Category Archives: Politics

Where has Justice Gone? Capital Punishment, and the Law of Retribution (Leviticus 23-24)

Scripture reading – Leviticus 23-24

Leviticus 23 – Feast Days on Israel’s Religious Calendar

Although not a festival, the LORD commanded Moses to remind the people of the fourth command: “3Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings” (23:3; Exodus 20:8-11).

Leviticus 23:6-41 itemizes the annual feasts Israel was to observe as a nation.

The Passover (23:5), commemorating the LORD sparing the firstborn, and delivering the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, was observed with the sacrifice of a one-year-old lamb. On the following day after the Passover, the people were to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, remembering Israel’s departure out of Egypt. Its observance lasted seven days, and was a reminder of how swiftly the people had to leave Egypt.  The first and last days of Unleavened Bread are counted as Sabbaths [High Sabbaths], though these days may not necessarily fall on the weekly Sabbath (23:6-8).

There was the Offering of the First Fruits, also known as the wave offering (23:9-14). A sheaf of wheat was brought to the priest, who waved the grain before the altar as a sign of praise and thanksgiving. Accompanying the wave offering was the Burnt Offering (23:12, the sacrifice of one male lamb, not more than one year old), the Meat (or meal) Offering (23:13), and a Drink Offering (23:13). All were reminders of God’s bountiful provision, even as we should pray and give thanks at every meal.

Pentecost (meaning fifty), also known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest (23:15-22; Exodus 23:16; Deuteronomy 16:9), was observed fifty days after the Passover (remember, fifty days after Christ’s Resurrection, Pentecost was the day the Holy Spirit came upon the LORD’S disciples, whom He told to remain in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 2).

Two loaves of wheat bread with leaven (23:17a) were also offered as “firstfruits unto the LORD” (23:17). Pentecost was observed with a burnt offering consisting of seven lambs, one young bull, and two rams, “all “without blemish of the first year” (23:18). There was also a meat offering (an offering of grain), drink offering, and a sin offering of “one kid of the goats…and two lambs of the first year for a sacrifice of peace offering” (23:19).

Reminding the people, “I am the LORD your God,” the people were commanded to not harvest the corners of their fields, and “leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger” (non-Hebrews) to gather (23:22).

The Feast of the Trumpets was observed the seventh month, on the first day of the month in the Hebrew calendar (23:23-25). The Day of Atonement was observed on the tenth day of the same month (23:26-32; Leviticus 16-17).

The final feast on the Hebrew calendar was the Feast of Tabernacles (23:33-41), and was observed on “the fifteenth day of this seventh month” (23:34), the last day of the harvest. Each family would gather “on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook,” and live in the booths for seven days (23:40). Dwelling in booths commemorated Israel’s years of wandering in the wilderness, and living in tents (23:43).

Leviticus 24 – God’s Laws were not suggestions, they were commands.

After rehearsing the laws and guidelines regarding the for the lamps, and the lighting of the Tabernacle (24:1-9), we are alerted to a judicial crisis that arose in Israel, and demanded the death of the offender (24:10-16).

The son of Israelite woman, whose father was Egyptian, was witnessed cursing and blaspheming the name of the LORD, a violation of the third command, and one demanding the death of the offender (24:10-11; Exodus 20:17).  Realizing the severity of the offense, Moses did not rush to judgment, but “put [the offender] in ward [under guard], that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them” (24:12).

After hearing the witnesses, and seeking God’s will, Moses demanded the blasphemer be taken out of Israel’s camp, and those who witnessed his sin, lay hands on him as a testimony against him (24:14). The judgment was made that the blasphemer should be stoned to death (24:15-16), and “the children of Israel did as the Lordcommanded Moses” (24:23).

The Law of Retribution (24:17-22)

I close, reminding you God is merciful, and just. A murderer was to be punished by death (24:17, 21b). A man who killed the beast that belonged to another, was to restore the same, “beast for beast” (24:18). Injure or maim a man, and the law demanded you should suffer the same: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (24:19-20).

A Closing Thought: Our world has lost its good sense of justice, and our judicial system has become a demoralizing failure. Too often in our society we find criminals are pampered, and their victims are left scarred, wounded, and frustrated with no hope of reprieve. Do you wonder why there is no justice, no fairness, in society? You need look no further than Proverbs 29:2.

Proverbs 29:22When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: But when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Humility: The Forgotten Principle When Choosing Leaders (Exodus 11-12, part 1)

Scripture reading: Exodus 11-12

Exodus 11 – The Man (or Woman) God Calls

Before the LORD sent the tenth, and final plague, He instructed Moses to communicate to the people that they would “borrow [to request or demand] of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold” (11:2).

This seems a strange request for a people preparing to sojourn in the desert; however, I suggest two motives for the demand. The first, God’s people had served the Egyptians as slaves for four centuries, and the value of what they demanded in precious metals would scarcely be regarded as full payment for their toil. A second purpose, the “jewels of silver, and jewels of gold” would be required to decorate the tabernacle, and fabricate vessels that would be used in worship and offering sacrifices.

Before we address the tenth plague, consider what the LORD had done in this contest between Pharaoh and His servant Moses.

The LORD had magnified Moses in Egypt, and the fears he had entertained in returning to Egypt were overcome by God giving him “favour in the sight of the Egyptians” (11:3a). Forty years of herding his father-in-law’s sheep had humbled this once proud prince of Egypt, and the LORD had so magnified him that he had become “very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people” (11:3).

Author and leadership guru, John Maxwell has observed, “A leader must give up to go up,” and that principle is seen clearly in the life of Moses. He had given up everything that gave him rank and privilege as a prince in Egypt. He had left behind the pastoral life of a shepherd. For all that, God blessed him, and he was elevated above the king of Egypt in the eyes of the people.

It is rare to find a man or woman of great talents and abilities who is humble enough to serve the LORD!

Our era of “selfies” and self-promotion is the antithesis of humility. The men whom God calls and promotes are as rare today as they have ever been: “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…29  That no flesh should glory in his presence.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

The tenth and final plague would be a blow to the proud, obstinate king of Egypt, and that nation’s dedication of its firstborn to a god.

Moses prophesied to the children of Israel, “Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: 5And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die6And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more” (11:4-6).

The LORD would spare Israel’s firstborn, and would “put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (11:7), only if Israel would follow the Word of the LORD as Moses gave instruction. If they did not obey His Word, they would be no different than Egypt. Israel, however, was spared God’s judgment because of the blood of the Passover (12:13). Our next devotional (Exodus 12) will establish the central meaning of the Passover, and its significance.

As we conclude, I invite you to reflect on the attribute of humility, a quality that should be required of all leaders. There is a desperate need for men who are humble enough for God to use (1 Corinthians 1:26-29), and bold enough to unapologetically declare the Word of the LORD!

* A part 2 of today’s devotional will focus on Exodus 12.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

The Tower of Babel and One Big Unhappy Family (Genesis 10-11)

Scripture reading – Genesis 10-11

The conflicts among the races and nations of the world have their origin in today’s Scripture reading (Genesis 10-11). Genesis 10 lists the descendants of Noah’s three sons and concludes by introducing us to Terah, the father of Abraham, the patriarch. We find in Genesis 10-11 the common kinship of all humanity, traced back to Noah’s three sons.

Genesis 10 is where God begins to deal with the Hebrew people through the lineage of Shem. Though the Old Testament focuses upon the history of Israel, and God’s dealing with His chosen people, nonetheless, the LORD never forsook humanity.

Genesis 10

Genesis 10 records the names of sixteen sons who were born to Noah’s three sons (and perhaps as many daughters). Genesis 10 registers seventy individual nations that emerged from Noah’s sons: fourteen associated with Japheth (10:2-5), thirty linked to Ham (10:25-27), and twenty-six from Shem (10:21-31).

Japheth, Noah’s oldest son, was the father of many Gentile nations (9:27; 10:2-5), among them the ancient empires of Persia, Greece, and Rome, and the European people (namely, Germans, Russians, Italians, French, Spanish, and the English).

Ham, Noah’s youngest son who was identified as “Canaan” in Genesis 9:25, was father to some of the great empires of the ancient world, among them the Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and some scholars would suggest Chinese, Japanese, American Indians, and African tribes (10:6-20).

Although cursed to be a “servant of servants” (9:25-27), the accomplishments of Ham’s progeny were so vast that it appears they set their minds to cast off the curse of being a “servant of servants.” Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, and the son of Cush, was the first ruler following the flood (10:8-10). He was a “mighty hunter” (10:9), and founded what would become ancient “Babel…in the land of Shinar” (10:10).

Shem, Noah’s second born son, was “the father of all the children of Eber” (10:21-31). Scholars believe the name “Eber,” is an ancient word from which the word “Hebrew” was derived (10:21). “Eber” was the father of the Hebrews (Abraham is described as “Abram the Hebrew” in Genesis 14:13, and the nomadic Arab tribes and nations.

Shem’s lineage is the ancestral line through which God would fulfill His promise of a Redeemer Savior. Genesis 10 concludes leaving no doubt that all nations and people in our world today are descended from Noah’s three sons:

Genesis 10:32 – “32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.”

Genesis 11 – The Tower of Babel

Resisting God’s command to “replenish the earth” (9:1), Noah’s sons and their families continued as “one language, and of one speech” (11:1), and congregated in “a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there” (11:2).

Arising from their desire to continue as they were (being “of one language, and of one speech,” 11:1), mankind resolved to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” (11:4). Man’s sinful pride, self-sufficiency, and rebellion was summed up in this: Let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (11:4).

Once again, we are made privy to a heavenly conversation when the LORD determined to intervene, lest the wickedness and rebellion of man be carried so far that there would be no hope of salvation, and “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (11:6).

Confounding their one language into multiple languages, the LORD caused the work on the tower and the city to cease, and men were forced to scatter abroad “upon the face of all the earth” (11:7-8).

Genesis 11 concludes with the lineage of Shem, and leading our Bible study to a great crossroads in the history of mankind: God calling Abraham (11:31-12:1).

Friend, never forget that the story of history is “HIS-STORY;” a testimony of God’s invisible, providential hand and His “Amazing Grace.”

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Paul: A Model of Conviction and Courage (Acts 24-26)

Scripture reading – Acts 24-26

We might glean much from the apostle Paul’s courage, and defense of not only himself, but also the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he preached. He had been arrested under the false pretense of breaking the Law (Acts 21:27-28), and defiling the Temple (Acts 21:29), but had been delivered from harm, and almost certain death by Roman soldiers (Acts 21:31-35). After declaring his salvation and calling as an apostle (Acts 22:1-23), when he was arrested, Paul sought the protections allowed him as a citizen of Rome (Acts 22:24-30).

In Acts 23, he was placed under the protection of the Romans, and was given an opportunity to defend himself, and answer his accusers (23:1-11). When the chief captain of the guard realized the Jews’ plot to kill him (23:12-22), he spirited Paul away to safety with the governor of that region whose name was Felix (23:23-35).

Acts 24 – Trial before Felix at Caesarea by the Sea

Five days after Paul arrived at Caesarea, Ananias the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin gathered and put forward “a certain orator named Tertullus” (24:1), who was tasked with accusing Paul of sedition, a crime that would demand his death (24:2-9).

Paul sat in silence as Tertullus leveled false indictments at him, alleging him as a wicked, subversive man. Felix then gestured to Paul an opportunity to answer his accusers (24:10). With diplomacy, and the discretion deserving of Felix’s office as governor and Paul’s civil authority, Paul began to speak (24:10).

Acts 24:10b – “…Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself [i.e. make his defense].”

Paul answered the accusations brought against him by the Sanhedrin (24:11-20), proving the only dissension between him and those leaders was that he had challenged them on the doctrine of the resurrection (24:21). Felix, being the governor of that region, had “perfect knowledge of that way” (24:22; Acts 16:17; 18:25), a reference to those who believed that Jesus was the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, crucified and died for the sins of the world according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53), and rose from the grave on the third day!

Acts 24 concludes with Governor Felix retaining Paul in custody, giving the apostle liberty to have guests, but also having opportunities for he and “his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess,” to hear Paul’s testimony and his “faith in Christ” (24:24). Paul’s witness was powerful, and we read that the governor was so moved that he “trembled” with conviction as he heard of God’s judgment that was to come (24:25).

On an interesting closing note; had Paul been inclined, he might have raised funds to bribe the governor for his release and freedom (24:26). He was held captive for two years (24:27); however, the apostle was a man of integrity, and he did not buy his freedom. Paul was persuaded that he was destined for an opportunity to go to Rome and declare Jesus Christ in the very household of Caesar (23:11), and he would not be deterred from his calling.

Though he trembled at the thought of God’s judgment (24:25), Felix delayed his decision to accept Christ as Savior, and was reassigned elsewhere, leaving Paul bound in prison (24:27).

Paul’s passion and boldness in declaring the gospel is one of the many things I admire in the man; however, we should also note his tact, prudence, and patience in preaching Christ to those who would listen. Though bold in addressing and rebuking the hypocrisy of Jewish religious leaders (23:2-5), Paul was wise, discerning, and patient when speaking to the Roman commandant in Jerusalem, and Felix, the governor who resided in Caesarea.

A closing thought: Like Paul, those who witness for Christ should be passionate for men’s souls.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Paul’s Indomitable Spirit (Acts 20-23)

Scripture reading – Acts 20-23

Our chronological Scripture reading returns to the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 20-23, when, once again, we examine Luke’s record of the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. Since we were last in the Book of Acts, we have been privileged to consider Paul’s epistles to believers in both Corinth and Rome in our daily readings.

Acts 20 picks up the narrative of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-41) where Paul had spent two years ministering (19:10a). The influence of the apostle’s preaching had spread throughout Asia, and both “Jews and Greeks” had received “the word of the Lord Jesus” (19:10b). Paul’s bold condemnation of idolatry (19:26), and the powerful effect of his preaching had not only threatened the commerce and trade in the worship of the Greek goddess Diana (19:27), but also set the whole city in an uproar (19:28-41).

Acts 20 – Departure from Ephesus

Paul, realizing his continued presence in Ephesus would endanger the lives of believers, determined to depart from Ephesus, and began his journey through Macedonia (a province of Rome north of Greece that we know today as the Balkan region of Europe). The apostle retraced his earlier missionary journeys, and traveling south to Greece (20:1-2), encountered Jews who were plotting against him (20:3).

God wonderfully and providentially blessed Paul with a mission’s team who accompanied him in his journey (20:4) through Asia. Among his traveling companions was Timothy, his beloved “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), who would one day become the pastor of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3).

Realizing he would not pass-through Macedonia again, Paul came to Miletus, a seaport city about 30 miles from Ephesus (20:16), and there he sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus (20:17).

The balance of Acts 20 records Paul’s final challenge to the pastoral leadership of the church in Ephesus (20:17-38). This passage is extremely moving as we see Paul’s passion for preaching and ministry (20:17-27), his loving compassion for those to whom he ministered (20:28-32), and his example of self-sacrificing charity and service (20:33-35).

Neither time or space permit me to adequately consider the balance of today’s Scripture reading; however, I will take liberty to give my readers a quick overview of Acts 21-23.

Acts 21 gives Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem (21:1-16), and the insurrection led by those who opposed him and the Gospel he preached (21:17-40).

Acts 22 recounts Paul’s personal testimony (22:1-5), his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (22:6-10), his calling as an apostle to the Gentiles (22:11-21), and the uprising of his enemies (22:22-40).

Acts 23 lays out Paul’s public address to the Sanhedrin: Notice the apostle’s courageous rebuke of the high priest Ananias (23:1-5), the clash of factions in the Sanhedrin (23:6-10), the conspiracy by some of the Jews to kill him (23:11-22), and the Roman authority’s resolve to move Paul to safety (23:23-35).

Our next Scripture reading will follow Paul’s ministry from Caesarea by the Sea (a beautiful seaport on the Mediterranean that I have visited), and his journey by sea that will end in his imprisonment in Rome.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” (Luke 23; John 18-19)

Scripture reading – Luke 23; John 18-19

Today’s Bible reading brings us to the third of the Gospel accounts concerning those things Christ suffered for our sins, according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53). Having declared Jesus was innocent of political sedition (Luke 23:4), the charge brought against Him by the chief priests (John 18:29-30), Pilate sought an escape from the demands of His accusers (23:1-5).

Declaring, “I find no fault in [Jesus]” (23:4), the chief priests defied Pilate saying, “He stirreth up the people…beginning from Galilee to this place” (23:5). When Pilate heard Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Him to King Herod, a puppet ruler of Galilee appointed by Caesar, and a man who was the Roman governor’s political nemesis (23:6-7).

Though his hands were bloodied from beheading John the Baptist, Herod had longed for an opportunity to encounter Jesus, and had hoped to witness one of His miracles (23:8). The King’s eagerness quickly soured when Jesus refused to answer or acknowledge his authority (23:9). Incensed by the snub, and having heard the charges brought against Jesus by the chief priests and scribes (23:10), Herod and his “men of war” began to mock and deride the LORD (23:11).

An ancient adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” comes to mind when I read Luke 23:12: “And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.”

Pilate and Herod became friends, because they shared in the greatest travesty of justice in human history. They were forever guilty of the most egregious act, having condemned the holy, altogether sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Pilate, having declared, “I find no fault” in Him (23:4), attempted to shirk his responsibility to exercise judicial integrity (23:13-16). Unfortunately, when he failed, he lacked the moral character and fortitude to do the right thing, and release Jesus (23:17-23).

Luke 23:24–2524 And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they [chief priests and scribes] required. 25 And he [Pilate] released unto them him [Barabbas] that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will [to be crucified].

As much as we might be tempted to look upon Pilate with disdain, and wonder about his sudden friendship with the likes of Herod, we should look into our own souls. The pressure to compromise with evil men and women, is never too far from any of us.

How often have you denied Jesus because you lacked the courage and moral fortitude to do right, even while others were choosing to do wrong? How easy is it to long for popularity and acceptance, at the sacrifice of obeying God’s Word and walking in His Truth?

Tradition insinuates that Pilate died an insane, broken, miserable soul. His conscience was no more able to bear his guilt, than his soul could escape God’s judgment.

Romans 12:1–2 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. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Hypocrites, Hypocrites, Hypocrites! (Matthew 23; Luke 20-21)

Daily reading assignment – Matthew 23; Luke 20-21

The setting of today’s Scripture reading, Matthew 23 and Luke 20-21, is in the midst of the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He and His disciples are on a path that was pre-ordained by God, and will culminate on Friday, the Day of the Passover, with Judas betraying Jesus, leading to the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of our LORD. The focus of today’s devotional commentary is Matthew 23.

Matthew 23 – The Final Public Sermon

Matthew 23 sets the stage for our LORD’S final sermon, an open confrontation with His adversaries, that was addressed to a multitude of souls gathered to hear Him teach (23:1). Aware His enemies were plotting to kill Him, Jesus did not shy from boldly exposing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees who, asserting themselves to be authorities in matters of the Law, were described as sitting “in Moses’ seat” (23:2).

“Hypocrites…Hypocrites…Hypocrites” is a recurring label that Jesus attached to those religious leaders (23:13-15, 23, 25, 27-29). He exposed them as frauds, whose interpretations of the Law lacked mercy and were “heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” (23:4a) by the people. The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees was that, while they demanded much of the people, they themselves failed to follow their own interpretations (23:4b).

What motivated those religious hypocrites to exceed the loving simplicity of God’s Law, with demands that were a grief to the people? Jesus proceeded to answer that question with a series of examples that might be summed up with one word: PRIDE (23:5-12).

Proud religious leaders lack humility, and demand to be seen, heard, and elevated in the eyes of men.

Those hypocritical Pharisees wore enlarged phylacteries, leather boxes containing portions of Scripture (Exodus 13:1-10; 13:11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21), and enlarged “the borders [or tassels] of their garments” to draw attention to themselves (23:5). When they attended banquets and feasts, they ascertained their rightful place was the most conspicuous places (23:6a). When they attended the synagogue, they demanded the most prominent seats, eager for all to see their piety. When they were in the marketplace, they craved the attention of the people, and loved to be called, “Rabbi, Rabbi” (“teacher, teacher” or “master, master” – 23:7).

Rather than pointing men to a closer walk with God, those religious hypocrites desired to build a loyal following for themselves (23:8-11).

Let us take a moment and consider the wicked propensity of hypocrites in first century Israel, and translate their practice and ways to our day. Internet blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and emails can be amazing tools when employed for good, but the temptation to misuse them has become legendary. Rather than humility, men and women are using the electronic mediums of our day, demanding to be heard and seen, that they might earn a following. Rather than phylacteries on their foreheads and long tassels on their robes, they boast their “Friends” on Facebook, and their “Followers” on Twitter and Blogs.

Tragically, the principle of doing all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), has been sacrificed by hypocritical self-promoters and those who follow them.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“The Fearless, Fearful and Foolish” (Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9

History gives abundant testimony of the tension, conflict, and hostility the world holds toward God, His Word, and His people. In today’s Scripture reading (Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9), the animosity of human authority toward God and His prophet takes center stage.

The ministry of John the Baptist had been powerful, and the prophet had not minced words when confronting the sins of his day. Not even the most prominent politician in Israel had been spared the prophet’s condemnation (Matthew 14:4).

Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great, was “the tetrarch” of Galilee, a tetrarch being a ruler of one-fourth of a Roman province (Matthew 14:1). Herod had divorced his wife and married Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3-4; Mark 6:17). Their incestuous marriage had not only been an affront to God (Leviticus 18:16), but also to the Jewish people.

John the Baptist had tenaciously condemned such wickedness in Israel and said to Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have her” (Matthew 14:4). Herod became so exasperated with John’s public rebukes that he had the prophet bound and imprisoned (14:3). Though he wished to put him to death, Herod “feared the multitude, because they counted him [John] as a prophet” (14:5). Herodias, on the other hand, had no political qualms and she “would have killed him; but she could not” (Mark 6:19), “for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy” (Mark 6:20).

Now a great banquet was held for Herod’s birthday, and the daughter of Herodias, after being instructed by her mother to dance before Herod and his guests, had instructed her to ask for the head of John the Baptist when the king offered to reward her (Matthew 14:6-7). Following her mother’s instructions, the daughter of Herodias, demanded, “Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger” (Matthew 14:8). Too proud to confess his error, Herod complied with the daughter’s wicked request, and “sent, and beheaded John in the prison” (Matthew 14:10).

The news of Christ’s ministry and His miracles had reached the ears of the king (Mark 6:14) and Herod “said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him…he said, It is John [the Baptist], whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead (Mark 6:14–16).

Herod’s alarm, that Jesus was John the Baptist, struck fear in the heart of the wicked king. He was haunted by guilt knowing he had murdered an innocent man, and a prophet of God. Rather than confessing his sin; however, Herod wrestled with guilt, and was troubled by fear (Proverbs 29:25). He feared John when he was alive (Mark 6:20), and he was terrified when he heard of the miracles of Jesus, believing John the Baptist was raised from the dead. The king had silenced John’s tongue, but he could not quiet his own guilty conscience.

Later on, when Jesus was arrested, He would have one meeting with Herod (Luke 23:6-11); however, at that time the LORD “answered him nothing” (Luke 23:9). The blood of John the Baptist was on his hands, and the soul of the king was damned by his wickedness.

Let us take a spiritual lesson from Herod: We might find temporal solace in the diagnosis of a psychologist or psychiatrist, and even salve our conscience with prescription drugs or other enhancers; however, if the root problem is sin, there is only one answer:

“Submit [subdue; yield] …to God. Resist the [temptations] devil”…acknowledge your sins, and let the tears of mourning pave the way to God’s forgiveness and joy (James 4:7-10).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

No Karma: My God Has Got the Whole World, In His Hands (Esther 6-10)

Daily reading assignment – Esther 6-10

The world calls it, “Instant Karma,” an ideology attributed to Buddhism and Hinduism. Instant Karma suggests a “payback” for one’s past actions. Of course, what one has done in the past might be good or bad, and the “payback” serve as its reward.

Instant Karma seems to suggest a “Cause and Effect” that is fatalistic and devoid of the influence of divine sovereignty and intervention. As a believer, I have faith in God’s promises. I know God is sovereignly directing the course of humanity to His purpose and end. I am confident, “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

There is an undeniable principle of “Cause and Effect” in this world and it is summed up in this: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Esther 6

Esther 6 is a beautiful example of God working in the heart of a king. King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I), found himself in a place many of us have found ourselves…enduring a sleepless night.

It is revealed that the king’s insomnia (6:1) was used by God to direct his thoughts and the heart of the king to His divine end. From the king’s perspective, however, it was just another sleepless night, and thus he determined to have his servants read historical records that chronicled his reign.

Providentially, for there is no other explanation for it, the name of Mordecai, Queen Esther’s adopted father, came to the king’s attention. Ahasuerus, was reminded how Mordecai had intervened to foil a plot to assassinate the king (2:21-23). Recalling the event, the king wondered aloud, “What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?” (6:3).

Learning from his servants that Mordecai had not been honored for his service (6:3), the king determined to immediately correct that slight and reward him. Providentially, in that very moment, Haman, the adversary of the Jews who had successfully plotted to have the king sign a decree to exterminate all the Jews, entered the king’s court (6:4-5).

Haman was approaching on a mission to request that Mordecai be hanged from the gallows he had constructed in his courtyard (6:4-5). In a wonderful twist of what some might call “Instant Karma,” Haman listened as the king desired his advice on the means of honoring a servant in “whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:6).

Haman mistakenly believed he was the man the king desired to honor, and suggested a lavish, public parade.

 Esther 6:8-9Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.”

Ah, the irony when Haman was commanded to be the one to honor Mordecai, the very man whom he was plotting to hang (6:10-11)!

Esther 7-10

The balance of Esther 6 and the remaining chapters (Esther 7-10) give testimony to the sovereignty of God as He providentially directed the thoughts, plots and plans of men to His divine purpose and end.

Haman’s wicked scheme to annihilate the Jews was not only thwarted, but he fell victim to the very gallows he had constructed to hang Mordecai (Esther 7:7-10).

Dear friend, all men are free will agents; however, God can and does steer the course of human choices to accomplish His plan and purpose.  King, president, governor, judge, sheriff, employer, teacher, pastor, or parent…none are beyond the sovereign purpose and will of God.

Solomon taught his son, “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).

No man acts independent of God; after all, “He’s Got the Whole World, In His Hands!”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Divine Providence: The Invisible Hand of An All-Loving God (Esther 1-5)

Daily reading assignment – Esther 1-5

The Book of Esther is known as one of only two books in the Bible that never mentions God by name (the other is the Song of Solomon). That fact, however, cannot dismiss the indisputable evidences of divine providence seen throughout the pages of this book. Chronologically, the events recorded in the Book of Esther fall in the midst of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

What is divine providence?

Simply defined, providence means “to foresee” or “to see before.”

The late Dr. Edward M. Panosian, my Bible college history professor who sparked within me a passion for history, quotes in his book, The Providence of God in History, the observation of 19th century historian Hollis Read: “History, when rightly written, is but a record of providence; and he who would read history rightly, must read it with his eye constantly fixed on the hand of God.” 1

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

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

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, stated, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man.”

I add to the chorus of others who have defined Divine Providence my own definition of the same: Providence is God’s sustaining oversight of His creation, and His direction of all things to His appointed end and purpose which is His glory and my good. The providence of God is practical, personal, and cannot be divorced from God’s divine purpose. 

The apostle Paul suggested the same, writing: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The Book of Esther is a testimony of both God’s providence in the life of a young Jewish maiden and the preservation of His chosen people. The LORD sovereignly guided the affairs of a secular empire to fulfill His divine purpose and end. The focus of today’s devotional commentary is Esther 1 and Esther 2:1-7.

Esther 1 – A Royal Divorce, Persian Style

King Ahasuerus (also known in history as King Xerxes I) was king of Persia. He was the fourth of five kings to rule the Empire of the Medes and the Persians. He was the grandson of Cyrus the Great, and the son of King Darius I. He reigned over Persia (modern Iran) from 486 B.C. to 465 B.C.

Ahasuerus was ruler of the most powerful nation in the world, and his kingdom extended from India to Africa (1:1), including one hundred twenty-seven provinces that embraced all of today’s Middle East (1:4). Nevertheless, the Persian empire was past its zenith and the events recorded in Esther 1 occurred, according to Greek historian Herodotus, before Ahasuerus attacked Greece and suffered the loss of the Persian navy.

Three lavish feasts are recorded in Esther 1. The first lasted one hundred-eighty days (1:3-4). The second feast, though lasting only seven days, was greater than the first and was a scene of sin and drunken debauchery (1:5-8). The third feast, apparently coinciding with the king’s drunken, weeklong banquet, was hosted by Queen Vashti for the women of the city (1:9).

Drunk with wine, and apparently at the loss of his senses, King Ahasuerus commanded his beautiful queen to parade herself before his guests (1:10-11). Queen Vashti, however, refused to obey the king’s command (1:12). Her refusal created a royal crisis (1:13-18) for a drunken king too proud to humble himself and accept that his queen was the better and wiser of the two. Enraged, Ahasuerus issued a royal decree that forever banished his queen from her throne and the king’s palace (1:19-22).

Esther 2:1-7– A Defeated King and A Virgin Who Became Queen

Having suffered his first defeat and the loss of his navy, Ahasuerus returned to his throne and then “he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her” (2:1). The king’s rash banishment of Queen Vashti (1:19-22), had set in motion a series of events that propelled a Jewish maiden named Hadassah, whose Babylonian name was Esther (2:7), from the anonymity of a maiden, to the throne of Persia.

Although some 50,000 people of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah had returned to Israel (Ezra 1), there were many who had chosen to remain in Babylon, among those was a Jewish man named Mordecai (2:5-7). Mordecai, had taken Hadassah into his household after the deaths of her parents and brought her up as his daughter (2:7). The premature death of Esther’s parents, and her adoption by Mordecai, were both part of God’s sovereign, providential plan for her life.

1Edward M. Panosian, The Providence of God in History (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1996), p. 21.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith