Running On Empty

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
    under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
    again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
    he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
    with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
    like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
    he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
    he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
    a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
    he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
    as a target for his arrow.

13 He drove into my kidneys
    the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
    the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
    he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
    and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:1-18 ESV

The life of a prophet of God was not an easy one. These men had been hand-selected by God and given the unenviable task of delivering His message of pending judgment to His people. From a human perspective, it would appear that each of the prophets failed at their job – if success is measured by the number of people who heard their message and repented. The sad reality is that while everyone heard the message of the prophets, no one heeded their call. And God had warned Jeremiah that his experience would be the same as every other prophet of God. He was just the latest in a long line of men who had been tasked with delivering God’s call to repent or suffer the consequences.

“From the day your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have continued to send my servants, the prophets—day in and day out. But my people have not listened to me or even tried to hear. They have been stubborn and sinful—even worse than their ancestors.

“Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond.” – Jeremiah 7:25-27 NLT

And Jeremiah knew what it was like to be the social pariah, unwelcome and even despised for his role as God’s messenger.

“What sorrow is mine, my mother.
    Oh, that I had died at birth!
    I am hated everywhere I go.
I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose
    nor a borrower who refuses to pay—
    yet they all curse me.” – Jeremiah 15:10 NLT

Jeremiah was in a no-win situation. His message of doom and gloom was unpopular with the people, but as a prophet of God, he was obligated to speak the truth of God. And it certainly didn’t help his cause that there were plenty of others who claimed to be prophets whose messages were much more positive and appealing. They were contradicting Jeremiah’s gloomy forecast, telling the people that all would be well. There had nothing to worry about. But God would have the last say in the matter.

“These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine! – Jeremiah 14:14-15 NLT

And God had fulfilled that promise. But here was Jeremiah, the faithful prophet, expressing his deep sorrow over his lot in life. Not only had he been required to spend years delivering God’s message of the judgment to come, but he had also been forced to live through it just like everyone else. He had not been spared the pain and suffering. He had not been given an exemption from God or been removed to a safe place while all the devastation and destruction took place. He had been right in the middle of it.

“I am the one who has seen the afflictions
    that come from the rod of the Lord’s anger.” – Lamentations 3:1 NLT

And all that he had witnessed had left a lasting impression on him. He describes himself as being besieged by “bitterness and tribulation.” His body was wasting away. His appetite was shot. He even felt like his prayers never made it past the ceiling. All in all, Jeremiah was in a dark place. Everything he had predicted had come to pass, but he found no satisfaction in knowing he had been right. He grieved over the state of his people. He mourned the loss of so many lives.

But the people had no love-loss for Jeremiah. In fact, they found a sort of perverse joy in knowing that the high-and-mighty prophet was suffering right alongside them. The one who had warned them of God’s judgment was experiencing it too. And they found time to mock Jeremiah for his condition.

“My own people laugh at me.
    All day long they sing their mocking songs.” – Lamentations 3:14 NLT

Jeremiah was emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. And he could see no light at the end of the tunnel. His depression was so intense that he claimed, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:18 ESV). He was at a loss as to what to do. His job of delivering God’s message was complete. He had finished what he had been tasked to do. But now he had to sit back and watch the sad plight of his people and wonder what was going to happen next. Where was God in all of this? How could this be His divine will? Was this how it was going to end?

There is something refreshing about Jeremiah’s bluntness. He is not afraid to say what he is thinking or to express his doubts and concerns. In doing so, he is not showing disrespect to God, he is simply sharing his heart. He is being honest. And this tendency toward transparency and honesty can be found elsewhere in Scripture. David, the man after God’s own heart, was particularly adept at expressing his feelings to God. He was not afraid to share his feelings with God because he knew that God was already aware of them.

You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:2-4 NLT

As a result, David had no problem sharing his innermost thoughts with God.

O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
    Why do you hide when I am in trouble? – Psalm 10:1 NLT

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way? – Psalm 13:1 NLT

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. – Psalm 22:1-2 NLT

Jeremiah was in good company. Like David, he knew God could handle his complaints. Refusing to say what he was thinking would not fool God because God knew his thoughts before he did. Failing to express his feelings would be nothing less than dishonesty toward God. So, he vented. He complained. He shared his pain and expressed his confusion over his lot in life. But while his hope was at an all-time low, we will see that his faith remained firmly fixed on the character of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Immodesty, Dishonesty, and Perversity

11 “When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12 then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

13 “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.– Deuteronomy 25:11-19 ESV

As has been the case throughout this section of Deuteronomy, verses 11-19 of chapter 25 contain additional regulations that appear to have no rhyme or reason to them. Not only do they seem to lack any common thread of logic, at least one of them deals with what would appear to be a highly unlikely scenario and a heavy-handed form of punishment (excuse the pun).

Moses brings up the case of a dispute between two men. In Hebrew, the phrase describes “a man and his brother.” So, it is unclear as to whether this involves two sons of the same mother or two Israelites. But in either case, the scenario Moses paints involves a conflict between two men that has resulted in the throwing of punches. In other words, the dispute has gone from verbal to physical. Now, this would not have been a rare occurrence in Israel. Men will be men, and anger has a way of getting out of hand. But Moses introduces another actor to the drama whose actions complicate the scene and require the divine regulation that follows. The point of the passage is not the bare-knuckles brawl between the two men, but the indelicate behavior of one of their wives. Moses describes her involvement this way: “the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts” (Deuteronomy 25:11 ESV).

Now, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what is going on here. And many of the modern translations of the Scriptures provide much more specific wording to get the point across: “genitals” (NASB, NRSV, TEV); “sex organs” (NCV); “testicles” (NLT). Suffice it to say, the woman’s efforts to aid her husband involve what would have to be considered as immodest and indecent behavior. While we might want to say that the heat of the moment provides ample justification for her actions, Moses obviously disagrees. He provides no excuse for the woman’s behavior, demanding instead that her hand be cut off as punishment for her actions.

It would appear that the fight involves a non-life-threatening confrontation. One man is beating another. There are no swords drawn. Death is not imminent or even intended. But the woman, in an attempt to come to the aid of her husband, commits an act of indecency that could actually result in permanent physical harm to her husband’s adversary. By grabbing the man’s genitals, she would likely incapacitate him, giving her husband the upper hand in the fight, but she also risks doing irreparable damage to the man’s reproductive capacities. And this seems to be the point of the passage and the reason behind the severe punishment demanded by Moses.

Her response would not only be considered indecent and improper, but it would also be deemed an excessive form of retribution. It is interesting to consider the lex talionis or laws concerning retaliation.  They are found throughout the Pentateuch:

…if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. – Exodus 21:23-25 ESV

If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. – Leviticus 24:19-20 ESV

Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. – Deuteronomy 19:21 ESV

It would appear that Moses is citing a case where the woman’s actions did not result in permanent damage to the man’s genitals. If it had, according to the lex talionis, the law of retribution, her husband would have to suffer a similar fate. But since the wife was the one guilty of committing the crime, she would be the one to suffer the punishment. And, in this case, Moses prescribes the punishment as the cutting off of her hand. There is no tit-for-tat retribution involved. Which seems to suggest that her actions had no long-term or permanent impact. But she would suffer the consequences of her actions nonetheless. She had intended to do harm and her actions could have had serious repurcusions that left a man incapable of having children. This was a serious crime in God’s eyes, and it came with serious consequences.

And, as he seems prone to do, Moses suddenly shifts his attention to less dramatic matters, focusing his attention on dishonesty. He mentions the use of different measures. This is a reference to the scales used in buying and selling. Since Israel was predominantly an agrarian society, when produce was sold, it was placed on one side of the scale and the form of payment was placed on the other. A bag of wheat equaled a certain amount of coin. So, if you had two different forms of measurement, it essentially meant you had false scales and an intent to cheat the one with whom you were conducting business. The prophet, Micah, records the words of God concerning those who would do such a thing.

Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights? – Micah 6:8 ESV

And the book of Proverbs provides further insight into God’s perspective on dishonesty in business.

The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.
 – Proverbs 11:1 NLT

And God had provided the Israelites with His laws concerning the matter.

“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:35-36 NLT

Accuracy and honesty are important to God. He is a just and righteous God who expects His people to treat one another with love and respect. To cheat someone is nothing less than an outward display of hate for them. It is to rob them of what they are rightfully due. And, in cheating someone, you are setting yourself up as god, establishing your own rules and establishing your will as greater than God’s. But Moses makes it painfully clear that “all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 25:16 ESV).

Finally, Moses brings up God’s commands concerning Israel’s relationship with the Amalakites. In the book of Exodus, there is a story describing Israel’s first encounter with these people. They appeared on the scene at a place called Rephidim, launching an unprovoked attack on the Israelites. While Joshua did battle with the Amalakites, Moses stood on a nearby hill, holding up the staff of God as a symbol of God’s presence and power. As long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites prevailed. But as the battle raged on, his arms grew weary and Aaron and Hur were required to assist him in keeping the staff aloft. Eventually, the forces of Israel prevailed and God made a pronouncement concerning the Amalakites.

“Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:14-16 ESV

Now, Moses is reminding the Israelites that they were to fulfill God’s will concerning the Amalakites. There were to be no compromises or concessions made. God had decreed that the Amalakites were to be blotted out and He fully expected His people to carry out His wishes.

Hundreds of years later, when Saul had been appointed the first king of Israel, God reiterated His will that the Amalakites be wiped out.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

But Saul failed to obey God’s command.

But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:9 ESV

And as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God rejected him as king. This man had chosen to partially obey, making compromises and concessions that were unacceptable to God. And Samuel, the prophet of God, delivered the following indictment against Saul.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV

Saul had chosen to act perversely. According to, someone who acts perversly is “willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired.” He did not do what God had told him to do. But God considers obedience far better than sacrifice. As Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Friend Indeed.

Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, Shammah of Harod, Elika of Harod, Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, Mebunnai the Hushathite, Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai of Netophah, Heleb the son of Baanah of Netophah, Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, Benaiah of Pirathon, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash, Abi-albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth of Bahurim, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan, Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai of Maacah, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, Hezro of Carmel, Paarai the Arbite, Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all. – 2 Samuel 23:24-39 ESV

Chapter 23 closes with a list of 37 men. Several things should jump out at us. First of all is the inclusion of the name of Uriah the Hittite, the man David had exposed to enemy fire on the front lines in order that he might be killed and so that David could take his wife, Bathsheba, as his own. And all of this had been done to cover up David’s affair with her and the pregnancy that had resulted from it. While Uriah had been killed early on in David’s reign, he is recognized here at the end of David’s life as one of “the Thirty.” We don’t know exactly what that title entails and what the responsibilities were for each of these men, but we do know that they were considered men of distinction. Even David had to admit that Uriah, though long dead, was a man of integrity, having refused to give in to David’s attempts to get him to sleep with his wife while his fellow soldiers were battling the enemy. Uriah had turned down David’s counsel to enjoy the comforts of home, instead choosing to sleep at the doorstep of the king’s palace. And he willingly returned to the front lines, unknowingly carrying his own death certificate, in the form of a letter from David to Joab, commanding that Uriah be exposed to deadly enemy fire on the front lines and left to die.

Another thing that should jump out at you is the variety of the men in this list. Some were Israelites. Others were not. You have groups listed like the Paltites, Hushathites, Ahohites, Arbathites, Shaalbonites, Hararites, Gilonites, Arbites, Gadites, Ammonites, Ithrites, and Hittites. We don’t much about many of these people groups, but it reveals the ethnic diversity of David’s mighty men. David’s kingdom and his army were multicultural. These men loved and supported David. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for him, if necessary. We are not given any specifics regarding the actions of these men or how they had come to be included in “the Thirty”, but they were special to David. They had proved faithful to him over the years. No doubt there were some, like Uriah, who gave their lives for David. Others fought for him or gave him counsel and advice. They had diverse backgrounds and different duties, but they all shared a common bond with David.

Conspicuously absent from the list is Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies and the man who had stood beside him all the years of his life. Joab had disobeyed David and killed Absalom, David’s son. He had also killed Abner and Amasa, against the wishes of David. So he is not included in David’s inner circle. But his armor bearer is.

An important character quality of a true friend is that of loyalty. These men had proven themselves loyal and dedicated to David. Joab had as well, but he had also shown himself to be blunt and brutally honest with David. He loved him enough to call him out. When David was stuck in a state of perpetual mourning over the death of Absalom, it had been Joab who called him out and demanded that he act like a king or face the loss of his kingdom. David needed to hear what Joab had to say. It seems that there were times when Joab did what David was either afraid or reluctant to do. That too, is an important character quality of a true friend. Someone who always agrees with you or overlooks your faults and sins, is not someone who loves you. Solomon, the son of David, would record the following sayings in his book of Proverbs:

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. – Proverbs 27:6 NLT

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

The truth is, we all need someone like Joab in our life. It’s always great to be surrounded by those who look up to you and who are willing to do whatever it takes to make you successful. But sometimes we just need one individual who is willing to say the hard things and to hold us to a higher standard. Joab and David didn’t always get along. They didn’t always agree. But Joab had proven himself faithful to David, time and time again. And he loved David too much to watch him do nothing, risking his kingdom by losing the respect of his people.

David had no shortage of faithful followers, brave companions and dedicated servants. But there were times when he could have used a few more men like Joab in his life. What kind of friend are you? Are you steadfast and faithful, always there when your friends need you? Are you willing to risk losing a friend by speaking up and calling them out over their sins? Joab was far from perfect. He had his own struggles with anger, impulsiveness and seeking revenge. But he loved David greatly. So much so that he was willing to risk David’s wrath by standing up to David when he knew that David was wrong. A godly leader who has followers is fortunate, but a godly leader who has faithful and honest friends is blessed.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Calm Before the Storm.

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.

And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.– 1 Samuel 19:1-10 ESV

David had to be one confused young man. On two separate occasions, the king of Israel had tried to pin him to the wall with a spear. But then, the same man turned around and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet David’s demureness and subsequent delay caused Saul to give his daughter to another man. But this was followed by Saul offering to David his younger daughter, Michal, who David eventually married. He became the son-in-law of the king. He was part of the royal family and best friends with the king’s own son. And yet, unbeknownst to David, Saul was continually plotting ways to rid himself of his new son-in-law, who he believed posed a major threat to his reign. Perhaps David simply wrote it all off as nothing more than a symptom of Saul’s fits of rage. After all, David had originally been hired to serve as Saul’s “music therapist,” playing his harp in order to calm the king when he had one of his bouts of uncontrolled anger. He would have known first-hand just how violent Saul could become. Even when Saul had attempted to kill David with a spear, he probably convinced himself to not take it personally. He had just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But things were much worse than David knew.

Saul was so desperate to eliminate David that he commanded his son, Jonathan, and all his servants to kill him. Basically, he ordered a hit on David. He put a bounty on his head and brought in reinforcements. But Jonathan took this news hard. He and David were best friends. He was being commanded by his father and king to kill someone he cared deeply about. It’s interesting to note that Jonathan, the heir to the throne of Saul, did not perceive David as a threat. He did not share his father’s paranoia regarding David. In fact, he pleaded with his father to reconsider and reminded him of all that David had done for him.

“The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all.” – 1 Samuel 19:4-5 NLT

And Saul seemed to listen to the words of Jonathan, vowing to spare David’s life and welcoming him back into his presence as before. But this happy reunion would prove to be short-lived. It would simply be the calm before the storm. The king whom God had rejected and the man whom God had anointed as his replacement were not going to be able to coexist for long. Eventually, Saul was going to have to go away. He was the one who would have to be eliminated, not David. God’s plan to place David on the throne of Israel was not going to be curtailed or compromised by anyone or anything. But things were going to get worse before they got better.

While things appeared to have gone back to normal, with David winning victories over the Philistines by day and playing his harp for Saul in the evenings, the animosity of Saul remained unchanged. And eventually, in one of his tormented moments, Saul attempted to kill David for the third time. David was forced to run for his life yet again. And this would prove to be a foreshadowing of David’s life for years to come. He was about to discover that his lot in life was to be that of a man on the run. He was to become a fugitive, a wanted man with a price on his head and a relentless pursuer on his trail, who would stop at nothing until David was dead.

David must have looked back on his anointing by Samuel and wondered what it all meant. Why had the prophet chosen him? What had the anointing meant? What had he been anointed for? David must have assumed that he had been chosen by God to be a great military leader, having killed Goliath and given his numerous victories over the Philistines since becoming a commander in Saul’s army. But why would God give him success in battle and then allow him to suffer at the hands of his own king? How was he supposed to do his job when he was constantly having to worry about the king killing him? All of this must have created a great deal of confusion in the mind of David, and led him to have some frank and open conversations with God. In fact, because of all that David was about to experience, he would learn to talk to God with an honesty and openness that only suffering can create. Many of his psalms reflect the nature of his relationship with God, revealing his total transparency and somewhat shocking honesty.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest. – Psalm 22:1-2 ESV

I pray to you, O Lord, my rock.
    Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent,
    I might as well give up and die. – Psalm 28:1 NLT

David was going to learn to trust God. But first, he was going to learn to be honest and open with God. David would discover his own limitations and come to grip with his own weaknesses – the hard way. His anointing by Samuel was just the beginning of his preparation. The Spirit of God coming upon David was instrumental in his early success, but the Spirit of God transforming the heart and character of David was going to be the key to his future rule and reign. What would eventually make David a great king are the lessons he would learn while on the run. The time he spent hiding in caves would play a vital role in preparing him for the crown. David was going to learn a lot about himself over the next few years. But he was going to learn even more about God. What would eventually make him a great king would be his understanding of the greatness of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Men of Integrity.

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. – 2 Corinthians 8:20 NLT

Ministry has always had its critics. There will always be those who deem it their responsibility to find fault within the church and among its leadership. Paul was very familiar with this concept, having suffered all kinds of verbal and physical attacks by those who disagreed with his message and ministry. But Paul was more concerned with the reputation of the cause of Christ than his own well-being. He wanted to make sure that he never gave a reason for anyone to dispersions on the gospel or the name of Christ. He knew there were those out there who were constantly looking for even the smallest hint of impropriety, so that they could discredit Paul and the ministry.

So when it came to the collection of funds for the saints in Jerusalem, Paul knew that he had to do everything with integrity, taking extra special precautions to insure that no one could accuse him of financial mismanagement. He understood that accusations, even if false, could do lasting damage to the cause of Christ. That’s why he went out of his way to develop a plan for the collection and delivery of the financial gift for the Jerusalem church. Paul had assembled a team of three men, all well-known and respected among the various churches throughout the region. They would be coming to Corinth to retrieve the funds given by the believers there and combine them with the gifts given by the churches in Macedonia, Asia Minor and Galatia. Then this committee of three would travel together to Jerusalem to deliver the funds to the church leadership there.

Paul knew that he was handling the funds correctly. He had every confidence that what he was doing was God-honoring and morally ethical. But he also knew how important it was that others view his efforts as above-board and blameless. “We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable” (2 Corinthians 8:21 NLT). Paul was taking no chances when it came to the reputation of his ministry and the honor of Jesus Christ’s church. He was not going to give his critics or the enemies of the gospel any cause to question his integrity or cast doubt on his ministry. Isn’t it interesting that even in Paul’s day it was normal and natural for people to assume wrong-doing when money was involved? Financial mismanagement was common and expected. Paul knew that there would be those who simply assumed he was lining his pocket with the funds collected or skimming a percentage of the proceeds for his own benefit. That kind of thing went on all the time. But Paul wanted to prove that Christians weren’t like other people. He wanted to make it clear that believers handled their affairs with integrity and could be trusted to do the right thing – even when money was involved. It is so important for us to manage our affairs well – both corporately and individually. We all know well the stories of ministries and ministers who have been caught mismanaging the financial gifts given by trusting individuals. We’ve seen the news reports of greedy pastors and televangelists, growing wealthy off of the contributions of their flocks. The actions of these individuals, while few in number, have done a great deal of damage to the cause of Christ. They have caused many unbelievers to reject the message of Christ because they could no longer trust the messengers of Christ. Even believers, those who have found themselves tricked and deceived by men they once trusted, have walked away from the faith disillusioned and disappointed. The cause of Christ is too important to take risks. The name of Christ is too valuable to ever allow it to be damaged by our acts of indiscretion or failure to take the proper precautions. We are to be men and women of integrity in all that we do, because we represent the King.

Father, may we live in such a way that we never give our enemies a reason to discredit our ministry or Your Son’s name. We know that we will be attacked, but help us to live with integrity, so that there is no basis for those attacks. May we be honest, faithful, without reproach and constantly careful in how we handle every area of our lives – all for the glory of Your name and the good of the gospel. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Corinthians 2:1-13

Tough Love.

2 Corinthians 2:1-13

I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you. – 2 Corinthians 2:4 NLT

Paul’s love for the Corinthians believer was like that of a father for his children. He was proud of them and felt a strong responsibility for their welfare. He worried about their spiritual health and was concerned for survival in the high-pressure context of a pagan city like Corinth. So Paul wrote them words of encouragement and instruction, as he did in 1st Corinthians. But there were times when he had to take a harsher, sterner tone, in order to deal with actions and attitudes that were dangerous and un-Christlike. Paul loved the believers in Corinth enough to say things that caused them sorrow – for the time being. He evidently wrote a second letter, which commentators refer to as “the sorrowful letter,” which has been lost. Paul refers to it in verse 3: “That is why I wrote you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy.” He had written them a letter containing some strong words and loving admonitions. He had written that letter “in great anguish.”  It had been accompanied by “a troubled heart and many tears.” Paul loved them very much, but he loved them enough to say things they needed to hear, but that were hard to listen to. His words were written in love, not anger. They were expressed out of heartfelt concern, not pride or arrogance. But his words hurt all the same. And he knew it.

Paul had a reason behind his words. They were not written flippantly or thoughtlessly. “I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions” (2 Corinthians 2:9 NLT). It was vitally important to Paul that they accept him for who he was – an emissary of Jesus Christ, a God-sent messenger of the gospel and a legitimate apostle of the Church. He wasn’t on some kind of an ego trip, but was simply trying to get them to understand that he spoke on behalf of and with the complete authority of God Himself. It was essential that they listen to and obey what he said. He was not just sharing his opinions, but the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ. Paul was dealing with some specific issues going on in the church in Corinth. There was a situation that involved a member of the congregation that had caused a great deal of division and strife in the church. It may have been the man Paul dealt with in 1st Corinthians who had had an immoral relationship with his step-mother. It could have been someone who had personally insulted Paul by speaking against him and leading the church into accepting false teaching. But whoever the man was, he had been opposed by the church, punished for his sin, and now it was time to reconcile and restore the relationship. Paul urged them “to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:8 NLT). He wanted them to extend grace, love and mercy to this man and restore him to the fellowship. Paul knew that Satan would love nothing more than to divide the church from within. He knew that the enemy would be far more successful destroying the cause of Christ if he could cause division and disunity among believers. External pressure tends to solidify and strengthen the church. But internal strife causes cracks and chasms to weaken the spiritual infrastructure of the church, diminishing its power and effectiveness.

Paul loved the cause of Christ too much to allow that to happen. He was not going to stand idly by and watch the Corinthian believers self-destruct. So he said what needed to be said. He spoke the truth, but always with love. When he spoke, he shared God’s will, not his own. He was not driven by ego or self-preservation, but out of love for the Kingdom of God and the spread of the gospel message around the world. He knew that the greatest barrier to the gospel’s expansion was a weakened church. Compromise, complacency, disharmony and disunity among God’s people would be deadly to the cause of Christ. Unforgiveness, hatred, resentment, jealousy, pride, self-centeredness, and injustice had no place among God’s people. And when Paul saw these things, he spoke against them. Paul had told them what God expected of them. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT).

Paul loved the believers in Corinth. He loved them enough to speak truth. He loved them enough to cause them sorrow, if only for the moment. Because he knew that exposing their sin was essential if they were to grow. Later on, in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul would write, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). Love is honest. It does not lie or tolerate falsehood. Love doesn’t overlook sin, but confronts it. Love doesn’t minimize unrighteousness, but exposes it. Love can hurt, but love never fails.

Father, help me learn to love like Paul did. Show me how to speak truth, Your truth, in such a way that it results in conviction and produces righteousness in the lives of others. Show me how to say what needs to be said, but always in love, not out of pride, arrogance or ever with a heart filled with hatred. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

2 Corinthians 1:12-24

As Good As Your Word.

2 Corinthians 1:12-24

You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” – 2 Corinthians 1:17-189 NLT

Paul’s authority was in question. There were those in Corinth who didn’t think he had the right to say to them the things he had written in his previous letter. They were raising doubts about his claim to be an apostle. They were contradicting his teaching and casting dispersions about his character. They seemed to claim that his previous letter to them was full of hidden meanings and purposefully obscure teachings. And, in essence, they were labeling Paul a liar because he had promised to come see them again, but had failed to do so. As a result, his word could not be trusted. So Paul had to defend himself. He had had a change of plans, but not a change of heart. He had a good and logical reason for his delay.

Paul had no problem professing his innocence and defending his righteous actions in the matter at hand. “We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings” (2 Corinthians 1:12 NLT). He could say, without a shred of insincerity, that his actions were completely above board and God-honoring. His letters had been straightforward, with no hidden meanings or agendas. The fact that they could not understand what he had written or simply refused to agree with his had been a disappointment to Paul, but he could only hope and pray that one day they would see the truth and sincerity of his teachings. 

But Paul’s main concern was that they would understand and appreciate his integrity and honesty. He was a man of his word. He could be trusted. His “Yes” meant “Yes” and his “No” meant “No.” There was no reason to ever doubt that what Paul wrote, he meant, or that what he said was true. Paul viewed himself as a representative of Christ, having been sent by Christ on a mission to spread His gospel to the world. And Just as Christ had been God’s representative and had always done what God had commanded Him to do, so Paul was a faithful representative of Christ. One of the amazing things about Paul, is that even while attempting to defend his own name, he pointed the people to God. He reminded them of God’s faithfulness. God was never duplicitous or deceitful. He was trustworthy and true. “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!'” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). Jesus Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of all of God’s promises. He was a physical representation of God’s love, having come to earth, taken on human flesh, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, and rose again on the third day. Jesus could be trusted, and because Paul was His chosen representative, Paul could be trusted as well. 

There will be those who doubt our word or question our sincerity. They will misread our actions and misunderstand or misrepresent our intentions. But the important thing for us to remember is whether or not we can claim as Paul did, “Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth” (2 Corinthians 1:23 NLT). Can we, with a clear conscience, endure ridicule or rejection, knowing that what we have said or done was neither misleading or untrue? Was our intention to tell the truth in order to further the Kingdom and encourage the spiritual growth of others? Was it to strengthen their faith and increase their joy? Paul was confident and at peace with himself because he knew that what he had said was true and that his motives were sincere. He was a faithful, trustworthy representative of Jesus Christ. They might not like his message, but they could never question the integrity of the messenger.

Father, sincerely want that to be true of me. But I know that far too often, my desires and agenda get in the way. I want my “Yes” to be “Yes” and my “No” to be “No.” Never let me forget that I speak on Your behalf, not my own. I am to represent You, not me. My words and actions reflect on You, either positively or negatively. If I claim to be Your child, what I say or do must represent You well. Continue Your life-transforming work in my life that I might care more about Your cause than my own reputation. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 24e

The Intimacy of Honesty.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” – Proverbs 24:26 NIV

Honesty is in short supply these days. We live in a world mired in half-truths and deception. Oh, we have plenty of people who claim to “tell it like it is.” But this is usually just another way of saying that they have an opinion and aren’t afraid to share it – no matter how many people they hurt along the way. Honesty in the Hebrew scriptures is about much more than bluntness or frankness of speech. It’s not just speaking your mind or getting something off your chest. It has to do with saying the right or equitable thing. There is an aspect of appropriateness and timeliness to honesty. It entails a certain degree of sensitivity and intimacy. Thus, the comparison in the passage to a kiss on the lips. In Solomon’s day, a kiss on the lips carried a lot of meaning. It was not something done lightly or flippantly. It signified love, devotion, sincerity, and commitment. It was a visible expression of what was in the heart. To kiss someone insincerely would have been unacceptable. To kiss someone on the lips would have given them the impression that you cared for them and that your relationship with them was close. But to do so insincerely, but without meaning it, would have been as unacceptable as lying to them.

When we are honest with someone, it is an expression of love. It shows that we care for them. But it is NOT just a willingness to be blunt with them, telling them whatever is on our heart without any regard for their feelings. Honesty involves intimacy. Honesty requires love. We lovingly express what is on our heart because we care and desire the best for them. We think about how best to say what is on our heart, so that those with whom we sharing will receive it well. Our motivation is love. Our desire is that they will benefit from our honesty, not be devastated by it. Sometimes we can attempt to be honest, but our motivation is to hurt, not help. We can say what is on our mind, simply out of anger or in an attempt to teach the other person a lesson. But the honesty Solomon is talking about is always for the good of the other. It has the other person’s best interest at heart, because it comes from the heart. It is honesty that aims at building the other person up, not tearing them down. It is honesty that is selfless, not selfish. We share what we share because we wish to make the other person better, not because we’re out to prove a point or voice our opinion. An honest answer is a loving answer. It is saying what needs to be said because you care for someone deeply.

Father, give us the capacity to be honest with one another because we truly care for one another. Teach us to share intimately and honestly out of love. Reveal to us any selfishness or self-centeredness that may be getting in the way. Help us to see when we our attempts at honesty are nothing more than poorly veiled efforts to hurt the other person. May our honesty always be motivated by love and focused on the well-being of the other person. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 20e

The Detestability of Dishonesty.

“The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased with dishonest scales.” – Proverbs 20:23 NLT

Dishonesty has become a comfortable, close friend to a lot of us. No, we would never admit it and some of us may not even be able to recognize it. But if the truth be known, dishonesty has become a natural and normal part of our lives. It’s a subtle thing. We don’t think of ourselves as liars or cheats. We don’t try to take advantage of others by twisting the truth or falsifying information. But there is a tinge of dishonesty in our dealings with others and even in our relationship with God. And that should scare us, because Solomon warns us twice in this Proverb about God’s disdain and dislike for dishonesty in all its forms. Yes, he seems to be talking about financial dealings or dishonesty in commerce, but God’s hatred for double standards goes well beyond just false weights and unequal measures. If we deal with this passage so literally, we will all escape unscathed because none of us use actual scales and measures anymore. Those are antiquated business tools that no longer apply, but the heart behind them does. These verses are dealing with an attitude of dishonesty and deception in the heart of an individual that causes him to use any and all means at his disposal to take advantage of others for his own selfish gain. God despises it. He detests it.

While most of us would never think of cheating someone in a business transaction, we have probably fudged the facts slightly in order to make a sale or close a deal. We have withheld important information that we believe might hurt the negotiations. We may have not disclosed some income on our taxes or we might have over-estimated our income when applying for a loan. And what’s interesting is that we would be the first ones to scream, “Injustice!” if someone had done those same things to us. We would cry foul and demand restitution. That’s a double standard and God hates it. It flies counter to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is why God hates dishonesty. It is disingenuous and incredibly self-centered. It reveals an attitude and heart that is self-focused and cares little for the well-being of others.

The problem with dishonesty is that it can become a habit. We can do it for so long and so well, that we even end up deceiving ourselves. We begin justifying our actions as acceptable and understandable, given the circumstances. We become sly and subtle in our dishonesty. And it can take on all kinds of forms. One of the most common is our tendency to act as if we’re something we’re not. We put on a facade and pretend to be something or someone other than who we really are. We act more successful than we are. We pretend to be more sophisticated than we actually happen to be. We try to give off the impression we are financially better off than our bank account might reveal. These are all forms of deception and dishonesty. Another common form of dishonesty is our unwillingness to be transparent and open with one another. Our lives could be cratering and falling apart, but we will put on the happy face and muster up the energy to try and fool all those who know us, just so they won’t know the truth about us. God hates it when we do this. It’s dishonest and deceptive. It is untruthful, and when exposed, causes those who know us to lose trust in us. People lose faith in us because we refuse to be honest with them about who we are and what we are going through.

One of the realities about dishonesty is that we may fool others, but we can never fool God. “The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive” (Proverbs 20:27 NLT). God sees all. He knows all. He is aware of every occurrence of dishonesty in our lives. He knows when we lie. He is aware every time we withhold the truth in any form or in any way. He is never deceived by our deception. And He despises, dislikes and disdains it when we attempt to cover up, hide, fake it, or live our lives dishonestly or deceptively. He is a God of truth. He longs to see His people live in integrity. The biblical concept of integrity is wholeness or completeness. It carries the idea of a life with no compartmentalization. There are no hidden areas. Not skeletons in the closet. We live our lives in integrity before God when we recognize that He sees all and so we stop trying to hide anything from Him. We wholly and holy before Him. No deceit, deception or dishonesty.

Father, help me to live openly and honestly before You. Show me when I am being dishonest because sometimes I think I have grown so accustomed to it that I don’t recognize it anymore. Don’t allow me to live in dishonesty and deceit. Remind me daily that You see the motives of my heart. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 28b


Honesty Really Is the Best Policy.

“People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13 NLT

Honesty. Transparency. Accountability.

Those are not particularly popular words among most Christians, especially those of the male variety. We have been raised to keep things close to the vest, not to let the other guy see our hand, and to never reveal a weakness to the competition. This attitude has resulted in a level of dishonesty and disingenuousness that is dangerous for us as believers. We have become masters at hiding our sins, masking our faults, and faking spirituality. We struggle with sin, but refuse to let anyone else know, even God. Yet, we are told, “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9 NLT). In James we are told “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 1:15 NLT). Yet, we continue to cover up and gloss over our sins, allowing fear of rejection and our own stubborn pride prevent us from enjoying the life-giving benefits of confession.

Hiding your sins may fool others, but only ends up harming you. Unconfessed sin becomes like a deadly toxin in our soul, a cancer that slowly eats away at our lives from the inside out. It saps us of spiritual vitality, robs us of joy, and diminishes our capacity to receive and enjoy the love, grace, and mercy of God in our lives. Like a child who has done something wrong, we tend to ignore and avoid any contact with God because we feel guilty about what we have done. We hide rather than run to Him for forgiveness. When we are around fellow believers, we tend to put up a facade that all is well, refusing to let them know that we are struggling. When we do so, we miss out on their prayers, encouragement, and support. Confession is cathartic. There is something therapeutic about letting the cat out of the bag and allowing someone else to know our secret. The moment we share and allow someone else to know our struggle is when we begin the journey toward healing and recovery.

But while confession is essential, there is a second step that often gets left out. Admitting your sins to God or another Christ-follower is a huge step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t end there. This verse says, “if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy” (Proverbs 2813 NLT). The word “turn” is actually the Hebrew word azab, and it means “to depart from, leave behind, abandon.” This is a two step process. First, you have to admit your sin, then, you have to turn from it. To confess and continue in your sin is not enough. There have to be steps taken toward change. Even in the 1 John passage, there is an aspect of repentance built into the idea of confession. God forgives and cleanses, but He expects change. He expects us to turn from and abandon our sinful ways, not continue in them. “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:8-10 NLT). Confession is a lost art in the church today. As a result, many of us walk around with unconfessed sin that is destroying our lives and damaging our walk with God. It puts up barriers between ourselves and other believers. We end up living fake, opaque lives that prevent anyone from seeing what we’re really like. And the silly part is that we all know that we all sin. There is no one without sin. So confession should not be a shock. The content of our confession may be, but God is greater than our greatest sin. He is able to forgive any transgression, no matter how large. We should be able to hear and lovingly accept the confession of any believer, no matter how a shock to our system it may be. Their openness is a key to the Body’s oneness. Our acceptance and love is a sign that we are truly Christ’s disciples. Honesty, transparency and accountability are the best policy for us as believers.

Father, break down the walls. Help us get rid of our stubborn pride and resistance to admitting our sins one to another. Create a transparency in the church like we’ve never seen before, and let it begin with me. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men