Category Archives: Israel

Why Should You Trust the LORD?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 146-148

Our scripture reading today consist of three psalms, Psalms 146, 147 and 148.   I will limit my devotional commentary to Psalm 146.  The author of Psalm 146 is not known; however, his purpose in writing the psalm is obvious….it is a song of praise to the LORD.  The psalmist employs numerous names for God meant to describe His nature, personality, and character.

You will notice in the verses my amplification of the text in brackets.  Understanding a word in the Hebrew scriptures can be translated into English with more than one word, it is my desire to give you a broader understanding and insight into this beautiful psalm of praise for your own worship and edification.

Psalm 146:1-2 – 1  Praise [Hallelujah; Glory; Boast; Celebrate] ye the LORD [Yahweh; the sacred name of the LORD]. Praise the LORD [Jehovah; Eternal, Self-Existent God], O my soul.
2  While I live [have life] will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises [sing psalms] unto my God [Elohim; mighty God] while I have any being.

The psalmist begins Psalm 146 directing his praise and worship to the only One worthy of praise…the LORD (146:1-2).

Psalm 146:3-43  Put not your trust [confidence] in princes, nor in the son [children] of man, in whom there is no help [salvation; deliverance].
4  His breath [man’s breath] goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day [time] his thoughts perish.

The psalmist exhorts and admonishes the people to not put their trust or confidence in man (146:3-4).  Whether a prince among men or a mere mortal man…all men live under the sentence of death (Romans 6:23); their breath disappears as a vapor, their bodies return to dust and their plans and designs perish with them.

Such is the spiritual lesson the rich man encountered in Luke 12.  Experiencing an overflow of the fruits of his labor at the time of harvest, the rich man determined to tear down his barns and hoard God’s blessings (Luke 12:17-18).   God judged the man a fool (Luke 12:19-20).  His affections were on earthly riches and he died a spiritual pauper… “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God” (Luke 12:21).

While the rich man’s affections for earthly treasure perish with him, the psalmist describes the man who looks to the LORD as “Happy” (146:5) .

Psalm 146:55  Happy [Blessed; prosperous] is he that hath the God [Almighty God] of Jacob for his help [aid], whose hope [expectation] is in the LORD his God:

Why trust the LORD (146:6-9)?  The psalmist suggests four qualities that lead us to trust the LORD.

1) The LORD is Creator of heaven, earth, the sea and “all that therein is”. (146:6a)

Psalm 146:6 6  Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth [preserves; guards] truth for ever [i.e. God is forever faithful; trustworthy]:

 2) The LORD is faithful and true. (146:6b)

Psalm 146:7-9 7  Which executeth [lit. to make or prepare] judgment [justice] for the oppressed: which giveth food [bread and meat] to the hungry. The LORD looseth [sets at liberty] the prisoners: 8  The LORD [Jehovah; Eternal, Self-Existent God] openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth [lifts up; comforts] them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous [just]:
9  The LORD preserveth [keeps watch; regards; saves] the strangers [sojourners]; he relieveth [bear witness; admonish; protects] the fatherless and widow: but the way [journey; path] of the wicked [ungodly; guilty] he turneth upside down [subverts; thwarts;overthrows].

3) The LORD is just and compassionate. (146:7-9)

Psalm 146:10 10  The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD.

4) The LORD is King Eternal, the God of Zion of whose kingdom there is no end (146:10).

How foolish to trust man or place our confidence in earthly possessions!  The LORD is eternal, just, compassionate, faithful, true and our Creator!  Why trust any other?

Let all who know the LORD trust and praise Him!

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Providence of God: The Hand Behind the Headlines

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Esther 1-5

“Divine providence” is one of the overriding themes of the Book of Esther.

Many great minds have attempted to define providence.  The 19th century clergyman T. Dewitt Talmage said: “Despots may plan and armies may march, and the congresses of nations may seem to think they are adjusting all the affairs of the world, but the mighty men of the earth are only the dust of the chariot wheels of God’s providence.”

American patriot Benjamin Franklin observed, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man.”

Author and theologian J.I. Packer says of God’s providence, “He [God] knows, and foreknows, all things, and His foreknowledge is foreordination; He, therefore, will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man.”

What is divine providence?

I suggest, Providence is God’s sustaining oversight of creation and His direction of all things to His appointed end and purpose. The apostle Paul suggested the same in Romans 8:28-29, writing,

Romans 8:28-29 – “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

In summary, the providence of God is practical (“all things work together”), personal (to them that love God), and cannot be divorced from God’s divine purpose (“to them who are the called according to His purpose”)

The Book of Esther is best known as the only book in the Bible that never mentions God by name; however, the events recorded in the book make it clear Esther is a testimony of God’s providence in the life of a young Jewish maiden and His preservation of His chosen people by sovereignly guiding the affairs of mankind to fulfill His divine purpose and end.  Chronologically, the events recorded in the Book of Esther fall in the midst of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Esther was a Jewish maiden living in Persia, today’s modern Iraq, around 480 B.C.  She was a descendant of the Jews taken captive to Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.  After conquering Babylon, the Persians gave the Jews liberty to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem; however, many remained in Babylon; among them a Jewish man named Mordecai (2:5-7), the uncle of Esther who took her into his home after the deaths of her parents.

Esther 1 introduces us to Ahasuerus, the Persian king who was presiding over an empire at its peak, but facing the growing military presence of the Greek Empire.  Some scholars suggest Esther 1 follows Ahasuerus’ first defeat against the Greeks.  His impetuous demotion of Vashti, his beautiful queen, when she failed to obey his command to come to his drunken feast, sets in motion a series of events that will ultimately propel Esther from anonymity to the throne as the wife and queen of Ahasuerus.

Some seven years passed from Vashti’s expulsion as queen to the events occurring in Esther 2.  Historians believe Ahasuerus had suffered another defeat against a confederacy of Greek city-states and, returning to his palace, remembered “Vashti…what she had done” (Esther 2:1).  Knowing the loneliness of the king, his servants suggested he add to his harem, “fair young virgins” (2:3) and among them seek his queen (2:4).

It was the king’s decree that set in motion a series of events that providentially promoted Esther, who was “fair and beautiful” (2:7), to be named among the maidens “gathered together unto Shushan the palace” (2:8).  Following the advice of her uncle, Mordecai, Esther did not reveal she was Jewish (2:10).

A parade of young women entered the king’s bedchamber; however, none pleased the king until we read, “the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight…so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen” (2:17). Still, “Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people” (2:20).

Esther 3 introduces us to Haman, a man promoted by king Ahasuerus “above all the princes” (3:1).  Haman hated the Jews and especially despised Mordecai (3:2).  Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman so infuriated the man he determined to use his position to exact revenge on all the Jews (3:1-6).  Pretending a concern for what was in the best interest of the king, Haman brought an evil report against all the Jews and influenced the king to give an edict to annihilate all Jews (3:7-15).

The Jews, receiving news of the edict, began mourning, “fasting, and weeping, and wailing” (4:1-3).  Queen Esther, sheltered in the royal palace, sought to comfort her uncle Mordecai who had “rent his clothes” (4:1); however, he refused her offer of new clothing (4:4).  When she sought to know the cause of the great mourning among the Jews, she learned of the king’s edict (4:5-11).

Mordecai warned Esther her office as queen would not spare her life when her Jewish lineage was divulged (4:12-14).  Giving testimony to divine providence, Mordecai appealed to Esther, “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14).

Putting her life at risk, for no one, not even the queen was allowed to enter the king’s court without his invitation; Esther came before the king.  Seeing his queen, Ahasuerus invited her to approach and offered to grant her whatever she requested (5:1-3).  Setting her plan in motion to save her people, Esther requested Haman be summoned for dinner with she and the king (5:4-8).   Receiving the invitation, Haman boasted he was given a private invitation to dinner with the king and queen (5:9-13).

I close today’s devotional commentary with this thought:

God could have chosen any means to save His people, however, Mordecai believed God chose Esther to be instrumental in that task (“for such a time as this” – 4:14).  Mordecai was confident in the sovereignty of God and had faith in God’s providential care of His people (4:13-14).

Friend, God will hold you accountable for your influence and opportunities of service. Bury your talents, refuse to employ your gifts, and the day will come when you give account to the LORD.  Fail to serve Him and the LORD will raise up another to serve in your place (Esther 4:14).

Luke 12:48“…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Christmas Series at Hillsdale – “Five Portraits of God’s Grace”

Dear Hillsdale family, friends and Heart of a Shepherd Followers,

My Christmas Series this year, taken from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 1, is titled, “Five  Portraits of God’s Grace”, based on the five mothers named by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus.

The story of Christ’s birth is essentially the story of Redemption: God’s love for sinners, expressed in sending His Only begotten Son Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, who lived a perfect, sinless life, was crucified for our sins, and raised from the dead on the third day.  The five women named in Christ’s lineage remind us of God’s grace extended to sinners.

My focus in the 10:30 AM service this Sunday, December 10 is on Rahab the harlot (Matthew 1:5), the second object of God’s grace named by Matthew.  I look forward to sharing how God in His grace moved on the heart of the harlot of Jericho and, hearing how God blessed and preserved Israel, came to believe Israel’s God was “God in heaven above, and in earth beneath”  (Joshua 2:11).

God was at work in Rahab’s heart, drawing her to saving faith.  Because she believed in the LORD, she tied a scarlet cord about her window as a sign of her faith, trusting God to save her and her family. We read,

Joshua 6:25 – And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

By God’s grace through her faith, God saved the harlot Rahab from death and she came to live in the midst of Israel (Joshua 6:25), married Salmon, a man of the royal tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:5), and is wondrously named as a mother of the lineage of Jesus Christ.

My friend, Rahab came to be named among Israel in the same way all sinners are saved…God’s grace through faith!

Romans 4:5 – “But to him that worketh not [knowing no works of the law save], but believeth on Him [Jesus Christ] that justifieth the ungodly, his faith [in Christ’s blood] is counted for righteousness [justified and forgiven].”

I trust you will join us this Sunday as we continue our study of “Five Portraits of God’s Grace”.

Don’t forget, Hillsdale’s Fine Arts Ministries will present this Sunday night, 6:00 PM, “Home for Christmas”.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

This Sunday at Hillsdale Baptist Church

Dear Hillsdale friends and Heart of a Shepherd Followers,

I look forward to being back in the pulpit at Hillsdale this Sunday morning, just in time to begin my Christmas series, “Five Portraits of God’s Love and Grace”, a study of the lineage of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew 1.

I appreciate the pastoral staffs’ pulpit ministry in my absence as I am recovering from two surgeries in November; however, I am anxious to assume the yoke and privilege of the pastoral ministry at Hillsdale.

The title of this Sunday morning’s sermon is, “Judah and Tamar: A Testimony of Matchless Grace”.

Tamar is the first of five women named by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus Christ.  Given the nature of sin, everyone’s family tree will have some rotten branches and bad-apples.  The lineage of Jesus Christ is no exception and fulfills Paul’s observation that Jesus “made himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7).

The inclusion of Tamar’s name in the lineage of Jesus Christ is stunning given her scandalous past.  She was twice widowed.  Driven by a feeling of injustice and longing for a son, she played the harlot, seduced her father-in-law Judah, and by him conceived two sons (Genesis 38).

When Judah learned Tamar was with child outside of marriage, he hypocritically ordered her burned to death (Genesis 38:24); however, when she produced evidence he was the father of the sons in her womb, he confessed his sin (Genesis 38:25-26).

The marvel of God’s matchless grace is that Phares, the eldest son born to Tamar would be Judah’s heir (Genesis 38:27-30) and one of the fathers named in the lineage of the royal line of whom Jesus Christ would be born (Matthew 1:3).

What a wonderful invitation for lost sinners!  May the message of Christmas be the testimony of saving grace!   The person, life and lineage of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is a testimony of God’s love and grace towards sinners.

I look forward to introducing this Sunday morning the first of five portraits of God’s love and grace!

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017

For Servants of God, Quitting is Not An Option!

 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 1-4

Our “Read-Thru the Bible In a Year” schedule brings us today to the Book of Nehemiah, chapters 1-4.  Permit me an opportunity to give you some background on this book.

While the Book of Ezra recorded the decree of Cyrus king of Persia setting the Jews at liberty to return to their land and rebuild the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar 70 years earlier (Ezra 1); the Book of Nehemiah gives Nehemiah’s record of how the walls of Jerusalem were restored. Thus, the prophet and priest Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries; the elder Ezra being the first to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple.

Who was Nehemiah?  He was “the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11).  Dwelling in the king’s palace, Nehemiah’s life was one of privilege.  He was more than his title implies; the role of the cupbearer was that of a king’s closest aide; his confidant and counselor.  The king entrusted his very life to his cupbearer who protected the king from assassination by first tasting the king’s food and sipping his wine.

In spite of the comforts and privileges he enjoyed as a cupbearer, Nehemiah’s heart was burdened for the remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem.  Visited by “men of Judah” (1:2), Nehemiah inquired concerning the welfare of his brethren and the state of things in Jerusalem.  The men of Judah reported the walls of the city laid in ruins and how the people suffered (1:3).  Hearing how his people suffered, Nehemiah wept, prayed, and sought opportunity to intervene (1:4-11).

Unable to mask his sorrow, Artaxerxes the king observed Nehemiah’s countenance and questioned the cause for his cupbearer’s sadness (2:1-2a).  Remembering the authority of ancient oriental kings was absolute and they held in their lands the power of life and death, Nehemiah confessed, “I was very sore afraid” (2:2b).

One great spiritual qualities found in Nehemiah’s life is he was a man of prayer. When he heard how the Jews suffered in Jerusalem, he wept and prayed (1:4-11).  When the king enquired why he was sad, Nehemiah prayed to God for wisdom (2:4) and requested the king send him to Jerusalem with letters granting him authority to acquire materials and permission to rebuild the walls of the city (2:5-8).

Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was immediately met by opposition when he arrived in Jerusalem (2:10, 19-20).  On the third day after his arrival in the city, Nehemiah surveyed the state of the city at night and found the walls and gates of the city in ruin (2:11-15).  Exercising discretion, Nehemiah refrained from disclosing his business to the elders of the city (2:12,16).

Why such secrecy regarding the great vision he had for Jerusalem?  There are many reasons I might offer, but surely the foremost is he needed time to contemplate the task before him, seek the LORD’s direction, and set forward a plan of attack and the organization required for so great an undertaking.

Having assessed the task to rebuild the walls of the city, Nehemiah challenged the elders among the Jews that it was time to rebuild the walls and secure its inhabitants (2:17-18).  He encouraged the people with the courage of his own faith in God saying, “The God of heaven, He will prosper us” (2:20).

Nehemiah 3 gives the organization of the laborers and their assigned tasks on the walls and gates. Noblemen, priests, and households of common men labored side by side on the walls and gates of the city. As the work to restore the walls began, enemies of God’s people were provoked to anger and began mocking the workers and ridiculing their labor on the walls (4:1-6).

Seeing the walls and gates being restored, the enemies of the Jews “conspired all of them together” (4:4-8).  When the people were tempted to be discouraged (4:7-11), Nehemiah writes, “we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night” (4:9).

I observe two responses to opposition in this passage you and I are wise to emulate in our walk with the LORD.

The first response, Nehemiah encouraged the people to pray (4:4-5, 9).  The second, Nehemiah urged the people to arm themselves against their enemies and continue to work.

Neh. 4:17-18 – “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.  18 For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.”

Friend, serving Christ is not predicated upon convenience, but upon conviction.  If you are going to serve the LORD, be prepared for opposition from without and within.  Ridicule, mocking, scorn are all tools the enemy uses to discourage us, cause us to doubt, and eventually quit.

For Nehemiah, quitting was not an option!  When he faced opposition, he prayed.  When he faced tasks that exhausted him and the people, he prayed…and continue to work!  Nehemiah gives us this testimony:

Nehemiah 4:23 – “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.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Biblical Foundation of America’s Laws and Precepts We Too Often Take for Granted

Monday, November 27, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Deuteronomy 20-22

Moses’ final challenge to Israel before his departure continues in today’s scripture reading, Deuteronomy 20-22.  Israel is encamped at the threshold of the land God promised Abraham and his lineage; however, the land will not be theirs’ without going to war to secure and to enlarge it.

Deuteronomy 20 is a continuation of Moses’ instruction to Israel in times of war.  Moses challenged the people to be confident when facing superior enemies, not trusting in their own strength, but placing their confidence in the LORD (Deuteronomy 20:1-4).  The men were expected to take up arms and go to war for the nation; however, some in Israel were given exemptions from military duty lest they be a distraction and endanger others.  Among those given exemptions from war were men building a house, planting a vineyard, newly married, and the fainthearted who lacked courage (Deuteronomy 20:5-8).  While women, children, and livestock might be spared as spoils of war, Israel was to put to death every man of war (20:10-20).

Deuteronomy 21 sets forth various laws Israel was to follow and underlines the sanctity of human life (21:1-9), the just treatment of an alien woman taken as a wife (21:10-14), the birthright of a firstborn son (Deuteronomy 21:15-17), and the punishment of a rebellious son (21:18-21).

Being reminded an Israelite was commanded to love his neighbor, Deuteronomy 22 states the duty of a man regarding his neighbor’s welfare and possessions (22:1-4).  There was also to be a distinction of the sexes in their dress and fashion (22:5).

Remembering God is the Creator and life is sacred, rather than wanton callousness for animal life, Israelites were to value and preserve the life of even the smallest bird (22:6-7).

Because man is created in the image of God, precautions were to be taken to protect human life, including the building of battlements or low walls about the roof of one’s home (22:8) to prevent accidental falls, injury and death.

Finally, practical laws and guidelines are given regarding the sanctity and purity of marriage (22:13-30).  Unlike their heathen neighbors, Israelite women were given protections and the right of due process should their purity and testimony be called into question.  Deuteronomy 22 closes with a reminder that incest was an abomination to God and prohibited (22:10).

As a closing observation, you should recognize there are many life principles we follow as a nation and take for granted in society that originate with many of the laws stated in today’s Scripture reading: The sanctity of human life (21:1-9), the equitable treatment of women (21:10-14), caring for a neighbor’s welfare (22:1-4), and the sacredness of all life (22:6).

America has systematically rejected God and the authority of His Word over the course of the last 50 years and we have become a society whose laws are divorced from unalterable sacred principles, leaving us as a nation given to the whims of wicked men.

Isaiah 5:20-21 – “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21  Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Hope Renewed

Friday, November 24, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Zechariah 8-14

Today’s Scripture reading continues the prophecies of Zechariah which we began last week.  Zechariah was a young prophet and a contemporary of the elder prophet Haggai. The two men ministered together in Jerusalem at the time a remnant of the Jews returned to rebuild the temple.

While the focus of Haggai’s prophecies was to encourage the people to finish rebuilding the temple, the prophecies of Zechariah had a far-reaching context, not only applicable to the world of his day, but also the world at the Second Coming of Christ as Messiah and the end of time.

The passages of Scripture assigned to today’s reading consist of seven chapters and are too long for me to do a sufficient job in writing a brief devotional commentary.

In the midst of enjoying family over the holiday, I hope you’ll seek a private time with the Lord and His Word.

With the heart of the shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith