Day 220: A Strange Exchange

2 Chronicles 21-22; Romans 4

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 21:6b-7
And [Jehoram] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.

Romans 4:16
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all [Abraham’s] offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

After faithful Jehoshaphat died, his first-born son, Jehoram, was crowned king of Judah who then killed all of his brothers so that no one would challenge his throne. The royal line of David was dangerously thin – and lay in the hands of a murdering madman who rebuilt the high places and led the people into idol worship.

But it gets worse.

All of Jehoram’s sons were killed in battle except for Ahaziah – who took the throne upon Jehoram’s death. Ahaziah made an alliance with the evil son of Ahab and was killed by the same man who was ordained to destroy all of Ahab’s family. Ahaziah and all of his brothers were killed and there was no one to rule Judah!! So Ahaziah’s evil mother, the daughter of Ahab, took control of Judah and killed everyone in the royal family.

What??!!... The entire royal line of David was destroyed because of their alliance with Ahab’s evil family??  What about the promise that a Royal Branch of David would rule in peace forever??

Ah! We have to keep reading… The narrative continues like a Shakespearean play as we discover that Ahaziah’s sister (who was married to the faithful priest, Jehoiada) hid Ahaziah’s infant son from the royal mother’s massacre. There is one from the line of David who lives! And in tomorrow’s reading, he will take the throne in dramatic fashion!

This is the tragic history of Israel. Paul argues in Romans 4:15 that “the Jews, who had the written law, had even greater responsibility for their sin and as great a need to be saved from God’s wrath and justified by faith*.” The tragic events detailed in today’s reading definitely make it clear that all of Israel had a great need to be saved!

Paul teaches in Romans 4 that all people need to be saved by faith – that the Jews couldn’t trust in their possession of the law – or in their sign of circumcision – to save them. But that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised and before the giving of the Mosaic law (Romans 4:11).

Paul’s argument is clear. Heritage and Circumcision do not make you righteous. That is evident from the horror of today’s Old Testament passage! Rather, it was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness.

Paul says that we, also, can be counted as righteous when we “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (Romans 4:24).

We are given credit for being righteous – only because of our faith – not because of our actions. It is a strange exchange. It’s an exchange based on grace!

*quoted from note on Romans 4:15 from the ESV Study Bible, Crossway

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Day 212: The Folly of the Earth

1 Chronicles 28-29; Acts 25

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 29:11b-13, NIV
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.

Today we see David – publicly ordaining Solomon as king of Israel. And as the entire assembly is gathered for this grand affair, David prays. In this prayer, we see his heart, and amazingly, it is a humble heart… After 40 years of experiencing strength on the battlefield, influence over other nations, the power to judge his own people, and the sovereignty to govern as he wills – he still defers to his Creator…

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand (1 Chronicles 29:14, NIV).

How many current world leaders would be able to genuinely pray David’s words? Power seduces and can dull the mind to the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty over the earth. Despite David’s dance with greatness, in the end, he still recognized that God was the True King of Israel, and he, David, was just a steward of God’s resources and power.

In Acts, we read of tribunes, governors, and kings – each with their own limited power delegated through Caesar. With each subsequent chapter, we are introduced to a different inept ruling authority. Injustice is on center-stage as Paul is imprisoned for years without a fair judgment.

I wonder if these men had the same view of the world that David did? Did they understand that they were just stewards of God’s resources and power? Unfortunately, they all seem like foolish men drunk on their pomp and circumstance! (but maybe that’s just me…)

David, albeit flawed, was the precursor to Christ. If any man had the right to  “pomp and circumstance” it was Jesus! But He traded the grandeur of heaven for a stable… and absolute, universal power for a criminal’s death.

Apart from the grace of Christ, we are nothing. How do you think Paul was able to endure the years of unjust imprisonment? Only through the comfort of Christ! Our dignity comes from being made in the image of God and being redeemed by the blood of His Son. Our hope is found In Christ… alone!!

Day 211: Israel’s Political Disparity

1 Chronicles 25-27; Acts 24

Key Verses

Acts 24:14-16
But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

The political contrast between Israel in the Old and New Testaments is wide.

David would always be the “standard” for Israelite kings. Today we read of all the people he organized for temple service, as well as the thousands he commanded who served in the nation’s military. Israel was a major world power. David extended Israel’s borders and had significant political weight in the world.

Jesus was born into a very different Israel. It was no longer a sovereign nation, but was ruled by Rome. Rome instituted its own governors and officials throughout all of Israel. Even though the Jews maintained the Sanhedrin, their own religious ruling council, they had no true governmental control.

The Jews had been waiting for a “Messiah” to come and re-establish Israel as a major world power. One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as Messiah by most of the Jewish council was that he wasn’t a political figure. They couldn’t accept the radically different notion that Jesus came to establish a spiritual Kingdom on earth.

Consequently, the Jewish Sanhedrin was very much against the new sect of Jews who believed Jesus to be their Messiah. First, they didn’t want this new sect stealing an ounce of their limited power and influence. And secondly, I imagine the thought of a Messiah having come and not returning sovereign rule to Israel – was… well – a very bitter pill to swallow.

So, in today’s reading – we see Paul, standing before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Felix organized a trial, and the Jewish council sent a delegation from Jerusalem to testify against Paul.

The entire conflict between the Jews and Paul could be summarized in one word: Resurrection. Paul, himself, admitted this to Felix when he said…

It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day (Acts 23:21).

The resurrection of Jesus was just as world-changing – just as life-altering back then as it is today. If Jesus’ resurrection was FACT, then his claims to deity were true, and the Jewish Sanhedrin would be forced to accept that they killed the Messiah. And if Jesus was really the Messiah, all of their hopes and aspirations for a Sovereign Israel would be lost. There was just too much to lose. It was much easier for the Sanhedrin to turn a blind eye to the facts, than to admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

Their lust for power was so strong that they were willing to do anything to silence Paul. Even break their own law (and Roman law) to conspire to kill him.

But God used Felix, the corrupt Roman governor, to protect Paul from ambush and death. Indifferent to Paul’s innocence, Felix kept Paul imprisoned, albeit comfortably, for two years. What better way to protect Paul from the rage of the Jewish Sanhedrin than to keep him locked up in a Roman prison!!! What men intended for evil, God worked out for good!

Day 210: The Power of the Weak

1 Chronicles 22-24; Acts 23

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 22:10
“[Solomon] shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.”

Acts 23:1
And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”

Today we read the beginning of the end of 1 Chronicles. David has brought the ark to Jerusalem, subdued his enemies and purchased the land for a permanent temple. The rest of the book will now detail all of the preparations David made for the building of and worship within the new temple.

David’s devoted preparations for the temple are reminiscent of Moses preparing the people to enter the promised land. Neither David nor Moses would live to see the fulfillment of their work, and they were both commanded to raise up a younger leader to finish what they had began…For Moses, it was Joshua who led the people across the Jordan into the promised land. And here we read of David commissioning his son, Solomon, by reiterating the covenant promises of God (1 Chronicles 22:10).

The Davidic covenant would not be fulfilled in the expected way. Under Solomon’s reign, Israel would reach the heights of power, prosperity, and peace. Human wisdom would suggest that Solomon was the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish his kingdom on earth. But history tells us that Solomon’s sin brought dissension to Israel culminating in the destruction of the temple and the nation. God’s promise was fulfilled hundreds of years later through a Divine baby born in poverty. It is so often that we expect God to fulfill His will through pomp and power – yet he surprises us by working through the weak and lowly.

As I read Acts 23, again I marvel at God’s ways… From this point until the end of Acts, Paul would be a prisoner. Human logic would propose that God could accomplish more through a “free” Paul than an “imprisoned’ Paul…

Consider this… Solomon and Joshua would have never risen to be two of the most effective leaders in biblical history if Moses and David were still in the picture. Paul’s imprisonment gave room for other leaders to emerge. The spread of the gospel didn’t stop because Paul was imprisoned. Rather, God used Paul’s imprisonment to stir the passion of the early church – and God raised up others to multiply Paul’s work among the churches.

This is the fingerprint of God… His modus operandi… He breathes power into the weak and lowly to accomplish His Great work in the world. He turns the impossible into possible. And in so doing, He receives the glory!

Day 209: The Substitute

1 Chronicles 20-22

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 21:17
Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.

1 Chronicles 21:26-27
And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

1 Chronicles 20 continues from the previous two chapters to show how David’s military victories prepared the way for Solomon’s peace and prosperity.

Chapter 21 recounts events from 2 Samuel 24… It’s a powerful story of sin, repentance, and redemption. David sinned by demanding a census and God sent a great plague on Israel as punishment for David’s sin. Then God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem.

Let’s think about this… Didn’t God just promise David that his son would build Him a house and He would establish his rule forever??!! Now God is about to destroy the “City of David.” It seems as if God’s covenant promise is in jeopardy because of David’s pride. 

God gave David the ability to see the angel “standing between heaven and earth and in his hand a sword stretched out over Jerusalem.” David realized that his sin had put all the promises of God at risk. He fell to his face and cried out to God…

Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people (1 Chronicles 21:17).

God did relent and spare Jerusalem…But – there had to be a substitute – something to receive the punishment intended for Jerusalem.

This story harkens back to Abraham lifting the knife over the body of Isaac – just in time, God provided a ram.

In this case, God commanded David to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at a specific place. The sacrifice would be the substitute.

And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath (1 Chronicles 21:26-27).

David’s repentance led to God’s relentance (yes, I just made up that word :)

But consider this detail in the text… In order to build that altar, David had to buy the land on which to build it. This piece of land would be the site of Solomon’s temple. Because of David’s repentance, God orchestrated the circumstances by which David bought the plot of land on which the future temple would be built.

Somehow, God redeemed a genuinely repentant heart and brought about a greater and more powerful good.

This story not only points back to Abraham and Isaac but points forward to God’s only Son. There must be a substitute. Our sin demands it. But thankfully… God’s goodness overrules our sinfulness!

Day 208: A Far-Reaching Gospel

1 Chronicles 17-19; Acts 22

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 17:11-14
“‘When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.'”

God’s house and an Eternal dynasty… The Davidic Covenant (found in today’s Key Verses) is God’s promise to David that his son would build God a house and that God would establish David’s throne forever…

These two promises – of a House and a forever King – became Israel’s hope and identity. To the (kingless) people in the post-exilic Jerusalem, the Davidic covenant pointed to their future hope for a Messiah.

For us, we can look to the kingdom under Solomon’s reign as a precursor of God’s eternal Kingdom on earth. The prosperity and peace of Israel haven’t been matched since the days of Solomon!

The Davidic Covenant joins the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants in describing God’s relationship with His people. The Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants promised to make a Great Nation. The Mosaic Covenant laid the foundation for how to live and worship in this nation.

The Mosaic law was a conditional covenant… if the people obeyed, they would be blessed. If they disobeyed, they would be cursed. But the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants were based on God’s loving kindness; they were not conditional on the obedience of the people.

Of all three Covenants, the promises made to Abraham give the broadest picture of God’s relationship with His people… God promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham and his family. David’s Covenant refines this promise to reveal how the nations would be blessed – through the Eternal King that would come from the line of David.

Somehow, the Jews of Paul’s day missed these points in the Great Promises.

Remember the context for today’s reading from Acts? Paul had just been arrested by the Roman Tribune to save him from the rioting crowd in Jerusalem. As Paul was being led to the barracks, he asked permission to speak to the crowds. Acts 22 records his testimony to the Jewish people.

The people listened as Paul spoke in the Hebrew language and defended his Jewish heritage. The people listened further as Paul described his encounter with Jesus – his “Damascus Road” experience – but they stopped listening when Paul reported that this Jesus had commanded him to go to the Gentiles. At this, the people became enraged, “shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air!”

The people had lost sight of the Abrahamic Covenant – the promise of which all the peoples of the earth would be blessed… And they had forgotten that David’s seed was the conduit for the blessing!

The pride that came from adhering to the strict moral demands of the Mosaic Law blinded the people to God’s love for all the nations. They misunderstood when Jesus spent time with “sinners” and died a criminal’s death. And they rioted against Paul at the mere mention of those wretched, lawless Gentiles.

We are tempted by the same pride. We can’t let the trap of moral superiority prevent us from taking the gospel to all people! There are no prerequisites for the gospel. It crosses every line – race, gender, nation, and tongue. Jesus came to bless all the peoples of the earth – even wretched, lawless people like us.

Day 207: Celebrating God’s Presence

1 Chronicles 14-16; Acts 21:15-40

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 16:8-11
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!

Jerusalem. It is the backdrop for our reading today…

In 1 Chronicles, David had just captured Jerusalem and made it his home, and from that point forward, it would be known as “The City of David.” We read as David brings the ark into the city (this time, being careful to obey the Mosaic laws concerning carrying the ark!)

The “chronicler” describes a joyous celebration as the people praise and worship the Lord. It was a new beginning. A newly unified people being led by a godly leader.

It’s important to remember the original audience of 1 Chronicles… The “chronicler” was writing to encourage the post-exilic community. But consider the great differences between these two communities – both living in Jerusalem – during different points in their history.

David’s Israel was beginning anew and experienced a youthful joy. Unlike the post-exilic community, they hadn’t experienced the fullness of God’s judgment…yet. The post-exilic community was in the unique position of experiencing both God’s full judgment AND the beginnings of the promised restoration. The “chronicler” wanted to encourage them to celebrate their restoration with the joy exemplified by David and his Psalms. But their history also instructed them that observance of the Mosaic law was linked to blessing. Obedience was the road to further restoration. Obedience was where the former Israel failed. The restored Israel must hold the law closely. They must observe the law. They must.

In Acts, we see how this mindset had grown into a strict, legalistic observance of the Mosaic law. This legalistic mindset prevented the Jewish believers from totally accepting grace as the only means of salvation. The elders and apostles in Jerusalem accepted the theology of grace, but the new Jewish convert struggled to let go of the old traditions and rituals.

So the Jews in Jerusalem lashed out against Paul… This city who had witnessed the dancing of David and rose out of the ashes to welcome the exiles. This blessed city – killed the promised Messiah and attacked Paul with such passion that the Roman tribune had to arrest Paul to save him from the rioting crowd!

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)

The people of Jerusalem needed to look at David more closely. He celebrated the ark’s return to Jerusalem because it symbolized the return of God’s presence. He respected God’s law and he rejoiced in His provision and grace!

We must not overlook this lesson! We must not fall into a life of legalism and in so doing belittle the grace of God! If David celebrated the mere symbol of God’s presence, what should we do as Christians who have the very Spirit of God living inside us??

God dwells among us. We should celebrate!

Day 206: A Costly Misstep

1 Chronicles 12-13; Acts 21:1-14

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 13:7-8
And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.

Acts 21:13
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Chapter 13 begins the saga of returning the ark to Jerusalem. This act was significant because all Israel agreed to it (continuing the theme from chapters 10-12 of David unifying the nation), and it was an act of spiritual renewal. By bringing the symbol of God’s holy presence back into the assembly of the people, David was acting as both their military and spiritual leader.

The idea was great, but, unfortunately, the execution was poor… David did not ensure the ark was carried according to Mosaic law – that is – carried by the Levites via poles. Instead the ark was transported on a cart – similarly to the way the Philistines transported the ark when it was in their possession.

This was a costly oversight. When the oxen stumbled and the layman, Uzzah, reached out his hand to protect the ark, Uzzah was killed instantly by God.

This has always been a difficult passage for me. Why would God execute such severe judgment for an unintentional breach of the law when it seems He offers grace for far worse offenses? This is a difficult question, but looking at the context for this and other similar instances can shed some light…

God acted in a similar fashion with Aaron’s sons (Leviticus 10) and against Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). In both cases, God was in the process of establishing His people.

  • In the case of Aaron’s sons, the tabernacle had just been built, and Aaron’s first sacrifice had just been accepted. On the same day, his sons “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord” and they were killed instantly. God would not let the impure actions of Aaron’s sons pollute the sacrificial system that had just been established.
  • In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the church was in its infant stages. The Holy Spirit was working mightily among the people, and God would not tolerate the lies of this couple polluting his earliest congregation.

Similarly, the context of Uzzah’s death was during an essential “establishment period.” David was bringing the ark into his city to be the centerpiece of worship, attempting to unify the people around the Mosaic law. God would not tolerate impurity. Especially not in the beginning stages of re-establishing His people under the rule of David.

Finding a pattern to make sense of God’s actions might be helpful, but I think the bigger issue lies within my own heart. When I react to God’s actions in a toddler-type fashion, (i.e. “That’s not fair!”), I know that my perspective is askew. God has every right in his holiness to kill any of us in our sinfulness at any time. But because he is gracious and doesn’t do it very often, I can slip into an attitude of entitlement.

I need to be more like Paul… His perspective is more in line with reality. He knew he had no claim on his life (Acts 21:13)…that his life belonged totally to Jesus. Why has God granted us the privilege of life? To bring him glory in all that we do! Our lives were bought with the precious blood of the Lamb. Who am I to clutch my life tightly as if it were mine to lose? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Day 205: His Strength in Our Weakness

1 Chronicles 10-11; Acts 20:17-38

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 10:14
[Saul] did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

1 Chronicles 11:9
And David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.

Acts 20:24
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Today we read one of my favorite sections of Acts, Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.

Not only is Paul’s speech thick with theology, but it is also heavy with emotion, giving us a glimpse of the impact Paul’s pastoral care had on the church.

Also noteworthy is Paul’s commitment to obeying the Lord no matter the personal cost. Paul’s whole-hearted devotion is uncomfortably challenging to me! But the reading in 1 Chronicles reminds me of an encouraging truth…

God was not with Saul, and he failed…miserably. Whereas God was with David, and even though he lived through great hardship on his road to the throne (all of which is omitted from 1 Chronicles), he was empowered by God to not just endure the hardship – but to overcome it.

Paul’s deep commitment to his call did not come from something inside himself. He didn’t muster up that sort of faith through self-will. No! He was empowered by the Spirit.

So are we! As I am convicted of a lack of devotion and feeling feeble in my faith, I realize that this is exactly the way I should feel, because I am weak. I know that if I confess my weakness to God – he will meet me there and empower me to meet life’s challenges.

This is the way of the gospel. God has resurrection power – the power to bring life out of death. This is the same power he uses to bring strength out of weakness. His grace is sufficient. It always is!

Day 202: Genealogy and Exorcisms (seriously)

1 Chronicles 1-3; Acts 19:1-20

Key Verses

Acts 19:8-10
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

We are going back to the historical books! 1 Chronicles was written after the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, the city, and their lives. The writer of 1 Chronicles wanted to remind the Jewish remnant (who had returned from exile) of their history and renew hope in the covenant promises of God.

The writer was a priest and placed considerable value on the building of Solomon’s temple and practices of the priests. He also idealized the reigns of David and Solomon – maybe to renew the hope of a Messianic ruler that would come from the line of David.

He begins his writings with a long genealogy – beginning with Adam and continuing all the way to the post-exilic period. His purpose was to rebuild the people’s identity – to give them context and purpose in their rebuilt Jerusalem.

Transitioning to Acts 19, we read of Paul’s extended ministry in Ephesus. When reading, we must remember the heavy pagan influence on the culture. In this culture, healings and authority over evil spirits gave credibility to the gospel. In our culture, the gospel gains credibility differently (probably more through kindness and great personal sacrifice rather than exorcizing evil spirits ;) But it’s the same gospel and the same Spirit at work!

Luke makes this point at the end of our reading…

So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).

Was it Paul that prevailed mightily? Did the gospel go forth because Paul had a special skill or knowledge? No, it was the word of the Lord that increased and prevailed! Paul was a willing and obedient servant, so God used him mightily as a vehicle for His Word to prevail. So it is with us. We do not prevail because of all our special programs and ministries. It is the word of the Lord at work in us that prevails in our culture and in our world. We must be willing, but God does the work!