Category Archives: Prayer

Discouragement: The Devil’s Favorite Tool (Ezra 4; Ezra 5)

Scripture reading – Ezra 4; Ezra 5

With the foundation of the Temple laid, the air was filled with the sound of trumpets and cymbals, and the people “sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel” (3:11). The shouts of the younger generation, mingled with the tears of the “ancient men” (3:12), were “heard afar off” (3:13). Unbeknown to the people, their adversaries heard the noise of the celebration, and determined to halt the effort to rebuild the Temple (4:1). Ezra wrote, “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).

Ezra 4 – Four Methods the Enemy Employed to Discourage God’s People (4:1-16)

On the pretense of friendship, the adversaries came to Zerubbabel (whom I believe was identified in Ezra 1:8 by his Babylonian name, “Shesbazzar, the prince of Judah”), and suggested Assimilation. These enemies had been a part of the Assyrian policy to resettle a conquered land with people of other nations. Though they were a wicked, idolatrous people, they said to Zerubbabel, “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). Zerubbabel and Jeshua, joined by “the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel” (4:3), rejected the pretext of assimilation, saying, “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 desire to hinder rebuilding the Temple, the enemies began a campaign of Aggravation (4:4-5). As time passed, “the people of the land [foreigners occupying Judah’s land] weakened the hands [the resolve] of the people of Judah, and troubled [terrified] them in building” (4:4). They even “hired counsellors [conspirators; agitators] against them, to frustrate their purpose” (4:5).

When assimilation and aggravation failed to stop the work on the Temple, the enemy turned to Adjudication, and addressed a letter to the king of Persia, and challenged the legality and legitimacy of the work to rebuild the Temple (4:6-10).

When all else failed, the adversaries of the people made a fourth attempt to impede the work on the Temple, and brought false Accusations against the Jews. The enemy employed two tactics in their spurious charges against the Jews: Deception; though the people were building the Temple, the enemy charged them with “building the rebellious and bad city” (4:12). The second tactic was Distortion, for the enemy questioned the integrity of God’s people, and implied the Jews were rebuilding the fortress of Jerusalem to the end they might rebel (4:13-15). The false accusations against the Jews were so serious, they eventually moved the king to send a letter to Jerusalem that demanded the work cease (4:23-24).

Closing thoughts – The antagonism and unrelenting attacks of their adversaries not only discouraged the people, but eventually halted the work on the Temple. Succumbing to spiritual lethargy, it seemed the enemies of Judah and Benjamin had succeeded. The work on the Temple ceased for 15 long years (Haggai 1:2-11), and the jubilation of Ezra 3, turned to sorrow and discouragement (4:24).

Lesson – Of all the implements in the devil’s toolbox, the most effective is discouragement. Believer, faithful servants of the LORD will always have detractors. Sadly, there are some in the church who feel their calling is to be a critic (by the way, they are usually the ones sitting on the sidelines of ministry).

Ezra 5

The work on the Temple had ceased, but the LORD had an answer for discouragement: He sent His prophets! “Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, [who] prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them” (5:1). Haggai preached messages that convicted (Haggai 1:5, 7, 9-11), while Zechariah preached messages of comfort and exhortation [dreams and visions]. Stirred by the prophets of God, Zerubbabel and Jeshua returned to the work, and “began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them” (5:2).

Closing thoughts – No sooner had the work on the Temple begun, than the adversaries returned, asking, “Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?” (5:3). Recognizing there was nothing they could do or say to appease their adversaries, the men working on the Temple answered the question with their own question: “What are the names of the men that make this building?” (5:4) Stated in another way: What business is it of yours, who has commanded us to build? We do not see your name on the list of contractors!

The elders of the people determined they would not be stopped from building the house of the Lord. They were confident “the eye of their God was upon” them (5:5). Once again, their enemies accused the Jews to the king (5:4-5). Unwittingly, they gave him cause to search the historical records of the kings of Persia, remembering the decree of a Persian king could not be rescinded (5:6-17).

As you will see, the tide will turn in Ezra 6 when the enemies opposed to rebuilding the Temple, will be forced to finance it with their own offerings.

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.

A Crisis of Faith and Integrity (Daniel 3; Daniel 4)

Scripture reading – Daniel 3; Daniel 4

Scholars suggest a 20-year gap exists between Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image (Daniel 2), and his elevation of one “in the plain of Dura,” outside the massive walls of the city of Babylon (Daniel 3:1). Assuming the passing of two decades, Daniel and his three Hebrew companions were then in their mid-30’s, in the prime of manhood, and serving as administrators in Nebuchadnezzar’s government (2:48-49). Today’s devotional will be focused on Daniel 3, though our Scripture reading includes Daniel 4.

The King’s Idol (3:1-3)

In spite of him confessing Daniel’s God was “the God of gods, the Lord of kings” (2:47), the king had gone his own way, and returned to his idolatry, worshipping and offering sacrifices to idols. Yet, the king remembered the image of his dreams, and Daniel’s interpretation that the golden head of the image represented his realm as king (2:38). The proud king, not content with an image bearing only a head of gold, determined to raise an entire image of gold. Standing an impressive 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide, the golden image towered above men. Understanding the diversity of nations under his rule, Nebuchadnezzar expected all men to worship his idol (3:2-3).

A Crisis of Integrity (3:4-18)

With a day of dedication determined, a herald called “all people, nations, and languages” (3:4) to bow and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (3:4-5). With the warning, Bow or Burn, all men and women were expected to give homage to “the golden image” (3:7).  A sea of humanity gathered before the great image, and when the music was heard, all bowed before the image, with the exception of three men. The assimilation of the children of Israel into Babylonian culture had been universal, with the exception of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel’s absence was perhaps due to his travels on behalf of the king).

There were some Chaldeans who used the occasion to accuse the three Hebrew men, that prompted an inquisition before the king (3:13-15). Although angered by their refusal, and perhaps out of respect for Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar gave Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego a second opportunity to bow before his idol, but also repeated the consequences should they refuse (3:15).

Though far from their home and the godly influences of their youth, the three men proved steadfast in their convictions (Exodus 20:3-5), and recognized two outcomes for their fidelity:  “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 8But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up“ (3:17-18).

The Fire of the King’s Indignation (3:19-26)

Overcome with “rage and fury” (3:13, 19), Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated 7 times hotter than normal. The king then commanded his “most mighty men” (perhaps his own guard) to bind and cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the furnace (3:19-21). The fire of the furnace instantly killed the mighty men when they cast the men into the furnace (3:21-23). Sitting down to observe, the king was suddenly shaken by the sight of not three, but four men walking about in the furnace, and unscathed by its heat and flames (3: 24). Nebuchadnezzar likened the fourth to a heavenly figure, and said he was “like the Son of God” (3:26).

A Divine Intervention (3:26-27)

Humbled by the miraculous preservation of the three men, and the sight of the divine image of the fourth, the king summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego by name, calling them the “servants of the most high God” (3:26). The men emerged from the furnace (3:26), as their accusers gathered and were amazed “the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them” (3:27).

The King’s Invocation (3:28-30)

Realizing only the ropes that bound them was singed by the flames (3:27), Nebuchadnezzar confessed “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego” had sent His angel to save them (3:28). The king confessed the LORD had overruled his edict, and spared their lives “that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (3:28).

Closing thoughts (3:29-30) – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s conviction to worship no other God, inspired the king to dare any of his kingdom to speak ill of their God, and to declare “there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (3:29). The men were not only preserved from death, but were promoted by the king (3:30).

Believer, you might not face a fiery furnace, but you will certainly face fiery troubles and trials. I urge you to follow Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s example. Before they faced the temptation to bow to the golden image, we can be sure they had determined in their hearts they would trust the God of heaven and only worship and serve Him.

Romans 8:35–3935Who shall separate [come between] us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation [trouble], or distress [hardships; anguish], or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life…nor things present, nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our 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.

Bible Prophecy: Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of Four World Empires (Daniel 2)

Scripture reading – Daniel 2

Our study of the Scriptures returns to the Book of Daniel, with a fascinating chapter that presents us with a prophetic panorama of world empires. We will observe in Daniel 2 an image of a man that symbolized four successive empires: Babylon, the Medo-Persian, Greece, and Rome. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation by Daniel is the focus of today’s devotional. The historical setting of our study is “the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar” (2:1).

A Sovereign’s Dream (2:1-13)

We find Nebuchadnezzar’s “spirit was troubled” (2:1). The phrase, “Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams” (2:1), implied he was troubled by a recurring dream and perplexed he was unable to remember the dream. Unable to sleep (2:1), the king summoned his counselors and related he had a dream, and his “spirit was troubled to know the dream” (2:3). Ever willing to please the king (especially since the power of life and death was in his hands), the king’s counselors proposed, “tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation” (2:4).

Nebuchadnezzar’s response caused the wise men to panic, for he said, “the thing (dream) is gone from me” (2:5). The king was not only demanding an interpretation of the dream, but the dream itself! Shaken by his demand, the king warned his counselors, “if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill [a refuse; a heap of ruins]” (2:5). Nebuchadnezzar promised a reward for the man who interpreted his dream (2:6), but the counselors answered again, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation of it” (2:6).

With the threat of death over their heads, the Chaldean counselors protested, “There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king’s matter” (2:10). Provoked by their words, the king commanded every wise man of Babylon be put to death (2:12). Though Daniel and his friends were not numbered among the wise men that had appeared before the king, the command was universal, that the “wise men should be slain,” and so “they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain” (2:13)

A Servant’s Dilemma (2:14-16)

Learning the king decreed all wise men of Babylon be slain, Daniel respectfully questioned the haste of the decree, and “Arioch (the captain of the king’s guard) made the thing known to Daniel” (2:14). Daniel then sought an audience with Nebuchadnezzar (2:16a), and requested an allotment of time and “he would shew the king the interpretation” of his dream (2:16b).

A Sovereign Divine (2:17-24)

With the king’s agreement, Daniel went home, and requested “Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions” (2:17), intercede for him in prayer, that God would reveal to him the king’s dream and its interpretation (2:18). The LORD answered their prayers “in a night vision” (2:19a), and Daniel worshipped the LORD rejoicing He is “God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are His” (2:20). Daniel boasted, His God is sovereign of creation, for “He changeth the times and the seasons,” (2:21a), and “He removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (2:21b).

With knowledge of the “deep and secret things” revealed to him by the LORD (2:22), Daniel went to Arioch, the king’s captain, and urged him to stay the execution of the wise men (2:24). He then vowed he was able to make the king to know not only his dream, but also its interpretation (2:24).

Daniel’s Appearance Before Nebuchadnezzar (2:25-35)

Saying, “there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days” (2:28), Daniel told the king he had dreamed of “a great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible” (2:31).

The vision was of a man whose “head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay” (2:32-33). The golden head of the image was Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom (2:32a, 38), and was followed by a lesser kingdom represented as having a “breast and his arms of silver” (the Medo-Persian empire, 2:32b, 39). The brass belly of the image represented the Greek empire that succeeded Persia (2:32c, 39), and was followed by a “fourth kingdom [that was] represented as “strong as iron” (2:40a), with “legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay” (this would be Rome, 2:33, 40).

Daniel’s Analysis of the Dream (2:36-45)

The dream concluded with a violent event, for Daniel had a vision of a stone “cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces” (2:34, 40). The image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream came to a violent end, when it was crushed and broken by a stone that “was cut out without hands” (2:34a), and “smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces” (2:34b). The feet and toes of the image, representing ten nations that would emerge from the Roman empire (“the iron legs”) would be crushed and scattered by the wind like chaff (2:35). The mix of clay and iron feet represented man’s futile attempt to seek peace and unity among the nations (2:41-43). “The stone [that] was cut out of the mountain without hands” and crushed the image, would itself become the fifth kingdom that grew to become “a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (2:35).

Closing thoughts (2:46-49) –Overwhelmed with the knowledge of the dream and its meaning, Nebuchadnezzar paid homage to Daniel (2:46), who reminded the king he was merely a messenger. The king answered Daniel, “your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret” (2:47). The king promoted Daniel, and made him “a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon” (2:48). Daniel remembered his friends who had prayed for him, and they were set over the governance “of the province of Babylon” (2:49a). As a man second to the king in authority over Babylon, “Daniel sat in the gate of the king” (2:49b).

Do you know “the stone [that] was cut out of the mountain without hands” (2:45), and “smote the image…and filled the earth?” (2:35) The stone is none other than the LORD Jesus Christ, whom the Scriptures reveal to be “the stone which the builders rejected” (Matthew 21:42-44; Acts 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 1 Peter 2:7-8). The stone is symbolic of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom!

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.

Dare to be A Daniel (Daniel 1)

Scripture reading – Daniel 1

The Book of Daniel is a prophetic panorama of human history. Beginning with the days of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, our study of Daniel will encompass a prophetic vision of world empires that would follow: The Medo-Persian empire, followed by Greece, and then Rome. Yet, as we will see, the visions God imparted to Daniel were of the history of man that is past, present, and still future. Daniel’s writing included prophecies that are more than a footnote of history past; they are a foretelling of future events that will conclude with the Second Coming of Christ.

Daniel 1

Daniel 1 opens with a straightforward, historical account of events we studied in 2 Kings 24:12-16, for it was “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah (605 BC) came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it” (1:1). This was the first of three sieges by Babylon. The others that followed were 597 BC, and 586 BC (the final destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, Jeremiah 25:9-12; 2 Kings 25).

The prophet Jeremiah warned Judah’s kings, if the people did not repent 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,” the LORD would return His people to their land (Jeremiah 29:10).

The events recorded in Daniel 1 occurred at the time the Temple was plundered, and king Jehoiakim was taken captive to Babylon (1:1-2). 10,000 Jews were also taken captive following the first siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:14-16), and among them were the finest young men of Jerusalem: “certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; 4Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, 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” (1:3-4).

Named among the captives of Judah were “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” (1:6). Desiring to complete their assimilation into the Babylonian culture, “the prince of the eunuchs gave names [to the Jewish captives]: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (1:7). Though we cannot be certain of his age, Daniel was probably between 13-17 years old when he was taken from his home and brought to Babylon with its strange language and idolatrous culture.

Nebuchadnezzar chose the best and brightest of Israel’s impressionable youth, and prepared them to one day take their place in the administration of his empire (Daniel 1:8).  Daniel was among those youth (1:4), and soon proved he was not only a gifted young man, but also a man 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, “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 1:8).

Daniel 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 providentially “brought Daniel 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) by Nebuchadnezzar, they appeared healthier than those “children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat” (1:15).

Closing thoughts (1:17-20) – We will see in our study, how the testing of Daniel’s faith 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).

In closing, I invite you to consider four qualities that defined Daniel’s submissive heart, and his sensitivity to the authority in his life: 1) He was subordinate in his spirit (1:12); 2) He was sincere in his appeal (1:12); 3) He was Scriptural in his purpose (1:12-13); 4) He was sensitive in his request (1:13-14).

Following Daniel as a perfect model of faith and convictions, every believer would do well to examine his own spirit, manner, convictions, and relationship with the authorities in his life.

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.

“I Sought for a Man” – A Memorial Day Weekend Perspective

The scene is as vivid in my mind today as it was that day. I watched a casket, draped with the flag of the United States of America, as it was transported through a sea of dark suits and black veiled hats. I was only 10 or 11 at the time, and Vietnam was a place far from my quiet existence in rural South Carolina. That day, the nightly news recounting American casualties, took on a new meaning that was real and personal. While the toll of combat would number 58,193 by war’s end, it was the sacrifice of one soldier that brought home to me the reality of war, and the price of freedom.

            How do you honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for the liberty we enjoy as a nation? Is it enough to place a wreath at a tomb or mark the graves of America’s fallen with flags? I suggest the greater memorial is to incorporate into our lives and families those qualities that made America great.

The Preamble of our Constitution states its purpose was to bind our hearts as a people to “a more perfect Union,” and “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

The leaders of our nation have failed us. Instead of Justice, politicians promote political correctness. Rather than domestic Tranquility, we have corruption, violence, and partisan politics. Our common defense has been weakened by open borders. The general Welfare of our nation has been sacrificed for special interest groups. Tragically, the Blessings of Liberty are despised by those who would enslave us.

America needs believers who will dedicate themselves to the LORD, and “make up the hedge, and stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

www.HeartofAShepherd.com

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

God Sought for a Man, and Found None (Ezekiel 22)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 22

The sins and wickedness of Jerusalem is the subject of Ezekiel 22. How could one nation, given the favor of the LORD like none other, sink to the depths of sin and depravity we find in this chapter? It is both frightening and convicting, when you realize how Judah’s sins parallel the sins of the 21st century. I was moved to sadness as I studied Ezekiel 22. I found myself sorrowing not only for Israel in history past, but for my own day and nation.

Indictment of Jerusalem and Her Citizens (22:1-22)

Today’s Scripture begins with the LORD summoning His prophet to serve as His prosecutor, and asking him, son of man, wilt thou judge [denounce; pass judgment], wilt thou judge the bloody city? (22:2a). The LORD answered His question, and asserted, “yea, thou shalt shew her all her [Jerusalem’s] abominations” (22:2b).

As the prosecutor of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was to charge the people of that city with two crimes (22:3): Violence (for “the city sheddeth blood”), and Idolatry (for the people had rejected the LORD, and made idols). The consequences of Jerusalem’s sins were fourfold: The LORD declared the people to be guilty, defiled, worthy of death (“for her sins had “caused [her] days to draw near,” and “a reproach unto the heathen, and a mocking to all countries” (22:4-5).

Twelve National Sins (22:6-12)

The egregious nature of Jerusalem’s sins were declared boldly by the LORD through His prophet. They had become a murderous, abusive people (22:6), whose sons and daughters dishonored their parents (22:7a). They oppressed the helpless (who were non-Hebrews in their midst, as well as orphans and widows, 22:7b), despised those things that were holy, and desecrated the Sabbath (22:8). They slandered, and were immoral (22:9). They committed incest with their fathers (22:10), and adultery with those who were not their wives (22:11). Their families were scandalously incestuous (22:11), and men bribed to kill, charged exorbitant interest, and blackmailed others for gain (22:12).

God’s Judgment (22:12c-22)

Jerusalem’s wickedness was summed up in this: They had forsaken and “forgotten” the LORD (22:12c), and their sins demanded His judgment. The LORD clapped His hands at the people in disgust, for they provoked Him to anger with their fraudulent gain (22:13). Once a powerful and valiant people, Judah had become a weak, cowardice people (22:14). The LORD had determined to scatter His people among the nations of the world (22:15a), and declared He would consume their wickedness in His wrath (22:15b). All this would be done, that the people might confess and acknowledge Him as “the LORD” (22:16). In the fire of His wrath, He would purify His people of their sins (22:18).

They had become as worthless dross, impure and unholy (22:18). In His wrath, the LORD drove His people to seek shelter in Jerusalem (22:19), and that city became a boiling caldron of fiery judgment (22:20-21; 2 Kings 25:9). To what end would this great judgment fall upon Jerusalem?

Ezekiel 22:2222As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the Lord have poured out my fury upon you.

Indictment of Jerusalem’s Leaders (22:23-31)

Judah’s and Jerusalem’s leaders had failed the people, and already the LORD had withheld the rains that would lead to thirst and famine (22:23). King Zedekiah and his court had become ravenous lions, devouring the people, robbing them by corrupt means, whose violence and wars made many widows (22:25).

The priests, the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem, had violated the Laws and Commandments, and desecrated the Temple with idols and sacrifices (22:25). They failed to sanctify that which was holy, nor did they keep the sabbaths (22:26).

The “princes” (political leaders) of Jerusalem and Judah were like ravenous wolves, shedding the blood of the innocent to increase their “dishonest gain” (22:27).

There were false prophets in the midst of the people who “daubed” the sins of the people with “untempered morter” (thus whitewashing their sins). They lied, made empty promises, and deceived, claiming to speak the words of the LORD (22:28).

Finally, there was an indictment of the people themselves. Like their leaders, they were guilty of extortion, theft, oppressing the poor and needy, and treating unjustly the non-Jewish people in their midst (22:29).

Closing thoughts – Was there any hope for Jerusalem? Were there any whom God might use to condemn the sins of the nation, and call the people to repent? The answer to those questions is summed up in this:

Ezekiel 22:3030And I sought for [searched and attempted to find] a man among them, that should make up the hedge [a wall], and stand in the gap [in the breach] before me for the land, that I should not destroy it [to annihilate; desolate]: but I found none [no one].

One man might have made the difference for Jerusalem; but the king, the leaders, and the people had rejected and scorned Jeremiah. Tragically, all was lost and the wrath of God would not be appeased (22:31).

Are there any willing to answer God’s call in the 21st century, and “make up the hedge, and stand in the gap?”

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, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Preach the Word of the LORD! (Ezekiel 2; Ezekiel 3)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 2; Ezekiel 3

At the sound of God’s voice, heaven became silent as the cherubim “let down their wings” (1:25b). With the vision of the glory of God, and Him sitting on His heavenly throne, Ezekiel fell on his face. Lying prostrate, he “heard a voice of one that spake” (1:28) saying, “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee” (2:1).

Ezekiel 2

Addressing Ezekiel as “Son of man,” the young priest (30 years old, 1:1), learned the gravity of his ministry to the children of Israel living in Babylon (2:3-4). God’s calling would move Ezekiel from anonymity, to a ministry that would invite the anger of his rebellious people.

The LORD instructed Ezekiel to stand up, and listen as He warned, “Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me” (2:3a). The sins of Israel were generational, for the people and “their fathers have [had] transgressed against” the LORD (2:3b). They were spiritually obstinate and hardhearted (2:4). Ezekiel would face a rebellious people, but if he was faithful to his calling, God assured him, the people would “know that there hath been a prophet among them” (2:5). God commanded Ezekiel, “be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words,” for the task to which he was called would be fraught with danger, and rejection (2:6).

Where would Ezekiel derive the courage to face a people God described as “most rebellious”? (2:7-10)

The LORD prepared His prophet, giving him the spiritual nourishment, he needed to confront a stiff hearted people! The LORD commanded Ezekiel, “open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.” (2:8). What did God put in his mouth? The Word of God, declaring His judgment of Israel. It was a scroll, “a roll of a book” that was placed in Ezekiel’s mouth (2:9), and upon it was written “lamentations, and mourning, and woe” (2:10).

Ezekiel 3

The LORD commanded Ezekiel, “eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel” (3:1).  The prophet devoured the words of the roll, and declared, “it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness” (3:3). With the words of the LORD in his mouth, Ezekiel was commanded, “get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them” (3:4). He was cautioned, he was not to go to the heathen, “a people of a strange [foreign] speech” (3:5). He was to take the words of God’s judgment to “the house of Israel” (3:5), but was forewarned, they “will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted” (3:7).

Though charged with a difficult task, he was not to be afraid, for the LORD promised He would strengthen Ezekiel, and he would be able to stand against the people (3:8). The LORD then challenged His prophet, be strong and determined, and “fear them not, neither be dismayed” (3:9).

The Burden of Proclaiming God’s Word to a Wicked People (3:10-15)

Ezekiel was to “receive…and hear” the words the LORD spoke to him (3:10). Then, he was to “get…to them of the captivity…and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God” (3:11a). He was to deliver the word from the LORD, but he was not responsible for whether the people received or rejected the message (3:11).

The Spirit of God then lifted up Ezekiel, and carried him (3:12-14). Though he was troubled in spirit, he could not escape for “the hand of the Lord was strong upon [him]” (3:14). Ezekiel then found himself among the people of the captivity, and for seven days he sat in their midst, silent and astonished (3:15).

Called to be God’s Watchman (3:16-27)

After seven days were past, the LORD came and commissioned Ezekiel to serve as “a watchman unto the house of Israel” (3:17). His ministry was to call the wicked to repent, but their response was not his burden. Should he fail, God warned, the blood of the wicked “will I require at thine hand” (3:18). Warn the wicked, and he would deliver his soul from judgment (3:19). Ezekiel was also to call the righteous to turn from sin, but should he fail, the LORD warned, the blood of the righteous who died in their sin, would be on his hand (3:20). Warn the righteous, and should he repent, “he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul” (3:21).

The LORD then sent Ezekiel into a valley, and along the way gave him another vision of His heavenly glory (3:21-24). He was then instructed to wait alone in a house, and bind himself with cords to insure his solitude (3:24-25). He was to be silent (3:26), and wait until the LORD opened his mouth (3:27). Finally, he was reminded, whether or not the people would hear his words, was not his burden. His duty was to faithfully warn (3:27).

Closing thoughts – How many preachers fear men’s rejection, more than they fear God’s judgment? How many believers sit in cold, dead churches, pastored by men who lack both the passion and conviction for preaching the Word of God? Let us pray the LORD will raise up a generation like Ezekiel, who fear only the LORD should they fail to declare His Word! I close with the words of Paul’s farewell address to the churches as my aspiration:

“I am pure from the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God”(Acts 20:26b-27).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

A Prayer for God’s People (Lamentations 5)

Scripture reading – Lamentations 4; Lamentations 5

This is part 2 of two devotional studies for today, and is the conclusion of our study of “The Lamentations of Jeremiah.”

Lamentations 5

A Prayer of Intercession (5:1-13)

Jeremiah prayed, “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: Consider, and behold our reproach” (5:1).

In his prayer, the prophet reminded the LORD all the people were suffering. They were taken away to Babylon, and their homes and lands fell to other people (5:2). The nation was reduced to a population of orphans and widows (5:3). They were no longer a free people, but were forced to labor to purchase water and food (5:4-5). They were slaves (5:6). Confessing the sins of their fathers (5:7; Exodus 20:5), God’s people were mistreated, abused, sick and diseased, and their wives and daughters violently raped (5:8-11). While their leaders were tortured, their young men and boys were forced to labor (5:12-13).

A Prayer for Forgiveness and Restoration (5:14-21)

Our study of Lamentations concludes with a tragic picture of a nation reaping the consequences of its wickedness. The elders were no longer esteemed, and the young men found no joy in their music. Joy was ceased, and dance was turned to sorrow (5:15-16). The crown of glory once borne by the nation as God’s chosen people was now fallen. The people confessed too late, “we have sinned” (5:16).

Overcome with sorrow, his eyes dimmed by tears, Jeremiah looked upon mount Zion where the Temple once stood, and realized it had become a haven for wild beasts as “foxes walk upon it” (5:18).

Jeremiah’s lamentations closed with him praying for his people. Remembering the LORD is Eternal God, and Sovereign “from generation to generation” (5:19), he called upon the LORD. He confessed he was troubled, for he felt as though God had forgotten and forsaken His people (5:20). Yet, knowing the LORD is merciful, Jeremiah concluded his ministry praying, “Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old. 22But thou hast utterly rejected us; Thou art very wroth against us” (5:21-22).

Closing thoughts – Like ancient Judah, there is much about our world that is disturbing and disheartening; yet, the LORD used Jeremiah to preserve a historical record of what He requires of His people. Yes, the wickedness of the 21st century demands God’s judgment, and we should both identify the sins, and confess them. Like Jeremiah, we should pray and remember the LORD is Eternal and Sovereign “from generation to generation” (5:19).

Let us call upon the LORD, and turn our hearts to Him.

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, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Character of a Dying Culture (Lamentations 4) – part 1 of 2 devotionals.

Scripture reading – Lamentations 4; Lamentations 5

Our study of “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” will conclude with today’s Scripture reading. My devotional study will be presented in two parts. This is the first, with the focus upon Lamentations 4.

Lamentations 4 – The Consequences of Judah’s Sins and God’s Judgment

Stretched before Jeremiah were the ruins of Jerusalem, with its streets strewn with rubble, and in the midst the bodies of the dead. Jeremiah had spent his life calling upon the people to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord. Yet, as he surveyed the scene before him, he saw everywhere the reminders of God’s wrath.

Jerusalem’s Faded Glory (4:1-5)

Jeremiah recorded in graphic detail the afflictions suffered by his people because of their sins. As you read this passage, understand we are studying a description of a rebellious, dying culture. It was the sin and wickedness of the people that brought Jerusalem to this sad state. Once a city that shone bright as gold, she was tarnished by sin, and her sons, once the pride of the nation, were no better than “earthen [clay] pitchers” (1:1-2).

Adding to the moral decline of the city was the wantonness of the women. The virtue of womanhood, and the nurturing nature of mothers is always the last vestige of civility in a culture. Yet, the women of Jerusalem had become worse than brute beasts. Whereas it is in the nature of beasts to “give suck to their young ones,” the daughters of Jerusalem were become cruel (4:3). Caring only for themselves, the women neglected their children, and left them athirst and starving (4:4).

The wealthy and powerful, once consumers of delicacies, were now found roaming the streets of the city, homeless and destitute (4:5).

Jerusalem’s Sins Demanded a Judgment that Exceeded Sodom (4:6-11)

The judgment of Jerusalem surpassed the judgment of Sodom (Genesis 19). What sin was committed in Zion, the city of David, that demanded a greater judgment than ancient Sodom which was known for its moral depravity?

Because Jerusalem was chosen by the LORD to be the home of His sanctuary, it was that privilege that incited the wrath of God. The people had broken covenant with the LORD, and defiled His Temple. For that wickedness, the wrath of God lingered. Sodom was mercifully destroyed “in a moment” (4:6), but the sufferings in Jerusalem appeared to have no end.

The “Nazarites” (believed to be the nobility of Jerusalem) had enjoyed a favored life of ease (4:7). Unlike the general population who labored under the sun, these were the privileged few whose skin was described as “whiter than milk,” but now were reduced to starvation, and their skin blackened by the sun (4:8). Jeremiah observed, those who died by the sword were “better than” those dying of hunger (4:9). The horror of want and depravity was surmised in this, for the women who once nurtured their children, were cannibalizing them (4:10).  All this was a testament to the wrath of God (4:11).

The Leaders Had Failed the People (4:12-22)

The prophets had warned the judgment of the LORD was imminent, but the kings of other nations and the people of Judah believed the great walled city was unassailable (4:12).

Who was to blame for the fall of Jerusalem? The answer may surprise you. Though the kings of Judah had committed great wickedness, it was “the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, That [had] shed the blood of the just in the midst of her” (4:12). Lying prophets and sinful priests of Jerusalem had failed the nation (4:13). Judah’s spiritual leaders despised the righteous, and persecuted them (4:14). Their guilt was so great, they were become like a spiritually leprous people (4:15). They had despised faithful priests, and rejected the elders (among them was Zechariah and Jeremiah, 4:16).

Rather than heed the warnings of judgment, the nation looked to men and allies to save them (4:17). When king Zedekiah and his family fled the city, the soldiers of Babylon hunted them down (4:18; 2 Chronicles 36:5-6; 2 Kings 25:1-7), and pursued them like eagles through the mountains and into the wilderness (4:19-20). Yet, the LORD did not forget those who persecuted His people, and the Edomites were warned they too would drink from the cup of God’s judgment (4:21). The sins of Edom would not be forgotten (4:22).

Closing thoughts – Have you considered the sins committed by Judah, and the sinful character of her people tragically resemble the world of our day?

My own nation, once the envy of the world, is like tarnished gold (4:1). The American dollar, once the currency of the world, is fallen into disgrace. Politicians continue to transform our military into a showcase of social depravity (4:2), rather than strength and honor. Motherhood is despised by brazen women demanding the liberty to quench the lives of the unborn. Our leaders have betrayed us, and preachers and churches have become hollow shells of sin and depravity. The righteous are despised, and the faithful calling for repentance are scorned.

Like Jeremiah of old, do we not find ourselves praying, “God save America”?

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, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Three Good Things You Should Embrace (Lamentations 2; Lamentations 3)

Scripture reading – Lamentations 2; Lamentations 3

Our brief study of “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” continues today. While Lamentations 3 will be the primary focus of this devotional, I am suggesting a brief outline of Lamentations 2.

Lamentations 2

Jerusalem is Destroyed (2:1-9)

Jeremiah continued to lament the calamity of Jerusalem and observed how the Lord had “covered the daughter of Zion [Jerusalem] with a cloud in his anger” (2:1). Knowing David pronounced the Temple “the footstool of our God” (1 Chronicles 28:2), the prophet bemoaned the LORD “remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger!” (1:1) Though it was Nebuchadnezzar whose army destroyed Jerusalem; Jeremiah left no doubt it was the fierceness of God’s judgment that devoured the people. The rebellion of the people moved the LORD to become the enemy of His wayward people (2:2-5).

All Jerusalem was a scene of destruction as the city and its Temple laid in ruins. Yet, it was the LORD who gave the altar, Temple, and the palaces “into the hand of the enemy” (2:7). As Jeremiah looked upon the city, he observed, “9Her gates are sunk into the ground…Her king and her princes are [captives] among the Gentiles: the law is no more” (2:9).

Lamentations 2:10-14 turned the focus from the city and the king, to the sorrows the people suffered. The leaders of the city sat in silence, as they mourned the deaths and destruction that was about them (2:10). Jeremiah was so overcome with grief, his tears failed, and his heart ached (2:11), as the city he loved was ravaged by famine (2:11-13).

Closing thoughts – Jeremiah then reminded the people how their sins brought them to a state of ruin and sorrow. The prophet declared, “the Lord hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word…He hath thrown down, and hath not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, He hath set up the horn [power; strength] of thine adversaries” (2:17). Overcome with grief and hunger, mothers turned to cannibalism, and did “eat their fruit” (2:20). Young and old laid dead in the streets, and there were none to bury them (2:21).

Lamentations 3

Jeremiah’s lamentations took on a very personal tone in Lamentations 3, the longest chapter in this small prophetic book. The prophet had lived to see all he prophesied against Judah come to pass. Left behind with the poor, Jeremiah gazed upon a scene of devastation. The Temple was destroyed, the palaces and homes of the city laid waste, and the walls of Jerusalem were fallen.

Lamentations 3:1-21 is a testimony of the prophet’s afflictions.

Jeremiah’s Afflictions (3:1-19)

In his sorrows, Jeremiah confessed the afflictions he carried for the suffering of His people. He felt alienated from God (3:2), as though the LORD was turned against him (3:2-5). He prayed, but it seemed God did not hear his prayers (3:6-8). He felt trapped, abandoned, and wounded in heart (3:9-13). He was scorned by his people (3:14), and overcome with feelings of helplessness (3:15-18). He despaired of life (3:19) until his focus turned to the LORD (3:20-21).

Hope of Salvation in the Midst of Afflictions (3:21-66)

In the midst of sorrows, Jeremiah expressed his faith in words that inspired the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Jeremiah wrote, It is of the LORD’S [Jehovah; Eternal, Self-Existent God] mercies [loving-kindness; grace] that we are not consumed, because His compassions [mercies; tender love] fail not [never ends or ceases]. 23  They are [mercy and tender compassions] new every morning: great [sufficient; plenty] is thy faithfulness [steadfastness]” (3:22-23). Remembering the LORD’s mercy and faithfulness, Jeremiah declared, “The LORD isgood [Lit. – pleasant; pleasing; best; joyful] unto them that wait [tarry; patiently wait; hope] for Him [the LORD], to the soul that seeketh [follows; searches; asks] Him” (3:25).

Notice, a believer must meet two conditions to know the goodness of the LORD (3:25). The first, he must “wait for Him” (3:25). Are you willing to wait on the LORD when you hurt?  Will you wait when you are ill?  When you have been mistreated or misunderstood, do you wait on the LORD?  Jeremiah’s counsel to those who are in distress is, “wait” and hope in the LORD (Psalm 27:14; 37:14; Proverbs 20:22).

Also, to trust the LORD’s goodness, you must “seek Him” (3:25b). What does it mean to seek the LORD? It means to seek and obey Him (3:40). You seek the LORD when you read, meditate, and obey Him (3:40;Jeremiah 29:13).

Closing thoughts – In closing, I invite you to consider three things Jeremiah described as “good.”  It is good to “both hope [expectant waiting] and quietly wait [wait and keep silent] for the salvation [help; deliverance] of the LORD” (3:26). Hope is more than an emotional or mental aspiration; it is the practice of a disciplined heart and soul. Hope anticipates that God hears and will answer prayer. We hope in the LORD because He is faithful to His Word and promises. It is also good to “quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD” (3:26b).  Wait without complaining. Wait for the LORD to answer prayer in His time. Finally, it is good for a son to bear the yoke and burden of manhood (3:27). In the midst of his afflictions, Jeremiah acknowledged it was a good thing for young men bear the yoke of manhood with all of its challenges, trials, and disappointments.

Life can be difficult, and even harsh; but a satisfying, rewarding life requires discipline and endurance. What about you? Will you hope, seek, obey, and trust 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, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.