Category Archives: Prayer

Nothing is Impossible (Matthew 17; Mark 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 17; Mark 9

Today’s chronological Scripture reading brings us to within six months of Christ’s appointment with the cross. The crowds following Jesus throughout Israel are growing, while the anxiety and fear of His enemies are inflamed. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and High Priest plot His arrest, as His disciples debate among themselves who would be the greatest in His earthly kingdom.

Matthew 17 and Mark 9 record the transfiguration of Christ when He unveiled His heavenly glory.

Words and imagination fail me to describe the transformative moment when Peter, James, and his brother John (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13) witnessed Christ’s transfiguration. Those three disciples, identified as Christ’s inner circle, gazed upon Jesus, “and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (17:2). As the disciples looked on, suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus “talking with Him” (17:3). It has been suggested by many, and I believe the same, that Moses was representative of the Law and Elijah the prophets.

Peter, never one to be at a loss for words, interrupted the moment and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias [i.e. Elijah]” (17:4). Even as the words were in Peter’s mouth, he was interrupted by a sight and sound that silenced him and struck fear in the three disciples.

Matthew 17:5–6 – “5While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.”

With a touch of compassion (17:7), Jesus bid the disciples to rise, and challenged them to tell no man what they had seen, “until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (17:9). Peter would write later of this experience on the mount: “[We] were eyewitnesses of his [Christ’s] majesty. 17For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him [Christ] in the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:16–18).

After He had descended the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus found His other disciples embroiled in a controversy with scribes (experts in the Law of Moses), who were “questioning,” and mocking the disciples’ failure to cast a demon out of a father’s son (Mark 9:14; Matthew 17:14-16). Rebuking His disciples for their lack of faith (Matthew 17:17), Jesus commanded the demon to depart from the son, “and the child was cured from that very hour” (17:18).

The disciples, embarrassed by their failure and humbled by Jesus’ rebuke (Mark 9:19), later questioned why they had been unable to cast the demon out of the child (Mark 9:28).  Christ’s answer revealed the power and necessity of faith and prayer (Mark 9:29; Matthew 17:20-21).

Matthew 17:20–2120And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

The disciples had failed to cast the demon out of the child because they had faltered in both the matter of faith and prayer.

Jesus taught, even a small amount of faith can grow and overcome obstacles as great as a mountain (I believe the idea of moving a mountain was figurative or symbolic of great obstacles, and not literal mountains). To overcome a great obstacle, like that of the possession and influence of a demon, required both faith (believing “nothing shall be impossible” – Matthew 17:20) and “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29).

Are you facing obstacles that seem to tower over you like mountains? Are you struggling to believe and trust God?

Set your heart to seek the LORD in prayer. Desire Him more than you crave food!

Hebrews 11:6 – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Divine Omnipotence Provides, Where Human Resourcefulness Fails (John 6)

Scripture reading – John 6

Today’s Scripture reading brings us to the Gospel of John, chapter six, and what is often referred to as, the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” (John 6:1-15). We read in John 6:1, “After these things Jesus went over [lit. “other side”; farther side; across] the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.”

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke reveal the “things” that preceded Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and seeking the solitude of the wilderness. Luke records it was after the disciples returned from preaching the Gospel in towns and villages (Luke 9:10-17). Matthew writes it was after the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and reported how John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod (Matthew 14:6-12). After receiving news of John’s death, Jesus departed by ship with His disciples and went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee that was identified as the “Sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1).

Knowing it was the custom of Jesus to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 6:4), we should consider why Jesus did not go up to Jerusalem. John the Baptist having been martyred by Herod Antipas, and the Pharisees and Sanhedrin harboring a growing hostility toward Him, I believe Jesus was avoiding a premature confrontation with those who a year later would require He be crucified.

John 6

We read in John’s Gospel that there was a “great multitude” who followed Jesus, “because they saw [experienced; beheld] his miracles [supernatural signs that authenticated Jesus had divine power and authority] which he did on them that were diseased [weak; feeble; i.e. blind, lame, crippled]. 3  And Jesus went up [ascended] into [unto] a mountain [hill; ascending  from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee], and there he sat with his disciples” (6:2-3).

Ever manifesting compassion on the people, Jesus asked Philip, “Whence [what source or place] shall we buy bread, that these [the “great company”] may eat?” (6:5). Notice the question was not, “Philip, what are you going to do about feeding the people?” No, the question posed to Philip was, “Whence shall we buy bread?” (6:5).

What was the purpose of the question Jesus posed to Philip? John would write later, “this He [Jesus] said to prove [examine or test] him [Philip]: for He [Jesus] himself knew [looking ahead, knew with certainty] what He would do [was purposed to do]” (6:6).

Philip surmised, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little” (John 6:7). Assuming a “pennyworth” was probably a denarius and was a day laborer’s pay, Philip calculated the expense to feed so many would be nearly equal to eight month’s wages, and that only “a little” (6:7).

Another disciple, Andrew, identified as “Simon Peter’s brother” (6:8), came with news that there was a boy, “which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes;” however, he recognized the obvious stating, “but what are they among so many?’ (6:9)

With a prayer of thanksgiving (6:11), Jesus took up the small boy’s lunch and directed His disciples to distribute the fish and loaves of bread. By divine blessing and omnipotence, Jesus fed five thousand men (6:10), and in addition, “women and children” (Matthew 14:21). How many were fed that day would be conjecture on my part, but suffice it to say there were thousands more besides the five thousand men who represented that many households.

Not only was there enough to feed a great multitude, there was more than enough as the disciples took up leftovers that were enough to fill twelve lunch baskets (6:12-13), no doubt providing for the disciples next meal.

What can be learned from this miracle of feeding so many from so little?

For the multitude that had been fed and were aware that they had witnessed a great miracle, they confessed: “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (6:14). Riding the emotions of the hour, but also revealing how little has changed in man since that day, we read: “They would come and take him by force, to make him a king” (6:15). Knowing it was not yet time for Him to present Himself as the Messiah King, Jesus withdrew “into a mountain Himself alone” (6:15b).

That day, Philip, Andrew, and the other disciples learned a great lesson that we should all heed:

Where human potential fails, divine omnipotence fulfills.

Jesus would later remind His disciples, “for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Peace In The Midst of the Storm” (Mark 4-5)

Scripture reading – Mark 4-5

We continue our chronological reading of the Scriptures with today’s assignment, Mark 4-5. You will recognize the Parable of the Soils\Sower (Mark 4:1-20]) is the same as that which is recorded in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. Rather than review the Parable of the Soils, I invite you to turn your focus to an exciting event that occurred at the close of the same day when Jesus ended His teaching (Mark 4:21-41).

Mark 4:35-41 – A Storm and a Revelation

Exhausted from teaching (reminding us that, though He was Divine, He was also man with physical challenges of hunger, thirst, and fatigue), Jesus exhorted His disciples, “Let us pass over unto the other side” (4:35). Knowing the far shore was seven miles away, Jesus laid down in the “hinder part of the ship” (meaning the stern or the latter part of the boat), and went to sleep (4:38).

The Sea of Galilee, fourteen miles long and seven miles wide, lies 700 feet below sea level, and has a sub-tropical climate that is warm and pleasant year-round.  Surrounded by the Galilean mountains and the Golan Heights, the area is part of the Jordan rift.  When cold winds from the snow-covered mountain peaks to the north, funnel through the hillsides, the cold air collides with the warm sub-tropical air often producing sudden, violent storms on the Sea of Galilee.

On this occasion, the disciples found themselves caught in a violent storm so intense, the waves of the sea filled the ship (4:37). Matthew writes concerning the same occasion in his Gospel: “there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but He was asleep” (Matthew 8:24).

Though at least four of the disciples were experienced fisherman (James, John, Peter, and Andrew), even those veteran seamen were unable to salvage the desperate situation.   With cold winds whipping, and waves crashing, the exhausted disciples cried out to Jesus, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).

Such a question was a faithless affront to their Master, who “arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” (4:39-40).

Jesus knew the weakness of the disciples’ faith, and their failure to place their trust in Him (Luke 8:23-24). The sudden stillness of the winds and waves left the disciples wondering among themselves, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (4:41). They were struck by a sense of fear, awe, and respect. They had heard Him teach, but they had not understood His person. They had witnessed His miracles, but had not recognized His power.

The psalmist writes, “O Lord God of host…Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them” (Psalm 89:8a, 9).

I close with some practical observations we can take from today’s devotional. The first: Storms in life might take us by surprise; however, they come as part of God’s plan for growing our faith and dependence on Him. The Lord knew the disciples would face a storm when He commanded them to launch out into the sea. It was His plan to challenge their faith, that He might prove He was Sovereign and LORD of creation.

A second lesson: Our response to trials and troubles will evidence our faith or lack of faith in God and His plan for our lives.  The disciples did not fully know Who Jesus was, and He commanded the wind and the waves to cease, “they feared [and asked], What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41).

Finally, storms and troubles are opportunities to know God’s ways personally and intimately. They remind us that God’s will for our lives will sometimes guide us into challenging trials meant to assess our priorities, and reveal our limitations apart from Him. They test our faith and trust in Him.

Remember: The safest place in the world is in the will of God, even in the midst of a storm.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Lord, Teach Us to Pray” (Luke 11)

Scripture reading – Luke 11

Luke 11 is an incredibly rich passage, but unfortunately, too long for a devotional commentary intended to be brief! Rather than offer an exhaustive study of Luke 11, I will limit today’s objective to a lesson in prayer found in Luke 11:1-13 (a condensed account of the same prayer recorded by Matthew in his Gospel, Matthew 6:9-13).

Luke 11:1-4 – A Model of Prayer

Jesus had retreated to a “certain place” to pray, and when He was finished, His disciples came requesting, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (11:1). The disciples, particularly James and John, who had been disciples of John the Baptist, were familiar with John’s commitment to prayer, and noticed the same was true of Jesus.

Jesus answered the disciples’ request giving them a model for prayer (11:2-4), a lesson in a believer’s manner of prayer (11:5-10), and God’s measure in response to prayer (11:11-13).

The LORD’S model of prayer was defined by four parts.

Remembering God’s very name is hallowed (i.e. holy and sacred), we are to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (11:2b). We are to pray for God’s will to be done (and accomplished) on earth, even as it is in heaven (11:2c). What is God’s will in heaven and in earth?

Religious teachers of the late 19th and early 20th century supposed that their work was to labor for God to the end that their efforts would usher in His kingdom and an earthly utopia. I do not find in Scripture that God needs our assistance to usher in His kingdom; however, His will is surely that of redemption and salvation. Peter writes, “9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that God would “have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

It is also God’s will that He be glorified through our sanctification. Israel was commanded, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 20:7). New Testament believers are commanded the same: “15But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

A second quality of prayer is for personal needs: “Give us day by day our daily bread” (11:3). Bread was an essential part of a family’s diet in the first century. Remembering every good thing comes from God the Father, prayers of thanksgiving before meals should be the practice of every household.

Thirdly, we are to acknowledge our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness. We are to pray, forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (11:4a). Not a day should pass without a believer acknowledging to God that He is holy, righteous, and just. We are sinners who need to remember that God is merciful, gracious, and forgiving, and He would have us be the same to others (11:4b).

The fourth quality of prayer is a petition for deliverance: “And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil” (11:4b). When times of testing and temptation beset us (and they will), we must trust the LORD is ready to deliver us when we ask (11:4c).

Perhaps there is someone who has hurt you deeply, and the thought of forgiving them, you protest, is something you cannot and will not do! I remind you, the LORD taught His followers that there are consequences to harboring a bitter spirit: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

Luke 11:5-10 – The Persistent Manner of a Praying Believer

How often should a believer pray about a specific need or request? We are to be persistent in prayer (11:5-8).

The LORD illustrated the principle of persistency, telling the story of a neighbor who had an unexpected guest that arrived at his home at midnight (11:5). Because hospitality was expected, it was a great offense, a societal humiliation, to have guests and fail to offer them nourishment. In the LORD’S parable, the neighbor refused to be dissuaded from seeking loaves of bread (11:5-7), until finally the head of the household yielded to his plea, rose from his bed and gave his neighbor what he required (11:8).

Application – God answers persistent, fervent prayer (11:9-10).

Luke 11:11-13 – God Hears and Answers Prayer

Another parable draws a contrast between a father who, though imperfect, loves his son and desires to give him what he requests. Of course, no loving father desires to give his son that which might injure him (11:11-12).

Lesson – If a father who is imperfect desires to give his son good things, how much more does God the Father who is altogether good, desire to answer the prayer of His children and give them what is best of all: The presence, power, and comfort of “the Holy Spirit” (11:13).

Believer, never tire of praying. God hears and answers the persistent, fervent prayers of a righteous man.

James 5:1616Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“I Have Loved You, Israel” (Malachi 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Malachi 1-4

Today’s Scripture is our 273rd, and brings our year-long chronological reading of the Bible to the final book of the Old Testament. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Malachi 1.

The Book of Malachi was written around 400 B.C. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. His ministry was to the remnant of Jews that had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity.

Cyrus, king of Persia, had made an emancipation decree in 536 B.C., fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Jews would return their land after a seventy-year captivity. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt around 446 B.C.  Less than a half-century later, we find Israel once again having broken covenant with God and facing the consequences of their sin and rebellion.

Malachi’s prophecy is the last word from the LORD recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, until the nation heard the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23).

Malachi 1

Malachi described his ministry as, “The burden [weight and importance of the prophecy] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi” (1:1), and declared to Israel on God’s behalf, “I have loved you” (1:2a). God’s love is unconditional (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 5:8), everlasting, unfailing love (Jeremiah 31:3-4).

Rather than acknowledge God’s love, the people obstinately asked, “Wherein has thou loved us?” (1:2b). In spite of the love and grace He had extended to Israel, the people questioned God’s favor (1:1-5).

Malachi reminded the people how the LORD had chosen Israel (Jacob), but rejected Esau. (1:2-3). He had left Edom impoverished, but had blessed the land of Israel. And yet, the people questioned the LORD’s love!

The people had dishonored the LORD’s name (1:6), and the priests were rebuked for offering sacrifices that were less than the covenant that bound them. God’s Law required perfect sacrifices (Deut. 15:19-23; Leviticus 22:17-33); however, the priests had offered “polluted bread” (food), and animals that were blind, lame, and sick (Malachi 1:7-8, 13). They dared offer to God what their own human authorities would have rejected (1:8b).

Malachi admonished the priests, it would be better to “shut the doors” of the Temple and offer no sacrifice, than to make a pretense of sacrifices that were less than their best (1:10, 14). 

Malachi then prophesied that there would be a future day (the Millennium Kingdom), when the Gentiles would worship the LORD and His name would be “great among the heathen” (1:11).

Sadly, the people whom God had chosen, and with whom He established His covenant, had once again turned from the LORD and despised His offerings (1:13). The LORD, faithful to His Word and covenant, warned, “cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, And voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (1:14).

Friend, what attitude do you have toward the LORD in giving Him your tithes, time, and talents? Do you treasure the things that are eternal, or covet the things of this earth that are temporal and fleeting? (Matthew 6:21, 31-33)

Have you given Him your heart?

Romans 12:1 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Ezra: Man of Faith” (Ezra 7-10)

Scripture reading – Ezra 7-10

* Note from the Author: I begin with a brief apology to those who follow my daily devotional posts. A dear friend brought to my attention that I had overlooked Ezra 7-10 (which chronologically should have come after Esther 6-10, and before Nehemiah 1-5). Tomorrow’s devotional in Malachi will conclude our Old Testament readings! Thank you for your patience and faithfulness.

Where do you look to for encouragement and spiritual inspiration?

Hebrews 11 is full of heroic, spiritually inspiring examples. We find Noah, an example of faithfulness in a wicked generation where he stood alone as a man of faith (11:7). Abraham, a man of incomparable faith, who left his family and country, to go to a land he had never seen, but which God had promised Him for an inheritance (11:8-10). Jacob was an example of the foresight of God, who saw in him, not what he was (a self-centered, deceitful man), but who he would become—Israel and a prince with God (11:21). Joseph serves as a model of inordinate forgiveness: He had unwavering confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when he was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave (11:22).

Though not mentioned in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” Ezra should be one of our spiritual heroes. He was not a great soldier, nor a descendant of blue blood royalty; however, he was a great man because he was faithful.

Who was Ezra?

Ezra was, as his name suggests, a “Helper.” He was a man of godly character. He was “a ready [trained, experienced; skilled] scribe in the law of Moses,” and “had prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach [instruct] in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:6, 10).

Four Stages for Becoming a “Spiritual Giant” (Ezra 7:6, 10)

Ezra had a passion for studying God’s Word. He was a “ready scribe in the law of Moses,” and was a disciplined student and teacher of God’s Word (7:6).

Ezra “prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (7:10). He had a right attitude and focus because he made preparing his heart a priority. Solomon taught his son, “The preparations of the heart in man [belong to man],and the answer of the tongue [the outcome of a matter], is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). Ezra was ready to serve God because he had prepared his heart.

The third stage of becoming a “spiritual giant” is perspiration. Ezra was committed to not only “seek the law of the LORD,” but “also to do it” (7:10). He understood that what practiced was just as important as what he knew (James 1:22, 25).

We have seen Ezra was passionate, prepared, perspiring, and fourthly – a proclaimer:

He taught “in Israel statutes and judgments” (7:10). Our world is in desperate need of spiritually committed men and women. I fear there are many who lack spiritual disciplines and commitment, and are what the writer of Hebrews described in Hebrews 5:12-14 – “12For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you…and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Remember: Like an oak that requires a good foundation to grow tall and become a giant of the forest, you will never be a “spiritual giant” until you have the right foundation…faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior\Redeemer.

Psalm 1:1–31Blessed is the man That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

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

Scripture reading – Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“O Ye Dry Bones, Hear the Word of the Lord!” (Ezekiel 37-39)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 37-39

Jerusalem is destroyed, the Temple a pile of charred debris, and Judah as a land has been left desolate. Ezekiel was ministering to a people who were strangers among a heathen, idolatrous nation. The prophets had foretold a captivity of seventy years before God would restore His people to their beloved Promise Land; however, the news of Jerusalem’s fall had left the people in a hopeless state.

With all in ruins, and the people scattered among the nations, what hope was there to return to their homeland?

Ezekiel 37 – Dry Bones Revived

Ezekiel 37 is a prophetic illustration of Israel’s resurrection after captivity, and the reunification of the people who had been divided into two nations since the close of King Solomon’s reign.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – A Valley Full of Dry Bones

The LORD gave Ezekiel a vision of a valley that was full of dry bones and proposed the question: “Son of man, can these bones live?” (37:3)

This valley of dry bones appears to have been the scene of a great battle, and the bones were left after the flesh had decomposed. Of course, there was no life, because there was no flesh in the valley of dry bones. The prophet had long known the experience of preaching to the people of a dying nation, but now the LORD commanded Ezekiel, “Prophesy upon these bones” (37:4a).

God assured, “I will cause breath to enter into you [i.e. the dry bones], and ye shall live: 6  And I will lay sinews [tendons] upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (37:4-5).

Notice the phrase: “Ye shall know that I am the LORD” (37:5).

We have seen that phrase repeated throughout our study of Ezekiel. The purpose in God judging Israel, Judah, the Ammonites, Moabites, Assyria, and eventually Babylon has always been the same: That men would acknowledge that the God of Israel is the One True God and there is no other!

Obedient to the LORD’s command, Ezekiel began to prophesy to the valley of lifeless, dry bones (37:7). Suddenly there was a trembling in the valley as the bones began to come together, “bone to his bone… the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them” (37:7-9).

The scene before Ezekiel was a valley of lifeless bodies, perfectly whole, but with no life in them. The LORD then commanded Ezekiel, “Prophesy unto the wind [and] say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (37:9).

Imagine the scene: Ezekiel calling forth the wind in the name of the LORD, and suddenly there was a stirring throughout the valley as the slain “stood up upon their feet!” (37:10)

Ezekiel 37:11-14 gives us the interpretation and purpose of the vision of dry bones.

The dry bones in the valley were symbols of the “whole house of Israel,” both the northern ten tribes known as Israel, and Judah (37:11). The dry bones represented the hopeless state of God’s people (37:11b). Both Israel and Judah had become desolate lands, and the people were scattered among the nations of the world like the lifeless dry bones in the valley (37:11c).

Ezekiel’s message was to encourage the people that, though Israel appeared to be dead, and the hope of being a nation was lost, the LORD had not forgotten His covenant promises. He would gather His people and “bring [them] into the land of Israel” (37:12). He would breathe life into Israel by putting His spirit in them. The people would know that it was the LORD Who had “spoken it, and performed it” (37:14).

What lessons can you take from the valley of dry bones?

The valley of dry bones was a lifeless, hopeless scene; a national tragedy for Israel and Judah who had broken their covenant with God, and forsaken His Law and Commandments. Like the bones scattered in the valley, the people were scattered among the heathen nations. All seemed hopeless.

Your valley of dead, dry bones might be a crisis of health, a conflict with a loved one, or a besetting sin that has enslaved your soul. Remember, the same God who stirred a valley of lifeless bones and raised an army to its feet, is our God! The LORD is the giver of life and He is faithful to His promises. He will not forsake His people!

John 6:63 – “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

Romans 8:11 – “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken [make alive] your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Three Good Things, and Why You Should Embrace Them (Lamentations 3-5)

Scripture reading – Lamentations 3-5

Jeremiah’s lamentations take on a very personal tone in Lamentations 3, the longest chapter in this small prophetic book. While today’s Scripture reading is Laminations 3-5, today’s devotional commentary will be limited to chapter 3.

Lamentations 3

Jeremiah has lived to see all that he prophesied against Judah come to pass. Left behind with the poorest people after Babylon conquered and destroyed Jerusalem, the prophet gazes out upon a scene of devastation. The Temple has been destroyed, the palaces and homes of the city laid waste, and the walls of Jerusalem have fallen.

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

Alienated from God, the heavy burden of discipline upon him, Jeremiah felt as though the LORD had turned against him (3:2-5). He prayed in his distress, but felt as though God did not hear his prayers (3:6-8). In his sorrows, the prophet felt trapped, abandoned, wounded in heart (3:9-13). Mocked by his own people (3:14) and nearly overcome with feelings of helplessness (3:15-18), Jeremiah was despairing of life (3:19) until he turned his focus from his circumstances to the LORD (3:20-21).

Lamentations 3:21-66 – Hope of Salvation in the Midst of Afflictions

In the midst of his sorrows, Jeremiah expressed his faith in words that are the inspiration of the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Jeremiah writes:

Lamentations 3:22-23It 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].”

Jeremiah continues, “The LORD is good [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).

It comes as no surprise that the “LORD is good;” however, notice there is a twofold condition for experiencing the goodness of God.

1) First, we must learn to “wait [hope] for Him” (3:25a).

It is easy to counsel others to be patient and wait on the LORD; however, to practice the same is an exercise of faith, hope and trust.

Are you willing to wait on the LORD when you have been hurt?  To wait when you are ill?  Do you wait on the LORD when you have been mistreated or misunderstood?  Are you willing to wait on the LORD when a loved one makes choices that grieve your heart?  “Patience is a virtue,” is an old English adage and from my vantage point is in short supply. Jeremiah’s counsel in the midst of deep distress is “wait” and hope in the LORD (Psalm 27:14; 37:14; Proverbs 20:22).

2) Second, we must truly “seek Him” (3:25b).

What does it mean to seek the LORD? Be diligent to search Him out by reading, inquiring, and meditating in His Word. To seek the LORD one must obey His Law and Commandments, and follow His will (3:40; Jeremiah 29:13)

I close inviting you to consider the things that are said to be “good[pleasant; beautiful; right; pleasing] in Lamentations 3:26-27.

Lamentations 3:26 – “It is good that a man should both hope [expectant waiting] and quietly wait [wait and keep silent] for the salvation [help; deliverance] of the LORD.”

It is good for a believer to “hope” (3:26a). This “hope” is more than an emotional or mental aspiration; it is the practice of a disciplined heart and soul.  It is hope that awaits with anticipation God’s answer to prayer. It is hope that springs from faith that is predicated on the knowledge that God hears and answers 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 in silence. Wait for the LORD to answer prayer and move in His timing.  (I fear the pews of churches are filled with many who are neither patient or quiet!)

Thirdly, it is good when a son bears the yoke and burden of manhood (3:27). 

Lamentations 3:27 – “It is good for a man [lit. a man child; son] that he bear the yoke [disciplines; burdens] in his youth.”

In the midst of his own afflictions, Jeremiah acknowledged that it is a good thing when young men bear the yoke of manhood with its challenges, trials, and disappointments.

Many parents coddle their youth and insulate them from a harsh reality: Life can be difficult, even harsh, but a satisfying, rewarding life requires discipline and endurance. 

Lesson – Parents rob children of a “good” thing when they fail to make them bear the burdens, blessings, and consequences of their choices.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Jerusalem is Become a Widow; Judah is Gone Into Captivity” (Lamentations 1-2)

Scripture reading – Lamentations 1-2

Introduction to Lamentations – The Aftermath of Jerusalem’s Fall

The Book of Lamentations, though only five chapters in length, is powerful, poetic, and a devastating portrait of the consequences of sin. The book is as its name suggest, a book of laments. We find in its pages five laments, penned and enunciated by the prophet Jeremiah, as he gazes upon the rubble that was once the beautiful city of David. Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations records the old prophet’s cries of grief, his groanings over Jerusalem and Judah.

Jeremiah had faithfully served as God’s prophet through the reigns of five successive kings of Judah. He had warned God’s people that judgment was inevitable if the nation did not repent, turn from her sins, and turn to God.  The kings persecuted the prophet and the people rejected the Word of the LORD. With the city destroyed and the majority of the people taken away to Babylon, Jeremiah and a few poor citizens remained in Judah to work the land and serve Babylon.

The focus of today’s devotional commentary will be limited to Lamentations 1.

Lamentations 1 – Jeremiah’s Lament: Jerusalem’s Humiliation

Remembering the Temple is a pile of smoldering rubble and the palaces, homes, and walls of Jerusalem lie in ruin, we can understand Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem, the city he describes “as a widow” (1:1) and whose people are “tributary,” serving as forced labor in Babylon (1:1).

Jeremiah pictures Jerusalem as a bereaved widow whose sorrows cannot be appeased, and who finds no comfort for “her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies” (1:2). The cause for the suffering and sorrows of the city is summed up in this: “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed” (1:8a).

Jeremiah described Jerusalem’s plight and all the people had suffered because of their sins: Famine, humiliation, distress, the consuming fire of God’s wrath, the burden of sin, the loss of her army, sorrow, rejection and scorn had become Jerusalem’s plight (1:9-17).

The LORD was Waiting for His People to Confess Their Sins and Turn to Him (1:18-22).

In a prayer of intercession, Jeremiah confessed the sins of His nation (1:18-19). Declaring the righteousness of the LORD, the prophet confessed for Jerusalem: “I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity” (1:18).

Following his confession to the LORD, Jeremiah made four pleas for Jerusalem and her displaced people (1:20-22).

The first plea was that the LORD would see Jerusalem’s suffering (1:20a). The second, that the LORD would hear the confession of His people (1:20b). Thirdly, Jeremiah prayed for the LORD to show compassion upon His people who were dying (1:20c).

Finally, the prophet closed with an imprecatory plea: That the LORD would remember the wickedness of Babylon and that nation would suffer the afflictions she had assailed on Jerusalem (1:22).

* A closing note for those who might want to “dig a little deeper;” notice that Lamentations chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5 are each twenty-two verses long.  There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet and each of the verses in chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5 begin with a word using the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (in other words, like our A-Z in English).  Lamentations 4 is sixty-six verses long and the Hebrew alphabet in that chapter begins couplets that are three verses each.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith