Monday, March 31. 1 Kings 4 – 6

“You’ve come a long way!”

And it’s not all good.

That comes to mind when I read this section on Solomon. Saul had no organized government to speak of. David had certainly more organization, but Solomon, as the saying goes, “takes the cake.”

The first readers of Kings were exiles in Babylon and this look back at Solomon and the glory days of their nation had to be a bittersweet experience. As “numerous as the sands of the sea,” “happy,” part of a huge empire that reached north and east to the Euphrates and south and west to Egypt. “Now look at us” they could think. “Prisoners in a foreign land, subjugated to pagans.”

But Kings wasn’t written just to look back on the glory days. It was written to tell how the glory days were lost. Though Solomon’s empire is portrayed as magnificent, within the portrayal are signs of decline.

Solomon not only worships the Lord, but also worships at the centers for Canaanite worship (3:3). Note that while Solomon has divided the land into twelve districts, these do not correspond to the twelve tribes and their allotment of land. Solomon collects for himself twelve thousand horses – an action prohibited by the law (Deuteronomy 17:16). He taxed his own people heavily in order to pay for his monarchy and enslaved his own people to accomplish his building projects. Israel had been warned this would happen (1 Samuel 8:16). He spent seven years building the temple, and nearly twice that building his own palace.

What you are supposed to see is something great, grand, and wonderful – at least in the eyes of mankind. Look at the number of people who sing his praises! But in our hearts, we know that something is wrong with the heart of Solomon. Success in the eyes of men is not necessarily the same as success in the eyes of God.

Sunday, March 30. 2 Samuel 24 – 1 Kings 3

In chapter 3 there is a noticeable change in this brief story of Solomon.

We were told in 2 Samuel 12 that Solomon was the second son born to David’s union with Bathsheba. We are also told concerning this child that “the Lord loved him,” though we are never told why. Reading the opening chapters of Kings, we might well wonder if the Lord’s love persists.

After all . . .

Solomon kills his half brother Adonijah. I understand that Adonijah is competition for the throne, but still, should he have been murdered?

Solomon demotes Abiathar the High priest. Apparently at this time, there were two High Priests, Abiathar and Zadok. Because Abiathar supported Adonijah in his quest for the throne, Solomon, on his own, removes Abiathar from the priesthood. We can wonder if Solomon had the authority to do this. Of course, the observation is made that this was according to the plan of God to deprive Eli’s descendants from the priesthood, but working according to the plan of God is not exactly the same as working according to the word of God. If God told Solomon to do this, we are not given that information. It simply seems as if Solomon is acting on his own.

Solomon has Joab murdered, and he kills Shimei.

It’s a bloody story and we are right in wondering whether Solomon could possibly still have God’s blessing. But the trouble doesn’t end there. Solomon goes to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, the “most important high place.” The tabernacle is there, but the Ark of the covenant is in Jerusalem. Where should he have gone? This little note points out Solomon’s confusion. He doesn’t really know what he is doing, or what he ought to do.

But in chapter three, things change.

During a dream, Solomon goes to God in prayer. God offers him whatever he desires and Solomon chooses wisdom – specifically the Lord’s wisdom to govern correctly. We have to admit, it was something Solomon desperately needed.

For the next eight chapters, Solomon goes from one success to another until finally, his success goes to his head and he stops living by the wisdom of God. Failure is on the horizon.

One message from this is, of course, to stick within the guidance of the Lord. But another, more pertinent to chapter three, is that when you don’t know what you are doing, it’s best to admit it and go to God in prayer for guidance.

Saturday, March 29. 2 Samuel 20 – 23

As the book of Samuel comes to an end, it is fitting that it should end with poetry; after all, that’s the way it began! Hannah’s poem ended with the recognition of what God would do for the king of Israel – if Israel ever got a king. David ends the account of this book with a poem that affirms God has done for him precisely what Hannah said.

The list of David’s fighting men emphasizes the greatness of David, a point that will be made repeatedly in Samuel’s sequel, the book of Kings where you will find nearly thirty comparisons of succeeding kings with him. David’s greatness lay first and foremost with his relationship with God. It lay second in his ability to secure the loyalty not only of great men, but men from a variety of backgrounds. In the list are family members and those from the tribe of Judah, but also men who might have otherwise been Israel’s enemies – Maacah, Ammon, and the Hittites.

Chapter 32 contains one of my favorite stories: that of the three friends who, at the risk of their lives, journey through enemy lines to bring him water from the well at Bethlehem. That the Philistines would be able to make such a deep incursion into Israel demonstrated Israel’s weakness, yet these three make it to the well and back. David however, objects. Only God is worth such a risk of life, and he offers the water to God as a sacrifice.

The writer of Samuel (and Kings) is not bashful about revealing David’s flaws, but for them all, David is a man who cares deeply about his relationship with God and struggles with being worthy of it. We can, of course, never be worthy of God’s grace, but we should want to try – and work at it (see Ephesians 4:1).

Friday, March 28. 2 Samuel 17 – 19

As I read these chapters, the word “loyalty” comes to mind, for if there was anyone a paragon of loyalty, it would have to be Joab. Joab knew Abner would be a threat to David, so Joab killed Abner. Joab was distressed with David’s instructions regarding Bathsheba’s husband, but he followed them. When David’s indolence threatened his monarchy, it was Joab who told him the hard truth. Joab knew David’s stubbornness and disappointment with regard to Absalom, and he devised a way to encourage reconciliation between the two. But when Absalom led a revolution to overthrow his father, Joab killed the boy. When David’s grief left him incapacitated, it was Joab who spoke candidly to David: “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters . . . You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men.

When you read, therefore that David, on Absalom’s death, removed Joab as commander and put Amasa, Absalom’s commander in his place, you have to wonder if David has lost his mind.

Joab could have objected, quit or deserted, but he doesn’t. He seems to know he has done wrong, and he will accept his demotion and continue to serve his king. When, however, Amasa proved himself unfaithful to the king, Joab killed him too. The text does not say “David restored” Joab to his place as commander, but everyone knows Joab is in control once more.

When David decides to number his army, Joab is there to advise the King not to do it. Joab knew it wasn’t something God wanted. You can fault Joab’s actions, and you should. David had a better feeling for the heart of God. But you cannot fault Joab’s heart. He only ever wanted what was best for David. Jonathan is often regarded as David’s closest friend, but if the story is any indication, Joab acted closer. It’s too bad David never seemed to realize Joab’s loyalty. May we all be a friend like Joab, and may we recognize and hold close the Joabs in our life.

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.

Wednesday, March 26. 2 Samuel 11 – 13

An old proverb reads: “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Solomon wrote: “If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks.” As David’s story turns from success to failure, these words often come to mind.

Throughout David’s story, the writer has emphasized the presence of God, the success of David, and that David’s success is due entirely to the Lord (at least ten specific references thus far in David’s story). God gave David success, but David had to work. When he quit working, he got in trouble. Joab knows David is being lazy, and that the kingdom is in trouble. That’s why, though Joab’s army is within reach of victory, he calls for David to come take over. The kingdom depends on a proactive king. When David comes back to work, the success returns.

David’s sin with Bathsheba is not just ordinary adultery. It was greed. God had given David everything, but it wasn’t enough. It was an attempt to supplant God. If David wanted more, God would have given it. But David didn’t want God to give it. He wanted to get it on his own. It was an insult to God, because David, the servant of the Lord had become a thief and a murderer and brought shame on the name of his God.

Sin has consequences, and they are not always but momentary. Sometimes, as in David’s case, they are far reaching. God intends it be that way, so that all will know how really despicable sin is in the sight of God. The next time you find your mind wandering, in idleness, to where it doesn’t need to go, get up and get about the Lord’s business.

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!

Monday, March 24. 2 Samuel 5 – 7

The story of Uzzah is often a puzzle to readers and an occasion of criticism by critics of the Bible. David tries to do a noble thing: move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. But on the way, an ox pulling the cart carrying the Ark stumbles. The Ark shifts and is in danger of falling. Uzzah puts his hand on the Ark to steady it, and God kills him.

In point of fact, even David gets angry at God for this (and then becomes afraid).

What was the big deal?

In chapter five, David’s reign is contrasted with Saul’s again. Remember that the account of Saul’s downfall began with a war against the Philistines when Saul neglected to “inquire of the Lord.” David, however, does it twice in his conflict. But then, David undertakes to move the Ark and fails to talk with God about it.

David’s move of the Ark resembles the one of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 6. There’s lots of respect. Lots of rejoicing. But a failure to listen to God. The Ark was to be carried by men, not on a cart pulled by oxen. As the story progresses, David discovers his error and does it correctly – and successfully.

It won’t be the last time David makes a mistake by acting on his own initiative.

David was responsible for knowing and following the will of God. As we saw in our look at the law (eg. Leviticus 5:17ff), ignorance of God’s will is not an excuse. Like most of us, David had those moments when he believed his good idea was surely the Lord’s will. But “assuming” doesn’t make it so, and the result was tragedy. Nothing has changed.

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.

Saturday, March 22. 1 Samuel 28 – 31

As we come to the end of Saul’s life here, I have found these observations from Edwin Good most thoughtful:

The remaining two episodes of the Saul narrative highlight the tragedy of the whole story of Saul. His recourse to Samuel’s ghost demonstrated his feeling that the people were no longer with him. But the starkly heroic act of the men of Jabesh-gilead (31:11-13), the site of Saul’s first triumph (ch. 11), shows the lasting respect, loyalty, and affection that he had in fact acquired.

The other piece of tragic irony is the moving lament uttered by David over Saul (2 Sam. 1:19-27). We cannot imagine that David wanted to fight against Saul, he escaped his command in the battle of Mt Gilboa only because the Philistine officers felt him a poor security risk. He was considered by others to be Saul’s most faithful servant (22:14). When he could easily have done so, he would not kill the King because he “loved him greatly” (16:21).

Saul’s obsession with David was the construct of his own mind, and David’s response to Saul’s death demonstrates to us how tragically needless it was. Saul’s genuine greatness–his stature before the people, and the affection in which he was held, as shown by the deed of the men of Jabesh-Gilead–could have had full, free play in the monarchy. He could have been the kind of ruler to turn the kingship’s intrinsic ambiguity to the proper ends. But he was not the man. He was “little in his own eyes,” and he found it impossible to conceive that obedience to the Lord just might override his own self-perceived shortcomings.