OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[June 26]—Foul-mouthed Priests

Malachi 2:1-9

            God’s system of leadership and authority is really really different from the way the world and other religions work. For example, I’d like to contrast the God of the Bible with Allah of the Koran. Mohammed was his prophet, so over and over you see in the Koran and in other stories how Allah told him that he (Mohammed) wasn’t under the same rules as the rest of humanity. For example, Muslims are officially restricted to (at most) four wives, but Mohammed—so conveniently—was told by Allah that he could have as many wives and concubines as he wished.
            This is completely the opposite of God’s system as stated in the Bible. Nowhere do you see leadership given special privileges. Nowhere do you see leaders given a pass under a different standard from what the hoi polloi are under. Quite the opposite: Over and over and over God makes it clear that his standards for leaders are far more stringent than for the common people. I could cite dozens of examples, but here’s one you might have missed. I have to give R. C. Sproul credit for this one. In the Torah God accuses the people of Israel of rebelling against his directions and leadership “ten times”—which might be literal or just a way of saying “too many times to count.” For these crimes, they were excluded from entering Israel and were sentenced to die out in the desert. Moses, their leader, is recorded to have screwed up one time. One time he lost his temper and flagrantly disobeyed the Lord’s express command. For this one screw-up, he was also sentenced to never enter the Promised Land, to die 40 years later on the very borders. For this one transgression, he was given the same punishment as the people who'd transgressed on multiple occasions.
            That’s illustrated in today’s passage. Malachi—under the inspiration of the Spirit—has a lot to say in condemnation of his society. The entire nation—or the majority of them—were turning away from the Lord. But first off he starts with the priests. These were the spiritual leaders. They were the main representatives for the people before the Lord. But more than this, they also, in a sense, represented the Lord before the people. They were expressly commanded to teach the people his ways, his teachings in the Torah. They were to pronounce the official blessings of the Lord on the people in his name.
            But they were completely failing his expectations. As such, the Lord said that he would “send a curse” on them, and “curse [their] blessings.” If a leader screws up, the blessings he’s supposed to convey turn into curses. What were they doing wrong?
            By implication (in contrast to their ancestor Levi), they weren’t teaching the people God’s ways. We already know from the 1st chapter they were accepting unacceptable sacrifices from the people. This showed a disregard, a total despising of God’s name, in stark contrast to Levi who revered the Lord and “stood in awe of [his] name.” Levi “turned many from sin.” They “caused many to stumble.” Levi believed and followed God’s standards, which apply equally to the king all the way down to the lowest peasant or slave. They showed “partiality in matters of the law.”
            And the Lord was very very angry at this. They had publicly flouted his standards, and he would return the favor by publicly humiliating them. They would learn to regret playing these games with the Almighty. As we mentioned yesterday, “God cannot be mocked.”
            So what should we take from this? I think this passage says something to leaders. If anyone reading this has been called into a position of spiritual leadership, take care. His standards for you are, if anything, higher than for those you lead.
            But if you’re saying “But I’m not called to any type of leadership in the church,” then number one I’d question that premise. I’m pretty sure God’s called you into some type of leadership in some area. But leaving that aside for a moment, if you are a believer in Jesus, you are a priest. Peter said so: “[You] also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Every true believer represents God before men, and men before God. So all this stuff we’ve talked about? Yes, it applies to you too.

Father God, it is an awe-inspiring, rather frightening responsibility to which you’ve called me. I so desperately need your empowering grace here. Please. 

[June 25]—Shut the Doors!

Malachi 1:10-14

            It’s a sad thing, of course, when an evil government shuts the doors of a church. If you keep informed of how believers are persecuted in countries around the world, you ought to know that this is one of the most obvious signs of a crackdown.
            But what if God were to tell us to shut the doors of a church? Or if he called upon volunteers to shut them? If you’ve read today’s passage, you might have been startled by the first few words in it. The Lord is asking for someone—anyone—to have the guts to go ahead and shut the doors of the temple!
            Why would he do this?
            Once again, this calls for thinking clearly. We need to be careful here. Outside of Christ, none of our offerings or worship is acceptable to him. Everything we are and do is tainted by sin. It infects everything, including our worship. And the God we want to worship and with whom we want a relationship is completely holy. He can't abide the presence of sin, and he can’t accept the worship of sinners. Our offerings and worship are only made acceptable by going through Jesus.
            But that wasn’t the issue here. This wasn’t a case of imperfect sinners trying to worship the Lord as best they could under his grace (which is what we’re trying to do). Like we mentioned yesterday, they were playing games with the Almighty. They were flouting his commands, which openly demonstrated their attitude towards the whole enterprise.
            This attitude was also expressed in their murmurings. When it was time to offer sacrifices again, they would sigh to themselves and say “Well, time to get it over with. Again.”
            Why was he taking this so seriously? Why was this so important to him? Well, his Name deserves all the glory and honor. In Heaven, where every person or angel there will render perfect worship and ascribe all glory, honor, praise, thanksgiving, etc., to the Lord, that will only be what he deserves. He deserves the best. Quite frankly, he deserves better than our best.
            But there’s more at stake here than we realize. One day—hopefully I’ll live to see it—the Lord’s name will be worshiped all over the world. God promised it here: “My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations.” The apostle John echoed this—In his vision of Heaven, he saw assembled before the Throne “every nation, tribe, people and language.” It will happen.
            How will it happen? What’s God’s timetable for this? I don’t know.
            But I know one thing: When the Lord's people treat his Name with contempt by offering half-hearted worship, that’s not the way to do it. That’s a very large reason why he cares so much about this.
            His plan is to literally take over the world. He will not rest until all his elect come to saving faith in him. And remember the insight I got from John Piper: Missions and evangelism exist because worship doesn’t. When you’re sharing the Message of Jesus with people who don’t know him, in a very real sense you’re recruiting worshipers to join you.
            He will be glorified--one way or the other--among the nations. And if he has to salvage his reputation by shutting the doors of a church, he'll do it. Apparently as far as he’s concerned, no worship is better than half-hearted or hypocritical or going-thru-the-motions worship.

Father God, your Name is very important to you. I want it to be important to me. I don’t want it to come to the point of you shutting doors. Let’s not get to that point, shall we?

[June 24]—Contemptible

Malachi 1:6-9

            Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Dennis Prager, a practicing Jewish talk-show host who discusses a range of topics. One of his pet peeves is people who refuse to dress up for church: They wear shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, etc. Here’s his argument against it: If you were meeting the President of the U.S., would you dress like that? So why do you feel comfortable meeting the Lord of the universe so dressed?
            Now, I see his point, even if I disagree in the particulars. If our Lord wanted us to dress a certain way to come into his presence, that’d be interesting, since I believe we’re always in his presence. What we’re doing on Sunday is meeting together as an expression of the Body in corporate worship. But I find nothing in Scripture that talks about a certain style of dress when we meet together.
            But I think his overall point is well-taken on a deeper level. I don’t think the Lord's interested as much in our outward dress (as long as it’s modest and not distracting) as much as he is in our heart, our personal relationship with him. In that area, how are we doing? How well are we expressing our love for him in obeying him and serving him, in imitating Job in fearing God and shunning evil?
            I promise this isn’t a rabbit trail; it actually has something to do with today’s passage and topic. Malachi was about to spend four short chapters verbally ripping into the people of Israel. And surprise surprise—the spiritual leaders are the first in his crosshairs! The priests were supposed to be the first in devotion and in providing a godly example. They represented the people before God, so if they weren’t doing their job properly, the people were hopeless.
            He (the Lord speaking through his mouthpiece) started out with a question of respect: In that society, fathers and masters of slaves got respect. The Lord was their Father and their Master (supposedly), so where was the respect due him? And first and foremost of those not giving him respect were those in the priesthood.
            The problem (ostensibly) was that they were offering imperfect animals: “lame or diseased.” This was specifically forbidden by the Law. Why did the Lord forbid this? Does the Lord need animals? Is this his literal food, like it was for the gods of the pagans? To ask that question is to answer it. So no, he doesn’t need the sacrifices. My friend, those sacrifices they were offering were for the sake of the offerer, not him.
            But to offer an imperfect animal shows the condition of your heart. The quality of your sacrifice demonstrates where your priorities are. That’s the issue here.
            And that brings us to the illustration I discussed at the beginning. He asks a great question: Would your governor take an offering like that? Of course not. So why do you feel comfortable offering a sub-par sacrifice to the Lord God of Israel? Again, I don’t think the issue is the offering itself. By doing so, they were showing contempt for the Lord’s table, a visible symbol of their relationship with him, how much they valued him. They were playing games with a nuclear bomb.
            This was really important to him. And what goes around comes around. They showed contempt for the Lord, and 2:9 (“despised,” same word in Hebrew) says that the Lord would cause them to be shown contempt in public. If you’re in a position of spiritual leadership, know this: He takes his representation very seriously. If leaders among his people show contempt for the Lord and don’t repent, their comeuppance will likely be public. It won’t be pretty.
            Look, our God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. But the same Bible that tells us this also tells us that he won’t be mocked: If a believer—especially a leader in his church—is playing games with the Lord, he’ll end up regretting it. Count on it.

Father God, I can never offer anything of myself that’s not contemptible. It’s only your Son that makes me acceptable. But I want to be a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to you. By your grace. 

[June 23]—God’s Hate (?)

Malachi 1:1-5

            I know we looked at this passage before, but it really bears a closer look. We know that God loved(s) Israel, just like he loves us. So what does it mean when it says he has “hated” Esau? Does God really hate people? Doesn’t he love everyone?
            Like most good questions, there’s no simple “yes” or “no.” On the “yes” side we have declarations of God’s universal love, such as the famous John 3:16. The self-proclaimed atheist who announces that he hates God, at least in some sense enjoys the Lord's blessings: the sunshine, air to breathe, food to eat, pleasure in life, etc. And in some sense God gave his Son to that person who hates him. Salvation is offered to everyone, and the Lord turns no one away who receives and believes in Jesus.
            But what about the “hatred” he had for Esau? This is where the NIV—quite  frankly—is not the best translation out there. Literally, yes, it is “hated”; but this leads to misunderstanding, because when we say we “hate” someone, it usually means we completely despise them, and even desire them harm.
But that’s not what’s meant here at all. Did the Lord just despise the Edomites, wishing them harm? Did he just “have it in” for them because of something that Esau did? As Paul points out, this divine “hatred” started out when they were sharing a womb, neither one having done anything good or bad. So this wasn’t based on anything Esau had done.
This is where I think the NIV is sort of misleading with its translation here. Yes, literally it’s “hate.” But there’s a reason why the NET Bible and the NLT both render it as “rejected.” That’s the key. God didn't “hate” Esau or the Edomites in the sense of wanting to do them harm with no basis in their behavior. He doesn’t just arbitrarily punish either people or nations for no reason. We know better than that, or at least we should.
But he did reject them in the sense of choosing Jacob over Esau for his own purposes, to carry out his plan. He chose Jacob/Israel (both the man and the nation) for a unique purpose, and he didn’t choose Esau for this. This isn't commenting on Esau’s personal salvation (although we have good reason to doubt it), nor is Malachi talking about the personal salvation of individual Edomites, although—once again—we might doubt that there were very many among them who had a personal relationship with the Lord.
No, what Malachi was talking about God’s purposes for the nations. And if he chose Israel instead of Esau, why did he do so? Or why didn’t he choose some other group of pagans? Was it because of Israel’s goodness? Um, no. Even if we didn’t have the sordid history of Israel’s repeated failures laid out for us in stark detail, the Lord himself specifically refuted this notion. If Malachi was the only book of the Bible, misinterpretation would be more understandable, but Malachi’s not the only one: We need to interpret hard to understand passages in the light of the easier ones.
The Lord chose Israel to use it to redeem the rest of the world. That’s you and me. We were the spiritual heirs of the Edomites: “excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” But at the very beginning of the Covenant with Abraham, the Lord told him that, yes, God would bless him, but also that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through [him].” Abraham was chosen so that through him the Lord could bless the world. And of course the ultimate fulfillment of this was the arrival and work of our Savior.
So now that we’ve gotten past the notion that God arbitrarily hates someone (in the usual sense of the term), how can we apply this? Well, the whole thing that started this line of thought was the cynical, bitter questioning of God’s love for his people. In response the Lord pointed them to the original covenant under which Jacob was chosen and they had already been blessed beyond measure, with much more to come. And he also pointed to how he'd punished and would continue to punish those who attacked his people and who proudly boasted against him. They would eventually see with their own eyes the difference between God’s people and those who aren’t.
In the meantime, we can trust and obey. We might not see—right now—God’s endgame and the final disposition of those who are his people versus those who aren’t. But we will.

