I understand the hurt feelings we can have sometimes when God doesn’t come through the way we think he ought to. I’ve had them myself, frequently. But he is the king. He can do what he wants to. He is wiser than us, and he sees things we don’t. It’s better to trust him and stay engaged.


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2 Samuel #20 . 2 Samuel Chapter 20

Last week we spoke of the political situation at this point in time in Ancient Israel. There are more politics here, but be patient, I think we’ll find some good stuff. After David returned, having reached out the leaders of the tribe of Judah, who were in shame, the leaders of the other tribes were offended. They had not provided the key support of Absalom’s rebellion, like Judah had; they had talked of bringing David back before Judah had. So they were offended that David reached out to Judah and gave them the honor of escorting him back to Jerusalem.

Apparently while David was returning to Jerusalem and all this was being discussed, a man named Sheba, from the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe), stepped up and said, essentially, “Fine then. If that’s how David wants it, let’s leave.”

He left, and most of the people of the other ten tribes followed him. Now, at this point, as I read this text, they were simply choosing not to escort David to Jerusalem. Most of the leaders of the tribes were willing to express their displeasure with Judah and with David’s forgiveness in this way. So they all went home and left the leaders of Judah to escort David.

But Sheba, the man who instigated the walk-out, wanted to take it one step further. He wanted to immediately start another rebellion. For David, this was one thing after another. However, Sheba was not like Absalom. This was not a carefully laid plot with long preparation. He was only able to get the Berites to join him. The “Berites” were probably citizens of the town of Beeroth in Benjamin; it was almost certainly Sheba’s hometown. So his influence was quite limited.

Even so, David thought it best to stamp out the small rebellion quickly. He didn’t want to give it a chance to spread. So he ordered his new military commander, Amasa, to gather the troops.

When Absalom rebelled, he had chosen Amasa to be his general. After the rebellion failed, one of the ways that David reached out to the tribe of Judah was by promising Amasa that he was forgiven, and that he would command the army in place of Joab. Joab had murdered Abner years before this, and at that point he had David’s tolerance, but never again did David approve of him. More recently, Joab murdered David’s own son, Absalom. Now, I know it was when they were at war with Absalom, but when Joab came upon him, the battle had already been won, and Absalom was alone, unarmed and helpless. Moreover, David had commanded Joab to capture and spare Absalom if he could. Instead, Joab killed him while he hung helpless and trapped in a tree. So Joab was in disgrace, and David wanted no more part of him.

Another reason David made Amasa the new general, was to try and mend the relationships he had with the leaders of the tribe of Judah. It was a peace offering to them, showing them he had forgiven them, restoring them to normal relations. In addition, Amasa, like Joab, was one of David’s nephews. In fact, he was Joab’s cousin.

Amasa took too long to gather the army, so in the meantime, David sent Abishai, Joab’s brother, after the rebel, with David’s personal force of elite warriors. Joab went along. Eventually, Amasa and the army he had raised, met up with David’s forces under Abishai. Joab went up to Amasa. He deliberately allowed his sword to fall out of its sheath as he approached his cousin. He bent down and picked it up, and then, still holding the sword, reached out as if to greet Amasa. Instead, he stabbed him, killing him. This was very similar to what he had done to Abner. Immediately, he took control of the whole army again. He had one his loyal followers cry out

“Whoever favors Joab and whoever is for David, follow Joab! ” (2Sam 20:11, HCSB)

The implication is that if you didn’t follow Joab you were against David and for the rebel that they were pursuing. Eventually, Joab’s flunky hid the body of Amasa, so it wouldn’t distract the soldiers as they marched by.

They pursued Sheba and his followers to the northern borders of Israel, where he took refuge in a walled city. There Joab negotiated with a woman with a reputation for wisdom. She begged Joab not to destroy the city. Joab made it clear that their war was against the rebel, not the city. So the citizens executed Sheba, and thus ended the rebellion, and saved their city from destruction.

Now, what do we make of this? It’s a petty, bloody and gruesome chapter in the history of Israel. What would the Lord say to us through it? Well, let’s remember that the whole bible is about Jesus. This chapter is here to show us something about Jesus, or something about ourselves and how we relate to him.

Let’s start with the people from the ten tribes. They began by insisting how much they wanted to honor David, but ended up snubbing him deliberately because they were offended and hurt by the way he forgave his enemies.

Sometimes we might be tempted to behave this way with Jesus. It’s easy to get disappointed with him when he behaves in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that he loves our enemies as much as he loves us. Sometimes what he does or doesn’t do, or the things he allows to happen in our lives, are difficult to understand. Often we respond by withdrawing from him. Maybe we aren’t overtly rejecting him or rebelling, but we just “go home.” We back off. I understand the hurt feelings we can have sometimes when God doesn’t come through the way we think he ought to. I’ve had them myself, frequently. But he is the king. He can do what he wants to. He is wiser than us, and he sees things we don’t. It’s better to trust him and stay engaged.

Maybe it’s not even Jesus himself, but something he’s doing that he wanted us to be involved in. For example, suppose you feel called to help out with a ministry to the poor. You do, and you truly make a significant difference, but no one recognizes your efforts. In the meantime, they honor people who seem to deserve it less than you. So you back off. I understand backing off a situation like that. But the question is: did the Lord call you to back off, or are you just withdrawing because your feelings were hurt? That can be tough, but the way of maturity in Jesus is to listen to him more than your emotions.

What about Joab? Joab comes across as someone who was always loyal to David, even though David did things he didn’t like. But was it really loyalty? He was loyal when he agreed with David. But we see now, for at least the third time, that when Joab had different ideas, he chose his own way. He did what he wanted, no matter what the king commanded. Loyalty and submission to leadership are only really revealed in hardship and especially in disagreement. But whenever there was disagreement, Joab chose himself over David.

By and large, Joab looked like a loyal and faithful servant. And, throughout his life, he did a lot for David. But ultimately, he did not buy into who David was and what he was all about. He was offended by David’s compassion and forgiveness. He liked the part where they got to kill their enemies together. He didn’t like the forgiveness part, so he didn’t do that, and he did not let David’s will thwart his own designs. Joab was aligned with the right side. But his heart was all about Joab and what he felt and what he wanted. He did not actually accept David’s wisdom and judgment if it was different from his own.

Sometimes Christians can be that way with Jesus. Usually, these days, it is the reverse of Joab. We like the love and forgiveness stuff. But when it comes to giving up our favorite sins, we choose our own way. Or maybe we’re fine to go to church and sing songs. But when it comes to forgiving someone who has hurt us badly, we hold on to the right to nurse our grudges. We like to be perceived by others as believers, but we won’t listen to the Spirit’s call to be intimately involved in the lives of other believers, or to study the bible. Jesus said something very scary in Matthew chapter seven:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matt 7:21-23, HCSB)

You can look like a Christian, act like a Christian and talk like one, but not really allow Jesus to change your life. You can even do things for Jesus, but those things won’t count if you don’t really receive him as your savior and king. Joab looked like a friend, but his actions revealed him here as someone completely separated from David and his values. We see how terrible and ugly that was in Joab. We see that the fruit of it was pure evil. The same is true for us: the fruit of our own self-will when it is asserted as better than the will of Jesus, is never good.

Finally, consider the wise woman in the town of Abel. At first, they probably received Sheba into their town willingly. But when the realized the destruction he would bring and that there was no righteousness to his cause, they were willing to get rid of him in a very final way.

This also reminds me of something Jesus said:

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell! (Matt 5:29-30, HCSB)

The people of Abel realized that they had something in their midst that would lead to their downfall. They got rid of it with awful finality. Sometimes maybe we need to something similar. Maybe you have a habit of going out after work and having a few drinks before you head home. Maybe you fudge the numbers a little bit at work. Perhaps you have some activity or habit that seems OK at first, and you like it, but Jesus has made you aware that this is a problem in your life. The time to get rid of it is right now, with finality. The people of Abel were considered wise for choosing to get rid of the rebel rather than having their town destroyed. We too, sometimes need to make a wise choice that is hard, even drastic.

Let the Spirit speak to you through the text today.

On the Road Again





When we expect all our hopes to be fulfilled within this life alone, we set ourselves up for disappointment, stress and fear. David’s hope went beyond this life, and he shows us how to have grace under pressure.


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2 Samuel #16 . 2 Samuel Chapters 15 & 16

Some weeks we get into details about a text. This week, we’re going to fly through two chapters. Even so, we’re only going to cover one part of a much larger story concerning David’s son Absalom. There is kind of smorgasbord of spiritual truths here. Feast on whatever the Lord has to say to you through this today.

After David restored Absalom to his official position as prince, Absalom began laying the groundwork for a coup. He starts by running a popularity contest with David – a contest David didn’t even know was going on.

Absalom was good looking. Once he was “official” again, he began to charming also. He spent time with the people. He appeared to sympathize with their problems. Very subtly, he planted doubts in their minds about David. When they tried to honor him as their prince, he forestalled them, and treated them as equals and good friends. By doing this, Absalom won the hearts of a great many people.

David was a worshipper of God and a warrior. Though he failed at times, he rarely compromised his principles. Almost always, David cared much more about what God thought of him, than what the people thought. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about his people – it’s just that his way of caring and leading was oriented toward seeking the Lord, and leading the nation based upon what God wanted. For David, it wasn’t about being popular or satisfying the desires of the people. He felt, rightly, that if he was right with the Lord, then the Lord could use him to do his will for the nation of Israel.

However, the people were not as concerned with God as they were with themselves. So they were susceptible to someone like Absalom, who also appeared to be concerned with their desires. Absalom made sure he looked good. He always appeared sympathetic and engaging.

David was old school. He wasn’t a friend to the people – he was a leader. He stuck to his guns, because he believed right was right.

The people loved Absalom because they loved themselves more than God. If it was a choice between someone who followed God or someone who made them feel good, they wanted the one who made them feel good. We’ve already seen some things about Absalom’s character. He is ambitious for himself. He is arrogant. He wants his own way, and works to get it, regardless of the cost to others. But the people saw only the engaging, personable, friendly guy. They were too concerned with outward appearances.

There is no record of Absalom ever consulting the Lord about anything. And ultimately, he was not the Lord’s choice for king. But the people didn’t think about such things. They were already ready to repeat the mistake they made with Saul.

There is a classic scene in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. The four hobbits have met a tall, stern, grim looking man. He tells them that he was sent by their friend, the wizard Gandalf to help them. They discuss whether or not they can trust him. Finally, Frodo, leader of the hobbits says something like this:

“I think one of the enemy’s spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”

In other words appearances are often deceiving. So it was with Absalom. He seemed fairer and better than David. But on the inside he was already rotten. He looked and seemed like the better leader. But it was the grim, steadfast old David who was the best king the people could have had, in fact, as history showed, one of the best kings Israel ever had.

I spend time on all this because I think we are often like the people who were duped by Absalom. It’s so easy to judge by external things like looks and charm. It’s so easy to fall for a leader or lover who looks good and makes you feel good about yourself and himself – at least superficially. The Indigo Girls have an old song with line that goes like this:

Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable; And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.

I want to encourage the people of God to not judge by shallow things like appearance or personal charm, or even by feelings. Sometimes it takes some hard work to realize that goodness doesn’t always immediately feel good.

In any case, Absalom was able to win over enough people to attempt a coup to dethrone David (and probably kill him). It is interesting to see David’s attitude toward his son. He had no illusions about Absalom. As soon as he heard the news, he knew that his son would kill him if he could. Even so, that never changed David’s love for him. Later we’ll see that when it came to battle, David tried to protect Absalom, and he was deeply grieved when his son was killed. David did what he had to, to protect himself and take care of the kingdom God has given him – but he never wavered in his love for his son.

That is sometimes how it is with us and the Lord. The Lord has no illusions about us. He knows who we truly are – the good, and also the bad. And yet, God loves us with an unwavering love anyway. He’s always hoping we can be saved from destroying ourselves. He’s always hoping we will reconcile with him rather than be killed.

In the meantime, David has to run for his life. This had to be tough for him. When David was a young man, for more than a decade he had lived on the run in the wilderness. Life was physically difficult in those days. He was not respected or honored for who God made him to be. He was not recognized for his gifts. God’s promises did not seem to be fulfilled. Finally, he came through all of that and became king. A few years later, he ended up back in one of his old hide-outs, eluding the Philistine invaders. He came through that. And now, well into middle age – perhaps almost sixty years old, he’s back again, running for his life, not respected, not living out what God had promised him. In some ways, this might have been even harder. He isn’t on his own any more. When he was young, he didn’t know exactly how it would feel to be king. But now, he has tasted what he has lost. And now too, he has a family to take care of. He brought his wives with him. Solomon might have been a little boy at this point. There were other children also.

But David did not turn away from the Lord. This would have been a time when it would be very easy to be bitter. David followed God faithfully for most of his life. True, he had failed at times, but he certainly had more than his share of trouble. Following God did not spare him from trouble and hardship. But he had a better hope than just a comfortable life on earth. And so as he goes, you can see the grace oozing out of him. When people insult him, he is not angry. He doesn’t demand help from anyone. He goes out in humility and trust.

The people seemed to have had three basic reactions to David during this period of his life. The first is shown to us in the person of Ziba. If you remember, Ziba was the man who was to be the manager of the estate of Mephibosheth, son of Saul, whom David had treated so kindly. Ziba gathered some much needed supplies and brought them to David. This was a welcome thing, and a great help to David. But it turns out that Ziba did this deceptively, for his own gain. He claimed that Mephibosheth was overjoyed that David has to flee, and that he, Ziba, has taken it upon himself to help David. But we learn in chapter 19 that in fact, Mephibosheth went into mourning the day David left. The whole time David was in jeopardy, he had not taken care of his feet, his hair and beard, or his clothes. You might make a false claim about your sorrow, but you can’t fake a long beard or toenails. This proves that Ziba lied about Mephibosheth, hoping that if David triumphed over Abasalom, he would be rewarded with Mephibosheth’s estate. Mephibosheth, if you remember, was lame, and Ziba took advantage of that to come see David, not allowing his master to come. So Ziba supports David, but with the purpose of gaining something in the end. On the other hand he likely has very little to lose by doing what he did, if David never comes back. There were others who doubtless supported David by way of hedging their bets, hoping to gain his favor if he triumphed, and having little to lose if he didn’t.

There was second common reaction to David in all of this. Shimei was a relative of Saul’s, and he cursed David, throwing dust and stones at him as he left Jerusalem. David’s response reveals that he is once more a man whose heart belongs entirely to God. David’s nephew Abishai, one his great warriors, offers to go relieve Shimei of his head. But David restrains him. Nathan had told David (2 Samuel 12:10-12) that one of the consequences of his sin would be rebellion from within his own family. David is back to his good place in his relationship with God. His circumstances are a mess, but once more, his heart is fixed entirely on the Lord. So when Shimei curses him, David humbly accepts whatever the Lord is doing. He trusts the Lord to straighten things out, if Shimei is wrong. There were others, obviously, who sided with Absalom and rebelled against David. David’s personal advisor, Ahithophel was one prominent one. It may be that David wrote Psalm 55 at this point. The close friend that David refers to in that Psalm was very likely Ahithophel.

Finally, a third group of people remained steadfastly with David, come what may. Ittai was a Philistine warrior who had left his home; he led a battalion of six hundred Philistines who had pledged allegiance to David. David released them from their pledge and urged them to return to their homeland, but they refused. For them it was not about being blessed or having good times. They were in it for forever, for good or for bad, no matter what. The two priests, Zadok and Abiathar, were like that, as was one of David’s advisors, Hushai. David sent them back to Jerusalem as spies, and they remained loyal to him.

Remember how David is a “type of Christ?” It shows up again here. Jesus did not return the curses and insults of those who reviled him. I think it is helpful for us to look at how people responded to David, and see ourselves, in how we respond to Jesus.

There are some people who follow Jesus, or at least, who are sympathetic to him, because even though they aren’t sure about him, they want to keep their options open. Maybe they want something from him. So they hedge their bets. They come to church. The try to manipulate him into blessing them, in case he is in a position to do so. But they aren’t following him because he is the chosen one of God. They are doing it in hope for their own gain.

Others simply reject Jesus, particularly when it seems like he’s not a winner. These folks may seem to go along with the Lord for a while. But when something comes along that seems more attractive, or that makes them feel better about themselves, they desert the Lord and go along with the new thing. Sometimes they may reject Jesus because they mistakenly thought that the main thing he was supposed to do was make their lives on earth better, and when trouble came, they weren’t spiritually prepared.

And finally, there are those who remain faithful through everything. Sometimes their faithfulness costs them a great deal of suffering and hardship. Sometimes it brings peace or joy. But they follow in the certain hope that this life could never hold everything they want or desire. They are seeking their heavenly home. The book of Hebrews talks about them, and people like those loyal to David:

These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:13-16, HCSB)

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today. Maybe you need correction because your focus is on external things. Perhaps you are swayed but what looks good or what makes you feel good. Or maybe you need to be reminded that the life of faith always has ups and downs; that real saints throughout the ages have had many struggles in their lives. The trick is not to avoid struggles, but to let God’s grace come out when you are in them. Or perhaps you are being challenged about the way you follow Jesus. Maybe you have been focusing more on your own personal gain. Perhaps you are susceptible, because of pain or struggle, to rejecting Jesus all together. Hear God’s gracious invitation to faith today.



The horrible crimes described here cry out for justice. But how can we reconcile justice and love?

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2 SAMUEL PART 14 (Chapter 13)

This is surely one of the most difficult passages in the entire bible. There are a few others like it, but that doesn’t make it any better. The first twenty verses describe a rape. The detail of the actual sin is not graphic, but the writer takes time to describe the premeditation that went before it. It is all the more awful because it is also incestuous. David’s son Amnon assaults his half-sister, Tamar.

Leviticus 18:9 and 20:17 expressly forbid sexual relationships between brother and sister – even half-siblings. In fact, it is forbidden, even between adopted siblings. And of course rape – of any person – is always forbidden. But this is one of the cases where even the most non-religious do not need have to be told that this was a vile, despicable, evil act. Even without the bible, the vast majority of human beings still know that this is wrong at every level.

Amnon, the one who committed the crime, was the firstborn son of David, and heir to the throne. He was the crown prince. Chileab, David’s second son, is not mentioned anywhere here, so it is probable that he died when he was younger. Therefore, the next in line is Absalom, David’s third’s son, full brother of Tamar.

This had to be hard for David. Amnon followed in his father’s footsteps. He sees a woman he wants, and he takes her. Only it is even worse than David, because it is rape and it is his half-sister. So David’s sin has been multiplied and is worse in the second generation.

Then comes the murder – also mirroring David’s crime. Absalom, furious with his half-brother, and probably ambitious also, bides his time, and then invites Amnon to a feast, where he has him murdered.

If you pay attention, there is something troubling that stands out in this text. I think if we pay it some attention, it may be rewarding. The troubling thing is this: David, apparently, did not do anything about the rape. Why is this? It seemed to frustrate Absalom, and lead him to the sin of murder, and later on, rebellion. So what do we make of David’s inaction?

There are several possible explanations, of course, but I want to focus on three main ones.

First, in all fairness, the text doesn’t actually say when David learned of the crime. It just says that he was furious when he found out. So there is the possibility that he found out only shortly before Absalom held his murderous feast. David hesitates when Absalom wants to invite Amnon, perhaps thinking of the crime, and wondering if there would be strife. In that case, Absalom took matters into his own hands before David could do anything.

A second way to look at it is this: Amnon has committed a terrible crime. But David did something similar, himself. Thus he finds it too difficult to be a hypocrite and judge his son harshly for doing something like what he himself did. What David did was lust. Lust is not merely sexual – lust means demanding that we have what we want, on our own terms, no matter what. So you can lust after food, power, money, success, the perfect body – anything that you demand to have and work to get, regardless of the consequence. So the root sin – lust was the same in both David and his son Amnon, though it took different outward forms. Therefore, David’s own sin may have cost him the moral fortitude to be a just and righteous ruler of his own family and kingdom. I see this quite often in our own culture. There is so much sin going around, that everyone is afraid to call any of it wrong, because people might point the finger back and say, “what about you?”

But if we have accepted God’s judgment of our sin, repented and received forgiveness, we should not feel bad calling sin the evil that it is. If we can agree that it is evil in us, it shouldn’t be a problem saying it is evil everywhere.

But there is a third possibility, and this is the one I favor, because I think it is true to the character of David, and to the overall message of scripture. I think David did not hold Amnon accountable, because he was trying (though failing) to reconcile justice and mercy; truth and forgiveness. The crime was real, and heinous. It had to be punished. And yet the punishment, at the very least, (according to Leviticus 18:29) was that Amnon should be stripped of all rights and exiled for life. Some interpretations of the law might have meant the death penalty. So to bring justice meant that David would be separated forever from his first born son. David clearly loved Amnon, as shown by the fact that he grieved for him for three years after his death. David, manifesting the heart of God, had a deep commitment to justice. David, manifesting the heart of God, had a deep love for his children. But that justice and that love could not be reconciled. To follow love would mean justice would not be satisfied. To follow justice meant love would be forsaken.

And here, once again, is Jesus. God faced the same dilemma as David, only on a much larger scale. All of his children – all of us – have harbored sin and wickedness in our hearts. We have all fallen. We may not have sinned as heinously as Amnon, but the thing in Amnon’s heart that made him sin is also in our hearts. Amnon manifests what it in every human heart, and show us the deep need for justice. The law says we should be punished by eternal separation from our heavenly king and father. God will not violate that law. But he also loves us with an everlasting, deep, wild, love. David could not reconcile love and justice, so he did nothing. But God did something to reconcile the two. He sent Jesus. Justice for all of our sins was done – upon Jesus. Our unrighteousness was severely punished. It was punished – in the person of Jesus Christ. Justice was done upon his body and soul. Jesus became a human precisely so that he could take that punishment upon himself. But because he was pure and remained God, that punishment did not destroy him like would have destroyed us. And so, because of Jesus, justice was done. And because of Jesus, God can show his love to us, with no barrier.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Romans 3:22-26 (New Living Translation)

As I said last time, we do need to receive, through faith, the justice and love offered by God. It has been accomplished for us, but if we do not believe we need it, or if we do not trust we have it, or if we don’t want it – it does us no good.

Unfortunately for him, Absalom shows us that this is true. He did not seek justice from his father. He did not trust the king to satisfy the demands of justice. Instead, he took matters into his own hands. In the next chapter, we see that when Absalom wanted something from David he knew how to get it. When he wanted to be pardoned, and later restored, he was persistent and cunning and until David responded. But in the case of Amnon and Tamar, Absalom never even tried to get David to do anything. In fact, from the start, he pretended that incident meant nothing to him.

Perhaps he didn’t trust David to be both loving and just. I think also, he didn’t trust his father, the king to take care of him.

It may also be that Absalom realized he might be able to kill Amnon and become the crown prince himself, the next king of Israel. Tamar’s rape gave him an excuse to remove Amnon, the one person ahead of him in the succession, so that it would not look like ambition, but rather an attempt at justice. The reason Absalom had for murdering his brother might just make David and the people sympathetic enough so that when it was all over, they would still accept Absalom as the next heir to the throne. I think is I likely that at some point, Absalom decided to do this for both revenge and in order to become the next king.

Absalom did not seek justice from David for his sister. But even if he had, and David refused, it did not give him the right to commit a sin himself. We might do this with God in lesser ways and in lesser situations, and some ways, it is worse for all that. David was king. He had the right to deal with Amnon however he saw fit, even it if didn’t meet Absalom’s expectations. As it turned out, David gave Absalom himself mercy rather than justice. He hardly had the right to demand that David withhold mercy from someone else.

God is our king. He has the right to deal with his creations however he sees fit. When it comes down to it, at great cost to himself God offers us mercy rather than justice. Do we have the right to demand justice for some person or situation, even while we depend upon his mercy for ourselves?

Sometimes we try to take matters into our own hands because God doesn’t seem to be doing anything. I think when we do that, it can lead us down a path toward rebellion, just as it did with Absalom.

What Amnon did demands justice. Justice was given, through Jesus. That allows love to also be given. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today about the need for both, and about accepting both things from the Lord.



Do not let the consequences of your sins make you doubt God’s forgiveness. Sometimes, when we experience the difficult consequences of what we’ve done, or failed to do, it feels like God is still mad us, like maybe we are not forgiven. That’s a trap of the devil. If you have repented in faith, you are forgiven. But sometimes, those consequences remain. The Lord will give you extra grace to face those things also, if you seek him.

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If you are reading this, please pause, and read 2 Samuel chapter 12 first. The message in the text is pretty plain, and I am not going to go over the whole story in detail. So read the chapter, then come back and read the rest of this.

The story at the very beginning of 2 Samuel 12 is a wonderful portion of scripture in many ways. The prophet Nathan tells the story to David. It’s an allegory, or a parable. The beauty of it, is that David hears the story and engages fully with it. He absorbs what happened, and feels very strongly about it. And then, Nathan turns it around and says, “You are the man! The story is about you.”

Besides being a very powerful part of this chapter, I think Nathan’s approach tells us something about the bible. I have said before, and I stand by it, that the whole bible, including the Old Testament, is about Jesus. The first and most important purpose of the bible is to introduce us to Jesus, and to help us get to know him better. So whenever we read any part of the bible, we should ask the Holy Spirit: “Where is Jesus here? Show me Jesus.” But part of getting to know Jesus is also about getting to know the things in our own lives that either help or hurt our relationship with him. So the famous Danish theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, told people that when they read the bible, they should say, “this is about me.” And I agree with that, at least in the way that he meant. It is about Jesus first, but in a secondary way, related to that, the bible exposes our own attitudes, thoughts and ways of approaching life. In a way, the bible is to us, what Nathan’s story is to David. We are supposed to read and engage. We should ask “where is Jesus?” But we should also ask, “where I am, here? What does this bible passage tell me about myself, in relationship to Jesus?”

Nathan goes on and catalogues the outrageous sins of David. But I don’t think he needed to. Almost all people have a deeply seated sense of justice. Nathan appealed to that in David through the story, and I think David was convicted as soon as Nathan said, “you are the man.”

13 David responded to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

Then Nathan replied to David, “The LORD has taken away your sin; you will not die. 14 However, because you treated the LORD with such contempt in this matter, the son born to you will die.”

Now, the statement “I have sinned against the Lord,” seems a little inadequate, considering what David had done. I would have wanted more. But God knew what was in David’s heart. And we know what was in his heart at this point in time, because immediately after this, David wrote it down. You can find in the bible in Psalm 51. This psalm was written right after Nathan confronted him about Bathsheba. The whole psalm is still today one of the most powerful expressions of repentance every written. Here is just part of it:

1 Be gracious to me, God,

according to Your faithful love;

according to Your abundant compassion,

blot out my rebellion.

2 Wash away my guilt

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I am conscious of my rebellion,

and my sin is always before me.

4 Against You — You alone — I have sinned

and done this evil in Your sight.

So You are right when You pass sentence;

You are blameless when You judge.

God knew that David had repented truly in his heart, and so David was forgiven. I want to remind you how huge this forgiveness is, how amazing God’s grace is. Remember that God didn’t send Nathan to confront David about Bathsheba and Uriah until after the child was born. I suspect that prior to committing adultery, David had been drifting away from the Lord. Probably nothing dramatic, but I would guess that as life got easier and more full for him, he focused less and less on God. In time, he drifted far enough to commit the dramatic sins he did: adultery, lying, conspiracy to murder, deceiving others into conspiracy to murder. Then nine more months passed, without him returning to the Lord or repenting on his own. All told, I would guess that it was a least a year – perhaps several – that David was really not at all on track with God.

I think this is important, because the depth and depravity of David’s sin show us the vastness of God’s forgiveness and grace. This wasn’t just a little slip. This was an attitude of lust, murder, lying and self-reliance that continued for some time. God did not forgive David because it was just a little slip up. He forgave him, because you can’t out-sin God’s grace.

If God can forgive David – who spent at least a year turning his back on God, and did such horrible things – he will certainly also forgive us when we repent. Don’t believe the lie that you have fallen too far, or been away from God for too long. His grace is bigger than that.

Now, David was truly forgiven. But his sin resulted in some bad things. When we read this, it sounds like God said, “I forgive you, but I’m still going to punish you.” Here’s where we must interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. I don’t think it is so much God actively punishing David, as David reaping what he has sowed.

Think of it this way: If you throw a rock and break a window, the owner of the window may forgive you. But the window will still be broken. Because of the window-owner’s forgiveness, you won’t be prosecuted for vandalism. Because of that forgiveness, you won’t have to pay for the window. But forgiveness does not un-break the glass. There will still be a mess to clean up and a gaping hole in the house.

Or suppose I tell my young child not to touch a hot stove. The child does so. Now, she has disobeyed me. She has also burned her hand. Did I burn her hand as a punishment for disobedience? Of course not. The burn was a natural and unavoidable consequence when she chose not to obey me. In fact, the very reason form my commandment “do not touch the stove” was to keep her from suffering any burn. I will certainly forgive her for disobeying me. But that won’t change the fact that she burned her hand.

Remember, David’s greatest failure prior to this was also due to his sin concerning his relationships with women. He had married six wives prior to this (2 Samuel 3:2-5), and in addition, had several concubines, who were, in effect, legalized mistresses. All this was in clear violation of what the Lord had said through Moses (Deuteronomy 17:14-17). I think when Nathan tells David what is going to happen in his family, it is not just about Bathsheba – it is about his whole problem of lust and ignoring God’s word about marriage. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, it was only another manifestation of what he had been doing already by marrying more than one wife. And so I think the “punishment” here is simply a natural result of what David has done wrong for many years.

There are reasons for what the Lord tells us to do, and to avoid. Very often, he is trying to help us avoid painful consequences.

Now, what about the child dying? How is that a mere consequence of David’s sin? Honestly, I don’t have the answers, I just know Jesus, who does. He doesn’t always share them with us. But I have two thoughts.

First, infant mortality was fairly high in those days. It may be that the child was going to die anyway, and the Lord was simply predicting it, and telling David ahead of time that he wouldn’t change his mind.

Second, in those days it was a very shameful thing to be born as a result of adultery. This is what we call an “illegitimate child.” The other word for such a child is “bastard.” I’m not being crude – that’s what the word means. The fact that even today, that word is a very derogatory and demeaning insult, shows how shameful it was in times past. I’m not saying it makes sense – it is never the child’s fault, of course. But an illegitimate child in those days would have suffered for the sins of his parents all his life. If that child went on to be with Jesus, it was a mercy that he didn’t live long enough to be reviled and cursed and shamed all his life.

Now, I said you can’t out-sin God’s grace. That’s true. I want you to hear that and believe it. You cannot do something that Jesus’ death on the cross did not pay for. But there are two important things to bear in mind, things that are taught by this passage.

First, David was able to receive God’s grace because he admitted he was wrong, admitted his need for forgiveness, and turned away from sin. In short, he repented. You can’t out-sin God’s grace, but God’s grace does you no good if you pretend that you don’t need it. It does you no good if you do not accept God’s judgment upon the evil of your sin, and repent of it. Grace is there and there is plenty of it, but we can only receive it through repentance and faith. I’m not putting it all back on you to repent correctly. But I’m just trying to make sure everyone understands – this isn’t universalism. God offers grace to everyone, but not everyone believes they need it, and not everyone believes he offers it, or that it is sufficient. If someone writes me a check for a million dollars, it doesn’t do me any good unless I

a. Want the money in the first place. This starts with me believing I have a need for it.

b. Believe that the check is valid

c. Put a and b to work by going to the bank and depositing the check.

There is a second thing here. David, when he was confronted with sin, repented. He believed he needed forgiveness. He sought that forgiveness from God, and he received it. He was forgiven. Most of the evidence seems to indicate that after this, he went back to trusting the Lord with all of his heart. Psalm 51 certainly seems to show us that. In addition, when David faces the consequences that Nathan predicts, he remains steadfast in faith, responding like the David of old to trouble and adversity.

So what does all this say to you?

First, read the bible. The bible serves us like Nathan the prophet served David. It shows us God’s perspective on things, it helps us to see things in a new light.

Second, this passage shows us the importance of repentance. Through Jesus, God has done everything needed to restore our relationship with him, and forgive us. But we need to believe we need and to believe he offers it. We need to turn away from our own selfish life, and let our life belong fully to the Lord.

Third, do not let the consequences of your sins make you doubt God’s forgiveness. Sometimes, when we experience the difficult consequences of what we’ve done, or failed to do, it feels like God is still mad us, like maybe we are not forgiven. That’s a trap of the devil. If you have repented in faith, you are forgiven. But sometimes, those consequences remain. The Lord will give you extra grace to face those things also, if you seek him.

Pause right now, and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you.



Last time, we considered the amazing love of God, showered on those who do not deserve or expect it. What if God does that and someone rejects it? This incident from David’s life sheds light on that issue.

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2 Samuel #11 . 2 Samuel Chapter 10

I want to begin this time with a little bit of my own personal interaction with this text. Last time I made the point that the whole Old Testament points to Jesus, and everything in it is helpful for us who trust in him. In all honesty, I was regretting that statement this week as I looked at 2 Samuel chapter 10. I felt like I had painted myself into a corner, because I didn’t want to preach on this text. The reason I didn’t want to preach on it is because I was having a hard time seeing what value there is in these verses. I started to wonder: are there any texts that were really more for the people back in ancient Israel, or even Jesus’ time, and now, these days, we don’t need them anymore?

I don’t know about absolutely needing these texts, but the Lord immediately brought several New Testament verses to my mind:

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27, ESV2011)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2Tim 3:14-17, HCSB)

4 For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. (Rom 15:4, HCSB)

12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12, HCSB)

I have underlined several words here that show that these things refer to all scripture. Hebrews says the scripture is living and active – meaning, among other things, that it continues to be relevant for every generation. So I couldn’t just say “there is no point in studying 2 Samuel Chapter 10.” There is a clear principle taught in the New Testament that it is all worth studying and knowing, and it can all be used to teach us, correct us and draw us closer to Jesus.

So, trapped by my own words last week, I started asking the Holy Spirit to show me the point of 2 Samuel 10 for us today. I sure didn’t see it at first. But let me share with you what the Lord showed me as he began to open my eyes.

First, this is still all ultimately about Jesus. It should help us get to know him better. Last week, we saw that David revealed the heart of God’s ultimate Messiah, Jesus. The heart of Jesus is to find the lost and broken and show them God’s everlasting and faithful love. David lived that out, and Mephibosheth received that love.

But there is another possible outcome. Jesus wants to show God’s faithful and everlasting love to each person. But what about the person that doesn’t want it, who won’t receive it? That is what 2 Samuel 10 is all about. It is the other side of the same coin, the second part in the same story of God’s love for people.

You’ll notice that 2 Samuel 10 begins with the same basic idea as the last chapter. David, led by the Holy Spirit to show us what Jesus is like, seeks another person whom he can show God’s love and favor to. Many English bibles say that David wanted to show “kindness” to Hanun, the king of the Ammonites. This is the same Hebrew word we talked about last time: chesed. It certainly can mean simply kindness, but it can also mean “the faithful eternal love of God.” In the Psalms chesed is used more than 100 times, and almost always it is translated “faithful love,” “unfailing love” or “enduring love.” So David is still showing us how Jesus reaches out to show his love.

In 2 Samuel 10, the one David is reaching out to is Hanun, son of Nahash, king of the Ammonites. Hanun’s father Nahash was the first enemy that king Saul met in battle. Nahash was a cruel king who besieged the Israelite city of Jabesh-Gilead and tried to humiliate the residents. Saul defeated him. We don’t know what Nahash did for David – it isn’t recorded, so he may not have helped him very much, but obviously, he gave him some support, probably when David was on the run from Saul. Even so, it would be a stretch to suggest that the Ammonites were allies of Israel at any time in recent history. Now David reaches out to the Ammonite Hanun, sending representatives to express his condolences on the death of his father. Just as most kings would have considered Mephibosheth a threat, most would also have considered Hanun an enemy. In addition, the Ammonites were among those Canaanite tribes who worshipped idols and at times led the people of Israel away from the Lord. But David reaches out to Hanun in his grief, seeking to show him the faithful love of God.

However, Hanun responds in a way that is entirely different from Mephibosheth. If you remember from last time, Mephibosheth was overwhelmed with David’s kindness. He came when he was summoned and he gratefully received what David gave, and entered into a lifelong relationship with him, eating at his table every day. Hanun’s response is more like saying: “Up yours! Screw you!” and then spitting in David’s face. The shaving of the beards and the cutting of the clothes of David’s emissaries was a deadly insult.

Now, it is true, Hanun received some bad advice. But even so, he believed his advisors, rather than the emissaries of the kind king, and the responsibility for that belief was all on him. Yes, he had people lying to him. But he also had David’s men telling him the truth, and Hanun made a choice to believe the lies rather than the truth. The consequences were all his own fault.

Now, I don’t know what would have happened if Hanun had repented and sent messengers to David acknowledging his wrong and asking for forgiveness. But Hanun, realizing that he had done wrong, proceeded to do even more wrong. He armed for war, and called on allies to help him. He was proud and stubborn and was willing to make both soldiers and civilians pay for his own mistakes.

The consequences were severe. David sent his army to besiege the capital city. Joab and his brother Abishai commanded the armies, and they defeated the Aramean allies of Hanun, while the army of Hanun fled back inside the walled city. Then the Arameans were upset, and sent another army. David himself took charge of the army of Israel, and the Arameans were defeated a second time. They never again helped the Ammonites.

Ultimately, though it took at least a year, the Ammonites themselves were utterly defeated and their capital city destroyed. Hanun lost his crown, and possibly his head; while his people were made into heavy-laborers for the Israelites (these final events are recorded in 2 Samuel 12).

Hanun demonstrates for us what happens when we reject the faithful love of God that is offered through his chosen messiah, Jesus. Mephibosheth humbly received that love, and it blessed him for his entire life. But Hanun rejected it. It took some time, but ultimately, because he rejected it, he lost everything, and ruined the lives of tens of thousands of others.

We like to talk about the love and mercy and grace of God. I know I do. And it is ours if we will trust the good heart of Jesus. When we receive it, we are brought into a daily relationship with Jesus, just as Mephibosheth had a daily relationship with David.

But the other side of the story is this: it does not go well for those who reject the love of God offered in Jesus Christ. Yes, it’s true, people lied to Hanun about David and his intentions. And the devil will use people to lie to us about Jesus. But ultimately the truth was there for Hanun to choose, if he would just trust David. And the truth about Jesus is there, if we will just trust him. When we refuse to do that, we are inviting destruction upon ourselves. None of our allies or misplaced hopes will be able to save us.

This isn’t just an Old Testament teaching either. The writer of Hebrews says this:

1 Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you should miss it. 2 For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith 3 (for we who have believed enter the rest), in keeping with what He has said: “So I swore in My anger, they will not enter My rest.”

…..5 Again, in that passage He says, They will never enter My rest. 6 Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again, He specifies a certain day — today — speaking through David after such a long time, as previously stated:

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

…..10 For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. 11 Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-8)

This is pretty clear: we need to rest from our own self-life, our own works and ambitions, and rest in God’s great love for us, surrendering to him. If we don’t, we are in a pattern of disobedience and the good news we have heard about Jesus does not help us. Paul writes something similar in 1 Corinthians:

1 Now I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. 5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness.

6 Now these things became examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did.

Isaiah wrote:

In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength. But you would have none of it. (Isaiah 30:15)

Jesus himself mourned because the people of Jerusalem refused to receive him, and he said that as a result they would experience much suffering and sorrow. He also said this:

16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.

We usually only read verse 16. But verse 18 adds that if we reject God’s chosen messiah, we have condemned ourselves. About 75% of all Americans think there is a heaven, and they will go there when they die. 40% of people think it doesn’t even matter how you relate to God, he’ll accept everyone anyway. But the bible is clear: grace and truth and eternal life are offered through Jesus Christ alone. When you reject Jesus, you reject God, and you condemn yourself. John wrote:

11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)

Hanun shows us the route of “not-life.” It is real. Some people do reject Jesus. Believing the lies someone told them is not an excuse for people when they also have the truth in front of them. You have the truth in front of you if you are reading this now.

Jesus Christ does offer forgiveness, second, third and 233rd chances, love, grace and peace. He offers us daily relationship with himself, and joy. But outside of Jesus, none of that is ours. It all comes only in and through Jesus. If we reject Jesus, we reject it all, and none of the other things we rely on will be able to save us. So let’s pay attention to the writer of Hebrews, and today, let us not harden our hearts. Let’s be like Mephibosheth, not Hanun.


king's table

David’s counter-intuitive actions show us that the heart of Jesus is to seek out and love the lost and broken — even those who think they are God’s enemies.

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2 Samuel #10 . 2 Samuel Chapter 9

2 Samuel chapter 9 contains an interesting anecdote about David. I assume that the Lord allowed this to be included in the bible for a reason, so let’s look at it.

2 Samuel 4:4 tells us that Saul’s son Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth. He was just a little boy of five years old when his father Jonathan was killed in the battle with the Philistines. In the chaos that followed that battle, Mephibosheth’s nurse fled with him, and at some point there was an accident. The text says the nurse fell, presumably with the child in her arms, and Mephibosheth was permanently crippled in both feet.

If you remember, Jonathan was Saul’s firstborn son. Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s only surviving son. That means that he was Saul’s rightful heir. But if you remember, it was Jonathan’s brother, Ish-bosheth, who claimed the throne and fought with David. What this means is that Mephibosheth’s life was probably in danger from his uncle and the war leader, Abner. No doubt, those who took care of him believed he was also in danger from David. So the adults in his life took him into hiding.

The fact that Mephibosheth was even alive was obviously not well known, and his location appears to have been a secret. He had probably lived in fear most of his life, thinking that both his own uncle, and then David, must have wanted him dead. Most civilizations in those days were not kind to people with disabilities, and certainly made no effort to make life easier for them. Especially a man who could not work or fight was considered somehow less of a man. So Mephibosheth was an outcast because his birth made him a threat to others, and he was doubly outcast because he was a cripple. There is little doubt that he spent most of his life hiding in both fear and shame.

Now once David was well-established as king and he had a little time to reflect, he wanted to honor the memory of his dear friend Jonathan. So he began looking for anyone in Saul’s remaining family he could help. His attendants found a man who had been one of the chief servants of Saul’s household, a man named Ziba. David said to Ziba

“Is there anyone left of Saul’s family that I can show the kindness of God to? ”

David’s choice of words here is interesting. If you have been a church-goer for a while, you’ve probably heard a sermon on the Greek word agape, which mean “sacrificial, selfless love.” The Hebrew word David uses for “kindness” is essentially the equivalent of agape. In Hebrew is pronounced “hesed” (but it should sound like you are clearing your throat on the ‘h’). It is often translated “everlasting love,” or “faithful love.” It is usually used to describe God’s love for his people. I think the sense of what David is saying is, “I want to show the family of Saul the faithful love of God.” In a moment I will explain why I think this is so significant.

Ziba reveal the existence and location of Mephibosheth. Ziba is a complex person, and we’ll learn more about him later. I think it is quite possible that he was hoping David was being deceptive, and actually wanted to completely eliminate the entire family of Saul. But Ziba played his cards close to the chest, and simply gave David the information he wanted. So David brought Mephibosheth out of hiding, gave the ancestral lands of Saul, and ordered Ziba and his family to work the land and manage it. This wasn’t entirely a bad deal for Ziba – it was a position of great responsibility and some honor, and they would be able to make a good living. But he may have wanted Saul’s inheritance for himself, because later there is trouble between Ziba and Mephibosheth.

David also gave Mephibosheth a permanent place to eat at the royal table, which was a great honor, and also meant that Mephibosheth would be provided for the rest of his life. Mephibosheth’s reaction is understandable. He says,

“What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me? ”

These things really happened – they were real historical occurrences. I’ve shared many reasons at various times to believe that the bible is historically reliable. Even so, we need to realize that the writers did not record every single incident in the lives of those they wrote about; and many documents were lost or not included in the bible. As Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit guided the process all the way through. He prompted people to write what they wrote, he allowed the loss of some documents and the exclusion of others. The Holy Spirit had a purpose for including this particular piece of the bible (and in fact, every piece). The writer himself was may have been unaware of that purpose. Jesus told his disciples that the entire Old Testament points to him. I think this is one more place where the Holy Spirit used something from the life of David to show people what the true and ultimate messiah would be like. David’s actions here reveal the heart of Jesus in him. This really happened – it isn’t an allegory. But we can still use it a little bit like a spiritual allegory, and learn about the heart of Jesus from second Samuel nine. Jesus once told the following story:

1 All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them! ” 3 So He told them this parable: 4 “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep! ’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance (Luke 15:1-8, HCSB)

Jesus’ heart is for the lost and the broken. He has a special tenderness for those who think they are worthless. He doesn’t wait for people to straighten themselves up and come looking for God. Instead, he goes after them, seeks them himself.

David reflected this with Mephibosheth. He didn’t wait for someone in Saul’s family to summon the courage to find him. Instead, David sent people out looking for someone to show God’s faithful love to. This one reason I think that Hebrew word is so important. David wanted to bring God’s faithful love into the life of Mephibosheth. Jesus wants to bring that same love into our lives.

Mephibosheth was afraid of David. Technically he was David’s enemy. As the grandson of Saul, he could have made a claim to Israel’s throne. Most middle-eastern leaders in David’s situation would have found him in order to put him to death. In addition, Mephibosheth felt he was damaged goods – a worthless man who couldn’t work or fight. No self-respecting life-insurance agent would ever write a policy on him, because clearly he was worth more dead than alive. I think when he called himself a dead dog, it wasn’t just an expression. More than likely, he really thought of himself that way.

But the king sought out this worthless “dead dog.” He brought him out of exile. He gave honor to the man who had none. He made others serve him. And he gave him a permanent place at the royal table, making him essentially a prince, a son of the man who by rights should kill him.

Technically, we should be the enemies of Jesus. Because of our ancestors and tragedies in our own life, we belong in the kingdom of the devil. We aren’t worth much in the eyes of the world. And truthfully, a lot of people hide from God in various ways. They completely avoid him, or deny that he exists and spend their days as far from him as possible. Others hide in religion, using empty words and good works as a way to avoid actually dealing with him face to face.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t wait for us to come to him. He seeks us, and brings us back from exile. He himself restores us as rightful citizens of his kingdom. He honors us, and declares that we are not worthless, but rather worth his attention and love. Not only that, but he gives us a permanent place with him – eternal life in relationship with him. And he treats us as his own children, inheritors of the promises of God.

David’s treatment of Mephibosheth is a signal for us that this how Jesus will treat us, if we let him. All Mephibosheth had to do is come when David summoned him, and gratefully place his life in David’s hands, allowing David to show him God’s everlasting and gracious love. That’s all we have to do with Jesus. Mephibosheth didn’t have to make himself acceptable to David, or earn what was given him. In fact, Mephibosheth had done nothing to deserve the kindness David showed him. We can’t earn God’s grace and kindness either. But he showers it on us freely if we will come when he calls and trust our lives into his hands.



God keeps his promises, but not always on our timetable. David illustrates physically in the land of Israel what Jesus wants to do spiritually in our hearts and minds.

2 Samuel #9 . 2 Samuel Chapter 8

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Chapter eight chronicles many of the conquests of David after he became king. These did not all necessarily take place at one point in his life; rather this is a record of what David did over a lifetime of military leadership.

In verse one, the writer tells us that “Metheg-ammah” is taken from the Philistines. This is an Hebrew expression that gives translators trouble. Some think it refers to the city of Gath. Literally it says that David took “the bridle out of the mother” of the Philistines. It may be a kind of slang meaning he took control (the bridle) of the chief Philistine city (which would be Gath). The main point is clear – the Philistines have lost any kind of control or initiative that they once had against the Israelites, and they are, for all intents and purposes, subdued. The Philistines had been a problem for Israel for several hundred years, now, through David, the Lord ends the problem.

The second verse describes how David defeated the Moabites. This is a bit troubling, because David was quite severe with them, apparently executing two thirds of the men who fought against him. This is made even more perplexing when we remember that David’s great-grandmother was a Moabite, and David had left his elderly parents in the care of the king of Moab when he was running from Saul. Some Jewish scholars believe that the Moabites killed David’s parents. There is no record of them after David left them in Moab. In addition, the Lord told David not to remain there (1 Samuel 22:5). So it is possible that the Moabites planned all along to betray him, and that the Lord told David to leave there to protect him from their betrayal. His parents, however were still there when the Moabites turned on him. This seems plausible to me.

There is more as well. In Numbers chapters 22-25, the Israelites had left Egypt and were wandering in the wilderness. This was more than four hundred years before the time of David. The Israelites camped near the country of Moab, and the Moabites were afraid of them. They didn’t want to fight the Israelites, so the king of Moab hired a prophet of God to curse the Israelites. Only, the prophet was a true prophet, and he couldn’t curse Israel in God’s name. Instead, he blessed them. The Moabites tried to trick the Israelites into becoming one people with them, and worshipping their false gods. But the prophet prophesied about the future of the two nations. He said:

I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites. (Num 24:17, HCSB)

David fulfilled this prophecy in 2 Samuel chapter 8. Now, I don’t think was consciously trying to fulfill the prophecy. I think he was punishing them for killing his parents. But as it happened that also fulfilled the prophecy given more than four hundred years before.

clip_image002In fact, at one level, this whole passage is about the fulfillment of ancient promises and prophecies. Eight hundred years before David, God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. In Genesis 15:18-21, that land was described as extending from the Red Sea in the South to the Euphrates river in the north where it runs southeast through modern-day Syria. Other promises in Deuteronomy 1:7, 11:24 and Joshua 1:4 describe those same borders, and lay out an eastern border that included almost all of modern day Jordan and Syria. However, in all the time that the descendants of Abraham lived in the promised land, they had not possessed nearly that much territory. For four hundred years, they had lived on far less than God had promised. The map at left shows the region. The area outlined in yellow is the area that the Israelites controlled during the time of the Judges and during Saul’s reign.

They were living in far less than God had promised.

However, as a result of the conquest made by David, as described in 2 Samuel chapter 8, the borders of Israel were extended to almost the exact boundaries described in God’s promises to Abraham and to the people through Moses. This next picture shows the approximate area of David’s clip_image004kingdom, outlined in purple. As you can see, Israel now had influence from the Euphrates river to the Red Sea. This is not to say that all of this area was considered “Israelite” however David’s court in Jerusalem controlled and influenced all of it. If you are still having trouble picturing it, look at a world map. This area includes modern Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and most of Syria.

So what does all this mean for us today? I think it always helps to ask, “where is Jesus in this passage?” I see him here in two places: he is fulfilling promises, and defeating enemies. First let’s talk about the promises. On one hand, this seems to show us that God’s promises don’t always get fulfilled in what we consider a timely fashion. It was more than eight hundred years between God’s promise to Abraham about the size of the land, and the complete fulfillment of that promise. That’s a long time, and many generations didn’t live in the full reality of what God had promised. On the other hand, God doesn’t forget his promises, and he does truly bring them to pass. If you wanted to take the time, you could go through the bible, and find dozens of examples of promises that He made and then kept. Many times in the past I have explained where the bible came from, and how it has been verified time and again as a historically valid document. Here, I want to emphasize that it is also a spiritually valid document. We have a historical record of a promise from God and a historical record from a different period showing its fulfillment.

A natural question is “Why did it take so long for God to fulfill this?” The only completely honest answer is “I don’t know.” I do have some thoughts, however. God told Abraham when he made the promise that it wouldn’t happen for at least four-hundred years. He was giving the residents of the land a chance to repent. But when the Israelites came out of Egypt four hundred years later, the Lord told them through Moses to go into the land, drive out the other nations and possess it. They simply didn’t do it. The reason they didn’t do it is because they lacked faith in God’s promise to be with them. In Numbers 13, Moses sent twelve spies into the land prior to invading it. Ten of the spies came back and said it would be impossible to drive out the nations who lived there. But two said it could be done. Their names were Joshua and Caleb. They said:

The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!  (Num 14:7-9, HCSB)

But the people didn’t listen to them. Instead they gave into fear and blaming. The result was forty years more of wandering for that generation, and then four-hundred years more of living in only part of what God promised.

I don’t think the lesson here is “do more.” I think it is “trust more.” As I have said many times, believing comes before doing. If the people were living in trust, they would have done what they were supposed to do. If they had attempted to do it without trust (as indeed they often did in the next four hundred years) their results would also have fallen short. The key is believing what God has promised, and trusting Him. We have seen that the one thing that makes David a hero is that he trusts God. David isn’t perfect. But he lives out of the understanding that his life belongs to God; that through him, God can and should do whatever he wants. So when David came along, the Lord finally had someone he could use, someone who trusted Him enough so that God could fully give everything that was promised.

We can’t always understand why God doesn’t completely fulfill his promises in our own lives. It isn’t always about our faith – sometimes it is about God’s bigger purposes in the world. For many years, David did not live in the fullness of God’s promises to him. That wasn’t his fault – God was arranging other things, because it wasn’t just about David – it was about God’s purposes. So don’t feel badly if you truly trust God, and yet you don’t see the complete reality of his promises in your life. It isn’t just about you. But at least, we can try to eliminate lack of faith as a reason that we don’t experience the fullness of God’s promises to us. David trusted him fully, and eventually, the Lord used that trust in a huge and positive way for both David and the entire people of God.

Now let’s talk about Jesus defeating enemies. is there “unconquered territory” in your life? I mean, are there certain areas of your life that are outside the control of Jesus? Hebrews 2:8 says this:

You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, (Heb 2:8, NET)

Like with God’s promises, we often see a partial fulfillment of the Lord ruling in our lives. I’ll be honest and say, usually this is for the same reason – our own lack of trust. But it has the same solution. If we trust Jesus, and let him have us more fully, he will supply the power to defeat the failures, temptations and self-will that we struggle with. Paul writes about the struggle this way:

For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. (2Cor 10:3-5, NET)

Like David, we are called to wage war while trusting in God’s promises. But our war isn’t physical – it is the war of a mind, to let the Lord conquer all that he has promised for us. Now I could do an entire sermon series on the battle for the mind – maybe I will soon. But for now, I think we should understand this from our text: the key is to trust our Lord, and to be willing to do whatever that trust leads us to do. Sometimes that means opposing whatever opposes the truth of the Word of God in our thoughts. David illustrates physically in the land of Israel what Jesus wants to do spiritually in our hearts and minds.


Rephaim Canyon 2

David rarely viewed his life as a story with himself as the Hero. The story of his life was consistently about God, not David. This enabled him to face outward troubles with inner conviction and peace.


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2 Samuel #5 . 2 Samuel 5:12-25; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 1 Chronicles 14:1-17

I want to revisit something we skipped over rather quickly last time. 2 Samuel 5:12 says this:

“Then David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.” (italics added for emphasis)

I think this is a key to most of this chapter, and actually, to the entire life of David. David did not consider his monarchy to be his doing, or his kingdom. David did not consider his life to be about himself. The Lord was the main character in the story of the David’s life. David wasn’t king for fifteen years because God didn’t want him to be king yet. When he finally became king, it was because God wanted him to be king. The Lord did it, for the Lord’s own glory and purposes. It wasn’t about David. It was about God.

The incidents that follow this verse confirm that David maintained this attitude, especially about his kingdom.

5:17-25 appears to describe the same event as 1 Chronicles 11:15-20, and also 1 Chronicles 14:1-17. What happened is this. When Saul was king of Israel, David was his enemy. For the Philistines, that meant that Israel was divided, and less of a threat. But now David alone is king over a united Israel. The Philistines rightly perceive this as a threat to them, so they immediately go looking for David, to bring him to battle and kill him if possible.

The Philistines invaded by coming up a valley that led from their lands by the coast, up into the highlands that were controlled by the Israelis. They did this once before, early in the reign of Saul. The valley the Philistines used against David is called “Rephaim.” There is no place with that name any more, but scholars feel pretty sure that the lower end of the valley comes out on the plains by modern-day Beit Shemesh – or, as it is called in Samuel, Beth Shemesh. There are two main branches to this valley, one that comes out to the north of Ancient Jerusalem, and one that leads to a point to the south of Jerusalem, just north of Bethlehem. My personal opinion from reading the text is that Philistines were in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In fact, 1 Chronicles 11 says that when they invaded up the valley of Rephaim, they took over Bethlehem and kept a garrison of soldiers there.

Some scholars feel that all this happened was before David captured Jerusalem, but it isn’t clear. One reason to think it was before the capture of Jerusalem is that Jerusalem was such a fortress, David didn’t need to go to a different stronghold. However, David, being the great tactician he was, may have decided he didn’t want his troops trapped in the city where he could not effectively do battle, and so he took them down to the south of the Philistine advance. There is no way to know for sure.

In any case, it appears that David took his army back to one of his old haunts – the Cave of Adullam, where he had previously hidden from both Saul and the Philistines (1 Samuel 22). Let’s pause here and consider a few things.

After probably fifteen years of running, hiding, eking out existence and barely surviving, David became king of Judah. After seven years as king of half of all he surveyed, he finally received the fulfillment of the Lord’s call on his life. Finally, he became king of all Israel.

The confetti had hardly settled to the ground before he was invaded. In short order indeed, David was right back to hiding in caves. Maybe an economic analogy would help us understand how this could have affected David. Think of a person who spent half her life in poverty, working steadily at a plan to build wealth, but seeing few results. None of the breaks ever seemed to come her way. After years, she finally reached the upper middle class. At last, seven years after that, she made her first million. Three weeks later she was flat broke again.

It had to be an awful feeling for David to find himself back in the caves where he hid from his enemies fifteen years or more before. If he was like me, he would have spent a lot of time whining to God about how he had done everything that was asked for him, and why couldn’t he ever catch a break? If he were like me, he would explained to the Lord that he had already been here and already learned this lesson, and what was the freaking point of this kind of hardship anyway? But David was not like me. He was like I want to become. He was like the person the Holy Spirit was showing the world through him – the true Messiah.

So when David went to the cave, he continued to trust the Lord. He asked God a simple question: What do you want to do here? What are you after in this situation? Shall I go and fight these guys or not?

By the way, there’s a cool story about something that happened while David was in the cave during the invasion. There is no doubt that he did experience distress – he was a human being, after all. The enemy were camped in his own home-town (Bethlehem, in case you have forgotten). It was a hot and dry day, and David said (this was as close as he got to complaining) “I wish I could get a drink from the well at Bethlehem.” I think he is expressing that he is hot and thirsty. I think he is also expressing sorrow that Bethlehem – his own town – is an enemy camp. I think he’s saying, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful, right now, if we could just walk up to that beautiful cold well in Bethlehem and have a drink? Wouldn’t it be great if there were no invasion at all?”

David was a fearsome warrior, and he led a bunch of other very powerful warriors. Three of the mightiest took David at his word, and broke through the Philistine lines and brought David a drink from the well at Bethlehem. David’s response is interesting:

They brought it back to David, but he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out to the LORD. 19 David said, “I would never do such a thing in the presence of God! How can I drink the blood of these men who risked their lives? ” For they brought it at the risk of their lives. So he would not drink it. Such were the exploits of the three warriors. (1 Chronicles 11:18-19)

When I first read this, I thought, “I’d be angry if I were one of those three warriors.” But actually, I think what David was saying was this: “I am not worthy of such a costly drink. I can’t claim it. Only the Lord is worthy of that kind of effort and self-sacrifice.” He was actually honoring the men more by pouring it out than by drinking it. He “poured it out to the Lord.” There was a actually a type of offering called a drink offering, where a drink (usually wine) was poured into the ground. The idea was to say, “this is God’s, not mine, and I pour it out to show that everything I drink ultimately comes from God.” So David did not consider himself worthy of that kind of sacrifice from his men, and he directed their attention to the Lord. Life wasn’t about him, it was about God. God was the one who gave them the strength and flat-out guts to do this amazing deed. He was the one who was to be honored, not David.

The hero of this entire story is the Lord. David consciously realized this, and made statements to draw the attention to the Lord, not himself. We think of God as loving and gracious and giving and kind – like the best possible parent. And yet, he is also just the best. No NBA superstar has more game than the Holy Spirit. No downhill skier can take a mogul like God. No warrior can be more ferocious and cunning than Jesus. No writer can craft a better story, no historian can plumb more significance from events than the Father. Our Triune God is not just the writer and director of the play – he himself is the star performer, and he is brilliant at all he does.

I don’t know about you, but at my age, I don’t go in for hero-worship. Actually, I never did. Human heroes always suffer from significant flaws, and we get disappointed when we really give them our admiration. But there is one Person who is worthy of our hero-worship. David understood that, and he also understood who it was. It wasn’t him. The amazing feats we see in other people – or the amazing things we can do ourselves – are just tiny reflections of the overwhelming awesomeness of God.

So David hears that God wants to drive the Philistines out of Israel, and David obediently attacks. The Philistines were defeated, and David named the spot, “The Lord Breaks Out” (that’s what “baal-perazim” means). Not “I have gotten victory.” Not even, “God helped me get a victory,” or even yet, “God got victory – for me.” No – it was God’s victory for God’s purposes and God’s glory. David and his men got to be the fierce warriors that they were created to be – but it was all about the Lord and for the Lord.

The Philistines made a second try. I love the fact that David did not assume that he should do the same thing again, just because it was the same situation. Instead, once more, he asked God what he wanted to do. The Lord did want him to fight again, but he gave David a specific battle plan, along with the promise that God would be marching out in front of him, doing the real work of winning the battle.

So what do we take away from all this? The first thing I need to get straight is this business that my life is here for God’s plan, God’s purposes and his glory. None of what I am supposed to do is about me. Now God is amazing and gracious, and so even while he makes use of our lives for his own purposes, he blesses us in the midst of that. David got to be the king and lead like he was made to lead; he got to fight like the warrior he was created to be. I get to study the bible and think and use my brain and then share it with people who are willing to sit and listen to me. I get to sit here and tap on my keyboard and express the thoughts that the Lord gives me to express. I love it – I really do. It isn’t my message, and it isn’t about me, but I get blessed when I let God do his thing with my life. You will get blessed when you let him do his thing with your life – which is almost certainly going to look different from everybody else, because God has a unique purpose for each one of us. I don’t necessarily mean financially blessed – we Americans, especially think that’s the main kind of blessing (it’s not). But you will experience the grace and favor of God if you let him be the hero of your life’s story. You’ll appreciate the story he writes through you.

Second, I need to remember that one kind of hero-worship IS acceptable. I need to pay more attention to how skilled, talented, smart, funny, tender, fierce and truly excellent God is. He deserves my worship and admiration. He is the best – at everything.

Third, when life takes a turn for the worse – as it did for David, many times in his life – I need to remember that this is all in God’s hands. If he wants to hide this great leader of men, this fearsome warrior, in a cave, that’s his business – David is his man. If he wants to allow hardship in my life, I will certainly pray for it to be cut short, and I will certainly believe that he will bring better times too. But I will also trust in the meantime that he knows what he is doing and I am ALWAYS in his hands.

Finally, I want to take this away from the text: God is the one who fights the battles I have to be involved in. There are some battles we don’t have to fight. Sometimes we go to war without asking God, and so we end up fighting for ourselves. But David went to war only when God directed him. And when he did that, it was God who fought his battles for him. So if you are in a battle that you have to be in, one that you are supposed to fight, remember, it is God who really achieves the victory. All we need to do is show up and let him use us. I take great comfort in that.

What is the Lord saying to you today?

Is Jesus Really King?

Mt Zion

Christianity isn’t about gritting our teeth and trying to be good. It is about surrendering to Jesus as the king of our lives.

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To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 2 Samuel Part 4

2 Samuel #4 . 2 Samuel Chapter 5.

After Abner died, his coalition fell apart, and the leaders of Israel came to David to ask him to become their king. 1 Chronicles 12:23-40 describes this incident in more detail than 2 Samuel 5. (By the way, it appears that the books of Samuel are more chronologically-oriented than 1 Chronicles. Also, the writer of Samuel is far more critical of David than the writer of Chronicles.) In Chronicles, specific leaders and groups of leaders are named, showing that a large number of influential people from all twelve tribes came to make David king. Chronicles records that they feasted and celebrated joyfully.

Back to the text in 2 Samuel. These leaders gave three reasons why they wanted to finally receive David as their king. First, they said, “you are our flesh and blood.” They were saying, “you aren’t a foreigner, that we should fight you – we are all Israelites after all. Judah is part of Israel.” They were recognizing that Saul’s attitude was wrong.

Second, the leaders said to David, “you were the one who used to lead us out to battle, and bring us back safely.” They are remembering his faithful service to Saul, which perhaps David thought had gone forgotten and unrewarded. David had already been their leader in the past, though that service was not officially acknowledged up until now. As a leader, he had accomplished great victories, and brought the troops back more safely that he would have in defeat.

Finally, they were acknowledging that God himself had chosen David to be their king. They were at last submitting to God’s plan for his people. They said: The LORD also said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel and be ruler over Israel.’ ” They are acknowledging at last that God had a call on David’s life, and it was God’s will for him to be their king.

As always, I think it is helpful when we read to the Old Testament, to ask “where is Jesus here? How does this reveal Jesus to me?” Well, Jesus, is the rightful king of every Christian. That is God’s desire for us. He should be the ruler over everything in our lives. But even though David was chosen by God to be the king, he waited patiently until the people accepted that and submitted their lives to him joyfully. Even though the Lordship of Jesus is God’s will for us, we have not all submitted to that. Jesus is waiting patiently for us to submit all areas of our lives joyfully to him. Does Jesus determine how you spend your money? Does he determine how you spend your time or energy? Is it the words of Jesus that you speak to you family and friends and co-workers?

Jesus should be king over our lives for some of the same reasons that Israelites gave for submitting to David. Jesus is fully God, yes, but it is also our flesh and blood – he is fully human, just like us Hebrews 2:14-18 says:

14 Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil — 15 and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that He does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. 17 Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Heb 2:14-18, HCSB)

Jesus is our flesh and blood. He belongs to us and we to him. In Jesus, God became more accessible, more understandable, by taking on, forever, human nature. He has a right to be king of humans, because he is a human. He can sympathize with us and understand our struggles.

Second, Jesus is originator and creator of everything. He is our protector and sustainer. He has already helped us, already served us, already kept us safe. He has already suffered and died on our behalf. By virtue of how he has already served us, he deserves to be our Lord.

Finally, it God’s desire that we surrender entirely to Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). He is the rightful and chosen king of our lives. This is God’s desire – that we allow Jesus to live his life through us, as the owner of our lives. If you feel a little frustrated for David that it took the Israelites so long to accept what God was doing, consider accepting what God wants for your own life!

Verses 6-12 of 2 Samuel 5 tells us about Jerusalem. Up until that time, Jerusalem was controlled by a pagan tribe of people known as the Jebusites. They were a sub-tribe of Amorites – one of the non-Israelites tribes that the Israelites were supposed to conquer and drive out. However, there were steep ravines to the south, west and east of Jerusalem, and at the top of the slope, the walls began.

Jebusite Jerusalem Diagram

It was a formidable fortress. The Israelites had defeated several kings of Jerusalem and had burned the city itself once (perhaps before it had walls), but they had never managed to capture it and hold it. Now, with walls, the Jebusites are confident that no one could take it. We should understand that it was much smaller in those days. The Jebusite City of Jerusalem covered only about 12 acres on the very top of the end of the ridge. This area is known as Mount Zion. In the following years, the city spread out greatly, and in modern times, Mt Zion is just one hill in the very large metropolis that is Jerusalem.

In spite of its reputation and history of being impossible to conquer, one of David’s first acts as king of all Israel was to attempt it. David shows here that he is smart and cunning, as well as courageous and strong. Water for the city was collected from the spring of Gihon, which was near the bottom of the Kidron valley, on the east side of the city.

waterway diagram jerusalem

There was a shaft or tunnel that went through the hill down to the spring, so that the Jebusites could get water without going outside the city walls. David learned of this. It is quite possible that he observed Jebusites drawing water there back when he was worshipping God at the tabernacle, when it was kept across the Kidron valley, at Nob (now known as the Mount of Olives). In any case, he determined that the way to take the city was to infiltrate men up the water tunnel. It was a very narrow space, and the men would certainly have had to go one by one, gathering at the top before the assault. That is what David did, with his nephew Joab leading the way and killing the first enemy. By doing that, Joab cemented his position as commander of David’s armies. The city fell without any destruction to the walls, and David made it the new capital of Israel.

These are the actions of a brilliant leader. First, it was terrific military strategy to make use of the water shaft, and attack the Jebusites from within the city. Second, Jerusalem was still an impregnable fortress, an excellent choice for the seat of government in troubled times. Afterward, David built towers covering the entrance to the water shaft, so no one would take the city the same way he had.

Third, it was an extraordinary diplomatic move. David was from the tribe of Judah and up until this time, his capital was a city of Judah. Saul had been from Benjamin, and had made his home town into the center of power. But Jerusalem did not belong to any of the tribes – it was held by the Jebusites. So when David captured it, it became truly an Israelite city. No tribe could claim it, and no tribe would be offended that it was the capital city. It belonged no one, and yet at the same time, to everyone. It was not quite centrally located, but it was close.

By the way, some secular archaeologists dispute the existence of David (they choose to ignore the incredible documentary reliability of the Old Testament). However, a water shaft from the spring of Gihon leading up to Mount Zion was discovered in the 1860s. It doesn’t have David’s name on it, of course, but once more, the Bible told us of it before archeologists discovered it. joab_water_shaft

In the 1980’s archaeologists were convinced that this shaft was dug after the time of David. But more recent work suggests that the water tunnel originally occurred naturally, long before David’s time. It also now appears that it being used by humans before the time David came along.

The point is, the book of Samuel describes things that are actually still there. In a sense you might say that if the bible is right, there should be evidence of a water shaft in that location, and sure enough, there is not only evidence, but the actual tunnel itself.

Now, once more, let’s ask the question: How does this part of the text reveal Jesus to us? What does it say about him, or our relationship with him?

Sometimes we really want Jesus to be king over all our lives, but there are parts our lives that seem like they will never be changed. Maybe you think you will never be able to stop drinking. Some folks struggle with other particular sins that they feel they can never conquer. Perhaps you think, “I am a person who easily gets depressed. That’s just who I am. Nothing is going to change that.” Or, “I’m angry. That’s just my nature, and it’s never going to change.” We might feel like there are parts of our lives that Jesus simply won’t be able to conquer, places where we just can’t let him be king. Maybe you feel like that about some loved one in your life. You think “Jesus can never get into his life.”

The Jebusites thought they were invulnerable. They had an impressive fortress. But one crack, big enough to fit one man at a time, led to their downfall, and then the city belonged to the king. Jesus is a warrior like David. He is wise and cunning like David. If there is just one little crack, one place where you can say “yes” to Jesus, he can exploit it, and use it to conquer the evil in your life. He can get to people that you think are invulnerable to him.

So if you are concerned about someone else in your life, I say trust him. Ask him to do his work on your loved one. And if the problem is in your own life, I say, simply give him a “yes.” Find some way to say “yes, Jesus. I don’t think I can ever give up drinking [or whatever], but I give you permission to try and take over that part of my life.” Watch what he can do if you just give him the tiny crack of your willingness.

So, where you can, welcome Jesus as your king. Surrender your life to him, submit to him. Let it be his life from now on. And where you can’t do that, where there is a fortress around your heart, just give him a tiny crack. Just be willing for him to make the attempt.

How is the Holy Spirit speaking to you today?


Abner was a corrupt, ambitious politician. But not even a man who gained control of an entire nation through dirty politics can stop God from working. And it turns out that all that selfish evil work was turned into God’s work. We can trust God’s good intentions and his ability to fulfill them, no matter what appearances say.


To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download 2 Samuel Part 3

Chapters two through five of second Samuel describe the years after David was made king of Judah, but before he became king of all Israel. There is some natural confusion about the time period involved, because the text puts it like this:

Abner son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and moved him to Mahanaim.  He made him king over Gilead, Asher, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin — over all Israel. Saul’s son Ish-bosheth was 40 years old when he began his reign over Israel; he ruled for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David.  The length of time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months. (2Sam 2:8-11, HCSB)

We are going to go into the political history of all this for moment. 3000 year old politics might seem confusing, irrelevant and boring to you. But please bear with me, for a short time, because I think once we understand the politics, we will actually understand better what the Lord wants to say to us today.

Ish-bosheth (try to say that name quickly!) was clearly not king for the entire time of David’s reign over Judah alone. To put it another way, for five of the years that David was king over Judah, the rest of Israel had no king at all. Those five years may have been split between a time before Ish-bosheth’s rule and after. Or they might have come all before-hand, or all after. There is no way to tell for sure, but here is my guess:

After Saul’s death there was a great deal of confusion among the northern tribes of Israel. Many Israelites were now living in subservience to the Philistines, who had conquered a good portion of the country. The others had no leader or central organization to turn to for national identity. Remember, Saul was the very first king of Israel, and just a generation or so before him, the people had no king, no single leader. So when Saul died, and three of his four sons with him, the tribes reverted back to how they had lived before-hand – as a federation of tribes, loosely connected, but without a strong national identity. Some of them may have recalled Samuel’s warnings about having a king – and they had seen that Saul didn’t work out so well. So I suspect that there were several years immediately following Saul’s death without any strong desire or impetus to get another king.

In the meantime, the writer of the book of Samuel says that there was a war between Saul’s family and David’s. The text says that Abner became more and powerful in the family of Saul (3:6). Abner was Saul’s nephew or cousin, depending on how you read the Hebrew. He had also been Saul’s chief war-leader. It looks as though it was mainly Abner and his ambitions who opposed David’s kingship over all Israel. It took him some time to pull all his plans together. David was king for probably five years, while Abner blocked his every attempt to lead the whole nation. Meanwhile Abner himself was making connections, re-establishing a national identity, and finally setting up Saul’s son as the new king, but with himself as the real power-holder.

I think there are several understandable (but not justifiable) reasons for Abner’s actions. As Saul’s chief general, he had been the second most powerful man in Israel. With Saul dead and everything in confusion, all that went away. I think Abner wanted to go back to the way it was. I think he loved the power and position and wealth, and he was trying to regain it. In addition, Abner had been Saul’s right-hand man since the beginning. He was already there when David killed Goliath. So I imagine he had completely internalized Saul’s attitude toward David. Along with that, he may have felt that David was just like him – a great warrior, to be sure, but not a king. They had served Saul together for a short time – who was David to now pretend he was a king? Why did David think he was better than everyone else? He was a warrior, just like Abner, not a king. Finally, remember when Saul was hunting David, and David and his nephew Abishai stole Saul’s spear and water-bottle? Afterwards, they mocked Abner in front of Saul and his men. So there may have been some personal animosity there also, fueling Abner’s ambitions.

At some point, Abner was finally able to get the other Israelites to declare Ish-bosheth king over “all Israel.” But I think realistically, we have to assume that Ish-bosheth was more or less just a figurehead. The real driving force behind the civil war and behind Ish-bosheth’s monarchy, was Abner. In fact, we see this reflected when Ish-bosheth was afraid to argue with Abner (3:11), and because once Abner dies, the whole thing comes apart.

Now, I want to pause for a moment to consider this. It seems to me that Abner was not a very admirable man. Later on, we’ll see that he was completely willing to switch his allegiance to David when he realized that David was going to win. Abner was an unscrupulous political hatchet-man looking only for his own gain and ambition. We have plenty of people like that today. Sometimes modern-day politics drives me crazy, because the people in power seem to get there, and hold onto their power, through blatant dishonesty and corruption and scheming. Sometimes it helps to calm me down to realize that this has been going on for at least three-thousand years, since Abner lived that long ago.

But there is more than that here for us. Abner was a scoundrel. For five years, he carried out his schemes successfully. For two more years, it seemed that he had achieved his ambition. For seven years total, it seemed that he had thwarted David and thwarted God. And yet all the work that Abner did for himself and his selfish ambitions, ended up serving God’s purposes and plans for David.

You see, the nation was fractured after the death of Saul. It was Abner who reunited them. It was he who encouraged them to return to a sense of national identity. It was Abner who got Israel to commit once more to having one king over the whole nation. And once that was done, God handed that united kingdom over to his chosen servant David.

If David had become king right after Saul, he would have inherited a kingdom that was disorganized, disheartened and fractured. He would have had to do the work of rallying the tribes and unifying them. But instead, he simply watched while his enemy did the work for him, and watched while God turned it over to him.

This is incredibly encouraging for me. There are long periods of time in my life where I think that God’s will is being thwarted, or that evil is prevailing, and unscrupulous people are successful. But God knows what he is doing. He will use it all, sooner or later, to accomplish his purposes. Not even a man who gained control of an entire nation through dirty politics can stop God from working. And it turns out that all that selfish evil work was turned into God’s work.

Let’s continue on with the historical events. After Ish-bosheth became king, there was a significant battle between his men and David’s. The location of this battle, and of Ish-bosheth’s headquarters, is telling. The battle took place in the heart of the territory belonging to tribe of Benjamin – the tribe of Saul, Ish-bosheth and Abner. Ish-bosheth’s headquarters were located far to the east, across the Jordan valley. This means that by this point, David’s kingdom of Judah was starting to dominate the surrounding areas.

The rest of chapter 2 describes the battle, beginning with the tragic death of twelve young men from each side. If your response is “that’s horrible,” then you got the message. After the twenty-four young men killed each other, the men of Judah fell upon Abner’s men and crushed them. Abner and his forces flat out ran away.

During the chase David’s nephew Ashael fixes upon Abner. Ashael is the brother of Joab and Abishai, the sons of David’s sister Zeruiah. He probably knows that Abner personally is the main source of this war, and he seems determined to kill him, maybe thinking that he could end the war once for all.

Now, we come to the curious sense of honor that often restrained the brutality of war in those days. Abner saw Ashael pursuing him. He knew who Ashael was, and he warned him off.

 Abner said to him, “Turn to your right or left, seize one of the young soldiers, and take whatever you can get from him.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.  Once again, Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How could I ever look your brother Joab in the face? ”

Nowadays we think in terms of total war. But war in those days was a curious mixture of unimaginable brutality combined with strangely restraining rules of honor. Abner and Joab have just been commanding their men to kill each other in hand to hand combat – the most brutal, personal kind of war there is. And yet, Abner now is extremely reluctant to kill one of the chief leaders of the enemy. However, Ashael would not stop. So finally Abner did. The language seems to indicate that Abner stopped with his spear sticking out, butt-first behind him. His intent was probably to knock the wind out of Ashael, and bruise him to the point where he would stop pursuing him. But Ashael was running so fast that blunt end of the spear pierced him through the body and killed him.

The pursuit continued until Abner rallied his men on a hilltop. He called to Joab to stop, and again, following those curious rules of war, Joab agreed to let them go.

Not long after, Abner had a falling-out with king Ish-bosheth. I think he could see the writing on the wall, and he knew that David was going to prevail. The argument with Ish-bosheth was the final breaking point, and Abner decided to change his allegiance, to gain power in David’s new kingdom. He openly promises Ish-bosheth that he will turn the whole kingdom over to David. Chapter 3, verse 11 shows us that Ish-bosheth was indeed merely a figurehead, while Abner held the real power:

Ish-bosheth could not answer Abner because he was afraid of him. (2Sam 3:11, HCSB)

After this, Abner opened negotiations with David. He came to visit David in Hebron, and he left just before David’s nephew and war-leader, Joab, got back from a trip. Remember, Ashael, whom Abner recently killed in the battle, was Joab’s younger brother. Unknown to David, Joab sent messengers to Abner to bring him back. Abner believed he was there under the agreement of truce and safe passage that David had made with him. So he was taken by surprise when Joab pulled him aside and stabbed him, killing him.

David’s reaction to Abner’s death was just like his reaction to Saul’s death. I don’t think David had any illusions about what kind of man Abner was. He had known him for a long time, and Abner had been trying as hard as Saul to put an end to David. Even so, David refused to treat him like an enemy. Instead, he deplored the actions of Joab. David immediately declared that what Joab had done was wrong, and he prayed for God to repay him for it. He made Joab tear his clothes and mourn for Abner, the man who had killed his brother. He publicly praised Abner, and publicly condemned Joab.

Not long after this, with no Abner there to hold it together, Ish-bosheth was betrayed and killed. The murderers brought David his head, believing that David would be pleased to have his rival dead. But David treated them just as he had the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul – he has them executed.

This makes three times in five chapters that David punished people who claimed to have killed his enemies. I think we need to pay attention to it. Saul was clearly David’s enemy – he tried to kill him numerous times. Abner was clearly David’s enemy – he too tried to kill David by way of helping Saul. Later, as we see in these chapters, his own ambitions put him opposed to David. Ish-Bosheth, if not David’s enemy, was clearly opposed to David, and to David’s kingship over Israel.

And yet David mourned each of these men. He reacted strongly and negatively to those who caused their deaths. He was not pleased when they died, and he was not pleased with those who killed them. We have seen that David is man with many faults and failings. But we have also seen that however imperfect, he was a man with a real and living faith in the real and living God.

I think what this tells us is two things about David. First, he had perspective. He could look beyond personal rivalry, jealousy and even personal attacks. In the end, David was never willing to consider another Israelite – one of God’s chosen people – to be his enemy. In fact, when we read these chapters carefully, we find that David himself never participated in these battles against other Israelites. David wasn’t stupid. He knew ambition and fear and hatred when he saw it. But he never took it personally, and he didn’t consider the people themselves to be his enemies.

I think there is another lesson here for us. Sometimes we get caught up in personality conflicts and humans who frustrate or oppose us. But the real enemy are the demonic forces that only use and influence other humans (Ephesians 6:12). Other human beings are not the enemy. Particularly, if we follow the example of David, other Christians may often be misled and used by the devil, but they are never our real enemies.

Second, David always returned to trusting God. I would have been very concerned about Abner and his schemes. I would have been upset that for seven years, Abner succeeded. But David simply trusted God and waited. The ultimate result is that his enemy Abner did a lot of hard work on David’s behalf, and David got to reap the benefits – all for God’s glory.

One final thought. Abner, and to some degree the other Israelites, either resisted or passively ignored God’s choice for king. Ultimately, David still became the king, and it was the best possible thing – even for all the people who did not want him at first. Sometimes we resist God’s Lordship in our lives. It would be better for us than us running things ourselves, but we fight it anyway. It is better for us in the long run to let God have his way.