Category Archives: Fear

The Transfiguration of Christ, and the Power of Prayer (Matthew 17)

Scripture reading – Matthew 17

Today’s Scripture reading brings us to within six months of Christ’s appointment with the cross. The crowds following Jesus are growing, and the fear of His enemies is inflamed. Some of the people are aware the Pharisees, Sadducees, and High Priest have plotted Christ’s arrest, even as His disciples debate among themselves who would be the greatest in His earthly kingdom. Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 record the transfiguration of Christ.

The Transfiguration: A Vision of Christ’s Heavenly Glory (17:1-13)

Words and imagination fail me to describe the transformative moment when Peter, James, and his brother John witnessed Christ’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13). Jesus invited those disciples, identified by believers as His inner circle, to go “up into an high mountain apart” (apart from the other disciples, 17:1). Suddenly, the LORD “was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (17:2). As the disciples looked on, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and “talking with Him” (17:3). Why those two great men of the Old Testament? Many have suggested, and I believe the same, that Moses was representative of the Law and Elijah the prophets.

Peter, never at a loss for words, interrupted the moment (can you imagine interrupting a private conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias [i.e. Elijah]” (17:4). Even as the words were leaving his lips, Peter was interrupted by an overshadowing cloud and a voice that struck fear in him and the other two disciples when they heard, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid” (Matthew 17:5–6).

With a touch of compassion (17:7), Jesus bade Peter, James, and John to rise, and challenged them to tell no man what they had seen, “until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (17:9). Peter would write later of his experience on the mount, “[We] were eyewitnesses of his [Christ’s] majesty. 17For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him [Christ] in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:16–18).

A Father’s Love, A Savior’s Compassion (17:14-21)

Descending the mount after His transfiguration, Jesus found His other disciples in the midst of a crowd and “the scribes questioning with them” (Mark 9:14). In His absence, the disciples became embroiled in a controversy with the scribes (experts in the Law of Moses), who were mocking their failure to cast a demon out of a father’s son (Mark 9:14; Matthew 17:14-16). Rebuking His disciples for their lack of faith (Matthew 17:17), Jesus commanded the demon to depart from the son, “and the child was cured from that very hour” (17:18). The disciples, embarrassed by their failure and humbled by Jesus’ rebuke (Mark 9:19), later questioned, “Why could not we cast him out?” (17:19; Mark 9:28)

Revealing the power and necessity of faith, prayer, and fasting, “Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29; Matthew 17:20-21).

Closing thoughts – Jesus, having delivered the father’s son of the evil spirit, had a profound effect on those who witnessed it, for “they were all amazed at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9:43). The disciples had failed to cast the demon out of the boy because they faltered in both their faith and prayer.

Jesus taught, even a small amount of faith can grow and overcome obstacles as great as a mountain (I believe the idea of moving a mountain was figurative or symbolic of great obstacles, and not literal mountains). To overcome a great obstacle, like that of the possession and influence of a demon, required both faith (believing “nothing shall be impossible” – Matthew 17:20) and “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).

Remember, “without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Are you facing obstacles that seem to tower over you like mountains? Are you struggling to believe and trust God? Set your heart to seek the LORD in prayer, and desire Him more than you crave food!

* 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.

Hope for the Hopeless (Mark 5)

Scripture reading – Mark 5

We continue our study of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and our focus today is Mark 5. Once again, we have the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and arriving on the other side in an area identified as the Gadarenes (5:1). Matthew 8:28 recognized the same region as Gergesenes (Gadara was the name of a nearby city, while Gergesenes was the name of a lake on that side. There was also a city in that area named Gergesa). Another difference between Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels is the prior states there were “two possessed with devils” that met Jesus (Matthew 8:28), and the latter states the LORD encountered “a man with an unclean sprit” (5:2). The difference in the two accounts is not a contradiction, but only that Mark chose to record the event of one man, not two.

Let us consider, that harmony in content is one of the great testaments to the inspiration of the Gospels. While the Holy Spirit used different human authors, and employed each man’s unique perspective and language, nevertheless the accounts harmonize as a whole (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Together, the Synoptics give us a deeper dimension of the same events.

Today’s devotional will focus on Mark 5:1-20, and the terrible toll sin took upon one man’s life. Jesus and His disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, and arrived on the eastern shore. There, they were met by a hopeless, tormented, demon possessed man described as having an “unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2).

The Condition of a Desperate Sinner (5:1-5)

Consider the physical appearance of the demon possessed man: The man was described as having “fetters” (ropes) and chains that hanged about his body, showing the desperate attempts family and friends had made to control him (5:3-4). His body was scarred with self-inflicted wounds for he had cut “himself with stones” (5:5).

He was a troubled man, socially isolated from his family, friends, and neighbors. He had made his abode among the caves and tombs of the hillsides in the area (5:5). Imagine the sorrow his condition had brought upon his loved ones, for he had been driven into the desert leaving behind his family to bear the sorrow and shame of his condition. His emotional condition was exhibited in his tormented screams that echoed off the hillsides “always” (5:5). “Night and day” the wild, tormented screams of his anguish were heard (5:5).

Salvation and Transformation (5:6-15)

He was “possessed with the devil, and had the legion” (a legion was a Roman name of a company of soliders that might number in the thousands, 5:9, 15).  We are not told how the man came to be possessed by demons; however, sin had overtaken every part of his affections and thoughts. The evil, unclean spirit had degraded and destroyed his life, family, and future (James 1:14-15).

In a fleeting moment of desperation, the man ran to Jesus and worshipped Him (5:6); however, the demons that ruled his soul wanted nothing to do with Jesus (5:7).  Jesus, evidencing His power and authority over evil spirits, cast the demons out of the man and permitted them to enter a herd of swine that could not abide the indwelling of such wickedness (5:10-13).

Rather than the protracted steps and methods of “reformation” that is the methodology of secular psychologists and psychiatrists, the demon-possessed man’s life was immediately changed by his spiritual encounter and faith in Jesus. His life gave evidence of his conversion and the radical transformation was undeniable (5:8, 15). The change was so transformative his family, friends, and neighbors observed him “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (5:15). He was “sitting,” at peace, and no longer bound by sin or needing chains and ropes.  They found him “clothed,” no longer a violent man crying and cutting himself. He was “in his right mind,” repentant and rational (5:15), and longed to go with Jesus (5:18). God’s power not only overcame his rebellious, evil spirit, it transformed his thoughts, mind, and affections.

Closing thoughts – Tragically, and in spite of the undeniable transformation in the man’s life, the citizens of Gadara begged Jesus to “depart out of their coasts” (5:17). They would not embrace Him as LORD, nor would they welcome Him in their homes or country. Jesus, knowing the man of Gadara could go where He would not be welcome, commanded him to, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (5:19). The change in the demon-possessed man’s life was undeniable evidence of his salvation. Can that be said of you?

Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

* 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.

“Peace In the Midst of the Storm” (Luke 8; Mark 4)

Scripture reading – Luke 8; Mark 4

Luke 8

Our study of the Gospels continues, and you will notice parallel accounts of the same events in today’s Scripture reading. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels.” Synoptic suggests the same or similar; thus, the “synoptic gospels” record the same events, albeit from each human author’s perspective. Together, Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us a greater depth and broader perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Briefly, as we read in our study of Matthew 13:1-23, we find the Parable of the Sower and Soils recorded in Luke 8:5-15 and Mark 4:3-20. Luke 8:16-18 and Mark 4:21-25 records the Parable of the Candlelight. Remember, not all events recorded in the Gospels are in chronological order. For example, Luke places in chapter 8 when Mary, the mother of Jesus and His half-brothers (sons born to Joseph) came to Jesus requesting a word with Him (8:19-21). The same incidence was recorded earlier in Matthew (12:46-50) and Mark (3:31-35).

Mark 4 – A Storm and a Revelation

As already noted, Mark 4 reprises the Parable of the Sower and Soils (4:3-20). Mark also gives us the record of the Parable of the Candlelight (4:21-25), Parable of the Growing Seed (4:26-29), and the Parable of the Mustard Seed(4:30-32).

Christ’s Authority Over Nature (Mark 4:35-41)

Jesus was exhausted from teaching (for though He was Divine, He was human with the physical challenges of hunger, thirst, and fatigue), Jesus urged His disciples, “Let us pass over unto the other side” (4:35). Knowing the far shore was seven miles away, Jesus laid down in the “hinder part of the ship” (meaning the stern or the latter part of the boat), and went to sleep (4:38).

The Sea of Galilee, 14 miles long and 7 miles wide, lies 700 feet below sea level, and has a sub-tropical climate that is warm and pleasant year-round.  Surrounded by the Galilean mountains and the Golan Heights, the area is part of the Jordan rift.  When cold winds from the snow-covered mountain peaks to the north, funnel through the hillsides, the cold air collides with the warm sub-tropical air and can produce sudden, violent storms on the waters of the Sea of Galilee.

On this occasion, the disciples found themselves caught in a violent storm so intense, the waves of the sea filled the ship (4:37). Matthew writes concerning the occasion in his Gospel: “there arose a great tempest in the sea,insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but He was asleep” (Matthew 8:24).

Though four of the disciples were experienced fisherman (James, John, Peter, and Andrew), those veteran seamen were unable to salvage the desperate situation. With cold winds whipping, and waves crashing, the exhausted disciples cried out to Jesus, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).

Such a question was a faithless affront to their Master, and He “arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (4:39-40).

Jesus knew the weakness of His disciples’ faith, and their failure to place their trust in Him (Luke 8:23-24). The sudden stillness of the winds and waves left the disciples wondering among themselves, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (4:41). They were struck by a sense of fear, awe, and respect. The disciples had heard Him teach, but they had not understood His person. They had witnessed His miracles, but had not recognized His power.

Closing thoughts and observations – The psalmist writes, “O Lord God of host…Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them” (Psalm 89:8a, 9). Storms in life are inevitable, though they often take us by surprise. Yet, all storms (troubles, trials) come as part of God’s plan for growing our faith and dependence on Him. The Lord knew the disciples would face a storm when He commanded them to launch out into the sea. It was His plan to challenge their faith, that He might prove He was Sovereign and LORD of creation.

Another lesson concerns our response to trials and troubles, for they evidence our faith, or lack of faith, in God and His plan for our lives.  The disciples did not fully know Who Jesus was, and when He commanded the wind and the waves to cease, “they feared [and asked], What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41).

Finally, I don’t know what storms or troubles you may be facing, but I encourage you to see them as opportunities to know and trust God personally and intimately. You must learn to accept that God’s plan for your life will lead you into trials that will test your faith. The storms of life challenge us to assess our priorities, and also reveal our limitations apart from Him.

Remember: The safest place in the world is in the will of God, even in the midst of a storm.

* 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.

Quitting is Not An Option! (Nehemiah 3; Nehemiah 4)

Scripture reading – Nehemiah 3; Nehemiah 4

Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple in 586 BC. Sadly, for nearly 150 years the ruins of the city remained as a testimony of God’s judgment. Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed the Temple be rebuilt in 538 BC, yet nearly 100 years passed before Nehemiah set his heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 446 BC.

With king Artaxerxes’ blessing and authority, Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, and found the walls of the city in ruins, “and the gates…consumed with fire” (2:12-13). Declaring God’s blessings upon him, and the king’s authority, Nehemiah challenged the people, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18), and they enthusiastically joined him in the work (2:18b). Rebuilding the walls and gates would not be without its enemies, for some men mocked the Jews, and accused them of rebelling against the king (2:19). Undeterred, Nehemiah declared, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us” (2:20a).

Nehemiah 3

Demonstrating the skills of an administrator, Nehemiah assigned sections of the wall to men and families. Others were tasked with rebuilding the gates of the city. It is noteworthy that Nehemiah made a point of recording the names of men, families, and villages that rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, Nehemiah 3:5 reminds us God takes notice of those who labor, and those who refuse to work. We read concerning the citizens of Tekoa (a village 11 miles south of Jerusalem), “the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (3:5).

Ten gates were named by Nehemiah, and each served a particular purpose. The prominence of the Sheep Gate is especially significant for it served as both the first and last gate that was named (3:1, 32). The sheep that would be sacrificed on the Temple altar passed through the sheep gate. The sheep gate serves as a reminder that, like the sacrificial lamb which passed through the gate, Jesus Christ was not only the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), but the Gate (Door) through which all sinners must pass if they will come to the Father (John 10).

In addition to the Sheep Gate, the most important gate was the East Gate (3:29), for it is historically and prophetically important. The East Gate led to the Temple, and in Hebrew was the Mercy Gate. The East Gate was described as the “Beautiful Gate” in Acts 3 (Acts 3:1-10). You may remember how Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD leave the Temple, and pass out of the city through the East Gate in Ezekiel 10:18-22 and 11:22-25. Ezekiel also foretold the “glory of the God of Israel,” would one day come “from the way of the east” (Ezekiel 43:1-3). He prophesied the LORD will enter the East Gate and His glory fill the Temple (Ezekiel 44:1-4) in His Millennial Kingdom.

Nehemiah 4

Rebuilding the walls and restoring the gates of Jerusalem was a work pleasing to God, but it was not without its opposition. As the work began, the enemies of God’s people were provoked to anger, and began mocking the laborers and ridiculing their work on the walls (4:1-6). The enemies of the Jews “conspired all of them together” (4:8), and surrounded the city on all sides (4:7-8).

Once again, we find Nehemiah was a man of prayer. When the enemy derided the work, saying, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (4:3), Nehemiah prayed (4:4-5). When the enemy threatened “to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (4:8), Nehemiah writes, “we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night” (4:9). When the strength of the people failed, and the enemy threatened to slay them (4:10), Nehemiah challenged, “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight” (4:14).

Closing thoughts (4:15-23) – When Nehemiah faced opposition, he prayed. When the enemy threatened to attack the city, Nehemiah challenged every man to gird a sword to his side, and continue to build (4:17-18). They worked on the walls during the day, and at night they stayed by the walls. Nehemiah wrote, “So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing” (4:23).

Believer, serving the LORD is not predicated upon convenience, but conviction. We who serve the LORD, must prepare for opposition. The enemy of God’s people will employ ridicule, mocking, and scorn. With a prayer on your lips, and the sword of the LORD in your heart, take courage and never quit!

For Nehemiah, quitting was not an option!

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.

Belshazzar’s Final Feast: The Party is Over (Daniel 5; Daniel 6)

Scripture reading – Daniel 5; Daniel 6

Our Scripture reading is Daniel 5 and 6, but the focus of today’s devotional will be solely Daniel 5.

I have made the observation how the History of the Nations is “His-Story,” the Story of God’s Sovereignty. The rise of nations, and their precipitous fall serve as a testimony of God’s hand. The ruins of failed nations dot the landscape of the world, and are buried under desert sands, or discovered under the relics of past civilizations. Though leaders of nations boast in their might, they would do well to remember, “Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3).

Daniel 5 – The Fall of Babylon

Babylon’s rise from a city-state to a world empire comes to a sudden, and decisive end in Daniel 5. The Chaldean kingdom barely spanned a century. Her rise to power under Nebuchadnezzar, and sudden fall under Belshazzar fulfilled God’s prophecies of judgment against Israel and her restoration to the land after 70 years (Isaiah 13:17-22; 21:1-10; 47:1-5; Jeremiah 51:33-58).

The Actions of a Foolish King (5:1-12)

The Scriptures introduce us to Belshazzar without an introduction, whom we believe was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar (5:1). Though he knew the astonishing history of his grandfather and the humiliation he suffered when he scorned the LORD (5:21-22), the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar was a fool and dared to blaspheme the God of heaven. Hosting a banquet for a thousand nobles, the drunken king commanded the gold and silver vessels from the LORD’s Temple be brought to his tables. The king and his guests drank from the sacred vessels (5:2-3) and scorned the Creator of the Universe, toasting their “gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone” (5:4).

Suddenly, the king spied the “fingers of a man’s hand writing on the plaster of the wall, over by a candlestick” (5:5). Illuminated by the glow of the light, and the sight of a man’s fingers etching words into the plaster of the wall, the king was terrified and visibly shaken (5:6). The demeanor of the king silenced the banquet, as the king summoned the wise men of his realm to come, read, and interpret the words on the wall (5:7). The king offered the reward of a scarlet robe, a golden chain (probably a symbol of authority), and the role of “the third ruler in the kingdom” (his father is believed to have been his co-ruler, 5:7). Yet, none of the wise men could read, or tell the meaning of the words on the wall (5:8).

Though not a part of the drunken revelry, the queen mother of the realm (most likely the wife of the late king Nebuchadnezzar), received news the banquet was interrupted, and came to the hall to see her grandson (5:10). Offering comfort and counsel (5:10-11), the queen reminded Belshazzar there was yet a man of the Hebrews who served Nebuchadnezzar, and had the reputation of being a man of wisdom (5:11). The queen counseled her grandson to summon Daniel, for he had the reputation of being a man with “an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams” (5:12).

The Appeal of a Foolish King (5:13-17)

Belshazzar summoned Daniel, who was now an elderly man, and inquired if he had served Nebuchadnezzar as counselor (5:13-14). Relating to Daniel his own wise men failed him (5:15), the king appealed to the aged prophet to read the writing on the wall, and promised to reward him with a scarlet robe, a gold chain, and promote him to “the third ruler in the kingdom” (5:16). Indifferent to the promise of reward and promotion (for a man of God will not be bought or bribed), Daniel rejected the king’s proposal (5:16-17a). He did, however, assure the king he would read “and make known to him the interpretation” (5:17).

Daniel’s Analysis of the Inscription (5:18-23)

Before he interpreted the words on the wall, Daniel reminded Belshazzar his grandfather had been a great and powerful king, “but when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he [had been] deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him” (5:20; 4:23). The humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar lasted seven years, until he humbled himself and acknowledged “the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will” (5:21).

Daniel then rebuked the king, and said, “thou his son [grandson], O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this” (5:22). The king had mocked “the Lord of heaven” and taken the vessels that were for His Temple, and blasphemed God (5:23). He had praised idols “of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone” (5:23), though they cannot see, “nor hear, nor know” (5:23). Even though the God of heaven holds man’s breath in His hand, Belshazzar had “not glorified” Him (5:23).

Numbered, Numbered, Wanting, and Broken (5:25-28)

Fulfilling his obligation as prophet, and the king’s messenger, Daniel boldly declared and interpreted the writing on the wall: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (5:25).

Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, whom God gave opportunity to humble himself and repent, there would be no mercy for Belshazzar and his kingdom. He would not escape the judgment of God for his days were numbered and fulfilled; he had been weighed in God’s just scales; and the kingdom would be divided, “and given to the Medes and Persians” (5:27-28).

Closing thoughts (5:29-31) – There was no escape for Belshazzar, for he was guilty: Guilty of pride, Guilty of defying, blaspheming, and profaning God’s name; Guilty of idolatry, and Guilty of failing to honor and acknowledge God as Sovereign.

The foolish king’s final act was to honor the servant of God proclaiming him a ruler of a kingdom that was doomed. He dressed Daniel in a robe of purple, and hanging about his neck a chain of gold, yet, all was for naught (5:29). By diverting the waters of the Euphrates River, the Medes and Persians were already pouring into the city, and that night Babylon would fall and “Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans [was] slain” (5:30).

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.

A Crisis of Faith and Integrity (Daniel 3; Daniel 4)

Scripture reading – Daniel 3; Daniel 4

Scholars suggest a 20-year gap exists between Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image (Daniel 2), and his elevation of one “in the plain of Dura,” outside the massive walls of the city of Babylon (Daniel 3:1). Assuming the passing of two decades, Daniel and his three Hebrew companions were then in their mid-30’s, in the prime of manhood, and serving as administrators in Nebuchadnezzar’s government (2:48-49). Today’s devotional will be focused on Daniel 3, though our Scripture reading includes Daniel 4.

The King’s Idol (3:1-3)

In spite of him confessing Daniel’s God was “the God of gods, the Lord of kings” (2:47), the king had gone his own way, and returned to his idolatry, worshipping and offering sacrifices to idols. Yet, the king remembered the image of his dreams, and Daniel’s interpretation that the golden head of the image represented his realm as king (2:38). The proud king, not content with an image bearing only a head of gold, determined to raise an entire image of gold. Standing an impressive 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide, the golden image towered above men. Understanding the diversity of nations under his rule, Nebuchadnezzar expected all men to worship his idol (3:2-3).

A Crisis of Integrity (3:4-18)

With a day of dedication determined, a herald called “all people, nations, and languages” (3:4) to bow and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (3:4-5). With the warning, Bow or Burn, all men and women were expected to give homage to “the golden image” (3:7).  A sea of humanity gathered before the great image, and when the music was heard, all bowed before the image, with the exception of three men. The assimilation of the children of Israel into Babylonian culture had been universal, with the exception of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel’s absence was perhaps due to his travels on behalf of the king).

There were some Chaldeans who used the occasion to accuse the three Hebrew men, that prompted an inquisition before the king (3:13-15). Although angered by their refusal, and perhaps out of respect for Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar gave Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego a second opportunity to bow before his idol, but also repeated the consequences should they refuse (3:15).

Though far from their home and the godly influences of their youth, the three men proved steadfast in their convictions (Exodus 20:3-5), and recognized two outcomes for their fidelity:  “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 8But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up“ (3:17-18).

The Fire of the King’s Indignation (3:19-26)

Overcome with “rage and fury” (3:13, 19), Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated 7 times hotter than normal. The king then commanded his “most mighty men” (perhaps his own guard) to bind and cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the furnace (3:19-21). The fire of the furnace instantly killed the mighty men when they cast the men into the furnace (3:21-23). Sitting down to observe, the king was suddenly shaken by the sight of not three, but four men walking about in the furnace, and unscathed by its heat and flames (3: 24). Nebuchadnezzar likened the fourth to a heavenly figure, and said he was “like the Son of God” (3:26).

A Divine Intervention (3:26-27)

Humbled by the miraculous preservation of the three men, and the sight of the divine image of the fourth, the king summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego by name, calling them the “servants of the most high God” (3:26). The men emerged from the furnace (3:26), as their accusers gathered and were amazed “the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them” (3:27).

The King’s Invocation (3:28-30)

Realizing only the ropes that bound them was singed by the flames (3:27), Nebuchadnezzar confessed “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego” had sent His angel to save them (3:28). The king confessed the LORD had overruled his edict, and spared their lives “that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (3:28).

Closing thoughts (3:29-30) – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s conviction to worship no other God, inspired the king to dare any of his kingdom to speak ill of their God, and to declare “there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (3:29). The men were not only preserved from death, but were promoted by the king (3:30).

Believer, you might not face a fiery furnace, but you will certainly face fiery troubles and trials. I urge you to follow Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s example. Before they faced the temptation to bow to the golden image, we can be sure they had determined in their hearts they would trust the God of heaven and only worship and serve Him.

Romans 8:35–3935Who shall separate [come between] us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation [trouble], or distress [hardships; anguish], or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life…nor things present, nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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.

God’s Judgment of Egypt (Ezekiel 30; Ezekiel 31)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 30; Ezekiel 31

Continuing our study of “The Book of the Prophecies of Ezekiel,” we are in the midst of God’s declaration of judgment on the nations, with the subject being Egypt. The date of this prophesy is not given, and there is good reason to believe it would have followed soon after Ezekiel 29:1, which was in the tenth year, and the tenth month of Ezekiel’s exile in Babylon.

Ezekiel 30 – The Third Judgment

A Storm of God’s Judgment (30:1-9)

Following the pattern of earlier prophecies, Ezekiel was addressed as, “son of man,” and commanded to “prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Howl ye, Woe worth the day!” (which is to say, Oh no! The day of the Lord is near, a day of clouds, 30:2). With Jerusalem under siege, Ezekiel was to pronounce a storm of God’s judgment would soon pass upon all the nations, for “the day of the Lord is near, a cloudy day” (30:3). Doomed with Egypt, were her allies, including Ethiopia (Cush), Libya, Lydia, and Chub (30:5). Egypt’s pride in her strength would fail, and her lands and cities would be laid waste (30:6-7). The Egyptians would know it was the LORD, as her cities burned (30:8). When news of Egypt’s fall reached Ethiopia, her people would be terrified and say of their own demise, “lo, it cometh” (30:9).

Nebuchadnezzar, An Agent of God (30:10-19)

The king of Babylon was named as the servant, the agent of God’s wrath (30:10). Ezekiel was to declare, the “multitude of Egypt” would come to an end as the people were slain, and driven as captives out of the land (30:10-11). The rivers, streams, and irrigation canals flowing from the Nile would be destroyed, and the nation plundered (30:12). All of the great cities of Egypt would become desolate (30:13-18), that the people might know and confess “the LORD” as sovereign (30:19).

The Strength of Pharaoh Would Fail (30:20-26)

Ezekiel 30:20 introduced the fourth judgment of the LORD against the nations. It was in the eleventh year of Ezekiel’s exile when the LORD declared, “I have broken the arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and, lo, it shall not be bound up to be healed” (30:21). Portrayed as a man with broken arms, the strength of Pharaoh would never be reset, nor would Egypt have the strength to war over other nations again (30:21-22). The LORD would scatter the Egyptians among the nations (30:23), and Pharaoh would “groan…with the groanings of a deadly wounded man” (30:24). Thus, Egypt would come to know and confess the God of Israel is “the LORD” (30:26).

Ezekiel 31 – The Fourth Judgment

Egypt’s Judgment Compared to the Fall of Assyria (31:3-9)

Ezekiel 31 continued God’s warning of judgment against Egypt, with the fall of ancient Assyria serving as a warning to “Pharaoh” (31:2). Assyria was portrayed as a great “cedar in Lebanon,” whose stature exceeded all the trees in the “forest” of the nations (31:3). In her zenith, Assyria towered as a giant among the nations of the world, even as Egypt at her peak oppressed weaker nations and people. As the Nile River nourished Egypt, so the rivers and streams of Assyria nourished her fields and forest (31:4-5).

Continuing the portrayal of Assyria as a great cedar, the nations of the world sought shelter in her “branches,” even as times of famine moved the people to retreat to Egypt (the great “bread basket” of ancient times, 31:6). Incomparably proud, the Assyrians boasted their nation excelled all others (portrayed as a great cedar boasting it exceeded “all the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God,” 31:8-9).

Assyria’s Fate: A Warning to Egypt (31:10-17)

As the mighty Assyrian “cedar” fell, Egypt’s pride would suffer a crushing defeat as the LORD delivered Pharaoh into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (31:10-11). Assyria, remembered as a ruthless nation, would suffer the same fate, and her allies would desert her (31:12-13).

Though Nebuchadnezzar was God’s agent, it was the LORD who determined all who lift up their proud hearts would “go down to the pit” (31:14). The LORD stopped up the waters of the rivers, as the crops failed, and the “trees of the field fainted” (31:15). When the news of Assyria’s downfall spread, the nations of the world were shaken (31:16). The LORD condemned Assyria to hell, and her allies with her (31:17).

Closing thoughts (31:18) – The fall of Assyria served as God’s warning to Egypt (31:18a). Ezekiel foretold, as it was with Assyria, so it would befall Egypt (31:18b).

Warning – People and nations who exalt themselves against the God of Heaven, will be sentenced “unto the nether parts of the earth” (31:18a).

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 LORD Shall Judge His People” (Ezekiel 4; Ezekiel 5)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 4; Ezekiel 5

Continuing our chronological study of the Scriptures, we are in the introductory chapters of “The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.” Ezekiel 1 records God’s call to a young priest named Ezekiel (1:1-3), and details his testimony of the sight of God’s glory sitting on His heavenly throne (1:26-28). The LORD spoke directly to Ezekiel in chapter 2, and commissioned him to be His prophet to the captives of Judah living in Babylon (2:3). Forewarned the children of Israel were “ a rebellious nation” (2:3), Ezekiel was commissioned to speak the words of the LORD and “not be afraid” of the people (2:6), “whether they [would] hear, or whether they [would] forebear” (2:7).

Ezekiel 4 – The Coming Judgment Against Judah and Jerusalem

From the setting in Ezekiel 4, we understand Jerusalem was under siege, but not yet fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Remembering Ezekiel was living in Babylon, he and the people were anxious for news from Jerusalem. The LORD came to Ezekiel, and in dramatic fashion, commanded the prophet to symbolically portray the siege of Jerusalem.

As a sign of the siege, Ezekiel was instructed to draw a map of the city on a clay tile, and create around it a mound of soil symbolic of the fortifications Babylon raised up against Jerusalem (4:1-3). Taking an iron pan, he placed it between himself and the walls of the city he built. Leaving no doubt as to the certainty of God’s judgment, the prophet was commanded to lie on his left side facing his model of the city for 390 days (4:4). Each day represented a year of God’s judgment against Israel, with the ten northern tribes being the first taken into captivity. The prophecy was thus, Israel would be judged by God 390 years for her sins (4:5).

Ezekiel was then to lie on his right side, and face his model of Jerusalem for 40 days (again, a day representing a year of God’s judgment, 4:6-7). He was instructed to be bound, symbolizing the people of Jerusalem would be bound and led away into captivity (4:8).

The Sufferings and Afflictions of Jerusalem (4:9-17)

Ezekiel would not see the suffering of Jerusalem, but the LORD made him to know the sorrow that would befall the people. Because the siege of the city would cut off the importation of food, Ezekiel was instructed to observe a meager diet, serving as a symbol of Jerusalem’s famine (4:9-12).

The LORD then commanded Ezekiel to consume the unclean, defiled food of the Gentiles, serving as a symbol of the desperate hunger of the people (4:13). The prophet protested, saying he had never eaten that which the law declared unclean (4:14; Deuteronomy 12:15-18; 14:3-21). He was also instructed to use human waste as fuel for a fire to bake bread, something that was forbidden by the law (4:15; Deuteronomy 23:9-14). All this was meant to serve as a symbol of the desperate suffering of Jerusalem (4:16-17).

Ezekiel 5 – The Signs of Jerusalem’s Humiliation and Judgment

To illustrate God’s judgment against Jerusalem, the LORD commanded Ezekiel to shave his head and beard (signs of sorrow and humiliation). He was then instructed to divide his hair in three-parts (5:1), and illustrate the imminent fall and suffering of Jerusalem. Each part of his hair served as a symbolic portrayal for how the people would perish.

He was instructed to burn one part of his hair, symbolizing the people perishing by fire, and disease (5:2a, 12a). He was to scatter a second portion of his hair, portraying one-third of Jerusalem’s inhabitant would die by the sword (5:2b,12b). The third part of his hair, was to be bound in the hem of his robe, a testimony that a remnant of Jerusalem’s population would be spared (5:3, 12c). Of that remnant, however, some would be slain (5:3-4). (As noted in in earlier readings in 2 Kings 25:22-26, and Jeremiah 40:9-12.)

Why did the LORD judge Jerusalem? (5:5-17)

 The inhabitants of Jerusalem were guilty of three great sins. They were chosen by God, blessed with His Law and Commandments, and His presence (represented in His Temple), but the people had broken covenant with the LORD, and rejected His judgments. In doing all this, their wickedness exceeded the heathen nations (5:6-8).

Having rejected the LORD, the people worshipped idols, and in the depths of their depravity turned to cannibalism, as “fathers [did] eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons [did] eat their fathers” (5:9-10). Lastly, they had defiled the Temple, and erected and worshiped idols within the holy sanctuary (5:11-12).

Closing thoughts – Jerusalem’s destruction served as testimony of God’s righteous indignation (5:13). The ruins of the city would become a reproach for the sins and wickedness of God’s people, and served as a warning to other nations (5:14-15).

For 21st century believers, we should remember what befell Jerusalem is a reminder God is just, His Word is true and what He promises will come to pass (5:16-17). Every generation must remember, “Vengeance belongeth unto [the LORD] and no sin shall go unpunished (Hebrews 10:30b). “The Lord shall judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30c-31).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Preach the Word of the LORD! (Ezekiel 2; Ezekiel 3)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 2; Ezekiel 3

At the sound of God’s voice, heaven became silent as the cherubim “let down their wings” (1:25b). With the vision of the glory of God, and Him sitting on His heavenly throne, Ezekiel fell on his face. Lying prostrate, he “heard a voice of one that spake” (1:28) saying, “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee” (2:1).

Ezekiel 2

Addressing Ezekiel as “Son of man,” the young priest (30 years old, 1:1), learned the gravity of his ministry to the children of Israel living in Babylon (2:3-4). God’s calling would move Ezekiel from anonymity, to a ministry that would invite the anger of his rebellious people.

The LORD instructed Ezekiel to stand up, and listen as He warned, “Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me” (2:3a). The sins of Israel were generational, for the people and “their fathers have [had] transgressed against” the LORD (2:3b). They were spiritually obstinate and hardhearted (2:4). Ezekiel would face a rebellious people, but if he was faithful to his calling, God assured him, the people would “know that there hath been a prophet among them” (2:5). God commanded Ezekiel, “be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words,” for the task to which he was called would be fraught with danger, and rejection (2:6).

Where would Ezekiel derive the courage to face a people God described as “most rebellious”? (2:7-10)

The LORD prepared His prophet, giving him the spiritual nourishment, he needed to confront a stiff hearted people! The LORD commanded Ezekiel, “open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.” (2:8). What did God put in his mouth? The Word of God, declaring His judgment of Israel. It was a scroll, “a roll of a book” that was placed in Ezekiel’s mouth (2:9), and upon it was written “lamentations, and mourning, and woe” (2:10).

Ezekiel 3

The LORD commanded Ezekiel, “eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel” (3:1).  The prophet devoured the words of the roll, and declared, “it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness” (3:3). With the words of the LORD in his mouth, Ezekiel was commanded, “get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them” (3:4). He was cautioned, he was not to go to the heathen, “a people of a strange [foreign] speech” (3:5). He was to take the words of God’s judgment to “the house of Israel” (3:5), but was forewarned, they “will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted” (3:7).

Though charged with a difficult task, he was not to be afraid, for the LORD promised He would strengthen Ezekiel, and he would be able to stand against the people (3:8). The LORD then challenged His prophet, be strong and determined, and “fear them not, neither be dismayed” (3:9).

The Burden of Proclaiming God’s Word to a Wicked People (3:10-15)

Ezekiel was to “receive…and hear” the words the LORD spoke to him (3:10). Then, he was to “get…to them of the captivity…and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God” (3:11a). He was to deliver the word from the LORD, but he was not responsible for whether the people received or rejected the message (3:11).

The Spirit of God then lifted up Ezekiel, and carried him (3:12-14). Though he was troubled in spirit, he could not escape for “the hand of the Lord was strong upon [him]” (3:14). Ezekiel then found himself among the people of the captivity, and for seven days he sat in their midst, silent and astonished (3:15).

Called to be God’s Watchman (3:16-27)

After seven days were past, the LORD came and commissioned Ezekiel to serve as “a watchman unto the house of Israel” (3:17). His ministry was to call the wicked to repent, but their response was not his burden. Should he fail, God warned, the blood of the wicked “will I require at thine hand” (3:18). Warn the wicked, and he would deliver his soul from judgment (3:19). Ezekiel was also to call the righteous to turn from sin, but should he fail, the LORD warned, the blood of the righteous who died in their sin, would be on his hand (3:20). Warn the righteous, and should he repent, “he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul” (3:21).

The LORD then sent Ezekiel into a valley, and along the way gave him another vision of His heavenly glory (3:21-24). He was then instructed to wait alone in a house, and bind himself with cords to insure his solitude (3:24-25). He was to be silent (3:26), and wait until the LORD opened his mouth (3:27). Finally, he was reminded, whether or not the people would hear his words, was not his burden. His duty was to faithfully warn (3:27).

Closing thoughts – How many preachers fear men’s rejection, more than they fear God’s judgment? How many believers sit in cold, dead churches, pastored by men who lack both the passion and conviction for preaching the Word of God? Let us pray the LORD will raise up a generation like Ezekiel, who fear only the LORD should they fail to declare His Word! I close with the words of Paul’s farewell address to the churches as my aspiration:

“I am pure from the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God”(Acts 20:26b-27).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Warning: No Nation is Too Big to Fail! (Jeremiah 49; Jeremiah 50)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 49; Jeremiah 50

Today’s Scripture reading continues the record of God’s vengeance against the Gentile nations that were adversaries of Israel and Judah. While there are many lessons we might take from God’s judgment of the nations, I suggest the overriding one is this:

God is Sovereign Over all men, and LORD of the nations of the world.

Jeremiah 49 – The Vengeance of the LORD

Like the other nations against whom Jeremiah brought a warning judgment (Egypt, the Philistines, and Moab, Jeremiah 46-48), the Ammonites (descendants of Lot’s incest with his daughters, Genesis 19:32-38), were also warned they would be judged and destroyed by Babylon’s army.

Through His prophet, the LORD challenged the Ammonites settlement in Israel, asking, “Hath Israel no sons? hath he no heir? Why then doth their king inherit Gad, And his people dwell in his cities?” (49:1) With Israel exiled from her lands, the Ammonites had settled onto land that was once home to the Tribe of Gad (49:1). Probably assuming Israel would be assimilated into Assyrian society and become nothing more than a footnote in history, the Ammonites took possession of the land that was Israel’s inheritance from the LORD.

Because they had been Israel’s adversaries, the LORD warned the Ammonites they would be judged because of their greed and covetousness (49:4-5). Yet, in a wonderful evidence of God’s grace, Jeremiah prophesied “the children of Ammon” would be numbered among believers when Christ’s comes to reign on the earth (49:6).

Other Gentile nations to be judged for their sins were the Edomites (49:7-22), descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau, whose destruction was compared to that of “Sodom and Gomorrah” (49:13-18). Nebuchadnezzar was described as coming upon Edom like a roaring lion (49:19), and the army of Babylon sweeping over the land like an eagle (49:22).  Syria, represented by its capital Damascus, would also be destroyed in God’s judgment (49:23-27).

The judgment of three nomadic Arabian tribes was foretold: Kedar (49:28-29), Hazor (49:30-33) and Elam (49:34-37). Once again, reminding us of God’s grace, Jeremiah 49:38-39 foretold at the end of time (“in the latter days”), some of Elam will be part of Christ’s kingdom.

Jeremiah 50 – The Vengeance of the LORD Against Babylon

Jeremiah 50 is an incredible passage foretelling the destruction of Babylon. What a striking prophecy this must have been to Jeremiah, for Babylon was the lone super power of his day, and would have seemed invincible to the prophet.

The LORD declared the idols of Babylon, Bel and Merodach, would be “broken in pieces” rendering no help for that city (50:2). Though Nebuchadnezzar was defeating all nations at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy, nevertheless, the LORD foretold a coalition of nations “out of the north” (50:3, 9, 41-42) would come against the great city bringing desolation. We know from the Scriptures and history that collation of nations would be the Medes and Persians under the leadership of King Cyrus. In one night, devastation struck the city to such a degree it rendered the great Babylon unfit for man and beast (50:3).

Jeremiah prophesied how the “children of Israel” would be liberated by the “nations out of the north,” and the people would return to their land (50:4-7).“Going and weeping: they shall go, And seek the Lord their God. 5They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord In a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten (50:4-5).

God warned the captives of Babylon to flee the city for her destruction was sealed (50:9-16). That wicked nation had scattered God’s people like sheep (50:17), and the LORD promised vengeance, saying, “Babylon [would]become a desolation among the nations” (50:23). No nation, great or small, can stand against the “Lord God of hosts” when He has declared, “I am against thee” (50:31). Babylon had defied God and now He would take vengeance on that nation (50:24-32). The fall of Babylon was prophesied to be so great, “the earth is moved” by her fall (50:46).

Closing thought – Though Israel and Judah were scattered among the nations, God would not forget His people. He warned the nations, Israel’s “Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name” (50:34).

I have heard 21st century leaders employ the adage, “Too Big to Fail!” Oh, foolish men, no nation or people is so great they can stand when God has set Himself against them!

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.