Preparing for Life’s Final Transition (1 Kings 2, 1 Chronicles 22)

There is nothing wrong with caring about leaving a legacy. In fact, there is everything right about doing it in a way that continues your voice beyond your own generation and time and life to speak to future generations about your values regarding things eternal.

As much as David could be rightly criticized for his failures as a father to control his children and manage his family well, he really cared deeply about the issue of Solomon’s role in building an appropriate temple for the centralized presence of God in the nation. And David cared deeply that Solomon himself be consecrated in his heart to have the opportunity for such success.

Though David was not to be the one to build a magnificent temple for the Lord, rather than sulk about God not allowing such a wonderful desire to find fruition, David gets involved in the project by making practical preparations of materials. That is having a vision beyond one’s own life – a vision and passion for the Kingdom of God.

The two passages today speak about David’s preparations and also of his encouragement and words of wisdom to his son Solomon.

1 Chronicles 22:5-10

5 David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it.” So David made extensive preparations before his death.

6 Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel. 7 David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. 8 But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. 9 But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. 10 He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’

David’s Charge to Solomon – 1 Kings 2:1-12

2:1  When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.

2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, 3 and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go 4 and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

5 “Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. 6 Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.

7 “But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.

8 “And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ 9 But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.”

10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem.12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

As I shared this past Sunday, I would challenge everyone to write their own autobiographical memoir. Think of it as a long letter – a book even – for the benefit of your immediately-surviving AND future generations. Speak of the events of your life that were so meaningful to you. Trace the hand of God through your varied experiences. Share your successes and failures, and write timeless truths and words of encouragement – your vision – for the legacy and generations of your family.

I was running so late on time this past Sunday that I did not share with you that I have begun this work, though actually I’ve not worked on it lately. But I had a lot of the early years of my life previously written about in a first draft form in my computer. I mentioned it to the portion of my family when we were on the long drive home from a summer vacation to Boston this year. The boys wanted to hear it, so I pulled it out and read from it – much of it written maybe even 8-10 years ago.  And they loved it and I could tell it meant a lot to them and was something they would like to have and pass on.

So, think generationally. That’s how we roll at TSF.

I hope our brief time on the life of David was beneficial to all of you. Some of it will appear again in coming weeks for our brief Christmas season series on Christ’s ancestry – The Roots of Faith. Our next devotional will appear just in advance of that series that begins on Sunday, December 7th.

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Passive Leadership Leads to Active Rebellion (1 Kings 1:1-53)

The passage is a fairly long one today, so I’ll be brief – just like I was on Sunday … OK, not really!

The passage today is also one that saddens me when I read it, especially to see the additional family struggles between brothers. As I know from my own home, boys from the same mother can battle with each other, let alone half brothers from a number of the different wives of David.

Beyond that, the scene is a sad one of the feeble end of David’s life. Though he is still the king, it seems that all of the affairs around him are out of his control or knowledge. There was apparently very little in the way of any plan of succession – not entirely rare in monarchies then or now.

This entire situation of Adonijah declaring himself as king developed in the absence of leadership. A vacuum will be filled, and the young man conferred with Joab, the head of the army, and Abiathar, the High Priest … apparently they too believed that something had to be done given the disengaged state of affairs. But they threw themselves in on the wrong side.

Perhaps the most telling verse in the chapter is verse six, where David’s son Adonijah is seen as acting as his does because he was never rebuked by his father or challenged in terms of his behavior. He was cursed also with the burden of being exceedingly handsome, in that he was the brother of Absolom.

But the takeover plan does not succeed, largely through the wisdom and intervention of Nathan the Prophet. The story has a humorous turn when, while Adonijah and his groupies are celebrating, news arrives that Solomon is actually sitting on the throne.

The lesson for today is that failing to take appropriate action in the leadership roles we have in our lives – be it family, or work, or church – seldom, if ever, leads to success. The ebb and flow of life needs thoughtful management in order to assure that it is all flowing in accord and in step with God’s kingdom. Just as turning up the car radio to avoid hearing the clickitty-dingy sound in your car motor may give you some temporary relief from worry, the problem in the end will always be bigger tomorrow than addressing it today will be.

Adonijah Sets Himself Up as King

1:1  When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. 2 So his attendants said to him, “Let us look for a young virgin to serve the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.”

3 Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The woman was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no sexual relations with her.

5 Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses[a] ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. 6 (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.)

7 Adonijah conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they gave him their support. 8 But Zadok the priest, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei and Rei and David’s special guard did not join Adonijah.

9 Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel. He invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah,10 but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon.

11 Then Nathan asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah,the son of Haggith, has become king, and our lord David knows nothing about it? 12 Now then, let me advise you how you can save your own life and the life of your son Solomon.13 Go in to King David and say to him, ‘My lord the king, did you not swear to me your servant: “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ 14 While you are still there talking to the king, I will come in and add my word to what you have said.”

15 So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him. 16 Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king.

“What is it you want?” the king asked.

17 She said to him, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the Lord your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.’ 18 But now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, do not know about it. 19 He has sacrificed great numbers of cattle, fattened calves, and sheep, and has invited all the king’s sons, Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army, but he has not invited Solomon your servant. 20 My lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to learn from you who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise, as soon as my lord the king is laid to rest with his ancestors, I and my son Solomon will be treated as criminals.”

22 While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet arrived. 23 And the king was told, “Nathan the prophet is here.” So he went before the king and bowed with his face to the ground.

24 Nathan said, “Have you, my lord the king, declared that Adonijah shall be king after you, and that he will sit on your throne? 25 Today he has gone down and sacrificed great numbers of cattle, fattened calves, and sheep. He has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army and Abiathar the priest. Right now they are eating and drinking with him and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But me your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he did not invite. 27 Is this something my lord the king has done without letting his servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”

28 Then King David said, “Call in Bathsheba.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before him.

29 The king then took an oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, 30 I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place.”

31 Then Bathsheba bowed down with her face to the ground, prostrating herself before the king, and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

32 King David said, “Call in Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, 33 he said to them: “Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon. 34 There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 Then you are to go up with him, and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah.”

36 Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, so declare it. 37 As the Lord was with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon to make his throne even greater than the throne of my lord King David!”

38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon mount King David’s mule, and they escorted him to Gihon. 39 Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.

41 Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they were finishing their feast. On hearing the sound of the trumpet, Joab asked, “What’s the meaning of all the noise in the city?”

42 Even as he was speaking, Jonathan son of Abiathar the priest arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in. A worthy man like you must be bringing good news.”

43 “Not at all!” Jonathan answered. “Our lord King David has made Solomon king. 44 The king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites, and they have put him on the king’s mule, 45 and Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king at Gihon. From there they have gone up cheering, and the city resounds with it. That’s the noise you hear.46 Moreover, Solomon has taken his seat on the royal throne. 47 Also, the royal officials have come to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May your God make Solomon’s name more famous than yours and his throne greater than yours!’ And the king bowed in worship on his bed 48 and said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has allowed my eyes to see a successor on my throne today.’”

49 At this, all Adonijah’s guests rose in alarm and dispersed. 50 But Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went and took hold of the horns of the altar. 51 Then Solomon was told, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon and is clinging to the horns of the altar. He says, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’”

52 Solomon replied, “If he shows himself to be worthy, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die.” 53 Then King Solomon sent men, and they brought him down from the altar. And Adonijah came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon said, “Go to your home.”

Though it is not on our reading schedule, which actually ends tomorrow for this series, in the next chapter Adonijah did not prove himself to be worthy. He cunningly attempted to gain Abishag for a wife – which would give him the appearance of being the rightful successor to the throne. This would cost him his life.

Trusting God: It’s a Big Deal (2 Samuel 24:1-25)

So many of us who grew up in the church as kids were very early on in our lives taught to memorize the summary verses from Proverbs 3:5,6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. And 50+ years after memorizing it, that passage strikes me anew again today for the totality of wisdom that is packed in a mere 28 words.

As I shared at the beginning of the sermon yesterday, this reading through the story of David in all of these chapters (and more) that we’ve been preaching on and writing about for this series has really also struck me with what a mixed bag of life experiences characterize David. There are the incredibly great moments, yet also there is more than a brief list of failures that cost David dearly in terms of his own comfort and the pain from the total dysfunction of so much of his family.

David is truly an “Exhibit A” of success when trusting God (killing Goliath, inheriting the kingdom) and disaster when functioning in his own flesh (Bathsheba, not discipling and leading his family). And today’s passage is the account of another failure of David – his census of the people to determine the number of those able to fight.

24:1 Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

2 So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.”

3 But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?”

The wording in the first verse is a bit odd. The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21 attributes this situation to Satan’s intervention.

That passage also more strongly states that Joab found the order to count the people to be repulsive … but why? What’s the big deal about a census?

We can get the answer to this from Deuteronomy 17:16,17 where Moses wrote 500 years earlier in anticipation of the time when Israel would inevitably have a king …

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

God wanted his people to trust him completely. He wanted them to trust him for their protection against evil nations surrounding them. If they would be faithful, no harm would befall them. The nation was not to invest in the collection of horses and the implements of war, for this would cause the people to trust in their own strength rather than in God to give them victory.

So David’s census was a direct violation of this principle and exhibited a pride in his own strength and resources. So Joab was overruled, so off he went around the country (“from Dan to Beersheba” is like saying “from Minnesota to Florida”).

4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel.

5 After crossing the Jordan, they camped near Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer. 6 They went to Gilead and the region of Tahtim Hodshi, and on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. 7 Then they went toward the fortress of Tyre and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went on to Beersheba in the Negev of Judah.

8 After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.

9 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand.

10 David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”

As bad as David is on varied occasions, we may rightly note that it is the root character of his personality to be quick to admit his wrongdoing and to humbly seek God’s forgiveness and restoration. He is given three choices of outcomes, and David chooses the one that most puts him into God’s hands, rather than any hands of men.

11 Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: 12 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”

13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”

15 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”

18 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad. 20 When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.

21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”

“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”

22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood.  23 Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.”

24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 25 David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

This apparently very good and gracious man Araunah offers to just give to David everything that was needed for the sacrifice before the Lord. But David refuses to receive it and insists that it be paid for by he himself. He understood that if it cost him nothing personally, it was not much of a sacrifice.

What we see is David taking a different attitude at the end of this chapter from that at the beginning. Here he is displaying what God wants to see – a totally dependent attitude of trust and yieldedness.

As good Americans, we like to be very independent and take care of ourselves. In terms of prudent responsibility, that is a good thing. But ultimately we cannot be in control of everything. We need God; we need to trust him fully in all things.

One Big Messed-up Kingdom (2 Samuel 16:1-14)

Though I have read the story of David in these Old Testament narratives on many occasions in my life, this time through it I have been struck as never before about the pain and sadness that must have been terribly pervasive in David’s life. Perhaps as a younger man I saw more of David’s passions, energies and greatness, but now in my own more reflective years and with a mostly-grown family, I am struck more by the amount of trials and sorrows that befell him year after year.

The Scriptures are clear that David was a great man with a genuine heart for God. He is applauded in ways that few others are in the Bible. Yet at the same time, he is a man filled with faults and besetting sin issues. And in some fashion, this teaches us all that even at our best, in the flesh we are all still a mess in too many ways.

In this bridge chapter that we read today (before we skip quickly on Sunday to the end events of David’s life), we see the continued retreat of David from Jerusalem and the recording of two encounters with two men: Ziba and Sheba…

David and Ziba

16:1  When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine.

2 The king asked Ziba, “Why have you brought these?”

Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”

3 The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”

4 Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”

“I humbly bow,” Ziba said. “May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.”

You will recall the story from two weeks ago of Mephibosheth, the son of David’s friend Jonathan … who though lame in both feet, was restored and given a place at the king’s table. Saul’s former servant Ziba, with his sons and servants, were to care for Mephibosheth while tending all the lands given to him that formerly belonged to Saul, his grandfather.

Here Ziba tells David that Miphibosheth remained in Jerusalem under the belief that the people would restore the kingdom to him. Later, in chapter 19, when David returns to Jerusalem, there is Mephibosheth with the opposite story – claiming that Ziba lied. It appears that David did not know who to believe, so he split the assets in half for each. I tend to see this as Mephibosheth being on the side of truth, though we don’t know for sure.

Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin – often a bit of a wild and crazy bunch. And Shimei is from the same clan as Saul and he curses David and pelts the group with rocks as they ignominiously retreat from Jerusalem.

Shimei Curses David

5 As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. 6 He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. 7 As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! 8 The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

9 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”

10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”

11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.

Again we see David taking the broader view and perspective about the hand of God being sovereign over all things good and bad. David believed that by God’s grace, the very, very bad day he was having would be turned around at a later time; and indeed it was. In fact, Shimei had to humble himself later in the story as David returned to Jerusalem, and David forgave him and the Benjamites with him. This was the beginning of an alliance between the two tribes of Benjamin and Judah – as they would together remain more true to the Lord than the split-off northern kingdom of 10 tribes in the division after the reign of Solomon.

I have to say that I’m too often like Abishai than like David. When wronged, I’d rather go over and chop someone’s head off than trust God to work circumstances over time to my vindication through his power. (Many years ago I named a pet “Abishai.”)  This was one of David’s “mighty men,” who were themselves a mixed bag of good and bad traits.

But that is what we all are; and the trick to the Christian life is to allow the Spirit to maximize our good traits and divine gifts, while yielding to God to suppress the traits of the sin nature that express themselves in self-absorption.

In the following several chapters we see that Absalom is overthrown and dies, and David is restored to the kingdom. But troubles and trials persist to David’s final days. And even in this time, we see the mixed bag of positive and negative traits in David himself … though the good traits of trust, faith, and repentance were the larger and defining reality at the foundation of David’s character and spirit.

One Big Messed-up Family (2 Samuel 15:1-37)

In our flight through the story of the life of David, we have just two days now to bridge from David’s sin with Bathsheba to the final transitional period of his life – our theme for this coming Sunday.

You may recall from the reading in chapter 12 two days ago that a part of what Nathan the Prophet had to say to David (beyond the rebuke for his sin and the pending death of the child) was that there would additionally be terrible troubles in the household and family of the king. This was certainly true.

We skipped two chapters (13 and 14) which told an ugly story of David’s oldest son Amnon’s rape of his half-sister from a different of David wives – a stunningly beautiful girl named Tamar, the full sister of Absalom. To avenge his sister’s disgrace, Absalom murders Amnon and is estranged from David and Jerusalem for three years. And even when he returns, it is two years until David agrees to see him and there is (apparently only a surface) reconciliation.

So our chapter today begins with an internally bitter Absalom who will plot to take over his father’s kingdom. For four years, the son uses all of his assets – his unparalleled handsome appearance, incredible charm and people skills, and political cunning – to turn the hearts of a majority of people away from David and to himself.

Absalom’s Conspiracy

15:1  In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” 4 And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”

5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.

7 At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord. 8 While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’”

9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron.

10 Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.

David Flees

13 A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.”

14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”

15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”

16 The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. 17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.

19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. 20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness.”

21 But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”

22 David said to Ittai, “Go ahead, march on.” So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him.

23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.

24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.

25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. 28 I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.

30 But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. 31 Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”

32 When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Won’t the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king’s palace. 36 Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear.”

37 So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.

Back in the summer, during the Psalms series on Psalm 41, I wrote a devotional in this blog resource that talked about the great pain of betrayal. It was one that unusually resonated with people as judged by quite a number of responses. So clearly, this is a big hurt when we may find ourselves betrayed by someone close whom we love dearly.

But imagine the depth of it when it is your own family, your own child!  And on top of that, David too learns during his retreat from Jerusalem that his #1 counsel – his chief of staff Ahithophel – also had thrown in with the conspiracy.

Notice though how David, even in the midst of his own pain, managed to see a bigger picture and trust in a higher plan. His heart was to save the city from the destruction of a battle. Feeling rightly the injustice of so much befalling him, it would have been natural for him to encourage the departure of the Ark of the Covenant with him. But David sends it back, believing and trusting that God would by his grace and in accordance with his divine will bring David back to Jerusalem to see it yet again.

There is a generally-true principle of life that the sins of parents have a gravitational propensity to fall to the children in a family. And sometimes it is the private sins and problems from generation one that find public fruition in generation two.

I say that it is a “generally-true principle,” though it is not a universally true nor inextricably true principle of life. If so, since the beginning of time and sin in the Garden, every successive generation of humanity would be worse than that previously.

What is needed to fight off this “generational transfer” is the active engagement of one or the other to make a difference in the way things are. It takes a patriarch or matriarch of a family to identify the dysfunction and set out a vision for a new course. Or, it takes the determination of a younger generational member to say, “What I have grown up around is a bit crazy, and as for me and my house, we are going to go in a different direction.”

The wonderful truth for those who have trusted in Christ is the realization that they have been adopted into a new and different family – the family of God. There is an entirely functional family system modelled by Christ, empowered by the Spirit, and informed by the Word of God that gives a resource for a new and healthy way of life.

In the spirit of this series, and of all of the teaching we have been doing, we could call this “the true and better family of the King.”  So, we may choose to act like our dysfunctional human family, or we may choose to order our lives as rightfully-adopted children of the king of kings.

A New Heart (Psalm 51 & 32)

We live in a “dirty” world.  God created sex for the biological purpose of reproduction, and for the spiritual/social purpose of strengthening marital bonds.  Such intimacy even reflects the goodness found in God.  Yet when we strip sexuality of its beauty and purpose, we only exchange joy for guilt.  And shame.

Pamela Paul—a journalist for the L.A. Times—recently sought to trace the various ways that pornography has impacted our society.  She assembled this data into a book called Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families.  In it she interviews a woman named Vanessa, who felt a wave of guilt sweep over her after she and her boyfriend introduced pornography into their relationship:

“My [sexuality] has definitely been influenced by similar pornographic forces that men experience…At the same time, it’s icky…I don’t just want to become [another body]….I felt cheapened…I felt so empty after the experience.”

God’s design for sexuality is for couples to become “one flesh”—that is, to experience radical unity of body and soul.  Sex outside of marriage is wrong.  Why?  Because you can never say with your body what you do not say with your soul.

So what do we do with this guilt?  This has been the subject of psychology for more than a century—and the speculation of writers long before that.  Yet these can only offer—at best—a means of masking our guilt.  Only the gospel provides a means for it to be washed away.

At some point in David’s moral failure with Bathsheba, he composed a song of repentance, which we now know as Psalm 51:

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

You hear David’s plea?  He wants to be made clean.  At first blush, we might cringe a bit at verse 4—surely it wasn’t just “against God” that David sinned.  What about Bathsheba?  What about Uriah?  What about the servants involved in the scandal?  But David is saying that guilt doesn’t merely spring from a violation in the social order.  No, it goes deeper—it is a violation of the very character of God.  And what’s more, he says, is that we’ve all been born into a natural state of sin.  The ancient writer Origen once said that “everyone who is born into this world is born into a natural state of contamination…[we are] polluted in father and mother.”  The Christian idea of “original sin” doesn’t just say I do bad things.  It says I am a bad thing.  If that’s true, than there is nothing in the world that I can do to absolve my guilt.  I need radical forgiveness and transformation.

6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Does it strike you as odd that God simply forgave David?  Yes; David would experience the tragic consequences of his moral failings.  But David would be cleansed and renewed.  That’s what grace fundamentally means.  You see, when Christ died on the cross, His blood didn’t just cover the sins of the people from then onward.  No, his blood would retroactively cover the sins of all the saints that lived before.

It’s doubtful that David understood this—at least not to the fullness that you and I do.  But David counted on a God whose greater desire was to extend mercy.  Later, the apostle Paul would write that God “saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).  In a “dirty” world, the gospel promises expiation and regeneration—that is, Christ’s blood cleans our guilt, and God’s Spirit transforms us from inside out.

It’s this righteous character of God that prompted David to write elsewhere:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.  7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.  9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:1-11)

You are not “damaged goods.”  Your sins don’t have to define you.  Christ’s blood covers you.  This new relationship changes your identity.

I rarely like to embed videos in these posts—some of you at work might have to wait until later to watch this—but few sermon excerpts speak as powerfully as this one.  This is an excerpt from a conference message from Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Dallas:

Luther once wrote that Christians are “simultaneously justified and yet sinners.”   Paul understood this from his own experience.  In Romans 7 he writes: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) But in his same letter he writes: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)  Following Jesus will cleanse your past.  And His Spirit shapes you into something new.

 

 

“Behold the man!” (2 Samuel 12)

Sometimes the greatest agonies aren’t those we feel, but those we don’t.  When we encounter someone in deep mourning over some tragedy, we rightly weep with them.  But when we encounter someone whose hardened heart refuses to spill tears, we feel all the more pity.

Story has its own way of re-sensitizing numb hearts to the reality around us.  The deadened nerves of human conscience are enlivened with truth layered with symbol and meaning.  Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for example, tells the story of Prince Hamlet trying to avenge his father’s assassination.  King Claudius had taken the throne after murdering his predecessor—Hamlet’s father.  Now Hamlet seeks to evoke a confession from Claudius by staging a play depicting his father’s murder.  “The play’s the thing in which I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” Hamlet utters in preparation.

Sometimes it’s easier to recognize the sin in others than it is to see the sin in ourselves.  We need an external conscience, someone to jar us out of our moral slumber and expose us to the penetrating light of reality.  Thankfully, David had this in Nathan.  At this point, David had thought his crime with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah to have been resolved.  But Nathan comes to him with a story that snaps David’s mind to reality:

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house.

In his 2000 work simply called Humanity, Jonathan Glover chronicles what might be called a “moral history” of the twentieth century.  Glover notes the ways that human selfishness and unmitigated evil resulted in some of the most virulent bloodbaths humanity has ever seen.  But Glover goes on to note two countervailing forces—what he calls “moral resources.”

First, there is sensitivity to others.  Glover uses the example of Afrikaner police during South Africa’s Apartheid.  These police would often chase down protesters—club in hand—in meting out cruel justice.  In one such incident, an officer is chasing a young woman when she loses her shoe.  Suddenly she switches from being a faceless protester—a target, to the cop—and becomes a human being.  Chivalry wins the day.  The officer puts down his club and hands the woman her shoe.  Something similar is happening with David.  He begins to recognize that his actions had devastating consequences for the people in his life.  Uriah had been wronged—and murdered.  Bathsheba had lost everything.  And what about you and me?  Reality hits us when we recognize the women we objectify as actual human beings.  The woman on your computer screen is more than a collection of anatomical parts.  She has a name.  She is someone’s daughter.  Perhaps a sister.  A friend.  She had dreams, as a little girl, of growing up and becoming a mommy.  She had a favorite stuffed animal.  She played with her dog.  Suddenly we can no longer see her as only someone to be used, but a person who deserves love.

Second, Glover noted a sensitivity to self.  We must ask the question: “Am I the sort of person who would do a thing like this?”  And the harsh reality is simple: if we do something, it’s because we’re exactly the sort of person who does things like that.  Nathan tells David: “You are that man!”  There’s  no escaping it.  Sin dehumanizes us.  We cease to function as agents and image-bearers of God and become creatures ruled by lust and greed.

Thankfully God provides a way out.  In almost the same breath, Nathan promises that God would “put away” David’s sin.  There would be forgiveness—though there would be consequences.

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.16 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17 And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Can you imagine the pain inflicted on David, who for seven consecutive days had to listen to his child’s cries knowing he was the one who caused him this pain?

But can you imagine the anguish of another Father, who had to watch His Son ascend the hill toward a place called Golgotha, a Son whose limbs were pulled from their sockets as He hung there bleeding?  Nathan looked at David and said: “You are that man!”  But the Roman governor Pilate presented Jesus to an unruly crowd and said “Behold the man!”  David was forgiven for his physical adultery.  Jesus was condemned for my spiritual adultery.   The marvelous good news of the gospel is that God’s grace triumphs over my sin.  Ultimately, God would use this incident to bring about the fulfillment of his promise to David to use Solomon in the furthering of His Kingdom:

24 Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him 25 and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

Still, we mustn’t gloss over the seriousness of sin and its consequences.  God’s grace offers forgiveness—but God also provides every resource we need to wage war against our own desires.  Is there a Nathan in your life?  Someone who challenges you?  Points out to you the consequences of your failings?

If you do not already pursue internet accountability, I urge you to do so.  Multiple programs exist that allow you to surf the web but will send reports of your activity to an accountability partner—a “Nathan” in your life.  If you have not already done so, I’d encourage you to check out www.covenanteyes.com for their program, or www.x3watch.com, both of which offer valuable resources in maintaining your purity in today’s digital world.

 

Godly Sorrow and Spiritual Apathy (2 Samuel 11)

In his 1991 work Needful Things, horror novelist Stephen King tells the story of how the devil came to a small town in Maine.  Under the guise of a man named Leland Gaunt, the devil opens a small shop that sells…well, just what your heart most desires.  Gaunt’s first customer was a young boy named Brian Rusk.  In Gaunt’s shop, Brian discovers a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card—a must-have for his collection.  Gaunt sells him the card for the unexpectedly low price of eighty-five cents—but also for the promise that Brian would perform a small task on Gaunt’s behalf.  Brian is asked to throw mud at his neighbor’s sheets while they hang on the clothesline.  Brian complies.  But when the neighbor discovers the ruined sheets, she blames not Brian (who remains undiscovered), but another, rival neighbor.  Things escalate quickly.  Harsh words are exchanged.  Rocks are thrown through windows.  The feud culminates in a double homicide.  King’s novel contains dozens of such stories, as the town of Castle Rock visits Gaunt’s shop, performing these small “tricks” that spiral into town-wide anarchy.  As Gaunt tells young Brian, “when you slung that mud at [your neighbor’s] sheets, you started something.   Like a guy who starts an avalanche just by shouting too loud on a warm winter day.”

Though we won’t find the gospel contained in horror fiction, King is onto something altogether basic—almost echoing the words of James.  Unchecked desire, writes James, “gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown leads to death” (James 1:15).  The compromises we make to secure our desires may seem small, but they “avalanche” into something demonic and unstoppable.

This is essentially what happened to King David.  His desire for his neighbor’s wife quickly spiraled out of control—to an extent that would bring desolation and destruction.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

In his analysis of 1-2 Samuel, Victor Hamilton notes that this isn’t the first time David sent others to fight in his stead (cf. 2 Samuel 10:7-14).  But here it seems to take a sour note—suggesting that trouble began when David neglected his duties in favor of resting in security.

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

It’s tempting to cast blame in Bathsheba’s direction.   Surely she should have been more discreet about bathing on the rooftop.  But not only does this reek of victim-shaming, it fails to account for some basic practices of the ancient world.  First, bathing typically took place outside—and it’s reasonable to think that only those with rooftop access (like David) would have had a vantage-point to see her bathing.  But secondly, bathing—in that era—did not necessitate a removal of clothing.  It’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that Bathsheba had been giving herself the equivalent of a sponge bath.

Nevertheless, David saw something he wanted—and took it for himself.  Now, the Bible uses a variety of words for sexual activity.  The most common—and most intimate—is the word yada meaning “to know.”  But here, we’re told, David “took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.”  He took her.  Now, I’m not suggesting that this was an outright example of sexual assault.  But I’m also not clear that Bathsheba was in a position to refuse, either.  And it brings to the surface one of our culture’s most dangerous myths about sex.

THE MYTH OF “CONSENT CULTURE”

The Bible describes marriage as a relationship of radical unity.  Married partners literally become “one flesh”—united in both body and soul.  So marital intimacy is about sharing one’s whole self: thoughts, feelings, dreams, passions—and yes, our bodies.  But this is equally why Christianity has traditionally reserved sex for marriage.  We should never say with our bodies what we’re unwilling to say with our souls.

Today’s world insists on what I frequently hear referred to as a “consent culture.”  This “myth” (as I call it) insists that what goes on between two consenting adults is no one’s business but their own.  Religion has no place in the bedroom.

The problem is that it simply doesn’t work like that.  There’s a reason we feel profound guilt over our sexual history.  There’s a reason we tend to label sexual brokenness as being “dirty:” dirty bookstores, dirty movies, dirty websites.  There’s a reason young people refer to the return home after a one-night stand as the “walk of shame.”  But surely, the reason must only be a sense of “residual Catholic guilt,” right?  Surely we’re past the age of Leave-it-to-Beaver style sexual values?

Shame and guilt fall under the umbrella of “moral emotions.”  Contemporary psychologist Richard Shweder says that there are three different types of ethics.  If I accidently curse during a wedding toast, I feel embarrassed for having violated the “ethics of community.”  If I fail to receive the promotion I sought, I may feel frustrated or angry for having failed to meet my personal standards of “the ethics of autonomy.”  But if I violate some deeper law, I feel ashamed and ever dirty for having violated “the ethics of divinity.”  Shweder is an atheist, but his work in this area made him more fully appreciate man’s religious impulse.  Why else would sexual guilt and shame be common across all cultures unless there was some deeper principle at work?  Surely we recognize the profound gift of human sexuality—just as we recognize the way it’s been so repeatedly vandalized.

THE MYTH OF INVULNERABILITY

With Bathsheba pregnant, David now risks exposure.  So he seeks a solution.

6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” And Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9 But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” 11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” 12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk. And in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” 16 And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. 17 And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. 18 Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting. 19 And he instructed the messenger, “When you have finished telling all the news about the fighting to the king, 20 then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, ‘Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’ then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’”

22 So the messenger went and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell.23 The messenger said to David, “The men gained an advantage over us and came out against us in the field, but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. 24 Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall. Some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” 25 David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter displease you, for the sword devours now one and now another. Strengthen your attack against the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.”

Do you see the irony?  Not long ago King Saul had sought to eliminate David in a similar way—by sending David to battle seemingly impossible odds so that he’d be killed (1 Samuel 18).  Now David becomes the thing he once ran from.

The mysterious author of Ecclesiastes says that “because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).  We might call this the “myth of invulnerability,” the lie that says I’m only as bad as my consequences.  I can hide.  I can deflect.  I can wear a religious mask. David believed himself impervious to consequence—even though all around him lay in shambles:

26 When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. 27 And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.

Does your sin grieve you like it grieves God?  Or—like David—have you become numb to it?  Have you bought into one of the myths above?  The good news of the gospel can only be fully experienced by those who realize the bad news of their own condition.   Sin is a powerful, corrupting force—one that penetrates deeper than mere behavior to the very core of our souls.  And nothing that you and I do can possibly stem the tide of uncontrolled desire.

Paul writes that “Godly sorrow brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10).  Sometimes the healthiest thing we can pray for is for God to make us sad.  Do you have the courage today, to pray for Godly sorrow?  For earnest and honest conviction of your own sin?  Because to do so may be the start of a larger journey toward repentance, toward faithfulness, toward renewal.

 

Regular Near East Conflicts – No New Thing (2 Samuel 10)

Today’s passage in 2 Samuel 10 serves as a bridge from what we have studied thus far in the account of David that carries us up to the next chapter which will be the topic for Chris’ sermon on Sunday – David’s moral failure.

Much of what we have looked at revolves around the solidification of David of the nation of Israel as he establishes his kingdom. But there were international matters as well, as Israel was surrounded by oft hostile Gentile nations and people groups.

At this time, Israel was the strongest and most dominant power in the region, but it did not mean that they were free from conflicts … almost seasonally and annually, as we see in the opening words of the following chapter: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war …”  This almost sounds like opening day of the baseball season!

God often used the nation of Israel as an instrument of judgment against the surrounding godless nations; and likewise, in times of disobedience, the judgment came in the opposite direction.

It is good to recall that the Lord God is the sovereign over all the nations. As it says in the 47th Psalm …

God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne … for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.

This is a good remembrance, not only for our understanding of biblical times, but for our modern era as well. It certainly is true that the Near East has seen wars and conflicts between Israel and surrounding nations for even thousands of years.

The only thing more frightening about watching the news these days and seeing the evil forces of ISIS / ISIL growing and advancing, would be to see all of this happening without the perspective of God’s superintendence over the affairs of the world.

David Defeats the Ammonites

10:1  In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. 2 David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, 3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” 4 So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.

5 When David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.”

6 When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.

7 On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. 8 The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maakah were by themselves in the open country.

9 Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. 10 He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. 11 Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. 12 Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

13 Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him.14 When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.

15 After the Arameans saw that they had been routed by Israel, they regrouped. 16 Hadadezer had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam, with Shobak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them.

17 When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him. 18 But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there. 19 When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.

So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.

A Place at the Table in the Kingdom of God (Luke 14)

With a final devotional thought today on the theme of this past Sunday’s study on the place of Mephibosheth at King David’s table, we look today at a sort of parallel New Testament story – one that anticipates the eternal reality of a permanent place at the table of the Lord in God’s Kingdom.

This passage from Luke 14 has a lot of “unsaid” sort of “elephant in the room” moments to it. Let me try to add them sequentially through the story as you read it…

Jesus at a Pharisee’s House

The Pharisees were getting increasingly annoyed with this self-proclaimed preacher dude from Galilee who seemed to enthrall the masses. So one day, one of the Pharisees said to the others, “Here is what we’ll do. Let’s invite this Jesus guy to my house for a meal on a Sabbath. We’ll put in front of him a diseased man and see if he breaks the Law and heals him. Don’t say anything. Let him hang himself by WORKing a miracle on the Sabbath.”

14:1  One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

So the Pharisees thought to themselves, “It worked! Our trap caught him in a severe violation of the Law! Yes!”  But before they could act on it in any way, Jesus spoke to them…

5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.

The Pharisees looked around at each other, seeing their elation suddenly deflated, with each saying with their eyes that there was no satisfactory answer to the question. Of course they would all save a life – even of an ox or a donkey – in danger of dying on any day, including the Sabbath.

While this unspoken battle was transpiring, people at the dinner were pushing and shoving and maneuvering in not so subtle ways to get positions at the table as close to the host as possible, thus avoiding the embarrassment of being at the foot of it all, humiliatingly far from the action.

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

In the crowd was one guest who was – you know the type – a person who hated conflict and who was a peacemaker at all costs. He was thinking to himself, “This whole scene is soooo AWKWARD! What can I do? I know! I’ll blurt out a statement that everyone can agree with, and then the tension in the room will be broken and we can all get along and have a nice dinner.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus hears this, smiles, and thinks to himself, “Thanks for the softball toss man; I was wanting to apply this whole story to the Kingdom! I’ll tell them another little story to make the point.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Many of the Pharisees heard this story and understood that he was talking to them, saying that God’s kingdom and table was composed of the disgusting elements of society – sinners of all sorts and those with physical ailments due surely to their sinful lives as a just payment. This teacher does not understand that only the good and religiously precise such as we Pharisees will sit at the best places in the kingdom feast, closest to God.


So who does God save? How does God invite to the feast and who will come? He invites all, for there is room. But only those who in their spiritual state of crippled lives and diseased conditions, who understand that their own goodness and righteousness is fully insufficient, will actually find themselves at the table.

Find themselves there. Yes. Like Mephibosheth. King David came looking for him. He had no rights to be with the king and at his table. But David sought him out and brought him there in grace and in accord with his covenant love. And so God, with us, seeks us out by his grace. He sends someone who invites us in at a time when we were not looking at all for such an invitation. And in a series of God-orchestrated events, we find ourselves adopted into God’s family with an eternal reservation at the table in the Kingdom of God in the house of the Lord forever.

We find ourselves in a place at the table. That is grace. That is the gospel.