Tag Archives: Flesh

Persevering in Trials, and Overcoming Temptations (James 1; James 2)

Scripture reading – James 1; James 2

Our two-year chronological study of the Scriptures continues with a brief departure from our readings in the Acts of the Apostles, and picks up in the book of James. Completing our prior study of Acts 14, we found Paul and Barnabas returning from their first missionary journey to towns and cities in Asia Minor (an area we know today as modern Turkey). Jews and Gentiles were professing faith in Christ, being baptized, and added to the church daily. That diversity, Jew and Gentile (many of them of Greek and Roman backgrounds), introduced differences that arose between the circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles. (That will be a topic of study in Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas journey to Jerusalem and account for their ministries to Gentiles.)

Why interrupt our study of the Book of Acts, and focus on the Epistle of James? That question is answered by identifying its author.

Introduction (1:1)

The “Epistle of James” is a letter that bears the name of its author. The writer introduced himself and his recipients in the opening verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes [the Tribes of Israel] which are scattered abroad [dispersed], greeting [rejoice; be glad]” (James 1:1).

With humility, James identified himself as “a servant,” a slave to “God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). There are several men identified as James in the New Testament; however, this James did not feel the need to introduce himself, perhaps because he needed no introduction. By the time this epistle was penned, the apostle James, brother of John and the son of Zebedee was martyred (Acts 12:2), and thereby eliminating him as the author. Most scholars identify the writer as James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), being born of Joseph and Mary. We know James and his siblings were not followers of Jesus until after His crucifixion, death and resurrection (John 7:5). Acts 1:14, however, identified Jesus’ “brethren” among those who assembled in “an upper room” after He ascended to heaven.

This same James was recognized as a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). In a future devotional, Paul and Barnabas will give account to the believers in Jerusalem, and it will be this James who addressed the assembly (Acts 15:13) of apostles and elders. James was also mentioned by name with leaders of the church in Acts 21:18. The letter was addressed “to the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad” (some of the captivity who never returned to Israel, and others recently scattered by persecution, 1:1b). You will find the Epistle of James is practical, insightful, and convicting.

A Righteous Attitude Toward Trials and Temptations (1:2-4)

James opened his letter with a bold exhortation for believers: “My brethren, count [regard; judge] it all joy [a cause for rejoicing] when ye fall [stand in the midst of] into divers [various] temptations [trials]; Knowing this, that the trying [testing] of your faith [what you believe] worketh [performs; works out; produces] patience [steadfastness; endurance]. But let patience [steadfastness; endurance] have her perfect [maturing; complete] work, that ye may be perfect [mature] and entire [complete], wanting nothing [i.e. lacking not one thing]” (James 1:2–4).

Means to Overcome Trials and Temptations (1:5-12)

What should you do when you face hardships and persecution? Ask God for wisdom (1:5), trust Him (never give in to doubts and fears, 1:6), and rejoice (1:9). Whether you are brought low by poverty, or tempted to be exalted and dependent on riches, remember wealth is temporal (like grass that withers, or flowers that fade, 1:10-11). Do not forget, the person who loves the LORD will be blessed, when he endures trials (1:12).

Origin of Trials and Temptations (1:13-18)

Among the great truths we might take from trials and troubles, is foremost the promise God will never tempt you to sin (1:13). In fact, when you are tempted to sin, remember temptations arise from within the heart: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (1:14). Some might whine, “the devil tempted me;” however, the appeal to sin arises from lust seeded in the heart of sinners, and comes with a death sentence: “sin, when it is finished bringeth for death” (1:15).

The effect of lust and sin is death (Hebrews 9:27). Sin deals a death-blow to marriages, families, careers, hopes, and one’s health. Sin ends with physical, spiritual, and eternal death (Romans 6:23). Remember: God is the source of only good (1:16-18).

Closing thoughts (1:19-27) – How might believers prepare for trials and temptations? I find three major principles that answer that question in the closing verses of James 1.

1) Be Quick to Hear the Word of God, and Slow to Speak (1:19-21). In other words, obey God’s Word (1:19), restrain your anger (1:20), and renounce any sin that comes between you and God (1:21).

2) Be a Doer of the Word, not a Hearer Only (1:22-24). Hearing, but failing to obey God’s Word ends in self-deception (1:22). The Word of God is a perfect, flawless spiritual mirror of man’s soul, if he will remember what it reveals, and obey its truths.

3) Bridle Your Tongue (1:26). Some appear pious, and spiritually devout; however, if they do not bridle their tongues, they are self-deceived and their religion is vain and empty.

A devotional study of James 2 will need to wait for another year.; however, I conclude our study of James 1, by spotlighting the qualities of a sincere heart: Selfless and compassionate (caring for orphans and widows), and unstained by the sins of the world (1:27).

How’s your heart?

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

What is in Your Heart? (Matthew 15; Mark 7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 15; Mark 7

Our study of the Synoptic Gospels continues with Matthew and Mark recording the same events in the life and ministry of Christ. Though it is doubtful either author could have read the writing of the other (this was 14 centuries before the printing press, and there were few handwritten copies of the Scriptures), we once again marvel at the proof of the inspiration of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21). As you will see, Matthew and Mark complement one another in their unique perspective.

In earlier devotions we have considered the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-43; John 6:1-14). Today’s Scripture reading present a similar miracle known as the Feeding of the Four Thousand or TheMiracle of the Seven Loaves and Fish (Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 8:1-21). Because the miracles are so similar, I will focus instead upon the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day (Matthew 15:1-20, and Mark 7:1-23).

The Accusers and Their Accusations (Matthew 15:1-2; Mark 7:1-5)

Matthew and Mark report the scribes [experts in the Law and traditions] and Pharisees came to Jesus, and accused the disciples of transgressing “the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread” (15:1-2). Those religious leaders were offended the disciples did not practice the ritualistic washing that was a tradition in Israel.

Jesus Condemned Hypocrisy (15:3-9)

These pious leaders were focusing on their own traditions as though they were commandments of God, while ignoring what the commandments actually said. Yet, those leaders were no different than religious leaders of our day who replace commandments with traditions. Jesus ignored the premise of their question, and asked, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (15:3)

What a powerful response! Rather than waste precious time debating their ill-founded criticisms, Jesus admonished them. They usurped the authority of the Scriptures, and Jesus charged they were guilty of breaking the fifth commandment which dealt with honoring father and mother (Exodus 20:12). The LORD warned, “He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death” (15:4b; Exodus 21:17).

Lip Service vs. Heart Service (Matthew 15:7-9; Mark 7:9-13)

The scribes and Pharisees had not only failed to instruct the people, but encouraged them to dismiss their obligation to care for the physical needs of their fathers and mothers. By their traditions, they disavowed an adult child’s responsibility for his parents’ welfare. They taught, declare “Corban” (meaning, it’s a gift; Mark 7:11-12), and saying one could dedicate his wealth and possessions to the LORD and be under no obligation to father or mother (Mark 7:12).

Jesus condemned them as hypocrites (Matthew 15:7), and quoted the prophet Isaiah: “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, And with their lips do honour me, But have removed their heart far from me, And their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isaiah 29:13). Because they masked their hypocritical hearts with external rituals, Jesus warned their worship was in vain (Matthew 15:8-9).

Watch Your Mouth, and Your Heart (Matthew 15:10-20)

Our devotional study will conclude with a brief examination of things that defile a man. After confronting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (15:7), Jesus called on the people to give Him their attention, and said, “Hear, and understand: 11Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (15:10-11). While the Pharisees put their emphasis on whether or not a man ate with clean or unclean hands, Jesus warned it was not what a man put into his mouth, but that which proceeded out of his mouth that defiled (in other words, deemed oneself sinful and unfit before God, 15:11).

The disciples came to Jesus, but rather than express concern for the false doctrine of the Pharisees, they voiced alarm He had offended the Pharisees (15:12). Jesus rebuked His disciples, and warned God would uproot that which He had not planted (meaning the false teachers and their doctrines, and traditions of men, 15:13). Leave the spiritually blind teaching the blind, for “both shall fall into the ditch” (15:14).

Peter, often the spokesman for the Twelve, asked, “Declare unto us this parable” (15:15). What parable? The one Christ taught when He said, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (15:11).

The disciples were slow learners, and missed the point: Physical food goes in and out of a man, and does not defile (15:16-17). Yet, the things which come out of a man’s mouth reflects the spiritual condition of his heart (15:18). What is the heart? In the Scriptures the heart of man is the seat of his inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions. What sins lie in the heart of man? Matthew wrote, “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (15:19). Mark added, “covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (7:22).

Closing thoughts – The Pharisees focused on whether or not a man’s hands were ceremonially clean, and ignored the condition of a man’s heart (15:20). What is the condition of man’s heart? The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus confirmed the same, for evil arises within the heart of man and defiles him.

Don’t be beguiled by spiritual blindness or piety! The LORD knows your heart, and He alone can purge your heart from the filthiness that lies within.

1 John 1:7–97But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Hope for the Hopeless (Mark 5)

Scripture reading – Mark 5

We continue our study of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and our focus today is Mark 5. Once again, we have the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and arriving on the other side in an area identified as the Gadarenes (5:1). Matthew 8:28 recognized the same region as Gergesenes (Gadara was the name of a nearby city, while Gergesenes was the name of a lake on that side. There was also a city in that area named Gergesa). Another difference between Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels is the prior states there were “two possessed with devils” that met Jesus (Matthew 8:28), and the latter states the LORD encountered “a man with an unclean sprit” (5:2). The difference in the two accounts is not a contradiction, but only that Mark chose to record the event of one man, not two.

Let us consider, that harmony in content is one of the great testaments to the inspiration of the Gospels. While the Holy Spirit used different human authors, and employed each man’s unique perspective and language, nevertheless the accounts harmonize as a whole (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Together, the Synoptics give us a deeper dimension of the same events.

Today’s devotional will focus on Mark 5:1-20, and the terrible toll sin took upon one man’s life. Jesus and His disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, and arrived on the eastern shore. There, they were met by a hopeless, tormented, demon possessed man described as having an “unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2).

The Condition of a Desperate Sinner (5:1-5)

Consider the physical appearance of the demon possessed man: The man was described as having “fetters” (ropes) and chains that hanged about his body, showing the desperate attempts family and friends had made to control him (5:3-4). His body was scarred with self-inflicted wounds for he had cut “himself with stones” (5:5).

He was a troubled man, socially isolated from his family, friends, and neighbors. He had made his abode among the caves and tombs of the hillsides in the area (5:5). Imagine the sorrow his condition had brought upon his loved ones, for he had been driven into the desert leaving behind his family to bear the sorrow and shame of his condition. His emotional condition was exhibited in his tormented screams that echoed off the hillsides “always” (5:5). “Night and day” the wild, tormented screams of his anguish were heard (5:5).

Salvation and Transformation (5:6-15)

He was “possessed with the devil, and had the legion” (a legion was a Roman name of a company of soliders that might number in the thousands, 5:9, 15).  We are not told how the man came to be possessed by demons; however, sin had overtaken every part of his affections and thoughts. The evil, unclean spirit had degraded and destroyed his life, family, and future (James 1:14-15).

In a fleeting moment of desperation, the man ran to Jesus and worshipped Him (5:6); however, the demons that ruled his soul wanted nothing to do with Jesus (5:7).  Jesus, evidencing His power and authority over evil spirits, cast the demons out of the man and permitted them to enter a herd of swine that could not abide the indwelling of such wickedness (5:10-13).

Rather than the protracted steps and methods of “reformation” that is the methodology of secular psychologists and psychiatrists, the demon-possessed man’s life was immediately changed by his spiritual encounter and faith in Jesus. His life gave evidence of his conversion and the radical transformation was undeniable (5:8, 15). The change was so transformative his family, friends, and neighbors observed him “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (5:15). He was “sitting,” at peace, and no longer bound by sin or needing chains and ropes.  They found him “clothed,” no longer a violent man crying and cutting himself. He was “in his right mind,” repentant and rational (5:15), and longed to go with Jesus (5:18). God’s power not only overcame his rebellious, evil spirit, it transformed his thoughts, mind, and affections.

Closing thoughts – Tragically, and in spite of the undeniable transformation in the man’s life, the citizens of Gadara begged Jesus to “depart out of their coasts” (5:17). They would not embrace Him as LORD, nor would they welcome Him in their homes or country. Jesus, knowing the man of Gadara could go where He would not be welcome, commanded him to, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (5:19). The change in the demon-possessed man’s life was undeniable evidence of his salvation. Can that be said of you?

Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Two Adulteress, One Pot of Boiling Scum, and the Death of Ezekiel’s Wife (Ezekiel 23; Ezekiel 24)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 23; Ezekiel 24

Our Scripture reading, consisting of two chapters (Ezekiel 23 and 24), are introduced with Ezekiel recounting, 1The word of the Lord came…unto me, saying, Son of man” (23:1; 24:1-2). “Son of man” reminded Ezekiel, though he was a priest by lineage, and a prophet by calling, he was nevertheless a man with the weaknesses and failings of men. “Son of Man” was also a frequent title Christ used of Himself (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; Mark 2:28; Luke 19:10), reminding His followers He was the “Son of God” by nature (John 1:14; 3:16; Galatians 4:4-5), and the “Son of Man” by birth (being conceived by the virgin Mary).

Ezekiel 23

Two Sisters Who Became Adulterers (23:1-21)

The LORD came to Ezekiel with a parable of two sisters, and a mother (23:2). The mother was symbolic of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (23:2), and the daughters represented the divided kingdoms. Samaria, identified as the elder sister “Aholah,” symbolized the ten northern tribes known as Israel (23:4). The city of Jerusalem was identified as “Aholibah,” and symbolized Judah, the southern kingdom (23:4)

The Sins and Wickedness of Samaria (23:4-10)

Samaria and Jerusalem were guilty of spiritual adultery, for they had turned from the LORD to the gods of other nations. Forsaking her covenant with the LORD, Samaria turned to Assyria, and embraced that nation’s idols with their wicked, immoral practices (23:5-10; 2 Kings 15:19-20; 17:1-4). A century had passed since the LORD gave Samaria over to Assyria, and that northern Israel was stripped of its wealth, and her sons and daughters taken into captivity (23:9-10)

The Sins and Wickedness of Jerusalem (23:11-21)

Jerusalem followed in the sins of Samaria, portrayed in Ezekiel 23 as that nation’s sister (23:11). Privileged to have the Temple representing the presence of the LORD in her midst, the sins and wickedness of Jerusalem exceeded those of Samaria. Ezekiel was to declare, Jerusalem “was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she, and in her whoredoms more than her sister in her whoredoms” (23:11).

Like Samaria, Jerusalem turned from the LORD, sought the favor of Assyria (2 Kings 16:5-18; Isaiah 7:1-25), and defiled herself with the idols of that heathen nation (23:13). When Assyria fell to Babylon, Jerusalem turned to the idols of that nation, and lusted for the great men of the Chaldeans (23:14-16). Rejecting the LORD, the kings of Jerusalem had flirted with Babylon like an adulterous woman (23:15-16). Rather than favor, Babylon abused Jerusalem, shamed and humiliated the people (23:17-18). Failing to turn to the LORD, the king of Jerusalem turned to Egypt for help and failed (23:19-21; 2 Kings 23:26-24:2).

God Determined to Judge Jerusalem and Judah (23:22-35)

As with Samaria, so it was with Jerusalem, for the LORD determined that city would be judged for her wickedness and spiritual idolatry. Ezekiel prophesied the LORD would bring a great army against Jerusalem (23:22-23), and fulfill the judgment He had determined against the city (23:24). The soldiers of Babylon would show no mercy to the people, and would take their children captive (23:25-29). As the cup of God’s wrath would be poured out, Jerusalem would fall (23:30-35).

Consequences of Sin, and the Righteous End of God’s Judgment (23:36-49)

Lest any question God’s justice, Ezekiel declared the sins of Jerusalem (23:36-42), and God’s judgment (23:43-47). Why did the LORD bring upon His people all of this sorrow and suffering? It was to the end they might feel the weight of their sins, repent and know the God of Israel is “the Lord God” (23:48-49).

Ezekiel 24 – A Boiling Caldron

Briefly, Ezekiel 24 records the parable of a boiling pot, that represented God’s final judgment on Jerusalem. It was on the day the LORD came to Ezekiel with the parable (24:1), that Nebuchadnezzar began his final siege of Jerusalem (24:2). The parable was addressed to the rebels of Judah (24:3), and the boiling pot represented Jerusalem (“the blood city, 24:6a). The fire in the parable identified the wrath of God’s judgment, and the scum in the pot symbolized the sin and wickedness of Jerusalem (24:6-11). In their rebellion, the people of Jerusalem became a filthy, lewd people whose sins stipulated God’s judgment (24:12-13). Indeed, until His justice was satisfied, God’s judgment would not cease (23:14).

The Sign from the Death of Ezekiel’s Wife (24:15-27)

Our devotion concludes, not with a parable, but a sign. The LORD revealed to Ezekiel: “Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire [Ezekiel’s wife] of thine eyes with a stroke: yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down” (24:15-16). Ezekiel’s refusal to mourn the death of his wife in public, was to serve as a sign for the people to refrain from mourning the news of Jerusalem’s fall (24:17-23).

Closing thoughts (24:24-27) – Why were the people to abstain from mourning in public, after they received the news of Jerusalem’s fall?

They were not to mourn the destruction of the Temple and the city, but rather the sins and wickedness of the people that had necessitated its ruin it (24:24-25). To that end, it was the LORD’s desire that His people would, in the midst of their private sorrows, come to hear and know Him as LORD (24:27).

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.

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

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 22

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

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

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

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

Twelve National Sins (22:6-12)

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

God’s Judgment (22:12c-22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

A Parable: “Two Eagles and A Vine” (Ezekiel 17)

Scripture reading – Ezekiel 17; Ezekiel 18

We are considering the third of three prophecies the LORD revealed to Ezekiel, and commanded him to tell the elders of Israel (14:1). The prophecies were given to Ezekiel as symbolic revelations of the judgment that would befall Jerusalem. The first prophecy portrayed Jerusalem as an unfruitful vine that was to be cut down and cast into a fire (symbolic of the fire that would destroy the Temple and the city, Ezekiel 15). The second prophecy portrayed Jerusalem as an abused, adulterous wife, indicating the spiritual harlotry of the people and their worship of idols (Ezekiel 16).

Ezekiel 17 presents the third prophecy, with Jerusalem once again represented as a vine the LORD planted in Canaan (17:1-24). This is the first of two devotionals for today.

Ezekiel 17

Presented as a riddle and parable, Ezekiel 17 introduces a third prophecy foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is once again represented as a vine the LORD had planted in Canaan (17:1-24). As discussed earlier, the vine, and in this chapter the cedar of Lebanon, are pictures of Israel (17:3, 6).

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was portrayed as the first eagle (the prophet Jeremiah described Nebuchadnezzar as, “he shall fly as an eagle,” Jeremiah 48:40; 49:22). God revealed to Ezekiel that the top branches of the cedar (both Judah and Jerusalem) would be clipped off by the eagle (this occurred when Nebuchadnezzar removed Jehoiachin from his throne in Jerusalem, and brought him as a prisoner to Babylon, 2 Kings 24:7-16).

Following the narrative of the parable, Nebuchadnezzar “took also of the seed of the land and planted it” (17:5-6). That seed was Zedekiah, whom the king of Babylon chose to rule as his puppet in Jerusalem. King Zedekiah rebelled against the rule of Babylon, and made alliance with Egypt (represented as the second “great eagle” in this parable, 17:7). When Babylon returned to lay siege to Jerusalem, rather than to the LORD, Zedekiah turned to Egypt for help (17:8). God declared Judah and Jerusalem would not prosper, but would “wither” and be plucked up by the roots (a picture of the captivity that would follow, 17:9)

Ezekiel 17:11-21 gives the explanation of the riddle (17:1-10), and is a review of the history we have considered in earlier studies (2 Kings 23:31-24:20, 2 Chronicles 36, and Jeremiah 37).

In spite of the utter destruction and devastation of Jerusalem and Judah, the LORD promised He would take a “twig,” replant it in Israel (17:22-23), and exalt “the low tree” (17:24).  Scholars believe, and I am inclined to agree, the twig represented the humble birth of Jesus Christ who will one day return as King of kings and LORD of lords (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16).

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.

The End: Babylon is Fallen! (Jeremiah 51; Jeremiah 52)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 51; Jeremiah 52

Today’s scripture reading concludes our study of Jeremiah’s prophecies in the book that bears his name (our next Scripture reading will consider the Book of Lamentations, and that prophet’s grief following the destruction of Jerusalem). I know the study and interpretation of prophecy can be a challenge, but I trust my daily devotionals have made the difficult simple.

What a joy we have to be living at such a time! We have the privilege of not only studying past prophecies, but the advantage of researching history. Modern archeology has only confirmed God’s Word. While there are many who cast doubt on the Word of God, understand the burden of proof rest with them, and not the believer. History is on our side, and we can declare with the apostle Paul, “ye, let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).

The focus of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry has moved from Judah, to declaring God’s judgment against the Gentile nations beginning with Egypt in chapter 46, and the Philistines in chapter 47. Employing Babylon as the tool of His judgment, other Gentile nations succumbed to the might of Nebuchadnezzar’s army in quick succession. The Moabites (Jeremiah 48), Ammonites and Edomites, and nomadic tribes of Arabia fell to the Chaldeans (Jeremiah 49).

Though Nebuchadnezzar reigned as leader of the world in his day, seventy years after he destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem, Babylon would fall to the Medes and Persians under King Cyrus (50:3, 9, 41-42).

Jeremiah 51

Jeremiah’s prophecies against Babylon continued in Jeremiah 51. Leaving no doubt God is Sovereign of the nations, we read: “1Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will raise up against Babylon, And against them that dwell in the midst of them that rise up against me, A destroying wind” (51:1). Yet, God had not forgotten His covenant with Israel, and the prophet declared, “5For Israel hath not been forsaken, Nor Judah of his God, of the Lord of hosts; Though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel” (51:5).

Jeremiah’s prophecies were recorded that the people in captivity would know Babylon was to be destroyed (51:6-9). The children of Israel and Judah were to be ready and looking for the day they would be set at liberty to return to their land (51:10). The LORD would stir the Medes to attack and destroy Babylon (51:11). Though seventy years would pass, the destruction and end of Babylon was prophesied as though it was imminent.

Who could bring that great empire to its knees, and leave its capital in ruins? The LORD of hosts! (51:13) He is Creator, and “hath made the earth by his power, He hath established the world by his wisdom, And hath stretched out the heaven by his understanding” (51:15). He is the Sustainer of nature, for “when he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens; And he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth: He maketh lightnings with rain, And bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures” (51:15).

When God sets Himself against a nation and its leaders, no man can save it. Though He had employed Nebuchadnezzar’s aspirations for wealth and power to punish the nations, God is just and Babylon would not go unpunished (51:24-41). Describing the scale of the Medes and Persians army, Jeremiah declared, “42The sea is come up upon Babylon: She is covered with the multitude of the waves thereof” (51:42). Babylon had spoiled other nations, now she would become spoil to her enemies (51:43-58).

To this day, Babylon has not been rebuilt, and the ruins of that city lie under the sands of the desert as a testimony of God’s judgment (51:59-64).

Jeremiah 52

The narrative in Jeremiah 52 will be familiar. We have already considered the last days of Jerusalem, and the humiliation of king Zedekiah and his family in 2 Kings 24:19-20 and 2 Kings 25.

God’s longsuffering with the sins and rebellion of His people was exhausted, and He determined to deliver Judah to judgment. There was famine in the city (52:6), and as the walls of Jerusalem were breached, the soldiers of Judah fled the city with the king and his family (52:5-7). The soldiers of Babylon pursued Zedekiah, capturing him near Jericho (52:8; 2 Kings 25:4-7). Taken to be judged by Nebuchadnezzar, that king ordered Zedekiah’s sons be slain, and then the king’s eyes were put out (52:9-11; 2 Kings 24:19-20; 25:1-3). Zedekiah was then taken to Babylon in chains where he died a prisoner (52:11).

Jeremiah’s prophecies concluded with Jerusalem destroyed, and the palaces and Temple plundered and burned (52:12-23).  The people of Judah were led away to Babylon where they lived seventy years (52:24-30). As in 2 Kings 25, the book concluded with a brief mention of king Jehoiachin becoming an object of grace for Evilmerodach king of Babylon (52:31-34; 2 Kings 25:27-30).

Closing thoughts – Ancient Babylon’s army seemed invincible, and the walls of that great city impenetrable. Nevertheless, when God declared His judgment against that nation, there was no one who could save it. Bearing the weight of its wickedness, Babylon was overcome in a night and reduced to ruins.

Every nation would do well to remember: when the LORD bears the sword of judgment, no people or nation can stand.

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.

Warning: God Gives a Nation the Leaders It Deserves (2 Kings 24)

Scripture reading – 2 Kings 24

Our Scripture reading returns to the book of 2 Kings where our study picks up the narrative of events that are the background of God’s judgment against Jerusalem.

Remember how Jehoiakim, the third to the last king of Judah, burned Jeremiah’s scroll warning the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent? (Jeremiah 36:20-24) The prophet warned the king his evil deeds would bring God’s judgment upon Judah (Jeremiah 36:29-31). Yet, the king continued in his sin, “and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kings 23:37).

2 Kings 24

Returning to 2 Kings 24, we find Jehoiakim king in name only, for he was now a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, and subject to the whims and demands of the king of Babylon. Jehoiakim, as foolish as he was evil, set his heart against the king of Babylon and “rebelled against him” (24:1). Nebuchadnezzar responded to Jehoiakim’s rebellion, and sent mercenary raiders against Judah, to destroy the nation as the LORD “spake by His servants the prophets” (24:2). Daniel records the same in his book where we read, “1In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it” (Daniel 1:1).

The LORD had not forgotten the sins of Manasseh and his lineage, and how Judah had shed “innocent blood,” sacrificing their sons and daughters (24:3-4). (The slaughter of the innocent ones, and the fact “the LORD would not pardon” that sin should give 21st century nations pause. Surely abortion of the unborn in our day is no less egregious in the eyes of God, and as demanding of His judgment.)

Jehoiakim died (24:5), and was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin. Then, Nebuchadnezzar “came up against Jerusalem” (24:10), and the king of Judah surrendered and was taken to Babylon after reigning for three months (24:8-12). Fulfilling all the LORD had foretold, Nebuchadnezzar “carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord” (24:13).

Determined to remove any threat of another uprising, Nebuchadnezzar “carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land” (24:14). Numbered among the captives was the royal household (24:15), the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1), and “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” (Daniel 1:6). In addition to the poor who were able to till the land and harvest crops (24:14; Jeremiah 40:10), there were some who escaped Jerusalem and fled to neighboring nations (Jeremiah 40:8).

Zedekiah, the Last King of Judah (24:17-20)

Jehoiakim, was succeeded by his uncle, “Mattaniah his father’s brother,” whom Nebuchadnezzar appointed and changed his name to Zedekiah (24:17). He was a mere  21 years old when he became king, and “reigned eleven years in Jerusalem” (24:18).

Closing thoughts – Young and foolish, Zedekiah was left with an impoverished nation that lacked leadership, and the skills for government and war. Zedekiah was the end of a long line of foolish, wicked kings. Like the kings before him, he did “evil in the sight of the LORD” (24:19), and “rebelled against the king of Babylon” (24:20). To rebel against Nebuchadnezzar was the height of folly; however, we will see in our next devotional that was the path chosen by Zedekiah (2 Kings 25).

Remembering history is “His Story,” I am convinced God gives a nation the leaders it deserves. Surely that is as true in our day, as it was in Judah’s day.

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.

How Will You Be Remembered? (Jeremiah 35)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 35

The drama between the prophet Jeremiah (32:2; 33:1), and Zedekiah king of Judah, was interrupted in Jeremiah 35. I do not know why Jeremiah’s narrative interjected an incident from the reign of Jehoiakim (the third to the last of the kings of Judah); however, the occasion is certainly instructive for 21st century believers.

Jeremiah 35 – The House of the Rechabites

We are introduced to the “house of the Rechabites” (35:2), who were not Hebrew by lineage, but associated with the house of Israel initially through Moses. The Rechabites were descendants of the Kenites, original inhabitants of Canaan. Jethro (Exodus 18:12), Moses’ father-in-law was a Kenite (Judges 1:16; 1 Chronicles 2:55). The Rechabites were a nomadic people, and believers in Yahweh.

A Lesson in Fidelity (35:2-11)

The LORD commanded Jeremiah to summon the Rechabites to the Temple, and set before them “wine to drink” (35:2). The men of Rechab were directed to a chamber off the Temple, where a test of their devotion would be seen by others (35:3-4). Obeying the LORD, Jeremiah “set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites pots full of wine, and cups, and [the prophet] said unto them, Drink ye wine” (35:5). The Rechabites, however, refused to obey Jeremiah, and said, “We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever” (35:6).

Who was Jonadab? He lived some 200 years before Jeremiah, and was of the Kenite clan, and a son of Rechab. While he was not descended from the Tribes, he had been a mighty man in Israel and was numbered among those who cut off the lineage of Ahab, the wicked king of Israel (2 Kings 10:15-28). Desiring to see his people continue their nomadic way of life and not be enticed by the world and its pleasures, Jonadab instructed the Rechabites to “drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever: 7Neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers” (35:6b-7).

Two hundred years later, the Rechabites continued to obey Jonadab’s instructions (35:8-10). However, because of Babylon’s invasion, and raiders from Babylon and Syria ravaging the country, the Rechabites were forced to abandon their tents and move into Jerusalem (35:11).

Judah and Jerusalem Rebuked (35:12-17)

The Rechabites faithfulness to the teachings of Jonadab served as a backdrop to Jeremiah rebuking the people’s unfaithfulness to the LORD (35:12-13). While the Rechabites continued to honor the teachings of Jonadab, a man who lived two centuries before (35:14), Judah and Jerusalem refused to obey the LORD (35:14b).

The LORD sent prophets and called on the people to forsake their sins and idols, and repent, but they refused to obey Him (35:13). The Rechabites, in contrast, obeyed Jonadab’s instructions, though he was a man. Judah and Jerusalem would not hear or obey the LORD (35:15).

Because the people refused to obey the LORD, and put away their idols and sinful ways, Jeremiah warned, God would bring upon them “all the evil [He had] pronounced against them” (35:17).

God Promised to Bless the Rechabites (35:18-19)

Remembering the LORD is Judge, and His judgment is just, Jeremiah declared the LORD would bless the Rechabites. They had obeyed the commands of a righteous man, and “kept all his precepts” (35:18). Therefore, the LORD determined He would bless their faithfulness. While many households of Judah and Jerusalem would perish, the LORD promised He would remember the household of Rechab, and Jonadab’s lineage would never be without a son (35:19). True to His promise, 150 years later, a descendant of Rechab is named among those who returned to Jerusalem with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:14).

Closing thoughts – How different our lives and families would be, if we would deny ourselves the sins and pleasures of the world! Will you choose to be a Jonadab in your generation, and seek to leave a godly lineage?

I fear the majority of believers are busy championing their liberties, and few are willing to consider their legacy and lasting testimony. In the words of an old gospel song,

“This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.”

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.