Tag Archives: Grace

Warning: God is Jealous for His People!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ezekiel 25-30

The historical context of today’s reading finds both Israel and Judah in captivity after God’s people rebelled and turned away from His law and commandments.   Having rejected the warnings of His prophets, the LORD judged those nations as He promised; however, He never forsook them.  Ezekiel 25 reminds us God is jealous for His people.

After destroying Jerusalem and the Temple, Nebuchadnezzar’s army took the people of Judah captive to Babylon.   Witnessing the calamity of God’s people, the heathen nations rejoiced in their sorrows and sufferings.  The LORD, however, took no pleasure in judging Judah and despised the heathen’s joy in the sorrows of His people.

Through His prophet Ezekiel, God warned the Ammonites (25:1-7), Moabites (25:8-11), Edomites (25:12-14) and Philistines that His judgment of Judah should serve notice of His wrath against the nations that found pleasure in the sufferings and sorrows of Israel and Judah (25:15-17).

Ezekiel 26-30 continues the prophet’s warning to the nations that their pleasure in the sufferings and sorrows of Israel would be rewarded with their own judgment.  Tyrus, the sea capital of Phoenicia would fall to Babylon (26:1-21; 27:1-36; 28:1-19).  Zidon, a city north of Tyrus, would also suffer the calamity and destruction that was the fate of Tyrus and neighboring nations who reveled in the destruction of Jerusalem (28:20-24).   Ezekiel 28 ends with the blessed promise God would gather His people from Babylonian exile and restore them to their land (28:25-26; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1).

Egypt too would be judged for her sins against Israel and her treasures would be the reward of Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 29:1-16) as Babylon served God’s purpose for bringing judgment against that nation (29:17-21) and her neighbors (30:1-26).

There is a lesson in today’s reading that nations of the 21st century would be wise to heed:

There are grave consequences for those people and nations that take joy in the sorrows and sufferings of the Jews and Christians.

The atrocities committed against the Jews in the Second World War and the virtual annihilation of those nations that perpetrated them (Nazi Germany and fascist Italy) stands as a testimony that God loves His own, even when His people turn from Him.

Many reading this brief devotional are unaware those nations and people occupied by the Soviet Union and overwhelmed by Communist oppression in the years that followed World War II were guilty of crimes against the Jews on a scale that is unfathomable.   Eastern European nations that fell into the Soviet bloc of nations and suffered under communism were themselves guilty of murderous acts against the Jews and suffered their own sorrows until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

I close with illustrative verses of God’s love for Israel and a warning for all who harm His people.

Zechariah 1:14 – “…Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.”

Zechariah 2:8 – “…he that toucheth you [Israel] toucheth the apple [pupil] of His eye[meaning the eye of the LORD].

Zechariah 8:2 – “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.”

Warning: Mistreat God’s people and take pleasure in their sorrows and you will inevitably suffer the same, for God is a jealous God.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Warning: God is the Final Judge and Justice Will Prevail!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalm 81-83

We continue in our reading and study of the Book of the Psalms each Wednesday and today our assignment is Psalms 81, 82 and 83.   Of course, these psalms are hymns of praise Israel would sing as they worshipped the LORD in His Temple.

Psalm 81 calls the people together to worship, reminding them of the LORD’s love and providential care for Israel.  The occasion is a Jewish holiday (81:3); however, the exact holiday is not stated.   I believe it might have been the Passover since the psalm makes reference to Israel’s sojourn in Egypt (81:5-6) and the nation’s journey out of Egypt and in the wilderness (81:7-10).

Psalm 82 focuses on the failure of judges  to exercise righteous judgments in the affairs and disputes arising among the people.   The psalmist reminds the judges and others in positions of leadership, God is the final judge (82:1); “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?” (82:2).

Reminding us nothing has changed concerning the hearts of sinners, the leaders and judges in Israel were apparently accepting bribes and granting favors to the wicked, at the sacrifice of the good and well-being of the “poor, fatherless, and needy” (82:3-4).   The psalmist admonishes the judges; “do justice to the afflicted and needy… rid them out of the hand of the wicked” (82:3b, 4b).

Psalm 82:5 reminds us when the balances of justice are weighed in favor of the wicked, darkness prevails (82:5a) and the principles of truth and righteousness are “out of course” (82:5b).

On a personal note: Though founded upon spiritual principles that are foundationally Biblical, it is my observation America’s judicial system is skewed by unjust politicians, lawyers and judges who too often rule in favor of the wicked.   Sadly, justice is for sale to the highest bidder in some courts and the poor, needy, and middle class suffer injustices.

Psalm 82:6 reminds those who judge (and I believe this is applicable not only in civil courts, but also when judgment is required of the church in matters of discipline) they are to weigh judicial matters of law and justice as God’s earthly representatives (“…all of you are children of the most High” – 82:6).

Let all who are in authority and bear the trust of God and the people in civil, academic and spiritual matters be reminded God is the final judge and all will be held accountable for their sphere of influence and judgments (82:7-8).

Romans 14:11-12 – For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

The Commonality of Leprosy and Sin

Monday, July 10, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Leviticus 13-15

The ancient scourge of leprosy is the subject of Leviticus 13-14.  Leprosy known today as “Hansen’s Disease” (HD); is a bacterial, infectious disease.  Leprosy is treatable, even curable in the 21st century; however, in ancient times it was a dreaded disease not only feared, but also inevitably leading to its victims separation from society and assignment to leper colonies.

In Leviticus 13, the LORD directs Moses and Aaron in the steps He required to address leprosy in Israel including diagnosing the disease and the exclusion of lepers from the tribes of Israel (Leviticus 13:1-59).   Lepers were required to cry out, “Unclean, unclean” (13:45), warning any who approached they were carriers of the disease.

Should the leper be deemed healed of the disease, steps and sacrifices are prescribed in Leviticus 14 to insure the legitimacy of the healing and the purification of the leper.  After following the prescribed rituals for purification, the leper was deemed clean and restored to the fellowship of his family and nation (14:9-32).

As a point of application, leprosy is the physical disease God chose to illustrate the infectious danger of sin among his people.  Notice in chapter 13 the number of times leprosy is described as “unclean” (13:3, 8, 11, 14, 15, 20, 22, 25, 27, 30, 36, 44, 45, 46, 51, 55, 59).  Leprosy is more than a surface issue of the skin and the outward man; leprosy inevitably effects the tissues, nerves and eventually causes the extremities to rot and decay.  In a real sense, it so scarred the body it was well-nigh an unbearable ugliness.

Such is the way of sin.  Liberals would have us believe man is born innocent and it is man’s environment (i.e. home, society, religion) that is the cause of man’s societal deprivations.  Rather than innocence, God’s Word declares, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).  The apostle Paul, likening sin to a physical ailment writes, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18).

At the heart of problems in our society is the problem of sinful hearts.  Jesus taught His disciples, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20  These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matthew 15:19-20).

Without a human cure for leprosy, lepers hoped for a miraculous healing, a divine intervention that would be verified by examination and sacrificial offerings (Leviticus 14).

In the same way, mankind has no cure for sin.  Twenty-first century society, doctors and judges prescribe counseling, psychiatry and drug-therapy for lawbreakers and prisoners deemed to have “mental-disorders”; however, these all fall short of addressing the heart of the issue, which is the issue of the heart.

In the same way there was no cure for leprosy without the LORD, there is no cure for a sinful soul without turning from sin and placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  It is for this reason Jesus Christ bore the penalty of our sins on the cross. In the words of the prophet Isaiah,

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

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

An imbalanced emphasis on “Grace” and “Liberty” has encouraged a culture of carnality and produced lawless believers.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ezekiel 19-24

Dear “From the Heart of a Shepherd” readers,

Today’s devotional reading is Ezekiel 19-24. I may have opportunity to post a devotional commentary before this day passes; however, in the absence of one I encourage you to read my past posts on the Book of Ezekiel as an introduction to today’s scripture reading.

On a personal note, I am preparing to preach both Hillsdale’s 10:30 AM and 6:00 PM worship services this Sunday and need to devote my thoughts and energies to preparation.  I am continuing my series on “Lessons of Faith from the Life of Abraham” in Hillsdale’s 6:00 PM services; however, I am beginning an entirely new series in Hillsdale’s 10:30 AM services.

The topic of my new Sunday morning series is “The Commandments of the LORD”.   The impetus for the series is a brief command, the third part of the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:20– Teaching [i.e. to learn; instruct] them to observe [hold; keep; preserve; watch; guard] all things [everything; all manner] whatsoever [all; as many as] I have commanded [charged; give commandment] you…”

Two questions have haunted me for the past two weeks.  The first, What “all things” were the disciples to teach (Matthew 28:20)?   The second, What had the LORD commanded His disciples that they were to be “teaching” believers in “all nations” to “observe” (Matthew 28:19)?

The answer to those questions is essential to the mission of the church and the individual responsibility we share as members of the body of Christ.  I have heard hundreds of messages on Matthew 28:19-20 and referred to them myself hundreds of times; however, I cannot recall anyone systematically addressing the commandments the LORD’s disciples were to teach others to observe (Matthew 28:20).

I propose an imbalanced emphasis on “Grace” and “Liberty” in Bible fundamental churches has encouraged a culture of carnality and produced lawless believers.  It is my observation the carnal condition of today’s fundamental churches, Bible colleges, Universities, and Christian institutions is directly related to the failure of pastors, preachers, evangelists and Bible teachers to do exactly what the LORD commanded: Teach the commandments of the LORD and teach believers to “observe” them (Matthew 28:20a).

Thus, I have begun an in depth study of the commandments of the LORD and am compiling what the disciples were to teach believers to observe, keep and guard.  Some will attack me and my premise that we are failing to fulfill the Great Commission if we are not teaching our churches the commandments of the LORD, exhorting and admonishing believers to observe them.

I answer that criticism with the words of our LORD:  “If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. smith

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Three Psalms of Worship and Prayer

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 78-80

Our scripture reading consists of three chapters today, Psalms 78, 79 and 80.  The human author is a priest and musician named Asaph and God’s people would have sung his psalms in worshipping the LORD.

Psalm 78 is a study in Israel’s history as Asaph reminds the people of God’s faithfulness to Israel throughout her history and His longsuffering toward the people when they were a faithless, complaining and disobedient people during their sojourn in the wilderness (78:12-53).

Fathers and mothers were charged with the responsibility of not only remembering, but also teaching their children who would teach their children not only the nation’s history, but God’s providential care of His people (78:3-8).

Psalm 79 is a prophetic psalm that would not occur until Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon conquered Judah and destroyed the city and Temple (79:1).  The devastation was great and the bodies of the dead would be left in the streets (79:2-3).  The psalmist, jealous for the name of the God of Israel, worried the people had “become a reproach” to their heathen neighbors (79:4).    The psalmist prayed for the LORD to deliver His people (79:5-12), promising to offer the LORD perpetual praise.

Like Psalm 79, Psalm 80 is a prophetic psalm most likely set in the time of the Babylonian invasion.  The opening verse is a petition to the LORD identified as the “Shepherd of Israel” and “thou that dwellest between the cherubims” (referring to the Ark of the Covenant as the earthly symbol of God’s heavenly throne).

The psalmist cries out to the LORD on behalf of the nation to come to the aid of His people and restore the nation (80:2-7).  Three times we read the petition, “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (80:3, 7, 19).

Beginning with Psalm 80:8, the psalmist pictures Israel as a “vine out of Egypt” and remembers how God had blessed the nation and “cast out the heathen” and gave His people the land of Canaan.

Israel prospered as long as the hearts of the people were turned to the LORD (80:10-11); however, the psalmist pondered how long God’s providential protection would be departed and the heathen nations allowed to rob her prosperity (80:12).

Psalm 80 concludes with the psalmist petitioning the LORD to “Turn us again” and “cause Thy face to shine” (80:19).

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Who You Gonna Blame?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Ezekiel 13-18

We continue our reading of the prophecies of Ezekiel with a reminder he is a prophet and priest, numbered among the Jews who are captives in Babylon.  The LORD has charged Ezekiel with the unenviable task of delivering a message of woes and judgments against Israel and his own people.  God commanded Ezekiel, “prophesy against them, prophesy, O son of man” (11:4); however, the people would not repent.

False prophets become Ezekiel’s focus in chapter 13 when the LORD commanded the prophet, “prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy” (Ezekiel 13:2).   Lying prophets and prophetesses pretended to be the LORD’s prophets; however, their prophecies were lies pacifying the people’s lusts and belying the inevitability of God’s judgment against the nation (13:1-23).

Some elders of Israel living in Babylonian captivity come to Ezekiel in chapter 14 feigning a desire to hear the Word of the LORD; however, the LORD revealed to the prophet they were idolaters and not sincere worshipers of the God of Israel (14:1-5).  Rather than entertain the hypocrisy of the elders, Ezekiel called them to repent of their idolatry and warned them concerning the false prophets (14:6-11). The LORD charged Ezekiel to declare a series of four judgments He would send upon Israel (14:12-21), but also promising He would spare a remnant of the city (14:22-23).

With the elders of Israel serving as his audience (note 14:1), the LORD reveals to Ezekiel three prophetic pictures of judgment (Ezekiel 15-17).  The first is a vine (15:1-8), often a symbol of Israel in the scriptures (Psalm 80:8; Isaiah 5:1).  The destruction of the vine by fire is a prophetic picture of God’s judgment against Jerusalem and Judah (5:6-8).

The second prophetic picture portrays Israel as an abused woman whom the LORD out of His mercy chose to be His wife (16:1-7) and out of His love and grace showered with jewels and fine robes (16:8-14).   Rather than serving her husband out of love and gratitude, the wife repaid her husband’s favor heaping shame and humiliation on him with her gross immorality.  Israel, like an unfaithful wife, had turned from the LORD Who chose her.  The sins committed by Israel are staggering and the evidence of her wickedness are named by Ezekiel.  The nation had played the harlot (16:15-16), made idols (16:17) and the people offered their sons and daughters as sacrifices to idols (16:20-21).

Rather than repent and turn to the LORD for His protection and blessings, Israel turned to her heathen neighbors (Egypt, vs. 26; the Philistines, vs. 27; the Assyrians, vs. 28; the Chaldeans, vs. 29) and her compromise was akin to the wife playing a harlot on street corners (16:22-34).

Having stated the sins of God’s people, Ezekiel was charged with declaring God’s judgment (16:35-43).   Those nations (i.e. “thy lovers”, vs. 36) with whom Israel had compromised would despise her and be the instruments God would use to punish His people.  Israel’s sin and rebellion against God was greater than the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah because she had enjoyed God’s favor; however, she despised the LORD, rejected His Law, and committed the same abominations as the heathen (16:44-52).  In spite of the nation’s wickedness, God promised to not forget His covenant with Israel and to restore her (16:53-63).

The third picture of God’s judgment against Israel is a riddle of two eagles and three vine shoots (i.e. “twigs”) planted in Israel (17:1-24).  As discussed earlier, the vine, and in this chapter the cedar of Lebanon, are pictures of Israel; while Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon is pictured as an eagle in the Bible.  The prophet Jeremiah writes concerning Nebuchadnezzar, “he shall fly as an eagle” (Jeremiah 48:40; 49:22).  Leaving no doubt Nebuchadnezzar is the eagle and Israel and her king are the objects of God’s approaching judgment, we read:  “Behold, the king of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and led them with him to Babylon” (Ezekiel 17:12).

In spite of the utter destruction and devastation of Jerusalem and Judah, the LORD promises to take a “twig” and replant it in Israel (17:22-23) and exalt “the low tree” (17:24).  Bible scholars believe, and I am inclined to agree, the “twig” represents the humble birth of Jesus Christ who will one day return as the King of kings and LORD of lords.

I conclude today’s devotional commentary with a passage of scripture from which I will be preaching this Sunday morning, Ezekiel 18.

There was no debate over the question of God judging Israel for sin; however, a question of responsibility for the calamities facing the nation rose among the people.

The younger population said,  “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” (18:2).  In other words, some were blaming the nation’s troubles and miseries on the sins of their forefathers.  In our day when “blame shifting” is epidemic and everyone is a victim, Ezekiel 18 is applicable to the homes of believers and non-believers .

The universality of man’s wickedness and the inevitable consequences of sin are declared by the LORD: Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (18:4).  While all have sinned, nevertheless, the LORD is just and His judgments are right and He blesses the man who chooses righteousness and obeys His statues and judgments (18:5-9).

Herein is a spiritual lesson for us all: Every generation bears responsibility for its sins and God does not hold a father accountable for the sins of his son (18:10-13) no more than he holds a son accountable for the sins of his father.   When a son see his father’s sins, but chooses the way of righteousness, that son will not bear his father’s guilt (18:14-17); however, the father will be punished for his own sins (18:18-20).

So, who you gonna blame for your troubles?

I close with a challenge to parents who, though not perfect parents, are loving parents but find themselves burdened with an adult child that is a sorrow to their hearts.  Guard your heart against false guilt!  Don’t allow a child wallowing in the mire of self-pity give you cause to despair.  No man or woman has the privilege to blame others for the consequences of their own sinful choices.

God is just and He judges every man and woman “according to his ways” (18:30).   A family will suffer consequences for a family member’s sinful choices; however, the key is in how you respond to those troubles and sorrows.

Remember:  “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son” (Ezekiel 18:20). 

 

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith

Ever Feel Like Complaining, “Life’s Not Fair”?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Psalms 72-74

Three psalms make up our scripture reading today.  Psalm 72 is believed to be David’s prayer for God’s blessings on the reign of his son Solomon; however, a careful study of the psalm brings me to believe it is ultimately a psalm describing the universal kingdom over which Christ will reign and is therefore a prophetic psalm to be fulfilled when Christ returns and sets up His righteous kingdom upon the earth (72:1-3, 7).

Solomon’s kingdom was a great kingdom; however, Christ’s future kingdom will span “from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (72:8).  His will be a compassionate kingdom, “For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. 13  He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy” (72:12-13).

Psalm 73, introduced as “A Psalm of Asaph”, is followed by ten additional psalms attributed to him.   Asaph was a priest and musician in David’s court (1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:19; 16:7) and the author of Psalms 50 and Psalms 73-83.

Psalm 73 is a psalm of praise to the LORD and a testimony of Asaph’s own journey of faith in the God of Israel.  Asaph opens the psalm with an affirmation of God’s goodness:  Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (73:1).  Unlike sinful man of whom it is said, “there is none that doeth good” (Psalm 14:1; Romans 3:12), God is wholly, absolutely good and there is no evil or sin present in Him.  God is always and only good to Israel and to those who are of “a clean heart” (meaning pure, innocent and sincere heart).

In his heart, Asaph remembered the promises of God and the goodness of the LORD; however, in the midst of trials he struggled when he saw the wicked prosper (73:2-14).  The ungodly appeared to prosper while he faltered (73:13-14).  In other words, Asaph’s heart told him one thing (“trust the LORD”), while his feelings cried, “It’s not fair!”

Asaph appeared ready to quit his ministry as the king’s musician until he weighed the consequences of his decision and the offense it might be to the younger generation (73:15-16).  However, when Asaph entered the “the sanctuary of God” his perspective of the wicked and their end changed (73:17-20) and he confessed “my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins” (73:21).  Understanding the prosperity of the wicked is temporal (73:27), Asaph’s faith in the LORD and his desire to serve Him were renewed (73:28).

“Maschil of Asaph” is the subtitle of Psalm 74 and is an instructive or reflective poem.   Although attributed to “Asaph”, the content of the psalm describes the destruction of Jerusalem and temple (74:3, 6-8) that took place many years after David’s Asaph was dead.  Psalm 74 was most likely penned by a descendant of Asaph.

While Psalm 73 described Asaph’s personal struggles, the focus of Psalm 74 is on Israel’s struggles as a nation.  In the midst of numbering the nation’s sorrows and devastation (74:1-11), the psalmist recounts how God delivered Israel in past days (74:12-17) and cried out for the LORD to deliver His people (74:18-23).

Allow me to close by reflecting on Psalm 73 and Asaph’s renewed commitment to serve the LORD.

Although few will admit it, there are many who have known the temptation to say, “I quit!” and walk away from the burdens of marriage, family, friends, church and ministry.    In fact, for a season the ones who walk out on responsibilities appear happy, giving little thought to the ripple of consequences that might follow in the wake of their decision.   Driving Asaph’s motivation to continue his ministry was not only his love for the LORD and the king, but also his concern for how his decision would affect the next generation.  Surely that is a concern every pastor, teacher and parent should share.

May the LORD, our family, friends and the generation to follow us find us faithful!

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith