April 29

April 29

The Ark is Returned — God judges the Philistines, their idol Dagon, & all false idols.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: 1 Samuel 5

Reading 2: 1 Samuel 6

Reading 3: Psalm 115:3-8

Yesterday we saw the presumption of the Israelites in treating the Ark of God like a good luck charm, and the downfall of Eli’s family that resulted from their lack of respect for God’s calling, holiness, and glory.

Today we see that God is completely capable of defending Himself against evil (after all, He cast satan out of heaven when he sinned)! When the Ark is taken by the Philistines and placed in the temple of their god Dagon, the idol falls in adoration in front of the Ark. Thinking this is an accident, they set him upright again, only to find him smashed into pieces the next morning after falling again!

Not only that, but the Philistines are all afflicted with tumors while the Ark is in their cities. Some translators suggest the word means hemorrhoids! Clearly the Philistines are anxious to find a solution to their problems, and their diviners come up with a resourceful solution – make golden models of the problem, and send them back with the Ark on a new cart pulled by two cows that have never pulled a cart before, and whose newborn calves are in a pen back in the city.

That is what you would call a test! No cow is going to leave her calf, and no cow is going to pull a cart without training. But these two cows head straight for Beth-Shemesh (the border town with Israel) and demonstrate to the Philistines that indeed it was God who afflicted them. So God gets the glory and the power, in contrast to Dagon, who is aptly described by the words in Psalm 115: “They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, and feet but cannot walk, and throats but cannot make a sound. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.

Today, let’s trust God – for His power and glory to be seen again in our nation and around the world.

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 28

April 28

God’s Judgment — Israel is defeated, Eli & his sons die, & the ark is lost.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: 1 Samuel 2:22-36

Reading 2: 1 Samuel 4

Reading 3: 1 Kings 2:26-27

Today we read of the terrible consequences of turning away from God, and even of allowing defeat and resignation into our hearts. In one day, the Ark of the Covenant is captured by God’s enemies, both Eli’s sons are killed in battle as prophesied, Eli himself dies when news of the terrible defeat reaches Shiloh, and his daughter-in-law dies in childbirth, after naming her son Ichabod (meaning “the glory has departed”). Truly this was a dark day in Israel’s history.

Our first reading shows us that Eli’s sons were even more ungodly than has been previously stated. Seducing the young women who came to assist at the Tabernacle shows that they regarded their positions as priests as a right, not a gift. And they were corrupted by their position, as so many other powerful men have been. The second reading shows human presumption at its worst: the Israelites treat the Ark of the Covenant (the physical symbol of God’s presence) as a kind of lucky charm. They think they can use God for their own ends. Notice that none of their actions came from God’s instructions, indeed their actions were in direct contravention of God’s laws. And the ungodly Philistines recognize the significance of the Ark perhaps more than the Israelites!

So the downfall occurs, and the consequences were severe, yet we still see signs of hope, such as in chapter 4 verse 1: “Samuel’s words went out to all the people of Israel.” When God cleans house, He has always prepared the next light to shine in the darkness. We are not in control of the timing, but we can be confident that God will bring restoration and revival again – that is His plan, His heart, and His business!

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 27

April 27

Samuel’s Call — The wickedness of Eli’s sons & Samuel’s call from God.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: 1 Samuel 2:12-21

Reading 2: 1 Samuel 3

Reading 3: Psalm 99:6-7

Today’s readings contain perhaps the most powerful (and disappointing) contrasts we have yet seen among those who are following God (at least in name). Yesterday we read of the young Samuel’s miraculous birth and dedication to God, now we see the empty religious system into which he has come. Eli is old and no longer cares for God’s reputation or glory. Eli’s sons are worse and have turned away from God’s values entirely, seeking only their own profit and comfort. These two examples are sobering for any of us who follow Jesus. Do we seek our own benefit above God’s glory? Do we shrug and respond with resignation when God points out sin? Have we given up on the presence and power of God at work in our lives?

Samuel has not, and does not. With a little coaching from Eli, he hears God’s voice at a very young age and reports God’s heart to his elder. The responsibility for the inaction that follows lies solely with the discouraged priest, and not with the young boy who is hungry for God. Judgment is coming, but in God’s timing, and Samuel is neither the recipient nor the instrument of that judgment. Instead, he purely seeks God.

We may identify with one or more of the characters in today’s reading. Maybe you are challenged that your relationship with God has been all about what you can get (like Hophni and Phinehas) or maybe you are tempted to sit back in negativity and defeat, like Eli, resigned to “whatever”?
May we all be like Samuel, calling on God, crying out to the Lord for help, hearing Him speak, and then choosing to follow His instructions!

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 26

April 26

Hannah’s Prayer — Hannah’s problem, prayer, peace, & thankfulness for baby Samuel.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: 1 Samuel 1

Reading 2: 1 Samuel 2:1-11

Reading 3: Philippians 4:6-7

After the sad account of Samson, the ungodly Nazirite who nonetheless became an instrument of God’s judgment on the enemies of God’s people, we had the story of Ruth, the foreigner who became part of God’s people and became an ancestor of royalty.

Now we have another encouraging account, of another miraculous Nazirite: Elkanah and Hannah’s son Samuel. Hannah is desperate to have a son and her anguish is magnified by the mocking of her rival Peninnah. Peninnah seems to have no fear of God nor any understanding of God’s role in giving us children; she causes grief for her whole family and thus is a strong advocate against polygamy!

But Hannah is determined to trust God and seek His answer for her pain and grief, even though the “God business” is in a poor state at this time: Eli the priest is delegating most of his duties to his sons, who we will hear more of in our next reading, but they are not inspiring examples of godliness. When Eli does participate in the activities at the tabernacle he does so from a human perspective, as we see from his conversation with Hannah.

But through all this, Hannah and Elkanah are determinedly focused on God for their answers. Despite the unhelpful circumstances they trust God and receive the gift they have sought for so long – the son Samuel.

In a further demonstration of faith and trust in God, they prepare the child and then bring him to the Tabernacle where they leave him in the care of Eli (the lazy priest) and his two sons (the ungodly priests). Hannah and Elkanah are living proof of the verses we read in Philippians: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

What an example for us as we live in an ungodly world, with challenges and threats just as Samuel would face. If we, like Samuel and his parents, trust God and pray about everything then we will experience the same peace as they did.

May God’s peace guard your heart and mind today, and every day!

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 25

April 25

Ruth’s Redemption — The law of the kinsman redeemer & the genealogy of Jesus.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Ruth 4

Reading 2: Matthew 22:23-33

Reading 3: Matthew 1:1-6

And so we reach the beautiful conclusion of the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. The nearer relative is initially willing to redeem the land (a process by which the kinsman redeemer pays for the land and then effectively gives it back to the displaced relative as their living). But when he finds out there is a Levirate marriage involved in the transaction he declines to redeem because he does not want to jeopardize the inheritance of his existing children by fathering sons with another wife.

So Boaz is able to fulfill his promise to Ruth, and thus to bring fresh hope and provision to Naomi too. She was the one who left the land during the famine, and now in her old age, she will have a home, grandchildren, and safety.

The elders of Bethlehem bless Boaz with the words “May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”

And, as is often the case, God decides to bless them even more than that; their son Obed becomes the grandfather of King David, and an ancestor of our Lord Jesus, the most famous child of Bethlehem! As Jesus describes in Matthew 22, God is the God of the living, not the dead. His desire is to do more than we can ask or imagine.

May the Lord bless you today, and make you fruitful in ways beyond your imagination!

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 24

April 24

Ruth’s Virtue — The law of the kinsman redeemer & Ruth the virtuous woman.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Ruth 3

Reading 2: Deuteronomy 25:5-10

Reading 3: Proverbs 31:10-31

The beautiful account of Ruth’s faith, loyalty, and virtue continues today. With wise counsel from her mother-in-law, she approaches Boaz and lays at his feet (a sign of offering herself for marriage, although not a euphemism for sexual relations). (more on that topic in this blog).

When Boaz discovers that Ruth is honoring Naomi by offering herself as a bride to an older man, he is in awe of her loyalty and virtue. But there is a conflict to resolve before the conclusion of this love story – another relative has a nearer claim if he will redeem Ruth and Naomi according to the law of  Levirate marriage (as described in our reading from Deuteronomy).

So Boaz sends Ruth back to her mother-in-law with further provision from his riches, and the promise of a resolution the next day. Either she will be married to the nearer relative or to Boaz! Ruth is acting just like the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 – working hard to provide for and nurture her family.

The detail of Boaz’ response shows us that he had taken great interest in this young woman. Even though she is from a foreign nation, he takes the time to make sure she will be protected and provided for. Just as Jesus puts His arms around us when we are still sinners and brings us to faith in Him, where we will enjoy His forgiveness and know His protection.

May His loving arms hold you, rescue you, and provide for you in every way.

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 22

April 22

Ruth Meets Boaz — Caring for the poor & allowing the poor to collect food after harvest.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Ruth 2

Reading 2: Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Reading 3: Deuteronomy 24:17-22

Part of God’s instruction for His people was the principle that a close relative could be the redeemer of a person who had lost everything and become an indentured servant (or slave). The relative could pay to release the person from slavery. It is a picture of what Jesus will do on the Cross.

And today’s account of Ruth’s favor with Boaz is not just a story of a kinsman redeemer but also a story of love prompted by faithfulness and loyalty. Boaz has heard of Ruth’s commitment to Naomi – “where you go I will go…” and he is impressed with her godly reputation.

He is a godly man himself, following God’s instructions to care for the poor and the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan. Godliness attracts godliness – there’s a word of wisdom for relationships!

And through Boaz’s generosity, God provides for Ruth and Naomi. They have come through their hardship and into a place of blessing. The same can be true for each of us as we are loyal to those around us and serve our kinsman redeemer, Jesus!

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 21

April 21

Ruth Follows Naomi — The story of the Moabites & God’s love for foreigners/widows.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Ruth 1

Reading 2: Deuteronomy 23:3-6

Reading 3: Deuteronomy 10:17-19

After the often-depressing stories of the Book of Judges, with disobedience as common as deliverance, we now come to a welcome contrast. Ruth’s faithfulness and loyalty become legendary and her faith in God (even as a foreigner) is inspiring for all of us.

What a difference from the story of Samson, who had everything going for him yet refused to fully obey God and seemed to be anointed by God merely because there was no-one else to bring God’s rule to the nation.

Ruth comes from a nation that in the past had been judged by God for failing to welcome the Israelites, but now became home for some of them as shelter from yet another famine (presumably because Israel continued to sin against God).

Much misfortune befalls Naomi in Moab – she loses her husband and both her sons. this was the equivalent of losing your income and having no insurance, no social programs, and no hope. Things look grim for her and the two Moabite daughters-in-law. But Ruth sees something in Naomi that causes her to be loyal to Naomi and to Naomi’s God.

Even in your worst moments, it is possible for others to see God in you and for their whole life to be changed as a result.

So Naomi and Ruth return to Israel, where they hear God is blessing again. It is always a good idea to seek out where God is at work and move toward His activity!

And the foreigner finds a welcome in the land of those who themselves know the pain of being dislocated from your heritage. Just as Israel were foreigners in Egypt, so they now welcome foreigners in Israel.

This is the precursor to God’s miraculous work of redemption, and we will read more tomorrow. For today, let’s ask God that we would always be welcoming to outsiders, knowing that we ourselves have found a home in Him.

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 20

April 20

Judge Samson — Delilah’s nagging, Samson’s foolishness, & Samson’s death.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Judges 16

Reading 2: Proverbs 5:1-14

Reading 3: Proverbs 27:15-16

Yesterday we said that Samson’s pride, presumption, and foolishness would be his undoing. And today we read about that sad ending. Truly our choices make a difference in the outcomes of our lives, yet God is always merciful when we see our errors and repent.

If Samson had known the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs, he could have heeded it and avoided so much trouble for himself and his people. But he chose to pursue sexual gratification outside God’s plan and it finally led to his capture. The relationships Samson chose were neither godly nor faithful, and his story shows us the power of sexual sin to hold us captive and lead us to ruin. No wonder Solomon was so clear in his warning to his son!

For decades we have seen the damage that sex outside of God’s plan will wreak.

May we all know God’s wisdom to guide our decisions and lead us to be victorious in Him.

Have a great day!

Mark.

April 19

April 19

Judge Samson — Samson, the spirit, & victory with the jawbone of a donkey.

Today’s Readings:

Reading 1: Judges 14

Reading 2: Judges 15

Reading 3: Zechariah 4:6

Today Samson pursues ungodly ends, especially a wife from the Philistine enemy, but God turns around this disobedience to His own plans as this places Samson in a position to execute judgment on the oppressors of God’s people.

Along the way, we see indications of Samson’s pride, disregard for authority, dishonor of his parents, and self-absorbed decision-making. All these weaknesses will prove to be his undoing but first, we see that God is willing to pour out His Spirit on even the “unsuitable” in order to defeat His enemies and bring freedom to His people.

May we experience such freedom today, not by might, nor by power, but by the Holy Spirit.

Have a great day!

Mark.