Tag Archives: Separation

The End May Not Justify the Means. (1 Chronicles 13-16)

Scripture Reading – 1 Chronicles 13-16

While our Scripture reading covers four chapters, today’s devotional commentary will focus on only one, 1 Chronicles 13.

1 Chronicles 13 – A Great Celebration Goes Terribly Wrong

Heralding a call for revival, David commanded the “Ark of God” (also known as the Ark of the Covenant) be brought to Jerusalem, for the nation had “enquired not at it in the days of Saul” (13:2-3).  What a sad commentary on the reign of King Saul! The Ark, representing the heavenly Throne of God on earth and in the midst of Israel, had not been consulted nor a central point of worship in Israel for some seventy years.

Thirty thousand men of Israel (2 Samuel 6:1) had come to celebrate the Ark’s journey to Jerusalem; however, the joyous occasion was cut short when a man named Uzza “put forth his hand to hold (or steady) the ark” that was being carried on a cart pulled by oxen (13:7-10). Unfortunately for Uzza, neither David nor the Levites had consulted the scriptures on the God-appointed means and method for transporting the Ark (13:7-10).

“WHY?” becomes a question we should address. 

Why would God punish Uzza whose impulse to steady the Ark on the cart was not only instinctive, but also arguably innocent (13:9-10)? After all, was it not a good thing that the desire of David and the elders of Israel was to have the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence, in Jerusalem the capital city?

David’s response to God’s swiftly striking Uzza reminds us that the king was quite human. We read, “David was displeased” (13:11), meaning angry or burning with anger.  Frustrated and fearing God, David asked, “How shall I bring the ark of God home to me?” (13:12)

Is that not like you and me? Have you ever committed yourself to something, but then realized you failed to pray?  The question David asked after Uzza was struck down was the one he should have asked before attempting to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.

Uzza was not struck down because he was insincere or impassionate in his desire to see the Ark moved to Jerusalem.  He died because the manner in which the Ark was transported violated God’s instructions.  The Ark was to be carried by means of staves or poles (Numbers 4).  Touching the sacred Ark, the symbol of God’s heavenly Throne (which is holy), defied God’s instructions and defiled what God declared to be holy and sanctified for Himself (Numbers 1:51; 4:15, 20).

Regardless of how well-meaning or pious the motive was for moving the Ark to Jerusalem, employing any means other than that the LORD commanded was inevitably going to lead to a tragic end.

“It is never right to do wrong to get a chance to do right.”  (Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.)

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Every Man Did That Which Was Right In His Own Eyes” (Judges 19-21)

Daily reading assignment: Judges 19-21

Judges 19 – The Infamy of Wickedness in Gibeah

Judges 19:1 reminds us there was “no king in Israel” and no judge to advocate God’s Law and call the nation to repent. The depth of wickedness and moral depravity to which Israel had descended is revealed in the story of the Levite whose concubine (a wife of lesser stature) had “played the whore against him, and went away…unto her father’s house” (19:2).

The same Levite pursued his wife to her father’s home and was persuaded to tarry with him several days before commencing his journey home to Bethlehem with his wife and servants (19:3-10).

Along the way it became necessary to seek lodging in the city of Gibeah that was of the tribe of Benjamin (19:12-15).  Unable to find shelter in Gibeah, an elderly man offered the Levite and his company housing for the night (19:16-21).

As it was in Sodom for Lot and his family (Genesis 19:6), we find the moral debauchery of homosexuality had become the practice of the men of Gibeah. That night the men of Gibeah surrounded the home of the old man and demanded he put the Levite priest out of his house so they might sadistically rape him (19:22).

Desperate to spare his guest the reprehensible demeaning of sodomy, the elderly man offered his daughter and the Levite’s concubine to satisfy the immoral demands of the sodomites (19:23-24). Scandalously, the men of Gibeah took the concubine, “abused her all the night,” and left her for dead (19:25).

Traumatized, degraded, and violently raped, the concubine fell at the door of the elderly man’s home where she was found at morning light (19:24-26).

Finding his wife dead, the Levite took her lifeless body and transported her to his house (19:28). When he arrived at home, the Levite took a knife and cut her corpse in twelve pieces that he sent as a rebuke and testimony to the great wickedness that had befallen the twelve tribes of Israel (19:29).

Judges 20 – Civil War in Israel

Understanding the wickedness of Gibeah, warriors of eleven tribes were stirred with indignation (20:1-11) and demanded the tribe of Benjamin deliver the sodomites of Gibeah into their hands (20:12).

When the men of Benjamin refused, the tribes determined to go to battle against the tribe (20:13-17).  At first, the fight went in favor of the rebellious tribe of Benjamin (20:18-25); however, after weeping, praying, and offering sacrifices, the LORD assured Israel of victory (20:26-46).

The tribe of Benjamin was nearly decimated, and only 600 men remained after the battle was done (20:47-48).

Judges 21 – Victory, But Overwhelming Sorrow

The Benjaminites were isolated from the other tribes that had determined their daughters would not be allowed to marry any men of Benjamin (21:1).   Though victorious, the tribes of Israel were broken over the sin and wickedness that had taken hold in the land, leaving one of the twelve tribes nearly destroyed (21:2-6).

The book of Judges ends with the reminder: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (21:25). 

I am afraid those words describe our day. We are living in a world that has rejected God, His Word, Law, and Commandments.  Pulpits are filled with preachers who deflect the duty of declaring the Word of God, and people who love the world sit in the pews and classrooms of our churches and schools (1 John 2:15-17).

Such compromise, whether in the pulpits or in the home, will inevitably lead to God’s judgment.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

From Hero to Disgrace and Sorrow (Judges 8-9)

Daily reading assignment: Judges 8-9

Judges 8 – What is important? Not Where You Begin, but Where You End!

Our study of Gideon’s life continues with his leading a mere three hundred men to rout an army of Midianites (7:16-25). Judges 7 closes with Gideon sending messengers to call the men of Ephraim to take up arms and pursue the Midianites across the Jordan River (7:23-25).

Remembering Gideon was of the Abiezrite family and member of the tribe of Manasseh (one of Joseph’s two sons, the other being Ephraim), the Ephraimites alleged Gideon had slighted them by not inviting them to war against the Midianites (8:1).

Charged unfairly, nevertheless, Gideon humbly appeased the anger of the Ephraimites, proposing that tribe had achieved more than he in slaying two princes of Midian (7:25; 8:2-3).

 

Gideon requested food for his men while in pursuit of the Midianites; however, both Succoth and Penuel denied him aid and suggested Gideon would fail to dispose of the Midianites and their kings (8:6-10). Incensed, Gideon warned he would return after the battle and the men of Succoth and Penuel would pay for their rejection (a threat Gideon fulfilled – 8:11-21).

With the battle over, the men of Israel proposed to make Gideon their king (8:22). Gideon wisely refused and encouraged the nation, “The LORD shall rule over you” (8:23).

Judges 8:24-35 – No Fool Like an Old Fool

The battle being ended and his status as a victor secured, Gideon took a path that ultimately led him and the nation far from the LORD.

Requesting earrings of gold taken from the Ishmaelites (of whom the Midianites were descended), Gideon foolishly venerated his victory with a commemorative ephod that became an idol to Gideon and his household (8:27).

An old adage comes to mind when I read the concluding verses of Judges 8: “The best of men are men at best.” Gideon, known as Jerubbaal (“Baal fighter”), embraced his hero status and took “many wives” of whom were born seventy sons (8:30).

Gideon lived to be an old man; however, his sin so compromised his life and testimony that when he was dead, “the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim” (8:33).  The tragedy is heightened by the observation that the people not only forgot the LORD, but they did not honor the memory of Gideon or his household (8:34-35).

Judges 9 – The Tragic Culmination of Gideon’s Sins

Abimelech, one of the seventy sons of Gideon, was born to a Canaanite woman, a concubine in Shechem (8:31; 9:1). Abimelech hated his brothers and set in motion a plan to annihilate his father’s household.  Hiring wicked men to assist him, Abimelech ordered the murder of Gideon’s sons (9:1-5).

Only Jotham, Gideon’s youngest son, was spared death because he hid himself (9:5). When Jotham heard Abimelech had gathered men to crown him king (9:6), he stood eight hundred feet above the plain and shouted from mount Gerizim a parable about trees that proved to be a prophetic curse against Abimelech (9:7-15).

Judges 9:8-13 – A Parable of Trees

For the sake of interpretation, the olive tree, fig tree, and even the grape vine represent noble men (9:8-13). The bramble, a worthless vine of briars and thorns, was meant to represent Abimelech as a worthless man whom noble men had foolishly appointed to rule over them (9:14-15). Portraying the bramble as a worthless vine devoured by fire (9:19-20), Jotham prophesied Abimelech would die an ignoble death.

Abimelech reigned for three years (9:22) when there arose a rebellion. Attempting to put down the rebellion, Abimelech was mortally wounded by a woman who “cast a piece of a millstone” and fractured his skull (9:53). Rather than leave the account he was slain by a woman, Abimelech demanded his armorbearer thrust him through with his sword and kill him (9:54-57).

An Ignoble End

The tragic end of Gideon’s legacy is a lesson for all believers. When he was young and insecure, he was conscious how much he needed the LORD (6:12, 15-16). When he became famous and prosperous, he forgot the LORD and led his family down a path of sin and self-destruction.

What path are you taking, and where are you leading others?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

The Tragedy of Disobedience – (Judges 3-5)

Scripture Reading – Judges 3-5

Israel’s failure to drive the heathen nations out of the land soon brought home a sorrow and heartache to many in Israel. We read,

Judges 3:6-76  And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. 7  And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.

Unspeakable wickedness is reflected in those two verses. Having failed to drive out the heathen and separate themselves from them and their idols, Hebrew families suffered the loss of their sons and daughters who intermarried with the wicked and followed in their ways (3:6). Their children not only turned from the LORD, but they began committing all manner of whoredom in the groves (3:7).

A history of Israel under the Judges is recorded beginning with Judges 3:7 and continuing to Judges 16:31.

From liberty to servitude, Israel provoked the LORD’S anger and He delivered them “into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia” whom the people served for eight years (3:8).

Evidencing His grace, when Israel cried to the LORD He sent Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother, to judge and call the nation to turn to the LORD (3:9-10). The LORD delivered His people and gave the nation rest for forty years as long as Othniel was judge in the land. (3:11).

After Othniel’s death, Israel followed a pattern of rebellion that invited God’s judgment and each time the LORD raised up a judge to call the nation to repent (3:12-31).

An intriguing story unfolds of a brave Benjaminite named Elud who stealthily made his way into the palace where he slew Eglon, the Moabite king with a dagger (3:15-26). Ehud’s courageous example and his faith in the LORD, not only delivered Israel from servitude, but also gave the people rest for eighty years (3:27-30).

Judges 4 – Deborah: A Prophetess in the Land

Israel once again turned from the LORD and the nation fell victim to a powerful king, “Jabin king of Canaan” (4:2-3).  This time the LORD called upon a woman named Deborah, identified as a “prophetess” (4:4-5), to judge the nation.

Deborah summoned a man named “Barak” (4:6) of the tribe of Naphtali, to lead the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun against Jabin (4:6-7). When Barak insisted he would only go if Deborah accompanied him, she warned it would be said that “the LORD shall sell Sisera [the Canaanite general] into the hand of a woman” (4:8).

When the Canaanite general Sisera realized he was defeated (4:9-16), he fled the battle on foot, and sought to hide in the tent of a woman named Jael (4:17-19). When he fell asleep, Jael rose up and drove a tent peg through Sisera’s temple (4:20-22).

Judges 5 – A Song of Victory

The prophetess Deborah breaks into song (5:3-11) and leads the people to recall their glorious history (5:3-5), and their decline as a wayward, suffering people (5:6-8).

Deborah’s song turns to rejoicing in the victory the LORD had given his people (5:9-23), and the courage of Jael, the woman who slew Sisera, by driving a peg through his temples (5:24-27).

Faith was and still is the victory!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

A Crisis: Third Generation Leaders Often Lack the Fortitude of Unshakable Convictions (Judges 1-2)

Daily reading assignment: Judges 1-2

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Followers,

It is a joy to begin the eighth book in our chronological study of the Word of God this year. We completed the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament that are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  We have read the ancient Book of Job and just finished our study of the Book of Joshua.

Israel’s passage from Egypt, her forty years in the wilderness, and that nation’s settlement of the Promised Land has been our focus. With the land divided among the tribes, the book of Judges begins with a matter of fact statement that marks the end of an era: “after the death of Joshua” (Judges 1:1).

Judges 1 – A Third Generation Leadership Crisis

With Joshua and Eleazar the high priest dead, the children of Israel asked the LORD, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” (Judges 1:1)

Though Israel possessed the land, they still encountered the presence of enemies in the midst.  Receiving the LORD’s command to go to war, the tribes of Judah and Simeon fought against the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and God blessed them with victories over their enemies (Judges 1:2-20).  With Joshua dead, we find Caleb named in the midst, the last of his generation to come out of Egypt (1:14-20).

Sadly, the faith, fortitude, and obedience witnessed in Judah was absent among the other tribes who failed to drive the heathen out of the land (1:21-36). The tribe of Benjamin (1:21), the tribe of Manasseh (1:27-28), and the tribes of Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali (1:29-36) all failed.

Judges 2 – The Rebuke of an Angel and Tragedy in the New Land

God sent an angel to rebuke the disobedient tribes in Judges 2, warning them their treaties with the heathen would eventually become “as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you” (Judges 2:2-3).

Every generation has its spiritual destiny, and the achievement of one generation does not guarantee the next will follow.  The second-generation Joshua led into the Promised Land had this testimony: “[They] served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua” (2:7). The same would not be said of the third generation out of Egypt who rose up and “knew not the LORD” (Judges 2:10).

We read of the third generation, they “did evil…served Baalim…forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:11-13). 

Israel having broken His covenant, God set His face against them, delivered them to their enemies, “and they were greatly distressed”  (Judges 2:14-15).

Although the people had forsaken the LORD, He did not forsake them and graciously sent judges to remind the people of His Laws and Covenant. Faithful judges called the people to repent, and for a season the nation would heed the warnings, only to turn back to their sinful ways when a judge died (Judges 2:16-19).

“Familiarity breeds contempt” is an adage that is all too true of God’s people. In one generation, Israel had turned from the LORD and lost His blessing and protection.

I fear the same is true of Bible preaching churches and Christian institutions in our day. Like Israel, there are many pulpits in America occupied by third generation leaders who impart spiritual apathy, dead orthodoxy, and a rejection of the convictions of previous generations.

I am afraid many have forgotten that, though times have changed, the admonitions of God’s Word have not!

1 John 2:15-16 – “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Whom or What are You Serving? (Joshua 22-24)

Daily reading assignment: Joshua 22-24

Joshua 22 – A Misunderstanding Led to a Threat of Civil War

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of the tribe of Manasseh had requested of Moses to grant them the pasture lands on the east side of the Jordan River (Numbers 32; Deuteronomy 3:12-20).

Seven years had passed before the new land was at peace and the warriors of Israel were allowed to lay down their swords and shields. With Israel at rest and the lands assigned by tribe, the warriors of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh were discharged from their duties and allowed to return to their families and lands on the east side of the Jordan (22:1-9).

Joshua challenged the men returning to their families to be diligent to observe the Commandments and the Law given by Moses. He urged them to cleave to the LORD and serve Him with all their hearts. (22:5).

Erecting a memorial to their covenant with the other tribes, the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar on the east side of the Jordan that nearly became a provocation for war (22:10).  A threat of civil war soon followed as the western tribes misunderstood the purpose of the altar and feared the other tribes had departed from the God of Israel (22:11-12).

Wisely, before blood was shed, a delegation was sent to investigate the intent of the structure. Rather than a place of worship and sacrifice as they feared, they found the altar was a memorial for future generations to remember their covenant with the LORD and the Twelve Tribes of Israel  (22:13-34). The investigation embodies a spiritual principle for us all:

Proverbs 18:13 – “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

Joshua 23-24 – Joshua’s Final Challenge and Address

“Old and stricken in age,” Joshua gathered the leaders of Israel for a parting exhortation before his death (23:1-2).  Like the great leader he was, he foresaw the challenges Israel would face in the years ahead when he was departed. Joshua’s words echo the passion of every godly leader who longs to see God’s people walk in the ways of the LORD.

He reminded them how the LORD had fought for and never forsook them (23:4-10).  He challenged them to keep God’s Word (23:6), cleave to the LORD (23:8), and love the LORD (23:11).  He warned: Compromise with the heathen and you will invite God’s judgment (23:12-16).

At Shechem (24:1), the same place Abraham had received God’s promise that his lineage would inherit the land (Genesis 12:6-7), Joshua began to rehearse God’s promises and providences.

He recalled God had chosen Abraham (24:2-4), delivered Israel out of Egypt (24:5-7), and guided them through the wilderness (24:7-10).  He reminded the people that God had given them the land as He had promised (24:11-13) and challenged them to revere and serve the LORD (24:14-28). Lastly, Joshua exhorted the people to declare their devotion to the LORD with a covenant to memorialize their vow to serve Him (24:25-28).

The Book of Joshua closes with the death of a generation of leaders and three burials.  Joshua, the successor of Moses died at 110 years old and was buried (24:29-30).  Fulfilling Joseph’s request (Genesis 50:25), his bones were buried on the land owned by his father Jacob (24:32).  Finally, Eleazar the high priest and the son of Aaron, died and was buried (24:33).

Like it was with Israel, so it is with every man and woman reading this devotional:

We must individually decide whether or not we will serve the LORD with our whole heart (24:14-24).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Three Affirmations Concerning the Faithfulness of God (Joshua 19-21)

Daily reading assignment: Joshua 19-21

Joshua 19 – A selfless, godly leader

The business of dividing the Promised Land and assigning portions to the seven tribes (18:2-3) that had not yet taken possession of their inheritance continues in Joshua 19.

After dividing the land according to tribe, Joshua was the last to receive his inheritance. Honoring him for his years of faithful service, the “children of Israel gave an inheritance to Joshua… [and]they gave him the city which he asked, even Timnathserah in mount Ephraim: and he built the city, and dwelt therein” (19:49-50).

A word of caution: Don’t make the mistake of glibly passing over the names of cities and territories listed in Joshua 19 and miss an important lesson. Although the names of the cities may be foreign and difficult to pronounce, they remind us of an important truth: God fulfilled His promise, and Israel was settled in her land.

Joshua 20 – Cities of Refuge for the Innocent Accused of Murder

The LORD commanded Joshua to establish six “cities of refuge” in the land (20:1-2). Moses had already assigned three cities on the east side of the Jordan River (20:8; Deuteronomy 4:41-43). To those three remaining Joshua designated three cities west of the Jordan (20:7).

Reflecting the sanctity of human life and the principle of capital punishment established by God (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 20), the cities of refuge afforded a safe place for those who had unintentionally taken the life of another man (20:3-4).  Because there was no law enforcement, the cities of refuge provided a place where a man’s case could be judged by the elders of the city and his life protected from those who felt compelled to avenge the death of a loved one (20:5).

Two regulations governed who might find refuge from an avenger (20:6). The first was the responsibility of the inhabitants of the city to determine if a man was guilty or innocent of murder. If guilty, the accused would be turned over to the avenger. If innocent of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, the accused must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest.

Joshua 21 – Cities Assigned to the Tribe of Levi

We have been reminded on several occasions that the priestly tribe of Levi would not receive its own land.  Serving the LORD and the congregation, the Levites’ physical needs were to be met by the sacrificial gifts of God’s people.

The tribe of Levi requested the cities they had been promised for their inheritance in the land (Joshua 21:1-3) and were assigned forty-eight cities, by family, and scattered throughout the tribal lands (21:4-42).  It was the ministry of the Levites to minister to the people and teach them the Word and Law of God (2 Chronicles 17:9).

I invite you to consider three affirmations concerning the faithfulness of God as we close today’s commentary.

1) The LORD gave Israel “all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers” (21:43).

2) He gave the nation victory over her enemies and “gave them rest” (21:44).

3) Not one “good thing” the LORD had promised failed (21:45).

What a great and faithful God we serve!

2 Corinthians 1:2020  For all [every one of] the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

Copyright 2020– Travis D. Smith