Tag Archives: Separation

“O Lord, Remember Me” (Nehemiah 13; Psalm 126)

Scripture reading – Nehemiah 13; Psalm 126

Our study in Nehemiah concludes today. We have followed Nehemiah’s rise from serving as the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1-2), to the governorship of Judah. He could have chosen a life of ease and luxury in the king’s palace, but he could not rest when he heard the travail of the Jewish exiles in Jerusalem. With a heart for God’s people, he undertook building the walls of the city.

Like any great work, Nehemiah had critics and enemies. Yet, his faith in the LORD sustained him, and his courage was undiminished. With unwavering determination, he seemed to do the impossible, for the walls that had been in ruins for nearly 150 years were rebuilt in 52 days (6:15). Even his enemies realized what they had witnessed was more than the work of a man, “for they perceived…[the] work was wrought of [Israel’s] God” (6:16). With great pomp and circumstance, the walls of Jerusalem were dedicated (12:27-42), and the people brought tithes and offerings to the Temple to support the priests, Levites, and singers (12:43-47).

Nehemiah 13 – A Call for Sanctification and Separation

A Failure to Separate (13:1-3)

On the day the walls were dedicated, the book of the law of Moses was read aloud “in the audience of the people” (13:1). The reading of “the book of Moses” brought to the people’s attention a gross violation of God’s commandments. Remembering the trespass of the Ammonites and Moabites against Israel, the people realized those people were forbidden from coming “into the congregation of God for ever” (13:1). Hearing the grievances committed by those nations (Numbers 23-24), the people “separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” (13:3).

An Enemy in the Midst (13:4-9)

We were introduced to Nehemiah during the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia and Babylon (1:1). Coming to chapter 13, we find Nehemiah had departed from Jerusalem, and returned to the king’s court in the 32ndyear of his reign (13:6). In his absence a stunning event occurred when Eliashib, the high priest, made provision for Tobiah to dwell in one of the great chambers of the Temple (13:4). Tobiah, Nehemiah’s nemesis who had opposed him and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (2:20, 19, 4:3, 6:17-19), had come to live in a chamber of the Temple!

To provide a place for Tobiah, Eliashib converted one of the Temple chambers where the tithes and offerings were stored (13:5). When Nehemiah returned from his visit to the king, he was astonished to find not only had his enemy taken up residence in the city, but unbelievably, he was dwelling in one of the chambers of the Temple (13:7)! He was furious, for the high priest had failed to sanctify and treat as holy what was set apart for the LORD (13:8). With zeal, he cast Tobiah out of the chamber and purged it of “all [his] household stuff” (13:8). He then “commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought [he] again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense” (13:9).

Sin of Neglect (13:10-14)

Nehemiah soon realized the Levites and the singers were not ministering in the Temple (13:10). An investigation revealed the people had not given their tithes and offerings as they should, and their neglect had forced the Levites and the singers to return to their fields to provide for their families (13:10). Defiantly bold, Nehemiah gathered the leaders and confronted them, asking, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” (13:11) Personally, I admire his next statement: I “set them in their place” (13:11c).

Proving he was a gifted administrator, Nehemiah appointed “treasurers over the treasuries” as the people began bringing their tithes and offerings to the Temple (13:13). Expressing the heart of a faithful minister, he prayed, “14Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof” (13:14).

Broken Covenant (13:15-22)

The people had covenanted with the LORD to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy (Nehemiah 10:31; Exodus 20:8). Yet, upon his return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah found the they had failed to keep their vow to the LORD (13:15-22). The Jews had secularized the Sabbath, and treated it like any other day (13:16). Then, Nehemiah confronted the leaders and asked, “What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?”  (13:17). Notice how Nehemiah did not trifle with sin. Regardless of their excuses, he regarded their actions as an “evil thing” for they had profaned, and defiled the Sabbath.

Nehemiah then sent his own guards to shut the gates of the city, and thereby prohibit any trade on the Sabbath (13:19). In spite of the prohibition, some merchants came on the Sabbath, and finding the gates shut, camped outside the walls (13:20). Nehemiah confronted the merchants himself, and sent them away (13:21).

Closing thoughts (13:23-31)

Our study of Nehemiah’s life concludes with him realizing a grave sin was present among the Jews, for some “had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab” (13:23). Though their fathers were Hebrews, the children of those mixed marriages “could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people” (13:24). Their mothers were heathen, idolatrous women, and the children of those unequal marriages could not understand the language of the Hebrews, nor would they have been taught in the Scriptures.

Nehemiah’s response is telling for any who make light of being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). He confronted the Hebrew men, and “contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves” (13:25).

What a sight that must have been! Nehemiah’s spirit was stirred, and his passion mirrored his concern. He reminded the people the great sorrow Solomon’s mixed marriages had brought on his household (13:26). Even the high priest’s son was carried away with ungodliness, and Nehemiah wrote, “I chased him from me” (13:28).

Having cleansed the priesthood of wickedness, Nehemiah appointed priests and Levites to their work, and prayed, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:31).

God wonderfully heard and answered Nehemiah’s prayer, for his work and words recorded in the book that bears his name, is forever inscribed by the LORD.

2 Corinthians 6:14-15 – “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”

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.

Spiritual Scandal: Unequally Yoked (Ezra 10)

Scripture reading – Ezra 10; Nehemiah 1

* We conclude our study of the Book of Ezra with today’s Scripture reading. This is the first of two devotionals. The second will be an introduction to the Book of Nehemiah.

Soon after he arrived in Jerusalem (Ezra 8), the leaders of the people came to Ezra with devastating news. Ezra was told, “The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations…2For they have taken of their [the heathen nations]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).

Overwhelmed with grief, Ezra understood the sins of the people had put the nation in danger of God’s judgment. Rending his robe, and plucking out his hair and beard, Ezra “sat down astonied” (9:3), as the people “trembled at the words of the God of Israel” gathered around him (9:4). “At the evening sacrifice” (9:5), Ezra began to pray to God and confessed the sins that had polluted the land (9:5-11).

Ezra then charged the people to obey the law of God (Deuteronomy 7:1-3), and separate from the heathen, and “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 10 – A Spiritual Crisis: Unequally Yoked Marriages

Ezra’s prayer before the Temple, and his confession of the sins of the nation, so moved the people that they “wept very sore” (10:1). One of the men, “Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam” (whose family was guilty of marrying unbelieving wives, 10:26), answered Ezra and confessed, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing” (10:2).

What hope could there be for a nation that had not only sinned against the LORD, but compromised their bloodline by intermarrying with the heathen nations? There was only one path forward, and it was to repent and turn from their sins to God. The great wickedness of Israel required a radical separation that would inevitably divide families, and sever relationships (10:3).

The Severity of the Solution Suggested the Seriousness of the Sin. (10:1-8)

Such wickedness could not be treated lightly, and Shechaniah proposed a covenant be established between the nation and God, saying, “put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law” (10:3).

Tragic, you say? Yes, but when believers follow a path of sin, they sacrifice more than their fellowship with the LORD, they also damage the perception the heathen have of God. Continuing to speak on behalf of the people, Shechaniah challenged Ezra and assured him, “this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it” (10:4).

Ezra then made a proclamation, and gave the nation three days to assemble in Jerusalem (10:7-8). Those who failed to come before the congregation were warned they would forfeit not only their lands and possessions, but also their worship and fellowship with the congregation (10:8).

Public Confrontation (10:9-10)

Two of the principal tribes, Judah and Benjamin, assembled in Jerusalem “within three days… and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain” (10:9). Speaking honestly and sparing no words, Ezra confronted the people, “and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel” (10:10).

Though heart-rending, there was only one solution, so Ezra commanded, “make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives” (10:11).

Public Confession and Personal Separation (10:12-15)

The congregation assented to Ezra’s challenge, and answered “with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do” (10:12). Yet, because of the rain, and the great number who had taken wives of the heathen, it was suggested that a committee of leaders be formed and tasked with the responsibility of seeking out those who had taken wives of the heathen (10:13-15).

Personal Separation (10:16-44)

On the date appointed, the names of the guilty were presented to Ezra, who sat down and began to “examine the matter” (10:16). Named among those culpable were “the sons of the priests,” even the sons of Jeshua, the high priest (10:18-22), who “put away their wives; and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass” (10:19). Ten Levites had taken heathen wives, along with one Temple singer, and three gatekeepers of the Temple (10:23-24). The list of the guilty also included 84 men of the congregation (10:25-43), all who “had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children” (10:44).

Closing thoughts – Believer, it is the will of God that His people not be yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Should you find yourself unequally yoked with an unbeliever, it is God’s will that you “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17a).

It was God’s will for Israel to separate from their heathen wives; however, the same does not apply to a believer married to an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:12-14). God’s people should not partner with nor marry unbelievers; however, should a believer be married to an unbeliever, they are to treat the bond of marriage as sacred to the end their spouse might receive Christ as their Savior (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).

Marriage is more than a physical union, it is also a spiritual institution sanctified and established by God (Ephesians 5:25, 28-33; 1 Peter 3:7).

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.

How Will You Be Remembered? (Jeremiah 35)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 35

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

Jeremiah 35 – The House of the Rechabites

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

A Lesson in Fidelity (35:2-11)

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

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

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

Judah and Jerusalem Rebuked (35:12-17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Who’s to Blame? – Derelict Pastors! (Jeremiah 10; Jeremiah 11)

Scripture reading – Jeremiah 10; Jeremiah 11

Our study of the prophecies of Jeremiah continues with our Scripture reading comprising Jeremiah 10-11. Jeremiah 10 will be the focus of today’s devotional commentary.

Assuming Jeremiah was continuing his message “in the gate of the LORD’s house” (Jeremiah 7:2), we pick up our study with the prophet heralding to those who had come to the Temple: “1Hear ye the word which the Lordspeaketh unto you, O house of Israel: 2Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, And be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; For the heathen are dismayed at them” (10:1-2).

The heathen of Jeremiah’s day, were a superstitious, fearful lot, who looked to “the signs of the heaven” for wisdom and direction. Jeremiah challenged the people, to not follow the foolish ways of the heathen!

Jeremiah Mocked the Idols Men Worshipped. (10:3-5)

The prophet described the absurdity of men who worship gods of their own making, and imagined them cutting down trees, taking the stock, and then carving and shaping it into an idol they worship (10:3). Such men adorned their gods, overlaying the wood with silver and gold, and taking up hammer and nail to fasten the parts (10:4).

Drawing upon the foolishness of idols, Jeremiah mocked those who worship impotent gods that cannot speak, nor move of their own will (10:5a). Such idols must be borne about, and God’s people have no reason to fear them, for they can do neither evil or good (10:5c).

There is None Like the God of Heaven. (10:6-13)

Contrasting the “brutish and foolish” (stupid and senseless) men who worship idols made by “cunning men” (10:8-9), Jeremiah reminded the people the God of Israel had revealed Himself to them (10:6-7, 10-13).

Lifting his eyes to heaven, Jeremiah worshipped the LORD and declared, the LORD is not a God among many; He is great, mighty, and the Sovereign of the nations (10:6-7a). He is superior, and “there is none like unto [Him]” (10:7b). The LORD is true, living, eternal, and He is a just and righteous judge (10:10).

While the heathen worship idols that have created nothing and will come to nothing (10:11), the God of the Scriptures is the Creator of earth, and by His wisdom, He sustains and knows the breadth of the heavens (10:12). He is the God of nature, for by His voice the waters move, and complete their cycle (evaporation, rain, lightings, and wind, 10:13).

The Natural Man Apart from God and His Revelation (10:14-15)

What is man? He is “brutish in his knowledge,” a foolish, senseless being (10:14a). He is like the idols he has fashioned, vain, and delusional (10:15a), and in the day of God’s judgment he shall perish with his gods (10:15b).

God’s Covenant People (10:16-18)

Unlike the heathen who, left to themselves, were without knowledge and spiritually depraved, the LORD had chosen Israel for His inheritance (10:16). The God of Jacob “is the former [Creator; framer; maker] of all things” (10:16a). The LORD chose Israel as the “rod [the symbol of a tribe or people] of His inheritance” (10:16b). Who is God? “The LORD of hosts is His name” (10:16c), for He is the LORD of all!

Though the LORD had chosen Israel and Judah, they had broken covenant with Him, and He had removed His blessings and protection. Jeremiah declared, “Gather up thy wares” (pack up your belongings), inhabitants of Jerusalem (10:17). The people of Judah, like Israel before them, would be expelled out of the land, and afflicted (10:18).

A Faithful Prophet (10:19-20)

Though Jeremiah would serve as God’s prophet for 40 years, Judah refused to heed his warnings, and spurned his invitations to turn from their sins to the LORD. Yet, he felt the anguish of His people, and cried, “19Woe is me for my hurt! my wound is grievous: But I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it” (10:19). He was a preacher who loved the LORD, and cherished His people, but they had become a grief to bear. His own home [“tabernacle”] was destroyed, and there were none to come to his aid (10:20).

Derelict Pastors (10:21-22)

The failure of the people to hear the word of the LORD was not that of His prophet. The pastors, the civic and spiritual leaders, had failed the people (10:21). The pastors of Judah were a “brutish,” foolish, morally depraved lot, and had “not sought the LORD” (10:21a). The people, following their leadership, would not know the blessing of the LORD, and would be scattered among the heathen like sheep lost in the wilderness (10:21b).

Closing thoughts – Jeremiah foretold Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion would come upon Judah, and the cities would be destroyed, and become a haven for “a den of dragons” (jackals; wild beasts, 10:22c). Then, Jeremiah did the one thing you and I can do when we observe the frightening state of our country and world…He prayed (10:23-25).

Jeremiah confessed the natural man is foolish, and finds no wisdom or direction within himself (10:23). He prayed for God’s grace and mercy, saying, “24O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; Not in thine anger…” (10:24). He called upon the LORD to remember how the heathen had abused His people, and to pour out His wrath upon those men who had not known, or called upon Him (10:25).

Oh that God’s people would remember who the LORD is (10:6-13), and pray for His grace and mercy upon our families, friends, and nation (10:23-25).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

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

Now That I Have Your Attention: A Renewed Appeal From Outside the Bubble

* In 2017 I penned a series of articles on this website, and stated at that time my concerns for the failings of leaders who had taken the helm of what were once flagship ministries in Fundamentalism. Sadly, my concerns have proved somewhat prophetic, for the cancer of spiritual compromise has only intensified in the past 5 years. The following is that 2017 article, and I repeat it as a timely warning…if some within the bubble do not soon speak out, historic fundamentalism will be lost to this generation, and the LORD will turn to another people to bear His immutable Word. 

I have pondered the root cause for a lack of vitality in Bible fundamentalism that is contributing not only to the failings of our institutions, but more importantly, the weakening of our churches (understanding the weaknesses observed in fundamental institutions once hailed as citadels of the faith are symptomatic of compromises within our local churches).   As much as it pains me to state it, I have observed a near universal characteristic in the senior leadership of our churches, schools, Bible colleges and seminaries that is the catalyst to compromise:

God’s Men Have Failed to Stand on Immutable Principles.

Twenty-first century Bible fundamentalism is facing a moral crisis in leadership that has given rise to a tolerance of sin and pervasive carnality in our churches, Bible colleges and seminaries.

Take a lesson from the life of King David.

I suggest the failures and shortcomings of historical flagship ministries in fundamentalism reveals a pattern of compromise among Christian leaders who, facing the duress of their children’s sinful choices, have become pragmatic and weak.  A tolerance of sin has emerged in our homes, pulpits and chapel platforms that is leading our youth, churches, and schools down a path of ruin.

Consider the consequences of David’s failed leadership after his moral failures left him enfeebled and unwilling to address the sins and moral failures of his adult children.

David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, was a scandalous sin that forever damaged his reign as king (2 Samuel 11).  His notorious sins gave cause for his enemies and members of his own household to disdain him.  Confronting David with the words, “Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7), the prophet Nathan warned, “the sword shall never depart from thine house” (2 Samuel 12:10).  The sins David had committed in secret eventually bore the bitter fruit of public humiliation “before all Israel” (2 Samuel 12:11-12).  Weakened by his own failures, David’s leadership faltered and he failed to address the sins of his sons.

When Amnon, a son of David, raped his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-19), we read the morally compromised king’s response was merely, “he was very angry” (2 Samuel 13:21).  David’s failure to confront Amnon’s sin gave cause to Absalom to revenge his sister’s disgrace and plot the murder of his half-brother (2 Samuel 13:20-29).  Fearing the consequences for murdering his half-brother Amnon, Absalom fled Israel and lived as an exile in Geshur for three years (2 Samuel 13:34, 37).

In spite of Amnon’s death, we read, “king David longed to go forth unto Absalom” (2 Samuel 13:30).   Every loving parent understands David’s longing for his prodigal son; however, there were issues greater than paternal affections in question.

Would the king be a man of integrity?  Would he rule his kingdom judiciously, knowing his own son was a fugitive from justice and guilty of murder?

Such is the dilemma of spiritual leadership: When our sons and daughters turn from the LORD and the instructions of their youth, we may long for peace and their love and affection, but we should not compromise our principles and convictions.

Among the qualifications of a pastor is he is to “ruleth [preside over] well his own house, having his children in subjection [under control] with all gravity [dignity; respect]” (1 Timothy 3:4).

Why is it important for Christian leaders to evidence an ability to manage the children in their households? Paul’s answer: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5). Pastor’s with children “in their households” is the topic of 1 Timothy 3:4; however, the principle found in 1 Timothy 3:5 serves as a warning to churches and Christian institutions.

Be wary of spiritual leaders who fail to rule their households for they will invariably fail to “take care of the church.”  Adult sons and daughters are no longer children under the management or rule of their parents, and as much as we are pained to accept it, they bear their choices and associated consequences.   As it was for David, so it is for all who are spiritually minded parents.

Will we be men and women of integrity if our adult children walk contrary to the Word of the LORD and spiritual principles?

For those in spiritual leadership, the cost of compromise extends far beyond our family relationships and affects our churches, schools and institutions.   I need not enumerate the tragedy that followed David’s failure to be a man of integrity and conviction.  His weak response to his son’s sins incited Absalom to lead a rebellion against David (2 Samuel 14:23-24, 33; 15:1-6), fulfilling Nathan’s prophecy and humiliating his father in front of the nation (2 Samuel 15:7-16:23). Twenty thousand men perished in battle before David took back his throne; however, even then David’s heart was such toward his son he commanded his men to, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5).

Such is the way of spiritual leaders when they promote paternal affections over eternal principles.

My generation, my peers who are pastors, administrators, and professors in Bible fundamental colleges and seminaries have, under family duress, compromised immutable spiritual principles because our children and grandchildren have rejected the guiding principles of God’s Word.

Make no mistake, our compromises have become mortal wounds for our churches and institutions. If pastors, churches, and the boards of our churches, Bible colleges and seminaries do not soon repent, the demise of Bible fundamentalism is sure.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith
Edited and revised – Copyright © 2022 – Travis D Smith

Where is the Christian “West Point” of this generation?

christian-ed

** The following article was first published February 2016, and republished October 2016. As a writer in 2016, I was still using “training wheels,” and there are no doubt grammatical errors I might avoid today. Yet, I believe this article states the cancer that is consuming our fundamental churches, colleges, and universities. The following is that six year old post.

* On Wednesday, October 26, 2016, Hillsdale Baptist Church closed one of our greatest missions conferences.  With a dozen or more of our teens responding at the invitation to surrender to go and serve the LORD where He calls them and, with their parents and grandparents standing beside them, I am left this Thursday morning wrestling with the burden…Where do I send our youth to be trained for full-time Christian service that will be a complement to our heart and passion for serving the LORD and preaching the whole counsel of God?   Where are the Bible colleges that have dedicated themselves to “keeping the chapel platform hot” with the unapologetic preaching of God’s Word?

With those questions weighing on my heart, I republish an article I first published February 17, 2016.

billy-sundayA sense of desperation has taken hold in my spirit as I witness the failings of our nation, the erosion of morality and civility, and the spiritual void in our society that threatens the future of our nation, homes, churches and Christian institutions.   My heart trembles and my soul is dismayed by the silence of Christian leaders who are custodians of church pulpits and academic platforms that were once dedicated to the bold, unapologetic declaration of God’s Word!   I am afraid our biblically fundamental churches and schools bear the prophetic likeness of the church of the Laodiceans, “neither cold nor hot…rich, and increased with good…and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:14-17).

A pattern of spiritual lethargy has become the state of our fundamental churches and institutions [incidentally, my use of the word fundamental is not meant to convey an attitude, but a practical-doctrinal theology committed to the literal exposition of the fundamental doctrines and precepts of God’s Word].  colossians-3-23I believe a generation of well-meaning pastors and administrators is faltering in their spiritual leadership, influenced and persuaded by men who lack deep-rooted precepts and core convictions that once served as guiding principles for fundamental ministries.  I am of the opinion preachers and teachers have endeavored to appease youth and, either by design or neglect, soft-pedaled core spiritual virtues and personal disciplines that were at the heart of institutional distinctives.

Our churches and schools are evidencing the consequences of a philosophy of education that has, in its purported zeal for the Gospel and discipleship, invaded our institutions and eradicated fundamental precepts that are essential to personal holiness and sanctification.  In an attempt to appease, rather than admonish and exhort a carnal generation (2 Timothy 4:2), spiritual leaders have weakened institutional disciplines, disparaged spiritual standards, and eroded the distinctives of Christian education.

West PointThere was a time we could look to our Christian colleges and universities to inspire our youth and integrate into their education the leadership disciplines of West Point; the refined sophistication of a finishing school; the academic excellence of an Ivy League university; and the spiritual fervor and zeal of a “hellfire and brimstone” evangelist.  Although there are exceptions, I am afraid that is no longer the case.

Too many college professors and pastors have, in a misguided effort to be “relevant”, departed from the very disciplines that made Christian education superior and unique.  Instead of the discipline of West Point, many Christian college students evidence a bearing that is casual at best.  Rather than a “finishing school” product, Christian students lack both the polish and demeanor of their forebears.   Instead of the disciplines required for academic excellence, a laissez-faire attitude has taken hold in our schools and universities.  SpurgeonFinally, the emphasis to “keep the platform hot” and “preach the whole counsel of God” has been displaced by an inordinate emphasis on “the Gospel” to the exclusion of truths that are fundamental to preparing students to be soldiers of Christ in the world (Ephesians 6:10-18). [I realize that observation will invite personal attacks and criticisms; however, I believe I am in good company since Charles Spurgeon is credited with quoting and affirming: “there are times when the exclusive advocacy of certain important truths has the effect of error…So at the present time some of the most precious gospel truths are preached in the interest of some of the most pernicious errors. In other words, the unseasonable or disproportionate presentation of certain truths makes for error.”]

Having expressed my alarm concerning the direction of the spiritual leadership in our fundamental churches, schools and universities, I close with two questions and an observation.

Where are the preachers, teachers, and administrators in our churches and institutions who will step forward and assert the spiritual values, principles and distinctive biblical philosophy that once characterized historic, biblically fundamental Christianity?

What Christian colleges and universities will dare rise above cultural irrelevance and challenge our youth to portray in word and deed the distinctive saltiness and illumination of a separatist, Christ-centered philosophy of life and ministry (Matthew 5:13-16)?

sugar-coated preachingThe apostle Paul warned the day would come when there would be an intolerance of “sound doctrine” and men would turn to teachers who would tickle their ears and pander to their desires (1 Timothy 4:3-4).  I am afraid that hour has finally come to biblically fundamental churches, schools and colleges.  In the very hour a certain, unequivocal, unapologetic declaration of the Word of God is needed; many have dipped the banner of the cross and shied from Paul’s challenge to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:1-5
1  I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2  Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
3  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4  And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
5  But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

Copyright 2016 – Travis D. Smith

The Coronavirus of Ecumenical Compromise: Are You Infected?

Proverbs 22:28“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”

* The following article was published nearly a year ago, and I believe a discerning reader will find it a timely exhortation. In the words of the founder of Bob Jones University: “Do right till the stars fall.”

Twentieth century philosopher George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I fear that truth has befallen many churches, Bible colleges, and institutions in recent years.

Beloved leader and mentor of BJU “Preacher Boys”

I am old enough to remember the reminisces and exhortations of Dr. Gilbert Stenholm, Dr. Richard Rupp, and Dr. Bob Jones Jr.  Those men and many others of their generation (Drs. Bob Jones Sr., Monroe Parker, Wayne Van Gelderen, Sr., Ed Nelson…) had fought ecumenical battles against progressives of their day and warned Bob Jones University “Preacher Boys Classes” in the 1970’s that the day would come when faithful Bible-believing pastors of my generation would have to take our stand.

I have never forgotten the passion of those men when they warned us that a failure to identify men who denied the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and separate from those who fellowshipped with them would inevitably prove disastrous to our ministries (Romans 16:17).

In those days an oft-cited example of the tragedy of compromise was Evangelist Dr. Billy Graham who practiced, if not spearheaded, evangelical pragmatism by openly embracing various stripes of “Christianity,” including Roman Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy. Graham’s compromises and the effects of pursuing a lifetime of theological inclusivism were undeniable when he stated in an interview with his friend Robert Schuller,

“I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ … [God] is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.” (Cited in Iain MurrayEvangelicalism Divided (2000), pp. 73–74)

A half-century has passed since those men waged war for the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.  Although in the latter years of their ministries when I sat under them, their passion had not abated. They were determined to pass on to the next generation not only a knowledge of the past, but a warning against compromise and cooperation with evangelicals.

I graduated Bob Jones University knowing collaboration with those who reject the fundamentals of the Christian faith or trifle with the doctrine of sanctification and personal holiness would eventually introduce a cancer that would destroy ministries, churches, Bible colleges, and mission boards.

Sadly, I have lived to witness the failures of venerable Bible-preaching churches, closures of Bible colleges, and compromises of Christian institutions led by men either ignorant of the lessons of the past or dismissive of the spiritual heritage of the fundamental institutions.

The result of leadership that either lacks spiritual discernment or is contemptuous of the past is the same: those fundamental Bible institutions either close their doors or become a shadow of what they were in their golden years.

Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., Evangelist and founder of Bob Jones University.

Whether in word or practice, when spiritual leaders compromise, distance themselves from, or deny the spiritual legacy of the institutions they lead, they inevitably forget God’s providences past, and, in the words of Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.,

“Sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.”

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

www.HeartofAShepherd.com

* The majority of readers who follow “Heart of A Shepherd” do so for the daily devotionals. It is my joy to have hundreds across the globe who are part of my faith journey. In addition to devotionals, I periodically post articles that I pray will move my peers “on the frontlines” of fundamental Bible ministries to sincerely evaluate their course and convictions. Today’s article is such an appeal.

Copyright © 2020 – Travis D. Smith

A Warning Knell: Pseudo-Fundamentalists Are Systematically Destroying the Legacy of Biblical Fundamentalism

Heart of A Shepherd followers,

I generally limit posts to daily devotionals on my http://www.HeartofAShepherd.com website. There are, however, some things I come across in my readings that give me pause to not only think, but to share.

Bob Jones University Fashion Show – December 2021

I am currently reading a book authored by a man I do not know and judging from his references, would probably not follow. Nevertheless, Owen Strachan’s recently published book, Christianity and Wokeness, has awakened in me a sensitivity to a frightening reality:

We are not only witnessing a systematic dismantling of our American culture and the broad spectrum of churches in the United States, but a decaying of what has been known for more than a century as historic Bible fundamentalism.

Owen Strachan makes the following observation in his book:

“Though fundamentalists and some conservative evangelicals earned a reputation as pugnacious, with the image of the ‘Fightin’ Fundamentalist’ enduring in our time, in actual historical fact, the fundamentalists didn’t fight nearly enough. They lost, and lost, and lost some more. They lost their churches, they lost their seminaries, they lost their missions agencies, they lost their parachurch organizations, and they kept on losing until there was very nearly nothing else left to lose.”1

If my Bible-fundamentalist peers will be honest, for the past two decades we have observed the consequences of compromise when leadership fails to maintain a separatist position in both personal and ecclesiastical fellowship.

Bob Jones University Fashion Design hosted by Fashion Design Seniors, December 2021

Failing to maintain a distinct doctrine of separation has led to a precipitous loss of fundamental churches, schools (Tennessee Temple University, Pillsbury Baptist College, Northland Baptist College, Clearwater Christian College), seminaries (Calvary Seminary), and missions’ agencies.

Unless board members of fundamental churches, schools, universities, mission board agencies, and parachurch organizations (camps) repent for their compromises and purge the leadership leading their institutions, the losses will continue until we have “nearly nothing else left to lose.”2

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

1 Owen Strachan, Christianity and Wokeness (Washington, D.C.: Salem Books, 2021), 55.
2 Ibid.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

The Shame and Sorrow of Compromise (2 Chronicles 19; 2 Chronicles 20)

Scripture reading – 2 Chronicles 19; 2 Chronicles 20

Our Scripture reading for this final day of the year is 2 Chronicles 19 and 20.

The setting of 2 Chronicles 19 follows the bloody battle at Ramoth-Gilead (2 Chronicles 18), and the death of Israel’s king, Ahab. Jehoshaphat had returned home from the battle in peace (19:1), in spite of his foolish compromise with Ahab and the displeasure of the LORD (19:1).

As the king approached Jerusalem, he was met in the way by the prophet Jehu (he had been a prophet in Israel, but had moved to Judah 1 Kings 16:1-7). Jehu rebuked the king, saying, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord” (19:2).

Though He had despised Jehoshaphat’s compromise with the wicked, idolater Ahab, the LORD, nevertheless spared, and blessed the king of Judah whose son had married Ahab’s daughter. Yet, as we will soon see, the effects of Jehoshaphat’s unequal yoke with Ahab will have dire consequences for the throne of David and God’s people (21:3-7). In spite of His displeasure, the LORD spared and blessed the king of Judah, because he had “taken away the groves out of the land, and [had] prepared [his] heart to seek God” (19:3).

Jehoshaphat was a gifted administrator, and one of his great accomplishments was the foresight to put in place judges who were charged with applying the law and commandments judiciously (19:5-11). We read, the king “set judges in the land [in the walled cities]6And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment” (19:5-6).

Imagine how different our world would be if judges in our day were committed to judging matters according to the will and the Word of the LORD. Jehoshaphat charged the judges to fear and revere the LORD for He is righteous, and to have no “respect of persons, nor taking of gifts [accept no bribes]” (19:7).

The king also assigned judges (Levites, priests, and the high priest) who were charged with judging matters in Jerusalem, and settling controversies and conflicts that would arise in the capital city (19:8). Jehoshaphat admonished the judges to rule according to “law and commandment, statutes and judgments,” and “warn [the people] that they trespass not against the Lord” lest they suffer His wrath (19:10). The matter of the law and judges concluded with a distinction being drawn between rulings in spiritual matters, which were the responsibility of the high priest, and civic matters, which fell upon “Zebadiah, the son of Ishmael” (19:11).

2 Chronicles 20

Time and space prevent a thorough study of 2 Chronicles 20; however, it is a chapter that begins with Jehoshaphat and Judah enjoying the blessings and protection of the LORD. In this chapter, God blessed His people for their faith, and rewarded them with a great victory over their enemies, without the soldiers of Judah lifting a sword or spear (20:1-21).

The LORD caused Judah’s enemies, the Ammonites, and Moabites, to turn, and destroy each other’s army (20:22-23). When the army of Judah came upon the battlefield, they saw a landscape littered with the bodies of their enemies, and a spoil so great it took three days to strip the bodies of the precious jewels that were on them (20:24-28). Sadly, the godly legacy of Jehoshaphat ended with yet another compromise with a heathen king (20:31-37).

Closing thoughts – Jehoshaphat will die (21:1-7), and tragically, Jehoram his son will not follow in his father’s godly legacy. Influenced by his wife’s family, the son of Jehoshaphat, will walk “in the way of the kings of Israel…for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife” (21:6).

In the words of the apostle Paul, Be not deceived: evil communications [companions] corrupt good manners [morals] (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith