Category Archives: Trials and Temptations

“I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2)

Scripture reading – Haggai 2, Zechariah 1

The Book of Ezra revealed there were adversaries who disrupted, and for 15 years curtailed the work on the Temple. They had made a pretense of assisting in building the Temple; however, Zerubbabel wisely refused their offer (Ezra 4:1-3). Those same enemies accused Judah’s leaders of sedition (Ezra 5:3-17).  When Darius became king of Persia, the enemy accused the Jews of lacking authority to build (Ezra 6). This is the first of two devotionals for today’s Scripture reading.

Haggai 2

The LORD countered the voices of the enemies and critics, and sent His prophets (Haggai and Zechariah, Ezra 5:1), who encouraged the people saying, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel (the civic leader), saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (2:4).

Assuring the people the LORD would fill the new Temple with His glory (2:7), Haggai declared, “8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. 9The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: And in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts” (2:8-9).

How did the LORD fill the second Temple with His glory, especially since there is no record of such an event as it was with Solomon’s Temple? (1 Kings 8:10-11)

Though the second Temple lacked the beauty and splendor of the first, unbeknownst to the Jews, the LORD Himself would one day grace its halls with His bodily presence. Jesus, the incarnate, virgin born Son of God would be dedicated there as an infant (Luke 2:25-38). As a boy, he would be found both listening and questioning the rabbis regarding the Word of the LORD in the Temple court (Luke 2:46-52). As a man, Christ brought to the Temple a message of hope and peace for all men (2:9; Luke 4:17-22).

A Question of Holiness and Contamination (2:10-19)

Haggai’s fourth message to God’s people was recorded in the closing verses of this brief book. Stirred by the messages of Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews were building the Temple with a zeal that would finally see it completed. The sermon was delivered two months after the third message, and the subject was on God’s stipulations for purity and holiness (as opposed to that which is unholy and “unclean,” 2:12-13). The implication of the lesson was, the LORD only accepts and blesses that which is righteous (2:14). When God’s people sin, they sacrifice His blessings, and invite His judgment (2:15-19).

A Challenge to Zerubbabel (2:20-23)

On the same day he delivered the fourth message to the people building the Temple, Haggai had a final revelation for Zerubbabel, the leaders and governor of Judah (2:20-23). Who was Zerubbabel? He was a leader of the tribe of Judah, but more importantly, he was of the linage of David, and named in the lineage of Christ (2:6; Matthew 1:12-13).

The LORD made a far-reaching promise to “Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth” (2:21). Babylon had been overthrown, and Persia ruled the world, but the LORD reminded Zerubbabel He alone was sovereign and nations rise and fall within His divine providence (2:22). No king or kingdom is so strong that the LORD will not overthrow and “destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen” (2:22).

Closing thought – Haggai closed with a wonderful, Messianic promise (2:23). The LORD revealed Zerubbabel was chosen by “the LORD of hosts,” and one of his lineage would bear the “signet” (typically a ring monarchs used to seal covenants or legal documents in wax). The Messiah would come not only through David (2 Samuel 7:12, 16), but also through Zerubbabel, for he had been chosen! (2:23).

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.

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

Scripture reading – Ezra 4; Ezra 5

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

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

On the pretense of friendship, the adversaries came to Zerubbabel (whom I believe was identified in Ezra 1:8 by his Babylonian name, “Shesbazzar, the prince of Judah”), and suggested Assimilation. These enemies had been a part of the Assyrian policy to resettle a conquered land with people of other nations. Though they were a wicked, idolatrous people, they said to Zerubbabel, “Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither” (4:2). Zerubbabel and Jeshua, joined by “the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel” (4:3), rejected the pretext of assimilation, saying, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us” (4:3).

Undeterred in their desire to hinder rebuilding the Temple, the enemies began a campaign of Aggravation (4:4-5). As time passed, “the people of the land [foreigners occupying Judah’s land] weakened the hands [the resolve] of the people of Judah, and troubled [terrified] them in building” (4:4). They even “hired counsellors [conspirators; agitators] against them, to frustrate their purpose” (4:5).

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

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

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

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

Ezra 5

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

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

Scripture reading – Daniel 3; Daniel 4

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

The King’s Idol (3:1-3)

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

A Crisis of Integrity (3:4-18)

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

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

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

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

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

A Divine Intervention (3:26-27)

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

The King’s Invocation (3:28-30)

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

An Answer for “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me” (Jeremiah 45)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 45

Having concluded his last prophetic message to the remnant of Judah that fled to Egypt (Jeremiah 44), Jeremiah’s chronological narrative was interrupted for a brief chapter. Jeremiah 45 recalls an earlier discourse between the prophet and Baruch, who served as Jeremiah’s scribe (Jeremiah 36:8). The historical setting of the conversation between the two men came “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah” (45:1). For context, Jehoiakim was the king who cast the prophecies of Jeremiah into a fire (Jeremiah 36:20-26). There were yet two kings who followed Jehoiakim (his successor Jehoiachin, who reigned for three months, and Zedekiah, the last king of Judah).

Penning the revelation concerning the destruction of Jerusalem a second time (Jeremiah 36:27-32), so overwhelmed Baruch he groaned in his spirit. Discouraged, and visibly shaken by God’s imminent judgment, the scribe found himself serving a prophet who was not only unpopular, but also imprisoned.

Jeremiah 45

The LORD Commanded Jeremiah to Confront Baruch (45:1-3)

Jeremiah 45:1-3 – “1 The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake [pronounced] unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of [according to] Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying, 2 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch; 3 Thou [Baruch] didst say, Woe [cry out] is me now! for the LORD [Jehovah; Eternal, Self-Existent God] hath added[increased] grief [afflictions] to my sorrow [pain; grief; anguish]; I fainted [exhausted; wearied] in my sighing[groaning’s; mourning; distress], and I find no rest [comfort; ease; resting place].”

The scribe’s focus was himself, and the LORD revealed to Jeremiah the spiritual state of his friend (45:1-2). Baruch was discouraged and overwhelmed. Jeremiah 45:3 exposed the spirit of a man whose spiritual zeal had waned because he lost sight of God’s sovereignty. The LORD instructed Jeremiah to be a faithful minister, and to instruct Baruch to not place his hope and affections on temporal, earthly things.

 Jeremiah 45:4 – Thus shalt thou [Jeremiah] say unto him [Baruch], The LORD saith thus; Behold, that which I [the LORD] have built [established; construct] will I [the LORD] break down [throw down; pluck down; destroyed], and that which I [the LORD] have planted I [the LORD] will pluck up [destroy; tear away], even this whole land.

Reminded God is sovereign, He had the right and authority to build up or to tear down, and no man should question His will. The LORD had determined that the Temple would be burned, the palaces destroyed, and the city of Jerusalem laid waste. Jeremiah 45:5 may strike you as an unnecessary rebuke of a faithful scribe, until you understand the context.

Jeremiah 45:5 – And seekest [require; beg; strive after] thou [Baruch] great things [high; greater; proud thing] for thyself [Baruch]? seek [require; beg; strive after] them not: for, behold, I [the LORD] will bring [come in; enter; give; advance] evil [bad; adversity; affliction; distress] upon all flesh [person; mankind; bodies], saith the LORD: but thy [Baruch] life [soul; person; heart] will I [the LORD] give [deliver; commit; give up; abandon] unto thee [Baruch] for a prey [spoil; possessions; booty; plunder] in all places whither thou goest [walk; depart; follow].

Jeremiah counseled Baruch not to sacrifice God’s calling for promotion or personal aspirations. As a point of background: Baruch’s brother served as a counselor to king Jehoiakim. While his brother enjoyed a prominent role in the king’s palace, Baruch found himself serving a prophet that was despised, persecuted, and imprisoned.

Closing thoughts – Jeremiah’s rebuke is as relevant to us as it was to Baruch. Is it not easy to fall prey to seeking “great things for thyself?” (45:5a) It is easy to focus upon the immediate cost of serving the LORD, but fail to recognize the greater risk, should we disobey Him. The LORD revealed the king, his advisors (including Baruch’s brother), and all the people would fail. Yet, the LORD promised to give Jeremiah’s scribe that which was greater than fame and promotion—LIFE!

The LORD said, “thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest” (45:5). What a wonderful promise! Baruch, don’t seek things for yourself, and I will give you LIFE!

What are you seeking? Riches, possessions, titles and fame perish! In the LORD, LIFE is forever!

Matthew 6:19-21 19  Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

From Despair to Triumphant Faith (Habakkuk 3)

Scripture reading – Habakkuk 3

Our study of Habakkuk concludes with today’s Scripture reading of Habakkuk 3. The sinfulness the prophet witnessed in Judah and Jerusalem provoked Habakkuk to question the LORD, “Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance?” (1:3a). The prophet reasoned, “For spoiling and violence are before me: And there are that raise up strife and contention” (1:3b).

The LORD answered Habakkuk’s complaint, and revealed how He would raise up the Chaldeans (Babylon) to punish Judah and the nations for their wickedness (1:5-11). Habakkuk asked, why would God employ a wicked nation to punish the sins of His people? (1:12-17) The LORD answered His prophet’s inquiry in a vision (2:1), and the judgment that would befall Babylon for its wickedness (2:2-19). Accepting the imminent judgment of Judah, the prophet declared God’s sovereignty, saying, “the Lord is in his holy temple: Let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20).

Habakkuk 3

Habakkuk’s Prayer (3:1-2)

Habakkuk 3 commences as a prayer (3:1-2), and is followed by a poem best described as a psalm or song. While there is some debate among scholars regarding the definition of “Shigionoth” (3:1), many agree the word was a musical notation. Reinforcing that conclusion is postscript at the close of the book: “To the chief singer on my stringed instruments” (3:19).

Having his questions answered, and understanding the inevitable judgment that would fulfill the LORD’s revelations, Habakkuk prayed: “O Lord, I have heard [listened to] thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make known; In wrath remember mercy” (3:2).

The Sovereignty and Providence of the LORD (3:3-15)

Looking to the future through the eyes of faith, Habakkuk remembered the ways and works of the LORD in the past. He remembered how the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness (3:3). For “God came from Teman” (the south), and the Holy One from mount Paran” (located in the Sinai desert), and then penned, “Selah” (pause and think about that, 3:3a). When Israel encamped in Sinai, there the LORD descended from heaven, and “His glory covered the heavens, And the earth was full of his praise” (3:3b). Though a nation of slaves, the LORD strengthened the faith of Israel with a display of His majesty and glory. He gave witness to the “horns [symbol of power and authority] coming out of his hand: And there was the hiding of his power” (3:4).

Recalling what the LORD did for Israel in the past, Habakkuk was confident He would bring upon the nations a “pestilence” (for God uses plagues to punish the wicked), and they would tremble and be shaken at His presence (3:6). The prophet proposed three questions (3:8), and remembered God used nature to do His bidding and bring judgment upon the wicked. Portrayed removing His bow and arrows out of their sheath (3:9a), God had used the flood waters of the Nile (Exodus 7:20-21), and the troubled waters of the Red Sea, to cause Pharoah and Egypt to submit to His will (Exodus 14:15-28; 15:8-10).

Habakkuk described the effect of God’s wrath in natural terms, making mention of how the mountains tremble, and waters overflow their banks (3:10). Even the sun, moon, and stars are shaken in their courses by the judgment of the LORD (3:11; Joshua 10:12-14; Isaiah 38:8; 2 Kings 20:9-11). When the LORD moves in judgment upon the nations of the world, fierce lightnings pierce the sky like “the light of arrows…[and His]glittering spear” (3:11).

Habakkuk warned, no man or nation could stand before the wrath of God. Yet, the LORD would remember His covenant and not forsake His people (3:12-13a). Babylon would wreak havoc on Judah, and destroy the poorer, weaker nations. Nevertheless, that wicked nation would be punished, and humiliated, for it would not withstand the wrath of God (3:13-14).

The Prophet’s Response to God’s Revelation (3:16-19)

Realizing the judgment of God was imminent, Habakkuk was overcome with emotion. His heart trembled, his voice failed, and his strength dissipated (3:16a). Yet, his hope was restored when he remembered when trouble comes, the LORD comes as well (3:16b). Crops would fail, and flocks and herds would be no more (3:17). In spite of sorrows that were to come, Habakkuk declared, “18Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (3:18).

Closing thoughts – How could the prophet rejoice, even as he acknowledged troubles were imminent?

Habakkuk did not derive his hope from pleasant circumstances, but from his faith that his joy was “in the God of [his] salvation” (3:18). Though trials were at hand, Habakkuk declared, “The Lord God is my strength, And he will make my feet like hinds’ feet [fast and agile like deer], And he [the LORD] will make me to walk upon mine high places” (3:19).

With faith in the LORD, and trusting Him for strength, Habakkuk declared he could conquer mountains! (3:19)

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Jeremiah Remembered, and Rewarded (Jeremiah 40)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 40

As foretold by the prophets, God’s judgment was consummated against Judah, and Jerusalem laid in ruins.  With the arrest of king Zedekiah, and the slaying of his sons (39:5-7), all was lost. Only a remnant survived the fall of Jerusalem, and Babylon’s army gathered them in chains at Ramah, where they were taken to Babylon (40:1).

Jeremiah wrote of the great lamentation in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15), but the prophetic implication of that place would later be observed by Matthew, when he wrote: “17Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” (Matthew 2:17-18).

Contrary to Nebuchadnezzar’s orders (39:11-14), somehow Jeremiah came to be numbered among those in chains (40:1). Now, the captain of the guard named Nebuzaradan (40:1), intervened and “took Jeremiah, and said unto him, The Lord thy God hath pronounced this evil upon this place” (40:2). Nebuzaradan was aware Jeremiah had warned his people their sins against the LORD would be the cause for Jerusalem’s destruction (40:3).

In an extraordinary act of respect, Nebuzaradan set Jeremiah at liberty, and gave him opportunity to go to Babylon in peace and under his protection, or remain in Judah and serve the remnant that would remain in the land (40:4-5). Jeremiah chose to remain with his people (40:6), and Nebuzaradan provided the prophet with a parting gift (40:5).

Nebuchadnezzar had installed a Jew named Gedaliah, who was to serve the interest of Babylon, and rule Judah as governor (40:5). Hearing Gedaliah was governor, some of the factions that fled Judah began returning (40:7), and among them were five men (40:8). Named among the five was Ishmael, who according to Jeremiah 41:1, was “of the seed royal” and some distant kin of David.

Gedaliah appealed to Ishmael and his companions, encouraging them to lay down their weapons, and go harvest the land (40:10). Still other of the Jews that had been scattered among the nations, returned to Judah and began rebuilding their lives (40:11-12).

Some who returned to farming, soon learned there was a plot to kill Gedaliah. Leaving their fields, they came to the governor asking, “Baalis the king of the Ammonites hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to slay thee?” (40:13-14a). Gedaliah, though, refused to believe the report (40:14b), and dismissed Johanan’s offer to slay Ishmael (40:15). He feared Gedaliah’s death would give cause for the people to scatter, “and the remnant in Judah [would] perish” (40:15).

Failing to foresee the evil, and dismissing the men who came to him, Gedaliah accused Johanan of speaking “falsely of Ishmael” (40:16).

Closing thought – Our next devotional will continue the plot to slay Gedaliah. Tragically, his failure to discern his friends from his enemies would cost the governor his life (Jeremiah 41).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Jerusalem is Fallen, and God Reigns! (Jeremiah 38-39)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 38; Jeremiah 39

With the army of the Chaldeans (Babylon) encamped outside the walls of the city, the people within faced a time of suffering that was horrible to behold. Famine and disease afflicted the nation (38:1), yet the king and his counsel refused to heed Jeremiah’s warning that all would perish if the city did not surrender to Nebuchadnezzar.

Jeremiah 38 – Singing the Prison Blues

Four men of the king’s counsel were named in Jeremiah 38:1, who had set themselves against Jeremiah and charged him with treason. Before he was imprisoned, the prophet foretold only those who went “forth to the Chaldeans [would] live” (38:2), for Jerusalem would fall “into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army” (38:3).

Wicked Counsel (38:4-6)

Obstinate and foolish, the king’s officials (“princes”) disparaged Jeremiah to the king, and accused the prophet of discouraging the people, and weakening their resolve to defend the city (36:4). Zedekiah, true to his wicked character, betrayed God’s prophet into the hands of his enemies (36:5). Those men then “cast Jeremiah into the dungeon [where] there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire” (36:6).

Ebedmelech: A Man of Courage and Conviction (38:7-13)

Providentially, there was a man named Ebedmelech, an Ethiopian, who realized the injustices suffered by Jeremiah, and interceded for God’s prophet. Ebedmelech petitioned the king to save the old prophet from the dungeon (38:8), knowing he was “like to die for hunger in the place” (38:9). Zedekiah honored Ebedmelech’s request, and commanded 30 men to deliver Jeremiah from the prison, to “the court of the prison” (38:10-13).

Zedekiah’s Secret Consultation with Jeremiah (38:14-24)

Soon after, Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah, and in secret, enquired of the prophet, “I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me” (38:14). The king wanted to know what would become of him and the nation, but Jeremiah did not trust the king, and feared he would both reject his words and kill him (38:15). The king answered Jeremiah’s fears, and assured the prophet he would not be harmed (38:16).

Tragically, nothing had changed in what God had purposed and foretold through his prophet, and Jeremiah counseled the king he must surrender the city, or death and destruction would befall the king’s family and his city (38:20). Refusing to surrender the city to Nebuchadnezzar, would surely bring mocking from the women of the king’s household for heeding the counsel of his “friends” (38:21-22). Finally, the king’s harem and his children would become slaves in Babylon, and the city would be burned to the ground (38:23).

Zedekiah Rejected the Prophet’s Counsel (38:24-28)

Fearing the wrath of men, rather than the judgment of God (38:19), Zedekiah demanded Jeremiah would tell no one of his conversation with the king (38:24-25). Should some ask what he said to the king, Jeremiah was to answer he had requested the king not return him to the dungeon (38:26).

Closing thoughts – Those men who hated Jeremiah came demanding what he had spoken to the king, and Jeremiah answered as the king instructed (26:27). “So Jeremiah abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken: and he was there when Jerusalem was taken” (38:28).

Jeremiah 39 – The Final Phase: The Fall of Jerusalem

The Babylonian siege lasted 18 months, and the sorrows and afflictions that arose within the city in that time were overwhelming and recorded in the Book of Lamentations (Lamentations 4:4-5, 9-11, 18). Zedekiah, having failed to heed Jeremiah’s counsel to surrender the city to Nebuchadnezzar, was forced to flee the city (39:4), but the Chaldean army pursued him (39:5).

Nebuchadnezzar commanded king Zedekiah and his entourage to appear before him, where he sat in judgment (39:5). As the king of Judah looked on, his sons were slain “before his eyes” as were also “all the nobles of Judah” (39:6) Lastly, Zedekiah’s eyes were put out, and he was bound in chains, and carried away to Babylon (39:7).

The city of Jerusalem was burned, its buildings destroyed, the remnant of those who survived the siege were led away to Babylon, leaving only the poorest of the people to occupy the land (39:8-10).

In an ironic, but providential twist of fate, Nebuchadnezzar released Jeremiah from prison and directed his servants care for his needs, releasing the prophet to go home (39:11-14; 40:1-6).

Closing thoughts – History is truly “His [God’s] Story,” and a testimony of the providential working of God Who is Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign of all things.  The LORD is El Shaddai, Almighty God and able to direct the evil purposes of men to the ends that are good for His people and His glory (Romans 8:28-29).

Whatever circumstances you face, or whoever your enemy might be, they are not greater, nor are they beyond the sovereignty of El Shaddai – Almighty God!

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Preach God’s Word at Your Peril (Jeremiah 37)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 37

God’s Word Rejected a Second Time (37:1-3)

Our timeline moves from the reign of Jehoiakim (the third to the last king of Judah, 36:1), to Zedekiah (37:1). Zedekiah succeeded Jeconiah as king, after that king (known as Coniah or Jehoiachin) reigned for three months, until he was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar (37:1).

Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, continued the obstinance of Jehoiakim, by rejecting “the words of the Lord, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah” (37:2). With the army of Babylon laying siege to the city, the king appealed to Jeremiah requesting through his servants, “Pray now unto the Lord our God for us” (37:3).

Warning: Don’t Put Your Confidence in Egypt (37:4-10)

Fearless and faithful to his calling, Jeremiah “came in and went out among the people: they had not put him into prison” (37:4). It was at that time the news, “Pharaoh’s army was come forth out of Egypt” (37:5) reached Jerusalem. The Chaldean army withdrew from their siege against Jerusalem (37:5), and some believed the city had been spared from destruction.

Jeremiah warned the king to not put his faith in Pharaoh’s army, for his soldiers would return to Egypt (37:7). The prophet warned, don’t be deceived, for Babylon would come again and burn the city as the LORD had foretold (37:8-10).

Arrested and Imprisoned (37:11-21)

As he departed Jerusalem, Jeremiah was accused of treason, persecuted, then imprisoned in a dungeon (37:11-16). He suffered in the dungeon for many days, until Zedekiah sought the prophet counsel in secret, and asked if he had “any word from the LORD?” (37:17).

The prophet answered the king, contending to know the crime he had committed that warranted his imprisonment (37:18). He wisely questioned the king, asking where were the prophets who had prophesied, “The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?” (37:19)

Closing thought – Jeremiah foretold the king would not die in the siege on Jerusalem, but would be removed to Babylon where he would live out his days (37:17). He then petitioned the king, asking to be removed from the dungeon, lest he die there (37:20). Zedekiah honored the prophet’s request, and commanded he be provided a daily ration of bread (37:21).

I close today’s devotional, being reminded there are times it is the will of God for His choicest servants to suffer. Jeremiah was hated, rejected, suffered persecution and imprisonment, because he was a faithful servant and a preacher of God’s Word. The king and the nation despised the Word of God, and hated His servant. Let all who love, and serve the LORD remember: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 4230 Harbor Lake Dr, Lutz, FL 33558. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Be Still; the LORD is Our Refuge (Psalm 46; Psalm 80)

Scripture reading – Psalm 46; Psalm 80

Two psalms are the focus of today’s Scripture reading, and both are certainly pertinent and instructive to believers of the 21st century.

Psalm 46

Since the fall of man, the world has been filled with troubles, sorrows, and wars. The mass media of our day, and the reach of the internet has given us a view of events while they are unfolding. Sadly, there is little good news, and the proliferation of wickedness and violence, coupled with inept leadership, has brought the world to the precipice of anarchy.

What are we to do in the midst of our trials and troubles? Psalm 46 gives us the answer.

God is Our Refuge (46:1-3)

Our God has power over nature, and He is the place (and person) to whom we can flee in troubled times (46:1). He is our Refuge (shelter; strong rock), and Strength (our security, and place of safety). All who flee to the LORD have no cause for worry or fear (46:2). Whether the mountains are moved out of their places by an earthquake, or the seas are troubled (“seas” can be literal, or a symbol of human society), we can be confident God is steadfast and unshaken (46:2-3). “Selah,” pause and ponder that promise!

God is Our River of Life, and Source of Grace (46:4-7)

Jerusalem was the city where the LORD established His Temple, and it was an outward symbol of His presence in the midst of His people (46:4). God had covenanted with Israel to be a perpetual blessing to His people, but the children of Israel had failed to keep covenant with Him.

The LORD was “in the midst” of His people, and though the “heathen raged” (46:6a), the very sound of His voice would cause the nations to tremble (46:6b). The psalmist assured His people, “7The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” (46:7).

God Will Be Exalted in the Earth (46:8-11)

The third stanza of Psalm 46 declared God’s judgment, and reminded Judah though the armies of their adversaries were fierce, it was the LORD who has power and authority over nature and the nations. God alone can bring peace, for “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire” (46:9).

Closing thoughts – We close being reminded when troubles and trials assail, people of faith look to the LORD. He would have us to, “Be still,” and rest in the knowledge He is sovereign. He is greater than our trials (46:19), and His purpose will “be exalted among the heathen [and] in the earth” (46:10).

No matter the trial, affliction or enemy, remember: “The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” (46:11).

Psalm 80

The setting of Psalm 80 is thought to be after the fall of Israel to Assyria, and was a petition to the LORD to intervene for the Northern Kingdom. It was a song and cry for compassion, and salvation (80:1-7).

As a nation, Israel was described as a grape vine transplanted out of Egypt (80:8-9), a bough that flourished under God’s blessings spanning from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River (80:10-12), and a land devastated by enemies portrayed as ferocious as a wild boar (80:13a) and wild beasts (i.e. lions, bears, wolves, 80:13b).

Psalm 80 concluded with the psalmist crying to the LORD to intervene, and save His people (80:14-15). Describing the desolations, Israel had suffered (consumed by fire and cut down, 80:16), the psalmist pens for the third time: “Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, Cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (80:3, 7, 19).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide from God (2 Chronicles 25, Jonah 1)

Scripture reading – 2 Chronicles 25, Jonah 1

2 Chronicles 25 is a parallel record of events we considered in a prior study of 2 Kings 14:1-2. For that reason, today’s devotional will focus exclusively on the Book of Jonah.

Have you ever wanted to run away? Ever wanted to flee from pressures, people, pain and problems? I am certain there are many who have entertained the notion to run and hide. The book of Jonah will remind you that our Heavenly Father never takes His eyes off His people. He is omniscient, and knows your strengths, weaknesses, fears, and struggles (Psalm 139:1). He knows your every thought (Psalm 139:2-3), and every word (Psalm 139:4). He is omnipresent, and His presence is inescapable (Psalm 139:7-10). The Scriptures impart a comforting and inescapable reality: “You can run, but you cannot hide from God.”

Jonah 1

Who was Jonah? (1:1-2)

Jonah was a preacher and prophet of the LORD to northern Israel, and served during the reign of the second Jeroboam (i.e., Jeroboam ben Joash). Passionate and patriotic, his life was dedicated to ministering in Israel, until the LORD interrupted his ministry commanding him to, Arise, go to Nineveh” (1:2).

Nineveh is described in the Scriptures as a “great city,” and one known for its wickedness (1:2). Located on the Tigris River in what is today, modern Iraq. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, with a population of 120,000 (4:11). In ancient times, the Assyrians were known as a cruel, heartless people who buried their enemies alive, and tortured others by skinning them alive until they died. They were also a great enemy of Israel, and eventually conquered that nation, taking the people captive.

God’s Calling on Jonah’s Life (1:3-4)

The stench of Nineveh’s wickedness had become so grave, that the LORD had determined He would destroy the city if the people did not repent. Revealing His compassion for sinners, and His longsuffering, the LORD determined to give that great city an opportunity to repent of its sins.Jonah, however, refused to go to Nineveh to call on the people to repent (1:3). Some might argue the prophet feared the notorious cruelty of the nation. Others might suggest he did not want to aid Israel’s enemy, and feared his own people might reject him. Jonah 4:1-2, however, reveals Jonah did not want to prophesy against Nineveh for he knew the LORD was gracious, and feared He would spare the people if they repented of their sins. Rather than obey the LORD, Jonah resigned his calling, took a boat going to Tarshish (the opposite direction of Nineveh), and attempted the impossible…to escape “the presence of the LORD” (1:3).

Jonah’s Spiritual Insensitivity (1:4-6)

We read in verse 5 how Jonah “was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep” (1:5). What a poignant insight into the character of a disobedient servant of God! While the heathen battled the storm, desperate to save their lives, the prophet slept!

The ship’s captain assailed that calloused prophet, and asked in disbelief, What meanest thou, O sleeper?” (1:6) How could he be sleeping when so many lives could be lost? Here we see the spiritual profile of a backslidden believer: Emotionally detached, and distant from God and others.

The Sailor’s Interrogation (1:7-11)

The sailors cast lots, and the LORD sovereignly directed the lot to fall on Jonah (1:7). With the storm raging, the sailors demanded to know the cause of Jonah’s guilt that God had sent such a great storm that threatened all their lives. What evil? “What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?” (1:8)

“And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). He declared he had “fled from the presence of the Lord” and the storm had been sent by God to chasten him (1:10). Fearing for their lives, the sailors questioned Jonah, “What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us?” (1:11)

Jonah’s Counsel and the LORD’s Provision (1:12-17)

Jonah instructed the sailors saying, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you” (1:12).

Given the desperate plight of the ship, you would think the calloused sailors would have cast the disobedient prophet overboard immediately; however, they continued to row hard hoping to bring the ship to land (1:13). Realizing all effort was for naught, the sailors cast Jonah into the sea, “and the sea ceased from her raging” (1:15). God mercifully spared the lives of the sailors, and providentially “prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (1:17).

Closing thoughts – Several lessons come to mind in our study of Jonah 1. We have seen God’s love for sinners and His longsuffering. In spite of Nineveh’s wickedness, the LORD sent His prophet to call the people of that city to repent (2 Peter 3:9; John 3:16). We will also observe that the LORD is a God of second chances. He lovingly pursued Jonah across the sea, and saved him from drowning. Lastly, consider how a disobedient believer can peril the lives of the unsaved, leaving me to ask:

Are you periling lost souls by your disobedience?

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith