relate to him as I serve God today. It is difficult to serve God when so many around you walk contrary to God’s Will and you receive little encouragement to remain faithful to God from other people. It is easy to become discouraged when trying to serve God in such circumstances. 

However, like Elijah, I need to take time to listen to God’s “still small voice”. When everything appears to be tumultuous around me, I need to reflect upon the promises He has made to me. I also need to remember there are faithful servants of God who have not “bowed the knee to Baal” and be encouraged by them. Today, I will rejoice that God still speaks to me through His Word in a “still small voice” and I will rejoice in my brethren who continue to strive to serve God faithfully!

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).

4/1/16 “Trivializing Sin” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 15-18)

“Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30-33).

Following the reign of Solomon, God’s people split into 2 separate kingdoms: (1) the kingdom of Israel ruled by Jereboam, and (2) the kingdom of Judah reigned by Rehoboam. Jereboam leads the kingdom of Israel further and further away from God. Those kings ruling Israel after him continue this departure from the ways of the Lord. There are multiple coups where someone conspires against the sitting king of Israel and usurps the throne. For example Baasha (1 Kings 15:27-28), Zimri (1 Kings 16:9-10) and Omri (1 Kings 16:16-23) all ascended to the throne by staging a coup against the sitting king. The kingdom of Israel was spiraling down as it departed further and further from God. Each of these kings provoked God to anger by their wicked ways. For example of Omri it is said, “Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25).

However, there would rise up kings in Israel more evil than Omri. As the opening verse above indicates, Omri’s own son Ahab “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). He was brazen about his sin as he builds an idolatrous temple (1 Kings 16:32), makes a wooden image to worship (1 Kings 16:33), and marries Jezebel who promoted the idolatrous priest of Baal by feeding them at her table (1 Kings 18:19).  Ahab took his sins against the Lord very lightly as he thought it “a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (1 Kings 18:31).

As I think about Israel’s downward spiral during the reigns of these kings, it is easy to draw parallels to the downward spiral we are seeing in our own nation, the United States. For example, in recent years, we have seen our states, our schools, and the media promoting such things as gay marriage. There are few things in God’s Word as clear as the fact that God considers homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) and that marriage is to be between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). This is not meant to “bash” or focus only on those who practice the sin of homosexuality because there are many other sins (e.g. lying, cheating, fornication, murder, etc.) which, as a whole, our nation has “trivialized”.

However, rather than pointing my finger at everyone else, I need to look at myself. Do I trivialize my own sin? Do I minimize my sin when I speak angry words that hurt others or tell a “little white lie”?

When I consider the great price that was paid (i.e. the death of God’s Son Jesus) for my sin, I am greatly humbled. Like all others, I have all sinned (Romans 3:23). I deserved to die for my sin (Romans 6:23). God be thanked that I was blessed with the opportunity to hear the good news about Christ and have been forgiven of my sin through his blood (Romans 6:3-4; 6:17-18). I am not better than all the other sinners around me. I am just blessed to be forgiven through Christ and I live by faith in Him. Today, I will strive not to trivialize my own sin and live rejoicing in God’s forgiveness!

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

3/31/16 “Listening to Evil Thoughts” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 12-14)

“And Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.’ Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” (1Kings 12:26-28)

Following the death of King Solomon, Solomon’s son Rehoboam ascends to the throne of Israel. However, he foolishly rejects the advice of the elders, who encouraged him to lighten the burdens on the people, and as a result 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel rebel against him and refuse to have him as their king (1 Kings 12:1-15). These tribes follow Jereboam and set him up as their king (1 Kings 12:20). God had given Jereboam a wonderful opportunity to lead these 10 tribes of Israel (1 Kings 11:29-38). Earlier through the prophet Ahijah, God told Jereboam, “Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:38).

Everything appears to be falling into place for Jereboam to begin a dynasty of kings to reign in Israel with God’s blessing. But then, Jereboam takes his eye off following God and begins to have evil thoughts that the people he is leading will return back to king Rehoboam of Judah (1 Kings 11:27). Instead of fearing God and remembering God’s promises to him, he listens to evil thoughts of doubt and fears man. His fear of man leads him to institute all sorts of wickedness in Israel contrary to God’s laws: (1) committing idolatry by setting up calves to worship in Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-29), (2) changing the priesthood from the Levites to just anybody (1 Kings 12:31), and (3) changing God’s appointed feast days (1 Kings 12:32). Jereboam’s legacy will become known by those wicked kings who followed in his ways of whom it will be said: “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin” (1 Kings 15:34; cf. 1 Kings 15:26; 16:19, 26).

Jereboam’s legacy was a terrible one. Forever he would become known by the evil he had done and as the one who had made Israel to sin. This became his legacy because he CHOSE to listen to evil thoughts of doubt and fear man instead of remembering God’s promise to him and trusting in God.

As I think about Jereboam, I ask myself, “Do I listen to evil thoughts of doubt instead of trusting in God’s promises?” Satan will constantly try to plant evil thoughts in my head as he tempts me, but I don’t have to act on those evil thoughts. I can CHOOSE to put away these evil thoughts by replacing these evil thoughts with promises made to me by God. I do not want my legacy to be about how I gave into evil thoughts, walked in an evil way, and led others to do evil because of my own fears and insecurities. I want my legacy to be of one who clung to God’s promises in faith, glorified Him by the way I lived, and help lead others to know Him! Today, I rejoice that I can trust in the promises of God and through Christ have the power to put away evil thoughts of doubt!

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

3/30/16 “What Am I Clinging To?” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 9-11)

“But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites-- from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:1-2).

Solomon’s reign had started off so well. God had blessed him with great wisdom, understanding and “largeness of heart” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon had been blessed to build the Temple of the Lord and witnessed God’s glory filling the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). God had appeared to Solomon a second time and promised to continue to bless Solomon and his descendants forever if Solomon would continue to follow after God’s commandments (1 Kings 9:1-5).

However, Solomon began to stray. He began to oppress the people of God burdening them with heavy burdens (cf. 1 Kings 12:4). He mistreated his allies and the allies of his father by giving them worthless cities in exchange for the help they had given him (cf. 1 Kings 9:10-14). Worst of all, he turned from following after the Lord and began to serve the gods of his many wives.

As the opening verse states, Solomon had a terrible weakness for women. It appears he was unable to control his sexual appetites. In fact, he goes on to marry 700 women and has an additional 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). His desire for all these women weakened his desire for God. In the end, they turned his heart away from the Lord and to their gods. As he turns away from Jehovah God, the Bible says about Solomon’s desire for these women that he, “clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:2).

Solomon would go on to regret what he had done. The book of Ecclesiastes is essentially Solomon’s confession of how foolish he had been during these years of his kingdom. He would say about this time period, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). He realized how incredibly foolish he had been seeking to satisfy himself with pleasure. In the end he concludes, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Although Solomon realized the errors of his ways and regretted how foolish he had been, the consequences of his sins would out live him. His kingdom would become divided and the majority of the tribes of Israel would no longer follow the reign of his sons (1 Kings 11:11-13). Unfortunately, he had wasted the many blessings God had given to him because of his inability to control his sexual appetites and his clinging to all these women in love.

As I consider this part of Solomon’s life, I ask myself, “What am I clinging to?” Am I clinging to things which are fruitless and a complete wasting away of my life such as desires for sex, money, fame or power? Or, am I clinging to Jehovah God by walking by faith in Him and setting my mind on things above (Matthew 6:33; Colossians 3:1-2)? Today, I will rejoice in God and cling to Him in faith!

“For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out of my mother's womb. My praise shall be continually of You” (Psalm 71:5-6).

3/29/16 “No God like You” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 6-8)

“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; and he said: ‘Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts’” (1 Kings 8:22-23).

The above words were spoken by Solomon as he and all Israel rejoice as the ark of the covenant is brought into the temple following its completion and God’s glory had filled the Temple (1 Kings 8:6-10). Solomon is filled with awe as he considers and proclaims to God, “How Great Thou Art”.

As Solomon considers God’s greatness, he mentions two things which are unique about God. First, God keeps His covenant. God had made a covenant with Abraham promising him that although Abraham’s descendants would serve another nation (i.e. Egypt) 400 years, God would bring them out to inherit the Promised Land (Genesis 15:13-16). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all clung in faith to this promise of God which He had made to them. God fulfilled this land promise as Joshua and the children of Israel conquered the Promised Land (Joshua 21:43-45). Furthermore, God promised Abraham that through one of his descendants (i.e. Christ) all the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Through the eye of faith, God servants throughout the following centuries looked forward to the day when this be accomplished. The promise was fulfilled when Christ came to save men from their sins (Galatians 4:4-5). Solomon praises God for His faithfulness to keep His promises!

Secondly, Solomon proclaims that God is unique because God keeps His mercy towards those who serve Him. Although the servants of God strive to serve Him, they do not always serve Him well. For example, both Abraham and Isaac lied on occasions in an attempt to trust in themselves to save their own lives (Genesis 12:11-13; 26:7). Later, Jacob would get Esau to sell him his birthright and conspire with his mother Rebekah to deceive his father Isaac and get Isaac’s blessing (Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-29). During their wilderness wanderings following God’s deliverance of them from the oppression they endured in the land of Egypt, the children of Israel complained against God and often doubted His ability to lead them into the Promised Land. In spite of all these failures among His people, God kept showing them mercy and forgiving them as they humbled themselves and turned back to God in repentance.

As I consider Solomon’s words as He proclaims God’s faithfulness to keep His covenant and His uniqueness, I can’t help but proclaim to God, “How Great Thou Art”! I can live my life by faith in God because I know that God has been faithful to keep the promises He has made to His people in the past and He will be faithful to keep the promises which He has made to me. I also can trust in His strength, and not my own, because I realize that in spite of my repeated failures, as I continue to struggle with sin, God will keep continuing to show mercy to me as I turn to Him with a contrite heart and repent.

Today I will rejoice in the great God I serve. Truly, there is no God like Him in heaven above or on the earth below! How wonderful it is to have the privilege of being called His child (1 John 3:1).

“Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:10-11).

3/28/16 “Give Your Servant An Understanding Heart…” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 3-5)

“Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" (1 Kings 3:7-9).

These words were spoken by King Solomon at the beginning of his reign as he felt overwhelmed at leading God’s people. His prayer was spoken out of a spirit of great humility as Solomon realized what an awesome task was before him in governing the children of Israel. God had appeared before Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask, what shall I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5). In his response Solomon asked for “an understanding heart” so that he may discern justice (1 Kings 3:9, 11).

Solomon’s reign began wonderfully. God gave Solomon not only wisdom, but also riches and honor (1 Kings 3:12-13). “And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29). God gave Solomon: (1) Wisdom, (2) great understanding, and (3) largeness of heart. In other words, God gave Solomon not only wisdom in the decisions he would make, but of equal importance, God gave Solomon “largeness of heart”, to have empathy for the people he was leading and to “understand”, from their point of view, how the decisions he made would affect them.

Solomon displayed this wisdom and “understanding heart” when 2 harlots came before him with a child whom each woman said was hers. He called for a sword and suggested he will divide the child between the two of them. The real mother of the child cried out for him not to do this, but to give the child to the other woman. Solomon clearly “understood” who the true mother was because with his heart he saw the compassion she had for her child. Solomon had the child given to her (1 Kings 3:16-27). Israel rejoiced being blessed with a king who had the “wisdom of God” (1 Kings 3:28).

As I read these words I think about how important it is for leaders at any level (i.e. government leaders, church leaders, or leaders in a family) to have wisdom and “an understanding heart”. Being a leader at any of these levels is not just about making decisions and expecting the people to follow them. It is also about understanding the people you are leading, the ability to see things from their point of view, and being able to discern how to implement the decisions you have to make into a course of action that the people you are leading will be willing to follow. Too often leaders fail because they are unable or unwilling to discern how the people they are attempting to lead view things and then get frustrated because those they lead will not follow their decisions. May God give us more leaders like Solomon who have “an understanding heart”!

Today, I rejoice that God will give me wisdom if I seek it! My prayer is as Solomon’s: “Give your servant an understanding heart.” It is a great responsibility to be a leader whether at home, in the church, at work, or in the government. Leaders in any capacity need God’s help to give them an understanding heart and wisdom in the decisions they make. God is infinite in His wisdom. May the Lord bless me with imparting to me just a small portion of his wisdom as I seek to be a leader in whatever capacity I find myself!

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

3/27/16 “Prove Yourself a Man” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 24-1 Kings 2)

“Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn’” (1 Kings 2:1-3).

As the above words indicate, David’s life on this earth was drawing to a close. He had an incredible pilgrimage on this earth as he walked with God and served God as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Acts 13:22). David had slain a giant, spent years on the run from the jealous King Saul, served as the King of God’s people Israel, endured repeated attempts from his own children (i.e. Absalom and Adonijah) and others (e.g. Sheba) to overthrow his kingdom, and struggled with his own sinfulness (e.g. adultery with Bathesheba and his subsequent murdering of Uriah) during his life on this earth. No one could say David had lived a dull life!

After finishing such a rich and abundant life, now David has some final words to say to his son Solomon whom has succeeded him on the throne of Israel (1 Kings 2:1-9). It is interesting to consider the final words that people have to say at the end of their lives. In the movie “Walk the Line” about the life of Johnny Cash, there is a line that music studio director Sam Phillips says to Johnny Cash as Cash is auditioning before him which is worthy of consideration here. Sam Phillips says, “All right, let's bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song, one song that people would remember before you're dirt, one song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on earth, one song that would sum you up…Somethin' real. Somethin' you felt.” In other words, Phillips wanted to know the one song Johnny Cash would sing if he was about to do to sum up how he viewed his time here on earth?

What is the one thing that King David has to say about “summing up his life here on this earth” as he seeks to impart some final wisdom to his son Solomon? Does he speak about the importance of hard work, making a lot of money, or acquiring more knowledge? Does he suggest that what is really important in life is to go out and have a lot of fun? Does he encourage Solomon to go and conquer more kingdoms and gain even greater power?

David encourages Solomon to “prove himself a man” by following God and keeping His commandments. If Solomon wanted to be a man after God’s own heart as was his father David, Solomon needed to walk with God by keeping His commandments. It is interesting that towards the end of Solomon’s life after he endured his own share of triumphs and failures in his walk with God he would write, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Today, I rejoice that I can gain great insight from the lives of those who have served God before me about what life is all about. It is about following God, walking with Him, and serving Him within the boundaries of His commandments. I do not try to “earn my salvation”, but I want to “prove myself to be a man” after God’s own heart by setting my mind on things above and serving Him (Colossians 3:1-2). Praise God for Him giving me guidance and direction in my life!

“Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (Psalm 119:54).

3/26/16 “God’s Passion for Me” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 19-23)

“In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven quaked and were shaken, because He was angry” (2 Samuel 22:7-8).

These words were spoken by David as he recounts how God delivered him from the hand of Saul (1 Samuel 18:9-27:4), the rebellion of his son Absalom against him (2 Samuel 15:1-18:33), Sheba’s rebellion against him (2 Samuel 20:1-22) and from all his enemies. The above words were part of a song that David sang unto the Lord (2 Samuel 22:1). David was taking time to reflect upon how God has blessed him throughout his whole life and the trials he had faced.

David did not view God as some distant figure who was aloof from him during David’s times of distress. Instead, he describes God as being very attentive to David’s prayers unto Him and feeling strong passionate feelings for David. Although God was in His temple, He was very attentive to David’s cry which entered God’s ears.

When God heard about the distress David was facing, notice God’s reaction: “Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; Coals were kindled by it” (2 Samuel 22:9). God then reacts quickly to come and deliver David from the distress he is under: “He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub, and flew; and He was seen upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness canopies around Him, Dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice.  He sent out arrows and scattered them; Lightning bolts, and He vanquished them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, the foundations of the world were uncovered, at the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils. He sent from above, He took me, He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me; for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me. (2 Samuel 22:10-20).

How do I view how God reacts to me when I cry unto him? Do I feel that when God hears my cries of distress unto Him, He procrastinates because He has too many other things to do? Do I feel that God is emotionally disconnected from the pains of my heart?

David did not view God as being distant and too busy to be concerned about Him. Instead, he viewed God as having feelings which were greatly stirred when He heard David crying out to Him for help! Understanding God has strong passionate feelings for me, gives me a better appreciation of the strong desires He felt to deliver me from my sins by rising up from His throne and sending His Son to go to the cross and bear the penalty of my sins (John 3:16). It also helps me to appreciate that when I am suffering God deeply cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

I rejoice that God has strong emotional feelings for me. Today I will appreciate that His feelings for me were so strong He sent His Son to die for my sins! Praise God for His passionate love for me!

“…The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies (2 Samuel 22:2-4).

3/25/16 “The Pain of Unforgiveness” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 16-18)

“Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: "O my son Absalom--my son, my son Absalom--if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18:33).

These words were spoken following the battle in which Absalom and his army are defeated by the followers of David. As they above words reflect, David’s heart is broken when he hears the news of the death of his son Absalom. As we reflect on these words, we may initially think that David overreacts to the news of the death of his son. After all, his son was trying to kill him! We might think David should feel at least a little relief because his own life was no longer threatened or feel some satisfaction that justice had been properly executed upon Absalom for his rebellion against him.

But David doesn’t react in any of these ways we might think he should. Instead, he reacts with profound grief. Why? I think the answer lies in the fact that David now realizes how he contributed to Absalom’s rebellion by not practicing full forgiveness towards Absalom when Absalom had killed his other son Amnon (i.e. read yesterday’s devotional 3/23/16, “The Problem of Partial Forgiveness”).

Following the death of Amnon, Absalom had fled as a fugitive and was away for 3 years before Joab, through a wise woman of Tekoa, convinced David to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 13:39; 14:1-21). However, David placed conditions upon Absalom on his return to Jerusalem. Absalom would no longer be a fugitive, but he was not allowed to come before the king’s face (2 Samuel 14:24). Two more years pass by before Absalom has Joab convince the king to allow Absalom to see the king (2 Samuel 14:28-33). Unfortunately, it appears Absalom bore a lot of resentment for his father’s treatment or him and never forgave his father for taking so long to forgive him. The breech in their relationship was never fully repaired and four years later Absalom leads an attempt to overthrow his father’s kingdom (2 Samuel 15:1-12, 7).

It appears David regrets how he failed to forgive Absalom from the start. When Absalom had first killed his brother Amnon, after David was comforted, he “longed to go to Absalom” but did not (2 Samuel 13:39). After learning of Absalom’s rebellion against him, David was greatly pained (cf. 2 Samuel 16:11). On the eve of battle, David gathers his troops and tells his men, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5). From these verses it is apparent that David regrets his failure to fully forgive Absalom from the start. He wants to restore his relationship with his son. But it is too late as his son would be killed by Joab who was full of vengeance against Absalom (2 Samuel 18:14-15).

As I read these verses, I do not want to have regrets as did David by not forgiving those who have hurt me. I don’t want to continue to allow the pain past wrongs done to me to breech my relationships with those about whom I care. I want the healing of forgiveness to soothe that pain. I don’t desire to go to my grave clinging to the pain of my past hurts! I don’t want to experience the pain that David experienced regarding his relationship with his son Absalom. Today, I rejoice that God offers me the choice to let go of the pain of past hurt and practice forgiveness. May God give me the wisdom and strength to always practice forgiveness towards those who have hurt me!

“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

3/24/16 “The Problem of Partial Forgiveness” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 13-15)

“But Absalom fled and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day. So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years. And King David longed to go to Absalom…” (2 Samuel 13:37-39).

God had established David as king over Israel and had blessed David and strengthened his kingdom. David had strayed from God and committed adultery with Bathsheba and was now beginning to reap the consequences of that sin. His family life began falling apart.

David had many different sons by different wives (2 Samuel 3:2-5). One of David’s sons, Amnon, raped the daughter of David, Tamar, who was born to David by a different woman than Amnon’s mother (2 Samuel 13:1-19). David was angry about this happening, but appeared to do nothing about it (2 Samuel 13:21). However, Absalom, another one of David’s sons who is Tamar’s brother, hated Amnon and devised a scheme to kill him. Absalom’s hatred for Amnon built up and after 2 years, he had Amnon murdered (2 Samuel 13:20-33). Absalom then fled to his mother’s father, Talmai the king of Geshur, where he remained 3 years (2 Samuel 13:34-38; 2 Samuel 3:3).  

During this 3 year period, the Bible says David “longed to go to Absalom” (2 Samuel 13:39). But, he did not go! Joab, the general of David’s army, devised a plan using a wise woman of Tekoa to get the king to see the error of David’s not forgiving Absalom (2 Samuel 14:1-20). David acknowledged this and had Joab bring Absalom back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:21-23), but then added this caveat regarding Absalom, “"Let him return to his own house, but do not let him see my face." (2 Samuel 14:24). So Absalom returned to his own house, but he was not allowed to enter the king’s presence. David had only partially forgiven his son. Absalom was no longer a fugitive having to stay away to preserve his life, but he wasn’t completely forgiven of his sin either. King David was still holding on to the hurt that Absalom had done and he would not allow Absalom to see him.

After 2 more years, Absalom had Joab pleaded with the king to let Absalom come before the king (2 Samuel 14:28-33). David finally saw Absalom. However, great damage appeared to have been done in their relationship as four years later Absalom led a rebellion against David (1 Samuel 15:1- 12). Once David fled for his life from Saul, now David fled for his life again from his own son, Absalom.

As I think about David and his son Absalom, there are a lot of things that they both did wrong. David should have been more active in disciplining his son Amnon who had raped his daughter Tamar. Absalom should have tried to forgive Amnon rather than bearing a grudge against him for 2 years and then killing him. It is very easy to point out what each did wrong. However, the biggest problem was David practiced partial forgiveness towards Absalom which was in reality no forgiveness at all.

As I think about my life and the relationships with others, are there people in my life whom I have only partially forgiven? Perhaps, I may say I have forgiven them, but I am unwilling to speak to them or do things with them?  Maybe I tolerate them being in the same room as me or maybe engage in “small talk” with them, but I keep my guard up when I am around them? I will rejoice that God has given me to power to forgive others. I don’t need to hold onto the hurt they have caused me. Today, I will give that hurt others have caused me over to God who will help me bear it (1 Peter 5:7), and embrace those who have sinned against me as God has embraced me for sinning against Him!

“"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

3/23/16 “You Are The Man!” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 10-12)

“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon”’ (2 Samuel 12:7-9).

While staying home from battle, King David observed Bathsheba bathing and succumbed to the temptation to commit adultery with her (2 Samuel 11:2-4). She became pregnant and, in an effort to cover up his sin, David tried to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to come home from the battlefield and engage in sexual relations with her (2 Samuel 11:5-13). However, this plan of David’s doesn’t work. In a last ditch attempt to cover up his sin, David had Uriah sent to the front lines of the battlefield and then had his army withdrawn from him leaving him to die by the hands of the Ammonites (2 Samuel 11:14-17). Uriah died alongside of some other Israelite soldiers as David’s plans came to fruition. David was guilty of adultery, lying, and murder!

David then went and married Bathsheba. She gave birth to the child. Everyone probably assumed it was Uriah’s child. It appeared David had been able to cover up his sin. However, God knew what David had done: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27).

David had been a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Acts 13:22). However, he didn’t act like it at this time. His heart was growing hard. His heart began growing hard as he continue to allow lust to grow in his heart as he observed Bathsheba bathing, took a second look at her, called on her, and engaged in adulterous relations with her. His heart grew harder and harder as he tried to deceive Uriah and got Uriah drunk. David’s heart further hardened as he had Uriah and other innocent men murdered on the battlefield and then said to his servant, “Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another” (2 Samuel 12:25). David’s hardening heart culminated as he then marries Bathsheba and acts as though nothing wrong had happened!

Thankfully, God sent Nathan to David to confront David about his sin as the opening verses above indicate (2 Samuel 12:1-9). To his credit, David’s heart was not so hard that it could not be softened by God’s rebuke. When his sin was pointed out to him, David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). God would forgive David of his sin, but the consequences of David’s sin would bring tragedy for David and his family (2 Samuel 12:10-14).

When I consider how this great man of God departed from God and allowed his heart to grow hard, I am greatly humbled because I realize how easily the destructive effects of sin can enter my life. I need to flee temptation (1 Timothy 6:11; Titus 2:22) and not give it a “second look”. I know I will continue to struggle with sin, but when I do succumb to temptation and commit sin, I need to quickly repent of it so that my heart does not begin to grow hard (1 John 1:8-9). I rejoice that God knows my weaknesses and offers me forgiveness when, like David, I fall into sin. Today, I will strive to not let my heart grow hard through the deceitfulness of sin!

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).

3/22/16 “You Are Great, O Lord God” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 7-9)

“For Your word's sake, and according to Your own heart, You have done all these great things, to make Your servant know them. Therefore You are great, O Lord God. For there is none like You, nor is there any God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears” (2 Samuel 7:22-23).

God had greatly blessed David. God was with David as he had killed Goliath. The Lord had preserved David as he escaped from the King Saul’s pursuit of David’s life in a jealous rage. God also enabled David to ascend to the throne of Israel. Finally, David had been able to return the Ark of the Covenant back to its proper place in the Tabernacle of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:17).

At this point in his life, David now wanted to do something special for God. It came into his heart to build God a permanent house in which the Ark of the Covenant could remain. David tells the prophet Nathan, “"See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains" (2 Samuel 7:2). However, God has Nathan the prophet to tell David not to do this (2 Samuel 7:4-16). Why? Because David had been a man of war and shed much blood during his lifetime, he was not to be the man to build God a house (1 Chronicles 28:3).

However, in the midst of God’s reply to David through Nathan the prophet, God promises that although God would not let David build Him a house, God would build David a house (2 Samuel 7:11). This was not a physical house, but a house in the sense that David’s descendants would continue to reign on the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 7:12-15). More importantly, spiritually it would be through David that the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, would come to set up His Kingdom, the church, which would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44; John 18:36; Colossians 1:13). Through Nathan the prophet, God tells David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).

Rather than being disappointed that it was not in God’s plans to have David build the temple, David is overwhelmed at the thought of God blessing him in this way. As the opening verses above indicate, David considered God blessings upon him and proclaimed God’s praises (2 Samuel 7:20-29).

As I reflect on this, I need to take time to “be overwhelmed” as I consider how God has blessed me. Rather than dwelling on what I do not have or the goals in my life I have been unable to accomplish thus far, I need to take time to rejoice in what I do have and consider the opportunities presently before me to serve God and honor him. Instead of bringing myself down by focusing on all the problems and challenges that surround me, I need to look up and spend time in meditation reflecting on just how awesome God is.

God has blessed me with my health, my family, and my friends. He has allowed me to live in a prosperous nation where I am free to serve Him without fear of persecution. More importantly, he has saved me from my sin through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. He has blessed me with a great spiritual family in the church. He has given me love, joy, and peace to fill my life. Today, I will rejoice in the great God I serve!

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:1-3).

3/21/16 “Arousing the Anger of the Lord” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 4-6)

“And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:6-7).

Following the death of King Saul at the hands of the Philistines, David became king and began to establish and strengthen his kingdom. His army conquered Jerusalem, which will become known as the city of David (2 Samuel 5:6-9). Through God’s power, he defeated the Philistines in 2 separate battles (2 Samuel 5:17-25). Of this period in David’s life we read, “So David went on and became great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him” (2 Samuel 5:10).

However, David was aware that the ark of the covenant, which was supposed to have remained in the Most Holy Place of the Lord’s Tabernacle, was away from where the Lord wanted it to be. Instead, years earlier the Israelites had taken it with them in battle believing that by doing this God would help them defeat the Philistines. God never told them to do this. Instead, Israel was defeated by the Philistines and the ark of the covenant was captured. After suffering a plague from the Lord, the Philistines returned the ark of the covenant to the Israelites by setting it on an ox cart and setting the oxen off in the direction of Israel (1 Samuel 4:1-7:2). The ark of the covenant returned to Israel and remained in the Israelite city of Kirjath Jearim for many years(1 Samuel 7:2; 1 Chronicles 13:6).

Because God had so greatly blessed him, David wanted to do something for God. He wanted to bring the ark of the covenant up from Kirjath Jearim and set it in its proper location within the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle of the Lord (1 Chronicles 13:1-4). He had the  ark of the covenant loaded on a new cart and had a massive celebration as they brought the ark of the covenant towards Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-5; 1 Chronicles 13:5-8).

However, then everything went wrong. The oxen stumbled, the ark of the covenant began to move on the cart, and one of the drivers of the cart, Uzzah, reached out and touched the ark to steady it. God’s anger was aroused against Uzzah and he died (2 Samuel 6:6-7; 1 Chronicles 13:9-10). David also became angry and confused about why God did this (2 Samuel 6:8-9; 1 Chronicles 13:11-12).

Why did God do this? Did He not know that David meant well? Did God not know that Uzzah was trying to prevent the ark of the covenant from slipping off the ark? God knew all these things, but God also knew that His people had not respected His authority. They did not follow God’s instructions regarding how the ark was to be transported via poles on the shoulders of the Kohathites of the tribe of Levi (Exodus 25:14; Numbers 4:1-15). David later realized this and, after consulting God’s Word, has the ark of the covenant transported to Jerusalem in the manner in which God had prescribed (1 Chronicles 15:1-15; 25-29).

God is angered when His people do not respect His Word and show reverence or godly fear for Him and His statutes. This account serves as a powerful reminder that I must strive to learn God’s Word and submit to His Will for my life. I must worship Him and serve Him in the manner He has prescribed, not in the way I think may be right. For whatever reason David and the Israelites had failed to do this and it cost Uzzah his life. Today, I will rejoice that God has given His Word to direct me in the way I should serve Him! I will fear Him and keep His commandments!

“Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments” (Psalm 119:73).

3/20/16 “Genuine Love for Your Enemies” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 1-3)

"Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury; who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle...” (2 Samuel 1:23-25).

These words were part of a song that David had written down to teach the children of Judah (2 Samuel 1:18). Saul and Jonathan had been killed by the Philistines in a great battle in which Israel was defeated at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-6). David lamented over the death of his good friend Jonathan and also he wept for King Saul who had made himself David’s enemy (2 Samuel 1:17).

It is easy to understand David’s great mourning over his friend Jonathan. Jonathan had been a great friend to David. Jonathan loved David as his own soul (1 Samuel 18:1-3). Jonathan had defended David before his father Saul (1 Samuel 19:4-6). Jonathan had also helped David escape from Saul’s repeated efforts to kill David (1 Samuel 20:1-42). After David had fled to the wilderness, Jonathan supported David and strengthen his friend’s hand in God (1 Samuel 23:16). It is easy for us to relate as to why David wept over the death of his close friend Jonathan and said, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me; your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

What is so striking about the opening verses above is how David wept over King Saul. Saul had been jealous of David’s success (1 Samuel 18:7-9). This jealousy caused Saul to feel threatened by David so he tries multiple times and in multiple ways to have David killed. David has to flee for his life and gets no rest as Saul doggedly pursues him from one place to another seeking to kill him. If most of us were in David’s shoes we probably would have rejoiced in hearing of the death of Saul and felt great relief because we would know that our life was no longer in danger by King Saul.

But David did not do this. Why? Because David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Acts 13:22). David had true, genuine love for his enemies. Even though Saul had sought to kill David, David bore no malice towards Saul. David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul and to end his misery caused by Saul’s pursuit of him, but David did not harm Saul. David’s feelings towards Saul is reminiscent of Jesus’ words on the cross regarding his enemies, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). David’s example of the love and forgiveness he had towards Saul is a great example for us to follow regarding how we should love our enemies.

David was not a perfect man. He would struggle with sexual sins. He would struggle with his parenting skills. But, in regard to the love he showed for his enemies he excelled more than most. I am not a perfect man either. I may not struggle with sexual sins or with my parenting skills as much as David did, but when I look at my life and my feelings towards my enemies and compare my attitude towards my enemies with the attitude David displays here towards King Saul, I realize I have a lot of room to grow in loving my enemies if I am going to be a “man after God’s own heart”. Today, I realize my weaknesses, but I rejoice that God is still working on me to help me become transformed more and more into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2). I will strive to love my enemies as David loved his.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

3/19/16 “When God Will Not Listen” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 27-31)

“When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets” (1 Samuel 28:5-6).

Regarding the background of the above passage, the Philistines had gathered together for a great battle against the Israelites. They had encamped at Shunem, while Saul and the Israelites encamped at Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:4). Saul’s faithful servant David had fled to the Philistines and was pretending to have turned against his own people Israel (1 Samuel 27:1-12). Saul was no longer pursuing David’s life as he had been doing for quite some time (1 Samuel 27:4). However, Saul now had a greater problem on his hands than worrying about David’s getting the kingdom from him: Saul and Israel were facing a huge Philistine army. He was afraid and his heart trembled (1 Samuel 28:5).

King Saul wanted answers as these matters weighed heavily upon his heart: What was Israel to do? What was he as the king of Israel to do? Would God deliver Israel and himself from their enemies? If they would be delivered from the Philistines, how would God accomplish this victory for them?

Although Saul wanted answers to these questions, as the opening verses above indicate, God was not giving Saul any answers (1 Samuel 28:6). Why? The answer is Saul’s continued rebellion against God. God had told Saul He had rejected him from being King of Israel (1 Samuel 15:26). He told Saul He was going to tear the kingdom from him (1 Samuel 15:28). Now it was time for the fulfillment of this prophecy of Saul’s kingdom being torn away from him.

However, Saul had refused to accept God’s judgment about the kingdom being taken away from him. He had spent a long time trying to kill David the man who God had chosen to succeed him as king (1 Samuel 16:7, 13). Now that God was no longer answering him, Saul continues his rebellion against God by turning to a spiritualist, a woman who was “a medium at En Dor”, to seek answers to his questions about his future (1 Samuel 28:7). She will conduct a séance and, to her surprise, conjure up Samuel who had previously died (1 Samuel 28:14). Samuel will tell Saul that he will die in battle along with his sons and the kingdom will be given over to David (1 Samuel 28:15-19).

In applying this passage to our lives, Saul is an example of how God refuses to hear the prayers of those who continue in their evil ways and refuse to repent. I wonder if David had Saul in mind when by inspiration he wrote, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:15-16). God will not listen to those who persist in rebellion against Him!

On the other hand, what a blessing it is that God takes the time and gives His attention to the prayers of His people who seek Him with their whole heart. He eyes are upon them! His ears are open to their cry! Even though God is controlling the universe and ruling in the kingdoms of men, when I call upon Him in prayer, He is not a distracted listener. His eyes are not upon all these other things. His attention is focused upon me and what my heart has to say to Him! It is comforting to have the assurance that the Ruler of the universe listens to my cry to Him. Today, I rejoice that as I strive to be righteous before God that God attentively listens to me and answers my prayers!

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me!” (Psalm 66:18-20)

3/18/16 “Seeking Vengeance” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 24-26)

“Now it happened afterward that David's heart troubled him because he had cut Saul's robe. And he said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord’" (1 Samuel 24:5-6).

As David continues to flee from Saul’s jealous rage, David hides out in a cave in the Wilderness of En Gedi (1 Samuel 24:1). Saul pursues David to this area, but is unaware that David and his men are hidden in the cave. He goes to “attend to his needs” (i.e. “goes to the bathroom”) in the cave. This presents a “perfect opportunity” for David to kill Saul and for David to relieve himself of this continual threat that Saul has posed on his life (1 Samuel 24:2-3). David’s men strongly encourage him to take advantage of this opportunity and kill Saul. Although David has the opportunity to kill Saul, he only cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:4).

However, as the opening verses above indicate, as soon as David did this his heart troubled him. He realizes he had stretched his hand against God’s anointed. He acknowledges that he had thoughts of trying to execute vengeance against King Saul. Saul had been anointed by God to be king over Israel. After having cut off the corner of Saul’s robe, David conscience bothered him because he felt it was God’s place to execute vengeance, not his (1 Samuel 24:5-6).

David will have additional opportunities to kill Saul (e.g. 1 Samuel 26:1-25), but he restrains himself from doing so. He turns to God to look for justice for himself against King Saul. On a later occasion David will say regarding seeking vengeance on Saul, “"As the Lord lives, the Lord shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord's anointed…” (I Samuel 26:10-11). David knew that somehow, someway, God would see that David was given justice against Saul. However, David would not allow himself to raise his hand against the one whom God had anointed.

What would I have done if I were in David’s shoes? I admit it would be a strong temptation to want to avenge myself against this madman chasing me all over the country even though God had anointed him to be king! I would have a strong desire to want to put an end to Saul’s continually creating havoc in my life!

Do you ever struggle with thoughts of vengeance? It is difficult to watch some of the events in the world and see all the injustice that happens and not want to step in and destroy those who cause these things to happen. For example, it is difficult to hear of a child being abused and not have thoughts of vengeance of wanting to kill the person who is causing the abuse. However, is it my place to exact vengeance?

I rejoice that God doesn’t expect me to execute vengeance. He expects me to commit vengeance to him. Today, I will strive to guard my heart from the temptation to execute vengeance on my enemies!

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

3/17/16 “Strengthening Your Friend’s Hand in God” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 21-23)

“Then Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.’ So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house” (1 Samuel 23:16-18).

Carole King wrote and sang a hit called, “You’ve Got a Friend” of which many of us are familiar. We appreciate the blessing it is to have a friend to give you support in your hour of need.

David had such a need for a friend. Regarding the background of the above passage of Scripture, David had fled for his life from before King Saul. Saul was seeking after David every day in an attempt to kill him (1 Samuel 23:14). Saul was using all the available resources at his disposal to get David. On the other hand, David realized the great challenge he faced in trying to escape from King Saul. Earlier, he had told his good friend Jonathan, who was also Saul’s own son, “But truly as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). David was in a desperate situation. He was getting discouraged from being on the run from King Saul.

Can you imagine how David must have felt? He couldn’t stay in one location very long because Saul was constantly on the hunt for him. Every time he went to a new area he had to wonder if someone was going to try to turn him over to King Saul. Doeg the Edomite had done this and had killed the priests of Nob, who had unknowingly helped David in his efforts to escape from Saul (1 Samuel 22:9-19). Those of the city of Keilah, whom David had rescued from the Philistines, were also going to turn their back on David and deliver him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:1-12). David must have felt there was no one he could trust. David gives us a glimpse of how he felt during this period of his life when he writes, “Look on my right hand and see, For there is no one who acknowledges me; Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul” (Psalm 142:4).

David felt like no one cared for his soul. However, as the open verses above indicate, his friend Jonathan did care for his soul. Jonathan was a faithful friend to David. He risked much to remain a friend to David. He risked inheriting the kingdom from his father Saul because of his friendship with David. In fact, Jonathan accepted the fact that David would become king and not himself (1 Samuel 23:17). He even risked his own life when on one occasion his father Saul had thrown a spear at him because he was angry with his son for befriending David (1 Samuel 20:33). Yet, in spite of all of this, Jonathan’s commitment to being a friend to David did not waver.

When David needed Jonathan the most, Jonathan went to him and “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). A lot of people have friends whose company they enjoy. They have similar interests. Some people have friends who will lead them astray into self-destructive practices such as drinking alcohol and doing drugs. But, Jonathan was a friend who helped David in his walk with God. In his relationship with David, Jonathan personified Carole King’s song, “You’ve Got a Friend”.

Today I rejoice that God has given me friends and brethren in Christ who “strengthen my hand in God”. I am grateful for friends who encourage me and uplift me to continue in the faith. It is a blessing to have friends with whom I can talk about God and His working in our lives. Today, I will strive to be a friend to others around me and strengthen their hands in God!

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

3/16/16 “The Destructive Effects of Jealousy” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 18-20)

“So the women sang as they danced, and said: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.’ Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So Saul eyed David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 18:7-9).

Do you ever struggle with feelings of jealousy upon hearing the success other’s may be experiencing? Jealousy is a temptation with which many of us battle. What are the harmful effects of jealousy if we allow it to gain a foothold in our lives?

After David returns from killing the giant Goliath, David and Saul’s son Jonathan strike up a great friendship (1 Samuel 18:1-4). Saul also puts David in charge of some of his soldiers. David conducts himself honorably and “behaves very wisely” in this new position (1 Samuel 18:5, cf. v.14, 30). Saul had found a great, faithful servant in David.

However, Saul knew God was going to take the kingdom away from him because of his own sin (1 Samuel 15:26-28). Centuries earlier, God’s servant Moses found himself in a similar position as King Saul. God had told Moses he was not going to lead His people into the Promised Land because of his sin (Numbers 20:12). Moses had accepted this judgment from God and he continued to lead Israel through the wilderness years. Moses faithfully served God during the remainder of his days upon this earth even though he knew he would not be the one leading Israel into the Promised Land.

King Saul, however, did not embrace God’s taking the kingdom away from him and giving it to another. He fought against the directive from God. He became very insecure. As the opening verse above indicates, King Saul becomes very jealous when he hears the women praising David for killing ten thousands and ascribing to him the killing of only thousands. Instead of celebrating David for being a faithful servant who had helped him in defeating their enemies, the Philistines, Saul chose to be jealous of David’s success. He casts the eye of jealousy upon David (1 Samuel 18:7-9).

Saul’s jealousy had destructive effects not only upon himself, but upon his relationships with those around him. His jealousy over David created a breech in his relationship with David as he attempted to kill David by throwing a spear at David as David was trying to comfort Saul with music (1 Samuel 18:10-11). Later, Saul devised a plan to have David fight against the Philistines in hopes that the Philistines will kill David for him (1 Samuel 18:18-27). Following this, Saul’s own daughter Michal was forced to choose between her father Saul and her husband David as she helped David to escape from Saul (1 Samuel 19:11-17). Furthermore, Saul’s jealousy over David created a rift between himself and his son Jonathan as Saul in his jealous rage throws a spear at his own son Jonathan as Jonathan defended David before his father(1 Samuel 20:30-33). Saul’s jealousy over David had disastrous effects upon himself and his relationships with others.

When I let jealousy gain a foothold in my life, does it not also have disastrous effects upon my attitude and begin to affect my relationships with others? Today, I will rejoice that I can feel secure that God loves me and cares for me. Instead of feeling jealous over the success of others, I will celebrate their success and rejoice with them. I will learn to be content with how God has blessed me! I will not give the devil an opportunity to gain a foothold in my life by being jealous of others!

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1Timothy 6:6-7).

3/15/16 “Facing Peer Pressure” (Daily Bible Reading: 1 Samuel 15-17)

“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice’” (1 Samuel 15:24).

We often speak to our children about the dangers of letting their friends influence the choices they make for themselves? We call this peer pressure. But, as adults don’t we also face peer pressure?

Through the prophet Samuel, God had commanded King Saul and the Israelite army to destroy all of the Amalekites including all their animals (1 Samuel 15:1-3). God had granted them a great victory over their enemies, but Saul spared the Amalekite king Agag and some of the animals (1 Samuel 15:7-9). Why did Saul do this and would he face consequences for not obeying God’s command?

God sends the prophet Samuel to confront Saul about Saul’s failure to carry out God’s command (1 Samuel 15:10-12). As Samuel arrives, King Saul says, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:13). It appears Saul had convinced himself he had actually performed God’s command to destroy all the Amalekites and their animals when in fact he had not (cf. 1 Samuel 15:15, 20-21).

However, Samuel knew the truth of Saul’s failure to keep God’s command. Samuel says, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:14). The noise of the sheep and oxen announced to all that Saul had forsaken God’s instruction.

Why had Saul not kept God’s command? After initially denying he had done anything wrong and trying to justify his actions (cf. 1 Samuel 15:15, 20-21), Saul tells Samuel why he failed to keep God’s command to destroy all the Amalekites. As the opening verse above indicates, he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul gave into PEER PRESSURE.

Often we tend to think that teenagers are the only ones who face peer pressure. However, as we see with King Saul, adults face peer pressure as well. For example, why don’t more Christians stand up for what the Bible says regardingthe essentiality of a person needing to be baptized in order to be saved when talking amongst a group of “believers” from other “Christian” churches? Why don’t more followers of Christ take a stand when in the company of their coworkers or friends with regard to what God’s Word has to say about such sins as homosexuality? The answer is: Peer pressure. We feel the pressure from our peers not to say or do anything which is contrary to popular opinion!

I am not suggesting we should go out and intentionally upset people by seeing how blunt we can be with regard to the teachings of the Bible. I believe God expects us to use wisdom and to choose our words carefully. Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). We should use wisdom and discretion regarding the words we use and the tone in which we use them when trying to teach others God’s Word.

On the other hand, we need to be conscious that we face peer pressure today and need to challenge ourselves not to give into it. I rejoice that God has given me His Word. I acknowledge that peer pressure is a real temptation that I face. Today, I will strive today to keep all of God’s commands and not give into peer pressure.

 “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed. And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love” (Psalm 119:46-47).