Tag Archives: Morality

The Dilemma of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (Matthew 19; Mark 10)

Scripture reading – Matthew 19; Mark 10

Today’s Scripture reading, Matthew 19 and Mark 10, begin with a question that has troubled many down through the centuries, and continues to be misunderstood in our day: “Is it lawful for a man to put away [divorce] his wife for every cause?” (Matthew 19:3; Mark 10:2)

The issue of divorce was a matter of debate in Jesus’ day, and the Pharisees approached Jesus, hoping to pull Him into the dispute (Matthew 19:1-12). They came, “tempting Him” (19:3), to discredit Christ in the eyes of the public, and diminish His following. In an effort to place Jesus at odds with the Law, and their own liberal interpretation of the Law concerning divorce, the Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful for a man to put away [divorce] his wife for every [any] cause?” (19:3)

There were two schools of thought on the matter of Divorce in Jesus’ day.

One school, known as Hillel, held a liberal interpretation of divorce, and was adhered to by the Pharisees and the majority of 1st century Jews. Hillel, a judge in Israel, taught a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Yet, a woman was not permitted to divorce her husband. A second school, named Shammai after its founder, represented the conservative, unpopular view on divorce. Shammai argued divorce was unlawful, except in the case of adultery.

Divorce became a widespread practice among the Jewish people, and some Pharisees were guilty of multiple divorces (and often for the most absurd reasons). In contrast, those same Pharisees refused to allow a wife to divorce her husband for any cause!

Wisely, rather than take the side of the adherents of Hillel or Shammai, Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question on marriage and divorce, and directed them to the authority of the Scriptures (19:4-6).

Divorce is a Violation of Biblical Principles and Precepts

Divorce violates the Creator’s plan and design for man and woman. Citing the writings of Moses, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (19:4; Genesis 1:27; 2:24)

Divorce is a violation of God’s design for marriage which is “one flesh” (19:5). A man is commanded to leave his father and mother and “cleave to his wife” (19:5-6a). A man’s bond with his wife is to overshadow all human relationships. Though man and woman come together as two distinct lives, husband and wife are to be “one flesh,” physically, emotionally, and spiritually (19:6).

Divorce violates the sanctity of marriage. God decreed what He “hath joined together, let not man put asunder”(19:6b). It was God’s design, and His command, that what He had “joined (or yoked) together,” no man, court, or judge had the power or authority to “put asunder” (meaning to separate).

The Pharisees disregarded Jesus’ appeal to consider the Scriptures as their authority in the question of divorce. They asked: “Why did Moses then command [charge; order] to give a writing [certificate; bill; paper] of divorcement, and to put her away [dismiss; divorce]?” (19:7) Those hypocritical religious leaders were not interested in God’s standard, design, or plan for marriage. They were looking to justify their sin, and disallow the sanctity of marriage. They suggested Moses as a defense for their distorted interpretation of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Jesus answered their question, rebuking, and exposing their wickedness as a violation of God’s will and design for marriage (19:8). Leaving no room for ambiguity, Jesus spoke plainly: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (19:9)

Closing thoughts – Divorce was never God’s plan, and the only grounds for divorce is “fornication,” meaning sexual conduct with anyone who is not one’s spouse (19:9a). Jesus’ conclusion came as a shock to His disciples, who suggested, “it is not good to marry” (19:10).

Remembering God’s purpose and design for marriage was companionship, our Creator observed Adam, and said, “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God, therefore, made one woman for one man, and Adam the first man was complete (Genesis 2:22). Adam and Eve were “one flesh,” and their union was designed to be inseparable (Genesis 2:24).

Lesson: Divorce is a rejection of God’s plan and design for mankind, and He is the witness of all covenant vows of marriage (Malachi 2:14b).

* 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.

