November 1: The Danger of Unwarranted Favor
1 Kings 1:1–53; Mark 1:1–34; Proverbs 1:1–7
No sooner had David assumed the throne of Israel than he began to lose sight of God’s way. As a young “warrior in the wilderness,” he had provided a beacon of hope and an ethical example for God’s people. But King David allowed emotion, rather than spiritual or even rational principles, to drive him. And David’s children made the situation even worse. Although we often look to David as an example to emulate, we can also learn from the mistakes that he made, including the disaster recorded in 1 Kgs 1:5–53.
As king, David was charged with protecting God’s people against all outside enemies. What David didn’t see coming—or so it appears from the text—was the threat from within his own family. When David’s sons began to compete for power, David should have put his love for God’s people and the calling God gave him above his love for his sons. The moment that Adonijah showed signs of laying claim to the throne (1 Kgs 1:5–10), David should have rebuked him—or perhaps even imprisoned or executed him, according to law of the time. Instead, David let it go.
Appointing Solomon as king was a wise political rebuttal, but David still failed to deal with the core problem—Adonijah. David may have been old and sick by this point, but he could have made better provisions for his kingdom, especially with so many loyal military leaders on his side. David’s position as king made his leniency even worse: He should have treated Adonijah like any other traitor.
Why did David ignore Adonijah’s rebellion? Maybe he loved his son. Maybe he was too tired or too frail to take on big problems at the end of his reign. We may never know the reason, but we do know the results. David’s weakness nearly ruined all he had built for God; his mistakes nearly tore the kingdom in two.
Parents often love their children so deeply that they overlook their failings. Righteousness should maintain its proper authority over wishful thinking and ungoverned emotions—in both kingdoms and households.
Who are you unreasonably favoring?
JOHN D. BARRY
November 2: Will We Follow?
1 Kings 2:1–46; Mark 1:35–2:28; Proverbs 1:8–12
The Gospel of Mark opens without fanfare—certainly nothing befitting literary greatness. There is no lofty imagery like the Gospel of John, no impressive genealogies like the Gospel of Matthew, and no historical narrative like the Gospel of Luke. Instead, Mark flashes rapidly through events that build on one another. John the Baptist’s prophecy is followed by short summaries of Jesus’ baptism and His temptation by Satan. After calling His first disciples, Jesus begins healing and preaching both near and far—all within the first chapter. The unadorned, clipped prose communicates something urgent.
Mark’s narrative captures the coming kingdom that will erupt with a power only some can see. It imparts a sense of urgency to those who know they are needy.
Mark portrays the advancing kingdom through the person and work of Jesus, who draws people. The crowds at Capernaum seek Him out (Mark 2:2), as do those marginalized by society (Mark 1:40; 2:3). Although Jesus seeks to keep His movements hidden and warns the leper to conceal the miracle of his healing, the exact opposite occurs. The leper opts to “proclaim it freely and to spread abroad the account” (Mark 1:45). When Jesus secludes Himself in deserted places because of His fame, the crowds come at Him “from all directions” (Mark 1:45). Even roofs are removed to gain access to Him (Mark 2:4).
While some question His authority, others respond with radical allegiance. Jesus’ simple, direct call to Levi the tax collector, “Follow me!” requires nothing less. Jesus came for lepers and paralytics, to sinners and tax collectors—those who are sick and in need of a physician (Mark 2:16). He came for us—those who know our desperate need—and reversed our fate. With unfettered truth, Mark presents us with the opportunity for the only healing response: Will we follow?
Are you following Jesus with total allegiance? What is holding you back?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
November 3: Love and Commitment: Not Always Synonymous
1 Kings 3:1–4:34; Mark 3:1–3:35; Proverbs 1:13–19
Loving God and living fully for Him are not necessarily synonymous. If I love someone, does that mean I always show untainted respect and unfailing loyalty? Love should command complete devotion and commitment—but our lives are rarely as pure as they should be.
Like his father, David, Solomon acted out of passion and love, but his commitment and respect for Yahweh faltered at the same time: “Solomon intermarried with … the daughter of Pharaoh and brought her to the city of David … Solomon loved Yahweh, by walking in the statutes of David his father; only he was sacrificing and offering incense on the high places” (1 Kgs 3:1, 3).
Solomon didn’t marry Pharaoh’s daughter because he needed Egypt’s protection. Egypt, Israel’s ancient enemy, had enslaved God’s people once before, but it was not an imminent threat. Worse, Solomon committed himself to Pharaoh, an ally who viewed himself as a deity. This alliance introduced the worship of foreign gods into the chambers of the king who was supposed to steward God’s kingdom.
Solomon’s behavior is particularly ironic in light of his own words: “My child, do not walk in their way. Keep your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood” (Prov 1:15–16). Solomon may have avoided the wars and violence of his father’s generation, but he walked into a spiritually enslaving sin. Solomon’s problems epitomize Jesus’ words: “And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand” (Mark 3:24). By bringing Pharaoh’s daughter into his household, Solomon divided Yahweh’s kingdom against itself.
Was it lust that drove Solomon to make this decision, or a lack of faith, or a desire for peace? We cannot know for certain, but no matter the reason, this episode shows us something about ourselves. When we ally ourselves with God’s opponents or when we lust after what God has condemned, we do more harm than we realize. We divide what God is building in us and through us against itself by tainting His pure plan.
What are you wrongly allying with or lusting after? What are the long-term effects of doing so, and how can this perspective help you change course?
JOHN D. BARRY
November 4: Cutting a Deal with God
1 Kings 5:1–6:38; Mark 4:1–24; Proverbs 1:20–27
Sometimes we think we can make deals with God. We hear His commands, but we plan on being faithful later. Or we make light of our rebellious thoughts and actions, thinking they’re only minor offenses in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps we think God will overlook them just as easily as we’ve rationalized them.
Jesus put special emphasis on “having ears to hear” in the Gospel of Mark. He expected much more than a captive audience, though: “ ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!’ And he said to them, ‘Take care what you hear! With the measure by which you measure out, it will be measured out to you, and will be added to you’ ” (Mark 4:23–24).
Jesus issued this command shortly after giving His disciples special insight into the parable of the Sower and the Seed. The rocky soil, the thorns, the road, the good soil—these represented various responses to the good news. The good soil was receptive to the seeds. But more than that, such soils “receive it and bear fruit—one thirty and one sixty and one a hundred times as much” (Mark 4:20).
Jesus revealed the secret of the kingdom to His disciples, to the surrounding crowd, and to us. Now that we hear, we must take care that we respond. Bear fruit befitting His work in you (Mark 4:20), and let others know why you bear fruit (Mark 4:21–22). Because He has given to you with such abundance, He expects you to live abundantly for Him—right now.
How are you rationalizing your response to God’s work? Are you delaying responding to God?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
November 5: Of Fields and Temples
1 Kings 7:1–51; Mark 4:26–5:20; Proverbs 1:28–33
The building of Solomon’s temple and the growth of the kingdom of God are similar: Both require extensive labor. Both bring miraculous results. And in both efforts, the dredging and toil can proceed for weeks, months, or years before the fruits of the labor become apparent.
When the Bible describes the building of God’s temple, it mentions features and materials that would have been incredible at the time: “He built the House of the Forest of Lebanon … It was covered with cedar above … There were three rows of specially designed windows … All of the doorways and the doorframes had four-sided casings” (1 Kgs 7:2–5). Consider the logistical, expediting, and procurement hurdles that Solomon must have faced. How could one leader build a project that required the finest materials and the most highly skilled craftsmen from all over the known world, all in his lifetime? That it was completed is nearly miraculous. Even today, major architectural feats often take longer than a lifetime (e.g., Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona).
Like the construction of Solomon’s temple, what we as Christians build into other people’s lives is meant to happen miraculously. We labor for it, but the fruits are not ours—they are often unexplainable. Jesus once remarked, “The kingdom of God is like this: like a man scatters seed on the ground. And he sleeps and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he does not know how. By itself the soil produces a crop: first the grass, then the head of grain, then the full grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he sends in the sickle [a tool for harvesting crops] right away, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26–29). We must continue to labor, knowing all the while that the results will be different than what we expect. We must rely on the Spirit for the real work.
What are you laboring at today? How may the results be different than what you expect?
JOHN D. BARRY
November 6: The Pursuit of God
1 Kings 8:1–53; Mark 5:21–6:6; Proverbs 2:1–15
We’re willing to put an incredible amount of effort into pursuing something that’s really important to us. Before buying a new gadget, we’ll read reviews, research the manufacturer’s reputation, and consult our tech-savvy friends. Our efforts and curiosity betray the true treasures of our hearts. Other things that we say are important might not receive the same effort—often to our detriment.
In Proverbs, being curious about God’s ways is vital for life. The father in Proverbs encourages his son to be curious about God’s ways, representing his desire to fear God: “My child, if you will receive my sayings, and hide my commands with you, in order to incline your ear toward wisdom, then you shall apply your heart to understanding. For if you cry out for understanding, if you lift your voice for insight, if you seek her like silver and search her out like treasure, then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and the knowledge of God you will find” (Prov 2:1–5).
The knowledge of God isn’t just knowledge about God. It’s also the desire and the process of inclining and applying your heart to understanding. The father encourages his son to cry out for understanding or lift his voice for insight—going beyond just intellectual comprehension. The son must seek understanding the same way someone might search out silver or a treasure. The father wants his son to learn about God’s ways, to understand them himself so he can apply them to his life.
We might claim to hold to a life of worship, but do our actions really reflect that value? Do our efforts and decisions reflect a heart that cries out to God for His wisdom? God has redeemed us at a great price with the death of His son. He desires that we turn over our lives to Him—and that includes pursuing Him with all our being.
Are you pursuing “the knowledge of God” and applying your heart to understanding?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
November 7: The Results of Worship and Teaching
1 Kings 8:54–9:28; Mark 6:7–44; Proverbs 2:16–22
“It happened that when Solomon finished praying to Yahweh all of the prayer and this plea, he got up from before the altar of Yahweh, from kneeling down on his knees with his palms outstretched to heaven. He stood and blessed all of the assembly of Israel with a loud voice …” (1 Kgs 8:54–55).
Solomon demonstrates the natural and proper response to worship—declaring God’s goodness to others and blessing them in His name. These blessings can come in simple forms, such as doing good for others, or they may look more elaborate, as Solomon’s prayer continues in 1 Kgs 8.
Worship can become stilted when we focus on our place before Yahweh instead of His natural and rightful place. We’re meant to view Yahweh for who He is and what He has done, and to respond to His work by helping others.
Jesus demonstrated a similar point in His own ministry. He could have kept His disciples with Him day and night, but instead He sent them on their way to do God’s will (Mark 6:6–13). For Jesus, teaching was a means to an end. Everything the disciples had learned up to that point would carry them in the ministry work they were about to do. They weren’t meant to hoard their knowledge or focus on learning for learning’s sake. Instead, teaching led to action.
We, too, must follow worship with actions. When we learn, we must act upon what we have learned. Anything that stays in a vacuum is useless. It’s only when we apply what God is doing in our lives that we live up to our calling in Him.
What is God asking you to live out?
JOHN D. BARRY
November 8: Traditions and a Priority Problem
1 Kings 10:1–11:8; Mark 6:45–7:13; Proverbs 3:1–5
Traditions make us feel secure. They give us a sense of camaraderie with those who came before us, and they can build a sense of community with those around us. But traditions handed down unexamined can be dangerous. We can apply them in contexts that differ from those in which they were born—often leading to disastrous results, offenses, and misunderstanding. More dangerously, we might consider these human traditions to be the commands of God—or above His commands. In doing so, we hold the opinions of people to be higher than God’s. We commit the same type of idolatry we find rampant in the OT.
In many communities, traditions can carry the heavy weight of religiosity, as if God were the very author of the tradition. Many of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time were known to “tie up heavy burdens and put them on people’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4). When the Pharisees confront Jesus because His disciples did not wash before eating, Jesus quotes from Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6–7).
To us, hand-washing seems like a smart, valuable tradition. For these Pharisees, it is a cleansing ritual meant to protect against defilement. Jesus shows how the practice sharply conflicts with the state of their hearts, which are far from God. The Pharisees often excuse some of God’s commands if it means following their traditions—like offering sacrifices while neglecting to provide for the material needs of parents (Mark 7:11–13).
Are there areas in your life in which you hold others’ opinions above those of God? Do you have nagging guilt because you’re not living up to others’ expectations? Why? Examine your life, seek biblical wisdom, and ask God to show you how best to serve Him.
How are you holding the values of people higher than those of God?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
November 9: Fear Not What’s Outside but Inside
1 Kings 11:9–12:33; Mark 7:14–8:10; Proverbs 3:6–3:12
How should we respond to a miraculous experience? Worshiping God for His goodness is the right place to start, but our ongoing response is every bit as important as our initial reaction. We see this play out in Solomon’s life.
“Yahweh was angry with Solomon, for he had turned his heart from Yahweh, the God of Israel who had appeared to him twice. And [Yahweh] commanded [Solomon] concerning this matter not to go after other gods, but he did not keep that which Yahweh commanded” (1 Kgs 11:9–10).
Despite Solomon’s experience with Yahweh, he chose to deny Him. This angered Yahweh—not just because of the general disobedience, but also because, after Solomon’s miraculous experience, he had more reason than anyone to stay devoted. Solomon’s refusal of the opportunity to turn back to Yahweh only aggravated the situation.
We don’t know exactly what led Solomon to disobey, although selfish desire, lust, and power seem to dominate his poor decisions. We can be certain that his inner thoughts drove him to act in the way he did. Solomon’s situation is reminiscent of Jesus’ remark about what defiles a person: “For from within, from the heart of people, come evil plans, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, acts of greed, malicious deeds, deceit, licentiousness, envy, abusive speech, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:21–23).
How many of us have at some point walked off God’s path and excused our actions in the name of grace? Solomon had ample opportunity to return to God, yet he continued to aggravate Him. How many of us react the same way to the goodness God has offered us?
What is happening “in” you that leads to the evil in your life? How can you allow the Spirit to resolve that?
JOHN D. BARRY
November 10: Take Up Your Cross
1 Kings 13:1–34; Mark 8:11–9:1; Proverbs 3:13–22
The way we respond to desperate circumstances often clarifies what gives us hope. Jesus’ followers faced the very real threat of death by choosing to follow Him—something He warns them about: “And summoning the crowd together with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me and of the gospel will save it’ ” (Mark 8:34–35).
In Jesus’ time, “taking up the cross” would have been associated with a shameful death at the hands of the ruling Roman powers. To risk suffering this type of shameful death required more than lukewarm commitment.
Jesus doesn’t limit this calling to His disciples; anyone who “wants to come after” faces this uncertainty and must hold a faith that displays this loyalty. For some Christians today, following Jesus means opposition and death. For most of us, it doesn’t. Yet Jesus goes on to show that this type of devotion is still relevant today: “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:36–38).
Many of our lives reflect a lax neutrality—a purposeless ease that avoids conflict and commitment. We might shy away from bold claims. We might fade into the wallpaper in an attempt to fit in. We might show reluctance to declare Christ’s name.
What does commitment look like for you? Are you following Jesus with this type of devotion? Or do you hesitate to share the good news?
How are you taking up your cross?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
November 11: Traditions and Miracles
1 Kings 14:1–15:24; Mark 9:2–37; Proverbs 3:23–35
In the face of perplexing situations, we naturally respond with what we know and understand—we even take refuge in familiar traditions. This is precisely how Jesus’ disciples respond when Jesus is transfigured before them.
After Jesus is transformed and Moses and Elijah appear, Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! And let us make three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). Peter is drawing on the Festival of Tabernacles (or Booths), which celebrated God’s dwelling among His people (Lev 23:42–43). Peter isn’t certain how to respond, so he evokes a tradition. At least Peter understands that this confusing event shows God at work among His people.
But is Peter’s response the correct one? Mark gives us a hint in an aside: “For [Peter] did not know what he should answer, because they [Peter, James, and John] were terrified” (Mark 9:6). It’s not surprising that Peter has trouble understanding this situation—who could? But his response, underscored by the editorial aside in Mark, suggests something larger about how we, as the audience of this Gospel, should understand Jesus.
When Jesus reveals Himself to us—really inaugurates His reign in our lives—it may be terrifying, but we do not need to resort to our traditions to understand it. By going back to our old ways, we might lose sight of the point of God’s work altogether. Instead, we must be ready to accept what is new. We must realize that when God acts, the results will be unexpected and perhaps unexplainable. When God intercedes in our lives, when He lets us experience Him, our lives—our very view of the world—will change.
What traditions is Jesus radically altering in your life?
Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.