Category Archives: Children

The Prodigal Son, and the Question of Divorce (Luke 15; Luke 16)

Scripture reading – Luke 15; Luke 16

Today’s devotional reading continues our study of the Gospel of Luke. Chapters 15 and 16 contain some of the most beloved parables taught by our LORD. The Lost Sheep (15:4-10), The Prodigal Son (15:11-32), The Unfaithful Servant (16:1-13), and The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31) are illustrative of God’s longsuffering and love. Because the latter used a man’s proper name (Lazarus), some suggest it was in fact an actual story, and should not fall into the category of an allegory (parable).

Luke 15

The parable of The Prodigal Son (15:11-32) is among the most beloved of all the parables. Notice there are three main characters in the tale: the loving father, the prodigal who was the younger son, and the eldest son who was proud and unforgiving. Because the tale is so well-known, I will limit my observations to a few remarks.

The first two verses reveal the setting and circumstances that prompted the story: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (15:1-2).

As you read the drama between the father, and his sons, notice the parallel between the actors in the parable and those mentioned in Luke 15:1-2. The “publicans and sinners” were like the rebellious younger son, who “wasted his substance with riotous living…and began to be in want,” yet, were received by Christ (15:14). The Pharisees and scribes, like the elder brother who refused to accept his younger brother, resented and criticized Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners (15:2, 28-30). Of course, the father who received his younger son, forgave and restored him as a son, was a picture of Christ’s love for sinners (15:2b, 20-24).

Luke 16

This chapter opens with The Parable of the Unjust Steward (16:1-12), and concludes with the dramatic story of The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31). In the midst of the chapter are five verses that seem to interrupt the flow of the narratives, until we remember they embodied Christ’s response to his adversaries (16:14). The Pharisees, often used the occasion of Jesus teaching the people as an opportunity to criticize and confront Him. Having listened to the parable of “The Unjust Steward” (16:1-13), the Pharisees “who were covetous” (16:14) began to “deride” Jesus, openly mocking Him before the people.

Rather than retreat, Jesus answered the derision of the Pharisees and used the occasion to expose their hypocrisy.  He accused those religious leaders of aspiring for men’s venerations, and unmasked the hypocrisy He knew was in their hearts (16:15).

The Pharisees, who considered themselves experts in the law of God, listened as Jesus said, “16  The law and the prophets were until John [the Baptist]: since that time the kingdom of God is preached [marked by the coming of Jesus Christ], and every man presseth [pushes by force; forcing his own way] into it. 17  And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle [small stroke of a pen] of the law to fail” (16:16-17).

John the Baptist was the bridge from the prophets and prophecies of the Old Testament, to Christ, and His preaching the gospel of “the kingdom of God” (16:16-17). Then, Jesus addressed an issue of Old Testament law the Pharisees had distorted… marriage and adultery— “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (16:18).

The Pharisees had failed to uphold the sanctity of marriage being between one man and one woman as God designed (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:4-10; Ephesians 5:28-33). Those hypocrites had mislead the people, and misinterpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4. They gave liberty for men to divorce their wives for the silliest of reasons.

Closing thoughts – I close today’s devotional with a few parting thoughts.  The first, God’s will and His design of marriage is a lifetime covenant between one man and one woman. Furthermore, the Scriptures are abundantly clear–God hates divorce (“For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that He hateth putting away,” Malachi 2:16).  On a personal, and closing note: I believe the only grounds for divorce is unrepentant adultery, and I cite three proof scriptures for my authority in the matter.

Matthew 5:31-32 – “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32  But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

Matthew 19:9 – “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

1 Corinthians 7:15 – “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”

So much more might be said on the subject of marriage and divorce, but I will address that topic at another time.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Warning: God Loves and Protects His Children (Mark 9; Matthew 18)

Scripture reading – Mark 9; Matthew 18

Our study of the Synoptic Gospels continues with Mark 9 and Matthew 18. You will notice Mark 9 is a parallel study of events we considered in a prior study of Matthew 17 and included the transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13), Jesus casting an evil spirit out of a father’s sons, and a lesson on faith, prayer, and fasting (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:12-29). Our devotional will focus on Matthew 18.

The Spiritual Character of Believers: Greatness Defined (18:1-4)

Matthew 18 marks a shift in the focus of Christ’s ministry. For three years, He focused on the great multitudes that followed His ministry and miracles throughout Judaea and Galilee. With only six months to the Cross, the LORD prepared His disciples for the great events before Him and them. Though He had spoken plainly of His betrayal, death, and resurrection (17:22-23), the disciples evidenced they were mere men. Falling prey to petty rivalries and jealousy, they came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1)

The LORD answered their question with an illustration that was simple and powerful. Taking a small child to Himself, Jesus taught the disciples that a child is a portrait of greatness clothed in humility (18:3). The central truth: The citizens of Christ’s kingdom will be defined, not by greatness, but by humility (18:4).

God’s Love, Care, and Compassion for His Children (18:5-14)

In a world scarred by child abuse and sex trafficking, we have an admonition from the LORD that serves as a warning to all who harm or lead astray the youthful and naive. Remember the small child Jesus used as an illustration of humility? Jesus now turned His focus to His spiritual children, and warned, “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (18:6).

Admonition: God will protect His children. (18:6-7)

The LORD is jealous for the welfare of His people, and there are some who, under the guise of “Christian liberty,” lead believers to sin. Jesus warned, mistreat or entice a believer to sin, and you invite God’s judgment. Become a stumbling block for a child of God, and it would be better had you never been born! (18:7)

Exhortation: Sever Your Sinful Ways (18:8-9)

Continuing to teach His disciples and speaking figuratively, Jesus warned it would be better to go through life maimed (to cut off one’s hand or foot, or pluck out one’s eye), than lead a believer astray and down a path of sin (18:8-9). In a practical sense, it would be better to live a life of self-sacrifice, deny your flesh the pleasures of sin, and your eyes the lust of the flesh, than be “cast into everlasting fire…[or] having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (18:8-9).

Closing thoughts – Compassionate Love (18:10-14)

God’s love for His people is evidenced in His loving care for them. Unlike the Pharisees who were guilty of abusing their role among the people, Jesus cautioned His disciples, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones” (18:10a). What followed was a wonderful lesson in the love, grace, and mercy of God. In closing, consider four qualities we can identify in God’s love for His people.

The first, God’s love is proactive, therefore the LORD commanded, “despise not one” (18:10a). The implication is we are not to dishonor, put down, or think ourselves better than another. After all, every soul is precious in the sight of God. Secondly, the love of God is protective, for “in heaven their [God’s children’s] angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (18:10b). That verse does not teach every believer has a guardian angel; however, the promise is the LORD dispatches His angels to aid and protect His people.

God’s love is also personal, for He loves His people like a shepherd knows and loves His sheep. If one sheep is lost, a good shepherd will leave the 99 sheep in the fold and seek the one that is lost. Like a good shepherd, Jesus came “to save that which was lost” (18:11). Finally, the love of God is perpetual, everlasting, and enduring. It is the will of God the Father that not “one of these little ones should perish” (18:14).

You and I might be a disappointment, and even a failure in the eyes of others; yet, God loves us with the same loving compassion a shepherd loves and nurtures his sheep. The love of God is proactive, protective, personal, and perpetual. After all, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 1)

Scripture reading – Luke 1

Luke 1 – A Credible Account of History Established by Eyewitnesses

The Author of the Gospel of Luke (1:1-4)

The apostle Paul identified Luke as, “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14), giving us insight into Luke’s training and secular occupation. Bible scholars believe he was a Gentile covert, and an educated man. His writings reveal he was a historian, recording the person and life of Christ (Gospel of Luke), and the history of the early Church (Acts of the Apostles). We are especially indebted to Luke for his record of the early church, and the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul.

The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were historical letters penned by Luke to a friend he identified as “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), meaning the “friend of God” (Luke 1:1-3; Acts 1:1). Luke’s account of the life of Christ was owed to his privilege of knowing those who were “eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:1-2). His purpose for writing his Gospel was stated to Theophilus: “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:4).

The Miraculous Conception and Birth of John the Baptist (1:5-25)

Luke presented the lineage of John the Baptist, whose birth and life fulfilled the prophecy regarding the forerunner of the Messiah (1:5-25; Malachi 3:1).  John’s father and mother, Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth, were of the tribe of Levi. He was a priest, and she was identified as one “of the daughters of Aaron” (1:5). Both are acknowledged as having godly character for “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD blameless” (1:6). Yet, Elisabeth carried a stigma as a childless, barren woman (1:7).

An Angelic Birth Announcement (1:8-25)

Elisabeth was beyond childbearing years, yet they prayed and in the course of Zacharias’ ministry, God heard and answered their prayers (1:8-14). Dispatching the angel Gabriel (for he stood “in the presence of God,” 1:11, 19), it was revealed to Zacharias that Elisabeth would conceive and bear a son. The angel told Zacharias his son was to be named John, and many would “rejoice at his birth” (1:14). John was destined for greatness; however, it was not the greatness men thrust upon a child because of his lineage. Gabriel foretold John would be “great in the sight of the LORD…and he [would be] filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (1:15). John’s role would be that of the forerunner of the Messiah, and he would call “the children of Israel” to repent and turn to the LORD (1:16-17).

Zacharias doubted, and questioned the angel (1:18-20). He wondered how he might know all would come to pass as the angel had foretold (for he was “an old man” and his wife was “well stricken in years,” 1:18). Because Zacharias had not believed Gabriel’s words, the angel pronounced that he would be unable “to speak, until the day” John was born (1:20). The events that culminated with the birth of John the Baptist was interrupted by a second and most important appearance of the angel Gabriel. (1:21-25).

Gabriel’s Announcement and the Miraculous Conception of Jesus Christ (1:26-56)

Six months after Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, and his wife Elisabeth conceived John, the angel “was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (1:26-27). Gabriel’s announcement to the virgin Mary that she had “found favour with God” is well known by the majority of those reading this devotional (1:28, 31).

Mary was told the son she would conceive would “be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (1:32). Yet, the Scriptures have made it clear that Mary was a virgin (1:27), and her own words give testimony to the same. Mary asked Gabriel, “How shall this be [how could she give birth to a son], seeing I know not a man?” (1:34). The answer is one of the most profound and essential truths of the Scriptures. Mary would conceive in her womb a child of the Holy Ghost, the only begotten Son of God (Luke 1:35).

Luke 1:39-56 is the record of the expecting Mary’s retreat from Nazareth, to the home of her elder cousin Elisabeth, whom Mary found to be great with child as the angel Gabriel had spoken (Luke 1:36).  The birth of John the Baptist, his divine mission, and preparation in the solitude of the desert conclude our Scripture reading (Luke 1:57-80).

I close our devotional with the prophetic words of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. He being filled with the Holy Ghost blessed his son, saying, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord To prepare his ways” (1:76).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Forgotten by Man, But Not by God (Nehemiah 9; Nehemiah 10)

Scripture reading – Nehemiah 10

Nehemiah had served king Artaxerxes as governor of Judah, and completed the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and securing the city. A man of wisdom and spiritual discernment, Nehemiah deferred the spiritual health of the nation to Ezra, who was a priest and a scribe of the law among the people (8:1).  When Ezra read the Scriptures to the congregation, they responded with remorse for their sins, repented, and affirmed they would obey the law (8:9-18).

Nehemiah 9

Having observed the Feast of the Tabernacles, the people assembled as a congregation, and determined to separate themselves from “all strangers” (non-Hebrews, 9:2). Gathering to worship the LORD, the Levites read the Scriptures and reminded the people the God of Israel was Creator of heaven and earth (9:6), had chosen Abraham and established a covenant with his lineage (9:7-8).

Reviewing the providences of the LORD, the people were reminded He had called Moses, and led Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and the wilderness (9:9-12). God had met Israel on Mount Sinai, and given the people His “judgment…laws, good statutes and commandments” (9:13). The LORD provided bread and water in the wilderness, and when their hearts were lifted up with pride, He showed mercy and compassion (9:14-21). He fulfilled His covenant to Abraham, and giving Israel the land, He drove the Canaanites out of their homes and cities (9:22-25). When Israel disobeyed and rebelled, the LORD sent prophets who “testified against them” (9:26-29). When people hardened their hearts, He did not forsake them, for He is “a gracious and merciful God” (9:30-31).

The people confessed the LORD had kept His covenant, and showed them mercy (9:32). Looking back on the years of captivity, they affirmed all that came upon them was deserved, for the LORD had “done right, but [they had] done wickedly (9:32-33). So, the leaders of the nation renewed covenant with the LORD, signed their names, and sealed it (9:38).

Nehemiah 10 – Your Service is Important to God

Who signed and sealed the covenant between the LORD and the nation? Nehemiah 10 gives us the names of those who affixed their names to the covenant. Admittedly, Nehemiah 10 would be an easy chapter to pass over. Eighty-four men are named (10:1-27), and though they have little meaning to 21st century believers, they serve as a reminder that the LORD does not forget those who are His.

Nehemiah was first to sign the covenant (10:1), and he was followed by the leaders of the priests (10:2-8), Levites (10:9-13), and 44 other leaders identified as “chief of the people” (10:14-27).

“The rest of the people,” following their leaders, verbally affirmed their agreement with the covenant (Nehemiah 10:28-29). The people promised their sons and daughters would not become unequally yoked with unbelievers (“the people of the land,” 10:30; 2 Corinthians 6:14). It was critical for the people to individually affirm their faith and understanding of what God required, and acknowledged both the reward (blessings) and consequences (curses) that come to a covenant people (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28).

Closing thoughts and applications – Several ordinances were acknowledged by the people, including the observance of the Sabbath day (10:31), and a Temple tax of one-third shekels (10:32; though Exodus 30:11-16required one-half shekel, but the lesser amount here might have been due to the poverty of the people).

Various offerings were renewed, including the “wood offering,” used for sacrifices and to keep a perpetual fire burning on the altar (10:34; Leviticus 6:12-13). The “firstfruits offering” was re-established, and served as a reminder God requires tithes of our first and best (10:35, 36-37; Proverbs 3:9). Every firstborn son was to be dedicated to the LORD, and redeemed by offering a lamb (10:36; Exodus 34:19-20). Also, the people were taught their tithes and offerings were to support the Levites (10:37-39; Leviticus 27:30-34), and they in turn were to tithe of the tithes given to them and their households (10:37b-38; Leviticus 27:30-34).

Having been instructed in the demands of the Law, and accepting both its blessings and curses, the people affirmed their covenant with the LORD saying, “we will not forsake the house of our God” (10:39b).

I close, reminding every believer of his obligation to not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Failure of the Gatekeepers (Ezra 8; Ezra 9)

Scripture reading – Ezra 8; Ezra 9

Ezra received king Artaxerxes’ approval to lead a second delegation of Jews home to Jerusalem and Judah (Ezra 7:1-10). Incredibly, the king not only committed gold and silver vessels to be dedicated for the Temple, he also gave gold and silver from the royal treasury as compensation for sacrifices to be offered in Jerusalem (7:11-24). Ezra was also empowered to teach the people the law and commandments, and execute judgment (7:25-26).

Ezra 8 – The Journey Begins

With the king’s blessing, and letters affording him authority, Ezra “gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with [him]” to Jerusalem (7:28). Ezra appealed to 18 heads of Jewish households (8:1-14), and encouraged them and their families to voluntarily leave behind the comforts of Babylon and return to their ancestral lands.

Soon after beginning the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem (some 900 miles which took four months), Ezra halted and took an assessment of those with him (8:15). Sadly, he realized “none of the sons of Levi” were among the people (8:15b). Ezra then chose eleven men of the leaders, and sent them to seek Levites who would be willing to leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem as “ministers for the house of our God” (8:17). Eighteen Levites were recruited (8:18), and 220 Nethinims (servants who assisted the Levites with sacrifices at the Temple (8:20).

Before continuing his journey, Ezra called for a time of fasting and prayer, that the people might prepare and dedicate themselves to seek the LORD and his protection (8:21). Knowing the terror of enemies along the way, Ezra confessed he would be “ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help [them]against the enemy in the way” (8:22). While it was reasonable to request an armed escort for his delegation, Ezra remembered he had boasted the LORD’s blessing, and protection was upon His people (8:22b). So, the people prayed, and sought the LORD, and He heard the prayers of His people (8:23).

With a vast sum of gold and silver in their possession, Ezra chose “twelve of the chief of the priests” and entrusted them with the care and protection of all they had in their possession (8:24-30).

The LORD answered Ezra’s prayer, and his delegation arrived in Jerusalem (8:31-33). They rested three days, and on the fourth day gave a full account and inventory of “the silver and the gold, and the vessels…34By number and by weight of every one: and all the weight was written at that time” (8:33-34). As a great sign of unity, all the people gathered to offer “burnt offerings unto the God of Israel” (8:35). Ezra then took his commissions from the king to Persian government officials (“lieutenants, and to the governors”), giving him authority with the people and over “the house of God” (8:36).

Ezra 9

A Spiritual Crisis (9:1-5)

When it comes to family, parents are the gatekeepers of their home and children’s hearts. Sadly, Ezra 9 records a tragic failure of spiritual leaders and parents who failed to guard their homes from the influences of the heathen nations that had settled in Israel. Ezra writes, “the princes [leaders of the people] came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands…2For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed [the Jews] have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass” (9:1-2).

Ezra’s response to the tragic compromise of God’s people was notable. He was overcome with grief and sorrow (9:3). In a public display of heartbrokenness, he tore away his robe and outer garment, plucked out his hair and beard, and sat down stunned by the sins of the people, especially knowing the leaders of the people were “chief” in the trespass (9:3).

One by one, “those who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (9:4) assembled before Ezra, who continued to sit “astonied until the evening sacrifice” (9:4b). Having said nothing to this point, it was at the evening sacrifice (3:00 pm) that Ezra rose from where he had sat, and fell upon his knees before the congregation. There he “spread out [his] hands unto the Lord” (9:5), and prayed (9:6-15).

Ezra’s Prayer and Reflection on God’s Grace (9:6-11)

Identifying with the sins of the people, Ezra confessed, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens” (9:6). He rehearsed the past sins of the nation, and acknowledged God’s grace (9:7-8). Though the people had forsaken the LORD, He remembered, “our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage” (9:9).

In spite of God’s grace and mercy, he confessed, “O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments” (9:10).

A Call for Radical Separation (9:12-15)

Having identified the sin and wickedness of the people, Ezra proposed a purging of sin that was nothing short of radical amputation of the offense. Ezra commanded the people, “Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever” (9:12).

Ezra rehearsed the sins and judgments Israel and Judah had suffered in the past, and conceded only God’s grace and mercy would spare the people from complete annihilation (9:13-14). He acknowledged, God would be right and just if He destroyed Israel, for the people were guilty and had no standing before the LORD (9:15).

Closing thoughts – The spiritual leaders, and fathers had failed to be gatekeepers of their homes, and their children’s hearts. They had failed to insulate their families from the heathen and their ways (9:2). Tragically, their failure led not only to a familiarity with the sins of the heathen, but eventually a bond of friendship and marriage. Ezra’s response was a graphic display of sorrow, and fear of God’s judgment (9:3-6, 10, 14-15). The people had disobeyed God’s law, and invited His judgment.

Mom and dad, are you guarding the hearts of your children, and insulating them from the sins and wickedness of the world?

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Dare to be A Daniel (Daniel 1)

Scripture reading – Daniel 1

The Book of Daniel is a prophetic panorama of human history. Beginning with the days of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, our study of Daniel will encompass a prophetic vision of world empires that would follow: The Medo-Persian empire, followed by Greece, and then Rome. Yet, as we will see, the visions God imparted to Daniel were of the history of man that is past, present, and still future. Daniel’s writing included prophecies that are more than a footnote of history past; they are a foretelling of future events that will conclude with the Second Coming of Christ.

Daniel 1

Daniel 1 opens with a straightforward, historical account of events we studied in 2 Kings 24:12-16, for it was “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah (605 BC) came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it” (1:1). This was the first of three sieges by Babylon. The others that followed were 597 BC, and 586 BC (the final destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, Jeremiah 25:9-12; 2 Kings 25).

The prophet Jeremiah warned Judah’s kings, if the people did not repent and turn to the LORD, His wrath would rise “against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16).   Jeremiah prophesied the captivity in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12) and when those years were “accomplished at Babylon,” the LORD would return His people to their land (Jeremiah 29:10).

The events recorded in Daniel 1 occurred at the time the Temple was plundered, and king Jehoiakim was taken captive to Babylon (1:1-2). 10,000 Jews were also taken captive following the first siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:14-16), and among them were the finest young men of Jerusalem: “certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; 4Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (1:3-4).

Named among the captives of Judah were “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” (1:6). Desiring to complete their assimilation into the Babylonian culture, “the prince of the eunuchs gave names [to the Jewish captives]: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (1:7). Though we cannot be certain of his age, Daniel was probably between 13-17 years old when he was taken from his home and brought to Babylon with its strange language and idolatrous culture.

Nebuchadnezzar chose the best and brightest of Israel’s impressionable youth, and prepared them to one day take their place in the administration of his empire (Daniel 1:8).  Daniel was among those youth (1:4), and soon proved he was not only a gifted young man, but also a man of faith. Three other youth of Judah shared Daniel’s passion for the LORD: “Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7  Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego” (1:6-7).

Leading by example and conviction, “Daniel purposed [pledged; determined; made a decree] in his heart that he would not defile [pollute; soil; stain] himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine [lit. intoxicating wine] which he drank: therefore he requested [desired; sought; enquired] of the prince [captain; governor] of the eunuchs [most likely a castrated servant] that he might not defile [pollute; soil; stain] himself” (Daniel 1:8).

Daniel pledged his heart, and resolved in his character, “he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). What courage!  What conviction!  What passion!  God was at work, and providentially “brought Daniel into favour [mercy; kindness; grace] and tender love [to have compassion; pity; i.e. brotherly love] with the prince [chief] of the eunuchs [who were the servants of the king] (1:9).

Faithful to their convictions and respectful of their authorities, God blessed the faith of Daniel and his three companions, and when they were proved (i.e. tested and examined) by Nebuchadnezzar, they appeared healthier than those “children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat” (1:15).

Closing thoughts (1:17-20) – We will see in our study, how the testing of Daniel’s faith prepared his heart for the opportunities, challenges, and trials he would face in his service to the kings of both Babylon and Persia (1:21).

In closing, I invite you to consider four qualities that defined Daniel’s submissive heart, and his sensitivity to the authority in his life: 1) He was subordinate in his spirit (1:12); 2) He was sincere in his appeal (1:12); 3) He was Scriptural in his purpose (1:12-13); 4) He was sensitive in his request (1:13-14).

Following Daniel as a perfect model of faith and convictions, every believer would do well to examine his own spirit, manner, convictions, and relationship with the authorities in his life.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Pity the Nation Ruled by Wicked, Immoral Leaders (Ezekiel 19)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 19

There were some of the children of Israel who asserted God was unjust, supposing their sorrows and travails were come upon them because of the sins of their fathers (Ezekiel 18). Ezekiel answered their erroneous claims, and declared a sinner’s individual responsibility for his sins  (18:4), and “everyone” would be judged “according to his [own] ways” (18:29).

The Lioness and Her Cubs (19:1-9)

Ezekiel 19 addressed the influence wicked rulers had upon Israel, and in particular Judah.

Ezekiel commanded the people of the captivity to “take … up a lamentation for the princes of Israel” (19:1). The “princes” were the last kings of the Davidic dynasty (until Christ reigns on the earth in the Millennial Kingdom). Three wicked kings were described, and can be identified. They are: Jehoahaz (19:3-4), Jehoiachin (19:5-9), and Zedekiah (19:14).

The “lioness” of this lamentation was Israel, and the young lion cubs were the kings of Israel (19:2). Jehoahaz was the first king, and he was described as one who “learned to catch the prey; it devoured men” (19:3). You may remember Jehoahaz was 23 years old when he became king (2 Kings 23:31-33; 2 Chronicles 36:1-3). He was like a lion, a tyrant, and “devoured men” (19:3b). He was notoriously wicked, and was removed from his throne, and taken prisoner by Neco, king of Egypt after reigning for three months (19:4).

Jehoahaz ascended to the throne after Jehoiakim; however, he was not mentioned in Ezekiel 19, because he died in battle, and his son Jehoiachin reigned in his stead (2 Kings 24:7-16; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10). Like Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin was described as “a young lion” who devoured men, for he was a ruthless and heartless king (19:6). Indeed, he was everything a king should not be, for he destroyed the homes and cities of his people, and terrorized them through “his roaring” (19:7). His rebellion provoked Nebuchadnezzar, who came and took him away prisoner to Babylon (19:8-9).

When Israel was a Fruitful Vine (19:10-13)

Ezekiel 19:10-13 painted a beautiful, poetic picture of Israel in the days of her glory (19:10). Israel, and perhaps, in particular Jerusalem, was described as a fruitful vine, “planted by the waters,” and “full of branches” (kings, 19:10). Under David’s reign, who was followed by his son Solomon, Israel was at her zenith as a great, and powerful nation. The nation was “fruitful and full of branches” (19:10), and her rulers were like “strong rods for the sceptres” (19:11). In that age, Jerusalem had been exalted among the nations of the earth (19:11).

A succession of wicked kings, however, spelled the doom of the nation, and consequently, brought God’s judgment (19:12). Jerusalem and Judah would be “plucked up in fury,” and “cast down to the ground” (19:12). Nebuchadnezzar would come as an east wind (19:12). The glory and riches of Jerusalem would be dried up, and the dynasty of David (“her strong rods”) broken and consumed (19:12). “Planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground,” described the captivity of the children of Israel in Babylon (19:13).

Ezekiel 19:14 brings us to Zedekiah, the third king whose reign was described in this chapter. He was the last of the kings of the Davidic line until Christ. Of Jerusalem and Judah we read: “Fire [God’s judgment] is gone out of a rod of her branches [Zedekiah, the last king], which hath devoured her fruit, so that she [Jerusalem] hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule” (19:14).

Closing thoughts – Ezekiel 19 concluded with a pitiful call to sorrow: “This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation” (19:14). Lament, lament, for Jerusalem will be destroyed, and Judah will be left desolate. King Zedekiah would witness the deaths of his sons, whose eyes would be put out, and he would be taken prisoner to Babylon where he would die.

Lesson: Corporate Guilt and Judgment: Fathers do not bear the guilt of their children’s sins, nor children the condemnation of their father’s sins (Ezekiel 18). Nevertheless, the evil ways of a leader, and the consequences of his sins, will come to bear upon the lives of those he leads.

Proverbs 14:34 – “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Pity the nation ruled by wicked, immoral leaders.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“Real Men Don’t Read Instructions; or Do They?” – Sunday at Hillsdale, May 22, 2022

Topic: A Biblical View of Parenting (part 3)

Text – Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Series – The Four “Be’s” of Parenting

Children do not come with an instruction’s manual; however, God has given us His Word and clear principles and precepts for the role and responsibility of parents in teaching and training their sons and daughters.

Four universal principles for Life and Family. Today’s message considers the first of the four: Be Consistent.

 

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“The Soul That Sinneth, It Shall Die” (Ezekiel 18)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 17; Ezekiel 18

Ezekiel 18 – A Parable of “Sour Grapes”

The LORD left no doubt that the sins of the people had brought sorrows and judgments upon Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem. Yet, there was a question that arose in Babylon: Who was responsible for the calamities?

Speaking in a parable, some said, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” (18:2) In other words, there were some who blamed Israel’s troubles and miseries on the sins of their fathers and forefathers. God rebuked that generation, and declared an enduring, universal truth: 4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die”(18:4)

A Hypothetical Study of Three Generations (18:4-20)

One’s personal responsibility for sin and its consequences was the subject, and this passage answers some important questions regarding the justice and fairness of God’s judgment. 1) Are sons punished for the sins of their fathers, or fathers punished for the sins of their sons? 2) If a father chooses a godless lifestyle, is it inevitable a son will follow in his steps? Because “blame shifting” is epidemic in our day, Ezekiel 18 should interest both believer and unbeliever.

A Righteous Father (18:5-9)

God blesses a man who chooses righteousness, and obeys His statues and judgments (18:5-9). Such a man obeys the Commandments of the LORD. He will not commit adultery, nor oppress those who are weaker (18:6b-7a). The righteous restores the surety to a debtor, does not plunder and rob others by violence, and is charitable to those who are hungry and in need (18:7b). The righteous do not crush a debtor with exorbitant interest, and conducts himself in a lawful manner (18:8). Because he walks in accord with the statutes (ordinances and decrees) and judgments (laws) of the LORD, and deals honestly with others, he is declared just before God, and will live and prosper (18:9).

A Wicked Son (18:10-13)

What if an adult son of a righteous man refuses to follow his father’s godly example, and instead turns to a path of wickedness? Should the father be punished for the sins of a son that is a robber and murderer? (18:10) Should a father be punished because his son offers sacrifices to idols, commits adultery, abuses the poor, robs others, and is immoral (18:11-12)? When a son charges excessive interest, and oppresses debtors, should his father go unpunished? Though his father was righteous, such a son will bear the guilt of his own sins, and “shall not live…he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him” and not his father (18:13).

A Righteous Grandson (18:14-18)

Each generation bears responsibility for its sins, and God will not punish a father for the sins of his son (18:10-13). Should a son see the sins of his father, but chooses the way of righteousness, that son will not bear his father’s guilt (18:14-17). A wicked father, as a wicked son, will not go unpunished for his sins (18:18-20).

Who you gonna’ blame for your troubles and sorrows? (18:20-24)

Ezekiel repeated the principle of personal, individual responsibility, writing, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (18:20). The LORD is longsuffering, and ready and willing to forgive the sinner who repents and turns from his sins (18:21-22). After all, God does not delight in seeing the wicked die in their sins (18:23).

What if a righteous man turns and follows a path of sin? (18:24a) His past righteousness will not deliver him from the consequences of his present sins (18:24b).

Closing thoughts (18:25-32) – Sinners cannot accuse the LORD of being unjust (18:25). The believer who sins will be punished (18:26), and the wicked who repents of his sins will be forgiven and live (18:27-28). Tragically, family members suffer the consequences of their loved one’s sinful choices. Yet, God is just and He will not judge and condemn the innocent for the sins of the guilty (18:29-30). God will judge every sinner “according to his ways” (18:30).

Our study concludes with a wonderful invitation: When a sinner repents, the LORD promises to give “a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31). While the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a), the LORD invites all who sin, saying, “turn yourselves, and live” (18:32).

Don’t wallow in a mire of self-pity, or blame others for your sinful choices!  Repent, and live!

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Character of a Dying Culture (Lamentations 4) – part 1 of 2 devotionals.

Scripture reading – Lamentations 4; Lamentations 5

Our study of “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” will conclude with today’s Scripture reading. My devotional study will be presented in two parts. This is the first, with the focus upon Lamentations 4.

Lamentations 4 – The Consequences of Judah’s Sins and God’s Judgment

Stretched before Jeremiah were the ruins of Jerusalem, with its streets strewn with rubble, and in the midst the bodies of the dead. Jeremiah had spent his life calling upon the people to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord. Yet, as he surveyed the scene before him, he saw everywhere the reminders of God’s wrath.

Jerusalem’s Faded Glory (4:1-5)

Jeremiah recorded in graphic detail the afflictions suffered by his people because of their sins. As you read this passage, understand we are studying a description of a rebellious, dying culture. It was the sin and wickedness of the people that brought Jerusalem to this sad state. Once a city that shone bright as gold, she was tarnished by sin, and her sons, once the pride of the nation, were no better than “earthen [clay] pitchers” (1:1-2).

Adding to the moral decline of the city was the wantonness of the women. The virtue of womanhood, and the nurturing nature of mothers is always the last vestige of civility in a culture. Yet, the women of Jerusalem had become worse than brute beasts. Whereas it is in the nature of beasts to “give suck to their young ones,” the daughters of Jerusalem were become cruel (4:3). Caring only for themselves, the women neglected their children, and left them athirst and starving (4:4).

The wealthy and powerful, once consumers of delicacies, were now found roaming the streets of the city, homeless and destitute (4:5).

Jerusalem’s Sins Demanded a Judgment that Exceeded Sodom (4:6-11)

The judgment of Jerusalem surpassed the judgment of Sodom (Genesis 19). What sin was committed in Zion, the city of David, that demanded a greater judgment than ancient Sodom which was known for its moral depravity?

Because Jerusalem was chosen by the LORD to be the home of His sanctuary, it was that privilege that incited the wrath of God. The people had broken covenant with the LORD, and defiled His Temple. For that wickedness, the wrath of God lingered. Sodom was mercifully destroyed “in a moment” (4:6), but the sufferings in Jerusalem appeared to have no end.

The “Nazarites” (believed to be the nobility of Jerusalem) had enjoyed a favored life of ease (4:7). Unlike the general population who labored under the sun, these were the privileged few whose skin was described as “whiter than milk,” but now were reduced to starvation, and their skin blackened by the sun (4:8). Jeremiah observed, those who died by the sword were “better than” those dying of hunger (4:9). The horror of want and depravity was surmised in this, for the women who once nurtured their children, were cannibalizing them (4:10).  All this was a testament to the wrath of God (4:11).

The Leaders Had Failed the People (4:12-22)

The prophets had warned the judgment of the LORD was imminent, but the kings of other nations and the people of Judah believed the great walled city was unassailable (4:12).

Who was to blame for the fall of Jerusalem? The answer may surprise you. Though the kings of Judah had committed great wickedness, it was “the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, That [had] shed the blood of the just in the midst of her” (4:12). Lying prophets and sinful priests of Jerusalem had failed the nation (4:13). Judah’s spiritual leaders despised the righteous, and persecuted them (4:14). Their guilt was so great, they were become like a spiritually leprous people (4:15). They had despised faithful priests, and rejected the elders (among them was Zechariah and Jeremiah, 4:16).

Rather than heed the warnings of judgment, the nation looked to men and allies to save them (4:17). When king Zedekiah and his family fled the city, the soldiers of Babylon hunted them down (4:18; 2 Chronicles 36:5-6; 2 Kings 25:1-7), and pursued them like eagles through the mountains and into the wilderness (4:19-20). Yet, the LORD did not forget those who persecuted His people, and the Edomites were warned they too would drink from the cup of God’s judgment (4:21). The sins of Edom would not be forgotten (4:22).

Closing thoughts – Have you considered the sins committed by Judah, and the sinful character of her people tragically resemble the world of our day?

My own nation, once the envy of the world, is like tarnished gold (4:1). The American dollar, once the currency of the world, is fallen into disgrace. Politicians continue to transform our military into a showcase of social depravity (4:2), rather than strength and honor. Motherhood is despised by brazen women demanding the liberty to quench the lives of the unborn. Our leaders have betrayed us, and preachers and churches have become hollow shells of sin and depravity. The righteous are despised, and the faithful calling for repentance are scorned.

Like Jeremiah of old, do we not find ourselves praying, “God save America”?

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.