Category Archives: Providence

Marvelous Grace! (Acts 15; Acts 16)

Scripture reading – Acts 15; Acts 16

I introduced you to James, the author of the Epistle of James, in a prior devotional. He was believed to be the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). That same James appears in today’s Scripture reading in the role of the senior pastor\elder of the congregation in Jerusalem.

Acts 15

Today’s Scripture reading chronicled the growth pangs of the 1st century church. While the church began with Jewish converts, the growing number of Gentiles who believed presented a theological crisis. Because there were historic prejudices between the Jews and Gentiles, it was inevitable that conflicts would arise in the Antioch congregation that was comprised of both Jews and Greeks. The arrival of “men which came down from Judaea” (15:1a) created a conflict that threatened not only the unity of the church, but questioned the foundational doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The men of Judaea taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (15:1b).

Paul and Barnabas confronted the dissension that was created by those men, and it was determined they, along with other men, should “go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about [the] question” (15:2). The same debate soon raged in Jerusalem as believers “of the sect of the Pharisees” maintained that Gentile believers must not only be circumcised to be saved, but also be commanded “to keep the law of Moses” (15:5).

The Jerusalem Council (15:6-21)

The apostles and elders gathered as representatives of the congregation, and listened as the dispute over circumcision raged (15:6-7a). Peter finally arose, and declared what had already been agreed upon in an earlier council (15:7b). It had been determined the Gospel was not only for the Jews, but for all men (Acts 10:1-48). When Cornelius, a Roman centurion heard the Gospel and believed, God gave him the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44-48). Peter observed how God had “put no difference” between the men of Jewish ancestry, and those who were Gentile. All sinners come to salvation by faith (15:9).  Peter declared, whether Jew or Gentile, “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (15:11).

Then, the people fell silent, as Paul and Barnabas shared how the Lord had validated their preaching and teaching by “miracles and wonders” that only the LORD could have produced (15:12). James, whom I believe was the senior pastor\elder of the Jerusalem congregation (Galatians 1:19), declared he was in agreement with Peter (i.e. Simeon, 15:14). He reminded the believers how the prophet Amos had foretold that Gentiles would be a part of God’s kingdom (Amos 9:11-12). James counseled the members of the church to accept the doctrine of salvation by grace though faith alone, and not overburden Gentile believers with instructions that were not required for salvation (15:19-21).

There was a consensus to accept James’ summary, and affirm the decision in writing. Furthermore, two men of the Jerusalem congregation were chosen to accompany the letter, and act as representatives of the church to believers in Antioch (15:20, 22-23). The letter also urged Gentile believers to, “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (15:20), truths from the Old Testament they needed to know and practice.

The Effect of the Letter Addressed to Antioch Believers (15:31-41)

The letter affirming salvation by grace alone stirred up a spirit of rejoicing among believers (15:31). Silas, one of the two men sent from the Jerusalem congregation, remained in Antioch, and became a missionary peer of Paul (15:34). Paul and Barnabas “continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord,” and “many others also” became teachers and preachers (15:35).

Closing thoughts (15:36-41) – The concluding verses of Acts 15 remind us that, though Paul and Barnabas were giants of the faith in the early church, they were nevertheless human. With the dissension over the doctrine of salvation by grace resolved, Paul announced his desire to journey and visit believers in the cities and towns where he and Barnabas had “preached the word of the Lord” (15:36). Yet, Barnabas insisted on bringing John Mark (15:37), whom Paul opposed for he had deserted them in Pamphylia (15:38). The quarrel between the two men was so great, they separated themselves, “and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus” (15:39).

There has long been a debate regarding who was right concerning John Mark, Barnabas or Paul? I could make several arguments on this point, but because Paul was an apostle and Barnabas was not, I wonder if Barnabas failed to submit to authority? Another point in Paul’s favor is, when he and Silas departed, they were “recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God (15:40). The same affirmation was not said of Barnabas and John Mark. Nevertheless, at the end of his life and ministry, Paul wrote of John Mark: “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

In the providence and sovereignty of God, John Mark not only came to Paul’s aid, he would later author the Gospel of Mark! What marvelous grace!

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Amazing Grace: From Saul the Persecutor, to Paul the Preacher (Acts 9)

Scripture reading – Acts 9

Our previous devotional concluded with Stephen being martyred for Christ (Acts 7:54-60). Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, records those who participated in the stoning “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” (7:58). We next read, “Saul was consenting [approving] unto his death” (Acts 8:1). Yet, the persecution of believers had the effect of not only seeing them “scattered abroad” (8:4), but also “preaching the word” everywhere they went (8:4).

Coming to Acts 9, we find “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, [and going] unto the high priest” (9:1). Under the deluded pretense he was serving God, Saul requested letters of authority to go to Damascus synagogues, and arrest men or women who identified with “this way” (9:2).  (The “way” being the name of any who identified Jesus Christ as the Messiah.) Driven by a religious zeal contrary to the Law and Commandments (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:16), Saul planned to drag followers of Christ out of the synagogues of Damascus, and take them bound by ropes and chains to Jerusalem, a journey of 175 miles.

As Saul “came near Damascus” (9:3), he encountered a light from heaven” (9:3). Blinded by the light (9:8), he fell to the earth “and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (9:4a). With humility, Saul answered, “Who art thou, Lord?” Then Jesus revealed Himself to Saul by name, and identified his persecution of believers as an offense against Himself.

“The Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (9:5b). Like an ox that is goaded with a long stick to prod it to obey its master, Saul had foolishly been goading God. “Trembling and astonished [amazed]” (9:6), he realized he had been persecuting the Son of God. Blind and shaken, Saul surrendered his will to God, and acknowledged Christ as Lord, saying, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”(9:6a).

Unable to see, Saul was guided to Damascus by the very men he had chosen to persecute the followers of Christ. Though rendered “speechless” (for they had heard a voice, but saw no man), they were unchanged by the experience that transformed Saul’s heart and life (9:7). Saul arrived in Damascus; with the Lord’s promise he would be told what he must do (9:6c). For three days, the great persecutor of believers found himself blind, and with no appetite for food or drink (9:9).

While Saul waited, the Lord moved on the heart of Ananias, a devout man, and a follower of Christ (9:10). He learned the LORD had chosen him to restore Saul’s sight. He resisted the LORD, for he knew Saul’s reputation, and the path of death and destruction he had blazed. Ananias prayed, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name” (9:13-14). Then, the Lord revealed to Ananias how Saul was “a chosen vessel” and would bear Christ’s name “before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (9:15). As he had persecuted believers, Saul would himself become an object of persecution, for the Lord would reveal to “him how great things he must suffer for [His] name’s sake” (9:16).

Ananias obeyed the Lord, “and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (9:17-18).

Closing thoughts – Because he was a Pharisee and trained in rabbinical schools, Saul had extensive knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. With not only his physical eyes restored, but his spiritual eyes open, he believed and began to preach Christ “is the Son of God” (9:20). The Jews of his day were amazed at the transformation in Saul’s life.

The transformation in Saul’s life was nothing short of radical. He had been transformed from the great persecutor of the followers of Christ, to a faithful apostle and preacher. What a testimony of saving, transforming grace! No wonder Paul would later write, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

“Peace In the Midst of the Storm” (Luke 8; Mark 4)

Scripture reading – Luke 8; Mark 4

Luke 8

Our study of the Gospels continues, and you will notice parallel accounts of the same events in today’s Scripture reading. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels.” Synoptic suggests the same or similar; thus, the “synoptic gospels” record the same events, albeit from each human author’s perspective. Together, Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us a greater depth and broader perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Briefly, as we read in our study of Matthew 13:1-23, we find the Parable of the Sower and Soils recorded in Luke 8:5-15 and Mark 4:3-20. Luke 8:16-18 and Mark 4:21-25 records the Parable of the Candlelight. Remember, not all events recorded in the Gospels are in chronological order. For example, Luke places in chapter 8 when Mary, the mother of Jesus and His half-brothers (sons born to Joseph) came to Jesus requesting a word with Him (8:19-21). The same incidence was recorded earlier in Matthew (12:46-50) and Mark (3:31-35).

Mark 4 – A Storm and a Revelation

As already noted, Mark 4 reprises the Parable of the Sower and Soils (4:3-20). Mark also gives us the record of the Parable of the Candlelight (4:21-25), Parable of the Growing Seed (4:26-29), and the Parable of the Mustard Seed(4:30-32).

Christ’s Authority Over Nature (Mark 4:35-41)

Jesus was exhausted from teaching (for though He was Divine, He was human with the physical challenges of hunger, thirst, and fatigue), Jesus urged 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, 14 miles long and 7 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 and can produce sudden, violent storms on the waters of 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 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 four of the disciples were experienced fisherman (James, John, Peter, and Andrew), 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, and He “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 His 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. The disciples had heard Him teach, but they had not understood His person. They had witnessed His miracles, but had not recognized His power.

Closing thoughts and observations – 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). Storms in life are inevitable, though they often take us by surprise. Yet, all storms (troubles, trials) 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.

Another lesson concerns our response to trials and troubles, for they 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 when He commanded the wind and the waves to cease, “they feared [and asked], What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41).

Finally, I don’t know what storms or troubles you may be facing, but I encourage you to see them as opportunities to know and trust God personally and intimately. You must learn to accept that God’s plan for your life will lead you into trials that will test your faith. The storms of life challenge us to assess our priorities, and also reveal our limitations apart from Him.

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3; John 4)

Scripture reading – John 3; John 4

Some of the most beloved and familiar verses of the New Testament are found in today’s study. I suppose most readers need little guidance to grasp and appreciate the spiritual truths found in John 3 and 4.

John 3 – The New Birth

The growing popularity of Christ’s ministry drew many to inquire of Him, and among them was a powerful, influential man named Nicodemus. He is introduced as “a man of the Pharisees…a ruler of the Jews,” and was a member of the Sanhedrin (3:1). Rather than face the scrutiny, if not disdain of his peers, Nicodemus “came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi [Teacher], we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (3:2).

Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3). Evidencing his sincerity, Nicodemus pressed Jesus, and asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (3:4). Jesus again answered, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (3:5). Though he was a spiritual leader in Israel, Nicodemus lacked understanding, and asked again, “How can these things be?” (3:9)

To that question, Jesus spoke the words that have brought multitudes to saving faith and eternal life: “14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up [Numbers 21:8]: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (3:14-16).

“What became of Nicodemus after his encounter with Jesus?” We later find him contending with members of the Sanhedrin, who desired to arrest Jesus that they might silence Him (7:50). When Christ was crucified, Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea to claim His lifeless body, and prepare it for burial (19:39). We do not know if he publicly identified with Jesus during His ministry, but he certainly made his following known upon Christ’s death.

The Ministry of John the Baptist (3:23-36)

Some who followed John the Baptist realized his ministry was eclipsed by all those who were seeking Jesus. John’s followers came and questioned him, to which he replied: “I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him” (3:28). With that admission, John made a statement that should resonate in the hearts of believers tempted to think they deserve recognition. John said of Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). With those words, we read the last words of John the Baptist recorded by John in his Gospel (3:31-36).

Closing thoughts (3:31-36) – What a loving rebuke we have in John’s example. He realized and accepted his ministry was not to build his own following, but to point sinners to Christ. In fact, that is the ministry of every preacher, teacher, and believer!

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

John 4 – The Samaritan Woman: A Thirsty Soul

In John 4 we find Jesus making His journey from Judaea to Galilee (4:3). John recorded Jesus was compelled to take a certain route, for “He must needs go through Samaria” (4:4). The LORD came to a well outside the village called Sychar about the noon hour (4:4-6). Waiting at the well as His disciples went to buy food, there came a woman to the well to draw water (4:7). Time and space prevent a thorough study of this passage, and a few brief observations must suffice.

We understand the woman was coming to a public well in the heat of the day, no doubt to avoid other village women. We learn in the narrative that her life was scandalous, for Jesus revealed, she had been married and divorced five times, and was living with a man not her husband (4:16-18). Looking past her sins, and knowing the spiritual thirst of her soul (4:13-14), Jesus introduced Himself as the Christ (4:21-26).

When the disciples returned from the village, they were surprised to find Jesus conversing with this woman from Samaria. Yet, they dared not ask, “Why talkest thou with her?” (4:27) The woman left her water pots at the well, went into the village, “and saith to the men, 29Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (4:28-29)

The testimony of the Samaritan woman, and her faith that Jesus was the Christ, moved many in the village to believe (4:39). The Samaritans begged the LORD to stay with them, and during the two days that passed, “many more believed” when they heard Jesus teach (4:40-41). They confessed to the woman, “we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (4:42).

Closing thoughts – What a difference the Gospel makes, if we will look past the sins of men and see the thirst of their lost souls.

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Forgotten by Man, But Not by God (Nehemiah 9; Nehemiah 10)

Scripture reading – Nehemiah 10

Nehemiah had served king Artaxerxes as governor of Judah, and completed the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and securing the city. A man of wisdom and spiritual discernment, Nehemiah deferred the spiritual health of the nation to Ezra, who was a priest and a scribe of the law among the people (8:1).  When Ezra read the Scriptures to the congregation, they responded with remorse for their sins, repented, and affirmed they would obey the law (8:9-18).

Nehemiah 9

Having observed the Feast of the Tabernacles, the people assembled as a congregation, and determined to separate themselves from “all strangers” (non-Hebrews, 9:2). Gathering to worship the LORD, the Levites read the Scriptures and reminded the people the God of Israel was Creator of heaven and earth (9:6), had chosen Abraham and established a covenant with his lineage (9:7-8).

Reviewing the providences of the LORD, the people were reminded He had called Moses, and led Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and the wilderness (9:9-12). God had met Israel on Mount Sinai, and given the people His “judgment…laws, good statutes and commandments” (9:13). The LORD provided bread and water in the wilderness, and when their hearts were lifted up with pride, He showed mercy and compassion (9:14-21). He fulfilled His covenant to Abraham, and giving Israel the land, He drove the Canaanites out of their homes and cities (9:22-25). When Israel disobeyed and rebelled, the LORD sent prophets who “testified against them” (9:26-29). When people hardened their hearts, He did not forsake them, for He is “a gracious and merciful God” (9:30-31).

The people confessed the LORD had kept His covenant, and showed them mercy (9:32). Looking back on the years of captivity, they affirmed all that came upon them was deserved, for the LORD had “done right, but [they had] done wickedly (9:32-33). So, the leaders of the nation renewed covenant with the LORD, signed their names, and sealed it (9:38).

Nehemiah 10 – Your Service is Important to God

Who signed and sealed the covenant between the LORD and the nation? Nehemiah 10 gives us the names of those who affixed their names to the covenant. Admittedly, Nehemiah 10 would be an easy chapter to pass over. Eighty-four men are named (10:1-27), and though they have little meaning to 21st century believers, they serve as a reminder that the LORD does not forget those who are His.

Nehemiah was first to sign the covenant (10:1), and he was followed by the leaders of the priests (10:2-8), Levites (10:9-13), and 44 other leaders identified as “chief of the people” (10:14-27).

“The rest of the people,” following their leaders, verbally affirmed their agreement with the covenant (Nehemiah 10:28-29). The people promised their sons and daughters would not become unequally yoked with unbelievers (“the people of the land,” 10:30; 2 Corinthians 6:14). It was critical for the people to individually affirm their faith and understanding of what God required, and acknowledged both the reward (blessings) and consequences (curses) that come to a covenant people (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28).

Closing thoughts and applications – Several ordinances were acknowledged by the people, including the observance of the Sabbath day (10:31), and a Temple tax of one-third shekels (10:32; though Exodus 30:11-16required one-half shekel, but the lesser amount here might have been due to the poverty of the people).

Various offerings were renewed, including the “wood offering,” used for sacrifices and to keep a perpetual fire burning on the altar (10:34; Leviticus 6:12-13). The “firstfruits offering” was re-established, and served as a reminder God requires tithes of our first and best (10:35, 36-37; Proverbs 3:9). Every firstborn son was to be dedicated to the LORD, and redeemed by offering a lamb (10:36; Exodus 34:19-20). Also, the people were taught their tithes and offerings were to support the Levites (10:37-39; Leviticus 27:30-34), and they in turn were to tithe of the tithes given to them and their households (10:37b-38; Leviticus 27:30-34).

Having been instructed in the demands of the Law, and accepting both its blessings and curses, the people affirmed their covenant with the LORD saying, “we will not forsake the house of our God” (10:39b).

I close, reminding every believer of his obligation to not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Nehemiah: Overcoming Faith (Nehemiah 2)

Scripture reading – Nehemiah 2

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

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

Nehemiah 2

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

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

Initiation (2:4-10)

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

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

Investigation (2:11-16)

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

Identification (2:17-18)

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Nehemiah: More Than a Cupbearer (Nehemiah 1)

Scripture reading – Ezra 10; Nehemiah 1

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

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

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

Nehemiah 1Nehemiah, The King’s Cupbearer

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

Living in the king’s palace, Nehemiah’s life was one of wealth and privilege.  The role of the cupbearer was that of the king’s closest aid; his confidant, and counselor.  Artaxerxes, king of Persia, trusted Nehemiah with his life. As the king’s cupbearer, he was charged with guarding the king from assassination attempts, being the first to taste the king’s food and sipping his wine.

In spite of the comforts and privileges he enjoyed as the cupbearer, Nehemiah’s heart was burdened for the remnant of his kinsman, the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem.  When men of Judah came from Jerusalem to the king’s court, Nehemiah eagerly inquired concerning the welfare of his brethren and the state of things in Jerusalem (1:2).

The News from Jerusalem left Nehemiah Shaken and Overwhelmed with grief. (1:3-4).

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

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

Scripture reading – Esther 9; Esther 10

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

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

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

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

Esther 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

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

Scripture reading – Esther 7; Esther 8

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

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

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

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

Esther 7 – The Tragedy of Folly

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

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

Esther’s Request (7:3-5)

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

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

Haman Exposed (7:6-10)

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

No Karma: My God is Sovereign (Esther 6)

Scripture reading – Esther 6

The world calls it, “Karma,” an ideology attributed to Buddhism and Hinduism, and suggests a “payback” for one’s actions (whether evil or good). Instant Karma suggests a “Cause and Effect” that is fatalistic, and devoid of the influence of divine sovereignty and intervention.

In contrast, spirit-filled believers have faith in God’s promises. We trust God sovereignly directs the course of nations and humanity to His divine purpose and end. By faith, we are confident “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Yet, there is an undeniable principle of “Cause and Effect” summed up in this: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

The backdrop of today’s Scripture reading (Esther 6) is tragic, for king Ahasuerus has sealed a decree to appease the slight one man has suffered. Haman, the wicked Amalekite, despised the Jew Mordecai for his refusal to bow and revere him. Under the guise of the king’s interests, Haman persuaded the king to decree the annihilation of all Jews.

Esther 6

Esther 6 is a stunning example of what the world foolishly proclaims as “Karma,” but people of faith recognize as the sovereign hand of God. King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I in history), was in a place many find themselves, enduring a long, sleepless night. The king did not recognize the hand of God, though it was the LORD who used the king’s insomnia (6:1) to direct his thoughts to His divine purpose and end. Unable to sleep, the king commanded his servants retrieve “the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king” (6:1).

Providentially, for there is no other explanation, the name of Mordecai, Queen Esther’s adopted father, came to the king’s attention. Ahasuerus, was reminded that Mordecai had intervened to foil a plot to assassinate the king (2:21-23). Recalling the occasion, the king wondered aloud, “What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?” (6:3). The servant’s answered the king’s inquiry, saying, “There is nothing done for him” (6:3b).

Perceiving Mordecai had not been honored for his service (6:3), Ahasuerus determined to correct the slight and reward the man that had saved his life. Providentially, Haman, the adversary of Mordecai and all the Jews, had entered the king’s court (6:4-5). He was come “to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him” (6:4). “The king’s servants said unto [the king], Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in” (6:5). In a wonderful twist of divine intervention, Haman listened as the king sought his counsel regarding how he might reward a man in “whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:6).

Proud Haman mistakenly believed he was the one whom the king desired to honor (after all, who could be more deserving?) Feeling he would be the honoree, Haman described a lavish, public parade worthy of the king himself! He suggested “the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:7), should be adorned in the king’s robes, paraded through the streets riding the king’s horse, and privileged to wear a royal crown (6:8). Believing he was the man to be honored; Haman spared no detail for how the king should reward such a man. He proposed “one of the king’s most noble princes” should lead him about and proclaim, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:9).

Ah, the irony when the king commanded Haman, “Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken” (6:10). Imagine the humiliation Haman suffered! The man whom he plotted to hang, was now the one he was forced to honor with his own lips, declaring, “Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:11).

The parade being ended, Haman rushed to his house and described to his wife and friends “every thing that had befallen him” (6:13). Casting a dark shadow over his life, Haman’s wife and friends warned: “If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him” (6:13). Even as that dire prophecy was stated, servants of Ahasuerus came to escort him to what would prove to be his last meal, and one “Esther had prepared” (6:14).

Closing thoughts – Karma, you say? No, the stage was set for the final act in Haman’s life, and the providential saving of God’s people. I close with two verses that serve as a reminder and warning to all.

Proverbs 16:1818Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Galatians 6:77Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

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.