Category Archives: Law

Are You Blessed? If so, You Will Be Persecuted! (Matthew 5-7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 5-7

Considered as Christ’s inaugural address to His followers, the “Sermon on the Mount” is an exposition of the heart of Christ the King, and a declaration of the character of those who would be citizens in His kingdom.

I do not believe it is an overstatement to declare, that, apart from the Law and Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount embodies some of the greatest truths ever known to man.

The Sermon on the Mount is not the means of salvation, but an exposition of the attitudes and character of believers who are spiritual citizens of the “Kingdom of heaven” (5:3). The sermon is Christ the King’s declaration of His will regarding the actions and attitudes of the citizens of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes

Sitting down on a hillside that overlooked the Sea of Galilee (5:1), Jesus taught the people a series of eight inspiring truths that we identify as the Beatitudes (5:3-12). In essence, the Beatitudes define the character of those who are sincere followers of the LORD Jesus Christ. Each Beatitude begins with the word, “Blessed,” which I suggest is a state of settled joy and contentment; a promise of joy and peace that surpasses one’s circumstances.

The Beatitudes are heavenly attitudes that are not only contradictory to society, they are in direct conflictwith the spirit of the world.

Christ taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3); however, the world says, “believe in yourself.” We read, “Blessed are they that mourn” (5:4); however, the world says, “don’t let them see you weep.”

Christ encouraged His followers, “Blessed are the meek” (5:4); but society advises, “stand up for yourself!” “Thirst for Truth, hunger for righteousness” (5:6) was the example Christ gave His disciples, but the world cheers, “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful,” (5:7); however, society dares, “Do it to them, before they do it to you!” Christ urged, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (5:8), who seek only Him; but the worldly crowd warns, “You only go through life once.”

The world says, “Be a peacekeeper,” and be willing to compromise; however, Christ taught His followers, “Be a peacemaker,” (5:9) and seek to bring others to the Prince of Peace.

Finally, Jesus assured His followers who would find themselves as the object of derision and persecution:

Matthew 5:10–11 – “10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

The righteous face three forms of persecution (5:11).

To be reviled, is to be mocked and have disparaging things said about your character and motive.

The word “persecute” is indicative of personal attacks. Persecution may come as physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual confrontations. Persecution is often relentless and is intended to drive the believer from his home, family, friends, and work. Persecution can come as threats to the believer or his loved ones.

The third form of persecution is verbal: “and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (5:11). The arsenal of this form of persecution comes as lies, innuendoes, and sowing questions on one’s motive or sincerity. As difficult as it may seem (and it is), the attitude of the persecuted is declared in this:

Matthew 5:12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad [jumping and leaping for joy]: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

How can a believer rejoice when he is persecuted? He can rejoice in this confidence: Troubles and trial have their purpose in the providence of God.

James 1:2-4 – “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into [encounter] divers temptations [various sorts of troubles and trials]; [3] Knowing this [understanding], that the trying [proving & testing] of your faith worketh patience [steadfastness]. [4] But let patience have her perfect [complete & thorough] work, that ye may be perfect and entire [without defects], wanting [lacking] nothing.”

As much as persecution may hurt (and it does), a believer must remember that persecution is the training ground for spiritual maturity and broader spiritual opportunities. Paul challenged his spiritual son in the faith: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Believers who are committed to living out the Beatitudes will experience persecution.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

They Would Have Destroyed Him (Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 6)

Scripture reading – Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 6

Today’s Scripture reading entails parallel readings of the same events. Each Gospel account gives us an individual record of the life and ministry of Christ from the perspective of its human author, but as a whole, they evidence the inspiration of the Holy Spirit presenting us with a harmonious view of what appears to be a three-dimensional portrait. Today’s devotional commentary is from Matthew 12:1-21.

Matthew 12

Though the public ministry of Jesus was still in its infancy, nevertheless, the enemies of the LORD were present from the beginning. Performing miracles as a sign that He was the long-awaited Messiah foretold by the prophets of Israel, Jesus was enjoying a great following of the people. There was, however, antagonists who viewed Him as a threat to their position and influence among the people.

The Pharisees were Christ’s principal adversaries, and they would plot to discredit and destroy Him throughout His earthly ministry, up to His divine appointment with the Cross. It was their antagonism and hatred for Jesus that was the catalyst of the confrontation we find in Matthew 12.

The LORD’s fourth commandment to Israel, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), was the issue the Pharisees raised against Jesus when they accused Him and His disciples of breaking the Law (12:1-2) according to their standards. Passing through a farmer’s field enroute to the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples were hungry and “began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat” (12:1). Ever looking for an occasion to accuse Jesus of wrong doing, the Pharisees seized upon the opportunity to accuse His disciples of breaking the Sabbath Day commandment based on their oral tradition.

Rather than bow to his critics, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the issue was not the fourth commandment, but their stringent interpretation of the Sabbath Day commandment.  The fourth commandment did not prohibit a man from providing for his physical hunger (after all, David had taken bread from the Temple and ate that which was dedicated to God, 12:3-4), and the priests ministered on sabbath days as their service to the LORD, (12:5-6) as outlined in the Levitical standards in the Torah.

Entering into the synagogue on the same day, Jesus encountered a man whose hand was paralyzed (12:9-10). Rather than show compassion for the man, the Pharisees demanded of Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? That they might accuse him” (12:10b).

Citing a common practice in that rural culture, Jesus demanded of His critics, would you not save a sheep that had fallen into a pit on the sabbath? Is a man not better than a sheep? (12:11-12) Jesus then declared, “it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (12:12b). He then spoke to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thine hand,” and his hand was healed completely (12:13).

And how did the enemies of Jesus respond not only to His teaching, He being “LORD even of the Sabbath” (12:8), but also the healing of the man with the paralyzed hand? (12:13)

Matthew 12:1414Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. (note – Mark 3:5-6; Luke 6:11)

Oh, the hypocrisy! On one hand they demanded their interpretation of the Sabbath Law should usurp the will of God; and in the other they plotted to destroy Jesus and violate the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

How did Jesus respond to the wicked, malicious intent of His enemies? He “withdrew himself” from them (12:15).

I have found the decision to withdraw oneself is a difficult one, especially when an enemy is unrelenting in his plot to “destroy” you. The manner of Christ is one we should emulate, after all, the Spirit of God is gentle, not brazen.

Romans 12:18–19 – “18If it be possible [knowing is not always possible], as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath [God’s anger]: for it is written, Vengeance is mine (Deuteronomy 32:35); I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Note from the author: For those following the chronological Scripture reading schedule, remember that some events in the Gospel accounts are not in chronological order. Also, chapter and verse numbers have been added by editors to assist us in studying the Scriptures, but sometimes those helpful numbers break up the flow of events. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 5-7; however, the Gospel of Luke records a portion of that same sermon in Luke 6:20-49. None of those facts take away from the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures; however, I hope my explanation might give you some rationale for the reading schedule.

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

“He Knew What Was in Man” (John 2-4)

Scripture Reading – John 2-4

Our chronological reading of the Scriptures continues today with the Gospel of John 2-4. The focus of today’s devotional commentary is John 2.

John 2

Our Scripture reading begins with a statement that connects us with recent events in the previous chapter: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there” (John 2:1).

Jesus had arrived in Cana of Galilee and joined His mother Mary. Together they attended a wedding celebration (2:1), one to which Jesus and His disciples were invited (2:2). The wedding feast was the setting for Jesus’ first public miracle when He turned water into wine (2:1-11), and in doing so “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (2:11). With this first miracle, the faith of the disciples grew from Philip’s confession that Jesus was “the son of Joseph” (1:45), to them seeing His miracle and believing He was the Messiah (2:11).

Jesus had then gone up to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed (2:13-23). As He entered the Temple, He was appalled at the sight of the corruption He found there. The Temple had become a house of commercialism and exploitation (2:14) of those who came there to worship.

With righteous indignation, Jesus took in hand a “scourge of small cords” (2:15a), and drove them all out of the Temple, the sheep and oxen, and over turned the tables of the money changers (2:15b). The commotion was so great, that Temple officials demanded, “What sign [i.e. sign of authority] shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” (2:18) In other words, what right do you have to take upon yourself the purging of this Temple.

The LORD answered with a sign, but not one that would be recognized until His death, burial, and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). The Jews were incredulous by the absurdity of one who could raise up the Temple in three days, citing the fact the edifice where they worshipped had taken forty-six years to build (2:20).

Interjecting His own explanation, the apostle John confessed that neither He nor the disciples realized Jesus was speaking of His own bodily resurrection, “the Temple of His body” (2:21-22).

Jesus began to perform miracles in Jerusalem and there were “many who believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did” (2:23). Jesus, however, “did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (2:24-25). You see, there were many who believed Jesus, for they had observed His miracles; however, Jesus knew their hearts, and He did not believe in them (2:24-25).

God knows your heart better than you know yourself!

The prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The LORD declared to Jeremiah, “I the LORD search the heart, try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).

The LORD admonished His prophet Samuel, “for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What is in your heart?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Passing the Test: Overcoming Temptation (Matthew 4; Luke 4-5)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 4; Luke 4-5

Matthew 4 – Overcoming Temptation

Having been baptized by John the Baptist, and confirmed by the voice of God the Father, Who said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (3:17), we read: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness [desert] to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1)

Jesus was isolated in the wilderness for the next forty days where He was “tempted,” meaning tried and tested, by the devil (4:2-11).  Notice that Jesus faced three tests or temptations.

The first test was an attempt by the devil to tempt Jesus to question God’s providential care for His Son. The devil tempted Jesus to satisfy His hunger by performing a miracle and turning stones to bread, apart from God’s will (4:3-4). Jesus answered the temptation with Scriptures saying, “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The second temptation questioned the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God. Daring to provoke sinful pride in Jesus, the devil demanded, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down” (4:6). Notice that the devil quoted Scripture saying, “for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11, 12). Like sinners who know enough Scripture to be a stumbling stone to others, the devil left out the phrase, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all Thy ways” (Ps. 91:11b).

Jesus once again answered the devil’s temptation, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God.”

The devil came to Jesus a third and final time, and endeavored to entice Him, offering Him the “kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (4:8). Jesus answered the temptation, remembering the Law, “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve” (Deuteronomy 10:20a).

I close with a couple of insights. The first, notice the devil tempted Jesus with things that were common: Hunger and physical desires (4:3-4), pride, by distorting the Scriptures (4:6), and lusts for possessions (4:8). When you face temptations, you may well find they rise from the mundane choices of every day life.

Finally, notice that a knowledge of Scripture and an ability to quote relevant verses is the way to overcome temptation. Jesus responded to each temptation with a Bible principle founded upon the Law and Commandments.

I close with an exhortation you and I would do well to heed:

Psalm 119:9–119Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11Thy word have I hid in mine heart, That I might not sin against thee.

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

The Fifth Vision of Zechariah: A Flying Scroll (Zechariah 5-9)

Daily reading assignment – Zechariah 5-9

Today’s Scripture reading is Zechariah 5-9, and finds us in the midst of eight visions that came to the prophet Zechariah in the night. We have already noted the first five of the eight visions.

The first vision was of horsemen among a grove of myrtle trees (1:7-17). The second vision was of “four horns,” each representing four world powers (1:18-21). The third vision was of a man who was surveying the city of Jerusalem” (2:1-13). A fourth vision was of the high priest Joshua who was seen wearing “filthy garments” and was given a “change of raiment” (3:1-10), symbolic of Israel repenting, being cleansed of her sin and restored. The fifth vision was of a Menorah, golden lampstand (“candlestick of gold”) that presented “seven lamps” supplied with oil by “two olive trees” (4:1-14).

Zechariah 5 presents us with two visions of the eight visions recorded by Zechariah. The sixth vision is described as a “flying roll” (5:1).  The seventh vision was of a woman in “an ephah [i.e. basket] that goeth forth” (5:5).  The eighth and last nightly vision of Zechariah was of “four chariots” pulled by horses (6:1-3). The four horse drawn chariots represented four angels of judgment (described as “the four spirits of the heavens” (6:5).

I will limit the focus of today’s devotional to the sixth vision found in Zechariah 5:1-4.

The Sixth Vision (5:1-4)

Zechariah’s sixth vision was of “a flying roll,” or perhaps more precisely, a flying scroll (5:1). Zechariah describes his conversation with a man, whom we have already identified as the “angel of the LORD” (1:11; 2:3; 3:6; 4:1; 5:5), and whom I believe was a pre-incarnate appearance of the LORD Jesus Christ).

The angel asked, “What seest thou?” (5:2). Zechariah then described a “flying roll,” giving its dimensions (5:3); however, he did not know its meaning. The angel then revealed to Zechariah that the scroll was a symbol of the Law of God and was inscribed with two commandments:  The third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7), and the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”(Exodus 20:15).

I am unsure why only two commandments were inscribed on the “flying roll;” however, it is certain that the Commandments were a reminder to Zechariah: Break the Law of God and you will surely “be cut off” (5:3, 4).

Entering the house as a “flying roll,” the Law remained “in the midst of [the] house” (5:4).  A reminder that, though we might dismiss the weight of the Law of God, we cannot dismiss its judgment.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith