Category Archives: Theology

A Promise of Hope and a Sure Judgment (Isaiah 7; Isaiah 8)

Scripture reading – Isaiah 7; Isaiah 8

Today’s devotional may be the first time some have studied Isaiah 7:14 in its context. The beloved promise of a sign to Judah, a miracle that only God could give, reads: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14).

Consider with me the historical context of that sign that was fulfilled in the coming of the virgin-born Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 7 – The King of kings is Coming

Many years had passed from the death of Uzziah (6:1), to the reign of his grandson Ahaz, the son of Jotham (7:1; 2 Kings 15:32-34; 2 Kings 16:1). Two kings are named as contemporaries of Ahaz, and they had conspired to invade and war with Judah. “Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it” (7:1).

Historical Context of the Prophecy of the Virgin Birth (7:1-13)

King Ahaz and all Judah were terrified by the coalition of nations aligned against them (7:2). The LORD, ever compassionate toward His people, commanded Isaiah to go with his firstborn son, Shear-jashub, and meet king Ahaz (7:3). The prophet’s mission was to deliver good news to the king, and encourage him saying, “Take heed, and be quiet; Fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, For the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah” (7:4).

Isaiah Revealed to king Ahaz four truths concerning Judah’s enemies (7:4-9)

The kings of Syria and Ephraim (Israel) were contemptible, and nothing more than firewood in the sight of the LORD (7:4). Those kings had “taken evil counsel” against Judah, and were set to divide the land between them, and set a puppet king upon the throne of David (7:5-6). Nevertheless, Ahaz was told the confederacy between Syria and Israel would fail (7:7), and in 65 years’ time, Israel would be destroyed and the people taken into captivity (7:8). Isaiah then admonished king Ahaz, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (7:9).

The Offer of a Sign of Assurance (7:10-13)

Knowing Ahaz was not a man of faith, the LORD offered to give the king a miraculous sign, and assure him all would come to pass as He had promised (7:10-11). Foolish Ahaz, however, refused to ask for a sign, and sought instead for an alliance with the king of Assyria (7:12; 2 Kings 16:7-8; 2 Chronicles 28:24).

A Prophetic Miraculous Sign (7:14)

Having rejected the LORD, and turned to his own ways and plans to overcome Israel and Syria, God warned Ahaz, “Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?” (7:13)

Because he had refused to trust the LORD, Ahaz was told God would give His people a miraculous sign, saying, 14Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14).

Forewarning of God’s Judgment on Israel and Judah (7:15-25)

The sign of the virgin birth of a Son who would be named Immanuel would not be imminent (in fact, seven centuries would pass). The text, however, continued with the prophecy of another son, one whose name would be a testimony of a time of poverty to come. Ahaz was told the diet of the people would be “butter and honey” (the food of the impoverished, 7:15).

Who was this son whose birth would foretell the judgment of God that would fall upon Israel? Isaiah 8:1-3 reveals his name would be Maher-shalal-hash-baz, the second born son of the prophet Isaiah.

Because Ahaz had established an accord with Assyria to war against Israel and Syria, God warned that nation would not only destroy Israel, but God would use the Assyrians to punish Judah (7:17-25). Assyria would trouble Judah like the swarms of Egyptian flies, and the stinging bees of Assyria (7:17-18). The Assyrians would disgrace Judah (7:19-20), and impoverish the people (7:21-25). To illustrate the poverty that would befall Judah, Isaiah declared farmers would struggle with one milk cow and two sheep (7:21-22), and the land would become overgrown with briars and thorns (7:23-25).

Isaiah 8 – The Birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, Second Son of Isaiah

Isaiah had named his firstborn son, Shear-jashub, whose name meant “a remnant shall return” (7:3). The LORD then commanded the prophet to name his second born son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, meaning “they (Assyria) hasten to spoil” (a prophecy fulfilled when Israel was destroyed, and the people taken captive, 8:1-3).

How long before that prophecy would come to pass? No more than two to three years, for we read: “For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria” (8:4).

Maher-shalal-hash-baz: Judgment is Coming (8:4-10)

Closing thoughts – Naming his son Maher-shalal-hash-baz, Isaiah served notice to all who heard it…an enemy was coming, and the nation would be judged. Judah had rejected the LORD (Shiloh being the historical place of worship), and God promised to bring Assyria upon His people like a flood of waters, overflowing the land (8:4-8).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

A Heavenly Vision (Isaiah 6)

Scripture reading – Isaiah 6

Isaiah 6 is a dramatic chapter that has captured the imagination of people down through the ages. We are given a heavenly portrait of God sitting upon His throne. Though a brief chapter, Isaiah 6 is a pivotal moment in our study of Isaiah. Before he was commissioned to be a prophet to Judah, God gave Isaiah a vision of His Creator sitting on heaven’s throne. I invite you to consider with me three major thoughts.

