Category Archives: Leadership

Whose Glory Are You Seeking? (John 7-8)

Scripture reading – John 7-8

Today’s Scripture reading is a pivotal moment in our study of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. John 7 and John 8 indicate a change in Christ’s relationship with the religious rulers of His day. They had plotted in secret to arrest Him, and would have killed Him if the opportunity had presented itself. Jesus, however, knowing the hearts of men, “would not walk in Jewry [Judaea]” (7:1) and took care to not fall prematurely into the hands of His enemies, mindful that His “time [was] not yet come” (7:6).

“His brethren” (half-brothers of Jesus, who were sons born of Joseph and Mary), bid Him to go up to the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2-3). They challenged Jesus, “there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly (7:4a). The apostle John would later reflect, For neither did his brethren believe in him” (7:5).

Jesus refused the invitation of His brothers saying, “8Go ye up unto this feast [Feast of the Tabernacles]: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come” (7:7-8).

The “Jews,” meaning the religious rulers and leaders, were awaiting Jesus’ attendance at the Feast of the Tabernacles and began to question, “Where is He?” (7:9-11). The people too, anticipated Jesus would be present at the feast, and there was a contentious debate that arose among them: “Some said, He is a good man [loving; caring; compassionate]: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth [leads astray] the people [i.e. with His doctrine]” (7:12).

Now Jesus followed His brethren covertly to Jerusalem, until He revealed His presence in the Temple where He began to teach (7:14).

The Jewish leaders, knowing Jesus lacked a formal rabbinic education, were stunned by His insight and understanding of the Scriptures and “marveled [at His teachings], saying, How knoweth this man letters [meaning an understanding of the Law and Commandments], having never learned [lacking academic credentials]?” (7:15)

John 7:16-18 16Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine [teaching; instruction] is not mine, but his [God the Father] that sent me. 17If any man will do his will [the will of God], he shall know of the doctrine [teaching; instruction], whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.18He that speaketh [reasons] of himself [speaks of himself and not the One who sent him] seeketh his own glory [seeks his own fame; boasts of himself; seeks the favor of others]: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him [giving glory and honor and praise to God and not seeking his own following], the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.

There are several insights, spiritual truths, and principles we can derive from Jesus’ response to His enemies (John 7:1-18).

For instance, Jesus knew His enemies and was cautious to not fall into the trap they would have set for Him. Knowing even His brethren were not believers, and had rejected Him, Jesus refused to allow the taunts of His family to provoke Him (7:3-8).

A second lesson gives us cause to examine the words, doctrine, and example of the men and women whose teachings and writings we follow (7:16-18). Social media and internet blogs have given platforms and influence to men and women who profess to be bearers of God’s Word, but whose doctrine is not the Truth.

What should a discerning believer look for in the writings and teachings of a teacher or preacher?

1) Whose doctrine are they teaching?

Jesus said, “My doctrine [teaching; instruction] is not mine, but his [God the Father] that sent me” (7:16b). Jesus came to be God the Father’s Ambassador and His works and teachings were faithful and true to the One Who sent Him. Jesus said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38).

Believer, be careful of teachers who take a seed of “truth,” and wrap around it their own reasoning and logic. Beware the teacher who takes a verse, proceeds to spin a web of personal opinions and human reasoning, without context and supporting Scriptural texts.

2) Whose glory are they seeking? What is their motive?

Jesus warned, “18He that speaketh [reasons] of himself [speaks of himself and not the One who sent him] seeketh his own glory [seeks his own fame; boasts of himself; seeks the favor of others]” (7:18a). Christ taught the Truth and performed miracles, not for His glory, but to glorify God the Father. Jesus prayed to God, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4).

False teachers are “glory-seekers.”  They are interested in self-promotion, and seek a following that advances themselves, even at the sacrifice of others. They seek their own glory, and not that of Christ and His Church.

Whose glory are you seeking?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

God Restores Failures and Uses Imperfect People. (Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3)

Daily reading assignment – Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3

Today’s Bible reading assignment consists of three chapters in three of the four Gospels, and is also the first taken from the Gospel of Mark. Having introduced you to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, it is my joy to introduce you to the Gospel penned by John Mark.

Who was John Mark?

Unlike the authors of the other Gospels who were numbered among Christ’s Twelve apostles, John Mark was not a disciple.  The Book of Acts identifies him as a citizen of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).  Some believe he was the man whom Mark identified as “a certain young man” (Mark 14:51), who fled into the night without his robe when Jesus was arrested in the Garden (Mark 14:50-52).

Mark became a traveling companion of Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul) when that dynamic missionary duo set out on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:1-5). Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for John Mark, his journey with Paul and Barnabas became a spiritual crisis and ended abruptly when we read that, “John [i.e. Mark] departing [going away; deserting] from them [Paul and Barnabas] returned [turning his back]to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).

The cause for John Mark’s sudden departure is not revealed. It could have been the hardships of travel; however, I believe it was the ever-present threat of persecution. John Mark reappears in Acts 15 and became a point of conflict and division between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39). That dynamic missionary duo was preparing to depart on their second missions’ trip when we read, “Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 15:37).

Paul, however, “thought it not good [desirable] to take [John Mark], who departed from [quit; deserted]them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work” (15:38).  The dispute over John Mark’s company became so contentious that we read, “they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (15:39-41).

What became of John Mark?

We do not know what transpired in John Mark’s life after he departed with Barnabas and set sail to Cyprus. We do know that he went on to distinguish himself as one of God’s faithful servants, and is the author of the Gospel of Mark!

How did John Mark go from a man with whom the apostle Paul was unwilling to travel, to becoming the author of the second Gospel in our New Testament?

Paul regarded John Mark as a disappointment, however, Barnabas had looked on the young man through the eyes of a mentor, and lovingly restored Mark to ministry.  Perhaps it was this real-life lesson that moved Paul’s heart when he wrote:

Galatians 6:1-2 – “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

I close with a spiritual lesson that we should take from the life of John Mark:

God restores failures and uses imperfect people to do His work.

Remember, God has not called you to be perfect, but He has called you to be faithful!

1 Corinthians 4:22Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

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

Nehemiah: More Than a Cupbearer (Nehemiah 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 1-4

Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to the Book of Nehemiah. Permit me an opportunity to restate the timeline that brings us to Nehemiah 1.

King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah in 606 B.C., and in 586 B.C. Babylon’s army had destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem. Seventy years after Judah was first conquered, the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled when Cyrus, king of Persia, issued an edict in 536 B.C. giving the Jews liberty to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1).

Under the leadership of the prophet Zerubbabel, the Jews began to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1-6). Opposed by their enemies, and discouraged, the building of the Temple languished for many years as the Jews neglected construction on the LORD’S house, and turned to building their homes and planting crops. The Temple was completed around 458 B.C. (Ezra 6).

Some sixty years later, the LORD moved on the heart of a scribe named Ezra, who led a second group of Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 7). Ezra’s task was to teach God’s Law and Commandments, call the people to repent of their sins, and renew worship and sacrifices in the Temple.

The Book of Nehemiah gives us a history of how the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and the challenges and difficulties Nehemiah and the people encountered. The year is around 446 B.C., and Artaxerxes is king of Persia (Nehemiah 1:1).

Today’s devotional commentary is limited to Nehemiah 1.

Nehemiah 1 – Who was Nehemiah? 

“I was the king’s cupbearer” (1:11), and with that simple phrase, Nehemiah introduces himself in a way that belied the office he held as the most trusted servant to the most powerful king in the world.

Living in the king’s palace, Nehemiah’s life was one of wealth and privilege.  He was more than his title implies; the role of the cupbearer was that of a king’s closest aid; his confidant, and counselor.  Artaxerxes, king of Persia, trusted Nehemiah with his life. As the king’s cupbearer, he was charged with guarding the king from assassination attempts, being the first to taste 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 his kinsman, the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem.  When men of Judah came from Jerusalem to the king’s court, Nehemiah eagerly inquired concerning the welfare of his brethren and the state of things in Jerusalem (1:2).

The report left Nehemiah shaken and overwhelmed with grief. (1:3-4).

Some ninety years had passed since Zerubbabel led the first exiles to Judah to rebuild the Temple. Nevertheless, the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt and the suffering of the people was a great reproach to the LORD. Nehemiah was so moved he writes, “I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4).

The balance of chapter 1 is Nehemiah’s record of his prayers to the LORD over the course of days, weeks, and months. Consider the character of Nehemiah’s prayers: With passion and humility, he worshiped the LORD in his prayer (1:5). He prayed for his nation (1:6a) and identified with the personal and corporate sins of his family and people (1:6b). He rehearsed and claimed the covenant promises the LORD had made to Israel (1:8-11).

Closing with a prayer for God to grant Him mercy and favor (1:11), Nehemiah waited four months (2:1) for the LORD to move on the heart of the king to be open to his petition.

James 5:16b – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Consider you ways!” (Haggai 1-2)

Scripture reading – Haggai 1-2

The book of Haggai falls chronologically at the conclusion of Ezra 4 and the commencement of Ezra 5. The dateline of Haggai is, as the opening verse states, “In the second year of Darius the king [king of Persia], in the sixth month, in the first day of the month” (Haggai 1:1). Incredibly, eighteen years had passed since Cyrus, king of Persia, had declared, “The LORD God of heaven…hath charged me to build Him an house (Temple) at Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2), followed by an edict freeing the Jews to return to their homeland (Ezra 1:3).

As is too often seen when great works are undertaken, there was initial enthusiasm as the people erected the altar and then set themselves to the task of clearing the rubble in preparation for laying the foundation for the new Temple. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel (also known by his Babylonian name, Sheshbazzar), who served as governor of Judah, and was of the Davidic line (named in the lineage of Jesus Christ, Matthew 1:12-13), the preparations to lay the Temple foundation were halted when adversaries opposed the work and discouraged the people (Ezra 4).

It was at this time, a time of discouragement, that God raised up two prophets to minister in Judah. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah, both mentioned in Ezra 5:1, were contemporaries in Judah. Though the book of Haggai is only two chapters in length, it carried an important message for that prophet’s generation, “Get to work!”

Haggai 1

Facing opposition to the work on the Temple, the people’s focus and labor moved from rebuilding the Temple to building their own homes.  For ten years, from 530 BC to 520 BC, the Temple was neglected while the people labored in their fields and lived in the comfort of their “ceiled houses” (1:4).  When they were reminded the task of rebuilding the Temple was not finished, the people answered, “The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built’ (1:2).

Does that sentiment remind you of someone you know?  Perhaps even yourself?  Most of us do not reject outright the opportunity to minister and serve the LORD. However, we might often be guilty of procrastination and suggesting by our words and attitude, “the time is not come” (1:2).

The LORD had been longsuffering with His people; however, the time of reckoning had come and He sent His prophet Haggai to rebuke the people for failing to build the Temple.  Haggai admonished the people, “Consider you ways!(1:5, 7), warning the people that the LORD was withholding His blessings from the nation, and their labor in the fields would be futile until the Temple was built (1:6-11).

The problem was not what they had done (building homes for their families and planting crops), but what they had failed to do.

Haggai left no doubt why the people were struggling, laboring much while harvesting so little, and detailed five effects for their failure to build the Temple: Poor harvests; ceaseless hunger; unquenchable thirst, futility in obtaining comfort, and financial distress (1:6). Haggai proclaimed:

Haggai 1:9 – Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.

Godly men that they were, after hearing the Word of the LORD spoken by the prophet, Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God…and the people did fear before the LORD” (1:12).

Because the people responded with humility, the LORD encouraged them saying, “I am with you, saith the LORD” (1:13).

Haggai 1:14 – “And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God,”

Meditate on this: You will want for nothing when God’s purposes and His glory are your priority.

Psalm 84:11 – For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace [favor] and glory [honor]: no good thing [blessing] will he withhold from them that walk uprightly [blameless].

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Overcoming Your Critics! (Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137)

Scripture reading – Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137

Seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar had taken the first Jews captive to Babylon, God had moved on the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and restore the people to their land (Ezra 1:1-2).

Mount Moriah, the place where the Temple was being rebuilt, had been strewn with the rubble of Solomon’s Temple for nearly fifty years. That glorious place, once called the “house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1) and served as a physical reminder of God’s presence among His chosen people; had become a testimony of God’s judgment against Israel for breaking covenant by disobeying God’s Laws and Commandments.

As we come to today’s Scripture reading (Ezra 4-6), we find the first remnant of Jews who had returned to Jerusalem, encountering both disappointment and discouragement. “The ancient men, that had seen the first [Temple],” perhaps remembering the glory of the previous Temple, “wept with a loud voice” (3:12). There were also enemies without who were determined to stop the effort to rebuild the Temple (4:1).

Reminding us only two of the Twelve Tribes of Israel had accepted King Cyrus’ proclamation that they were free to return to their homeland, we read, “the adversaries [enemies; foes] of Judah and Benjamin heard [took notice] that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel” (4:1).

Under the pretense of friendship, non-Israelite enemies who had been resettled in Israel by Assyria, came to Zerubbabel (perhaps identified in Ezra 1:8 by his Babylonian name, “Shesbazzar, the prince of Judah”) and said, “Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither” (4:2).

Evidencing godly wisdom and discernment, Zerubbabel and other leaders of Israel, answered, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us” (4:3).

Undeterred in their opposition, those same enemies continued their antagonism for sixteen long years (Ezra 4:7-23; Haggai 1:1) and “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (4:4).

Ezra 4 reminds us that when God’s people are doing God’s work they will face opposition.  Israel’s enemies employed four methods of discouraging and hindering God’s work.

The first, they suggested Assimilation, an unholy alliance, a partnership that God would not have blessed (4:2-3). Zerubbabel recognized his enemies for who they were, “the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” (4:1)! In his letter to believers in Corinth, the apostle Paul stated the principle Zerubbabel employed: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Aggravation was a second means Israel’s enemies employed in opposing the work on the Temple. Ezra and the leaders of Israel were strong and confident when they first confronted their adversaries (4:3); however, as time passed, “the people of the land weakened [made them weak and feeble] the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled[terrified; paralyze with fear] them in building, 5And hired counsellors [advisers; consultants; conspirators] against them, to frustrate [to cause to cease; bring to an end] their purpose” (4:4-5).

The enemy discouraged Israel with Adjudication, challenging the legality and legitimacy of the work on the Temple (4:6-10).

Fourthly, Israel’s adversaries prepared Accusations: Deception, suggesting the Jews were “building the rebellious and bad city” (4:12); Distortion, attacking the character and integrity of God’s people (4:13); and Deceit, questioning their motives (4:15).

Dear friend, there will always be critics. Some people have a negative, critical outlook on life. They can become a constant source of discouragement and if you allow them, they will hinder your service and God’s work. There are many who are spectators, not participators; they are watchers, and not workers.

Take a moment and reread Ezra 3:12-13 and notice the ones who were weeping as they remembered the past, and those who were shouting for joy and living in the triumph of the moment.

It was the “ancient men” (3:12), the “priests and Levites and chief of the fathers,” who were looking back and weeping. Old friend, memories can be cherished and pleasing; however, they can also turn you into nothing more than an old critic.

I challenge you who are faithfully serving the LORD, Be Not Discouraged!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Daniel: A Model of Godly Character, Integrity and Courage” (Daniel 1-3)

Scripture reading – Daniel 1-3

The Book of Daniel is a prophetic panorama of human history, beginning with the days of Nebuchadnezzar and ancient Babylon and encompassing a prophetic vision of world empires that would follow…Medo-Persians, Greece and Rome.  Daniel’s writing includes prophecies that are for the 21st century reader a footnote in history past and a foretelling of future events that conclude with the Second Coming of Christ. Today’s devotional commentary will be taken from Daniel 1.

Daniel 1

Daniel 1 opens with a straightforward, historical account and one we are familiar with from our earlier study of 2 Kings 24:12-16. The children of Judah are in Babylonian bondage, and the beloved city of Jerusalem, and the Temple will soon be laid waste (2 Kings 25).  The prophet Jeremiah warned Judah’s kings if the people did not repent of their sin and turn to the LORD, His wrath would rise “against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16).   Jeremiah prophesied the captivity in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12) and when those years were “accomplished at Babylon [God] will visit you… causing you to return to this place [the promise land]” (Jeremiah 29:10).

Daniel was probably no more than 13-14 years old when he was taken from his home and transported to Babylon with its strange language and idolatrous culture. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, instituted a plan and chose the best and brightest of Israel’s impressionable youth that they might serve him in the administration of his empire (Daniel 1:8).  Daniel was numbered among those youth who were without blemish, handsome, discerning, cunning, and “understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (1:4).

Daniel soon proved he was not only a gifted young man, but also a child of faith. Three other youth of Judah shared Daniel’s passion for the LORD: “Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7  Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego” (1:6-7). Leading by example and conviction, we read,

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

Daniel purposed: He pledged his heart, and resolved in his character, “he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).

What courage!  What conviction!  What passion!  God was at work and He blessed Daniel and providentially “brought [him] into favour [mercy; kindness; grace] and tender love [to have compassion; pity; i.e. brotherly love] with the prince[chief] of the eunuchs [who were the servants of the king] (1:9).

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

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

I close inviting you to consider four qualities that defined Daniel’s submissive and sensitive heart to authority: He was subordinate in his spirit (1:12); he was sincere in his appeal (1:12); he was Scriptural in his purpose (1:12-13); and he was sensitive in his request (1:13-14).

We would do well to weigh our spirit, manner, and relationship with the authorities in our lives, using Daniel as perfect example of a young man of faith and convictions.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

The Failure of Israel’s Pastors (Ezekiel 34-36)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 34-36

We have seen that Ezekiel was a priest (1:3) whom God called to be prophet to His people of the Babylonian captivity. With the siege of Jerusalem ended, the Temple plundered, and the walls and city of Jerusalem in piles of rubble, the attention of God’s prophet now turned to the failure of the religious leaders of Israel.

Ezekiel 34 – The Tragedy When Spiritual Leaders Fail God’s People

Ezekiel 34 is an indictment of the “shepherds of Israel” (the religious leaders), for their self-righteous, ungracious spirit. Consider the Character (34:1-10), the Conduct (34:16b-18), and the Calamity of the “shepherds of Israel” (34:19-21).

The Corrupt Character of Spiritual Shepherds (34:1-10)

Ezekiel 34:2b – “…Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?”

The shepherds (pastors) of Israel were self-centered consumers. They had put their interests above the needs of the people (34:2). They had saved the best of the sacrifices for themselves, rather than give the LORD the best (34:3). They had eaten the best portions of men, killed the best of the flock, clothed themselves in fine wool, but failed to spiritually feed the flock of God.

The pastors had neglected the needy (34:4a), failed to attend the sick (34:4b), and failed to set right those whose bones were broken (34:4b). When the sheep (people) strayed, they failed to gather them and protect them from wild beasts (heathen invaders) (34:5-6). Instead of leading the people, the pastors had terrorized them “with force [harsh, sharp] and with cruelty [cruel, severe](Ezek. 34:4).

The spiritual shepherds of Israel had neglected the sheep by failing to lead them to green pastures where they might have prospered (Psalm 23; John 10).

The Conduct of the Bad Spiritual Shepherds (34:16b-18)

The shepherds were inconsiderate of the spiritually weak and immature (34:18). The pastors had allowed the strong to “[eat] up the good pasture…tread down [stamped upon] with [their] feet the residue of your pastures” (34:18). The shepherds had neglected the weaker sheep and allowed the stronger to “foul the residue” (34:18b) and make it unfit for the weaker sheep.

The shepherds were also insensitive (34:20. They had allowed spiritual bullies to “thrust with side and with shoulder and “pushed all the diseased [weak and sick] with [their] horns” (34:21).

 The Calamity When Spiritual Shepherds Fail the Sheep (34:19-21)

Israel’s shepherds had failed the people and robbed them of an opportunity to enjoy God’s best. Like sheep neglected by their shepherd, God’s people had been forced to “eat that which [had been] trodden” and “drink that which [had been] fouled with [their] feet” (34:19). The shepherd’s insensitivity to the sheep had resulted in the sheep being scattered (34:21).

I close inviting you to consider the love and passion of the LORD, the Good Shepherd who is a model of grace and forgiveness (34:11-16a).

Like a Good Shepherd, the LORD loved His people and promised, “I will bring them…gather them…to their own land…[and] feed them” (34:13b-14a). The people “lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture…and…lie down…I will seek that which was lost, and bring again…and will bind up…and will strengthen” (Ezek. 34:14-16a).

It comes as no surprise that Jesus Christ’s description of Himself as the Good Shepherd reflects the longing of the LORD we find in Ezekiel 34.

Matthew 18:11 – For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

John 10:11 – I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

Is the LORD Jesus Christ your Shepherd?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith