The Well; June
June 3: Colossians 1,2
Colossians, written by Paul while in prison, was a letter to a church Paul had never visited. Yet, he was aware through Epaphras of the challenges they were facing from a system of false doctrine that would later be known as Gnosticism. The mystical elements of this doctrine included radical asceticism and philosophical theories whose primary goal was to undermine the supremacy of Jesus Christ. This letter stands as one of the greatest biblical defenses of the deity, humanity, and redemptive work of our Savior.
Chapter 1 begins with the usual Pauline introductory materials. He is very thankful for the way the Colossians have put their faith in the truth of the Gospel. Paul emphasizes the connection between truth, belief, and hope. Those who cling to false teaching ultimately will find it empty, and unable to offer the security found only in God the Son.
Paul is especially clear that the ability to walk in a manner worthy of Christ springs from a mind that is filled with the knowledge of God’s will, demonstrated in spiritual wisdom and understanding. Paul’s worldview is solidly grounded on propositional truth.
Paul transitions in vs. 13 to his primary theme. It is through Christ that we have been delivered from the domains of darkness, and granted standing in the Kingdom of God. But this is the very question in Colossae: Just who is this Christ? Is he merely one of many gods that make up the divine bureaucracy between man and God? Paul answers in specific terms. He is the creator of all things, is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the image of the invisible God, the unique one of all creation. (Note: “firstborn” literally refers not to procreation but to the unique position Jesus Christ holds).
Further, he is the head of the church, and the only means of salvation for sinners. In summary, Jesus is the hope of glory for all who believe, and the one whose redemptive mission forms the purpose of the church.
Chapter 2 finds Paul warning his readers not to be taken captive by the mystical philosophy that grounded itself on visions, insisted on brutal treatment of the body, and insisted that angels were to be objects of worship. Those who did so had rejected the salvation found only in Jesus Christ, who took the charges against us and nailed them to his own cross. This is one of the very best examples of the way Jesus was a substitute for sinners in his death. God is able to declare us righteous because Jesus took our crimes as his own, and fully paid the penalty we owed to the court of heaven.
Paul ends the chapter with a strongly worded condemnation on those legalistic practices concerning eating, drinking, and the celebration of certain days. In Christ, legalism has met its match. Now we obey out of love for Christ rather than a misguided notion that our works can in anyway grant us a higher standing before him. His
forgiveness and acceptance of us is already guaranteed, not because of our work, but because of his.
Prayer: Father, thank you for rescuing me from the darkness of sin, and granting me a place in your family. Thank you for sending your son as my substitute, and forgive me for ever thinking that I can make my place in your kingdom more secure through my works. Open my eyes to the fact that my obedience is merely a response to your great love, and to Christ’s great rescue of my soul. May your love so overwhelm me that I increasingly find delight in obedience, knowing that what you ask of me is always my very best option, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen
June 4: Colossians 3,4
Chapter 3 starts the “so what” portion of Paul’s letter. Having reminded them strongly about the preeminence of Christ, and warned them of the emptiness of false teaching, Paul now exhorts his readers to live out their faith before a watching world.
Vs. 1-4 give Paul’s thesis: If you’ve been united with Christ by faith, then live lives that are focused on Christ. The rest of the book unpacks this thesis with practical exhortations in Christian living.
Paul first gives general teaching, beginning with two lists of forbidden thoughts and actions in vs. 5-11. The first list begins with the actions of immorality and works inward back to the core attitude behind it which is idolatry. Idolatry is the desire to have more than God offers. The second list begins with the core attitudes of anger and wrath and works outward to the wicked actions that arise from them. Both are seen as inconsistent with the “new self” the believer becomes in Christ. This new identity becomes the most important thing about us, making all other designations secondary.
The second section of general exhortations takes on the more positive characteristics that are to be seen in the Christ-follower. Paul stresses love as the basis for the other attributes of compassion, kindness, humility, patience, and meekness. These are essential to the unity of the church. This love, however, is the result of the abiding Word of God which should be intentionally pursued, along with corporate, mutually-edifying worship.
As is his custom, Paul gives a Christian “household code” as the chapter ends. He exhorts wives and husbands to accept the role God has assigned them in marriage. Children and parents likewise are to order their lives according to God’s desires for the family relationship. That identification with Christ is also to have a marked effect on our behavior in the workplace is also seen in Paul’s directives to bondservants and masters. It is clear that following Christ will mean that Christ is lord over every area of life.
Chapter 4 opens with the Apostle’s plea for prayer, both for their own benefit and for his. Amazingly, Paul asks that they pray for his boldness to speak the Gospel. This reminds us that it is our great privilege to carry the Good News into every situation we encounter, and also that it is only through the power of God the Spirit that we will be successful in remaining both truthful and humble.
Paul ends with a listing of his partners in the work of Christ. It is particularly interesting that he exhorts Archippus strongly to fulfill the ministry he has received from the Lord. It appears that this man had been given a leadership position in the Colossian church. It is a good reminder to all of us that we’ve each been given a part to play in the greatest rescue mission ever. May the Lord find us faithful.
Prayer: Father, it is evident that the way I live is a great testimony to the place you have in my life. Help me to respond well to those in authority over me, as well as to use the authority of my position humbly. And Lord, like Archippus, I need to fulfill the ministry of my life, whatever that may be, by your grace and for your glory. Help me in this, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
June 5: Psalms 19, 20
Psalm 19 is one of the most well-known of the Psalms. Here David extols the fact that the Almighty God has revealed himself to humanity in two undeniable ways: Through Creation and through the Word of God.
Vs. 1-6 declare that creation is declaring the glory of God. That was God’s original intent, and even the corruption of creation through sin has not fully distorted God’s self- revelation. However, as grand and glorious as it is, only those of faith can see God in creation, according to Paul in Romans 1:18ff.
Vs. 7-14 beautifully detail how the Word of God both reveals and describes God, and allows those of faith to engage him to their great benefit. The Word of God is not merely ink on a page. It is not human thought only. Rather, through the agency of God the Spirit, the human authors of Scripture wrote using their own words and particular style with the result that what they wrote was exactly what God “breathed out” (See: 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:20,21).
David uses 6 different labels for God’s Word, including the “fear of the Lord”. To fear the Lord is to recognize his position as Almighty and speaks to the fact that to approach the Word is really to approach God himself. The Bible is God speaking, and in David’s mind, the Word, and the proper fear we are to have when engaging God through his Word make them inseparable.
The psalm ends with a prayer to the One who has created all things, and revealed himself to mankind through his Word. This One sees all, and knows us intimately. David wants what God sees of him to be acceptable.
Psalm 20 forms a benediction of sorts, and could have been sung as Temple worship ended. We are reminded that the Lord is our deliverer, our strong protector, and the one upon whom our every hope is to be set. He is also the one we are to worship, and in whose name we are to live every area of life.
The psalm ends with the magnificent proclamation that we who are his people have come to see that, while some trust in their own might, our trust is in the Lord our God. In this case, David the King is the Lord’s “anointed.” He rests in God’s covenant with him. Yet there is also a call to the people to recognize and rest in the promises of God. All other might will ultimately fail. Our only safe refuge is in God.
Prayer: O Lord, you are the great refuge of my soul! Father, today may all my anxiety over things I can’t control be overwhelmed by the flood of your love and faithfulness. I do trust you. Help me to trust you more, because of what these psalms have declared to be true. Your Word is a rejuvenating power in my life, and your promises are never failing. I am yours, and more importantly, you are mine, forever, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
June 6: Psalms 21, 22
The next 4 Psalms give evidence of having been placed together in a way that chronicles the mission of Messiah. Both Psalm 21 and 24 speak of the King of Glory. The Messiah, whom we know as Jesus Christ, has from eternity been the King. Yet, his redemptive mission called for him to take on flesh and die for sinners (Ps. 22) and become the great Shepherd of God’s flock (Ps. 23). But, through his resurrection he has once again taken his place as God the Son, and one day will return as the King (Ps. 24).
Psalm 21 presents King David extolling his Lord and King. It is in the strength of the heavenly King that the earthly king rejoices. David understands that all he has been give has come from his Lord, whose steadfast love has granted him all things. It is this great King that will protect David from his enemies, and it is this King that must be exalted over all. This psalm points to the fact that David, the most powerful man in the realm, understood and lived out the fact that God was his king.
Psalm 22 plays a major role in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Its placement in the Psalter is intentional. Though the creator and king of all things, God the Son willingly and intentionally became a man, lived on earth, and was unjustly charged, convicted, and crucified. Yet, all this was according to the pre-determined plan of God (Acts 2:23).
When Jesus was on the cross, he poignantly directed those watching back to this psalm in order to teach them that the cross was not some aberration in God’s plan. Rather, centuries before, David had written words that went beyond his experience to preview what would happen to God’s King when he came to earth.
The first line of the psalm flowed from Jesus’ as he was on the cross. He was not indicating that somehow the tri-unity of the Godhead had been fractured! Such was an impossibility given the fact that God is immutable, not subject to any change. What he intended was to call attention to this psalm. In those days, the psalms were differentiated using their first lines as their title.
When we read Psalm 22 we recognize certain specifics that applied to Jesus’ situation. Vs. 6-8 speak about those who ridiculed Jesus on the cross. Vs. 14-18 describe specifically the effect of crucifixion on Jesus, as well as the fact that they gambled for his clothing! Some even suggest that the ending line in the psalm parallels Jesus declaration on the cross that “it is finished.”
In the end, Jesus was asking those who thought the cross was the end to understand that it had always been a necessary part of the plan. He sent them to Psalm 22, and we would do well to understand this psalm as a triumph of God’s redemptive plan as well.
Prayer: Great God and Father, it humbles me to understand that, long before I was born, your plan to save a people, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, included me. I am not worthy of your love, but you have brought me to Christ, the Beloved One, and in him I am yours, and you are mind, forever! Amen
June 7: Psalms 23, 24
The package of Psalms 20-24 finishes with the wonderful Shepherd psalm. Psalm 23 may be the most well-known text in all of the Old Testament. Coming as it does on the heels of Psalm 21 with its description of the cross, Psalm 23 declares that the crucified and risen Christ is now the Good Shepherd of the his sheep.
We must not miss the fact that it is David writing this psalm. As the great King of Israel, David was the most powerful and famous man in the realm. He had conquered all the surrounding clans and tribes, and held together a vast kingdom that covered all the land God had promised to his people. Yet, David understood that he needed a shepherd. And, if he did, we all do.
But, not just any shepherd will do. David understands that only the Lord is all the shepherd we need. He takes care of all our needs, and does so for the sake of his own name. We are his sheep, and our wellbeing speaks to his faithfulness. However, it is important to understand that our Shepherd’s goal is to make us fit to live with God forever. His blessings are always meant to accomplish his purposes, and he is not here to protect us from anything that is ultimately going to bring us more and more into conformity with him.
If we read the Psalm carefully we will notice that the shepherd is only one of the ways David understand his Lord. He is also seen as a wealthy landowner/host who invites us into his home, into his family, and provides for us in a way that our enemies understand as refuge. As part of his family, we need not fear the world’s opposition, even as we need not fear death because our Shepherd is with us.
Psalm 24 completes the package with a reminder that the crucified and risen Lord, our Good Shepherd, now sits on the throne of heaven. The kingdom of God has come to earth through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and he is ruling and reigning now in and through the hearts of his New Covenant people. Yet, while we have realized the beginnings of his kingdom, and have the guarantee of future consummation in the presence of God the Spirit, we are awaiting his return. When he comes, he will right all the wrongs, settle all the accounts, and vindicate the faithfulness of his people.
Psalm 24 reminds us that the entire earth belongs to God, as well as all those who live on it. His kingdom is vast, and it is our privilege to dwell in it. Yet, as kingdom citizens, our lives must live up to his standards. Our hands must be clean, our hearts pure, and our lives characterized by truth. These are the marks of those who follow the King, who seek his face, and in whose hearts (today) the Spirit of God dwells. We await the day when the doors will be thrown open, and the King – our King of glory – will come in.
Prayer: Father, the earth is truly yours! Lord Jesus, you are my King! I rejoice to know that you have captured my heart and are making my life meaningful. Yet, Lord, I confess that I am not always the most devoted subject. My selfishness often rises up, and I pursue the path of disobedience, foolishly thinking I know better than you. Forgive me Lord, and help me to follow you, my good Shepherd, so that I may reflect your goodness before a watching world, by your grace, and for your glory, Amen.
The Well: June 9-13
June 9: Hosea 1,2
Hosea was a prophet of God who spoke against the moral and religious decline in both Judah and Israel. The idolatry and immorality of God’s people forms the primary reason for his strong exhortations to repent and once again find refuge in the covenant love and faithfulness of their God.
Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, a woman with a reputation for promiscuity, sets the tone for the book. God has described his relationship with Israel as a marriage. But both parts of the divided kingdom – Israel in the north, and Judah in the south – have been unfaithful and run after idols. Hosea’s marriage is a “living parable” through which God is forcing his people to recognize their wickedness against the backdrop of his faithfulness.
Hosea and Gomer have three children, and each is given a name that is to be symbolic of God’s perspective. Jezreel is the son whose birth chronicles the coming judgment on the people from God. The northern kingdom will be brought to an end as punishment for her gross idolatry. This would be fulfilled in 722bc. The daughter Lo-ruhama (no mercy) was God’s way of saying that, while bringing an end to Israel, he would show mercy to Judah. This was demonstrated in 535bc when God brought Judah back from captivity to reestablish the nation around the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Their third child – Not My People – was the final declaration that God would no longer count the present people of the northern kingdom as his.
Yet, God’s promises were not voided, as the rest of the chapter shows. God’s promise to one day gather his people together continued to be one in which the faithful could place their hope.
Chapter 2 finds Hosea speaking to his children, imploring them to speak to their sisters and brothers and call them to repentance. The prophetic parallel here is important to understand. Hosea writes as though his children are capable of calling out to Israel and Judah. Like God, Hosea has an unfaithful wife. Like God, Hosea longs for his wife to return to him in faithfulness. The entire chapter is written in God’s voice, calling Israel and Judah back to him.
As haunting as this chapter is, it ends with God’s promise of faithfulness and hope. It is typical in the Old Testament to see prophetic oracles as having several progressive aspects. First, the pronouncement of judgment speaks to the wickedness of the people of that day. Second, the judgment was most often seen to be fulfilled in the destruction of Israel and the captivity of Judah. Third, the promise of God to again restore his people offered hope, and was initially seen in the return of the people from captivity. Fifth, the faithfulness of God to re-gather his people was always understood as related to his promise of the coming Davidic King, the Messiah.
Vs. 16ff provide the hope that God always gives to those who remain faithful to him. God will judge sin, for he is righteous and holy. And God will rescue and preserve those who trust in him for he is faithful and loving.
Prayer: Father, it is clear that you desire all of my love and attention, and that there is no better way for me to live than to trust in you, and worship and serve you with joy. Yet, I often find my heart wandering away, pursuing my own selfish and sinful desires. Forgive me for my unfaithfulness. And strengthen me, through your love and truth, to walk faithfully with you today, through the strength of your Spirit, Amen.
June 10: Hosea 3,4
Following the oracle of chapter 2 the story returns to the relationship of Hosea and Gomer. It is clear that Gomer has returned to her promiscuity, and God commands Hosea to go and claim her once again, this time at a price. The 15 shekels were probably a second bride price, this time paid to Gomer as a sign that he truly loved and wanted her to return to him. Imagine, buying back your unfaithful wife! Clearly this was to show faithless Israel just how forgiving and faithful their God had been.
The symbolic act of Hosea was to be a sign to Israel that, one day, God’s people would be redeemed by him, return to him in reverence, and find goodness.
Chapter 4 continues the format of oracle following an event in the story. God speaks to his people, condemning their continued faithlessness. There is no love or faithfulness toward God in the land. The people have become known for searing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery. They have broken all of the laws meant to distinguish them from the surrounding nations. No longer are they distinctive for God.
It is interesting to see that God depicts the land as mourning. Throughout the Old Testament, the “land” is seen as belonging to God. In this case, Canaan was understood as God’s land, the place where he had made his name to dwell. But the people of God were now seen to be polluting Zion, God’s land with their idolatry and wicked behavior.
God especially calls out the priests, for it was their duty to represent the people before God, and God before the people. They were responsible to teach the law, and hold the people accountable for their disobedience. Vs. 6 is especially poignant and important. The people’s downfall was specifically connected to their lack of knowledge. They no longer knew the truth about God, his law, and his love. They had wandered away from the truth and no one was calling them back.
As a result, God will judge them. It is interesting that the beginning of judgment comes in the form of increasing dissatisfaction with the very sins they are pursuing. They will greedily feed on sinful practices, but find less and less satisfaction in them. They have forsaken their God, the fountain of blessing, joy, and great satisfaction, to pursue the paths of selfishness and sin. They have made choices that promised goodness but were, in reality, the ways of death.
Perhaps the most telling description comes in vs. 18: “When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame.” They have become a society that glories in that which is actually shameful.
Prayer: Father, as I have read these verses it is apparent that our society is very much like the one you judged centuries ago. And though we are not, as a nation, your chosen people, it is true that your church is your people, and we also seem to be walking down a path of sin and selfishness much too often. Lord, be merciful to your church, but in your mercy, discipline our hearts to delight in faithfulness, that your Gospel may live in and through us, for Jesus sake, Amen.
June 11: Hosea 5,6
Chapter 5 contains an oracle directed against several different levels of Israelite society. Warnings are given to the priests, the princes, the king, and the whole house of Israel, also described as Ephraim. Judah has also followed the ways of idolatry and cannot escape punishment. Judgment is coming.
The judgment from God upon his own people is a demonstration of his character. When God brought Israel into Canaan, the land was filled with the idolatry and gross immorality of its inhabitants. In God’s eyes, they were polluting the land with their sin, and the land belonged to God. He has symbolically designated it as the place of his dwelling.
In order to cleanse the land, God directed Israel to drive out the people that lived there. They were a cancer, and in a very simply way, Israel was God’s scalpel, used to cut out the malignancy, and allow the land to once again thrive as God’s land.
But now the sin of God’s own people had come to equal the sin of the Canaanites. Their unfaithfulness had led them into idolatry and all of the wicked and immoral practices that their predecessors had performed. God’s justice is now seen. He will not tolerate the sin of his people any more that he did the sin of the Canaanites. Thus, he will drive his people out of the land.
The chapter ends with a pronouncement that Israel’s dependence upon Assyria will ultimately be their undoing. Instead of trusting in God, they have attempted to enter into an alliance with a godless nation.
In chapter 6 we find a description of what Israel and Judah should do. They should recognize their sin, remember the faithfulness of God to his people, and return to him. He has torn them, and struck them down in judgment, but if they will return, he will heal them and restore them.
But this hoped for repentance does not happen. The promiscuous wife is blinded by her sin, and is addicted to her rebellious ways. Israel and Judah have broken their covenant with the Lord. They have turned devotion into ritual thinking that external obedience can make up for internal disregard for God and his ways.
God reminds them, and us, that he desires steadfast love, and where it is not found, no amount of sacrificial ritual can make up the difference. God desires to be known, and feared, and loved, and obeyed from a heart of sincerity.
Prayer: Lord, it hits me that I too often just go through the motions of worship, of loving you, of living for you. I know that sometimes my heart is in a different place than it should be, and I ask that you forgive me for my lack of commitment to you, and to your Word, and to your church. Lord, your grace is all around me, and I desire to grow in the knowledge of your truth, the beauty of your holiness, and the joy of serving you, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
June 12: Hosea 7,8
In a continuation of the theme of the previous chapter, the prophet declares that the alliances Israel has attempted with Assyria and Egypt will not help, but will ultimately bring about her destruction.
Having long ago left off following God, Israel is now attempting to remain strong through reliance on foreign powers. The prophet reminds them that such a strategy is “silly and without sense” (vs. 11).
The better choice is always to trust the promises of God. But the people do not cry out to the God who is able to restore them, and stands ready to do so if they will but come to him in true repentance and faith.
This oracle reminds us that God always stands ready to restore our lives if we will but humble ourselves, admit our treachery toward him, and ask for forgiveness. God is not an ogre! He is holy, and just, and loving and infinitely good. This means that we can never manipulate him, but we can trust him, and doing so is always our best option.
Chapter 8 sets the entire situation against the backdrop of covenant. God has entered into a covenant relationship with Israel and Judah. He has made promises to them, to be their God, to give them a land, and to dwell in their midst. He has promised to bring blessing on them, but they also have taken on some obligations. Through their obedience they are to show that they belong to him, as a faithful wife. They are to trust in God, and not man. They are to be a light to the nations beaming the truth that there is one God, who rules over all. They are to delight in God, obeying his commandments from the heart, and raise up generation after generation of God-fearing, God-exalting worshippers. But, in this they have failed as a nation. They have turned away from God in arrogance and are pursuing the inclinations of their sinful hearts.
The prophet describes Israel in this way. Vs. 7: “they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” This is a poetic description of the fact that the judgment Israel will suffer is but the consequence of their own actions. In the end, Israel has forgotten his maker.
Prayer: Father, over and over you pleaded with your people to turn from their wickedness and return their hearts to you. Lord, I am so thankful that you are a forgiving father, for I often find that I have transgressed your commands, and left off following Jesus closely. Forgive me Lord, and restore to me today the joy that comes from knowing that I am yours, and you are mine, forever, because of Jesus, Amen.
June 13: Hosea 9,10
When judgment comes, and the people of God are driven away, and into captivity, they will no longer enjoy the blessings of God’s land and provision. The fields will not feed them, and the vineyards will no longer provide wine. The festival days will no longer provide times of rejoicing, and others shall own their precious things, while thorns and nettles will overrun their homes and fields.
With these and other poetic descriptions Hosea speaks boldly of the coming judgment of God upon his people. The things they enjoyed will no longer be theirs. Now their existence will be meager, like a dried up root.
God did not deserve to be treated this way. He brought Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the land. Yet, they have rewarded his generosity and love with religious promiscuity by forsaking him for other gods.
Here we continue to see the parallel between God and Hosea. Hosea’s wife has symbolized Israel and Judah, who were likewise unfaithful. God had promised that obedience would be rewarded with the ability to dwell in the land. Now, their sin would be judged by being driven out of the land. God cannot dwell in the midst of sin and wickedness.
Chapter 10 speaks specifically of the internal corruption within Israel. They have multiplied pagan altars and statues of idols throughout the land. They have boldly declared that they no longer fear God or his king. They have become subjects of various idols, and have raised up whole priestly regiments to serve pagan gods.
As in previous chapters, this one is filled with memorable poetic lines: “You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies because you have trusted in your own way ...” (vs. 13).
The ferocity of God’s judgment was designed both to match the severity of their protracted sin, as well as to highlight the majesty and holiness of the King whose commands and love they had arrogantly rejected.
In these oracles we come to see that sin is more than a little mistake. It is an arrow aimed at the very heart of Almighty God. Each one, no matter how insignificant we may think it is, remains a fist raised in rebellion against the One who has loved us. We are to learn this from the stories here of Israel and Judah so that we might apply our hearts to wisdom.
Prayer: Lord, may the word of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, and the actions I take today be acceptable in your sight, so that the world may see that I am not my own, but depend upon you for everything, through Jesus, Amen.
June 16: Hosea 11,12
In chapter 11 the tone of the book changes from describing Israel’s punishment to announcing its eventual restoration. Hosea turns his pen back to the history of God’s persevering love for his people. This love is epitomized in his deliverance of Israel from Egypt. God called his people out of bondage, and yet his “calling” was met with rebellion as they travelled and finally entered Canaan. Though God treated was a godly parent to his people, training them to walk before him in holiness, they responded by walking in the ways of the idolatrous nations that surrounded them.
Throughout Israel’s history idolatry was their most constant temptation. They did not so much stop worshipping God, but added the worship of other gods to their rituals. While God was faithful to them, they were unfaithful, and it was this spiritual adultery that brought about God’s judgment.
In 722bc God brought the armies of Assyria in judgment on Israel, also known as Ephraim. These 10 tribes had broken away from Judah in 931bc so that the people of God now formed two distinct nations. Judah, in the south and centered in Jerusalem continued walking with God for a time, but in 605bc their idolatry finally brought about their destruction at the hands of Babylon’s armies.
The idolatry of God’s people very much vexed his fatherly heart. Yet, God’s holiness is never diluted, and it demanded that God purify his people through discipline.
The theme flows unbroken into chapter 12 and once again looks back to Jacob’s call from God. The nation of Judah is exhorted to hold fast to the love and justice they had exhibited up to this point. They are also told to learn from the example of faithless Ephraim to the north, and not fall away into idolatry.
At the heart of these chapters is the idea of worship. Our God will not allow his people to have divided hearts, to worship him with rituals only, and not in sincerity of the heart. When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4 the central question on her heart dealt with worship. Where is the proper place? Jerusalem, or on this mountain? Jesus told her that worship is never merely about place, ritual, or posture. It is all about engaging God with our hearts, and responding to him in truth.
Prayer: Lord, it is clear that your love for your people is deep and longsuffering. Yet, it is also clear that you will not allow you children to live lives that are being destroyed by the toxin of sin. Father, forgive me for the idols in my life, those things that too often come first as I plan my day. Lord, make delighting in you my first delight, so that your glory may shine in and through me, because of Jesus, Amen.
June 17: Hosea 13, 14
As chapter 13 unfolds Hosea speaks specifically about the tribe of Ephraim. Though this name is often used of the northern kingdom, here it refers specifically to the tribe. They
had often been granted a leadership position, and the other tribes followed their lead. In this case, however, it was the tribe of Ephraim that first led the way into the worship of Baal.
It appears that idolatrous practices of Ephraim included child sacrifice. This seemed to be the final straw in God’s eyes. It was at this point that God’s love for his holiness and glory necessitated his judgment upon all those who had followed Ephraim’s lead.
Despite the many examples of God’s deliverance in the past, this time God will not protect his people from the judgment their sin deserves. The wind from the east symbolizes the Assyrian armies that will sweep over Canaan from the north. Samaria, the capital of the north and representative of the nation, will bear the consequences of her rebellion against the living and true God. The horrors of Assyria will be felt across the nation. God means business when he demands faithfulness.
The book ends with a beautiful expression that ranks among the most memorable chapters in the Old Testament. Despite the impending judgment, God has not forsaken his people. The prophet implores the people to return to their God. Repentance is called for, and a resolute trust in the goodness of God. It will not forestall the judgment that is coming, but for those who hold fast to God, there will be healing and restoration.
The restoration of the nation is symbolized by the morning dew, the blossoming of a lily, and the sturdiness of the lofty cedar trees of bordering Lebanon. The picture is broadened as well to include the beauty of the olive, and the fragrances of Lebanon’s grain, vines, and wine.
The restoration God has promised is rejuvenating in the deepest and broadest ways. That is how God works. He takes the repentant, no matter how deeply broken or distressed, and brings about new life and love.
The book ends with a simple message to the reader. Wisdom will understand that following God in joyful obedience is always the best option. God’s ways are always the right paths, and those who walk in them will find blessing. Those who choose to walk their own way will stumble and fall.
Prayer: Lord, the story of Hosea is a reminder that you know what is best for me. Help me to want to do what you want me to do, to find joy and delight in obeying what you ask of me. My desire is to bring you glory in my life, but too often I get sidetracked into selfishness. Help me, Lord, to be the master of my desires so that I can submit all my ways into your hands, through the Spirit you have made to dwell in me, Amen.
June 18: Psalms 25,26
David was a masterful writer, and this psalm is one example. Known as an “acrostic” poem, each line begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Despite this
meticulous arrangement, the psalm flows well and is an example of a beautiful prayer to the Lord for his guidance, forgiveness, fellowship and protection.
The theme bookending the prayer is that David will not be put to shame (see: vs. 2 and 20). David’s desire was that his trust in God would never be seen as folly. To this end he cries out for God’s presence as he walks the paths of life.
Of utmost importance is to know God’s truth so that he can follow the paths of righteousness. He counts on the fact that God’s mercy has overwhelmed his sin with forgiveness and that the Lord’s steadfast love will never waver. The pardon of God is not conditioned on anything other than God’s covenant love and faithfulness, and this is the anchor of David’s soul.
It is noteworthy that vs. 14 describes David as having a friendship with the Lord. It is this friendship that flows from God’s covenant loyalty to those who fear him and walk in his ways. In times of trouble David relies on the memory of God’s past accomplishments, and trusts in the Lord to be his deliverer and refuge.
Psalm 26 finds David is a precarious situation though it is not specifically described. He cries out to God for vindication, for God to show to those who are opposing him that he has acted righteously and is not guilty.
David protests his innocence before God in a way that, at first, seems arrogant. But we must remember that this is a prayer of sorts even though it is now been made public. There is something about David’s honesty in prayer that both surprises and beckons us. As he pours out his heart we come to understand that prayer is a truly intimate relationship with our God in which we can be ourselves, as untidy as that may seem at times.
David acknowledges that his heart is for the Lord. He hates the evildoers even as he loves the Temple and those who serve in the house of the Lord. He cries out to God that he might not be swept away when judgment falls on the wicked who have surrounded him.
The psalm ends with a strong commitment to walk in integrity, despite the circumstances, as befits one who trust is in the covenant-keeping Lord of all.
Prayer: Great God, you have been so faithful to me in the past, and I ask your forgiveness for too often forgetting that you love me, and are loyal to me, and have guided and protected me in so many ways. May today find me walking in integrity and holiness, with joy and delight to be yours, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
June 19: Psalms 27,28
These two psalms are both strong declarations of God’s faithfulness to his people. David, the King, takes the position as their representative, and writes from the
perspective that God’s blessings on him will mean the deliverance and protection of the nation.
The declarations and questions of vss. 1,2 frame the context of Psalm 27. Paul would later echo the same sentiment in Romans 8:31ff. If God is on our side, giving light and salvation, then whom shall we fear? If God is the strong refuge of our lives, of whom shall we be afraid?
David assumes that the answers to these questions is “no one!” Nothing in this world need frighten us if our trust is in the Lord, and we understand that this life is merely the prelude to the next.
For David, even an army circling Jerusalem is nothing to fear, for God will hide him, and protect him, and ultimately defeat his enemies, for the sake of his Name. God has asked the king to seek his face, and the king has obeyed, as a sign of his trust. David’s trust in God is the driving force in his life, and he has every confidence that when he calls, God will answer.
The situation is dire, yet David trusts in the Lord. He describes it poignantly in vs. 10. Father and mother have forsaken the king, but the Lord has not. Therefore, the king will continue to trust in God, to look upon his goodness, to wait for the Lord, and take courage despite the circumstances that surround him.
Psalm 28 finds David once again is peril. He cries out to the Lord for help, mindful of the loyalty of his God. He calls God’s attention to the fact that those who oppress him are workers of evil. They do not regard God in any good way, and do not offer him praise. They, not David, deserve trials and punishment.
The last half of the psalm relates David’s joy at God’s having responded to his cries for help. The Lord has come in deliverance. He has, once again, proven to be David’s strength and shield, and the heart of the king is moved to songs of rejoicing. This loyal Savior is the shepherd of his people, and deserving of blessing forevermore!
Prayer: Gracious Lord, you are my shepherd, and I belong to you. Forgive me for having a wandering heart that too often longs to walk my own way, solve my own problems, and fend for myself. Teach me more and more that I need you, desperately, and am in the best place when I am trusting in you, because of your love for me in Jesus, Amen.
June 20: Psalms 29,30
Psalm 29 is really a call to worship. The author – David – calls his readers to recognize the wonders of God, and respond accordingly with worship and praise and obedience.
The greatness of God is displayed in the deep waters of the seas whose pounding waves are like the very voice of God. This voice of God is mightier than the strong cedars, yet gentle in bringing life to the newborn calf.
God’s voice is like the thunder and lightening in the desert, and also soft and tender in giving birth to the deer. In these great poetic phrases David expertly reminds the reader that the One we worship cannot be simplified or restricted to the box of human understanding.
Our God is the king of heaven, and he sits enthroned in glory, forever. His power cannot be contained, and his rule cannot be stopped. His kingdom is unending, and his people will be strengthened to praise him forever and ever.
Psalm 30 is traditionally tied to the dedication of the Temple although it cannot mean Solomon’s Temple since David died years before it was built. The ancient title simply says the psalm was written for the dedication of “the house” which could have been David’s palace (2 Samuel 5:11) or even the dedication of the site where the Temple would be built (2 Samuel 24). Whatever the case, the psalm calls for the people to join the author is offering thanks and praise to God for his abundant favor.
The overall theme of the psalm is the rejoicing that is enjoyed after times of sorrow. The dedication of the Tempe site (if that were the occasion) would have been the long- awaited fulfillment of the people’s hope to have a permanent worship site. Their long journey from Egypt, and the subsequent wars in Canaan were now over. The land was at rest, and the people were secure. The knowledge that the Temple would now be built was seen as proof that God had heard their cry, come to their aid, and brought them to victory.
Their weeping may have lasted through the night, but joy has come in the morning. God had turned their mourning into dancing, replacing their sackcloth with the clothes of gladness.
The psalm ends with a firm declaration on the part of David. As the king, he would lead the people in thanksgiving, as was fitting given the way God had remained faithful, and loyal to his people.
Prayer: O wonderful Lord, you have been faithful to me through so many circumstances and situations. And I am sure you have protected me in ways I will never know. Lord, build up my righteousness and my confidence in you so that, should you lead me down the path of trial and testing, I will find the strength to trust you even in the hard times, through the Spirit you have given me, Amen.
June 23: 1 Samuel 1, 2
The story of Samuel forms the bridge between the time of the judges and the beginning of the monarchy in Israel. For 340 years following their entrance into the promised land, Israel had been without a centralized government or standing army. The people were tired of being taken advantage of by the surrounding nations. So, the clamored for a king. Along with the office of king, God raised up the office of prophet to be his spokesman to the king. Samuel was the first to occupy this office in Israel.
Chapter one begins the story of Samuel by telling of the travail his mother experienced. She was the loved but barren wife of Elkanah, a man with two wives. His other wife had borne him children, and Hannah was greatly distressed. She covenanted with God that she would give him any son she might bear. God heard her prayer, and soon she conceived a son, named Samuel.
True to her word, she offered her son to Eli, the priest. From that day on, Samuel lived in the house of the Lord, serving alongside Eli.
Chapter 2 contains the poetic prayer of Hannah, and in it we see the heart of one whose only hope was in the Lord. Apart from the provision from God, Hannah would have remained a barren, despised woman in Israel. Hannah’s prayer previews that of Mary (Luke 1:49ff). Both women rejoice in the way the Lord works against the natural way of things in this world. The strong are broken and the feeble find strength. He brings down the mighty and exalts the humble. Both recognize that their pregnancies are a demonstration that God is both powerful and gracious, and most often works in ways that confound human expectation.
In the first 4 chapters of 1 Samuel we see a great contrast played out. Hannah, the barren and downtrodden women responds to adversity with great faith and trust in God, and is rewarded with a son whose life will become forever part of Israel’s faith history. Eli, the educated and powerful priest will allow his sons to transgress God’s law time and time again, and he will pay for his carelessness with his life. In some ways the contrast prepares for a similar comparison between the Samaritan woman, and Nicodemus in John 3 and 4. We would naturally assume that the men, not the women, would have known the way of God, and followed it. But, in both cases it is the women who respond righteously to the call of God.
Eli’s sons acted wickedly, intentionally disregarding God’s commandments regarding sexual purity and righteous sacrifice. They carried on this way of life for many years and it was only late in his life that Eli confronted them. But, by then it was too late. God’s testimony had been tarnished by those chosen to serve him and uphold his glory. God promised that, after Eli and his sons had passed, a faithful priest would be raised up.
Prayer: Lord, the story of Hannah reminds me that, when trials and tragedy come, I have two options. I can use them as an excuse to run away from you, or as a reason to run to find refuge in your faithfulness and love. O Father, draw me ever closer to you, regardless of my circumstances, that I may know you more deeply, and live for you more faithfully, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.
June 24: 1 Samuel 3, 4
In chapter 3 we find the boy Samuel serving alongside Eli the priest. But God is about to change his life forever.
During the night, God calls out to young Samuel three times. The first two times he thinks it is Eli. But Eli comes to understand that it is the voice of God that Samuel hears. He instructs him to respond “Speak Lord, for your servant hears you.”
God calls out to Samuel a third time, and this time delivers an important message to the young boy. God declared that he was about to destroy Eli, and his sons, erasing the house of Eli forever because of their wicked ways. Certainly, this would have made a huge impression on the young boy that would stay with him forever. From that day, Samuel understood and stood in awe of the holy God who was calling into his service.
Samuel shared the message with Eli, who recognized both its validity and its justice. As Eli awaited his demise, Samuel continued to grow in wisdom. Soon, the whole nation recognized that this boy would be a prophet of the living God.
But, despite the presence of a prophet, things were not good in Israel. Once again a marauding nation was about to invade and bring death and chaos on the people. The Philistines came into Israel and the Israelites went out to meet them in battle, but they were no match for their enemy. Israel had no standing army, no strong leadership, and no centralized government. They were easy prey, and had been for centuries. To add insult to defeat, the Philistines captured the essence of Israel’s relationship with God, the Ark of the Covenant.
In capturing the Ark, the Philistines fulfilled God’s prophecy, and took the lives of Eli’s sons. When Eli heard the news of his sons’ deaths, he fell over backwards, breaking his neck, and died. After judging Israel for 40 years, Eli died, bringing to an end the era of the Judges.
It was a dark time in Israel. The priest and judge Eli had died, along with his family. The enemy had taken possession of the Ark, and the people were in great distress. They declare that the “glory has departed from Israel” meaning that the protective presence of the covenant-keeping seemed no longer to rest among them. They thought they were alone, and forsaken. And they had every right to be, for they had turned away from God to worship idols and walk in wickedness.
But God’s covenant loyalty was never in question. He was still Almighty God, and his plan would unfold just as he had ordained. And Samuel would play a pivotal role in finding and anointing the first king of Israel.
Prayer: Great God, you are my king! Thank you for capturing my heart with your love and truth. Help me today, Lord, to honor you as my king, and love you as my lord, so that my life will be a beacon of your grace, in every situation, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
June 25: 1 Samuel 5, 6
The story continues as the Philistine took the stolen Ark back to their city of Ashdod to face their god Dagon. In a preview of what would shortly happen, the power of God was displayed. Inexplicably, Dagon was cast down, not once but twice, and the idol was left broken and useless.
But God was not done with the Philistine. Though they had won the battle, they had not defeated the God of Abraham. He struck them with tumors so that the people cried out for relief. Soon the figured out that the presence of the Ark in their city was the cause of their distress.
The only remedy seemed to be to send the Ark back to Israel. Their religious leaders advised that it not be sent back empty, but that gold be sent back with it, as an offering to the God of Israel that obviously was tormenting them for having stolen it. The Philistine priests even suggested that, should they persist in keeping the Ark, Israel’s God might do to them what he did to Egypt! This final argument persuaded them, and preparations were made to return the Ark.
They placed it on a wagon, pulled by two milk cows who had never before been asked to pull anything. They also took away the cows’ calves. Then, they just watched as the cows, seemingly searching for their calves, slowly carried the Ark away.
Finally the cows found their way to Beth-shemesh, where God again struck some of the men for daring to look into the Ark. They sent messages to the people of Israel to come and take away the Ark that was causing distress throughout the region.
So, what are we to make of all this? The Ark of the Covenant was the primary symbol of God’s relationship with Israel. It was, in some ways, the visible presence of God in the midst of his people. To steal it was to belittle the presence of God, and underestimate the power of God, and foolishly consider that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could be domesticated. The Philistines learned the hard way that man cannot capture God. Our God is infinite in all of his attributes and is no contained by anything.
Prayer: Lord, the story of the Philistines and the Ark is strange, yet I understand the truth you are telling. You are not to be trifled with. You can’t be captured or leveraged or manipulated. You alone are God, and I exist for you and not the other way around. Forgive me Lord, for ever thinking that I could control you, when the best option is to give you full control over all of my life. Help me Lord, to follow you today, in every way, for the sake of your great name, Amen.
June 26: 1 Samuel 7, 8
The return of the Ark was understood by Samuel as a sign of God’s great love and faithfulness to Israel. He had not deserted them, but was, as before, willing to dwell in the midst of his people. Yet, Samuel recognized that the idolatry and wickedness of Israel would only mean the continuing cycle of sin judgment that had characterized the time of the Judges.
Samuel sent word throughout the country for the people to gather at Mizpah. As he prayed, the people began to pour out their hearts in repentance to God. Unknown to them, the Philistines had chosen their gathering as a time to renew the battle, and approach of the Philistine army threw the Israelites into great fear.
Samuel acted quickly to solidify the people’s faith in God. He offered a lamb in sacrifice and cried out to the Lord. In an amazing display not unlike the preview enacted with the statue of Dagon, the power of God worked directly to frighten the Philistine army, and Israel gained the victory.
Samuel set up a remembrance stone so the people would remember their repentance, and God’s faithfulness to forgive and restore them. The Philistines were subdued for many years, and the territory taken from Israel was fully restored.
Samuel judged Israel all his life, and stands as both the last judge, and the first to occupy the office of prophet in Israel. While others had been prophets, it is best to understand the office as arising in conjunction with the office of the king.
In his old age Samuel intended to turn the office of judge over to his sons. Yet, like Eli before him, Samuel had not raised godly children. Israel’s leaders recognized the risk his wicked sons presented and asked for a king to be appointed instead.
When Samuel brought this request to the Lord, he was told that the request was really a rejection of God as their king. Yet, Samuel was to give them what they wanted. But he was also to warn the people that having a king like the nations had would only bring them harm.
A king “like all the nations” have (vs. 5) would take their sons and daughters into his service, take their land and a percentage of their produce, and it will be that the people become his slaves. Yet, the people did not heed Samuel’s warning and all the more cried out for a king. While God asked them to be unique among the nations, and wholly devoted to him, the people wanted to be like the nations around them.
Prayer: Father, as I have read about the discontent of the Israelites it is clear that it was their sin that had brought distress down on them. And in their sin, they thought doing things like the world around them would bring them satisfaction. Lord, I think that way all too often, and I now understand that obeying you, and trusting you, and relying on you even when the road seems long, is always my best option. You are my God. You love me, and only want the best for me. Help me to love you strongly and well, and walk with you today, through the power of your Spirit, Amen.
June 27: 1 Samuel 9, 10
These two chapters tell the story of Saul, the first king of Israel. Like all good biographies, the story begins with his family tree, and speaks about who he was before being anointed king.
While Saul was working for his father, and on a journey to find lost animals, he turns for help to a prophet that his servant knows. It turned out to be Samuel, whom God had previously told to expect a visit from a man from the tribe of Benjamin. It is clear that the author of the story expects us to understand that God is in complete control of the events that will bring about the coronation of Israel’s first king.
When they meet Saul is surprised at Samuel’s knowledge of him and his circumstances. But he is even more shocked that God has chosen him to be king of Israel since he is from the smallest tribe.
Chapter 10 describes the anointing of the king, but it is not as we might have expected. There was no fanfare, no celebration. Samuel simply takes Saul to the outskirts of the city, and pulls a flask of oil from his belt, and anoints Saul king. Only God is the audience, and this causes us to recognize that, from the beginning, the king is to be responsible only to God, to follow his ways, stand for his truth, and please him in all respects. Yet, as we will see, king after king think more about pleasing themselves, and the people, than pleasing God, with disastrous effects.
As part of the commissioning of the king, Samuel tells Saul that there will be three signs that this is really from God. After all, Saul could hardly believe that such a life change was real without some tangible evidence that God was behind it all
First, he would meet some men who would report that the donkeys had been found. Second, he would meet other men who would offer him two loaves of bread. Lastly, as he approached Gibeath-elohim, he would be caught up in a group of men who were worshipping, and would be set upon by the Spirit of God and “be turned into another man.” God had drafted Saul, and now would empower him to be king.
Vs. 9 is noteable in that “God gave him another heart.” It was not that God took away his pride or will to sin, as we will see, but added to him the power of God to lead the people.
Once again Samuel called the people to Mizpah, the site of the remembrance stone. He reminded them of God’s covenant love and faithfulness. In answer to their desire for a king, Samuel left the choice to people, and it was to be settled by chance using lots. Yet, as we know, the matter had already been decided by God, and the lot fell to the tribe of Benjamin, the Matrites clan, the family of Kish, and finally to Saul.
When the people saw is physical prowess, and his handsome appearance, the rejoiced to have him king over them, for they looked only at the outside, and not on the heart.
Prayer: Lord, the story of Saul is really about God giving us what we ask for, but not what is best for us. I now see that sometimes God disciplines me by giving me what I
want, and in so doing, shows me that I too often want things that are not best for me or for his testimony. Help me today to want what you want, to love what you love, and to do what pleases and glorifies you, through the strength that in mine in Christ, Amen.
June 30: 1 Samuel 11, 12
After being anointed king, Saul continued to go about his normal life. He continued serving his father, working in the fields. But when the city of Jabesh-gilead was threatened by the invading sons of Ammon, the Spirit of God rushed upon him and he hurriedly sent messengers to the other tribes and called for the fighting men to come to him. Altogether his army numbered 330,000!
Saul sent a menacing message to the inhabitants of the city that their salvation would come soon. The battle was waged, but it was really no contest. God was with Saul, and the enemy was soundly defeated.
We are reminded of similar situations in the Bible. When God chooses a leader, it is usually the case that the next event narrated is a sign that the Lord is with him. Moses performed miracles before Pharaoh, and when the people were about to revolt, he was enabled to part the sea. Joshua was given similar power right after he succeeded Moses as the leader. We see the same thing in Elisha’s ability to part the river just after taking the prophetic role Elijah had previously held.
The victory over the Ammonites demonstrated two things. One, Israel would no longer be at the mercy of the clans that invaded intending to do harm. Two, God was with Saul, and in his power he would both lead and protect the people.
In an initial demonstration of political savvy, Saul refuses to kill the detractors who scoffed at his appointment as king. This led to a second, public coronation of Saul, and he becomes recognized as king by the nation.
With the rise of the monarchy, the role of the judge was coming to an end. As Samuel nears death, he calls the people to him and delivers a poignant farewell speech intended to fortify their hearts in trusting and obeying God.
Samuel begins with a declaration as to his integrity, and asks that any debt he has overlooked be brought to light. He desires to end his life as he lived it, in great honesty and justice. From there he goes on to remind the people of their national history of cyclical trust, prosperity, independence, and finally, apostasy from God. This cycle begins when, in good times, the people forget their dependence upon their covenant- keeping God. But God faithfulness to his own name always meant deliverance, and time after time, God had rescued and restored his people.
Now, God had given them a king. This did not change the fact that they needed to walk righteously and humbly before God. For disobedience would still bring about judgment. God would be against them and their king, and their king would not be able to ward off the power of their God should they deserve his discipline. Their best option was renewed, and persevering, obedience, praise, and adoration.
Prayer: Father, once again it is clear that the natural desire of my heart is to go my own way and ask you to bless it. But I know this is backwards. Today, Father, lead me in your paths, for your glory and my well-being, that I might truly be a loving child before you, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.