Isaiah’s Reflection on God’s Glory (6:1-4)

The setting of Isaiah 6 was at a time of national mourning (6:1).

It was “in the year king Uzziah died” (6:1). We have considered Uzziah in earlier devotions, and you may remember he reigned 52 years over Judah. His reign was long and prosperous (2 Chronicles 26:1-15), until his heart was lifted up with pride and God struck him with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16-20). Banned from the palace because of the disease, the king’s son oversaw the affairs of the government until his death. The news of the king’s death moved Isaiah to go to the Temple and seek the LORD.

The scene: Isaiah Witnessed the Majesty of the LORD Sitting on His Throne (6:1-3).

King Uzziah was dead, and though Isaiah and the people were shaken, the prophet was reminded that God is sovereign, and His authority is never in doubt. King’s rise, and kings fall, but the LORD is ever “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (6:1). God’s throne is high above all earthly thrones and governments (6:1).

Standing above God’s throne were a number of seraphim. By their name, we know the seraphim were angels with a fiery appearance (representing God’s judgment), and each had six wings, two covering their face (showing reverence for God), two covering their feet, and two wings with which they hovered above the throne (6:2).

The seraphim were engaged in two occupations: They were proclaiming God’s holiness, and crying to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” (6:3a). They also acknowledged the LORD as Creator, and the earth displays His glory (6:3b). In Isaiah’s vision, the Temple was moved by the cry of the seraphim, and “filled with smoke” (6:4; smoke is associated with God’s presence in the Scriptures, Exodus 19:18; 2 Samuel 22:9).

Isaiah’s Response to the Heavenly Vision (6:5)

The vision of the majesty and holiness of God sitting on His throne moved Isaiah to acknowledge his sinful state. Confessing the sorrow of one that is helpless and hopeless (6:5), Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone [dead; doomed]; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (6:5).

The prophet not only confessed his “unclean lips” (the sins of his tongue; i.e., rash, harsh, bitter words), but also the sins of the nation (6:5). Judah was guilty of outwardly worshipping and sacrificing to God, but their mouths were filled with pride, mocking, and false piety.

After confessing his sin, a seraph took a live, fiery coal from the altar, and placing the hot coal on Isaiah’s lips, the he pronounced his sins had been purged (6:7).

Isaiah’s Recruitment: His Call and Commission (6:8-13)

Suddenly, the voice of God was heard, and He asked, “Whom shall I send [Send forth], and who will go for us?” (6:8b). Isaiah, with a humble heart and his sins forgiven, did not hesitate to answer God’s call and said, “Here am I; send me” (6:8c).

The LORD then challenged Isaiah, saying, “Go, and tell [speak; command] this people, Hear [Hearken; Obey; Listen] ye indeed [Hearken; Obey; Listen], but understand [consider; discern; regard] not; and see [Look; behold] ye indeed [Look; behold], but perceive not. [know; understand]” (6:9). The people of Judah had grown callous; for they had heard the prophets, but refused to repent (6:9b). They had seen God’s protection and blessings, but refused to consider their sins.

Closing thoughts – Isaiah’s ministry was to go and admonish the people. Some would respond to His preaching and their hearts would become “fat” [calloused]. They would refuse to hear and heed God’s Word, and would become spiritually blind and deaf (6:10). Without repenting, Judah passed the point of no return.

Isaiah wondered, “How long?” How long would the people refuse to hear the truth (6:11a). The LORD revealed they would refuse the truth until His judgment fell upon the nation: The cities would be destroyed, the houses silent (without a man, woman, or child), the land would be wasted, and only one-tenth of the people would remain in the land (6:11-13).

Isaiah 6:13 concluded with a promise that the LORD would not annihilate His people. He would remember His covenant promises to Abraham and David. The Lord would look to a future day when “the holy seed [offspring] [would] be the substance thereof” [would spring for with new growth, and life]. Israel and Judah would be cut down to the ground, but seedlings of faith would begin to sprout into new life.

Copyright 2022 © Travis D. Smith

An Introduction to Isaiah – part 1 (Isaiah 1)

Scripture reading – Isaiah 1

Continuing our two-year chronological study of the Scriptures, we come to the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Before we dive into this wonderful book, I remind you the purpose of this shepherd’s heart is to present to my readers, not only a daily devotional challenge, but a deeper survey of both the Old and New Testaments.

I want you to see history as “His-Story,” and as a testament to God’s sovereignty and His providential dealings with all people. Before introducing you to the prophet Isaiah, take a moment and subscribe to www.HeartofAShepherd.com.

Isaiah: Prophet to Judah

Isaiah lived in Judah in the 8th century B.C. His ministry spanned the reigns of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1), and three Gentile empires (the decline of Egypt, the waning years of Assyria, and the infancy of the nation of Babylon). He was, in my opinion, the foremost of the Old Testament prophets.

Isaiah: A Fearless Prophet

Isaiah was courageous, and boldly confronted the sins of Judah. He called upon kings to repent of their sins, condemned priests for their corruption and hypocrisy, and warned the people of Judah they would suffer God’s judgment should they fail to repent of their sins. Isaiah predicted the overthrow of Judah, the desolation of the cities, and the Babylonian captivity.

Isaiah: Prophet of God

Isaiah’s preaching was powerful, his words soaring, and his prophecies vivid and specific. He is quoted over 400 times in the New Testament, and his prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus Christ’s coming in exacting detail.

The Messiah’s Virgin Birth (Isaiah 7:14)
Isaiah 7:14 –  Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. [lit. “God with us”]

The Messiah Person (Isaiah 9:6)
Isaiah 9:6 –  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

The Messiah’s Rejection (Isaiah 53)
Isaiah 53:3 –  He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

The Messiah’s Suffering (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Isaiah 53:4-5 –  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

The Messiah’s Vicarious Death – Substitutionary atonement (Isaiah 53:6-9)
Isaiah 53:6-9-7 – All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

The Messiah’s Resurrection (Isaiah 53:10)
Isaiah 53:10 –  Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Closing thoughts:

We will notice in Isaiah’s preaching, four distinct warnings of God’s judgment should the nation not repent of its sins and turn to God (Isaiah 5:20-23, 26-30). Those judgments are presented in four moving pronouncements of “Woe.” 1) Judah had rejected God’s Law and had no moral absolutes (Isaiah 5:20). 2) The people had become proud and unteachable (Isaiah 5:21). 3) Judah was a narcissistic people, and they loathed the righteous (Isaiah 5:22-23).
4) The fourth and final “woe,” Isaiah was shaken by a heavenly vision of God sitting on His throne (Isaiah 6:1-4), the prophet was so overwhelmed with a consciousness of his own sins, he confessed:

“Woe is me! for I am undone [dumb; silent; perish]; because I am a man of unclean [defiled; polluted] lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). When God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah answered the call, and said, “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

A study of Isaiah 1 will follow as a second devotional reading.

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Where is the Christian “West Point” of this generation?

christian-ed

** The following article was first published February 2016, and republished October 2016. As a writer in 2016, I was still using “training wheels,” and there are no doubt grammatical errors I might avoid today. Yet, I believe this article states the cancer that is consuming our fundamental churches, colleges, and universities. The following is that six year old post.

* On Wednesday, October 26, 2016, Hillsdale Baptist Church closed one of our greatest missions conferences.  With a dozen or more of our teens responding at the invitation to surrender to go and serve the LORD where He calls them and, with their parents and grandparents standing beside them, I am left this Thursday morning wrestling with the burden…Where do I send our youth to be trained for full-time Christian service that will be a complement to our heart and passion for serving the LORD and preaching the whole counsel of God?   Where are the Bible colleges that have dedicated themselves to “keeping the chapel platform hot” with the unapologetic preaching of God’s Word?

With those questions weighing on my heart, I republish an article I first published February 17, 2016.

billy-sundayA sense of desperation has taken hold in my spirit as I witness the failings of our nation, the erosion of morality and civility, and the spiritual void in our society that threatens the future of our nation, homes, churches and Christian institutions.   My heart trembles and my soul is dismayed by the silence of Christian leaders who are custodians of church pulpits and academic platforms that were once dedicated to the bold, unapologetic declaration of God’s Word!   I am afraid our biblically fundamental churches and schools bear the prophetic likeness of the church of the Laodiceans, “neither cold nor hot…rich, and increased with good…and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:14-17).

A pattern of spiritual lethargy has become the state of our fundamental churches and institutions [incidentally, my use of the word fundamental is not meant to convey an attitude, but a practical-doctrinal theology committed to the literal exposition of the fundamental doctrines and precepts of God’s Word].  colossians-3-23I believe a generation of well-meaning pastors and administrators is faltering in their spiritual leadership, influenced and persuaded by men who lack deep-rooted precepts and core convictions that once served as guiding principles for fundamental ministries.  I am of the opinion preachers and teachers have endeavored to appease youth and, either by design or neglect, soft-pedaled core spiritual virtues and personal disciplines that were at the heart of institutional distinctives.

Our churches and schools are evidencing the consequences of a philosophy of education that has, in its purported zeal for the Gospel and discipleship, invaded our institutions and eradicated fundamental precepts that are essential to personal holiness and sanctification.  In an attempt to appease, rather than admonish and exhort a carnal generation (2 Timothy 4:2), spiritual leaders have weakened institutional disciplines, disparaged spiritual standards, and eroded the distinctives of Christian education.

West PointThere was a time we could look to our Christian colleges and universities to inspire our youth and integrate into their education the leadership disciplines of West Point; the refined sophistication of a finishing school; the academic excellence of an Ivy League university; and the spiritual fervor and zeal of a “hellfire and brimstone” evangelist.  Although there are exceptions, I am afraid that is no longer the case.

Too many college professors and pastors have, in a misguided effort to be “relevant”, departed from the very disciplines that made Christian education superior and unique.  Instead of the discipline of West Point, many Christian college students evidence a bearing that is casual at best.  Rather than a “finishing school” product, Christian students lack both the polish and demeanor of their forebears.   Instead of the disciplines required for academic excellence, a laissez-faire attitude has taken hold in our schools and universities.  SpurgeonFinally, the emphasis to “keep the platform hot” and “preach the whole counsel of God” has been displaced by an inordinate emphasis on “the Gospel” to the exclusion of truths that are fundamental to preparing students to be soldiers of Christ in the world (Ephesians 6:10-18). [I realize that observation will invite personal attacks and criticisms; however, I believe I am in good company since Charles Spurgeon is credited with quoting and affirming: “there are times when the exclusive advocacy of certain important truths has the effect of error…So at the present time some of the most precious gospel truths are preached in the interest of some of the most pernicious errors. In other words, the unseasonable or disproportionate presentation of certain truths makes for error.”]

Having expressed my alarm concerning the direction of the spiritual leadership in our fundamental churches, schools and universities, I close with two questions and an observation.

Where are the preachers, teachers, and administrators in our churches and institutions who will step forward and assert the spiritual values, principles and distinctive biblical philosophy that once characterized historic, biblically fundamental Christianity?

What Christian colleges and universities will dare rise above cultural irrelevance and challenge our youth to portray in word and deed the distinctive saltiness and illumination of a separatist, Christ-centered philosophy of life and ministry (Matthew 5:13-16)?

sugar-coated preachingThe apostle Paul warned the day would come when there would be an intolerance of “sound doctrine” and men would turn to teachers who would tickle their ears and pander to their desires (1 Timothy 4:3-4).  I am afraid that hour has finally come to biblically fundamental churches, schools and colleges.  In the very hour a certain, unequivocal, unapologetic declaration of the Word of God is needed; many have dipped the banner of the cross and shied from Paul’s challenge to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1-5
1  I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2  Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
3  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4  And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
5  But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

Copyright 2016 – Travis D. Smith

An End of the Year Greeting, and Invitation to Follow www.HeartofAShepherd

Today, December 31, 2021, is a crossroads, and halfway point in our two-year chronological devotional study of the Scriptures.

2021 – An End of the Year Report

Today’s devotional commentary is the 365th of 2021, and a milestone for me. A year ago, I purposed to provide my church family a daily study of the Scriptures, and it has been a joy to minister to both Hillsdale Baptist Church, and guests from around the world.

My personal study has taken us, from the Book of Genesis through the Book of Job, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), and the era of the Judges. We studied the life of King David, meditated on his Psalms, and pondered the wisdom of Solomon in his Proverbs. As we come to the end of 2021, we are in the midst of the post-Davidic era, and a study of the historical books of the Bible that include 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

2022 – The Year Ahead

Tomorrow is January 1, 2022, and the beginning of a New Year. If you have not done so, I invite you to print a copy of the Scripture reading schedule, fold it in quarters, and tuck it inside your Bible as a book mark and daily reminder to read God’s Word.

The days, weeks, and months ahead will present us with an opportunity to continue our chronological study of the Scriptures. My devotional commentaries are intended to guide you through the books of the Major and Minor Prophets, follow Israel’s tragic descent into Assyrian captivity, and Judah’s years of captivity in Babylon following the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. We will journey through the post-exilic years, and rejoice in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Before 2022 has passed, we will consider the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our LORD, and follow the principles and precepts of the writings of the apostles. As the LORD blesses, 2022 will conclude with a prophetic study of the Book of Revelation.

A Parting Challenge

Discipline, determination, and dedication are required of those who will complete this two-year journey through the Scriptures. I pray there will be many who might aspire to the apostle Paul’s challenge to Timothy: 15Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

To insure you receive daily reminders and devotional posts, please subscribe to www.HeartofAShepherd.com.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith

The Power of Faith and Fervent Prayer (1 Kings 18)

Scripture reading – 1 Kings 18

The geographical setting of our Scripture reading continues in the northern ten Tribes now known as Israel. The time is during the reign of Ahab, the seventh king of the nation after its division. As stated earlier, the wickedness of Ahab had exceeded the sins of all the kings who had gone before him (16:30-33), and provoked “the LORD God of Israel to anger” (16:33).

True to His forewarning (Deuteronomy 11:17; 28:23), the LORD sent Elijah who confronted king Ahab, and said, “there shall not be dew nor rain…but according to my word” (17:1).

1 Kings 18

The drought in Israel continued for three years, until “the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth” (18:1). Elijah obeyed, and “went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria [the capital city of Israel]” (18:2).

Elijah’s Conference with Obadiah (18:3-15)

Returning to Israel, Elijah called upon Obadiah, who had served Ahab as a steward of the royal household (18:3). Though a man in a powerful, and trusted office, Obadiah had continued to fear the LORD, and used his position to provide safety to 100 prophets of the LORD who had escaped Jezebel’s purge of “the prophets of the LORD” (18:3-4).

Three years of drought had dried up the freshwater streams in Israel, and Ahab had dispatched Obadiah to seek water and grass “to save the horses and mules alive” (18:5). Ahab divided the lands between himself and Obadiah, and each man went his way in search of water.  As Obadiah went his way, he was met by Elijah (18:7). Obadiah “knew [Elijah], and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah?” (18:7)

Elijah then demanded that Obadiah tell the king he had returned to Israel (18:8). Fearful the king would slay him, perhaps for sparing Elijah’s life, Obadiah objected to the prophet’s request (18:9-11). Justifying himself, Obadiah shared how he had revered the LORD from his youth, and spared and fed one hundred of the LORD’s prophets (18:12-13). Elijah assured Obadiah, “As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him to day” (1 Kings 18:15).

Elijah’s Confrontation with Ahab (18:17-20)

Ahab met Elijah, and accused the prophet of being one who troubled Israel (18:17). Elijah answered the king’s charge, and rebuked Ahab saying, “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim” (18:18).

Proving his faith and confidence in the LORD, Elijah challenged Ahab to “gather…all Israel unto mount Carmel,” along with the 150 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets (teachers) of the groves, (these were all whom Jezebel had supported and fed, 18:19). Ahab, revealing the depth of his wickedness and rejection of the God of Israel, agreed to the challenge, and commanded the people, and the prophets of Baal to gather at Carmel (18:20).

Elijah’s Challenge to the People (18:21-24)

Elijah charged the people, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (18:21). How long dare you serve Baal and sacrifice to him, and make a pretense of also serving the God of Israel? The people answered Elijah’s challenge with silence, and “answered him not a word” (18:21). Elijah, the prophet of the LORD, stood alone and faced 450 prophets of Baal (18:22).

Elijah’s Contest with the Prophets of Baal (18:25-40)

The details of Elijah’s challenge are recorded, and how he and the prophets of Baal each had a bullock, that was halved, and placed upon wood on an altar. The prophets of Baal called to Baal from the morning until noon. They shouted, leaped, danced, cried, and cut themselves until they bled (18:26, 28-29). Yet, Baal was silent, and Elijah taunted them suggesting their god was talking, hunting, on a journey, or perhaps he was sleeping (18:27).

In the evening, Elijah called the people to come near, as he begain repairing the altar, and gathering twelve stones representing the twelve Tribes of Israel. He then laid wood upon the altar, sacrificed the bull, and commanded that twelve barrels of water be poured out upon the altar, until the trench around it was filled with water (18:30-35). The prophet then prayed for God to hear his prayer, and prove to all Israel that He was God (18:36-37).

The LORD answered Elijah’s prayer, and sent fire from heaven, not only consuming the bull, but burning up the stones, dust, and the water (18:38-39). Elijah concluded his contest with the prophets of Baal, and demanded the people prove their loyalty to the God of Israel, by slaying all the prophets of Baal (18:40).

Elijah Prayed, and the LORD Sent Rain (18:41-46)

Three years of drought ended with Elijah calling upon the Lord to send rain. Seven times he prayed, and commanded his servant to go and look for a sign a rain. On the seventh time, the servant saw on the horizon a small cloud that grew until “the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain” (18:45).

Closing thoughts – Our next devotional will reveal how great trials often follow great victories. But for now, we conclude reflecting on how the New Testament points to Elijah’s fervent prayer as a model of prayer for all believers. We read,

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. 17  Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” (James 5:16b-18)

Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Take Courage, and Hope in the LORD! – Part 2 (1 Kings 17)

Scripture reading – 2 Chronicles 17; 1 Kings 17

We have met Ahab, the seventh king of northern Israel, and his queen Jezebel in an earlier devotion (1 Kings 16:29-33). They were a notoriously wicked couple who reigned over northern Israel for 22 years. Ahab followed and exceeded the wickedness of his father Omri and the kings that had gone before him (16:30). His wife Jezebel did not worship the God of Israel, for she “served Baal, and worshipped him” (16:31). Her influence on Ahab ushered in a time of great wickedness, and Ahab built an altar and temple to Baal in Samaria, the capital city of Israel (16:33).

Elijah the Tishbite, The Prophet of God

1 Kings 17 gives a brief introduction to the prophet Elijah, whose life and ministry we will follow for several days in the Scirptures. He was, in my opinion, not only one of the greatest prophets, but one of the greatest men to have ever lived. The Scriptures portray him as a man of passion and faith; one who might boldly confront evil, but then take flight for fear of losing his life.

A Season of Drought (17:1-7)

We are introduced to Elijah when he entered the palace of the wicked Ahab, and delivered a message of judgment: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (17:1; Deuteronomy 11:17; 28:23).

To provide for His prophet during the three years of drought, God commanded Elijah to retreat to the desert, and there He would provide him with water at “the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan” (17:3). The LORD then sent ravens to bring his prophet bread and meat to eat (17:4). So, the LORD provided all Elijah needed for a season, until “the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land” (17:7).

The Widow Zarephath (17:8-16)

When there was no water, the LORD provided the next place to which his prophet would retreat during the drought that was troubling Israel. God commanded Elijah to go to Zarephath of Zidon, and there he would meet and dwell in the household of a widow and her son (17:9). When he arrived in Zarephath, he met the poor widow as she gathered sticks to bake the last of her flour and oil. Elijah requested water, and she moved to “fetch it;” however, his request for bread was met by protest, for she said, “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (17:12).

Confident in the LORD’s leading and provision, Elijah assured her the LORD would provide, and she would never lack for flour or oil, “until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth” (17:14). Exercising her faith in the LORD, and His prophet, she took the prophet into her home, and every day found the flour and oil replenished, as the prophet had promised (17:15-16).

The Death and Resurrection of the Widow’s Son (17:17-24)

At some time during Elijah’s stay in the widow’s household, her son became ill and died (17:17). In her sorrow, the widow cried out against Elijah as a “man of God,” and wondered if her sins were the cause of her son’s death (17:18).

Elijah was overcome with sorrow, and taking up the widow’s son to his bedchamber, he placed him upon his bed and cried to the LORD saying, “let this child’s soul come into him again” (17:21). The LORD heard and answered the prophet’s prayer, and “the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (17:22).

Closing thoughts – We know the trials Elijah faced in 1 Kings 17 were an opportunity for the prophet to become strong in his faith, and confident the God of Israel hears and answers the prayers of his people. Yes, Elijah felt the consequences of the drought in Israel, but he also experienced God’s care and miraculous provision, even when there was just enough flour and oil for a day. Elijah learned the power of prayer, that prepared him for the great contests he would soon face with Ahab and Jezebel.

Maybe you are reading this devotional and find yourself in the midst of trials, and disappointments. Perhaps you are wrestling with doubts, and wondering if the LORD will hear and answer your prayers. You might feel like the widow of Zarephath, and question if the sorrows you bear are because of your sin (17:18).

Be strong, take courage, and hope in the LORD! He still hears, and answers prayer (1 John 1:9).

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Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Four Principles for a Rewarding Life (Ecclesiastes 11)

Scripture reading – Ecclesiastes 11

Remorse is a heavy burden to carry, but I have known many who, in their later years of life, were haunted by the sorrows of regret. Solomon understood that life holds many tendencies for regret, and wisely taught his son invaluable principles he had learned from years of experience. I invite you to consider Solomon’s wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 11.

Be Charitable. (11:1-4)

Ecclesiastes 11:1–21Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. 2Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

The word, “cast” means to freely give, and “the waters” in the Scriptures is often a reference to mankind (i.e., the sea of humanity). The implication then is to “freely give” (in this case, bread) to others, for you cannot know what “evil” the days ahead might hold for you. A popular adage sums up a similar warning: “What goes around, comes around.” Solomon urged, while you have the power to give…GIVE, for the day may come when you will find yourself in want.

Illustrating the need to give while you are able, Solomon cited nature, using an illustration to which all could relate, writing, when “clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth” (11:3). In other words, like clouds that do not hoard their lifegiving moisture, we should not be misers with the bounty of that which God has entrusted to us.

Some put off the opportunity or inclination to be charitable, looking for a time when it is more convenient, or the economy more favorable. They are like the lazy farmer; he procrastinates tending his fields, always looking for perfect weather, and a more convenient time for his labor (11:4).

God Has a Plan and Purpose for Your Life. (11:5-6)

Solomon did not have the privilege of scientific research such as we have today. He understood the baby’s body was formed in its mother’s womb (11:5); however, he did not know the essence of DNA (genetics) that guided the formation of that little one from conception (Psalm 139:15-16). The king did not know, and neither do we, how God made us uniquely who we are, imparting to us an eternal spirit, distinctly like no other.

Know this: You are unique, and God has a plan, and purpose for your life (11:5c). He has numbered your days (Psalm 90:12), but you cannot know the number of your years on this earth (11:6). While you are young (“in the morning” of your life), you should “sow thy seed” (give of yourself and your means as you are blessed). “In the evening” of life, when you are old (11:6b), don’t restrain your hand from blessing others. Don’t presume you can put off till tomorrow the good that you should do this day. Whether you are young or old, Do Right!

Wise Men Enjoy the Good Times, But Plan for the Bad. (11:7-8)

The light of a sunrise is welcomed, and when you are young it promises a day that is “sweet, and a pleasant thing” (11:7). The sun of spring and summer brings warmth, and the promise of growth and harvest; however, look ahead, and know “the days of darkness [cometh], for they shall be many” (11:8). Live for today, and fail to plan for the failings and frailty of old age, and you will say, “All that cometh is vanity” (11:8c).

Rejoice in Your Youth, but Remember God will be Judge. (11:9-10)

 Ecclesiastes 11:9 – Rejoice [Be Glad; Joyful], O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.

“Rejoice,” be glad in the strength of your youth! Enjoy life, but remember, the sins of one’s youth are a draft on old age. “God will bring thee into judgment” (11:9b).

The foolish man counsels the young to, “sow their wild oats,” but fails to warn: the wild seeds planted in one’s youth will sprout weeds that will choke the joys from their future (11:9b).

“Therefore remove [depart] sorrow [anger; wrath] from thy heart, and put away [do away; remove] evil [sin; wickedness] from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:10 )

Closing thoughts – The king urged youth to not mull over youthful grievances, nor allow them to become a flashpoint for anger and bitterness. The king challenged, “put away evil,” and give no place for the sins and lusts of the flesh.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to Timothy, wrote:  “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

To put away sin, you must be fill the void with righteous choices, and godly attitudes. (Ephesians 4:22-32)

Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith

Two-year Bible reading schedule for Heart of A Shepherd Followers

Dear Heart of a Shepherd followers,

December 31, 2021 is a milestone for those who faithfully follow http://www.HeartofAShepherd.com. I commenced writing, and publishing daily devotionals, beginning with Genesis 1, last January 1, 2021. January 1, 2022 will mark the start of my second year of writing and publishing a daily, chronological study of the Scriptures.

In February 2021, I introduced a new facet of ministry for Heart of A Shepherd Inc, when I began posting a daily devotional video on several social network sites. My HeartofAShepherd1 channel on GabTV.com has to date enjoyed nearly 50,000 plays (https://tv.gab.com/channel/HeartofAShepherd1).  Heart of A Shepherd Inc is also hosted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi8fwbF-vqmj3SifQ4Suigg. My preferred site for hosting daily video devotionals is DailyTestify.com (https://dailytestify.com/index.php/pages/59/).

If you enjoy these devotional posts, I encourage you to subscribe and have them sent directly to your email address. If you are following the video devotionals, please “Like” and become a follower.

A personal note: On average, I invest at least 3 hours a day studying, outlining, and writing daily devotionals. My wife edits the devotionals, and then I publish the final copy to my website. The labor is indeed sacrificial; however, God has blessed this outreach and thus far in 2021, www.HeartofAShepherd.com has had over 105,000 views, and been followed in 197 nations and territories.

Heart of A Shepherd 2-Year Scripture Reading Schedule

Please find attached to this post a JPG and PDF of the 2-year Scripture reading schedule for 2022-2023. The schedule can be printed, folded into 1/4 page folds, and it will fit in your Bible to serve as a page marker.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith
HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com

 

Four Probing Questions on the Matter of Praising the LORD (Psalm 150)

Scripture reading – Psalm 150

Psalm 150 completes our journey through the book of the Psalms for 2021.  We will return to this divinely inspired collection of worship songs in March 2022. Psalm 150 reminds us to not only praise the LORD, but reveals the central role music has had in the worship down through the centuries. Twelve times the psalmist calls on God’s people to “Praise the Lord!”

For our study, I suggest four questions to consider in the believer’s obligation to give praise to the LORD.

Where should believers praise the LORD? (150:1)

Psalm 150:11Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary [holy place]: Praise him in the firmament [breadth of the heavens] of his power.

The LORD is to be praised “in His sanctuary” (150:1a). What was His sanctuary? It was the Temple, and specifically the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. Though the heavens and the earth could not contain Him, He chose to bless the sanctuary in the midst of Israel with His presence.

Not only should the LORD be praised “in His sanctuary,” His power is displayed in the “firmament” of heaven, and gives all who look upon it cause to shout Hallelujah! “Praise ye the LORD” (150:1).

Why should believers praise the LORD? (150:2)

Psalm 150:22Praise him for his mighty acts [strength and mighty deeds]: Praise him according to his excellent[abundant] greatness [majesty].

God is worthy of our praise because of His mighty deeds, and the heavens and all creation reflect His majesty (150:2).

How (and with what) should believers praise the LORD? (150:3-5)

Psalm 150:3-53Praise him with the sound [blast] of the trumpet [horn; shofar or ram’s horn]: Praise him with the psaltery [lute or string instrument] and harp.
4Praise him with the timbrel [a hand drum or tambourine] and dance [a whirling around, circular dance]: Praise him with stringed instruments [played by plucking strings] and organs [wind instruments; flute or reed instrument].
5Praise him upon the loud cymbals [percussion instruments]: Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Musical instruments have always been a part of congregational worship, and here the psalmist describes a virtual orchestra of instruments upon which musicians were to praise and worship the LORD. Horns, lute like string instruments, harps, percussion instruments consisting of tambourines, hand drums, cymbals, and wind instruments were all part of congregational worship. Accompanying the orchestra were those who praised the LORD in dance, with its whirling motions (150:4)

Who should praise the LORD? (150:6)

Psalm 150:66Let every thing [all living creatures, including man] that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

Summing up the whole matter of worship and praising the LORD is the universal call to every creature, to praise the LORD. Let every man and woman, beast and birds of the air, and even the fish of the waters give praise to their Creator! “Praise ye the LORD” (150:6).

Closing thoughts – Believer, we live in a noisy world that overwhelms and drowns out the sweet sounds from the Lord. If we listen, we will find Him in the quiet and solitude of His creation and the gratifying meditation of His Word. Do you seek a daily time of quiet to read the Scriptures, and meditate on the LORD?

When you join other believers in public worship, do you consciously block out the noise and busyness of life, and focus on the LORD to praise Him? If you are a musician, think of the blessing you have to not only lift your voice to the LORD, but use your talent to worship, and encourage others to worship the LORD!

No matter our station in life, may we all follow the advice of the psalmist, and “Praise the LORD!”

* Follow me on “Daily Testify,” a new conservative Christian social media platform.

Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith