Category Archives: Politics

The Fury and Death of Herod, Enemy of God (Acts 12; Acts 13)

Scripture reading – Acts 12; Acts 13

Acts 12 begins with the phrase, “about that time,” and gives us cause to consider “the time” that was the setting for today’s devotional. Putting our Scripture reading in its historical context, it was “the time” that followed Peter learning the Gospel was to be preached to all men, Jew and Gentile (Acts 10:1-48). Peter had given a defense of his doctrine before the believers of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18), and they “glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18).

The church in Jerusalem commissioned and “sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch” (11:22). The work was so great that Barnabas determined to travel to Tarsus, and invite Saul to minister with him in Antioch (11:25-26). It was also at the time when a believer named Agabus prophesied the world would experience a “great dearth” (a time of famine, 11:28). Exercising love and compassion for their brethren in Jerusalem, the believers in Antioch “determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea,” and “every man [gave] according to his ability” (11:29). Barnabas and Saul were sent with an offering for believers in Jerusalem (11:30).

Acts 12

Perhaps for political reasons, and to distract the people from the famine, king Herod (the grandson of Herod the Great), began a systematic pattern of persecuting the church. The king “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (making him the first of the apostles to be martyred, 12:2). When he realized his actions “pleased the Jews” (12:3), he determined “to take Peter” and would have put him to death had God not intervened (12:3-4).

With Peter in prison, the believers of the church began to pray “without ceasing” (12:5). While they prayed, “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison” (12:6). What faith, and confidence Peter had in God’s care and providences. Then, God miraculously intervened, and sent an angel who struck Peter in his side to awaken him, and commanded him, “Arise up quickly” (12:7). So deep was his sleep, the angel instructed him to put on his shoes and his garments. Even then, Peter believed it wasn’t so, and he was having a vision (12:8-9).

Peter was delivered from the prison by the angel, and then made his way through the streets to where believers were gathered to pray at the home of Mary, whose son was named “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12). (This is the same John Mark who would be the author of the Gospel of Mark).

Arriving at the house, Peter knocked and a young lady named Rhoda, answered the door (12:13). Hearing and recognizing his voice, Rhoda was so excited she neglected opening the door for Peter to enter the house (12:14). She told the believers Peter was outside the gate, but they accused her of being “mad” (literally out of her head or mind, 12:14). Some suggested she had seen Peter’s angel, though Peter continued to knock (12:16).

Finally opening the door, the believers rejoiced to find Peter standing before them! (12:16) He quieted their enthusiasm, and explained how he had been delivered from the prison (12:17). He then instructed them to send a message to “James, and to the brethren” (this is probably James, the half-brother of Jesus, and the son of Joseph and Mary, 12:17b). By this time, James appears to be the leader of the believers in the church in Jerusalem. Wisely, Peter departed from Jerusalem, “and went into another place” (12:17c).

Herod’s Fury and Death (12:18-23)

When it was day, the soldiers and keepers of the prison discovered Peter was missing (12:18). Those who slept in his cell, and those who stood guard at the door of the prison, had no explanation for Peter’s absence (12:19). Herod then ordered the execution of those men who failed to keep Peter prisoner (12:19).

The king then departed for Caesarea (a city on the Mediterranean Sea), and remained there (12:19b). Proud of his position and power, the king set a day of pageantry for himself, and “arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them” (12:21). The people flattered the foolish king, “saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man” (12:22). Herod accepted their blasphemy, and even as they praised him, an “angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (12:23). Imagine the horror of seeing the king struck down, and worms consuming him till he was dead! (12:23).

Closing thoughts (12:24-25) – While the persecution of believers increased, so did the reach of the “Word of God,” which increased more and more (12:24). Acts 12 concluded with Barnabas and Saul departing Jerusalem and returning to Antioch, and this time in the company of “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12, 25).

Though today’s Scripture reading continues with Acts 13, and the historical record of the beginning of modern missions, I must leave that study for another time.

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“Behold the Man!” (John 18; John 19)

Scripture reading – John 18; John 19

Our devotional readings in the Synoptic Gospels have followed Christ from His last supper (Passover) with the disciples, through Judas’ betrayal and His arrest (Matthew 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-49). Each human author brought his own perspective, and yet all are in harmony as they recount the trials that followed Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:57-27:25; Mark 14:53-15; Luke 22:54-25).

John 18 – Jesus Betrayed, Arrested, and Tried

In his Gospel, the apostle John rendered an eyewitness account of Christ’s betrayal by Judas, and arrest (18:1-11). Jesus had warned Peter, he would deny Him three times before the crowing of a rooster announced the morning sunrise (13:36-38). Tragically, Peter fulfilled that prophecy (18:15-18, 25-27), and when he heard the cock crow, he went out and “wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75; Luke 22:62).

Altogether, Jesus faced six trails before He was condemned to be crucified. The initial trials occurred while it was yet dark, with Annas, the former high priest presiding over the first (18:12-14). John did not record the second trial before the high priest Caiaphas, nor the trial before the Sanhedrin (though all were agreed Jesus must die). John picked up the narrative of Jesus’ trials with Jesus being led “from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment” (18:28).

Because it was the Passover, the religious leaders refused to enter Pilate’s Hall, lest they be ceremonially defiled (of course, those same hypocrites were plotting to stain their hands with Christ’s blood, 18:28). Pilate committed several legal maneuvers in an attempt to put a distance between himself, and the Jews’ demands that Jesus, an innocent man be put to death. He heard the accusations, nevertheless, judged Jesus had committed no crime that demanded His death (18:29-40).

When Pilate agreed to free a prisoner in honor of the Passover, he asked, “will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” (18:39) Instead of Christ, the people were stirred by the chief priests to say, “Not this man [Christ], but Barabbas” (18:40). John wrote, “Now Barabbas was a robber” (18:40). So, Barabbas, an insurrectionist, murderer and robber, was set free as the Jews demanded.

John 19 – Jesus Scourged, Scorned, and Crucified

Hoping to appease the murderous Jews, Pilate ordered Jesus be scourged by his solders, who then “platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head” (19:1-2). “They put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands” (19:2b-3). Pilate declared to the mob, “I find no fault in him” (19:4), and then brought “Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” (19:5)

The sight of Jesus beaten, and bloodied did not dissuade the crowd’s thirst for innocent blood. The chief priests and Sanhedrin officers cried out the more, “Crucify him, crucify him” (19:6). Hoping to devoid himself of responsibility for crucifying Jesus, “Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him” (19:6). Hypocritically, the Jews asserted, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (19:7).

Pilate was troubled when he heard Jesus had “made Himself the Son of God” (19:7). He questioned Jesus, saying, “Whence art thou?” (19:12) Implying, who are you? From where have you come?

When Jesus did not answer, Pilate was offended, and declared, “knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (19:10) Then, Jesus rebuked Pilate, and asserted the sovereignty of God, and said to him, “Thou couldest have no power [no right; no authority] at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (19:11).

Closing thoughts (19:14-42) – Convinced Jesus was innocent, Pilate exhausted every means to release Jesus, until he succumbed to the pressure of the mob. When he declared to the people, “Behold your King!” (19:14), they answered, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him” (19:15).

The scene at the Cross, and its fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 53) will be addressed at another time. For now, I close with a simple observation: Christ died on the cross that was intended to be Barabbas’ place of execution. Pilate, representing civil authority and the power to give or take life, judged Jesus was innocent, and by right should have been set free. Tragically, the Roman procurator made the fateful decision to not only crucify an innocent man, but sealed the fate of his own soul.

By dying on a cross reserved for a murderer, Jesus completed the portrait of a sinless, substitutionary sacrifice. He was innocent, and yet, He died not only in the place of Barabbas, but because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), He died for the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Is He your Savior? (Romans 10:13)

 * You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Nehemiah: Overcoming Faith (Nehemiah 2)

Scripture reading – Nehemiah 2

Having heard the sad state of his countrymen (1:2-3), Nehemiah did the one thing he could do…He “fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (1:4). Because he was “the king’s cupbearer” (1:11), he was uniquely and providentially in a position to be used of God. So, Nehemiah prayed, “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (1:11).

We have seen Nehemiah as a man of prayer in chapter 1 (1:4-11), and in Nehemiah 2 we see him in his role as the cupbearer of Artaxerxes, king of Persia (2:1). Because assassination was an ever-present threat for a king, his wine and meals were served only by his most loyal and trusted servant. Such was the nature and character of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 2

Four months passed, after he received news from Jerusalem. While he fasted and prayed in private, Nehemiah continued to fulfill his role as the king’s cupbearer. One day, however, his physical bearing betrayed his sorrow and the king asked, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (2:2). Recalling the authority of ancient oriental kings was absolute, and the power of life and death rested in their hands, Nehemiah confessed, “I was very sore afraid” (2:2b).

His heart unmasked by his sorrow, Nehemiah explained his sad countenance to the king, saying, “Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” (2:3) The king’s heart was stirred by Nehemiah’s answer, and Artaxerxes asked him, “For what dost thou make request?” (2:4a).

Initiation (2:4-10)

With a silent prayer for God’s favor (2:4b), Nehemiah entreated the king send him to Judah to rebuild the city of Jerusalem (2:5). The king enquired how long he would be away (Nehemiah’s answer is not recorded, but Nehemiah 5:14 reveals he was away from the king’s court for 12 years). Observing the queen was sitting beside the king (perhaps indicating her influence as well, 2:6a), Nehemiah requested letters that would give him safe passage to Judah (2:7), and authority to acquire materials needed to rebuild the city (2:8).

With God’s favor, Nehemiah departed for Jerusalem with “the king’s letters” (2:9), and a military escort. One can imagine the stir among the citizens of Jerusalem when the king’s cup bearer arrived with the “captains of the army and horsemen” (2:9b). Yet, there were two men, “Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite” (2:10) that were distressed by the news that a man had come “to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (2:10).

Investigation (2:11-16)

After arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah rested for three days (2:11). Then, under the cover of darkness, and accompanied by a few men (for he had not disclosed to any the purpose of his journey), Nehemiah surveyed the state of the city. Though nearly a century and a half had passed since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, Nehemiah found the walls of the city broken down, and the gates consumed by fire (2:13; 2 Kings 25). In fact, the debris from the walls of the city was so laid waste Nehemiah could find “no place for the beast that was under [him] to pass” (2:14). After surveying the city, Nehemiah returned to his dwelling and did not disclose to any where he had gone, or why he was come to Jerusalem (2:15-16).

Identification (2:17-18)

Evidencing the quality of a great leader, Nehemiah identified with the people, saying, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (2:17). He shared how God had favored him, and the king’s support for rebuilding the city. Hope was renewed, and the people said, “Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work” (2:18).

Closing thoughts (2:19-20) – Rebuilding Jerusalem would not be without its challenges or enemies. “Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian,” became a constant source of discouragement (2:19). When they heard the plan to rebuild the city, those men taunted and scorned Nehemiah and the Jews, and accused them of rebelling “against the king” (2:19).

Looking to the LORD as his shield and strength, Nehemiah answered his enemies, and said, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us” (2:20).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Nehemiah: More Than a Cupbearer (Nehemiah 1)

Scripture reading – Ezra 10; Nehemiah 1

* Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to the Book of Nehemiah. This is the second of two devotionals for today.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Judah in 606 B.C., and destroyed the Temple and city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Seventy years later (536 BC), Cyrus, king of Persia, issued an edict and gave the Jews liberty to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1). Under Zerubbabel’s leadership, the Jews rebuilt and finished the Temple around 458 BC (Ezra 6). Sixty years after the Temple was dedicated, a second group of exiles from Babylon entered the land, led by Ezra whose task was to teach God’s Law and Commandments. Finding their brethren had broken God’s law and taken women from the heathen nations as their wives (Deuteronomy 7:1-3), Ezra called on the people to repent of their sins, and put away their heathen wives and children born to them (Ezra 7-10).

The Book of Nehemiah is the history of how the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and a record of the challenges and difficulties Nehemiah and the people encountered. Artaxerxes I was king of Persia (Nehemiah 1:1; 2:1), and the Scriptures set the events as occurring in the 20th year of his reign, around 446 BC, and some 13 years after Ezra’s departure for Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6).

Nehemiah 1Nehemiah, The King’s Cupbearer

“I was the king’s cupbearer” (1:11), and with that simple phrase, Nehemiah introduced himself in a way that revealed 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.  The role of the cupbearer was that of the 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 the 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 News from Jerusalem left Nehemiah Shaken and Overwhelmed with grief. (1:3-4).

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).

Closing thoughts – The balance of Nehemiah 1 is a record of his prayers to the LORD over the course of days, weeks, and months. Consider Nehemiah’s passion and humility as he prayed and worshiped the LORD (1:5). He not only prayed for his people (1:6a), he also identified with them and confessed their sins (1:6-7). He rehearsed and claimed the covenant promises the LORD had made to Israel (1:8-11), and called upon the LORD to “grant him mercy [and favor] in the sight” of the king. (1:11).

We will see in our next devotional how Nehemiah prayed, and waited four months for the LORD to move on the heart of the king (2:1).

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Mordecai: A Model of Spiritual Integrity (Esther 9-10)

Scripture reading – Esther 9; Esther 10

Our study of the Book of Esther closes with a stunning example of God’s sovereignty overriding the plots and schemes of the wicked. Briefly, Esther 7 concluded with Haman, the enemy of God’s people being hanged from the “gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai” (7:10). Esther 8 recorded a remarkable turn of events as Esther the queen was bequeathed “the house of Haman the Jews’ enemy” (8:1). She in turn promoted Mordecai “over the house of Haman” (8:2).

Nevertheless, the edict inscribed by Haman that determined the death of all the Jews, hung over Esther and her people. Once again, the queen appealed to the king “and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews” (8:3).

Because the “Law of the Medes and Persians” made it impossible for the king to rescind his royal edict, Ahasuerus determined to grant the Jews favor to defend themselves and their households (8:7-11).

The new edict was sent throughout the kingdom by couriers, and stated the Jews had authority to put to death any who purposed to harm them or their households (8:12-14). The death of Haman, and the promotion of Mordecai in his place, gave cause for the citizens of Shushan to rejoice (8:15-16), and fear took hold of any who might seek to harm the Jews (8:17).

Esther 9

On the day Haman determined the genocide of the Jews, the king’s new edict took effect, and thousands were slain who determined to harm them and their households (9:1). Gathering together as one, the Persians feared the Jews (9:2), and Mordecai was feared by all the leaders, for he had become powerful in Persia and “waxed greater and greater” (9:4).

All who meant to harm the Jews were slain, including 500 men within the palace, and the tens sons of Haman were slain and then hanged on their father’s gallows (9:7-14). On the day after the initial attack, 300 Persians were slain in Shushan (9:12-15), in addition, another 75,000 men of Persia were slain, as the Jews “gathered themselves together…and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey” (9:16).

Celebrating victory over their adversaries, a perpetual feast was established for the Jews known as the “Feast Days of Purim” (“pur” meaning the “lot” that was cast). To this day, those who keep the Feasts of the Lord, celebrate the “Feast of Purim,” which coincides with the date Haman’s decree was to take effect (“the thirteenth day of the month Adar,” 9:17), and continues to the fourteenth and fifteenth day of the same month (9:18-21).

Closing thoughts – The Feast of Purim serves not only as a lasting memorial, but also as a means of teaching children this great story of God’s loving care of His people. The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue on the 13th and 14th days of the feast, and each time Haman’s name is mentioned, the congregation cries out, “May his name be accursed” or “May his name be erased.”

Esther 10 – We have seen how the LORD promoted a Jewish maiden (Esther) to the pinnacle of power in the Persian empire, and used her influence as queen to preserve her people from genocide. Yet, the closing verses of the Book of Esther do not focus on Esther, but on Mordecai (10:1-3). In contrast to wicked ways of Haman (whose focus was his own self-promotion), we find Mordecai faithfully serving “next unto king Ahasuerus…[and] seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed” (10:3).

Every believer should be inspired by Mordecai’s integrity and devotion to the LORD.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Plots of the Wicked Pave the Way to Their Demise (Esther 7; Esther 8)

Scripture reading – Esther 7; Esther 8

We continue our study in the Book of Esther, and find Haman, the adversary of the Jews, riding an emotional roller coaster.  His wicked schemes have periled not only the Jews (Esther 3), but unknowingly the queen herself (Esther 4). Learning the fate of her people and Mordecai whom she loved as a father (4:7-8), Queen Esther set her heart to seek the king’s favor for her people, and risked her life with the resolve, “if I perish, I perish” (4:16).

King Ahasuerus received his queen, and questioned her saying, “What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom” (5:3). Revealing she was more than a woman of grace and beauty, Esther demonstrated intelligence and discretion by not declaring her purpose. Instead, she requested the liberty of inviting the king and Haman to a banquet she had “prepared for him” (5:4). Haman, as foolish as he was proud, did not recognize the trap being set for him (5:5).

Esther deferred to reveal her ultimate petition to the king, but instead requested a second banquet for the king and Haman (5:6-8). Departing the meal, Haman came upon Mordecai who refused to bow and acknowledge the wicked man (5:9-10). Returning home, Haman boasted in the wealth and honors bestowed on him; however, he was consumed by Mordecai’s unwillingness to honor him (5:11-13). Following the counsel of his wife and friends, Haman commanded the construction of a 75-foot-tall gallows, and declared he would “speak…unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon” (5:14).

In a twist of irony, rather than a hanging, Haman found himself giving honor to Mordecai, leading him on horseback through the streets of Shushan, announcing to all the king had taken delight in Mordecai (6:1-11). Humiliated, Haman returned home, and told his wife and friends his sorry state of affairs. Yet, his story was interrupted as the king’s servants “hasted to bring Haman unto the banquet that Esther had prepared” (6:14).

Esther 7 – The Tragedy of Folly

One can only wonder what thoughts raced through Haman’s heart as he began that day honoring Mordecai before the people of the capital city. No doubt, he had better expectations upon sitting down for a second banquet with the king and his queen (7:1).

King Ahasuerus had not forgotten Esther’s promise to reveal her request, and once again asked, “What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom” (7:2).

Esther’s Request (7:3-5)

Esther commenced her request with a plea for mercy and grace, saying, “If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request” (7:3). She then declared the thing that troubled her soul, saying, “For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage” (7:4).

Taken aback by Esther’s declaration (for she had never revealed she was of Jewish lineage), the king asked, “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” (7:5).

Haman Exposed (7:6-10)

Then Esther spared no words as she boldly declared how Haman, the king’s own right hand, was her adversary, and the enemy of her people (7:6). The queen’s words left Haman aghast, for he realized his self-promoting plots, and evil schemes had become his undoing (7:6b).

Angered by Esther’s accusation, the king rose abruptly from the banquet and “went into the palace garden” (7:7). Haman, desperate to save himself, “stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king” (7:7). When the king returned from the palace gardens, he found “Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was” (7:8a). Poor, wicked Haman could neither do or say anything to save himself.

We find there were many against Haman, for even the king’s servants were ready to see that wicked usurper suffer for his misdeeds. “Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon” (7:9). “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified” (7:10).

Closing thoughts – The sovereignty of God in the affairs of men is the great lesson we take from our study. Haman’s scheme to annihilate the Jews was not only thwarted, but he fell victim to the gallows he had constructed on which to hang Mordecai (7:7-10). Haman was like many self-promoters who plot, plan and scheme their way to the pinnacle of power, only to find they have laid the path of their own ruin and demise.

Principle – Wise men comprehend how none are beyond the reach of God’s sovereign purpose and will. For “the king’s heart is in the hand [power; rule; authority; under dominion] of the LORD, as the rivers [streams] of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will [pleasure; desire; favor]” (Proverbs 21:1).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“If I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4; Esther 5)

Scripture reading – Esther 4; Esther 5

We continue our chronological study of the Bible with today’s Scriptures reading. Esther 4 and 5. Our prior study pitted a wicked usurper named Haman, an Amalekite living in Persia (3:1), against Mordecai (a godly, influential man of Jewish descent, 2:5-6). Providentially, it was this same Mordecai whom God chose to adopt, raise, and prepare Esther to be queen of Persia (2:7-11).

Haman, a proud and vengeful man, was promoted by king Ahasuerus to serve second to him over Persia (3:1). Though the king decreed for all his servants to bow and reverence Haman, Mordecai, a man of spiritual integrity, “bowed not, nor did [Haman] reverence” (3:2).

Haman was enraged, and not only despised Mordecai, he determined to kill all the Jews (3:6). Courting the favor of the king that might seek to avenge the slight he suffered, Haman convinced Ahasuerus the Jews were a danger to his kingdom (3:8). Lacking discernment, the king sealed an edict penned by Haman, setting the day for the annihilation of the Jews, and the plundering of their possessions. Copies of the king’s death decree were taken by couriers, and apart from divine intervention, all Jews would be killed (3:13-15).

Esther 4

Mordecai’s Grief (4:1-3)

Receiving news of the king’s decree, Mordecai despaired, realizing his refusal to bow to Haman was the catalyst for the evil that was sworn against his people. Overcome with sorrow too great to be concealed, Mordecai rent his clothes, put on rough sackcloth, and heaped ashes on his head (4:1b). He cried and wailed in the king’s gate (4:2), for he understood all was lost without God’s intervention. News of Mordecai’s public display of grief spread until “there was great morning among the Jews” (4:3).

Esther’s Distress (4:4-14)

Queen Esther, sheltered in the safety of the royal palace, learned of Mordecai’s distress and sent him new clothes which he refused (4:4).  When she sought to know the cause of the great mourning among the Jews, she was sent a copy of the king’s edict (4:5-8), and a challenge from Mordecai: She must “go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people” (4:8).

Mordecai’s challenge to Esther was a crisis of faith, for to enter the king’s court uninvited, would be at the risk of one’s life (4:11). Mordecai warned Esther, her throne would not spare her life when her Jewish ancestry was divulged (4:12-14).  Giving testimony to divine providence, Mordecai appealed to Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews…who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13-14)

Esther’s Courageous Decision (4:15-17)

Heeding Mordecai’s counsel, Esther requested, “fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day” (4:15-16a). Notice also the profound influence Esther’s testimony was in the palace, for her own attendants (“maidens”) would also fast and pray, as she set her heart to risk her life by going to the king. With the words, “if I perish, I perish” (4:16b), Esther prepared her heart to face the king and her fate.

Esther 5 – A Courageous Queen

Esther’s Daring, and the King’s Devotion (5:1-8)

Risking her life, for not even the queen was allowed to enter the king’s court without his invitation, Esther came before the king (5:1). Seeing his queen, Ahasuerus greeted her and invited her to approach his throne (5:2a). In the providence of the LORD, the king extended his sceptre to Esther and offered to grant her whatsoever she desired (5:1-3).

As wise as she was beautiful, Esther set in motion her plan to save her people. She requested the king would summon Haman for a private dinner with she and the king (5:4-8). Haman gleefully accepted the invitation for a private dinner with the king and queen (5:5, 9). Esther, knowing the trap for Haman was not yet ready, delayed her petition to the king, and requested a second dinner with the two men (5:6-8).

Haman, A Proud Fool (5:9-14)

Blinded by pride, Haman left the dinner “with a glad heart,” until he came to the king’s gate and Mordecai refused to stand up or greet him (5:9).

Returning home, Haman boasted to his wife and friends how he had been honored (5:10-12), and dined with the king and queen (5:12). Still, it was Mordecai’s refusal to acknowledge or revere him that burned in his soul (5:13). Rather than caution him, his wife and friends encouraged Haman to construct a great gallows (one that would stand 75 feet tall), upon which Mordecai might be hanged (5:14).

Closing thoughts: God might have chosen any means to save His people: however, Mordecai believed the LORD chose Esther “for such a time” (4:14). Confident in God’s sovereignty, he believed the LORD would providentially save His people, but it would require Esther to trust the LORD and risk all.

Closing challengeGod blesses and promotes us that we might serve Him. Mordecai warned Esther, should she fail to serve the LORD, He would turn to another and she and her household would be destroyed (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 © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

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

Scripture reading – Daniel 5; Daniel 6

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

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

Daniel 5 – The Fall of Babylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Judgment of the Nations (Joel 3)

Scripture reading – Joel 3

Today’s Scripture reading marks the end of the Book of Joel (only three chapters long), and an introduction to the prophetic Book of Daniel. This devotional will conclude our study of Joel. A second devotional will follow, and serve as the introduction to the Book of Daniel.

I believe this final section of our study actually began with the closing verses of Joel 2. In its immediate context, the prophecies of Joel were given as the Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah recorded how the LORD intervened for the city, and sent His angel who smote 185,000 soldiers (Isaiah 37:36). King Sennacherib had been forced to retreat to his homeland, where he was later assassinated by his sons (Isaiah 37:33-38).

The Day of the LORD is the prophetic day of God’s judgment, when He will take vengeance on those nations that abused Israel and Judah. With the assurance of His perpetual presence “in the midst,” Israel would know Him as “the LORD your God,” and the day would come when Israel would “never be ashamed” (2:27).

In my opinion, the “last days” began with Christ’s earthly ministry, and the prophecy of the outpouring of His Spirit was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (2:28-30; Acts 2:16-20). Nevertheless, the events recorded in the closing verses of Joel 2 and Joel 3, will not be fulfilled until the close of the Tribulation, and will mark the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.

Joel 3 – The Judgment of the Gentile Nations

A Day of Reckoning for the Nations (3:1-2)

Joel 3:1 was partly fulfilled when the LORD moved on the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to grant the Jews liberty to return to their homeland where they would rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1-3). Yet, the final fulfillment of Joel 3 will not come to pass until the close of the Tribulation. The LORD promised He will one day gather His people from the nations (3:1), and exercise judgment on the Gentile nations for their sins against Him and His people (3:2).

Enumeration of the Sins of the Gentiles (3:3-6)

The nations of the earth have forever been at war with God and His people, yet, the sins of some nation have been so egregious, they are specifically named for judgment: Tyre, Zidon, the nations of Palestine (3:4), Egypt, and Sodom (3:19).

The sins committed against God’s people are an offense to God, and He judged the Gentile nations guilty. Tyre, Zidon, the nations of Palestine, Egypt, and Sodom had scattered His chosen people with their persecutions, and parted the land He gave as an inheritance to Israel (3:2c). Those nations had enslaved the Jews (3:3a, 6), trafficked boys and girls as sexual slaves, and placed no more value on their lives than wine (3:3). Spoiling the gold and silver of the land, they had taken away that which was the LORD’s (3:4-6).

Justice and Judgment (3:4, 7-8)

The sins of the Gentile nations will be punished, and they will receive the recompence (be repaid) in kind for the sins they committed against the LORD and His people (3:4). The LORD determined to gather His people and restore them to their land (3:7), and the nations that enslaved them would themselves become slaves (3:8a). Their sons and daughters will be sold “to the Sabeans” (a caravan people of the southern Arabian Peninsula), and trafficked to far away lands (3:8b).

Warfare of the Nations (3:9-16)

Through His prophet, the LORD summoned the nations to gather and prepare for war (3:9). Contrary to the Millennial kingdom and its peace (when the weapons of war will be fashioned into plows, Micah 4:3), the LORD commanded the nations to “beat [their] plowshares into swords, and [their] pruninghooks into spears” (3:10). The nations of the world will assemble for battle (3:11), for the LORD was prepared to judge them “in the valley of Jehoshaphat” (its geographic al location cannot be ascertained, 3:12).

Drawing a picture of Himself as a farmer readied to harvest, the nations of the world were portrayed as ripe for judgment. The LORD’s judgment is likened to a farmer coming with his sickle sharpened, and ready to tread nations underfoot like grapes in a vine press (3:13). A multitude will gather against God’s people (3:14), but it is the LORD whose judgment will darken the sun, moon, and stars (3:15). Suddenly, He will “roar out of Zion, And utter his voice from Jerusalem; And the heavens and the earth shall shake: But the Lord will be the hope of his people, And the strength of the children of Israel” (3:16).

The Promise of the LORD’s Perpetual Presence (3:17-21)

Through the LORD’s judgment of the nations, the children of Israel and Judah will come to know Him as “the LORD [their] God” who dwells in Zion (3:17a). The city of Jerusalem would be holy, and no “strangers” (unbelievers) will “pass through her any more” (3:17b). The land will be fertile, the waters will flow, and the River of Life will flow from “the house of the LORD” (3:18). The LORD will avenge the wickedness of Egypt and Edom, for they were guilty of violence and shedding the “innocent blood” of Judah (3:19).

Closing thoughts (3:20-21) – Joel’s prophecies end with the LORD promising Judah the nation will “dwell forever” in the land, “and Jerusalem from generation to generation” (3:20). He will purge the people of their sins, and will forever dwell among them “in Zion” (3:21). Our study of Joel began with a judgment of locusts (Assyria’s army) descending upon Judah and Jerusalem (1:4), and ends with the triumph of God’s people restored to their land and the LORD reigning forever in Jerusalem (3:20-21).

The day of judgment is coming, not only for the nations, but for all men and women. Are you prepared for God’s day of judgment? When the books are opened, and “every man [and woman] will be judged “according to their works?” (Revelation 20:13), will your name be “found written in the book of life?” (Revelation 20:15)

Revelation 20:1515And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Finale of the Nations (Ezekiel 32)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 32

Egypt continues to be the primary subject of our current study, as we conclude this section that foretold God’s judgment against all the nations of the world. The prophecy before us was given in the twelfth year of Ezekiel’s exile to Babylon.

The Inescapable Judgment of the Nations (32:1-16)

A Lament for Pharaoh, king of Egypt (32:2-6)

The LORD commanded Ezekiel, “take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt” (32:2), and compared the harsh reign of the king to a “young lion of the nations…whale [perhaps a crocodile] among the seas,” and a trouble to his people (represented as “the waters,” 32:2). For his wickedness, the LORD foretold He would cast the net of His judgment upon Pharaoh and Egypt (32:3). The king would be dragged from his throne, and figuratively cast into the wilderness where the nations of the earth would feed upon his flesh (32:4-5). The waters of Egypt would be stained red with the blood of the people (32:6).

A Dreadful Picture of God’s Final Judgment (32:7-10)

As we have seen in earlier studies, prophecies often carry an immediate implication and a far-reaching application, and so it is in the passage before us. Ezekiel 32:7-10 describes the imminent judgment of God as a time of great darkness, even as it will be in the last days (Isaiah 13:9-11: 34:1-4; Matthew 24:29-31; Revelation 6:12-17; 8:12). The heart of the nations will be troubled, and the people will shrink back in horror (32:10).

Nebuchadnezzar: The Agent of God’s Judgment (32:11-16)

Leaving no room for ambiguity, Ezekiel prophesied Egypt’s fall to Babylon was determined (32:11), and the ruthless reputation of Babylon was portrayed as “the terrible of the nations” (32:12). Nebuchadnezzar’s army would wreak havoc on the land, spoil the treasures of Egypt, and kill the people and livestock (32:12-13). The nations of the world would look upon Egypt’s sorrows and lament her fall (32:16).

The Nations Sentenced to Hell (32:17-32)

Picturing Hell for what it is, a place of death and torment for sinners who reject the LORD and His Word (32:17-32), the Egyptians were warned they would suffer the fate of other nations (32:18). Assyria was fallen to Babylon, and we read of her slain, their “graves are set in the sides of the pit [hell]” (32:23). Assyria joined other ancient nations who made their graves in hell: Elam, Meshech, Tubal, Edom, and Zidon had all borne “their shame with them that go down to the pit” (32:24-30).

Pharoah and Egypt would not be spared or favored above the nations, and Ezekiel warned, “thou shalt be broken in the midst of the uncircumcised, and shalt lie with them that are slain with the sword” (32:28). The king of Egypt and his army would be “slain by the sword” (32:31), and Pharaoh would take his place “in the midst of the uncircumcised” with the eternal damned (32:32).

Closing thought – Ezekiel’s prophecies of the coming judgments of Egypt and the nations concluded with the words, “saith the LORD God” (32:32). All the LORD revealed to Ezekiel came to pass, and the people and nations of the earth that rejected the LORD perished.

I look forward to sharing with you the balance of the chapters in Ezekiel, for they foretell a glorious future for God’s people (Ezekiel 33:1-39:29).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.