Fret Not Thyself

Today’s Reading – Psalms 36 – 39 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers also read – 1 John 1 – 5Psalms 111 – 115Proverbs 23)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – Matthew 6:33

Read the “0623 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“(3) Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. (4) Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (5) Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. (6) And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. (7) Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” (Psalm 37:3-7)

Psalm 37 is a beautiful psalm, filled with promises and encouragement for all believers. This psalm is an acrostic psalm, and was written in David’s later years (verse 25). It begins with a warning for us not to be envious against those in the lost world who seem to be prospering greatly. It is a common frustration that is felt by God’s people regarding the prosperity of lost people, and the seeming lack of judgment leveled by God against the wicked. Why do bad people not get what’s coming? God reminds us here through the psalmist that the success and wealth experienced here on this earth by the lost is only temporary. The word “wicked” is found fourteen times in this psalm.

Similar verses:

“Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long. For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off.” (Proverbs 23:17-18)

“Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19-20)

See also Psalm 73

Jeremiah asked God the same thing:

“Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” (Jeremiah 12:1)

The people of God in the Old Testament were looking for earthly, material blessings as a sign of the blessing of God. Today, we do not look for those things, We are looking for spiritual, and eternal blessings – we live by faith in what will be. The Israelites were expecting their reward in the earth. They are still looking forward to an earthly kingdom, which we know as the Millennial Kingdom, where God will bless them abundantly.

It seemed completely inconsistent with what they knew about God to witness the unrighteous seemingly receiving the blessings that were reserved for God’s people. God’s great reminder to these folks in David’s day, and to us today as well, is to just wait. God will take care of it in His time. God will reward the righteous, and also condemn the wicked on His timetable, not ours. The prosperity of the wicked can only be seen in the short term, because in the long run it can be seen that they do not prosper at all.

The phrase “fret not thyself” is found 3 times in this psalm. The phrase means don’t get angry, or stressed out about something. It literally means to not get agitated, or heated. God is telling His people to “chill out”. This phrase is found in only one other passage in the Bible, which was in the passage that we just read in Proverbs 24.

I          Fret Not Thyself Because of Evildoers (v. 1)

“Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.” (Psalms 37:1)

Notice that fretting, or getting angry with the bad people is associated here with envy. (see also Proverbs 24:19 above)

“Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.” (Proverbs 24:1-2)

We shouldn’t envy them because their time is short. Their happiness is only temporary; ours is eternal. God says five times in this psalm that the wicked will be “cut off” (vs. 9, 22, 28, 34, 38)

“Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” (James 1:9-11)

Notice instead what we are commanded to do:

            A         Trust (v. 3)

            B         Delight (v. 4)

            C         Commit (vs. 5 – 6)

            D         Rest (v. 7)

 II         Fret Not Thyself Because of the Prosperity of the Wicked (v. 7)

The prosperity of the wicked can only, at best, last through this life; and even though they may be prospering materially, they are probably not prospering in other areas: they may be very miserable people.

III       Fret Not Thyself To Do Evil (v. 8)

Sometimes our anger at and envy of wicked people can cause us to decide to join them. God says, “don’t do it!”

The remainder of the psalm contains many comparisons between the godly and the wicked; and it also foretells of the consequences that face the ungodly. It may seem like they are on top of the world now, but just wait a while. There are also many promises given here to the godly.

The great encouragement to the people of God in this passage is found in v. 34:

“Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.” (Psalms 37:34)

“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Psalms 27:14)

“Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.” (Proverbs 20:22)

“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)


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Try It, You’ll Like It! – The Saturday Morning Post

Today’s Reading – Psalms 32 – 35 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers also read – 2 Peter 1 – 3; Psalms 106 – 110; Proverbs 22)

Read the “0622 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Good morning. There was an old TV commercial, that had a man sitting on his bed. He was recounting what had happened to him. Another guy said, “Try it, you’ll like it. Try it, you’ll like it.”

The man on the bed said, “So I tried it… thought I was gonna die!”

Then they went into the product information. But in our verse, the Bible tells us to taste and see that the Lord is good: and you will be blessed. Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him!

Try Jesus, you’ll like Him, and all your sins will be forgiven.

Try Jesus, and you will live forever.

Try Jesus, and you will have a mansion in Heaven that He built especially for you.

Try Jesus, and He will never leave you, nor forsake you.

Try Jesus, and one day you’ll walk on streets of gold.

Try Jesus, and you will be blessed.

Try Jesus, you’ll like Him!

Peace!


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I Have and I Will

Today’s Reading – Psalm 26 – 31 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers also read – 1 Peter 1 – 5Psalms 101 – 105Proverbs 21)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – Isaiah 51:11

Read the “0621 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Read a previous post from this passage – “Joy Cometh in the Morning.”

“1 Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; [therefore] I shall not slide. 2 Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart. 3 For thy lovingkindness [is] before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth. 4 I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. 5 I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked. 6 I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O LORD: 7 That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works. 8 LORD, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. 9 Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men: 10 In whose hands [is] mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes. 11 But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me. 12 My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the LORD. (Psalm 26:1-12)

This Psalm is another one of the Psalms of David. Possibly, it was written during the times that King Saul was pursuing David, or possibly it was at the time that his son Absalom was in rebellion.

This Psalm has an interesting structure. You will notice often the phrases, “I have” and “I will” repeated over and over again throughout the Psalm.

I have walked in integrity (v. 1); I have walked in truth; I will walk in integrity (v. 11)

I have trusted (v. 1); I shall not slide (v. 2)

I have not sat (v. 4); I will not go (v. 4)

I have hated (v. 5); I will not sit (v. 5)

I will wash (v. 6); I will compass (v. 6)

I have loved (v. 8); I will bless (v. 12)

I          David Asks the Lord to Examine, Prove, and Try Him. (v 2)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139:23-24)

The word “examine” means to scrutinize, or to look closely at something.

“The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.” (Psalms 11:4 )

The word, “prove,” means to examine, tempt, or to put to the test:

“And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.” (Psalms 78:18)

Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.”(Daniel 1:12)

The word “try” is the word that is used to refine metal.

“And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:”(Isaiah 1:25)

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” (1 Peter 1:7)

Notice that he asks God to do this to both his reins and his heart.

The word translated “reins” is sometimes used for the word “kidney”, the physical organ. It is used here and in many other places to refer to the seat of emotion and affection.

Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.” (Psalms 7:9)

The word heart can be used to refer to almost the same thing, but it can also refer to the soul and mind.

So what is David asking here?

He is asking God to take a close look at his mind (his thinking), and his emotions (his attitude, his will). He wants God to test them, and to try them. When a person has heart problems today, the doctor will look him over carefully, and then he will send him for a battery of tests, and then he may “try” him by putting him through a stress test. Here in our text, David was asking for a thorough examination. The Word of God and the Spirit of God examine us as well:

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

II         David Acknowledges His Love for the House of God (vs. 8, 12)

The House of the Lord in the Old Testament was the temple. Notice v. 12 speaks of congregations (plural). David loved the Lord’s house – the temple; but he also loved to be with God’s people and he testified (blessed the Lord) wherever God’s people were gathered.

“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Notice in v. 12, the reference to the “even place,” meaning level terrain. This means that David was standing on ground and following a path that would keep him from falling into sin. He kept away from places that were spiritually dangerous for him. The House of God, which was the Tabernacle in David’s day, was a safe place for Him. The church house with God’s people gathered together and the Word of God being proclaimed is a safe, “even” place for us today. The Bible also refers to “sliding” (v. 1), and “slippery” places (Psalm 73:18; Jeremiah 23:12), which are places that people sometimes go that will be spiritually dangerous and conducive to falling.

III       David Asserts His Disdain for the Works of the Wicked (vs. 4 – 5; 9 – 10)

“1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)

“I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” (Psalms 101:3)


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Are Ye Not Much Better? – The Saturday Morning Post

Today’s Reading – Job 36 – 38 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – 2 Timothy 1 – 4; Psalms 71 – 75; Proverbs 15)

Read the “0615 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Good morning. I’m in the process of resealing the roof of my RV. You see a lot when you’re up twelve feet in the air. I look past the awning, and I see my two dogs: Louie, and Rosie. They are both looking at Preacher and Justin’s backyard. Talking in a normal voice I call Louie’s name. They are still focused on the backyard. I call again, a little louder, and he looks up at me. He goes toward the gate to pick up his tennis ball. He looks up at me again and lets the ball drop to the ground as if to say, “Hey, get down here and throw the ball for me.”

But being on top of the RV, you can see a good portion of the backyard. God sees us the same way, but not just a portion. God sees everything. He controls the universe, but still makes time to answer our prayer. He answers yes, or no, or what I told Louie: not right now. When was the last time you counted your blessings? Can you remember God answering your prayer? When you think about how God has blessed you, you know He cares for you and is watching you, ready to show Himself strong in your sight. And you also know that God keeps His Word.

Peace.


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Though He Slay Me – The Saturday Morning Post

Today’s Reading – Job 12 – 14 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – Ephesians 4 – 6; Psalms 36 – 40; Proverbs 8)

Read the “0608 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Good morning. Job is being “comforted” by his friends. And Job told them so…

Job was a man who walked with God.

1) Job trusted God (v. 15).

2) Job knew bad things happen in life (v. 15). Jesus said…

3) Job made the decision to maintain his own ways before God (v. 15)

4) Job knew God was his Saviour (v. 16)

And if you don’t have Jesus, how will you ever get through what is happening in the United States?

Peace!


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Are You Hearing God’s Word – The Saturday Morning Post

Today’s Reading – Nehemiah 8 – 10 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – 1 Corinthians 13 – 16; Psalms 1 – 5; Proverbs 1)

Read the “0601 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Good morning. Many times, while out soul winning, I would encounter people who would tell me that they don’t need to go to church. The Bible clearly states that we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. It is important to be in God’s house. The Jews of the Old Testament knew this. In Nehemiah 8:1-2, the people gathered themselves together, and compelled Ezra, the priest to bring out the word of God and read it. In vs3 we find that he read it from morning to midday. Verse 3 also tells us that their ears were all attentive to God’s Word. Verses 5-6 tell us that the people stood as Ezra read, and worshiped the LORD. And verse 8 tells us that they read (those in verse 7) in the Book of the Law distinctively, and gave sense, and caused the people to understand the reading.

Do you want to understand what the Bible says, then you need to be in church: church that believes what the Bible says.

Peace.


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Don’t Get Greedy

Today’s Reading – Nehemiah 1 – 5 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – 1 Corinthians 5 – 8; Psalms 141 – 145; Proverbs 30)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – 1 John 4:7 & 8

Read the “0530 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read previous posts from this passage – “See the Need and Take the Lead,” and “A Mind to Work.

The Greed of the Nobles

“1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. 2 For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. 3 Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. 4 There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. 5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards. 6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. 7 Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. 8 And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. 9 Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies? 10 I likewise, and my brethren, and my servants, might exact of them money and corn: I pray you, let us leave off this usury. 11 Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them. 12 Then said they, We will restore them, and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest. Then I called the priests, and took an oath of them, that they should do according to this promise. 13 Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise.” (Nehemiah 5:1-13)

Nehemiah five is replete with principles regarding money and greed that can be gleaned by God’s people today. The beginning of the chapter explains the problems that some of the people of Jerusalem were facing. It is somewhat unclear whether Nehemiah is addressing this problem during the time of the building of the wall, which would certainly be a cause for the disruption of income for many people. Verse seven indicates that an assembly was called, which would seem impractical if the wall was still under construction, but verse sixteen indicates that the work on the wall was continuing. At any rate, the economic situation would have been temporarily hindered while the construction was taking place. Some people were short of food; others were forced to mortgage their lands; and many had to borrow money to pay the Persian government its tribute money. These were hard times. The debts that were accumulating were jeopardizing their children’s futures, likely putting them in bondage to the creditors. This is what happened to the widow and her two sons in the time of Elisha (2 Kings 4). Her sons would have been sold into bondage to satisfy the debt that the parents had accumulated.

Nehemiah acted when he became aware of this situation. He rebuked the nobles (v. 7) for exacting interest (usury) from their brethren, which was against God’s Law (Exodus 22:25 – 27; Leviticus 25:35 – 38). God was very clear: Israelites who had money were supposed to be a blessing to those who were struggling, and they were not to take advantage of them in any way. The heathen people surrounding Jerusalem had taken advantage of them, but God’s people were supposed to help them and not follow their practices (v. 8). Nehemiah implores them to “leave off this usury.” The people, to their credit, heed Nehemiah’s admonition, and agreed to “restore them, and … require nothing of them” (v. 12).

The Example of Nehemiah

“13 Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise. 14 Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor. 15 But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God. 16 Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work. 17 Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us. 18 Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people.” (Nehemiah 5:13-18)

Nehemiah set the right example by not taking anything from the people, which he was entitled to do as a Persian governor. He was also very generous to the people, apparently using his own resources to do so. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s reminder to the elders of Ephesus: “33 I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. 34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me” (Acts 20:33-34). Also at Corinth, Paul refused to take anything from the people but worked to support himself (1 Corinthians 4:12; 2 Corinthians 12:13 – 15). Peter admonished the elders to not be in the ministry “for filthy lucre” (1 Peter 5:2). It is critical that the leaders in the local church follow Paul’s and Nehemiah’s example, as well as Peter’s exhortation. Money can be a big stumbling block for preachers. Some preachers are the biggest cheapskates I know. I know of a pastor that invites me out to eat on occasion and never reaches into his own wallet to pick up the tab. And if he is like that with me, a fellow preacher, I cannot imagine how he might be fleecing his congregation. I believe that if the pastor and leaders should set the right example by being generous and hospitable; by avoiding covetousness, excessiveness; and by working hard at being good stewards of the Lord’s money, the church will follow their lead. There will probably still be the 80 – 20 rule, where most of the congregation gives very little and a few give very sacrificially, but God will meet all the needs of the ministry (Philippians 4:19).

The Antisemitism of Their Neighbors

I would like to give an additional thought from this passage regarding antisemitism. Nehemiah has a desire to go to Jerusalem and help the people of God. He goes through the proper channels and has the authorization and support of the King. Yet, there were some who hated the fact that somebody was coming to help the Jewish people.

“When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” (Nehemiah 2:10)

This was not a new problem in Nehemiah’s day and it is still a serious problem today. Israel is surrounded by people who hate them and actually want them obliterated from the face of the earth. Ignorant college students here in America are chanting “From the river to the sea,” which is an expression that expresses the desire to sweep the Jewish people out of the land of Israel fromthe Jordan River and into the Mediteranean Sea. Yet, God promised that He would bless anybody that is a blessing to Israel. Way back in Genesis, God first gave this promise to Abraham: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The covenant that God made with Abraham regarding the land of Israel passed through his son, Isaac, and then through Isaac to Jacob and his twelve sons. The land belongs to Israel. We may not be in agreement with every decision made by the Israeli government, but as believers, we should never side with this antisimetic world against Israel. I stand with Israel. I am praying for the peace of Jerusalem, and I am also praying for and supporting the work of Christian missionaries who are sowing the seeds of the gospel to the Jewish people. Someday, their corporate blindness regarding their Messiah will be healed and “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26). Until that time comes, though, as Christians we want to love and support the People of God.


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Our Trust Is in God

Today’s Reading – Ezra 8 – 10 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – 1 Corinthians 1 – 4; Psalm 136 – 140; Proverbs 29)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – 1 John 3:1

Read the “0529 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read previous posts from this passage – “I Am Ashamed and Blush,“ and “Here We Go Again.

“21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. 23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us.” (Ezra 8:21-23)

In Ezra 8, Ezra is reviewing the details of the preparations for his journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra was returning to Jerusalem with over 1,700 men, plus some women and children. Chapter seven gives us the date that Ezra left Babylon and the date that he arrived in Jerusalem. It also tells us that Ezra had permission from the king (Artexerxes), after Ezra assured him that God’s hand of blessing was upon him and the returning remnant:

“6 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him. 7 And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. 8 And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. 10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” (Ezra 7:6-10)

The chapter goes on to tell us that Artaxerxes wrote a letter on behalf of Ezra permitting any Jews who desired to go with Ezra and authorizing the complete funding of the trip. Ezra was very appreciative of the king’s kindness but also acknowledged that God worked in the king’s heart to motivate him to be such a blessing to the Jews: 

 “27 Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem:” (Ezra 7:27)

“1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

After having assured the king that God’s hand was upon this returning remnant, the last thing Ezra wanted to do was request protection by way of a military escort from the king. Ezra 8:21 – 23 tells us that instead Ezra stopped at a place near the beginning of their journey to “afflict [themselves] … to seek of him a right way.” They fasted and prayed that God would protect them on their journey and be able to avoid all the pitfalls and dangers that they would surely face somewhere along the way. Ezra did not want the king to think that God was unable to protect them, so he bypassed asking the king for protection. They wanted the king to know that God was able to protect them on their journey. By stopping to fast and pray, Ezra and the remnant were declaring their complete dependence upon the Lord. And God came through. He brought them into Jerusalem safely.

 


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Tears of Joy, or Sorrow?

Today’s Reading – Ezra 3 – 7 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – Romans 13 – 16Psalms 131 – 135Proverbs 28)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – 1 Timothy 1:17

Read the “0528 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read previous posts from today’s passage – “Leave Them Alone,” “The Heart of the King,” and “Stop Living in the Past

“But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.” (Ezra 3:12 & 13)

In chapter 3 of today’s passage, we see the children of Israel (or at least some of them) back in their land after a long captivity in Babylon and Persia. Eventually they begin the process of rebuilding the Temple of God that had been completely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar years earlier. Remember, the Temple that had been built by Solomon was perhaps the most beautiful piece of architecture that has ever been constructed, with literally tons of gold covering much of the building itself and also the furniture and instruments used in the temple. The building that they were in the process of constructing now could not possibly compare to the old one. Only the foundation for the Temple had been laid at this point but the congregation of Israel was super excited about what God was doing. I remember when our church pulled the trigger on our recent building addition. We did not have the money that we needed to finish the project, but we did have enough to get started, so we cleared the land and poured the foundation. That foundation stood there for almost a year before we could add a building to it, but we were all still excited because we could see something tangible on that spot of ground. The process of building had begun and we rejoiced because of it.

In our text, we see that some of the very old folks that had actually seen the old Temple that was built by Solomon and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, were weeping. It very well could be that they were weeping for joy because they were seeing the beginning of the rebuilding of God’s House. They had witnessed the savage slaughter committed by the Babylonians decades earlier; they had seen their beloved Jerusalem completely destroyed; but perhaps worst of all, they had watched as the armies of Nebuchadnezzar pulled the Temple completely apart and stole any thing of value. But now, God was giving His people a second chance, and they were seeing the beginning of the construction of a building which represented the very presence of God.

Or, it could be that some of these old timers were upset because this new building could not possibly be as beautiful or extravagant as the former one built by Solomon. However, it is important to note that these elder men who may have been despondent over the lack of luxury in this new temple had actually never seen the presence of God at the old one. At the time that they were there (before the captivity), the glory of God had long since departed because of the falling away of the people of God. So these elders were upset simply because of a building. They failed to see that this new building, though not nearly as ornate and expensive as the old, had the potential for being a place where God would actually meet with His people.

In my many years of being saved, I have observed this same mentality. I have seen church buildings that were absolutely gorgeous with large auditoriums, countless classrooms, fellowship halls, and even landscaped gardens. However, many of these buildings, though beautiful, have “Ichabod” written all over them. But on the other side of town there is a storefront building with no classrooms, where a preacher and church are boldly proclaiming the Truth, with the Spirit of God all over them. Yet, most people in the world, and even some Christians, would say that the church with the beautiful facility is the “real” church.

One more thought from this passage: Sometimes, those that have been saved for a while and have seen the power of God in previous years, tend to live in the past. God does not live in the past. Actually, He is way ahead of us. We are supposed to be following Him. This is partially what Paul meant when he said, “leaving those things which are behind.” I believe the greatest movement of God is yet to come.  I believe the greatest days of Jersey Shore Baptist Church will be in the tomorrows, not in the yesterdays. While I rejoice over what God has done in the past, I am looking for “greater works than these.”


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Reconciling God’s Sovereignty with Free Will

Today’s Reading – Ezra 1 – 2 (Click on the references to listen to the audio – Click here to view the passage from Blue Letter Bible)

(Second Milers Read – Romans 9 – 12Psalms 126 – 130Proverbs 27)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – Ephesians 4:32

Read the “0527 Evening and Morning” devotion for today, by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Read previous posts from this morning’s passage – “A Fresh Start,“ and “It’s All According to God’s Plan”

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.” (Ezra 1:1-6)

The Book of Ezra details the return of some of the people of God from their captivity in the land of Persia. You will recall that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and had taken the people of Judah captive somewhere around 586 BC. The Babylonians were then overtaken by the Medes and Persians and during the reign of King Cyrus, the people were permitted to return to Jerusalem. Ezra 2 records the specific number of people who returned (approximately 50,000) along with some genealogical information.

What caught my attention from this passage is the contrast that seems to exist between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Note the highlighted words in the passage above. For example, we see that the return of the people of God was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, and that the Lord had “stirred up” and “charged” Cyrus. We also see that the people who participated had their spirit’s stirred by God. But we also see that these folks who returned into the land had “willingly” offered their “freewill offerings.”

From this passage we can clearly see that God was doing something and that He was moving in the hearts of both His people and this Persian King. Consider the following verses:

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

However, could we also say that these people who were part of this movement of God were also operating according to their own free will. Do you think that there were any there who really did not want to go? Do you think that King Cyrus really hated the people of God and desired to keep them locked up in Persia, but God forced him to do His bidding? I don’t think so. God was certainly moving and working and influencing in order to accomplish His will, but He was also using willing participants.

The story about Pharaoh from the Book of Exodus is similar to this one, but only in reverse. There we see the king of the land bent on holding the people of God back and persecuting them. He refused to let the people go. The scripture tells us fifteen times that Pharaoh’s heart was “hardened.” The interesting thing is that some of those times it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and other times it was Pharaoh who hardened his own heart. The bottom line is this: Pharaoh’s will was already made up. He had determined already that he would not let the people go (see Exodus 5:2). Do you really think that Pharaoh was just about to start a new Sunday School ministry for the Hebrew slaves, but then was instead forced by God to make things harder for Israel? No – he was a willing participant in Israel’s misery, and he was completely unwilling to release the people of God out of Egyptian bondage.

How can we reconcile these two concepts – man’s free will and God’s sovereignty? I must confess that I cannot completely wrap my head around all that would be included in this discussion, but I am pretty sure that God’s sovereign plan is accomplished while allowing man to make choices. Man certainly chose to sin against God. Could God force His will upon man? He could, but does He? I am not so sure about that. Does God work in man, influencing man’s decisions? I believe He does, but I do not think that man is a mere robot preprogrammed to do whatever God desires. Neither is he a puppet whose strings are controlled from Heaven. God is certainly sovereign and accomplishes His plan for the ages just as He determined before the beginning of the world, but He will not remove man’s free will in the process. Man is free to accept or reject God’s grace, and he is free to obey or disobey God’s commands. He (and the people around him) will also suffer the consequences of his choices, but he does have a choice. Joshua said, “choose you this day,” and in Revelation, the Spirit of God invites “whosoever will.” These are expressions of choice. I do not always choose wisely, but I cannot blame God for the choices I make or the consequences of those choices.


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