Father God, you do all things well. I thank you that although I was a spiritual heir of Esau, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without you, you’ve brought me who was far away into your presence, brought near by the blood of Christ. 

[June 22]—God’s Love

Malachi 1:1-5

            If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I place a great importance over the final words that someone speaks. I attach a lot of significance to the last recorded words of Jacob/Israel, David, Jesus, and Paul. When you know that the door is rapidly closing on your opportunity to speak with someone, you don’t indulge in much idle chit-chat.
            It’s the same principle here. This is the final recorded words of the God of Israel for over 400 years. Now, is it possible that the Lord spoke directly to someone, and it’s not recorded? Sure, it’s possible. But to our knowledge, these are the last words he spoke to the nation until the arrival of John the Baptist just before the arrival of the Messiah. So this is incredibly important.
            Here’s a little background. Malachi’s name means “my messenger.” He probably presented his message and preached during the 4th century B. C., during the time of Nehemiah but about a hundred years after Haggai and Zechariah.
This was a time of discouragement. The prophets had promised that the Messiah would come and set everything right. For example, Zechariah’s last chapter had predicted that Israel’s enemies would lick the dust, and everyone in the world would worship the Lord with Jerusalem as its capital. They'd rebuilt the temple like God wanted. There was a nation-wide revival under Ezra and Nehemiah. Now a hundred years after those days, there were no signs of any change. They were still under the heel of a foreign power, living and dying at the whim of a foreign king. Where was the Lord now?
Another enemy that Malachi faced was related to discouragement: complacency. If the Lord’s not going to keep his promises, why should I put so much effort in obeying and pleasing him? Times are tough. Maybe I can get away with half-hearted worship, and let my lifestyle slip into the way I like to do things. What difference does it really make?
Onto this scene steps Malachi, God’s messenger. In this short book he lists some cynical questions and objections which the people were murmuring, either publicly or privately. And then he gives the Lord’s response to it. I promise that these questions and the Lord’s answers have a special relevance for us as believers today.
The first question/objection/accusation which Malachi addresses is concerning God’s love for Israel. From a human perspective, it sure looked like the Lord had abandoned them. So where was his love? How had he shown them he loved them?
The answer: He had “loved” Israel and “hated” Esau. There is a reason why I used those words in quotation marks, since they can easily be misunderstood, and beg for a little explanation.
Let’s take the easier term first, and then we’ll tackle the somewhat more difficult one tomorrow. Anyone who’s read the Old Testament can see how the Lord loved Israel. He chose Abram/Abraham, and then his progeny. He redeemed them out of Egypt, cared for them in the desert, forgave them their flagrant disobedience time after time after time, etc. Like us, he owed them nothing but judgment and had showed them incredible love and compassion.
Like I said, we’re going to tackle the issue of the Lord “hating” Esau tomorrow, since I can’t do it any kind of justice in a paragraph. In the meantime, how’s about you and I take stock in our level of gratitude? Yes, I have lots of problems in life, but—once again—he owes me nothing but judgment, and he’s shown me nothing but love, mercy, kindness, compassion, grace, and blessings. If I’m asking questions like “How has God loved me?” then something’s desperately wrong. Whatever it is, we need to deal with it.

Lord Jesus, I don’t feel that right now, but I admit I’ve questioned that sometimes. When it happens, please draw me quickly back into your Presence, where all questions fade into insignificance. 

[June 21]—Name Brand

Zech 14

            OK, I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to get that much into my interpretation of the “End Times.” To go into much detail on this was really beyond the purview of a devotional. But I can’t really finish up the book of Zechariah without at least touching on the subject, and giving some reasons for what I’m saying.
            Again, I have to make this disclaimer: How you interpret the eschatological passages of the Bible is by no means the most important aspect of Scripture. As one of my favorite pastors Alastair Begg put it, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” I have whole branches of Christian thought that disagree with me on this, people who are a lot smarter than me, people for whom I have a ton of respect. On the other hand, there are lots of people who are a lot smarter than me who agree with what I’m about to say.
            Here’s my basic philosophy: I tend to interpret eschatological passages in the plainest way possible. I use Occam’s razor a lot here: All other things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the best. Using that principle, I take passages like today's as literally as I can. I don’t think it’s spiritually referring to the Church.
As noted before, there are people who disagree. They think this is mostly talking about the Church in this age. They tend to interpret passages like this symbolically. The Lord Jesus “landed” on the earth in the Incarnation and split open the earth so that God’s people could escape the deadly danger they were in. After his deliverance of his people, the nations of the world bring their treasures into the Kingdom (meaning the Church); otherwise, they’ll be judged.
To be brutally frank, to try to interpret vss. 12-21 as somehow being spiritually fulfilled right now. . . just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve only heard a few people who think it’s talking about the Church try to explain how they do it, and I’ve found their arguments less than convincing. And—again, I have to be quite frank here—most people who disagree with me on it tend to avoid talking too much about passages like this. Because—again—Occam’s razor seems to be on my side here.
            Now, having said all that (and probably losing most of my audience), we can tackle what this is talking about. Instead of focusing on the details about today’s passage any further, I’d like to look at the last few verses.
            This is an ideal society. The Lord is in charge, openly and publicly given the praise, honor, and worship he deserves. His enemies are in complete subjugation before him and his people are safe. But what really strikes me is what we see in the last two verses.
            Does the phrase “Holy To The Lord” sound familiar at all? It should: It was what was engraved on the gold plate worn on the high priest's turban. Have you ever heard the phrase “tattooed on his forehead”? That’s the idea here. That phrase on his forehead symbolized and epitomized everything the priesthood represented, everything the priest was and did. Remember, “Holy” means “set apart.” The priest was set apart for the Lord’s service. That priest belonged to the God of Israel, and everyone who saw it--and could read--knew it.
The Law was all about separation. There were clean and unclean foods, houses, animals, and people. There was also “holy” which belonged to the Lord, and “common” things which ordinary people used in their daily lives. But that will all change when things become what they should be. When things are what they should be, everything is branded with his mark of ownership. The most mundane and everyday items: The bells of the horses, the pots that people cook in. That’s the point of the last two verses.
            That’s a great lesson for us, because that’s actually the way it should be now. Today. Whatever validity it ever had, the dividing line between “sacred” and “secular” became totally obsolete when Christ came into the world. When the Incarnate Son of God (divine and human in the same body) ate a piece of bread, that bread was made holy by his presence. When he slept on a mat, that mat was made holy. Nothing he ever did or touched was not holy.
            And that’s how it’s supposed to be with us. Let’s say I enjoy activity X. For example, I like a good hockey game. If I couldn’t do X with Jesus standing next to me, I shouldn’t be doing X.  This doesn’t mean that I should only be doing “church” stuff, or that doing non-“church” stuff is wrong. Quite the contrary. The Holy Spirit lives inside me, and his presence envelopes everything I do and everywhere I go. For a believer in Jesus, there’s no such thing as “secular.” There’s “sin” (and by that I mean things which are explicitly forbidden by his word), and there’s “sacred” (even non-“church” stuff like sports or hobbies or eating with friends or intimate times with my wife).
            Make sense?

Lord Jesus, I long for the day in which the bells on horses have your name brand on them. I look forward to seeing it in the future, and I want to see that more and more in my life, right here and now. 

[June 20]—Strike The Shepherd

Zechariah 13:7-9

            As we discussed yesterday, the most probable interpretation of vss. 1-6 is that they’re referring to a future time in which idolatry and false prophecy will be stamped out in Israel after the Messiah returns. In this age, out weapons are spiritual: prayer, proclaiming the Message of Jesus as found in the Bible, persuasion, etc. What doesn’t work with those methods, we leave between a person and the Lord. But in that Age, after Christ returns, there won’t be any room for doubt and no room for worshiping any God but the true one.
            Now we come to a shift in the focus. 11:15-17 talked about a false shepherd, one with whom the Lord was disgusted. This false shepherd only cared about himself, not his sheep or his responsibilities. But this Shepherd is the “man who is close to” the Lord. This is talking about the Good Shepherd, the One who will lay down his life for his sheep. So what’s this passage talking about?
            This, once again, is a great case to be made for the “partially then/complete in the future” motif we’ve been seeing a lot. It was definitely at least partially fulfilled in the First Coming. Jesus said that verse 7 was fulfilled at the Last Supper, and he applied it later when his disciples fled in a panic and were scattered at his arrest.
            You might be wondering about the last part of vs. 7: The Shepherd will be struck and “I will turn my hand against the little ones.”? What? Well, it is true that it’s possible to translate “against” here as “upon”; in other words, the Lord will put his hand “upon” (as in protecting) the little ones. But quite frankly, most seem to translate it as “against” based on the context. This is talking about the Lord’s sovereign plan, which is to strike the shepherd and “strike” the “little ones.” It’ll look like they’re abandoned. Of course we know from the rest of his word that he'll never really leave nor forsake his children.
            But the rest of the passage makes very little sense if you believe it was completely fulfilled at his first coming. You might try to claim that the destruction of the land (in vs. 8) was fulfilled when Rome destroyed it in A.D. 70. And Jesus said that this would be a direct result of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah. There was certainly a lot of loss of life there—probably not a full two-thirds of the population, but a lot.
            But verse 9 makes a wonderful promise, which has definitely not been fulfilled in any way yet that makes sense. It says that the all the remaining one-third who survive the destruction of verse 8 will turn wholeheartedly back to the Lord:
“They will call on my name
    and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.”
            In no way has this been fulfilled among Israel since the days of the first century. Thank the Lord, there’s been a remnant chosen by grace that have turned to the Messiah. But their numbers, regrettably, are nowhere near the majority or even a significant plurality.
            So assuming that it’s “then partial/future complete,” then what can we learn from it?
            I think first and foremost this is a great reminder of how much we desperately need our Shepherd/Savior. When our Shepherd was “struck,” all of his followers folded like a house of cards in a windstorm. The wonderful news is that that was a one-time affair. But we should keep in the forefront of our heads: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” If he ever did turn his back on us, or if by some crazy set of circumstances he ever was taken away from us by force, that would be it for us. Without the Shepherd, the sheep would not only be defenseless but dead.
            It also reminds me that everything does have a purpose. There is no such thing as purposeless suffering. To say that these folks are going through a terrible time is to really understate it. But the Lord will bring them out to the other side of it all, and both they and he will say in the end “It was worth it. To bring us to this point of intimate communion, it was worth it all.”
            Aren’t you glad?

Lord Jesus, I know full well what I can do without you. And I know what would happen if you ever did leave me or forsake me.  But you won’t. Never ever ever. Thank you. 

[June 19]—National Cleansing

Zech 13:1-6

            Verses one and two in today’s passage present a beautiful image of what will one day happen to Israel, or so I’ve interpreted it. I tend to take prophetic passages as literal as I can, and I believe that there will come a day of national repentance and cleansing for Israel.
Some claim that this was fulfilled during the First Advent. It all really hinges on who the “prophet” is vss. 4-6. Is it referring to Jesus? At first glance, you could say that: Who else was “wounded at the house of [his] friends”? That would be rather poignant, since our Lord was definitely wounded where he should've expected love and friendship, among his own people. I’ve even heard a moving sermon about how—even today—Jesus is still being wounded “at the house of his [supposed] friends.” But quite frankly, that interpretation doesn’t really jibe with the rest of the passage. The Lord certainly hasn't yet banished all the names of idols from the land. Prophecy is also completely banned from the land, which didn’t happen in the 1st century at all. And Jesus, to our knowledge, never was a farmer. He was a carpenter (or some say a stonemason), not a farmer.
With all due respect to those who disagree, this is the best interpretation I’ve heard. When the Lord returns, he'll initiate (through the Holy Spirit, as we saw yesterday) national repentance, mourning, and cleansing. Millions—the vast majority—of Jews will come to faith in the Messiah. And all the names of idols will be banned from the land. Also prophecy will be banned, on pain of death; there'll be no need for prophecy, since the Lord will be right there to personally consult.
That’s the key to understanding this passage, I believe. If someone is still a “prophet,” then ipso facto he’s a false one. And in God’s system, loyalty to him overrides even a parents’ love for their child. If they find out that their own child is a false prophet, they’ll kill him.
In the system that we’re seeing in this passage, if someone is worshiping another god, he’s doing it in private, hiding it from everyone else. They won’t walk around in a prophet’s clothes (like John the Baptist). If anyone asks him “Are you a prophet?” they’ll wisely answer “No! I’ve been a farmer for all my life! From when I was a boy!” And if someone asks him “What about those wounds on your hands? Are those self-inflicted wounds, like in a pagan ceremony?” they’ll tell the questioner “Oh, no. It’s not what you’re thinking. I didn’t inflict any wounds on myself. Nosiree! No, I got these wounds in a fight in my friend’s house. Those crazy friends of mine!”
Now, let’s get something very clear. If you’re horrified at the thought of parents killing their child who’s worshiping another god, you have to keep it in context. In this age, the Church Age, our weapons are not of this world: Instead of bullets and bombs, our weapons are spiritual, such as the Good News and prayer. What we can’t accomplish through prayer and persuasion, we leave alone to be between a person and God.
But when Christ returns, that'll be the end of questioning and religious plurality. He'll rule with an iron scepter, not a paper one. It will be the Kingdom of God, not the Democracy of God. And this Kingdom won’t have a figurehead like Great Britain today.
But just because our methods are spiritual, that shouldn’t in any way lessen our zeal for his glory, his renown. We should be no more tolerant of false religion and false prophecy than we will be then. To see our Lord being deprived of any of the glory that belongs to him should really bother us, probably a lot more than it does.
That’s the result of being cleansed from sin and impurity. Just as Israel’s cleansing will one day lead to zeal for his glory like we read today, our personal cleansing in this Age should lead to the same.
Does it?

Lord Jesus, when I see someone (including myself) not giving you what you deserve, it should drive me to my knees and put a loving warning in my mouth. By your grace. 

[June 18]—Mourning and Rejoicing

Zechariah 12

            I’m really glad that chapter 12 follows chapter 11, aren’t you? It’s a lot more positive. The first part of the chapter (vss. 1-9) we’ll pass over very quickly. It tells of how the nations surround God’s people, and at the last moment he'll swoop in and destroy those would attack them. Jerusalem looks like it’s on the ropes: Surrounded by enemies which vastly outnumber her, and all seems lost. But like the Arameans who dared to attack Elisha, the nations will discover the hard way that it only looks like God’s people are outnumbered and under siege. It will again be demonstrated before the world that “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
            But let’s take a closer look at the rest of the chapter, vss. 10-14. When will this take place? Well, John in the description of the Crucifixion in his Gospel quotes verse 10: “They will look on me, the one whom they have pierced.” So apparently it was at least partially fulfilled at that time. But the rest of the passage doesn’t seem to fit the First Advent. The passage in 10-14 seems to best fit a nationwide revival and turning to the Lord, which didn’t happen in the 1st century. Once again, I know that there are scholars who don't agree with me, but there are others who do. My conclusion is that once again we have a “Partial then/Complete In The Future” situation. It was partially fulfilled back then, and will be completely fulfilled when he returns.
            What’s going on here? Apparently in the Last Days the Lord will pour his Holy Spirit on Israel, and there will be national mourning. The Spirit will complete his function by being the Spirit of grace and supplication. His grace will bring them back to himself, and they will cry out for mercy and salvation. Their mourning will be like the “weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo,” which is where King Josiah died in battle, a national calamity. There will national mourning led by “David” and his son “Nathan” and by “Levi” and “Shimei” (Shimei was the grandson of Levi); therefore both the political and religious leadership are represented. From the top down to the bottom, with all the elites represented, there will be mourning.
Why will there be mourning? It looks like there’s a national deliverance from her enemies in vss. 1-9. That would lead to a celebration, right? You’d think. But this is mourning like what James is talking about: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” It’s mourning for one’s sins.
Specifically this is mourning as Israel realizes that all this time, she’s been rejecting her Messiah, and she’s been wasting her time for all these thousands of years. She’s offended her Lord, the One who’s been taking care of her and provided for her and held out his hand to a stubborn and rebellious people for so long.
This is a great picture of us, especially those of us who’ve received Jesus as Savior later in life. We certainly rejoice because of his incredible deliverance. We celebrate his salvation and all that entails. But there’s an element of mourning as well. So many years wasted in sin and rebellion, kicking against the goads.
But there’s good news on top of good news here. The type of God with whom we’re dealing—He not only forgives the sin, he “pays you back” for “what the locusts have eaten.” Yes, we start out by mourning our sin, but the last word for us is not “mourning,” but “dancing.” He can’t bear to see his children mourn for long before he turns their “wailing into dancing,” and “[removes our] sackcloth and [clothes us] with joy.” What good Father enjoys seeing his children cry?

Father God, even though you claimed me pretty early on, I regret every moment I haven’t spent serving you. I thank you that you do “pay me back” for the years that the “locusts have eaten.” Certainly I can join with the Psalmist that you’ve turned my mourning into dancing, that you’ve removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Wow. 

[June 17]—Choice of Shepherds

Zechariah 11

            In chapter 10, the Lord made great and precious promises concerning his deliverance of Israel from her enemies. Men “on foot” would turn back men “on horses,” sending them running off in panic.
            Today’s reading, the very next chapter, presents a much darker tone. The first three verses seem to be in pretty stark contrast to the last chapter, talking about a horrible catastrophe that would sweep the entire nation. What would cause this?
            The answer to that question is found in the rest of the chapter. The Lord appointed Zechariah to stand in for the true Shepherd who'd be coming to gather the flock of Israel. In vss. 4-6 God gave instructions for Zechariah--representing the True Shepherd--to abandon the flock and treat them as sheep fit for slaughter, giving them over to their neighbors and a king without any mercy. Then in vss. 7-14 he gives the reasons why he’s doing this, and that’s what I want to focus on.
            The sheep had originally been “marked for slaughter” when the Shepherd found them. They had no hope without him, but he took them under his care. He had two staffs, one named “Favor,” and the other one named “Union.” Verse 8 says that he got rid of three bad shepherds (we’re not sure whom he’s referring to), and things apparently started off well.
            But the flock “detested” him. They refused to submit to his leadership and guidance and care. They showed execrable ingratitude for what he’d done, the sacrifices he’d made. Finally he’d had it with them, and abandoned them to the wolves. He broke his staff called “Favor,” illustrating that his patience was at an end: His “covenant” with the surrounding nations--his protection of Israel—was revoked.
            Then we come to a very interesting couple of verses, namely 12-13. He brashly demanded his “pay” from them. This is referring to his severance pay as he was leaving his job. They counted out 30 pieces of silver, which ended their relationship. Of course, this is the exact price that the religious leaders paid Judas for betraying his Master. It was also the price of a gored slave, so it was considered a pittance, an insult. The Shepherd’s response in vs. 13 (a “handsome” price!) is pure sarcasm. They showed a complete devaluing of who the Shepherd was, what he’d done, and what he was offering.
            In verse 14 he breaks the second staff, “Union,” which we’ll address in a moment. In vss. 15-17 we have the sad end to this sordid story. They didn’t want the True Shepherd to lead them? Then the Lord would hand them over to a “foolish” shepherd, someone much more destructive, someone who couldn’t care less about the flock, and someone who’d care only about his own gratification.
            Before we get to the modern application of this, let’s handle the ancient fulfillment. Scholars seem to be pretty united that what Zechariah’s referring to overall here is the destruction of Israel by Rome in A.D. 70-73. They rejected the Messiah, choosing a murderer in his place, and Jesus warned them that there'd be harsh consequences for this. Israel rebelled against Rome, and Josephus recorded that when the Romans attacked, the internal dissension among the people in their conflicting parties set Jew against Jew so that they were completely ineffective (thus fulfilling vs. 14). And yes, some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem resorted to cannibalism during the siege (vs. 9).
            Maybe you’ve figured out the modern application by now. In case you haven’t, here’s mine: You’re going to have someone as your ruler, your Shepherd. If you don’t have the Lord as your Shepherd, then you’ll get someone else who’s not nearly as pleasant. Jesus is the only Shepherd who really cares about you, who keeps his word and stands between you and the wolves. My advice would be to not settle for anything less than the best.

Lord Jesus, once and for all I choose you as my Shepherd. I’d be really foolish to choose anyone or anything else to put my trust in, right? 

[June 16]—Intervention

Zechariah 10

            God’s people—the ones who are really his—have pretty much always been in the minority throughout history. We aren’t usually openly persecuted in America, so it’s easy to forget that this is an anomaly in the history of the Church. Even in nations that supposedly worshipped the Lord, like ancient Israel, speaking up for the Lord could be a dangerous business. And on the international scene, Israel was always surrounded by powerful enemies who frequently agreed on only one thing: Israel must be buried.
This was especially true in Zechariah’s day. This was after the Exile. Even though they had a king who tended to be friendly towards the Jews, this could change in a heartbeat. They were servants of another nation, weak, and mostly defenseless.
But above all the noise of international turmoil, the Lord’s prophet speaks here a word of hope to the returned exiles. If they would just trust in the Lord, he’d provide what they needed. In an agricultural economy like Israel’s, rain was a sine qua non for life and everything else. And the Lord—not the Baals, nor any other god—could provide it.
However, they had to stop fence-sitting. They had to stop listening to idols and diviners. It was easy to “hedge your bets,” to try to worship different gods and go to different sources for comfort and guidance. But according to the Lord, any source they went to--outside of him--was a dry well and an empty promise.
If they did turn to the Lord, and him alone, then he'd be their Defender once more. Although right now they were like sheep without a shepherd, he would turn them into war horses who’d charge their enemy in battle. Verse 5 is especially striking: Imagine infantry men charging men on horses. . . and turning them in flight!
How could this happen? They were battered, worn out, and discouraged. What would be the big change? Well, the first clue is found at the end of vs. 5: “The Lord will be with them.” He'd be empowering them, miraculously destroying their enemies in front of them, and filling them with courage and strength. But the big answer is in vs. 4, which I sort of saved until now. Every source I’ve read says that vs. 4 is referring to the Messiah. He’s the Cornerstone of the New Temple, he’s the tent peg who'll restore David’s fallen tent, he will be the “battle bow” in the Lord’s hand to destroy his enemies, and from him all the “rulers” will come (all authority will be delegated from and thru him).
            The rest of the chapter (vss. 6-12) describes a great ingathering of God’s people from all over the world into “Jerusalem.” Some take this to be literal at the End of the Age, while others see it as being figuratively and spiritually fulfilled now in the Church Age. Again, I lean more towards the “partial now/complete then” interpretation of such passages. But no matter how you interpret it exactly, there are a couple of applications which we can draw from this.
            First, as always, the nations—under the control of the Enemy—will oppose God’s plan. Egypt and Assyria (10-11) are listed as symbolic of the international conspiracy to thwart the Lord’s purposes. The composer of the 2nd Psalm talked about the nations gathering together against the Lord and his Anointed One, and he also described the Lord’s response: derisive laughter.
            That leads me to the second thing we can glean from this: The Lord’s purposes—both for us and for the world—will prevail. No matter what the world or the Devil come up with in their schemes against the Lord and his people, they will fail.
            So what do we do? What’s our part? It’s in the last verse of today’s passage. We are to A) Be strengthened in the Lord, and B) Live securely (trust) in his Name. And of course that includes doing things his way. You can’t really claim that you’re trusting in his Name if you aren’t, right?

Lord Jesus, I’m not going to be like the world, running around with no Shepherd. That’s foolish. Where you lead, I will follow. I will trust you, and by your grace I’m going to obey you. 

[June 15]—I Come In Peace—This Time

Zechariah 9:9-17

            We’ve discussed this aspect of prophecy before, but here’s a quick review: The prophets, when seeing the future, often saw it as a “mountaintop view.” Imagine you’re at the base of a mountain, and you see the top of the mountain in front of you. There’s another mountain directly behind it, with a valley in between them. That valley might be incredibly deep. But you can’t tell how deep it is: All you can see are the two mountain peaks.
            Today’s passage is a perfect illustration of this. Let’s take a look.
            Verse nine is pretty famous, with good reason. It describes the coming of the Messiah into Jerusalem, and the Gospels make it very clear that the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday was the fulfillment of the verse. The residents of Jerusalem, excited by the news that this famous prophet was coming (maybe to kick out the Romans?), laid down their palm fronds in front of him as he entered the city, as he was wiping away his tears. He knew what would happen in less than 24 hours.
            If you’ve heard what I’m about to say, then I apologize. The prediction/fulfillment of the Messiah riding in on a donkey was very significant. If a king was riding into a city on a donkey, that meant he was coming in peace, perhaps to just visit or inspect it. But if he came into it riding on a white horse. . .well, only a conquering king would do that. A rider on a white horse is not coming for a friendly visit. He’s there to make war and then put his boots on the necks of his enemies and to show all those assembled just who’s Boss.
            And that’s the point of the rest of the passage. Here we have the same situation as in Isaiah 61:1-7: The prophet is talking about the First Advent, and then before the ink is dry on that verse, the next one is talking about his Second Coming with nary a pause. The King who comes into Jerusalem riding humbly on a donkey is next presented as the conquering King who intervenes and triumphs over his enemies and—just as important—rescues and vindicates the people who really belong to him.
            I love this passage, because the lessons we learn from it have huge repercussions. Israel in Jesus’ day saw him riding into Jerusalem, and a lot of them apparently were willing to proclaim him as King. But then he didn’t meet their preconceptions of what the Messiah was supposed to be, and they turned their back on him and chose a murderer in his place. And they learned to regret that for a very very very long time.
            The parallel to our time is pretty obvious, at least to me. Right now, Jesus is offering himself to the world and to us as the humble King riding on a donkey. He doesn’t openly force himself on you: He’s gentle and mild and extremely soft-spoken. If you keep telling him to leave you alone, eventually he’ll accede.
            But one day, my friend. . . you’ll meet him again. And at this second meeting, he won’t be nearly as pleasant. He won’t be riding a donkey then. He won’t be the “meek and mild” Jesus you might've seen in paintings. His face will be the most frightening thing you’ve ever seen, far worse than you’ve ever imagined.
            Please pardon me for repeating myself, but it’s highly relevant: You have a choice about meeting Jesus. You can meet him now as your Savior, or you can meet him later as your Judge.
            If you’ve never received Christ as Savior and Boss, or if you’re not sure if you have or haven’t, please read this. Please. Today.
            If you do belong to him, there’s a lesson for you as well. Right now, the Lord might be speaking to you in a quiet voice. He’s appealed to you through his word and his soft-spoken Spirit, or through the earnest counsel of godly friends. If you ignore those quiet warnings, he’ll have no choice but to resort to more drastic measures and much less pleasant methods. He loves you too much to do otherwise.

Lord Jesus, please make my spirit and my “ears” as sensitive as they can be. Your quietest murmurings, I want to hear loud and clear as a bell. Please. 

[June 14]—Destroying Enemies

Zechariah 9:1-8

            You might have noticed that we’ve skipped two and a half chapters of Zechariah. The second half of chapter 6, which pictures the future union of the offices of Priest and King, we’ve discussed before. Chapter seven, which talks about how God prioritizes how we treat others over religious ritual, has the same theme of an earlier post as well. And finally chapter eight deals a lot with how the Lord is going to treat Israel in the future, and it’s really difficult for me to discuss that without wading into really tall grass and getting a minimum of practical return.
            So that brings us to chapter nine. First I’d like to focus on the first two words in the passage, which are packed with a bunch of meaning. The NIV, quite frankly, is not the best translation here. It’s more than just a prophecy. Others translate it as an “oracle,” which gets closer. Literally it’s a “burden” that the prophecy is carrying. What do I get from this? A) The Lord placed this burden on him. Zechariah didn’t pick it up or take it on himself. Prophets are not volunteers; they're sovereignly called. B) It's a burden, not an unmitigated blessing. The Lord revealed things to prophets which he didn’t reveal to others, and most of the time these revelations weren't pleasant to think about. Also consider how often they were ignored, threatened, or outright persecuted (which was pretty often). C) Even though it was often a pretty rough job, a prophet couldn’t just drop this “burden” when the going got tough. Just ask Jonah about that. Every prophet had to carry their burden until the Lord determined that his servant had dispatched his duty. That’s why the Hebrew says it was a “burden.”
The chapter continues with a bunch of names which the casual reader isn’t familiar with. But that’s why I’m here: To do some of the heavy lifting for you. Let’s examine these verses phrase by phrase and see how we can apply it.

  • We’re not sure what “Hadrak” is, but it seems to be Hatarikka, north of Hamath on the Orontes River. Damascus was the capital of Syria, one of Israel’s worst and most pernicious enemies. It was destroyed by Alexander the Great, which is probably at least a partial fulfillment of what follows.
  • I love this phrase: “for the eyes of all people and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord.” When the Lord executes judgment on the nations, all eyes will see it. He might work privately in people’s lives, but when he brings a nation down, there’s no mistaking what’s he’s done.
  • Hamath was a major city 125 miles north of Damascus on the Orontes River, also conquered by Alexander.
  • Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician coastal cities. Speaking about Tyre, John MacArthur says: “This city was occupying an island one-half mile offshore, and thought itself to be invincible (cf. Isa 23:1-4). With walls 150 ft. high in some places, it was such an impregnable city that the Assyrian Shalmaneser besieged it for 5 years and failed to conquer it. Nebuchadnezzar tried for 13 years unsuccessfully. But Alexander, God's judgment instrument, using the rubble of the mainland city destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, built a causeway out to the island and destroyed it in 7 months (ca. 334-332 B.C.)."
  • Despite being supposedly impregnable, their high walls and state-of-the-art security were no match for the Lord. They had been prideful, and of course “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
  • Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron and Ashdod, as we discussed before (but I’m sure you’ve slept since then) were great cities of the Philistines, enemies of Israel since the time of the Judges. But here it gets very interesting. The Lord predicts that the time would come when these pagans would bring these people back to himself. The Jebusites were conquered by David and then absorbed into Israel. In other words, the Philistines, after God’s judgment, would be brought into his people.
The passage ends on a positive note on how the Lord will protect Jerusalem once again, but I want to end on the destruction of God’s enemies. I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: 1) God will ultimately destroy all of his enemies, one way or another. 2) His much-preferred method of destroying them is by turning them into his children and heirs. 
            Aren’t you glad?

Father God, I am very very glad that you’ve chosen to turn a rebel into an heir. Thank you.

[June 13]—Four Horsemen, Parts One and Two

Zechariah 1:7-17; 6:1-8

            Zechariah had a pretty rough and long night. He had no less than eight emotionally stirring and perplexing visions in one night. Keep in mind that these weren’t dreams, they were visions, so he was awake for every one of these.
            Visions number one and eight (the final one) are obviously connected with each other, since they’re so similar. In both of them, an angel leads three other warriors on horses--in the 1st group, it’s the "Angel of the Lord," probably the Second Person of the Trinity. The horses’ colors are slightly different, but red probably symbolizes warfare and bloodshed while white might symbolize victory. Brown? Not sure. Dappled? Not sure about that either, unless it’s referring to a mixture of the others. What do the Myrtle trees represent? Some say they symbolize Israel, but we’re not sure about that either. Also in the eighth vision the riders are on chariots.
            But in both visions, we see angelic warriors ready to go forth to pronounce judgment on the nations. They oppressed Israel—true, they were under direction from the Lord, but they apparently went further than he wanted them to, and he was taking note of how his people were being treated. In the first vision, the Angel of the Lord is pleading for the benefit of Jerusalem, and as a corollary he asks for the Lord to finally take vengeance on the surrounding nations who’ve done terrible things to her.
            In the second vision, the angelic warriors are only going to the North and South, not to the East or West. Why only those two directions? Because the enemies of Israel always came from the North (Babylon, Assyria, etc.) or from the South (Egypt). On the East was the desert and on the West was the Sea.
            If you’ve noticed that I’ve used words/phrases like “might” or “not sure”; there’s a reason. There are passages in prophetic literature in which we’re pretty sure of what the symbols mean, and in others we can make a reasonable guess. Today’s passages require a little guesswork as to the details.
            But here’s what we do know for sure. Our Father is the Lord over the nations. Yes, he lets his people undergo hardship, dire hardship at times. But he hasn’t forgotten them, and he keeps track of everything done to them. Each little insult a prison guard hurls in mockery at the poor deluded Christian in jail for his faith. Each little indignity afflicted on believers as they live in hostile regimes. Every believer who’s “disappeared” and who’s never heard from again, whose name is all but forgotten. That name hasn't been forgotten by him. He sees. He knows. He cares. He remembers.
            When Saul was on the Road to Damascus and the Lord Jesus appeared to him, what was Jesus’ question? “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked him “Who are you, Lord?” and the Lord replied “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Twice in two sentences he accused Saul of persecuting him. But as far as we know, Saul never even met him while Jesus was on earth. How could he be persecuting Jesus? By hurting his church. We're the Body of Christ. You can't harm the Body of Christ without hurting Christ any more than you can stick a hot poker in my arm without hurting me. You touch his Bride, you touch Christ.
            I don’t know much about the details about how the Lord is going to end human history as we know it. If you’re looking for someone who can confidently unravel every symbol in Revelation, keep looking. But I do know this: If you’re suffering for the Savior, he knows. He remembers. And one day he'll make wrong into right. And I pity anyone who’s hurt his Bride.
            So I urge you to pray for the persecuted Bride in the world. But I also urge you to pray for her persecutors as well. They need it more.

Lord Jesus, I certainly can’t claim to have suffered much for you. But I thank you that you’re closely watching over me: protecting, providing, giving me everything I need. If you choose to grant that I suffer for the Name, please give me the grace to honor you with my life or my death.