Category Archives: Israel

Calling All Sinners (Matthew 9; Luke 7)

24020351

Scripture reading – Matthew 9; Luke 7

Christ’s authority as the Messiah King was demonstrated throughout Matthew 8.

He healed the leper (Matthew 8:3), and the paralytic servant of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), and established His authority over physical illness. When He stilled a storm, and the winds and waves bowed to His will, Jesus demonstrated His authority over nature (Matthew 8:23-27). He had cast out demons with a command to “Go,” and the devils departed, proving Christ has authority over Satan and his evil minions (Matthew 8:16, 28-33).

Today’s devotional study reveals Christ has authority to forgive sin.

Matthew 9 – Consider what a difference faith came make!

In Matthew 9 we see once again that it was the faith of some friends, and their compassion for one who was “sick of the palsy [paralyzed], lying on a bed,” that moved Jesus to heal the man (9:2).

Jesus had returned to Capernaum, his home base of ministry in Galilee, and a man who was “sick of the palsy [paralyzed], lying on a bed” was brought to Jesus (9:2). We are not told how this man came to be paralyzed, but it is revealed why he was the victim of paralysis, his sin. Jesus observed the faith of his friends and said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (9:2).

Matthew records that there were scribes present, men who were experts in the Law of Moses. Hearing Jesus pardon the sins of the paralytic, the scribes whispered among themselves, “This man blasphemeth” (9:3).

Once again evidencing divine omniscience, we read, “4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” (9:4) What a powerful rebuke of proud, unbelieving experts in the Law!

Jesus, confronting their murmuring and evil thoughts, said, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” (9:4b) and then proposed, a question: Is it easier to say to a man his sins are forgiven, or command a paralytic to, “Arise, and walk?” (9:5)

To prove He had divine authority to forgive a man’s sins, Jesus commanded the paralytic to do what no other man could; “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house” (9:6). His sins forgiven and body made whole, the paralytic man rose from his bed and walked home (9:7). What an incredible moment, not only for the man who had been healed, but for those who “marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (9:8)!

The LORD proved He was a friend of sinners when he called Matthew, a despised publican (i.e. tax collector) to be His disciple (9:9-10). Revealing divine grace, Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me,” and that evening dined in his home with “many publicans (tax collectors) and sinners” (9:10). We read, “11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” (9:11)

Publicans were among the most despised men of Jewish ancestry in the first century. They were the ones who exacted taxes for Rome on their own, and were often guilty of skimming money off the top to enrich themselves. In the estimation of the Pharisees, Jesus eating with publicans was a brazen act of compromise. For Jesus; however, it was a demonstration of abundant grace.

Why eat with publicans and sinners? (9:11)

For the same reason the sick, not the strong and healthy, seek a physician (9:12). Men who are too proud to see their sin, are too blind to see their need of a Savior. Jesus did not come into the world to persuade self-righteous scribes and Pharisees to repent (after all, they are unwilling to confess their sin). His burden was for sinners, humbled under the weight of their sin, and ready and willing to repent (9:13).

I close with the words of the apostle Paul, who once boasted of his self-righteousness until he was confronted by Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus:

1 Timothy 1:15 – “15This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Sir, I Have No Man” (John 5)

Scripture reading – John 5

The title of today’s devotional commentary is haunting. “Sir, I have no man” (5:7), are words spoken by a man whom the Scriptures described as having “had an infirmity thirty and eight years” (5:5)!

John 5

Jesus and His disciples had returned to Jerusalem for the Passover (5:1). Making His way to the Temple, Jesus passed through the sheep gate (notice the word “market” is in italics in your Bible and was added by translators). The pool of water (5:2) in our story was located near the “sheep gate” through which sheep were led into the city and to the Temple Mount to be sacrificed.

The pool was called, “Bethesda,” meaning “House of Mercy” (5:2), was shaded by five porches. As Jesus passed by, He gazed upon a miserable lot of souls who had gathered there, “a great multitude of impotent folk [sick; feeble], of blind, halt [lame], withered [shrunken limb], waiting for the moving [stirring] of the water (5:3).

Why was this crowd of suffering souls waiting at the pool called Bethesda?

John writes, they were “waiting for the moving of the water. 4For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had” (5:4).

In the midst of this multitude of needy souls, there was one man who had been afflicted with an ailment for thirty-eight years (5:5). Described as having an “infirmity,” he was suffering from a chronic, debilitating disease, perhaps a stroke. John 5:7 describes the same man as “impotent.”

An earlier devotion revealed that Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:25). John 5:6 reveals that Jesus knew the man and his suffering: “Jesus saw [beheld; lit. knowing the man and understanding his need] him lie, and knew [perceived; understood] that he had been now a long time [much time] in that case.” Taking pity on the man, Jesus asked, Wilt thou [Do you wish] be made whole [sound]?

Though his outward affliction was obvious, it was the anguish of the man’s soul that I find troubling: He had “no man” (5:7).

There was no one who looked upon his helpless state, and waited with him at the pool, eager to assist him to the healing waters when they were stirred. No man had mercy. None who were suffering were willing to defer their distress, and prefer the man who had suffered thirty-eight years.

I invite you to consider with me three divine attributes Jesus exhibited on that day. The first, Jesus was Omniscient: He “saw” the man and knew not only how long he had been afflicted, but also the reason for his suffering (“sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” – 5:14).

A second divine attribute is Grace. Only one man was the object of Jesus’ grace that day. Though Jesus knew the man, and his sin, He took pity on the man and asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (5:6c, 8) Why this man, when there were so many who were suffering? He was no more deserving than any other, but it was grace, not merit that moved Jesus to heal the man. An interesting side note, when asked if he wished to be healed, he answered with a despairing grievance: “I have no man!” (5:7)

Thirdly, Jesus displayed authority over disease and divine Omnipotence when He commanded, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (5:8). “Immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked” (5:9). Thirty-eight years he had suffered, and with the power of Jesus’ spoken Word, he was instantaneously made whole.

There is much more to this story, especially the scene that follows when the religious hypocrites of that day, rebuked the man who had been healed for carrying his bed on the Sabbath (5:10). I wonder, how many times those religious leaders had passed Bethesda, and never took pity on the multitude of souls gathered there?

How many hurting souls do you and I pass every day, but never take pity on their sorrows? They may not be sick, maimed, blind, or crippled; but do we pass by being insensitive to their troubles?

How many might say, “I have no man who cares for my soul?”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

The Cost of Being a Disciple (Matthew 8; Mark 2)

Scripture reading – Matthew 8; Mark 2

We pick up our reading in the Gospel of Matthew with Jesus having completed His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  From now to His death on the cross, a throng of people will follow Jesus as He preaches and performs miracles throughout Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.

Matthew 8 – Three healing miracles are recorded in Matthew 8 that attest to Jesus’ divine power and authority over nature. 

The first miracle was the healing of a leper (8:2-4) who came to Jesus expressing his faith saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (8:2).  Down through history, leprosy has been a dreaded skin disease, one that eventually eats away at the flesh and appendages. Leprosy was an incurable disease and a leper’s life was that of an outcast. Alienated from his family and society, the leper was a miserable, hopeless soul (Isaiah 1:5-6). The leperous man, coming with faith and seeking compassion, was immediately cleansed and made whole (8:3).

The second miracle was the healing of a Roman centurion’s slave (8:5-13).  A centurion was the commander of one hundred soldiers, and he was no doubt living in Capernaum as a peacekeeper of Rome. Unlike a typical, battle-hardened Roman soldier, the Centurion had become sympathetic to, if not a proselyte of, Judaism.   The Jews said of him, “he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:5); thus endearing himself to the Jews of Capernaum.

While the Centurion’s position and good works were commendable, they were not the essential qualities we find concerning his character in this passage. Notice the Centurion was a man of humility. In spite of his position, he came to Jesus confessing, “I am not worthy” (8:8-9).  Humility is rare in the world, especially among the rich and powerful; however, knowing his servant was dying, the Centurion humbled himself and came to Jesus.

Consider also the evidence of the Centurion’s faith that was demonstrated in his request: “Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (8:8). His was a remarkable faith that Jesus commended as superior to the faith He had found among His own people (8:10b). Predicting the Gospel would be received by many Gentiles, Jesus foretold the Centurion was one of many who would become citizens of heaven (“many shall come from the east and west” – 8:11), while many Jews (“children of the kingdom”) would reject Jesus and be sentenced to “outer darkness: [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12).  Confirming his faith in Jesus, the Centurion’s servant was healed (8:13).

I close with what I will describe as a First Claim Principle (8:19-22).

Two men came to Jesus and proposed to become His disciples.  One man turned back when he was told a disciple must be willing to sacrifice earthly possessions and comforts (8:19-20).  A second man came, desiring to be numbered among Jesus’ disciples, he proposed to wait for his father to die before following Jesus.

First Claim Principle: No man can be a disciple, a true follower of Christ, unless he is willing to sacrifice his personal ambitions and plans to follow Him (8:18-22). 

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Men of Persia: Your Ancestors Were the Wisest of Men! (Matthew 2)

Scripture reading – Matthew 2

Matthew 2 is our assigned Scripture reading, bringing us to a fascinating event in antiquity: The journey of “wise men from the east” who came to Jerusalem (2:1) enquiring, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” (2:2)

Matthew 2

Four centuries of turmoil had preceded the birth of Jesus. The Jews had waited four hundred years for the prophecies of a coming Messiah to be fulfilled. The Temple had been rebuilt, the walls of Jerusalem repaired, and Israel was restored in the land God had promised Abraham would be an inheritance of his lineage.

As a nation and people, Israel was not at peace. Malachi had prophesied the people would suffer God’s judgment for breaking covenant with the LORD, and Israel had experienced the assault of Greece that was soon followed by the armies of Rome. Self-appointed “Messiahs” had come and gone, and Jewish rebellions had been swiftly crushed. Israel was oppressed by taxations and the idolatrous ways of Rome.

Still, the Jews waited for their Messiah, a Deliverer, a political Savior, a leader who would cast off the tyranny of Rome, and revive the glory years of Israel as a kingdom. When Christ was born, Israel was looking, waiting, and longing for a Messiah King, and so, we read,

Matthew 2:1 – “1Now when Jesus was born in Beth-lehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.”

Bethlehem of Judaea, had been the birthplace of King David, and was the city where Micah prophesied the Christ child would be born (Micah 5:2). Joseph and Mary, both of whom were of the lineage of David, fulfilling the decree of Caesar Augustus that the people should be registered in their ancestral homelands, had journeyed to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5). Arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph had been unable to find lodging, and the couple sought shelter in a stable where Mary gave birth to her Son (Luke 2:6-7) whom her husband named Jesus (Matthew 1:25).

Weeks, months, and likely as much as two years, passed before “wise men from the east” (2:1) arrived in Jerusalem.

These “wise men” were doubtless attended by a great caravan of soldiers and servants, as the journey from Persia to Judaea would have taken months, and been known well in advance of their arrival in Jerusalem.

The presence of a powerful company of Persians seeking an infant “King of the Jews” (2:2) had been troubling to King Herod (2:3). He was a puppet of Rome, an illegitimate monarch, an Edomite who lived in constant fear of assassination and the swift reprisals of Caesar Augusts, the Roman emperor. Herod’s role was to keep the peace by pacifying the Jews, but also enforcing the laws and taxations required by Rome to maintain its far-flung armies and the lavish lifestyle of the emperor.

The rumor of an infant king, a legitimate heir to David’s throne, was intolerable to a man like Herod. After learning there was a prophecy that foretold the birth of Christ in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the king dispatched the wise men to the city, suggesting that he would soon follow to worship the new born king (2:4-8). We read,

Matthew 2:9–10 9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

There has been much debate about the star that served as a guiding light for the wise men and led them from the east to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus, His mother, and Joseph lodged (2:11). Perhaps it was a physical star, miraculously employed by God to guide these wisest of men from the east. Or the star might have been the shekinah glory of God that guided them. It matters not; what does matter is that “the star” led the wise men to Jesus, and “when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him” (2:11).

Think about it: Before there was a prophet named Mohammed; before there was a religion called Islam; before there was a clash of cultures divided over religions, there were men of Persia, “wise men” who comprehended a prophecy that a King of the Jews would be born!

Perhaps with the knowledge of prophecies that foretold the birth of a Messiah King and had been passed down from the prophet Daniel, wise men of Persia read in the heavens, the birth announcement of the King of the Jews (2:2).

An infant King whom the wisest of men would “come to worship” (2:2).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham (Matthew 1; Luke 2)

Scripture reading – Matthew 1; Luke 2

We continue the commencement of our Scripture readings in the New Testament with today’s Scripture reading assignment in the Gospel of Matthew and continuing in the Gospel of Luke.

The Gospel of Matthew was written by the disciple whose name it bears. Also known as Levi (Luke 5:27-32; Mark 2:13-17), Matthew was Jewish by birth, and was a “publican” (a tax collector) by trade when he became a follower of Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:9-13; 10:3).

Matthew 1 – The Genealogy of Jesus Christ

The Gospel of Matthew is the first of the New Testament books and is a history of the conception, virgin birth, life, and earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Believers who are young in their faith, might find the first seventeen verses of Matthew’s Gospel to be a tedious undertaking. The reader finds a long list of names that are difficult to pronounce, spanning forty-two generations, and to a casual student of the Bible, seem to have little significance.

Why all those names? Matthew 1:1-17 is a chronicle of the human ancestry of Jesus Christ beginning with Abraham (1:2), through “David the king” (1:6), and culminating with “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (1:16).

Notice that Matthew does not state that Joseph begat Jesus, but rather, that he was the “husband of Mary” (1:16). Matthew stakes Christ’s claim as heir to the throne of David, through the lineage of Joseph, his adopted earthly father and he was “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus” (1:16-17). Luke records in Mary’s lineage that Jesus “was [legally] supposed the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). And so the opening verses of the Gospel of Matthew give proof that Jesus was the legitimate heir to the throne of David and the covenant promise the LORD made to Abraham (“…in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” – Genesis 12:3).

Matthew 1 – Five Illustrations of God’s Abundant Grace

Among the men named in the lineage of Christ are the names of five women, who individually are testimonies of God’s grace:  Tamar (1:3), who played a harlot and bore two sons to Judah, who was the beginning of the royal lineage of Israel;  Rahab (1:5), a prostitute of the city of Jericho hid Israel’s spies in her home; Ruth (1:5), a Moabitess, a descendant of Lot’s incest with his oldest daughter; Bathsheba (1:6), who though not named, is identified as “her that had been the wife of Urias;” after she committed adultery with King David and later bore him a son named Solomon; and lastly there was Mary (1:18), a virtuous, but humble peasant girl of Nazareth whom God chose to be the virgin mother of Jesus Christ.

Take a moment and ponder those women named in the lineage of Christ: Deceiver, prostitute, child of an incestuous line, an adulterer, and a virtuous, but humble peasant girl. “Scandalous”, you say? Yes, but they are all testimonies of the same mercy and grace, by which all sinners might be saved.

Think you will never be “good enough” for God?  You are right; however, God’s grace, love and forgiveness, is extended to all who turn from their sin and come to Him by faith through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son Jesus (Romans 3:23-25).

Romans 5:8-9 – “8  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Part 2 – An Introduction to the Gospels of Luke and John: The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 1; John 1)

Daily reading assignment: Luke 1; John 1

The following devotional commentary serves as part 2 of my two-part introduction to the Gospels of Luke and John.

John 1The Gospel of John is the fourth Gospel of the New Testament and was penned by the beloved apostle John.

John was Jewish by birth, and a fisherman by trade (Mark 1:20). We first meet John as a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35-40); however, he departed and followed Jesus when the Baptist declared Jesus to be the “Lamb of God” (John 1:36).

John was an eyewitness of the events recorded in his Gospel.  He was a disciple of Jesus Christ from the beginning of His earthly ministry, and a member of His inner circle, along with Peter and James, his brother. He was privileged to see Christ cloaked in His heavenly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2). When Jesus was crucified, John stood beside Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:26), at the foot of the cross.

John is believed to have been the last of the apostles, all of whom were martyred according to tradition, and penned the Book of Revelations when he was banished to the isle of Patmos near the end of his life (Revelation 1:1-2).

The opening verses of John’s Gospel are some of the best known of the New Testament and need little exposition for the readers of this devotional blog.  Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that give rich historical details of the incarnation and birth of Jesus, John’s Gospel opens with a beautiful declaration of the divinity and eternality of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is introduced as Eternal God (1:1-2), Creator (1:3), the Life (1:4), the Light (1:5, 9), the Word of God “made flesh” (1:14a), the Son of God, “the only begotten of the Father” (1:14b). Declaring Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah whom the Jews rejected, John writes “He came unto his own [the Jews; descendants of Abraham], and his own received him not” (1:11).

Fulfilling the prophecies that a forerunner of the Messiah would come (Isaiah 40:3), we are introduced to the man we know as “John the Baptist” (1:15). While John the Baptist enjoyed a great following, he made it clear that he was not the Messiah (1:15-20); but the one sent before Christ to call the people to repent, and prepare their hearts for His coming (1:21-27).

John 1 records for us the dramatic moment that Jesus identified Himself with the ministry of John the Baptist by baptism (1:28-34), and John declared the purpose of Christ’s coming saying, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (1:29).

John continued, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him… And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (1:32, 34); “Behold the Lamb of God!” (1:36)

I close, drawing your attention to John 1:37-51 where we find the account of Jesus calling the first of disciples: Andrew (1:40), Simon Peter (1:41), Philip (1:43-44), Nathanael (1:45-49).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“I Have Loved You, Israel” (Malachi 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Malachi 1-4

Today’s Scripture is our 273rd, and brings our year-long chronological reading of the Bible to the final book of the Old Testament. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Malachi 1.

The Book of Malachi was written around 400 B.C. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. His ministry was to the remnant of Jews that had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity.

Cyrus, king of Persia, had made an emancipation decree in 536 B.C., fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Jews would return their land after a seventy-year captivity. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt around 446 B.C.  Less than a half-century later, we find Israel once again having broken covenant with God and facing the consequences of their sin and rebellion.

Malachi’s prophecy is the last word from the LORD recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, until the nation heard the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23).

Malachi 1

Malachi described his ministry as, “The burden [weight and importance of the prophecy] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi” (1:1), and declared to Israel on God’s behalf, “I have loved you” (1:2a). God’s love is unconditional (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 5:8), everlasting, unfailing love (Jeremiah 31:3-4).

Rather than acknowledge God’s love, the people obstinately asked, “Wherein has thou loved us?” (1:2b). In spite of the love and grace He had extended to Israel, the people questioned God’s favor (1:1-5).

Malachi reminded the people how the LORD had chosen Israel (Jacob), but rejected Esau. (1:2-3). He had left Edom impoverished, but had blessed the land of Israel. And yet, the people questioned the LORD’s love!

The people had dishonored the LORD’s name (1:6), and the priests were rebuked for offering sacrifices that were less than the covenant that bound them. God’s Law required perfect sacrifices (Deut. 15:19-23; Leviticus 22:17-33); however, the priests had offered “polluted bread” (food), and animals that were blind, lame, and sick (Malachi 1:7-8, 13). They dared offer to God what their own human authorities would have rejected (1:8b).

Malachi admonished the priests, it would be better to “shut the doors” of the Temple and offer no sacrifice, than to make a pretense of sacrifices that were less than their best (1:10, 14). 

Malachi then prophesied that there would be a future day (the Millennium Kingdom), when the Gentiles would worship the LORD and His name would be “great among the heathen” (1:11).

Sadly, the people whom God had chosen, and with whom He established His covenant, had once again turned from the LORD and despised His offerings (1:13). The LORD, faithful to His Word and covenant, warned, “cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, And voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (1:14).

Friend, what attitude do you have toward the LORD in giving Him your tithes, time, and talents? Do you treasure the things that are eternal, or covet the things of this earth that are temporal and fleeting? (Matthew 6:21, 31-33)

Have you given Him your heart?

Romans 12:1 – “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.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Ezra: Man of Faith” (Ezra 7-10)

Scripture reading – Ezra 7-10

* Note from the Author: I begin with a brief apology to those who follow my daily devotional posts. A dear friend brought to my attention that I had overlooked Ezra 7-10 (which chronologically should have come after Esther 6-10, and before Nehemiah 1-5). Tomorrow’s devotional in Malachi will conclude our Old Testament readings! Thank you for your patience and faithfulness.

Where do you look to for encouragement and spiritual inspiration?

Hebrews 11 is full of heroic, spiritually inspiring examples. We find Noah, an example of faithfulness in a wicked generation where he stood alone as a man of faith (11:7). Abraham, a man of incomparable faith, who left his family and country, to go to a land he had never seen, but which God had promised Him for an inheritance (11:8-10). Jacob was an example of the foresight of God, who saw in him, not what he was (a self-centered, deceitful man), but who he would become—Israel and a prince with God (11:21). Joseph serves as a model of inordinate forgiveness: He had unwavering confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when he was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave (11:22).

Though not mentioned in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” Ezra should be one of our spiritual heroes. He was not a great soldier, nor a descendant of blue blood royalty; however, he was a great man because he was faithful.

Who was Ezra?

Ezra was, as his name suggests, a “Helper.” He was a man of godly character. He was “a ready [trained, experienced; skilled] scribe in the law of Moses,” and “had prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach [instruct] in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:6, 10).

Four Stages for Becoming a “Spiritual Giant” (Ezra 7:6, 10)

Ezra had a passion for studying God’s Word. He was a “ready scribe in the law of Moses,” and was a disciplined student and teacher of God’s Word (7:6).

Ezra “prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (7:10). He had a right attitude and focus because he made preparing his heart a priority. Solomon taught his son, “The preparations of the heart in man [belong to man],and the answer of the tongue [the outcome of a matter], is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). Ezra was ready to serve God because he had prepared his heart.

The third stage of becoming a “spiritual giant” is perspiration. Ezra was committed to not only “seek the law of the LORD,” but “also to do it” (7:10). He understood that what practiced was just as important as what he knew (James 1:22, 25).

We have seen Ezra was passionate, prepared, perspiring, and fourthly – a proclaimer:

He taught “in Israel statutes and judgments” (7:10). Our world is in desperate need of spiritually committed men and women. I fear there are many who lack spiritual disciplines and commitment, and are what the writer of Hebrews described in Hebrews 5:12-14 – “12For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you…and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Remember: Like an oak that requires a good foundation to grow tall and become a giant of the forest, you will never be a “spiritual giant” until you have the right foundation…faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior\Redeemer.

Psalm 1:1–31Blessed is the man That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Forgotten by Man, But Not by God (Nehemiah 10-13)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 10-13

Today’s Scripture reading concludes our study of the Book of Nehemiah and his account of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Nehemiah 10.

Nehemiah 10 – Your Service is Important to God

Admittedly, Nehemiah 10 would be an easy chapter to pass over, especially with a host of names that are not only difficult to pronounce, but seem to serve no real purpose. Other than a historical record, what value or lessons can 21st century believers derive from this list of names?

Nehemiah 10:1-28 is a list of eighty-four men who, though inconsequential in our day, were nevertheless important to the LORD who directed Nehemiah to not only record their names, but also preserve them for us for over two and one-half millenniums.

More important than their labor on the wall of Jerusalem, was the commitment they made for themselves and their families when they renewed Israel’s covenant with God and sealed it with their signatures (10:1 – “Now those that sealed…”).

Nehemiah was the first to sign the covenant (10:1), and his signature was followed by the Priests (10:2-8), Levites (10:9-13), and the leaders or “chief of the people” (10:14-26).

Following the example of their spiritual leaders and heads of households, we read,

Nehemiah 10:28-29 – “28 And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding; 29They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.”

Someone has observed that there are no “spiritual grandchildren” when it comes to passing on one’s faith to another generation. While the leadership of Israel had followed Nehemiah in confirming their covenant with the LORD (10:1-27), it was crucial that the people individually affirm their faith and understanding of what God required of His people.

The people did not enter into the covenant foolishly or unadvisedly. We read, “the rest of the people” (10:28a), and those included wives, sons, and daughters, understood the covenant and accepted their responsibility to “walk in God’s law” (10:29). They affirmed they understood both the reward (blessings) and consequences (curses) that comes to those who are a covenant people (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). They also promised their sons and daughters would not become unequally yoked with unbelievers (“the people of the land,” 10:30; 2 Corinthians 6:14).

Various other ordinances were acknowledged including observing the Sabbath (10:31), paying a required Temple tax of one-third shekels (10:32; Exodus 30:11-16 required one-half shekel, but the lesser amount here might have been due to the poverty of the people).

Various offerings were renewed including the requirement to give a “wood offering,” that was 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, serving as a reminder that God requires tithes of our first and best (10:35, 36-37; Proverbs 3:9). Also, a firstborn son was to be dedicated to God and redeemed with by offering a lamb (10:36; Exodus 34:19-20).

The people were taught that their tithes and offerings were to be used to support the Levites (10:37-39; Leviticus 27:30-34). In turn, The Levites were to tithe of the tithes that were given to support them and their households (10:37b-38; Leviticus 27:30-34).

Having been instructed in the demands of the Law, and understanding 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).

Friend I close this devotional by proposing to you a question:

Can you honestly say, “I have not forsaken the house of our God?”

Hebrews 10:2525Not forsaking 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.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Oh No! We’ve Got Problems! (Nehemiah 5-9)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 5-9

 For one hundred and forty years the city and walls of Jerusalem had laid in rubble, a testimony of God’s judgment, and a reproach against Israel for breaking their covenant with the LORD.

The task of rebuilding the walls and setting the gates in place had been an all-consuming task for Nehemiah. His effort to rebuild the wall had faced immense opposition from enemies who openly mocked, ridiculed, and opposed him (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:1, 7-8). His challenges, however, were not limited to enemies without; he soon faced troubles from within that threatened to halt the work on the walls.

Nehemiah 5 – The Cry of the Oppressed

The men of Jerusalem and the outlying cities in Judah, had been required to labor on the walls. Their labor; however, had come at the sacrifice of working in their fields to plant seed and harvest crops that were needed to feed their families (5:1-2).

It came to Nehemiah’s attention that many who were toiling on the walls had been forced to mortgage their houses and fields to feed their families. Added to their hardships had been a tax assessment that was due the king on their lands and vineyards (5:4).

Wealthy lenders, who gave no regard to the sacrifices of those working on the walls, had begun to foreclose on their debtors’ properties, even enslaving the sons and daughters of those who could not repay their debts (5:1-5).

Nehemiah had become indignant when he learned how the wealthy had oppressed the poor and broken God’s Law (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Leviticus 25:35-37). He publicly rebuked the elders for exacting “usury” on the debts of those who had labored on the wall (5:7-13). (The rich had charged exorbitant rates of interest, making it impossible for debtors to repay their creditors.)

Nehemiah reminded the elders of the people that he had authority to “exact of them money and corn;” however, he had not exercised his right and charged them to “leave off this usury” (5:10). He warned them that God would judge them harshly for how they had mistreated the people. The elders then agreed to release the people of their debts and restore to them all that they had taken (5:11).

Twelve years had passed since Nehemiah had taken up the task of the governor of Judah and overseeing the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (5:14). Though he had the right and authority to require the people to provide for his table and those who ate with him (5:17), nevertheless, he had not done so “because of the fear of God”(5:15). In other words, Nehemiah refused to burden God’s people for his needs, lest he do so at the sacrifice of God’s blessings (5:15).

Nehemiah knew what it meant to fear, revere, and please God. He was confident the LORD honors those who faithfully labor and do His will. Nehemiah prayed:

Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (5:19).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith