God’s Second Greatest Act of Love (It Might Surprise You)

If you know me, this won’t come as a surprise, but I’m a rule follower. Mostly because I strongly dislike getting in trouble. However, when it comes to driving the speed limit, I tend to curb the rule following. Especially since nine times out of ten, by the time I have everyone in the van, with appropriate attire on their feet, we’re running late.


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 20
Key Verse: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7


I’ve tried to leave earlier – I don’t know why it doesn’t work. Though in almost twenty years, I’m happy to say, I’ve only had one ticket and it happened not long after acquiring my license. (Watch, I’ll probably get one tomorrow.)

The worst part was the police officer pulled me over in the parking lot of our church Thanksgiving dinner. (Hello there so many people who know me.) To put it mildly, I was devastated and no longer in the mood to be thankful. One look at my hot mess of a face and my mother let me go home to sit in the bathtub. The fact that I’d just gotten in trouble in front of well, half my church, left me in need of bubbles, not turkey.

(Ugh, I hate getting in trouble.)

The problem is, not everyone shares my fondness for rule following. In fact, the Bible says even my preconceived notion to follow the rules (minus the speed limit) is a hoax. Psalms 3:2-3 states, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Not even one – we’re a sad case. But if we did follow after God, after his precepts and rules, oh the life we would lead. Not because all would be well and dandy with wild flowers doting our every path but because of the closeness of God we would know and experience.

Obedience is the soil by which the knowing of God will grow.

1 John 2:4-5 says, “Whoever says I know him but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.”

If you want to know God – you’ve got to obey him. Why? Because the law is the essence of God’s heart. Consider this..

God called David a man after His own heart not because he lived life perfectly (i.e. Bathsheba), but because he loved the law (see Psalm 119) and the law reflects God’s heart, expressing His nature in multiple ways. The law is good and righteous and true and so is God. “Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules” (Ps. 119:137).

But unfortunately rules have gotten a bad rap. Gaining the reputation of boring, restrictive, stuffy, tiresome, tedious. A technicality not worth following. Especially God’s rules. Which the world now views as relative for some and not for others depending on how you feel that day. Or your upbringing. Or your circumstances.

A sad delusion that’s significantly damaged our relationship with God.

Because His ways are not restrictive, they’re freeing. Psalm 119:45 says, “I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments” (NLT). When God’s commands are followed blessings abound (Ps. 1:1-2). Peace is given (Ps. 119:165). Understanding is gained (Ps. 119:99). The heart overflows with joy (Ps. 119:111). Comfort is received (Ps. 119:52). And something more valuable than gold is attained (Ps. 119:72).

God’s rules are like a map for living the best life possible. Turn left here, turn right there, leading to the most amazing treasure we could ever receive – God himself.

“Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me” (Ps. 119:175).

Therefore, God’s second greatest act of love is right here in Exodus 20: the giving of His law. It’s not the first because “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NIV). Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for a people like us – yeah, nothing tops that.

But for God to come down from Heaven and speak the outpourings of His heart to a people He knew couldn’t follow it and wouldn’t follow it – this is love. Yet for the purpose of guiding us and them unto himself through the work and person of Jesus Christ, God shared His desires anyway.

We call them the Ten Commandments. So important were these rules to God, He wrote them himself on two stone tablets that were to be kept in the ark of the covenant. They weren’t to go anywhere. Their permanency guiding generation after generation; even in the New Testament.

Though today the church no longer needs to follow the ceremonial law (the sacrifices) or civil law (the rules that governed Israel as a nation). The moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) are very much still in play.

Why? Because God’s heart didn’t change. His guidelines for life and joy and holiness are still the same. What changed was our ability to follow them. So important are these rules to God He put his own spirit within us to help. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

No longer would it be done in the old nature but with the new. In the Spirit, instead of the flesh. In Christ’s strength, instead of our own. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). (The true essence of that verse.)

Yet God knew we couldn’t keep His rules perfectly and it’s perfection he requires. Thus, we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by keeping the law. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, just as Israel was. (Giving us all the more reason to obey Him!)

God’s heart is before us in Exodus 20. Just as we set rules for our kids because we love them, our Father cared enough to set rules for us. It’s not out of spite He’s asked us to live a certain way, it’s out of love. “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7).

He’s not only a God who loved us enough to give us His son, He’s a God who loved us enough to give us His law.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
How do you view God’s laws? As suggestions? Commands? Relevant or no longer necessary?
Are the Ten Commandments something you still try to live by today?
Why is the giving of the law a loving act of God?

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Is It Religion or Is It Relationship?


During my time away (Let’s just call it an August Sabbatical…It makes me feel more important.), I not only wrote the first two chapters of a book I’ve been dreaming up for a few months now. (Who’s excited???) But I spent time studying the Kings. And I mean s-t-u-d-y-i-n-g 1 and 2 Kings. I’m not sure how I ended up there. But it was good.


Devotional Scripture: 1 Kings 15:1-8; 2 Chronicles 13:1-20
Key Verse: “And Samuel said, “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.” 1 Samuel 15:22


If you read 1 and 2 Kings through quickly chapter after chapter, it’s like wait a minute – What guy is this? What kingdom is he with? (There were two – Israel and Judah.) Did he love God? (Chances are probably not.) It all just runs together into a big messy blob of long ago people.

There are well, a lot of kings. Twenty kings for the southern kingdom (Judah), and nineteen kings for the northern kingdom (Israel), in case you were curious. If you do the math, that’s thirty-nine kings to keep track of (not including Saul, David, and Solomon) and twenty years can go by in a matter of about three verses.

(It’s hard enough keeping track of four kids, let alone thirty-nine kings.)

But I had to try. So I went slow. I made notes. I compared 2 Chronicles verse by verse with 1 and 2 Kings. I fit in what prophet went where. I inserted some of the Psalms where theologians think they go. And I loved every minute of it. (I do kind of sort of love history though, as long as there’s no multiple-choice test involved, so I’d say that played in my favor.)

And when I came to Abijah or Abijam (depending on your translation), God was like, “No, you’re stopping here for today.” (He didn’t really say that. It was just one of those mornings a thought hit me so strongly, I couldn’t go on. Holy Spirit speaking? I think so.)

Abijah was the second king of Judah’s lengthy list. He only reigned three years. Probably taking the oath of office about 913 BC. 1 Kings 15:3 has this to say about him, “And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.”

Hmmm, not exactly what you hope the Bible will say about you. So what were the sins of his father? Well, mainly idolatry. He led the people into the worship of false gods. Setting up high places and pillars and “Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree” (1 Kings 15:23). Asherim were probably wooden in nature. I’m picturing something tall and skinny carved in the form of a woman because it represented the goddess Asherah, wife of the chief god El and mother to the other gods.

Verse 24 says Abijah also allowed male cult prostitutes in the land. Lovely eh? This guy cared little for the LORD and his commands and ways and glory.

But if you jump over to 2 Chronicles 13 you realize Abijah had a whole different view of himself. While trying to entice the northern tribes to follow him instead of Jeroboam (the northern king), Abijah had this to say, “But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken him. We have priests ministering to the LORD who are sons of Aaron, and Levites for the service. They offer to the LORD every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps my burn every evening. For we keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him” (2 Chron. 13:10-11).

Oh really Abijah. What about the high places? What about the Asherim? What about the male cult prostitutes? But because they kept the daily, weekly, and festival sacrifices, offered incense, set out the weekly bread, and took care of the lampstand (all things we’re going to study in Exodus), Abijah thought they were good.

Interesting. Look at the way he points the finger at Israel – “We keep the charge of the LORD our God, but you have forsaken him.” Not so Abijah. The charge of the LORD is to love him with all our heart and soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). Not possible when there is idolatry going on.

But it made me wonder, how many, especially in America today, are floatin’ in Abijah’s boat?

Oh I’m good, I go to church Christmas and Easter.

Oh I’m good, I went forward when I was a kid.

Oh I’m good, I say my prayers every night before bed. I give to a local charity. I do my best to love others.

All good things. But what about the heart? Look what the LORD had to say about their actions – “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

(Clear enough.)

So concerned is God about the heart he goes so far as to say to Israel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26a). A new heart! Not because they deserved it but for the sake of God’s holy name, which Israel profaned among the nations by making God into a religion.

But God desires relationship. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

In other words, it’s not about the stuff my friends, it’s about the stuffing. What’s in you? Apostasy? Idolatry? Or a wholeness of heart devoted to God.

Ritual without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Sacrifice without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God. Worship without faith based obedience is unacceptable to God.

King Abijah thought he was good but God saw his heart and it “was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1 Kings 15:3). Which begs the question, what would the Bible say about us? Or for that matter, about a nation who professes to know His name, but their hearts remain far from Him. (Sounds so vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?)

“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.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23a


My Father in Heaven, please forgive us. Help us to see it’s not about religion, but relationship. It’s not a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s a YES to Jesus because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In Jesus name, because he made a way, Amen.

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Why I’m Thankful God Hardens Hearts (I Know, Surprising)

“As the LORD had said,” is the last five words of verse 13. It refers to the LORD’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. And is the closing refrain to the hold-your-breath second encounter between Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh. The one where they obediently did just as God commanded, throwing Aaron’s staff to the ground so it could miraculously turn into a serpent and prove their legitimacy.


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 7:8-13
Key Verse: “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Exodus 7:13


It’s a phrase we’re good with when it frames instances such as the birth of Isaac or the fulfilling of covenant promises. But when it’s attached to something like the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, we squirm. Causing at least me (and I’m thinkin’ a few others) to question the inevitable truths pouring fourth from its reality.

Did God really harden Pharaoh’s heart? Or did he just predict it? I’d like to think he just predicted it, but there’s no denying God had something to do with it. In Exodus 7:3 God tells Moses, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” (Sounds pretty cut and dry if you ask me.)

And so with Aaron’s staff turned serpent slithering about the room, Pharaoh called for backup. His magicians, Jannes and Jambres, according to 2 Timothy 3:8, were able to mimic the same miracle without much effort. “For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents” (v. 12).

Taking the hissing slithering snake count from zero to three in a hurry. These were no garden snakes either. The Hebrew word used here for serpent is tannin which can also be used to refer to large reptiles like crocodiles. A possibility I wouldn’t rule out seeing as it was Egypt and not some place like Ohio. But the same Hebrew word is used in Deuteronomy 32:33 to refer to venomous snakes – something along the lines of a cobra.

Which is the direction I’m leaning for several reasons.

#1 The Bible says serpent. (So let’s not complicate things).

#2 The serpent was the symbol used by Egyptian Pharaohs to signify their sovereign, fierce, and undisputed power, typically displayed on a headdress they wore. (So I just think it makes sense.)

#3 This wasn’t just a diplomatic get together or a quarrel among men. But a spiritual battle of epic proportions against Satan, the ancient serpent (Rev. 12:9), who stood no chance of winning against the one and only Almighty God. Exemplified for everyone in the room when Aaron’s staff turned serpent easily swallowed the serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians. (Spoiler alert: Jesus wins.)

(And thus ends my three-part thesis as to why I’m going with snakes and not crocodiles. You can thank me later.)

I’m guessing tensions mounted quickly when the count went from one to three venomous snakes. Did anyone panic?  Did the guards flee? Were Moses and Aaron a bit taken back? I can’t help but wonder how long it took before Aaron’s staff swallowed theirs? Seconds? Minutes? Was it loud? Swift?

Inhaling for the first time in who knows how long, I’d have had a hard time not exhaling a big fat “What up now Pharaoh?”

But it wouldn’t have mattered. Pharaoh’s heart was hard, as the LORD had said, not only prior to this encounter, but all the way back in Midian when God told Moses, “But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Ex. 4:21). A theme we’re going to see mentioned another 16 times before we’re out of Egypt. So apparently, it’s something God wants us to pay attention to.

But why? Doesn’t it put God in a bad light? If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, isn’t he the one responsible for Pharaoh’s sin?

Some explain the concept away by saying Pharaoh’s heart was already hard. God knew what was in his heart (which is true), so he just went ahead and made sure it stayed hard during the plagues. (A theory I won’t argue against.)

But this isn’t the only time we see God harden a heart. Psalm 105:25 says God turned the hearts of the Egyptians “to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.” Deuteronomy 2:30 says the LORD hardened King Sihon of the Amorites so he would not let Israel pass through. Joshua 11:20 speaks of the LORD hardening the hearts of the Canaanites “that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction.”

Aye yi yi, is this the God we love and serve? Yes, yes it is. God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19). “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:18).

“You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resister his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:19). (Paul’s words via the Holy Spirit, not mine, just so there’s no confusion.)

The truth is – we’re not going to understand it because His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are far above our thoughts. But here’s where we can rest: “His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4).

If he hardens the heart of man (or woman for that matter) it’s done in holiness and faithfulness and perfection. It’s done in wisdom. It’s done without iniquity and is fully just. Desiring that all men come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), God does not harden the heart of a man for pleasure (Ezekiel 33:11), but for purpose.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart that his power might be seen and his name proclaimed in all the earth (Rom. 9:9). Hence, we’re still telling the story today!

But you know who else God hardened? Israel. So the Jews of Christ’s day would put him on the cross. So the prophecies would be fulfilled. So every bit of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection could take place “as the LORD had said.” So we the gentiles, could have a chance. Could experience his mercy. Could be grafted in as sons and daughters of God; heirs of the promise of Abraham. (Anyone else besides me starting to feel differently about this hardening thing?)

My friend, if it weren’t for God’s ability to harden the hearts of men, we’d all be in trouble. Additionally, if He has the power to harden, He also has the power to soften. To not only turn the heart of the king (Prov. 21:1), but the hearts of my kids and my heart and yours and our neighbors and loved ones. Oh how thankful I am for God’s sovereignty over the hearts of men because it’s His mercy he continues to let in.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Does the concept of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, or anyone for that matter, bother you? Or is something you readily accept?
How does the fact that God hardened the hearts of the Israelites, so that salvation could be available for all people, help you better understand the concept?