The Prodigal Son, and the Question of Divorce (Luke 15; Luke 16)

Scripture reading – Luke 15; Luke 16

Today’s devotional reading continues our study of the Gospel of Luke. Chapters 15 and 16 contain some of the most beloved parables taught by our LORD. The Lost Sheep (15:4-10), The Prodigal Son (15:11-32), The Unfaithful Servant (16:1-13), and The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31) are illustrative of God’s longsuffering and love. Because the latter used a man’s proper name (Lazarus), some suggest it was in fact an actual story, and should not fall into the category of an allegory (parable).

Luke 15

The parable of The Prodigal Son (15:11-32) is among the most beloved of all the parables. Notice there are three main characters in the tale: the loving father, the prodigal who was the younger son, and the eldest son who was proud and unforgiving. Because the tale is so well-known, I will limit my observations to a few remarks.

The first two verses reveal the setting and circumstances that prompted the story: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (15:1-2).

As you read the drama between the father, and his sons, notice the parallel between the actors in the parable and those mentioned in Luke 15:1-2. The “publicans and sinners” were like the rebellious younger son, who “wasted his substance with riotous living…and began to be in want,” yet, were received by Christ (15:14). The Pharisees and scribes, like the elder brother who refused to accept his younger brother, resented and criticized Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners (15:2, 28-30). Of course, the father who received his younger son, forgave and restored him as a son, was a picture of Christ’s love for sinners (15:2b, 20-24).

Luke 16

This chapter opens with The Parable of the Unjust Steward (16:1-12), and concludes with the dramatic story of The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31). In the midst of the chapter are five verses that seem to interrupt the flow of the narratives, until we remember they embodied Christ’s response to his adversaries (16:14). The Pharisees, often used the occasion of Jesus teaching the people as an opportunity to criticize and confront Him. Having listened to the parable of “The Unjust Steward” (16:1-13), the Pharisees “who were covetous” (16:14) began to “deride” Jesus, openly mocking Him before the people.

Rather than retreat, Jesus answered the derision of the Pharisees and used the occasion to expose their hypocrisy.  He accused those religious leaders of aspiring for men’s venerations, and unmasked the hypocrisy He knew was in their hearts (16:15).

The Pharisees, who considered themselves experts in the law of God, listened as Jesus said, “16  The law and the prophets were until John [the Baptist]: since that time the kingdom of God is preached [marked by the coming of Jesus Christ], and every man presseth [pushes by force; forcing his own way] into it. 17  And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle [small stroke of a pen] of the law to fail” (16:16-17).

John the Baptist was the bridge from the prophets and prophecies of the Old Testament, to Christ, and His preaching the gospel of “the kingdom of God” (16:16-17). Then, Jesus addressed an issue of Old Testament law the Pharisees had distorted… marriage and adultery— “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (16:18).

The Pharisees had failed to uphold the sanctity of marriage being between one man and one woman as God designed (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:4-10; Ephesians 5:28-33). Those hypocrites had mislead the people, and misinterpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4. They gave liberty for men to divorce their wives for the silliest of reasons.

Closing thoughts – I close today’s devotional with a few parting thoughts.  The first, God’s will and His design of marriage is a lifetime covenant between one man and one woman. Furthermore, the Scriptures are abundantly clear–God hates divorce (“For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that He hateth putting away,” Malachi 2:16).  On a personal, and closing note: I believe the only grounds for divorce is unrepentant adultery, and I cite three proof scriptures for my authority in the matter.

Matthew 5:31-32 – “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32  But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

Matthew 19:9 – “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

1 Corinthians 7:15 – “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”

So much more might be said on the subject of marriage and divorce, but I will address that topic at another time.

* 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.

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.

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

Scripture reading – John 3; John 4

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

John 3 – The New Birth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

John 4 – The Samaritan Woman: A Thirsty Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ (Luke 1)

Scripture reading – Luke 1

Luke 1 – A Credible Account of History Established by Eyewitnesses

The Author of the Gospel of Luke (1:1-4)

The apostle Paul identified Luke as, “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14), giving us insight into Luke’s training and secular occupation. Bible scholars believe he was a Gentile covert, and an educated man. His writings reveal he was a historian, recording the person and life of Christ (Gospel of Luke), and the history of the early Church (Acts of the Apostles). We are especially indebted to Luke for his record of the early church, and the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul.

The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were historical letters penned by Luke to a friend he identified as “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), meaning the “friend of God” (Luke 1:1-3; Acts 1:1). Luke’s account of the life of Christ was owed to his privilege of knowing those who were “eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:1-2). His purpose for writing his Gospel was stated to Theophilus: “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:4).

The Miraculous Conception and Birth of John the Baptist (1:5-25)

Luke presented the lineage of John the Baptist, whose birth and life fulfilled the prophecy regarding the forerunner of the Messiah (1:5-25; Malachi 3:1).  John’s father and mother, Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth, were of the tribe of Levi. He was a priest, and she was identified as one “of the daughters of Aaron” (1:5). Both are acknowledged as having godly character for “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD blameless” (1:6). Yet, Elisabeth carried a stigma as a childless, barren woman (1:7).

An Angelic Birth Announcement (1:8-25)

Elisabeth was beyond childbearing years, yet they prayed and in the course of Zacharias’ ministry, God heard and answered their prayers (1:8-14). Dispatching the angel Gabriel (for he stood “in the presence of God,” 1:11, 19), it was revealed to Zacharias that Elisabeth would conceive and bear a son. The angel told Zacharias his son was to be named John, and many would “rejoice at his birth” (1:14). John was destined for greatness; however, it was not the greatness men thrust upon a child because of his lineage. Gabriel foretold John would be “great in the sight of the LORD…and he [would be] filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (1:15). John’s role would be that of the forerunner of the Messiah, and he would call “the children of Israel” to repent and turn to the LORD (1:16-17).

Zacharias doubted, and questioned the angel (1:18-20). He wondered how he might know all would come to pass as the angel had foretold (for he was “an old man” and his wife was “well stricken in years,” 1:18). Because Zacharias had not believed Gabriel’s words, the angel pronounced that he would be unable “to speak, until the day” John was born (1:20). The events that culminated with the birth of John the Baptist was interrupted by a second and most important appearance of the angel Gabriel. (1:21-25).

Gabriel’s Announcement and the Miraculous Conception of Jesus Christ (1:26-56)

Six months after Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, and his wife Elisabeth conceived John, the angel “was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (1:26-27). Gabriel’s announcement to the virgin Mary that she had “found favour with God” is well known by the majority of those reading this devotional (1:28, 31).

Mary was told the son she would conceive would “be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (1:32). Yet, the Scriptures have made it clear that Mary was a virgin (1:27), and her own words give testimony to the same. Mary asked Gabriel, “How shall this be [how could she give birth to a son], seeing I know not a man?” (1:34). The answer is one of the most profound and essential truths of the Scriptures. Mary would conceive in her womb a child of the Holy Ghost, the only begotten Son of God (Luke 1:35).

Luke 1:39-56 is the record of the expecting Mary’s retreat from Nazareth, to the home of her elder cousin Elisabeth, whom Mary found to be great with child as the angel Gabriel had spoken (Luke 1:36).  The birth of John the Baptist, his divine mission, and preparation in the solitude of the desert conclude our Scripture reading (Luke 1:57-80).

I close our devotional with the prophetic words of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. He being filled with the Holy Ghost blessed his son, saying, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord To prepare his ways” (1:76).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

The Failure of the Gatekeepers (Ezra 8; Ezra 9)

Scripture reading – Ezra 8; Ezra 9

Ezra received king Artaxerxes’ approval to lead a second delegation of Jews home to Jerusalem and Judah (Ezra 7:1-10). Incredibly, the king not only committed gold and silver vessels to be dedicated for the Temple, he also gave gold and silver from the royal treasury as compensation for sacrifices to be offered in Jerusalem (7:11-24). Ezra was also empowered to teach the people the law and commandments, and execute judgment (7:25-26).

Ezra 8 – The Journey Begins

With the king’s blessing, and letters affording him authority, Ezra “gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with [him]” to Jerusalem (7:28). Ezra appealed to 18 heads of Jewish households (8:1-14), and encouraged them and their families to voluntarily leave behind the comforts of Babylon and return to their ancestral lands.

Soon after beginning the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem (some 900 miles which took four months), Ezra halted and took an assessment of those with him (8:15). Sadly, he realized “none of the sons of Levi” were among the people (8:15b). Ezra then chose eleven men of the leaders, and sent them to seek Levites who would be willing to leave Babylon and go to Jerusalem as “ministers for the house of our God” (8:17). Eighteen Levites were recruited (8:18), and 220 Nethinims (servants who assisted the Levites with sacrifices at the Temple (8:20).

Before continuing his journey, Ezra called for a time of fasting and prayer, that the people might prepare and dedicate themselves to seek the LORD and his protection (8:21). Knowing the terror of enemies along the way, Ezra confessed he would be “ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help [them]against the enemy in the way” (8:22). While it was reasonable to request an armed escort for his delegation, Ezra remembered he had boasted the LORD’s blessing, and protection was upon His people (8:22b). So, the people prayed, and sought the LORD, and He heard the prayers of His people (8:23).

With a vast sum of gold and silver in their possession, Ezra chose “twelve of the chief of the priests” and entrusted them with the care and protection of all they had in their possession (8:24-30).

The LORD answered Ezra’s prayer, and his delegation arrived in Jerusalem (8:31-33). They rested three days, and on the fourth day gave a full account and inventory of “the silver and the gold, and the vessels…34By number and by weight of every one: and all the weight was written at that time” (8:33-34). As a great sign of unity, all the people gathered to offer “burnt offerings unto the God of Israel” (8:35). Ezra then took his commissions from the king to Persian government officials (“lieutenants, and to the governors”), giving him authority with the people and over “the house of God” (8:36).

Ezra 9

A Spiritual Crisis (9:1-5)

When it comes to family, parents are the gatekeepers of their home and children’s hearts. Sadly, Ezra 9 records a tragic failure of spiritual leaders and parents who failed to guard their homes from the influences of the heathen nations that had settled in Israel. Ezra writes, “the princes [leaders of the people] came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands…2For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed [the Jews] have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass” (9:1-2).

Ezra’s response to the tragic compromise of God’s people was notable. He was overcome with grief and sorrow (9:3). In a public display of heartbrokenness, he tore away his robe and outer garment, plucked out his hair and beard, and sat down stunned by the sins of the people, especially knowing the leaders of the people were “chief” in the trespass (9:3).

One by one, “those who trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (9:4) assembled before Ezra, who continued to sit “astonied until the evening sacrifice” (9:4b). Having said nothing to this point, it was at the evening sacrifice (3:00 pm) that Ezra rose from where he had sat, and fell upon his knees before the congregation. There he “spread out [his] hands unto the Lord” (9:5), and prayed (9:6-15).

Ezra’s Prayer and Reflection on God’s Grace (9:6-11)

Identifying with the sins of the people, Ezra confessed, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens” (9:6). He rehearsed the past sins of the nation, and acknowledged God’s grace (9:7-8). Though the people had forsaken the LORD, He remembered, “our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage” (9:9).

In spite of God’s grace and mercy, he confessed, “O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments” (9:10).

A Call for Radical Separation (9:12-15)

Having identified the sin and wickedness of the people, Ezra proposed a purging of sin that was nothing short of radical amputation of the offense. Ezra commanded the people, “Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever” (9:12).

Ezra rehearsed the sins and judgments Israel and Judah had suffered in the past, and conceded only God’s grace and mercy would spare the people from complete annihilation (9:13-14). He acknowledged, God would be right and just if He destroyed Israel, for the people were guilty and had no standing before the LORD (9:15).

Closing thoughts – The spiritual leaders, and fathers had failed to be gatekeepers of their homes, and their children’s hearts. They had failed to insulate their families from the heathen and their ways (9:2). Tragically, their failure led not only to a familiarity with the sins of the heathen, but eventually a bond of friendship and marriage. Ezra’s response was a graphic display of sorrow, and fear of God’s judgment (9:3-6, 10, 14-15). The people had disobeyed God’s law, and invited His judgment.

Mom and dad, are you guarding the hearts of your children, and insulating them from the sins and wickedness of the world?

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.

Divine Providence: The Invisible Hand of An All-Loving God (Esther 1; Esther 2)

Scripture reading – Esther 1; Esther 2

The Book of Esther is one of only two books in the Bible that never mentions God by name (the other is the Song of Solomon). That fact, however, cannot dismiss the indisputable evidences of divine providence seen throughout the pages of this book. Chronologically, the historical events recorded in the Book of Esther fall in the midst of the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah.

What is divine providence?

Simply defined, providence means “to foresee” or “to see before.”  In his book, “The Hand of God in History,” Hollis Read, a 19th century historian writes, “History, when rightly written, is but a record of providence; and he who would read history rightly, must read it with his eye constantly fixed on the hand of God.”

Many great minds have attempted to define providence. T. Dewitt Talmage, a 19th century clergyman observed: “Despots may plan and armies may march, and the congresses of nations may seem to think they are adjusting all the affairs of the world, but the mighty men of the earth are only the dust of the chariot wheels of God’s providence.”

Author and theologian J.I. Packer said of divine providence, “[God] knows, and foreknows, all things, and His foreknowledge is foreordination; He, therefore, will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man.”

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, stated, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man.”

I add to the chorus of others who have defined Divine Providence my own definition:

Providence is God’s sustaining oversight of His creation, and His direction of all things to His appointed end and purpose which is His glory and my good (Romans 8:28-29). The providence of God is practical, personal, and cannot be divorced from His divine purpose.” 

The apostle Paul suggested the same, writing: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The Book of Esther is a testimony of divine providence in the life of Esther, a young Jewish maiden, and the preservation of the Jews, God’s chosen people. The LORD sovereignly guided the affairs of a secular empire to fulfill His divine purpose and end. The focus of today’s devotional commentary is Esther 1 and Esther 2.

Esther 1 – A Royal Divorce, Persian Style

Ahasuerus (also known in history as King Xerxes I) was king of Persia (the region of modern Iran), and reigned from 486 BC to 465 BC. He was the fourth of five kings to rule the Empire of the Medes and the Persians. He was the grandson of Cyrus the Great, and the son of King Darius I. In his day, Ahasuerus was ruler of the most powerful nation in the world, and his kingdom extended from India to Africa (1:1). Divided into 127 provinces, Persia embraced all of today’s Middle East (1:4). Yet, the Persian empire was already past its zenith. According to Greek historian Herodotus, the events recorded in Esther 1 would have occurred before Ahasuerus attacked Greece and suffered the loss of the Persian navy.

Three lavish feasts were recorded in Esther 1. The first lasted 180 days (1:3-4), and the second, though lasting only seven days, was greater than the first and was a scene of sin and drunken debauchery (1:5-8). The third feast, apparently coinciding with the king’s drunken, weeklong banquet, was hosted by Queen Vashti for the women of the city (1:9).

Drunk with wine, and apparently at a loss of his senses, King Ahasuerus commanded his beautiful queen to parade herself before his guests (1:10-11). Queen Vashti, however, refused to obey the king’s command (1:12), and her refusal created a royal crisis (1:13-18) for the drunken king. Too proud to humble himself and accept his queen was the wiser, Ahasuerus issued a decree and forever banished Vashti from her throne and his palace (1:19-22).

Esther 2

A Defeated King and A Virgin Who Became Queen (Esther 2:1-7)

Having suffered his first defeat and the loss of his navy, Ahasuerus returned to his throne and “remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her” (2:1). The king’s rash banishment of Queen Vashti (1:19-22), set in motion a series of events that propelled a Jewish maiden named Hadassah (her Babylonian name was Esther, 2:7), from the anonymity of a maiden, to the throne of Persia.

Some 50,000 people of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah had returned to Israel (Ezra 1); however, many Jews had chosen to remain in Babylon, and among them was a Jewish man named Mordecai (2:5-7). Mordecai, had taken Hadassah into his household after the deaths of her parents and brought her up as his daughter (2:7). Though tragic, the premature deaths of Esther’s parents, and her adoption by Mordecai, were part of God’s sovereign, providential plan for her life.

A Royal Marriage (2:8-17)

Esther’s life is a lasting testimony of God’s grace, and her beauty and humble demeanor gained her favor with “Hegai, keeper of” the king’s harem (2:8). “Out of the king’s house: [Hegai] preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women” (2:9). As discreet as she was beautiful, Esther obeyed Mordecai and did not reveal to any she was Jewish (2:10, 20).

Every maiden completed her season of purification, and was summoned by the king to his chamber (2:14), but the king found no delight in any of the women (2:15). Esther, who had “obtained favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her” (2:15), was called before Ahasuerus. “The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti” (2:17).

Closing thoughts (2:18-23) – In God’s providence, Mordecai learned of a plot to assassinate the king. Giving the names of the insurgents to Esther, she endeared Mordecai to the king (2:22), and his loyalty was recorded “in the book of the chronicles before the king” (2:23).

Think about it: Because she had experienced the deaths of her father and mother, Esther’s life might have been defined by bitterness. Instead, she chose to accept the LORD’s will with grace and submission, and was honored to serve the LORD as queen of Persia.

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.

Belshazzar’s Final Feast: The Party is Over (Daniel 5; Daniel 6)

Scripture reading – Daniel 5; Daniel 6

Our Scripture reading is Daniel 5 and 6, but the focus of today’s devotional will be solely Daniel 5.

I have made the observation how the History of the Nations is “His-Story,” the Story of God’s Sovereignty. The rise of nations, and their precipitous fall serve as a testimony of God’s hand. The ruins of failed nations dot the landscape of the world, and are buried under desert sands, or discovered under the relics of past civilizations. Though leaders of nations boast in their might, they would do well to remember, “Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3).

Daniel 5 – The Fall of Babylon

Babylon’s rise from a city-state to a world empire comes to a sudden, and decisive end in Daniel 5. The Chaldean kingdom barely spanned a century. Her rise to power under Nebuchadnezzar, and sudden fall under Belshazzar fulfilled God’s prophecies of judgment against Israel and her restoration to the land after 70 years (Isaiah 13:17-22; 21:1-10; 47:1-5; Jeremiah 51:33-58).

The Actions of a Foolish King (5:1-12)

The Scriptures introduce us to Belshazzar without an introduction, whom we believe was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar (5:1). Though he knew the astonishing history of his grandfather and the humiliation he suffered when he scorned the LORD (5:21-22), the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar was a fool and dared to blaspheme the God of heaven. Hosting a banquet for a thousand nobles, the drunken king commanded the gold and silver vessels from the LORD’s Temple be brought to his tables. The king and his guests drank from the sacred vessels (5:2-3) and scorned the Creator of the Universe, toasting their “gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone” (5:4).

Suddenly, the king spied the “fingers of a man’s hand writing on the plaster of the wall, over by a candlestick” (5:5). Illuminated by the glow of the light, and the sight of a man’s fingers etching words into the plaster of the wall, the king was terrified and visibly shaken (5:6). The demeanor of the king silenced the banquet, as the king summoned the wise men of his realm to come, read, and interpret the words on the wall (5:7). The king offered the reward of a scarlet robe, a golden chain (probably a symbol of authority), and the role of “the third ruler in the kingdom” (his father is believed to have been his co-ruler, 5:7). Yet, none of the wise men could read, or tell the meaning of the words on the wall (5:8).

Though not a part of the drunken revelry, the queen mother of the realm (most likely the wife of the late king Nebuchadnezzar), received news the banquet was interrupted, and came to the hall to see her grandson (5:10). Offering comfort and counsel (5:10-11), the queen reminded Belshazzar there was yet a man of the Hebrews who served Nebuchadnezzar, and had the reputation of being a man of wisdom (5:11). The queen counseled her grandson to summon Daniel, for he had the reputation of being a man with “an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams” (5:12).

The Appeal of a Foolish King (5:13-17)

Belshazzar summoned Daniel, who was now an elderly man, and inquired if he had served Nebuchadnezzar as counselor (5:13-14). Relating to Daniel his own wise men failed him (5:15), the king appealed to the aged prophet to read the writing on the wall, and promised to reward him with a scarlet robe, a gold chain, and promote him to “the third ruler in the kingdom” (5:16). Indifferent to the promise of reward and promotion (for a man of God will not be bought or bribed), Daniel rejected the king’s proposal (5:16-17a). He did, however, assure the king he would read “and make known to him the interpretation” (5:17).

Daniel’s Analysis of the Inscription (5:18-23)

Before he interpreted the words on the wall, Daniel reminded Belshazzar his grandfather had been a great and powerful king, “but when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he [had been] deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him” (5:20; 4:23). The humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar lasted seven years, until he humbled himself and acknowledged “the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will” (5:21).

Daniel then rebuked the king, and said, “thou his son [grandson], O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this” (5:22). The king had mocked “the Lord of heaven” and taken the vessels that were for His Temple, and blasphemed God (5:23). He had praised idols “of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone” (5:23), though they cannot see, “nor hear, nor know” (5:23). Even though the God of heaven holds man’s breath in His hand, Belshazzar had “not glorified” Him (5:23).

Numbered, Numbered, Wanting, and Broken (5:25-28)

Fulfilling his obligation as prophet, and the king’s messenger, Daniel boldly declared and interpreted the writing on the wall: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (5:25).

Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, whom God gave opportunity to humble himself and repent, there would be no mercy for Belshazzar and his kingdom. He would not escape the judgment of God for his days were numbered and fulfilled; he had been weighed in God’s just scales; and the kingdom would be divided, “and given to the Medes and Persians” (5:27-28).

Closing thoughts (5:29-31) – There was no escape for Belshazzar, for he was guilty: Guilty of pride, Guilty of defying, blaspheming, and profaning God’s name; Guilty of idolatry, and Guilty of failing to honor and acknowledge God as Sovereign.

The foolish king’s final act was to honor the servant of God proclaiming him a ruler of a kingdom that was doomed. He dressed Daniel in a robe of purple, and hanging about his neck a chain of gold, yet, all was for naught (5:29). By diverting the waters of the Euphrates River, the Medes and Persians were already pouring into the city, and that night Babylon would fall and “Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans [was] slain” (5:30).

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.

Dare to be A Daniel (Daniel 1)

Scripture reading – Daniel 1

The Book of Daniel is a prophetic panorama of human history. Beginning with the days of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, our study of Daniel will encompass a prophetic vision of world empires that would follow: The Medo-Persian empire, followed by Greece, and then Rome. Yet, as we will see, the visions God imparted to Daniel were of the history of man that is past, present, and still future. Daniel’s writing included prophecies that are more than a footnote of history past; they are a foretelling of future events that will conclude with the Second Coming of Christ.

Daniel 1

Daniel 1 opens with a straightforward, historical account of events we studied in 2 Kings 24:12-16, for it was “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah (605 BC) came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it” (1:1). This was the first of three sieges by Babylon. The others that followed were 597 BC, and 586 BC (the final destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, Jeremiah 25:9-12; 2 Kings 25).

The prophet Jeremiah warned Judah’s kings, if the people did not repent and turn to the LORD, His wrath would rise “against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:16).   Jeremiah prophesied the captivity in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12) and when those years were “accomplished at Babylon,” the LORD would return His people to their land (Jeremiah 29:10).

The events recorded in Daniel 1 occurred at the time the Temple was plundered, and king Jehoiakim was taken captive to Babylon (1:1-2). 10,000 Jews were also taken captive following the first siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:14-16), and among them were the finest young men of Jerusalem: “certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; 4Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (1:3-4).

Named among the captives of Judah were “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” (1:6). Desiring to complete their assimilation into the Babylonian culture, “the prince of the eunuchs gave names [to the Jewish captives]: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (1:7). Though we cannot be certain of his age, Daniel was probably between 13-17 years old when he was taken from his home and brought to Babylon with its strange language and idolatrous culture.

Nebuchadnezzar chose the best and brightest of Israel’s impressionable youth, and prepared them to one day take their place in the administration of his empire (Daniel 1:8).  Daniel was among those youth (1:4), and soon proved he was not only a gifted young man, but also a man of faith. Three other youth of Judah shared Daniel’s passion for the LORD: “Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 7  Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego” (1:6-7).

Leading by example and conviction, “Daniel purposed [pledged; determined; made a decree] in his heart that he would not defile [pollute; soil; stain] himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine [lit. intoxicating wine] which he drank: therefore he requested [desired; sought; enquired] of the prince [captain; governor] of the eunuchs [most likely a castrated servant] that he might not defile [pollute; soil; stain] himself” (Daniel 1:8).

Daniel pledged his heart, and resolved in his character, “he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). What courage!  What conviction!  What passion!  God was at work, and providentially “brought Daniel into favour [mercy; kindness; grace] and tender love [to have compassion; pity; i.e. brotherly love] with the prince [chief] of the eunuchs [who were the servants of the king] (1:9).

Faithful to their convictions and respectful of their authorities, God blessed the faith of Daniel and his three companions, and when they were proved (i.e. tested and examined) by Nebuchadnezzar, they appeared healthier than those “children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat” (1:15).

Closing thoughts (1:17-20) – We will see in our study, how the testing of Daniel’s faith prepared his heart for the opportunities, challenges, and trials he would face in his service to the kings of both Babylon and Persia (1:21).

In closing, I invite you to consider four qualities that defined Daniel’s submissive heart, and his sensitivity to the authority in his life: 1) He was subordinate in his spirit (1:12); 2) He was sincere in his appeal (1:12); 3) He was Scriptural in his purpose (1:12-13); 4) He was sensitive in his request (1:13-14).

Following Daniel as a perfect model of faith and convictions, every believer would do well to examine his own spirit, manner, convictions, and relationship with the authorities in his life.

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.

“I Sought for a Man” – A Memorial Day Weekend Perspective

The scene is as vivid in my mind today as it was that day. I watched a casket, draped with the flag of the United States of America, as it was transported through a sea of dark suits and black veiled hats. I was only 10 or 11 at the time, and Vietnam was a place far from my quiet existence in rural South Carolina. That day, the nightly news recounting American casualties, took on a new meaning that was real and personal. While the toll of combat would number 58,193 by war’s end, it was the sacrifice of one soldier that brought home to me the reality of war, and the price of freedom.

            How do you honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for the liberty we enjoy as a nation? Is it enough to place a wreath at a tomb or mark the graves of America’s fallen with flags? I suggest the greater memorial is to incorporate into our lives and families those qualities that made America great.

The Preamble of our Constitution states its purpose was to bind our hearts as a people to “a more perfect Union,” and “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

The leaders of our nation have failed us. Instead of Justice, politicians promote political correctness. Rather than domestic Tranquility, we have corruption, violence, and partisan politics. Our common defense has been weakened by open borders. The general Welfare of our nation has been sacrificed for special interest groups. Tragically, the Blessings of Liberty are despised by those who would enslave us.

America needs believers who will dedicate themselves to the LORD, and “make up the hedge, and stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30).

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

www.HeartofAShepherd.com

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith