Bible Devotions

Hear Obey Worship

Read Genesis 35:1-7 NKJV

Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.” And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.
5 And they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother.

As you read scripture think about who is speaking to whom and for what purpose. Look at the actions. See what it really says.

What did we learn about God?

He speaks. He guides. He answers prayer. He protects. He deserves worship. Feel free to add to this list.

What did we learn about Jacob?

He heard God. He was quick to obey. He became the spiritual leader of his household. He directed his household to follow God.

What did we learn about Jacob’s household?

They were idolaters. They did not know God. They did not worship God. But they were willing to follow Jacob’s lead.

What is the theme of this scripture?

Hearing God should result in obedience to God. Obedience leads to God’s protection. Acknowledging God’s protection leads to worship.

What timeless principles can we apply?

God’s protection flows when we are obedient to Him. Worshiping God is a result of remembering how God helped us in the past.

Application Step:

  • In what ways am I like Jacob?
  • In what ways am I like Jacob’s household?
  • What ways has God already helped me in the past?

God Almighty, thank you for your word and your Holy Spirit’s guidance in all truth. Help us hear you and be quick to obey, your protection may cover us and so our hearts may worship you. In Jesus’ name Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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A Brother’s Love

Read Genesis 34

Dinah was daughter of Leah and Jacob. When they were in the land of Sier, Shecham son of Hamor the Hivite took a liking to Dinah. He longer for her, took her, laid with her and violated her. Genesis 34:3 says “His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman.”

Shecham told his father “Get me this young woman as a wife.” Kind of backwards, isn’t it? He already had sex with her and now he seeks to marry her.

When Dinah’s brothers found out, they were angry. Genesis 34:7 says “And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done.”

Next we see Hamor coming to ask for Dinah’s hand in marriage. He says he’ll pay any dowry amount so his son can have Dinah as a wife. Notice, how Jacob’s old character comes through his sons response. Genesis 34:13 says “But the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father, and spoke deceitfully, because he had defiled Dinah their sister.” They went on to say that all the men of the city must be circumcised for it is an abomination to marry the uncircumcised. Hamor agrees.

Later while all the men of the city still in pain, Simeon and Levi came and slaughtered all the men. They rescued Dinah, plundered the city and took all the women and children captive. Jacob’s response was “I shall be destroyed, my household and I.” But his sons said “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?” Dinah’s brothers cared more for her dignity than her own father did.

Even in those days it was inappropriate to have sex before marriage. Had Shecham proposed to Dinah first, would Simeon and Levi have objected?

Choosing our own way over God’s way has its consequences. Unfortunately for Hamor and his men it was severe. One man’s mistake cost the entire city of men their lives. Thinking about consequences of an action before carrying out might be a very wise thing to do. By assessing the end of a matter first, we might conclude it is not a rational decision to make. That thought process might save us from unintentional negative consequences.

Lord thank you for your word giving us clear guidance for our life. Help us to choose your way instead of our own way that we might live godly lives until you return. In Jesus’ name Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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Humility Required for Reconciliation

Read Genesis 33.

Years had past. Jacob had plenty of time to realize his part in the broken relationship with his brother, Esau. Now, not knowing how his brother felt about him, Jacob saw him coming with four hundred men and was fearful (Genesis 33: 1).

He hoped the present of two hundred female goats, twenty male goats, two hundred ewes, twenty rams, thirty milk camels, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals would appease Esau. As, he approached his brother, Jacob bowed to the ground seven times (Genesis 32:14-15, Genesis 33:2).

Esau, apparently had spent his time thinking about all that transpired too. He even forgave his brother Jacob because we see Esau ran to meet his brother. He embraced and kissed him. The two brothers wept together (Genesis 33:4).

Humility must be sustained. If not, it wasn’t true humility, but false humility used for manipulation. Jacob continued his humility. He gave God the credit for all he had. He referred to himself as Esau’s servant (Genesis 33:5). He called his brother “lord” as a sign of respect, honor and submission (Genesis 33:8).

This doesn’t seem like the same Jacob we read about earlier in Genesis. This is a changed man. He’s lived long enough to realize his mistakes. He’s had an encounter with God that has made him into a new man. He is no longer the scheming, manipulating Jacob, but rather he is the humbe Israel, chosen by God.

Where in your relationships can you be humble? How do you think your relationship would be different if you acted in humility more often?

Lord thank you for your model of humility. You humbled yourself to the point of dying a criminal’s death, just so we might be made alive through your sacrifice. Thank you for your grace and salvation. May we be humble as you in our life. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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Have you ever wrestled with God?

Read Genesis 32:24-31

Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”
But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
27 So He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob.”
28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”
And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel[c] the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.

If Jacob was alone, where did this Man come from? It was night time, so was Jacob sleeping and in a dream saw this man? Was He a physical man or figment of Jacob’s mind? Is this a picture representing a Man so we could comprehend what Jacob was going through? Was this a physical wrestling or a mental one? You know the kind of mental wrestling when we try to grasp the meaning of something?

Why did this Man touch Jacob’s hip to make it out of joint? Did Jacob need a reminder of this wrestling match? Was this to be a symbol for Jacob to try depending on God rather than his own efforts? Perhaps Jacob was trying to reach God through his own strength, because the story says Jacob would not let go of the Man when He asked. Could this be a “thorn” in Jacob’s flesh so he would remember to rely on God’s power? We read in other places God did not remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh so that God’s grace is magnified in Paul’s weakness.

When it talks about Jacob not letting go until the Man blesses him, it causes me to picture a small child clinging to his parent’s leg. The child holds on tightly saying I’ll not let go until you give me a hug. Like the child, does Jacob need reassurance? What about this blessing? Why would Jacob ask this Man to bless him? In that day people didn’t ask anyone to bless them. The father of the family would bless the children. Jacob knew this, because actually stole his brother’s blessing. Does Jacob realize he is wrestling with God the Father?

The Man then asks “what’s your name?” to which Jacob replies “Jacob.” The Man says not any more. Your new name is Israel for you struggled with God and men and you have prevailed. Is this an admission the Man was in fact God? Isn’t it interesting an encounter with God leads to a new identity? We have seen other examples of this when God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah and Abram’s name to Abraham. We who have trusted in Jesus Christ have a new name too – Christian.

Jacob says tell me your name. The Man replies why? Is this because what Jacob has just experienced should have been enough evidence for him to know the Man’s name without being told? Then the Man blessed him. What was the blessing? Was it something spoken over Jacob? Was it ceremonial? Or was it a revelation?

The next thing we read is Jacob naming the place Peniel for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved. This makes me think the blessing was a revelation. It’s as if Jacob now knows for certain God visited with him face to face. When Jacob talked about his life being preserved, could he have meant not only being saved from the encounter with God but also preserved from the wrath of his brother Esau? Remember Jacob was about to meet his brother after trying to appease him with many presents. Perhaps this revelation showed him what was to come, for next we read he crossed over Peniel and the sun rose on him as he limped on his hip.

Have you ever wrestled with God as Jacob did? What was your experience like? Did you walk away with a reminder to rely on God rather than your strength? Did you receive a blessing through the encounter?

God Almighty Father above, thank you for loving us and wanting to have relationship with us. Thank you for sending Jesus to die in our place to make an intimate relationship with you possible. Thank you for saving us, giving us a new name. Thank you for your Word of Truth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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Uncertainty Prompts Prayer

Read Genesis 32

Jacob was returning to his own country, when his messengers came back saying Esau is coming with four hundred men. Remembering what he had done to his brother, Jacob now feared for his life, his wife and his children.

There’s nothing like a little fear or uncertainty to get us praying. That’s what Jacob did. Genesis 32:9-12 NJV says:

Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

This is a good prayer pattern for us too. Notice his reverence, humility and honesty displayed in this prayer.

Reverence to God comes first – “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me”. Putting God first helps us put our requests in proper perspective.

Humility is expected. “I am not worthy.” When we acknowledge God is God and we are not, we will be humble.

The request comes next “Deliver me”. God wants us to ask Him for things. James tells us we don’t receive because we don’t ask. So bring your requests before the Lord, but do it in an honoring order.

Be honest with your feelings – “for I fear him”. God knows how you feel, but it is good for us to express our feelings. Bringing these feelings forward and putting them in the hands of God brings comfort and peace.

Remember God’s promises – “You said…” This is not really reminding God what He said. God does not forget. It’s more about reinforcing His truth in our minds. It’s a reminder God is faithful to His Word.

Next time you pray, see if you have these elements present in this order. After you pray, it’s time for action. Moving forward despite uncertainty all because God said so is putting faith in motion.

Lord my God, we are your humble servants. We ask for deliverance from anything that hinders our relationship with you. Sometimes we can’t tell what’s getting in the way, but we know you can. Guide us by your Holy Spirit, reveal to us what needs to change in our lives. Draw us close through remembrance of all your glorious promises to us. In Jesus’ name Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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Earthly Fear Causes Poor Decisions

Read Genesis 31

When Jacob decided to return to his father’s home, he left secretly. He chose not to tell his father-n-law. Laban finds out they are gone and comes after them. When Laban catches us to them, he says why did you steal away and take my daughters like captives. I know you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?

Jacob’s response in Genesis 31:31-32 NKJV says “Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’ With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.”

Fear can lead to poor decisions. First Jacob snuck away like a criminal. He could have simply told his father-n-law so he would have been able to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren. But instead Jacob slinks away like a thief.

Secondly, he made a rash vow saying whoever stole your gods should die. Had Jacob known Rachel took the gods, he never would have made that comment. After all Jacob did work 14 years to win her hand in marriage! Luckily for Rachel she hid them well and her father could not find the gods. Therefore, no one died that day.

If we choose to respond in fear, we will make bad decisions too. Not only that but we may miss out on what God wants for us. God calls us out of fear, for the Word of God says “perfect love casts out all fear” and “those who fear haven’t been made perfect yet” (1 John 4:18).

If you still fear, take heed, God who began the good work within you will finish it when Christ returns (Philippians 1:6). God’s not done perfecting us yet. Don’t lose heart, but keep seeking Him and allowing His Word to renew our minds (Romans 12:2).

Lord God Almighty, thank you for your word leading us to life. May we look to you the author and finisher of our faith. Continue to perfect us with your love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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Whatever God has said to you, do it

When I was reading Genesis 31, verse 16 stuck out like a neon sign. Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel said, “Whatever God has said to you, do it.” It’s not clear whether either of them really believed in God or not. Jacob was the one who seemed to hear from God.

As I pondered on this phrase, my mind wondered to other scriptures, specifically Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Jesus tells us to do the following in three chapters. As you read this list, ask yourself “Am I doing this and why or why not?” Then ask God to help you grow in the areas you need to.

  • Recognize our need for a Savior.
  • Mourn over our sinfulness.
  • Be humble.
  • Hunger and thirst for righteousness.
  • Be merciful
  • Be pure
  • Be the peacemaker.
  • Rejoice when persecuted.
  • Shine before men to bring glory to God.
  • Reconcile with others before worshiping God.
  • Deal with out sin.
  • Don’t divorce.
  • Be honorable, filled with integrity.
  • Don’t swear.
  • Give more than is required.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Do charitable deeds in secret.
  • Don’t pray to be seen by men.
  • Forgive others, so your Heavenly Father forgives you.
  • Don’t make it obvious when you fast.
  • Lay up treasures in heaven, not here on earth.
  • Watch what we look at, keep focused on Him.
  • Serve God, not money.
  • Don’t worry about your life.
  • Trust God to care for you.
  • Seek God’s Kingdom first.
  • Judge not so you won’t be judged.
  • Deal with own issues before helping someone else.
  • Use wisdom when sharing.
  • Ask and it will be given.
  • Enter by the narrow gate.
  • Know false prophets by their fruit.
  • Do the will of My Father in Heaven.
  • Know Jesus Christ.
  • Hear Jesus’ sayings and do them.

Remember we demonstrate our love for Jesus when we do what He says. John 14:21 NKJV “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

Wisdom and blessing comes through carrying out Jesus’ words. Try it yourself and see.

God Almighty, yours is the kingdom the power and the glory forever. You enable us to live godly lives until you return. Help us to cooperate with you. Let us be led by your Spirit. In Jesus’ name Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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No matter our poor choices God’s plan prevails

Read Genesis 30:1-22. It’s the story of two sisters competing for love; one competing for her husband’s love and the other for love of children. These are the effects of favoritism and jealously played out.

Jacob loved Rachel and was willing work seven years to win her hand in marriage. After the seven years, Rachel’s father gave Leah, her older sister to Jacob as his bride instead of her. So Jacob worked another seven years to win Rachel’s hand. Can you imagine living with your sister and being married to the same guy?

It was very obvious Jacob loved Rachel rather than Leah. That’s favoritism. You know this is going to cause some problems. God has no favorites nor should we. God saw Leah was unloved so He gave her children.

Meanwhile, Rachel had no children and became jealous of her sister. Just like Sarah, Rachel decided to take matters into her own hands. If she couldn’t have children, maybe her handmaid could have children for her. So she gave her handmaid to Jacob to be a surrogate. Bilhah, the handmaid, had two sons to Jacob.

Leah had four sons already but she wanted more. However, she stopped bearing children for some reason. She saw what Rachel did and decided to follow suit. Leah gave Zilpah, her handmaid to Jacob to bear more children. Zilpah had two more sons.

These women were so focused on out doing each other with the number of children they conceived, they lost all perspective. As verse 15-16 show, they now bartered a night with Jacob just to get a few mandrakes. Talk about devaluing someone!

A little while later, Leah began to have children again. She gave Jacob two mores sons making that six sons as well as a daughter. Finally, Rachel bore Joseph her first son.

Isn’t it interesting after both women gave their handmaids to Jacob, they each had children? It’s as if God was showing them their error. Had they wanted, they would have had children on their own. They now have to deal with a very complicated blended family all because they couldn’t wait or were too jealousy to wait.

Isn’t it also interesting God chose Jacob’s twelve sons to become the twelve tribes of Israel? The story of how these kids came into being is nothing short of scandalous. For me, this proves the Bible really was written by God. It also proves God has no favorites and is no respecter of men. Had mere men written the Bible from their own efforts they would have been tempted to leave out the scandalous parts and present a more “respectable” version. I am amazed at how God works out His plans no matter what poor choices we make.

No matter how ordinary we are, God can and does use us to fulfill His plan. Rest in the fact His plans will unfold exactly how He wants them. As we draw near to God and are conformed into His likeness, perhaps we can participate in His plans and reap blessings of obedience.

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for allowing us to play a part in your plan. Help us live our lives pleasing to you and reap the benefits of obedience to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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The Golden Rule is the Best Way to Treat Others

Read Genesis 29.

You know that saying “what goes around comes around?” Well, Jacob is now getting a taste of his own medicine. Now he knows what it’s like to be deceived by a family member. Guess what? He doesn’t like it.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes we can’t see out own sin until someone sins against us the same way we sin? Jacob is finding this out as uncle Laban deceives him.

I can’t help but think of Matthew 7:2 NKJV “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” For Jacob was a manipulating, schemer, who deceived his closest family members. Now he is with his uncle Laban who is doling out the same kind of deceit Jacob used.

Probably the best rule to follow is what Matthew 7:14 NKJV says “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” There is no guarantee people won’t sin against us but there is consolation in the peace of mind coming from the knowledge we chose to do what is pleasing to God.

Lord thank you for your word and Holy Spirit leading us into your truth. Thank you for your wisdom on the way to live. Your plans and purposes are best for us. Help us to cooperate with you. In Jesus’ name Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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I am the Lord your God

Twenty-three times in only three chapters (Leviticus 18, 19, 20) God said “I am Lord.” It stands to reason if something is repeated it must be important. But 23 times is screaming this is not only important it is also essential. This must be something we really need to understand.

In our contemporary culture, we have a hard time grasping this phrase. What does Lord mean? We think of royalty perhaps the king is also lord. But we have no kingdoms ruled by kings or lords today. Well except maybe for the “drug lords” or the “gang lords”.

So where do we go to learn about kings and lords? You guessed it, the Bible of course. Kings, rulers, pharohs, judges were lords in their day. As we look at the different aspects of their regins we may learn a little bit more of God and His Lordship.

First we see that kings or pharohs had the power to terminate one’s life. In the book of Esther we see the king had power over a person’s life and death. Recall that in order for a person to come into the king’s presence, the king must hold out his royal scepter. If he didn’t, you were killed. Pharoh in the New Testament issued the order to have all male children under the age of two be murdered.

Also in Esther’s time, the king decided who married who. Again recall how the king threw out his one wife and had a beauty contest to find his next wife and queen.

In the Old Testament book of Exodus 5, Pharoh determined what work the people did. The children of Israel were forced to make bricks out of mortar and straw. Pharoh also determine how easy or hard it would be to complete the job as he decided to stop supplying the raw materials so the people had to gather the straw for themselves.

Jesus shares a story of a ruler’s mercy and judgment in Matthew 18:23-35. The king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed lots of money and could not pay, so the king forgave him his debt. There’s the mercy. But that same servant sought repayment from another servant for a smaller debt and did not forgive his debt but put him in prison. When the king heard of the servant mistreating the other servant, he executed judgment and put the first servant away in prison to be tortured.

Nehemiah 2:7 indicates the king provides protection. For Nehemiah asked for letters from the king to make his journey through other kingdoms a safe one. With just any letter Nehemiah would have be raided and his materials would be blundered. But with a letter from the king, it was a ticket to trouble free journey through other kingdoms.

Rulers, such as Joseph, the right hand man next to Pharoh during the famine in Egypt determine who received food (Genesis 41:55). So we see rulers determine what provisions are granted daily.

In summary a king, ruler or pharoh had power over your life or death, determined who you married and what work you did, forgave your debt, executed judgment based on your behavior, and supplied protection and daily provisions. From this limited review, now apply these aspects to God and His reign over us.

God has power over my life and my death.

God determines who should I marry.

God decides what work I should do.

God forgives my debt.

God executes judgment over my behavior.

God supplies protection.

God provides daily provisions.

Think about each one of these statements. Let it sink in. Ask yourself “How willing am I in accepting them?” If we waver, it is an indication of our lack of trust. For if we know God is good and His purposes are for our best interest, then surely we are able to submit to His rule in our lives.

What area of your life do you need to allow God to rule? What steps are you willing to take to allow Him to rule in this area?

Lord my God, thank you for helping us understand you better today. Lead us into a fuller knowledge of your supremacy. Enable us to trust you more each day and allow you to rule all areas of our life. Forgive us for holding on to some areas. Enable us to let you have your way for we know you desire what’s best for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

©Elizabeth Marks has led small group Bible studies for almost a decade. Author of and websites she has a heart for encouraging others with God’s Word.

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