Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune, Pulpit Minister for the Church of Christ in Falls Church and Amazing Grace International

Grace Words: A Daily Bible Reader’s Blog

Thursday, March 27. 2 Samuel 14 – 16

There are five main stories in Samuel and Kings that have to do with incorrigible children. The first two have to do with Eli and Samuel. The third has to do with Amnon who raped his half-sister Tamar. In that case, David said nothing to his son. The fourth is Absalom. When he murdered his brother Amnon, David said nothing. Now, Absalom is rebelling against his father and seeking a coup to take his throne.

This is a huge sin.

Note that even though David was the anointed successor to Saul, he still would not raise his hand against Saul. This despite the fact that Saul was trying to kill him. When at the end of the battle with the Amalekites, Saul is killed, David kills his murderer.

And yet, David is more than tolerating rebellion against God’s anointed from his own son.

This is the longest of the “son” stories, but is not the last one. The final one involves Adonijah, who attempts to take over the throne in David’s old age.

There are similarities between all five stories, threads that hold them all together. The story begin in chapter fifteen spends a lot of time on Absalom’s rebellion, but the underlying theme is that despite the obvious support David has in the empire, this giant slayer of a warrior will not take a stand against his own children, and will not correct them.

The message, which we will revisit early in 1 Kings, is that God expects His people to know His word, obey the word, model that word, teach that word to others, and encourage those taught to live it. This is the work of all God’s people, but especially the King and any leader.

Tuesday, March 25. 2 Samuel 8 – 10

Mephibosheth made his first appearance in chapter 4 where we learned he was crippled in a tragic accident after the death of his father Jonathan. In the ancient world, when the kingship passed from one family to another (Saul to David in this case), it was customary to kill all the family of the previous king so that there would be no competition for the throne. Mephibosheth’s nurse, hearing of Jonathan’s death, feared the worst and attempted to rescue the child.

Here you see David’s magnanimity. What he wants to do is show kindness to the house of Saul. The word for “kindness” is the Hebrew term “hesed,” often translated as “grace.

Time has gone by. Mephibosheth has grown up and likely lives in fear every day that he will be discovered. The boy lives with Makir, perhaps a brother to Bathsheba (compare 1 Chronicles 3:5 and 2 Samuel 9:5). The appearance of David’s troops asking for him could mean nothing good for Mephibosheth. And yet, David elevates him to the position of family.

I love this story. It, to me, is a symbol of God’s own grace. Here I am, broken and condemned, living in the fear of God who has no reason to help me or love me. But surprisingly, He does both through His own son and makes me a part of His family, calling me to eat at His table.

How marvelous is grace!

Sunday, March 23. 2 Samuel 1 – 4

If mere men could be considered responsible for Saul and David’s success, those men would be Abner and Joab.  With the death of Abner and Saul, it left a power void because David had not yet been made king of all Israel.

It would appear that two other men would be contenders for Saul’s throne: Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, and Mephibosheth, his grandson).  Chapter four tells us how they came to be eliminated.  Mephibosheth was a cripple.  Ish-bosheth was murdered.

Recab and Baanah expected to be rewarded for eliminating David’s competition for the throne, but they were tragically mistaken.  David would not raise his hand against God’s anointed.  He punished others who did.  David was horrified at Saul’s blood letting against the Gibeonites – a story as yet untold and only referred to in chapter 21.  For a king who himself was criticized for bloodshed (1 Chronicles 22:8), David was remarkably sensitive to it – in a good way.  It will surprise us then, as the story continues, that David can be so blind to violence in his own house among his own children.

Friday, April 12. 2 Samuel 22 – 24

The story of David’s census is puzzling in some ways, particularly when you compare it with its parallel account in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 21).

First, it would seem that the whole idea (though a bad one) was incited by God himself (the writer of Chronicles says the idea was Satan’s). Then, God punishes David for doing what God Himself set out to do. Second, why was it such a bad thing to take a census of the army? Third, why punish Israel for something David does (even David reasons this way). Fourth, why tell us this story; how does it fit into the book?

The story reminds me of Jesus’ temptations. When the Lord was tempted to turn stone into bread or throw himself from the top of the temple, the temptation was to exalt personal greatness – it why Satan precedes these temptations with “if you are the son of God.” It’s a matter of pride. David too is being tempted into this kind of chest-thumping by showing how great his army is (when in fact, the greatness is solely in God’s care for his people). Joab sees the folly of such an action and opposes it, but David will not be denied.

For some unstated reason, God was angry with Israel and determined to punish her. He used this incident of David’s own pride as an excuse for the plague he inflicted on the people. It is an incident of God using the events of history for his own purpose. But why did He need David to sin this way when, in fact, he could have punished Israel directly?

God didn’t need David to sin, but David was going to and God used it as the reason for the punishment. But in the story, something else is emphasized.

Usually overlooked is David’s characterization of his relationship with the people of Israel. It gets scant attention, but it is very important. Israel is “sheep,” and that makes David the “shepherd.” While Israel sinned and brought about the wrath of God, David was responsible for that sin since he was the king. The king’s job was to lead and not just politically or economically or militarily. His job was to lead ethically and spiritually as well, and to shepherd the people in the ways everlasting. He had failed in doing that, and the sins of Israel, as well as their punishment, were laid at David’s feet. He was to blame.

Leadership is not benign. It always impacts people – whether good or bad. And real leaders, good leaders, always take responsibility for the failings of those entrusted to their care.

Thursday, April 11. 2 Samuel 19 – 21

The story in 2 Samuel 21 is, in modern sight, simply awful, but it illustrates some important truths that should not be overlooked in any age and that, I think, is it’s purpose.

The Israelites were to completely destroy all the Canaanites. This was God’s desire and directive. But when Israel entered the promised land, they encountered the Gibeonites, a Canaanite people, who deceived Israel into making a treaty of peace with them (see Judges9) instead.

Perhaps legally, the Israelites could have annulled the treaty because it was based on subterfuge. But Israel doesn’t because they have, in the name of the Lord, taken the oath. These oaths cannot be violated. It points out the difficulty people get themselves into when they are not careful to obey God. Sometimes, there is no good solution and you have to go the way that honors God best. This brings up our first eternal lesson: when you give your word, because you are God’s child, that word is binding. It may be a bad agreement, an unwise one, but because you are God’s child, your word is the same as God’s word. In talking about agreements (and he is talking about agreements, not, as is usually assumed, going to church), Jesus said “where two or three are gathered together, there I am too” (Matthew 18:20).

The treaty was for all time. Saul, however, violated the treaty and tried to exterminate the Gibeonites. We don’t have this story. All we know about it is the reference in this chapter.
In punishment, God sent a drought on the land resulting in a famine. But you have to wonder: why did God wait so long? And why punish all of Israel for the actions of one man? Here are two more truths: First, some sins, like violence and bloodshed, bring guilt on everyone. As God’s people, we are all in this together. Christians should remember this. When things go bad in one congregation, it’s the responsibility of the whole to fix it, and you don’t fix it by leaving and going elsewhere else, nor do you eliminate your guilt by saying “it wasn’t my fault” or blaming others. Second, God’s justice doesn’t always come immediately. Sometimes, it takes a while – but it does come.

Neither money nor possessions can replace a life. The Gibeonites know this and understand if there is to be atonement, life will have to be given. They ask for the lives of seven of Saul’s family – and David gives them.

Rizpah, the mother of two of the sacrificed men, was determined that her sons should not die for nothing. If her boys were going to be sacrificed to atone for Israel, then she would protect the sacrifices until God accepted them and sent rain. But her determination that the sacrifices be acceptable to God prompted David to consider his own actions. After all, though the people of Jabesh Gilead had honored Saul’s remains, David had not. David moved to re-bury Saul and Jonathan’s bodies in their ancestral burial ground, and that brings us to the final lesson: it’s never too late to do the right thing. Though rain came during the actions of Rizpah, the notice that “God answered prayer in behalf of the land” does not occur until David does the right thing and gives honor to whom honor is due.

Wednesday, April 10. 2 Samuel 16 – 18

“O my son Absalom!  My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom my son, my son.”

Are there words more sorrowful than these in all the Bible?

How many fathers do you know who would cry the same cry over a son whose waywardness cost them their lives?

Probably more than a few.  No matter how hardened the man, it is a rare father who can lose a son – even due to the son’s foolishness – without wishing the son’s end had come upon himself instead.  I suppose that’s one of the reasons David’s life is so attractive to us: in so many ways, it’s the life of everyman.

What I find here is the contrast between the loss of David’s first son with Bathsheba, and the loss of Absalom.  David mourned during the whole illness of Bathsheba’s child, but at the death, stopped mourning altogether. When asked why the abrupt change, David replied: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

I do not know how advanced David’s understanding of the after-life was, but this much seems certain,: the thought of seeing Absalom again does not seem to cross David’s mind, or if it does, he does not want to go where Absalom has ended up.

We all live in view of death, and death is the great seal to life.  Nothing about life can be changed after death.  We need to live in such a way that nothing need be changed, and as death closes the door to this life, it opens a door to a new life we can all look forward to.  That didn’t happen for Absalom.  You can blame his destiny on the inattentiveness of David if you like, but in the end, we are all responsible for our own destiny.

Tuesday, April 9. 2 Samuel 13 – 15

At intervals in the story of Samuel, and at times in other historical books too, you will find statements made about God. These fit in with the story, but it is as if the writer wants to use the story to make a point about God. The entirety of 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is given over to these statements. You will find another in verse 25.

In 1 Samuel 12:14-15 you have this statement: “If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers.” Still another is in 1 Samuel 15:22 (“To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.“) and another in 1 Samuel 16:7 (“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”).

We have another of these theological statements in 1 Samuel 14:14, this one spoken by the “wise woman” of Tekoa. She says: “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.

The point, for David, and for us, is that to be like God, we don’t nurse grudges. We work hard at resolving them and creating reconciliation from estrangement. It’s an important point. Christian people far too often are more interested in cutting out the sinful than restoring the erring. David did not want to leave the impression with Israel that he countenanced Absalom’s actions, but in treating his son like a pariah, he wasn’t being godly either. Sometimes it is a fine distinction, but in our attempt to be godly, we must be sure we are acting godly.

Monday, April 8. 2 Samuel 10 – 12

You will find echoes of Saul in chapter twelve: the prophet’s rebuke of the king , the listing of honors bestowed on the king indebting him to God, even the king’s response (“I have sinned”) found in 1 Samuel 15 are parallels between David and Saul – but they only go so far.

Some folks, eager to salvage David’s reputation, come up with all kinds of excuses for David: Bathsheba shouldn’t have been bathing in the open as she was; she should have refused the king; she and Uriah weren’t really married (because customarily soldiers divorced their wives when they went away to war – an unsupportable premise by the way). Even “Uriah deserved to die because he did not obey the king and go to his wife and home! Our world might like to give David a pass because, after all, David is an old guy, too old to go to war, feeling a loss of self-esteem and needing to “reassert his flagging manhood.”

But no such excuse is offered in scripture. David is guilty of stealing and murder – and guilty of an abuse of power and taking advantage of someone weaker.
Of course today, adultery is so common that it hardly merits notice. After all, a wife isn’t a husband’s property, why shouldn’t she have the right to do with her own body as he pleases (or he with his)?

But in point of fact, according to scripture, a husband belongs to his wife, and a wife belongs to her husband (cf. 1 Corinthians 7). Neither has the right to his or her own body or life and adultery is seen by God as the most heinous of moral failings. Nothing has happened to change that in God’s eyes. The fact that it is no longer seen that way in our eyes reveals how far from the mind of God we have wandered.

Though there are similarities between Saul and David in this matter, there is one major difference: the response when confronted. Saul is only concerned for his reputation with man. David, however, is concerned for his standing with God. It is that, despite failure and sin, that makes David, in the end, the man “after God’s own heart.”

Sunday, April 7. 2 Samuel 6 – 9

“Nathan the prophet” makes his first appearance in the Bible in 2 Samuel 7. David calls him in to consult on the matter of building God a “house.” After all, God has been good to David, shouldn’t David do something for God?

But it is important to see that David was over-stepping his bounds a bit here – as God reminds him in short order.

Nathan, of course, is caught up in the grandeur of David’s idea and at once proclaims it a good idea. God, however, has other ideas.

No one out-gives God. More than that, one doesn’t have the right to give God whatever he wants. The law required giving God what God wants. As God reminds David, the Lord never asked David for a house. Additionally, the Lord’s tent was prescribed and designed by God Himself. David had no right, on his own, to supplant it. To do so was to implicitly proclaim the tent of God’s design inferior to the temple of David’s design. Centuries later, the Christian Stephen will be martyred for implying that the temple wasn’t God’s idea and more attention was being paid to it than to the will of the Lord (see Acts 7).

Chapter seven is pivotal in the Old Testament. First, it is the foundation for the notion that David’s house was to be the ruling house over all Israel – forever. God promises never to withdraw his love from David’s line – though the Lord knows He will have to discipline David’s descendants.

By the end of the Old Testament though, it will become obvious that David’s house is failing and the rule of his descendants is coming to an end. But this gives rise to a second theme, the rebuilding of David’s house (Amos 9:11), the child who would come through his line to create an ideal kingdom and rule with justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9; 11; Jeremiah 9:25ff).

Saturday, April 6. 2 Samuel 2 – 5

Who is Abner?

We meet him half way through 1 Samuel and his exact identification is difficult. 1 Samuel 14:51 says Abner was Saul’s uncle, but the geneology presented there makes them cousins. The genealogy in 1 Chronicles 8:33 presents Abner clearly as an uncle, and despite the difficulty, it’s probably best to land on the relationship of uncle/nephew. This works well in the account. Abner is Saul’s uncle. David is Joab’s uncle (Joab is the son of David’s sister – 2 Samuel 26:6).

Interestingly, Joab knows that David is God’s choice for the monarchy of Israel, yet he deliberately supports Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth. Then, he makes a play for Saul’s concubine which, in ancient society was to intrude on a man’s house making it, in the case of Saul’s house, a play for the kingship (we will see Absalom do the same thing later).

Abner gets caught, and in a fit of pique switches to David’s side.

It is not to David’s credit that he doesn’t realize the folly of trusting someone who switches sides so easily – particularly someone who, in the case of his duplicity over Saul’s concubine has demonstrated that he cannot be trusted. This is one of those occasions when David, though seemingly forgiving and compassionate, does not demonstrate the wisdom of a good ruler.

There’s a lesson here. Too often we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, forgive and forget. But one should never forget that there is more to life and relationships than words, promises, and feigned loyalty. There are also actions. Jesus said: “By their fruit you will know them.” When people have demonstrated untrustworthiness by the way they live their lives, it’s one thing to forgive them. It is another entirely to wipe the slate clean and grant trust to one who has yet to demonstrate trustworthiness. In order to be trustworthy, one must demonstrate by his life that he is worthy of trust.