The story of the Magi is actually kind of strange and disturbing when you think about it. Pagan Shamans were led to Jesus through astrology. What can we learn from this?

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Matthew #3 . Chapter 2:1-12

To be honest with you, if I was God, inspiring people to write the Bible, I would either keep the wise men out of the gospel of Matthew, or I would explain more about them.

Only two out of the four gospels tell us much about the birth of Jesus in the first place – Matthew and Luke. Matthew leaves out the shepherds; Luke leaves out the wise men. In the first six chapters of his gospel, Matthew takes great care to point out how the birth and early life of Jesus fulfilled various prophecies about the Messiah from the Old Testament. In fact, in the first two chapters, Matthew points out four specific instances where prophecies were fulfilled. Surely, if there was a prophecy in the Old Testament about these visitors from the east, Matthew would have mentioned it.

Not only does this incident have nothing to do with prophecy, at first blush it seems to have nothing to do with Biblical Christianity or even Orthodox Judaism. The term translated “Wise men” or “Magi” usually refers to a sort of Babylonian priest or scholar who was especially acquainted with the study and interpretation of the stars, and of dreams and things like that. In different times or places they might have been called Shamans, or Druids, or Seers, or even Magicians. That’s right. The Babylonian or Arabian Magi held roughly the same position in their society as Druids did in Celtic society. Do you understand? – we are talking about pagan priests, coming to see Jesus. Now are you interested?

Not only are these people pagan priests, but somehow, they have learned about Jesus’ birth – through astrology. It was the behavior of the stars which told them that someone very important and significant was born. The stars even told them generally where in the world to look for the child. As far as we know, it was not because they searched the scriptures, or listened to a Jewish preacher on TV or anything else. The wise men don’t really fit into my typical way of looking at world. Pagan priests are drawn to Jesus through astrology?! I think what bothers me most is this question: does this mean that all religions really do lead to the same God?

First, I want to point out that this is another one of those passages that seems to confirm the authenticity of the New Testament. If we are honest, we must admit that it raises troubling questions and ideas. If the New Testament were made up, or if the stories about Jesus were extensively edited and changed, this story would have been one of the first to be cut. In other words, there seems to be no reason to have this here unless it really happened, and God wants us to learn something from it.

I want to briefly set up the historical timeline here. Matthew makes it clear this occurs after Jesus was born (2:1). Herod asks the Magi when the star appeared. When the Magi find Jesus, he is living with his parents in a house (not a stable). Later, Herod thinks that Jesus might be up to two years old (2:16). So, while it is very picturesque to imagine the wise-men standing in the stable with the shepherds and donkeys on Christmas night, that is almost certainly not how it actually happened.

So, what does the Lord want to say to us through this little section of scripture? First, and probably most importantly, the message is this: This little baby, born in Bethlehem, in accordance with the prophecies for the Jewish Messiah, is for all people. His life, death and resurrection and his teaching also, are not intended only for the Jews and the small nation of Israel. From birth, his influence and significance are there for the whole world. The wise men were not Jews by religion nor by birth. But Jesus was for them too. We call Christmas a “Christian” Holiday. But God calls it a gift for the whole world; a gift for all people – including pagan priests.

Second, let’s look at those wise men. By the way, the Bible does not actually tell us how many of them there are, or what their names were. All of that is folk legend. Probably, the idea of three wise men came about because three kinds of gifts were presented: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We only know that there was more than one (the Greek word for Magi is plural), and it is reasonable to suppose that it wasn’t an extremely large group either. In any case, we can be reasonably sure that not every pagan priest in the region came to see Jesus. Presumably, other pagan priests also studied the stars. They saw what the traveling wise men saw. But why did only these particular men come to see Jesus?

I think the answer is this. These men saw Jesus in the stars because in their hearts, they were honestly seeking the truth and they were hungering for God. When they made it to Jerusalem, they told Herod they were there to worship the child revealed in the stars. When they actually found Jesus, that is exactly what they did – they worshiped him. You see, I don’t think this is an affirmation of pagan religion. Instead, it is an affirmation of honest seeking. These pagans didn’t know any of the Bible. They had never heard of the Messiah. But in their hearts, they hungered for God, and they pursued him honestly and diligently. And even though they were looking in the wrong places, they really were looking. Since there were no other means available, God used the stars to direct them to him.

This is in contrast to Herod and the Jewish leaders. Herod wasn’t a Jew, but he was surrounded by them and easily could have learned about God if he chose. The Jewish leaders studied the scriptures. They knew that Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem. In fact, Matthew lists the scripture here, allowing us to see yet another way in Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. But the Jewish leaders at that time weren’t seeking God. Instead, it was pagan priests, completely ignorant of the Bible, who found God when he came into the world. Jeremiah 29:13-14 says this:

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord.

Jesus says it like this:

Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

The wise men were seeking. And in accordance with the promises listed above, when they looked wholeheartedly, they found the true God. It wasn’t their pagan religion that led them to “the same God worshiped by all religions.” Instead, it was that their seeking, hungering hearts led them to true faith in Jesus Christ. Other pagans didn’t come to Bethlehem, even though they had the same information. Those men didn’t have the same hearts. Herod didn’t come, and neither did the Jewish leaders – even after they heard what the Magi had to say. They didn’t have seeking hearts as the Magi.

The wise men who saw Jesus didn’t go to Bethlehem and then perform pagan worship rituals. They went to Bethlehem, put their faith in Jesus, and worshiped Him, specifically. To express it another way, the moment they worshiped Jesus, they were no longer pagans, but Christians.

That may answer the question about other religions. I think the idea is sort of this: a true seeker will not remain in a false religion, but that false religion may be the initial point from which a true seeker eventually comes to know Jesus. The wise men didn’t receive eternal life through pagan religion – they received it through faith in Jesus. A Hindu won’t get to heaven by being a good Hindu. But suppose something in Hinduism leads him to find out about Jesus. Suppose he eventually puts his faith in Jesus – then he would have eternal life. It would not be Hinduism that saved him, but Jesus. By and large, Hinduism does not point to Jesus; but God could certainly use some aspect of it to draw a true seeker to the truth and salvation found only in Jesus Christ. That is very much like what he did for the Magi.

What initially drew the Magi to study the stars was only a shadow of the reality found in Jesus, who is called the Bright Morning Star (Numbers 24:17; Revelation 22:16). The Christmas tree is a pagan symbol too. But maybe the pagan imagery of tree worship, like that of astrology, is just a memory of the real thing, which goes farther back still, all the way to the Garden and the tree of life. The real thing is what those pagan priests sought.

So, with these strange pagan shamans in mind, I think there is a question worth considering: What are you seeking these days? Are you interested in finding the truth? Do you really want God himself, or do you just want God to do something for you? Maybe, like Herod or the Jewish leaders, your biggest concern is how Jesus might affect the plans and ambitions you have for your life.

What has led you to this place? Family, friends or your horoscope? The hope of a day’s comfort? Whatever it might be, let go of the shadow, and see the true reality that the Magi saw – the little toddler, invested with all the fullness of God. True hope. True life. True love. With the wise men, fall down, and exchange the empty shadows for the truth. Worship him. Receive him.

Taking the Bible Literally


We need to understand not only the context of the verses, and the history and the culture; we must also understand that not everything in the bible was meant to be taken directly. We need to pay attention to the genre of each part of the bible.


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Understanding the Bible #6

We’ve considered the origins of the bible. We’ve established it’s historicity and reliability. Last time we began to learn a few simple rules for reading the bible and understanding it properly. The first rule was to read the bible in context. It is rarely helpful to read a verse or two, without understanding what came before it. What comes after all increases our understanding. We also need to read the bible in its historical and cultural context. In other words, we ought to understand what it really meant to the people who first heard it or read it, in their culture, before we will be able to properly apply it to our own lives.

Today, I want to look at another important principle of reading the bible: Pay attention to Genre. Another way to look at this rule is this: What kind of writing are you reading? There are many different kinds of literature (writing) in the bible. We need to be aware of them, and consider the writing style before we try to apply the bible directly to our lives. We have already learned that the bible is actually sixty-six different books, written by dozens of different people from dozens of different walks of life. Some parts of the bible are laws. Others are records of family history. There is also great deal of official “court” or government history. There are genealogies – lists and records of family names. Some of the bible is prophecy, and there are at least two different kinds of prophecy. There is a great deal of poetry and song in the bible. The book of Proverbs is mostly made up of, well, proverbs – wise sayings. There are four accounts of the ministry and teachings of Jesus (we call them “gospels.”) Within Jesus’ teachings are a unique kind of literature called parables. There are a number of letters written by Jesus’ apostles to anyone who wants to follow Him.

I have just listed ten major genres, or types of writing, found in the bible. We need to pay attention to these when we read the bible. We will need to read poetry with a very different approach than we use when we read one of Paul’s letters to Jesus-followers. When we read a historical section, we ought to treat it differently than we treat a prophecy.

I will deal with laws in a sermon all by itself. Today, let’s consider briefly how we might approach the other different genres in the bible.

History: This includes both family history and court/government history. Historical narrative is the record or “story” of real people and real events. As we learned previously, there is no reason to doubt the bible when it gives us historical narrative, and plenty of reasons to believe it. So we read it as a record of something that actually happened. We can get spiritual lessons from historical sections of the bible, but we ought to keep in mind that history isn’t primarily a parable, or an allegory – it is a record of what happened. Because of that, history isn’t always ideal. David committed adultery and murder. The record of those sinful actions is not a teaching telling us that it is okay for leaders to do such things. It is simply telling us what David actually did, not what we ought to do, or even what he ought to have done. In the historical situations, we look at how God dealt with people and nations in the events of their lives, and learn how God may deal with us at times. We look at mistakes and failures, and learn lessons concerning what we ought to avoid. We look at victories, and learn how to trust God to work through us. We see God’s faithful love at work in the past, and take encouragement from it.

Genealogies. I admit, this is the hardest genre for me. Lists of families and names just don’t seem to bring me a lot of spiritual benefit. But every so often, God blesses me through one of the genealogical lists in the bible. For instance, when we start to look at the genealogy of Jesus, listed in Matthew 1:1-17, and investigate what the bible says about some of the ancestors of Jesus, it is a blessing. Many of the physical ancestors of Joseph (in other words, Jesus’ earthly family) and even of Mary (she was related to Joseph) were scoundrels. Two of the women were prostitutes! Yet we see that God gave them grace, and used them anyway. He removed their shame and through them, brought the Messiah into the world. I have found similar lessons in other genealogies. The trick is to look up the people listed, and see what you can learn about them.

Prophecy: I’ve mentioned before that reading biblical prophecy is like looking at a range of distant mountains. From a distance, the mountains look like they are all right next to each other, but when you get closer, you find they are a series of ridges and peaks that go on for some time. The mountains aren’t all lined up side by side, as it looks from a long ways away. From the prophet’s perspective (which is how it is written down in the bible) it looks like all of the future will happen at one time. In reality, as you get closer, some things are fulfilled centuries before other things. So Isaiah talks about the destruction of Jerusalem (which happened 200 years after he prophesied), the return of the exiles from Babylon (which happened 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem) the coming of the Messiah (which happened about 700 years after he prophesied) and the end of the world (which, as far as I know, hasn’t happened yet). These prophesies about various times are jumbled in amongst each other.

Prophecy also has a message to us in the present, regardless of the predictive element of it. Most of the prophets spoke to people about how to relate to God, and how God loves us, and longs to forgive and care for us. These words are still relevant today. So the comfort spoken to the exiles who would return to Jerusalem is also spoken to us, who seek peace and comfort in the Lord today.

Prophecies are not direct teachings however. We need to understand them in their historical context (as we spoke about last time) and be careful with directly and literally importing everything a prophet says to our own time.

Apocalyptic Prophecy: Parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation contain a specialized form of prophecy called “Apocalyptic Prophecy.” This genre features vivid imagery, key numbers and tends to be extremely confusing. Apocalyptic often reads like someone’s strange dream. Almost nothing in apocalyptic prophecy should be taken at face value. The images and numbers are usually symbolic. For instance in Revelation, the number twelve is very significant. There were twelve tribes in ancient Israel. There were twelve apostles. Therefore, the number twelve is a symbol for “the people of God.” It’s like a code. In Revelation chapter 7, it talks about 144,000 people who were sealed. This just means “the entire amount of God’s people from both Israel and the Church.” 12 tribes of Israel (representing God’s people before the time of Jesus) times 12 Apostles (representing the church, God’s people since the time of Jesus). 12 x 12 = 144. Get it? You will need help to understand what the images and numbers in apocalyptic prophecy mean. And to be honest, there are still things in apocalyptic literature that no one really understands for sure. A study bible will help, but more than anything, let the clear portions of the bible lead you in understanding what is not clear.

Gospels. There are four books that give us historical records of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We read these as we would read history, with two exceptions:

1. When the gospels record the teaching of Jesus, we understand it as teaching. In other words, it isn’t just history. It is also the teaching which Jesus Christ intends us to learn, understand and follow. We must learn it context, like everything else. But it isn’t just a historical curiosity. We are meant to learn it and follow it.

2. Jesus used parables extensively. Almost always, a parable is a story that is not supposed to be taken literally, and it makes just one (at most two) main points. Don’t follow rabbit trails when you deal with a parable. Stick to the main one or two points. So, consider the parable of the good Samaritan. The main point of the story is that the Lord wants us to look after anyone in need – even our natural enemies. He wants us to treat all the people we encounter as “neighbors.” The parable is not there to teach us that priests are all naturally bad people, or that we should regularly travel from Jerusalem to Jericho, or that we should pay for homeless people to stay in hotels. Stick to the main point.

Letters. Much of the New Testament is made up of letters written by the apostles to Christians. These letters generally contain teaching, exhortation and encouragement. We are meant to receive them as teaching and instruction. Generally, once we understand the historical and textual context, we take these things basically literally.

Poetry and Song. Poetic language is often not supposed to be taken literally. For our scripture this week, let’s look at Psalm 19.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky1 proclaims the work of His hands.

2 Day after day they pour out speech;

night after night they communicate knowledge.2

3 There is no speech; there are no words;

their voice is not heard.

4 Their message3 has gone out to all the earth,

and their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens4 He has pitched a tent for the sun.

5 It is like a groom coming from the5 bridal chamber;

it rejoices like an athlete running a course.

6 It rises from one end of the heavens

and circles6 to their other end;

nothing is hidden from its heat.

First, notice that this is laid out like a poem or song. In fact, in the heading of Psalm 19, there is the note: “For the Choir Director.” Most modern bible translations will lay out poetic language in this way, even though we have no music for it, and it does not rhyme in English. This layout is the translators’ way of showing us it is a song, poem or poetic prophesy. Much of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Job is laid out in this way. This lay-out is our first cue for how we should interpret the passage.

Now, in the case of Psalm 19, the writer (David) even tells us the language is poetic. In verse one, he says the heavens declare God’s glory, and pour forth speech. In verse two, he clarifies that we aren’t supposed to take that literally – it’s a word-picture, a metaphor. The sky doesn’t actually talk.

In verses 3-6 David describes the sun. Now, think for a moment. Does this mean that the Bible teaches us that the sky is an actual covering like a tent? Do these verses teach us that the sun actually rejoices? Does it mean that no place on earth can be cold when the sun is out?

The answer to all of those questions, is, of course, no. The language is poetic. We aren’t supposed to take it literally. The point is that God created the sky and all we observe in it, and by the things he set in motion in the sky, we can learn about God. This isn’t a straightforward teaching. It is a song, with metaphors and similes and creative ways of expressing things. We can learn things from it (that God sends messages to us through his creation) but we get that message differently than we do when Paul says the same thing in Acts 14:15-17 and Romans 1:19-20

What can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20, HCSB)

This verse from Romans says basically the same thing as Psalm 19, but in a very different style. That is why genre is important for understanding. Many people make grave mistakes about the bible when they don’t consider the genre. We don’t have to. It is mostly common sense, but we simply have to remember to pay attention.

Do you have a Sense of Blessedness?


The sense of being blessed is one of the key differences between living by law and living by grace. If you think it is up to you live the Christian life, up to you to please God, it will be hard to feel blessed.

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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 Galatians Part 12

Galatians # 12. Chapter 4:12-16

This next little section of Galatians is a very personal appeal from Paul, and it contains a kind of buffet of several different spiritual truths. Please ask the Holy Spirit to show you what he wants to show you here, and then we’ll dig in.

Up until this point, Paul has been pretty stern with the Galatians. Here is a sampling of his tone so far:

As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. (Gal 1:9-10, HCSB)

Now from those recognized as important (what they really were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism) — they added nothing to me. (Gal 2:6, HCSB)

You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified? I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? (Gal 3:1-3, HCSB)

Paul was clearly upset about what was happening in the Galatian churches. He wasted no time in telling them how wrong and foolish they were. But at this point, (4:11 and following) he moderates his tone a little bit. First, he says, “Become like me, for I became like you.”

I think Paul is referring to the fact that although he was a Jew and Pharisee, he lived with, ate with and associated with the non-Jewish Galatians. He became like them, living as if we were not Jewish. Through Christ, he had the freedom to do this. Now, he urges them to do the same. Remember, certain leaders in these Churches were telling them they had to obey all the Jewish laws to be a Christian. Paul reminds them, that was not how he behaved. He was like them. He is saying, “Look, I was Jewish, and I became like a Gentile. Now you, who have been trying to be Jewish, become like Gentiles again!”

Now, most of us have already become like Paul, in the sense that we don’t strictly follow Jewish regulations. But I think there are two places where this might possibly to speak to us. First, I think it says something about reaching out to others. People do not have to act like us, look like us, talk like us or dress like us before they can become part of our church. They didn’t have to become like Paul – that is, Jewish – in order to receive Jesus. If anything, Paul became more like them. There are, of course some bottom-line aspects to Christianity. To be a Christian, you have to trust Jesus, and surrender your life to him. But once a person does that, we can trust the Holy Spirit to begin manifesting the life of Jesus in that person. We can trust the Holy Spirit to lead that person away from sin. But it doesn’t say anything in the Bible about us all looking the same. The life of Jesus is available to anyone who is willing to surrender control of his or her own life to Him.

Second, it is a reiteration of our freedom in Christ. Some Christians try to put rules on silly things. For instance, you must dress a certain way at church (or all the time); you cannot drink, even in moderation without getting drunk; you can’t watch certain movies, or listen to certain types of music, or dance, or….you fill in the blank. These things are not essential to faith in Jesus Christ. They are external rules. Paul says in Colossians that these rules have little value, spiritually speaking:

If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence. (Col 2:20-23, HCSB)

Next, Paul makes this statement:

You have not wronged me; you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a physical illness. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you.

Bible scholars debate what exactly Paul’s physical ailment was. Martin Luther believes that when Paul came to the Galatians, he was suffering from the effects of physical persecution. We know that many times Paul was beaten up by mobs. Sometimes he was arrested and whipped. Several times he was imprisoned, and we can assume during some of those incidents, he suffered at the hands of the jailers and the other prisoners. In the Galatian area, in one place he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19).

Other people thought that Paul had a recurring illness. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh,” that sounds like it might be a recurring physical problem. Many people suspect that he had some disease of the eyes. We know that on the road to Damascus, Paul was blinded for three days. Here in this passage, he says the Galatians would have torn out their own eyes to give to him. At the end of the letter, he writes this:

Look at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting. (Gal 6:11, HCSB)

Most of Paul’s letters were actually written down by other people (often, his friend and colleague, Silas). Usually, he just signed them personally at the end. 2 Thessalonians 3:17 is typical of the end of many of his letters:

This greeting is in my own hand — Paul. This is a sign in every letter; this is how I write. (2Thess 3:17, HCSB)

All this suggests that maybe Paul’s vision was not very good, and perhaps he had a condition that flared up and worsened at times. In any case, far from coming to them as strong and having it all together, he first came to them in weakness and in need. This again, is a helpful thing for us as we consider how to reach out to people who don’t know Jesus yet. We don’t have to have it all put together. In fact, sometimes, when we have some kind of need, it opens a door to relationship with others, and opens a door for us to share Jesus with those who help us.

Paul’s other point here is that in spite of all of his rebukes and strong language, he is not upset about their personal interactions. His intensity is not about personality conflicts. It is about the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. He is saying, “Look, this isn’t personal. I know how you cared for me.” He is reminding them of the joy and friendship that existed between them when they were together. He doesn’t want them to think he is angry for some offense against himself. It is about the truth, not personal conflict. In verse sixteen He says, “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

I have to say, I have very strong feelings about this subject. Paul is making a distinction here that is absolutely critical for Christians in the world today. In essence, he is saying this: “I love you and appreciate you as people. We have a wonderful friendship. I am even indebted to you. What I say to you does not negate that. You do need to know, however, that your belief, and the direction that your life is going, is wrong.”

The fact that he calls them wrong, takes nothing away from his love for them. In his mind, at least, it doesn’t affect their friendship and the close feelings that existed between Paul and the Galatian Christians. It is simply that, because he loves them, he must make sure that they know the truth. The world rarely understands this. Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life puts it like this:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense

That is exactly what Paul is saying here to the Galatians. He is saying, “I love you and appreciate you. This letter isn’t about that. But this letter is about the truth of what we believe and how we live.” The world usually doesn’t understand this attitude. But it is something that we Christians need to keep practicing anyway. Perhaps you have friends or family members who claim to be Christians and are living together, but are not married. The truth is, according to the Bible, that is a sin. But there is no sense in which we should hate someone who does this. There is no way in which we should ever treat them badly, or speak to them hurtfully. If the subject comes up, or if the Holy Spirit leads you to bring it up, we do need to tell the truth. But the fact that we believe as we do does NOT mean that we hate everyone who disagrees with us, or who lives according to different moral standards.

The big moral issue of our present time, of course, is homosexuality. Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:27-29; 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Jude 1:9 all teach that homosexual sex is sinful. The bible doesn’t say it is wrong to be tempted, or to consider oneself gay, but it does teach that rather than engage in gay sex, people should remain celibate. Now, many people who call themselves Christian disagree with me. They either ignore some or all of those verses, or they have a different way of interpreting them. For many reasons, I think their bible scholarship and interpretation is very poorly done; and of course, they don’t like my way of understanding the Bible.

But I don’t think acting on gay feelings is worse than any other sin. We are all saved only through Jesus, and I am no better than anyone else. I do not hate gay people. No Christian should. I do not fear them, or what they represent. We shouldn’t mock or hurt gay folks, or deprive them of any civil right. In a free society, everyone ought to have the right to live as they see fit. I have gay people in my family, and I love, respect, and accept them as they are. And we should not hate people who disagree with us about this issue. I certainly don’t.

I’m sure many people have difficulty understanding this, but disagreement is not the same thing as hate or bigotry. If it was, everybody would have to hate billions of people for millions of reasons. If you think you have to agree fully with someone before you can love them or they you, you are in a sad, sad situation. The world is a very big, very diverse place. There are very few people in any group in the world who agree upon everything. If you threatened by people who disagree with you, maybe you need to get out more, and spend more time around such folks. We don’t have to be enemies. In fact, for our part, Christians should not think of anyone besides the devil and his cohorts as the enemy.

Let me give you one more example, as long as I’m in the middle of such controversy. In the course of my life, I have had many friendships with Muslim people. They honestly believe I am going to hell for believing that Jesus is in nature, God. I believe they are going to hell for refusing to receive God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus. I have discussed these things openly with every Muslim friend I have had. And it has never been a problem for those friendships. I know there are Muslim extremists out there, obviously. But I am telling you, in my personal experience with Muslim people, this is how it has been.

If Muslims and Christians can disagree so fundamentally, and still accept each other, and get along and be friends, certainly we Christians ought to be able to do that with people who are more similar to us. Actually, we are supposed to do that with everyone.

I want to look at one more thing in this passage. In Galatians 4:15 Paul says to the Galatians:

What happened to this sense of being blessed that you had?

This is an important part of the entire message of the book of Galatians. The sense of being blessed is one of the key differences between living by law and living by grace. If you think it is up to you live the Christian life, up to you to please God, it will be hard to feel blessed. If it is up to you to get God to act on your behalf, you might feel obligation. You probably, at some point, feel fear, guilt and especially shame that you aren’t good enough. Sometimes, maybe, you manage to do pretty well, or at least to think you are doing pretty well. Then you might feel self-satisfied; you might even fall into sinful pride. Even so, you’ll feel the pressure to keep doing well. But either way, you probably won’t feel blessed.

We feel blessed when we know – truly know – that we are loved. We feel blessed when we know we have received far more than we could ever earn or deserve, and that it is all given freely, with no thought that we could, or even should, try to repay it. We feel blessed when we are secure in the love and grace and approval of God. All this comes only through Jesus; we get it when we trust him and surrender control of our life to him.

Do you have a sense of being blessed? Or is your life all obligation, shame and fear, or self-satisfaction and pride? At times we lose the sense of being blessed because Jesus is not a very big deal in our lives. We sweep him off into a corner of our lives that we call “religion” or “church.” If he doesn’t have much room to be in your life, naturally, there is not a large sense of being blessed.

For others, sometimes, even after we receive Jesus, he needs to work healing in us, to deal with shame and guilt that is left from our past. But through him, we can receive that sense of being blessed.

Take a minute now, to let God show you that because of Jesus, he approves of you. That’s right, through Jesus, we have God’s approval. Let that sink in, and receive again that sense of being blessed.



If you are a Christian for any length of time, sooner or later you’ll probably have a thought like this: “What if this is all made up? What if none of it is real?”

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Galatians #3 . Chapter 1:11-12

Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not based on human thought. For I did not receive it from a human source and I was not taught it, but it came by a revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:11-12, HCSB)

Apparently, the people who were misleading the Galatians said something like this: “Look, Paul is just a human being. We are teaching you based upon the authority of many wise rabbis who have gone before us. But here he is, coming along making up new stuff. He got what he learned from the apostles in Jerusalem, and put his own spin on it. He isn’t even a real apostle.”

But Paul responds here. Remember last time, we talked about the different “false gospels” that we encounter from time to time. Now, Paul talks about the source of the true gospel.

The first apostles were considered reliable teachers of the true gospel, because they had known Jesus personally, and he had personally chosen them. Paul was a little different. He had not known Jesus when Jesus was alive. In fact, Paul was a Pharisee, considered by those in Jerusalem to be one of the rising young bright stars of Judaism. He saw the followers of Jesus as a threat to Judaism, and he persecuted the Christians, causing them to be arrested, and many times, causing them to be executed. But on a trip he was taking to arrest and kill more Christians, Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision. We have a partial record of this in Acts 9:1-18. We don’t know everything that Jesus said to Paul in that appearance, but apparently the Holy Spirit revealed the true gospel to him. Just a few days after encountering Jesus this way, this is what Paul did:

Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.” But all who heard him were astounded and said, “Isn’t this the man who, in Jerusalem, was destroying those who called on this name and then came here for the purpose of taking them as prisoners to the chief priests? ” But Saul grew more capable and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that this One is the Messiah. (Acts 9:20-22, HCSB)

Paul had been an anti-Christian. Just a few days after his conversion he was preaching so powerfully that the Jews in Damascus could not dispute him. Where did he learn the message of the gospel that he preached? He had only been a Christian for a few days. Paul tells us, right here in Galatians: it was revealed to him by Jesus himself. Paul, talking about the message of gospel, given by Jesus, tells the Corinthians:

Last of all, as to one abnormally born, [Jesus] also appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me. Therefore, whether it is I or they, so we proclaim and so you have believed. (1Cor 15:8-11, HCSB)

The point is, Paul got the message from the same place that the other apostles got it: from Jesus Christ himself. Paul then passed it along to the churches. The source for our gospel is the same as the source for the early Christians: the teaching of the apostles who knew Jesus Christ (including Paul). Today, we call that teaching “The New Testament.”

I have friends who think the New Testament was made up by people who wanted to gain power through religion. Now, I’ve covered this in the past, but I suppose it’s possible that some of you have forgotten, and also that others never did hear this. Paul felt that it was important for the Galatians to understand that the message about Jesus came from God, not from human beings. I think it is important for us to understand the same thing.

So, the gospel we believe comes from the New Testament. Where did that come from?

Historians can determine the date of ancient documents through a variety of methods. They can look at the writing materials that were used, and compare them to materials used at known dates and places. They can study the language, and compare it to various time periods to see if it is similar (or not) to other writings in various eras. They can check some historical references with other documents, and against the discoveries of archaeology.

When more than one copy of an ancient document is discovered, scholars compare the various copies. If all the copies say the same thing, scholars conclude that they have accurately preserved what was originally written. Where copies vary, scholars consider which copies are older, and how many copies say the same thing, and how many contain the variant. This way, they can reasonable determine what the original said, even when they don’t have the original to study.

A book called Gallic Wars was supposed to have been written sometime around 50 B.C., dictated by Julius Caesar to a scribe. Historians believe that this book is what it claims to be, and was written in the time of Caesar. Even so, the oldest actual manuscript they have of this book is a copy of a copy (and so on) that was actually made 1,000 years after Caesar. The idea is, the book was made, and then as it fell into disrepair, new copies were made, and as those copies got older, new copies were made of the first copies, and so on. They have discovered ten ancient copies of Gallic Wars, with the oldest one, as I said, 1,000 years later than the original. This is considered an excellent historical document for that period in history (which is very close to the New Testament).

Another ancient book is Annals by Tacitus. This too, is considered an excellent source, written around 100 AD (or CE, if you prefer). Today, twenty ancient texts of Tacitus’ writing exist. The oldest is a copy that was made in 1100 AD – 1000 years after Tacitus wrote the original. With regard to Annals, no historian seriously disputes that they were indeed written by Tacitus. Most also accept that what Tacitus wrote has been accurately preserved.

How do these excellent sources compare to the New Testament?

GreekNT3A fragment of parchment containing part of the book of John has been discovered. This piece is believed to be either part of the original written by the apostle himself, or a copy that was made within forty years. A fragment of Matthew has been discovered that most scholars believe was part of the very parchment written by Matthew himself. Other fragments, and even whole books of New Testament, date from within a hundred years of the time of the apostles. The oldest complete copy of the New Testament is about 150 years removed from the time of the apostles. This is far, far better than any other ancient document that exists.

Compared to twenty ancient copies of Tacitus, or ten of Julius Caesar, scholars have discovered roughly 5,500 very ancient copies of the New Testament in Greek (the original language), and an additional 19,000 ancient copies in other languages like Syrian, Latin and Coptic. For hundreds of years, scholars have been comparing these manuscripts to one another. If all or most of the texts show that John wrote “Jesus wept,” than we can be pretty darn sure that John did in fact write, “Jesus wept.” In addition to all these actual copies of the New Testament, we have extensive quotations of the books of the New Testament contained in letters and writings from early Christians, dating from the time of the apostles and on.

With the overwhelming number of copies and the various languages, scholars have found some variations in part of the New Testament. These variations are all very small, and none of them change the essential meaning of any New Testament passage. By the way if you have an NIV version of the bible, it will make a footnote of every major textual variation. Here’s an example of a major variation:

In Luke 23:42, Luke writes that the thief on the cross said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The NIV version of the bible makes a footnote there is enough evidence to note a variant manuscript reading. The variant would read like this: “Jesus remember me when you come with your kingly power.” You may say: “What’s the big deal with that? What does it change? Doesn’t it mean the same thing?” That, of course, is the point. It changes nothing significant. Nor do any of the “significant” variants. If you have an NIV Bible you can scan the bottom of the text as you flip through the pages and see all the significant variants.

Because of the great number of copies which all record the same words, and because they are so ancient, we can be quite sure that the New Testament we read today is the truly and accurately preserved teaching of the apostles of Jesus Christ.

Every year around Easter, the National Geographic society trots out a documentary or story about the “lost gospels” or the “books that should have been included in the bible.” It’s true that there are a few ancient documents about Jesus that are not included in the New Testament. But there are huge differences between them and the New Testament.


We know historically that by around 250 AD at the latest, virtually all Christians were using the twenty-seven books that make up our present day New Testament. The New Testament was not officially defined by a conference of Churches until sometime in the mid 300’s AD, but for all intents and purposes it was well established even earlier than that.

There were several things that caused a book to be included in the New Testament.

  1. The New Testament book had to be connected to an apostle (either written by an apostle, as in the case of Paul’s letters, or written by someone who associated closely with one or more apostles, as in the case of Luke and Mark). So the ancient book, The Apocalypse of Peter, though it names an apostle in the title, was never recognized in any early writing, or by any other evidence, as having anything to do with the real historical Peter. Needless to say, it isn’t in the bible.
  2. The New Testament book had to enjoy widespread early use among churches. For example, the Gospel of John was used and recognized in churches all over the known world by a very early date; whereas the “Gospel of Judas” was never really recognized outside of Alexandria, Egypt and that at a fairly late date, by people who weren’t even Christians. Again, by at least 250 AD, virtually all churches were using a common set of apostolic writings – this set of books was later called “The New Testament.”
  3. The New Testament writings had to agree with generally accepted Christian doctrine. In the 140s AD, a man named Marcion came up with his own very twisted version of Christianity and listed various writings which he thought should be considered sacred. He and his “New Testament” were rejected by almost all churches, because they were contrary to the teachings that the churches had held since the time of the apostles.

I guess what I am saying to you today, is the same thing that Paul was trying to say to the Galatians. I want you to know brothers and sisters, that this gospel that we received and have believed does not come from human beings. It was preserved by human beings, and we can see that it was preserved accurately. But it came from Jesus Christ. But there is even more. John recorded that Jesus said this:

“I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit — the Father will send Him in My name — will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. (John 14:25-27, HCSB)

And a little later, he said this:

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14, HCSB)

The Holy Spirit inspired and guided those who wrote down the gospel. And the Spirit guided the process by which these writings were either preserved, or not preserved. We know that there was a third letter which Paul wrote to the Corinthians, which is lost to history. The Holy Spirit caused that happen – that letter was not part of what the Spirit wanted preserved.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2Tim 3:16-17, HCSB)

We have the written words of the true gospel in the form of the New Testament. And we also have the Holy Spirit, given to us through Jesus, who continues to remind us what Jesus said, and guides us to receive and understand the truth of God’s Word. It doesn’t come from human beings who made it up for their own purposes.

If you are a Christian for any length of time, sooner or later you’ll probably have a thought like this: “What if this is all made up? What if none of it is real?” Don’t feel bad about having those thoughts. Instead, remember this: It is entirely reasonable to believe that the New Testament is the unaltered teaching of those who knew Jesus, whom Jesus chose as his apostles. All the evidence says so. It is reasonable to believe that that they believed what they wrote, since most of them gave their lives for that belief (incidentally, they didn’t get power or wealth out of it). But it does require faith to believe that their writings are true, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It requires faith to believe that Spirit continues to speak through the New Testament today. That faith means we risk being foolish. It means we risk believing something that isn’t true – that risk is the nature of faith. But when we embrace that faith, the Holy Spirit makes these words real and relevant in our lives today.

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)

The true gospel, not made by human beings, can speak directly to your heart and to your attitudes. It can convict you of sin, comfort you with grace and lead you closer to the true and living God. It can and will change your life eternally.


David, fleeing from Jerusalem, is cursed by Shimei.  William Hole, Old Testament History (Eyre and Spottiswoode, c 1925 )

Leaders and governments come and go. So do countries and nations. Israel’s hope was not in David’s leadership, but in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. Our hope is the same. If we are shaken by an election, for good or for bad, then to that extent, our faith is not truly grounded in an eternal God who promises us an eternal hope. This isn’t just about elections. This is about anything in life that threatens to shake us.

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2 Samuel #17 . 2 Samuel Chapter 17

This is not a political sermon, so just bear with me through the first few paragraphs, and you’ll see that there is some rich spiritual application.

I think it is safe to say that the election in the United States this past week reveals that we often deeply divided as a nation. Although the electoral college victory for Barak Obama was clear and decisive, the margin int he popular vote was less than 3%. These division may cause us dismay. Sometimes it may seem that the atmosphere is far to bitter and partisan. Many people are dismayed by politicians themselves — so many of them seem willing to push the envelope of ethical behavior extremely far.

The scripture that we are looking at today is especially relevant in these times. David was good king; in fact, he was God’s choice for king. But Absalom sounded good, looked good and deceived enough good people, and recruited enough schemers, to take power and send his dad David running for his life. Politically, things looked bad for Israel. How could the country be so ignorant as to let this smooth-talking, charming megalomaniac come to power? Obviously, there were still many who supported David, and who felt that Absalom was a very bad choice for king. But they were defeated and silenced. God’s choice no longer mattered. Righteousness and right didn’t matter. Instead, power went to the one who was most ruthless and clever. Those who were wise and aware in Israel, who trusted the Lord, must have been deeply dismayed.

At the end of 2 Samuel chapter 15, we learn that when David fled from his son Absalom, he left behind a kind of spy network. Two priests who were loyal to David stayed in the city – Zadok and Abiathar. Their two sons – Ahimaaz and Jonathan stayed outside the city, ready to relay messages to David. David also had a friend and advisor named Hushai. Hushai stayed behind and pretended to betray David, and so became an false advisor to Absalom, a kind of double agent.

David had another close friend who was an advisor. This man was named Ahithophel. 2 Samuel 16:23 says this:

Now the advice Ahithophel gave in those days was like someone asking about a word from God — such was the regard that both David and Absalom had for Ahithophel’s advice. (2Sam 16:23, HCSB)

This man truly did betray David. He supported Absalom and threw his lot in entirely with him. It is quite likely that when David wrote psalm 55, it was primarily Ahithophel whom he had in mind. He said these things:

Now it is not an enemy who insults me — otherwise I could bear it; it is not a foe who rises up against me — otherwise I could hide from him. But it is you, a man who is my peer, my companion and good friend! We used to have close fellowship; we walked with the crowd into the house of God. (Ps 55:12-14, HCSB)

…My friend acts violently against those at peace with him; he violates his covenant. His buttery words are smooth, but war is in his heart. His words are softer than oil, but they are drawn swords. (Psalm 55:20-21)

When David first heard that Ahithophel had betrayed him, he prayed for the Lord to confound his advice and to defeat him. He says similar things in Psalm 55. There is something here that intrigues me. If you read the Psalms especially, David is never shy about praying for destruction to come upon evil and evil-doers. Whenever I read such things, I cringe a little bit. I think most modern Christians do. It sounds so simplistic to our sophisticated ears. These types of prayers seem to assume that we are good, not bad, and we have the ability to discern who the bad ones are. I don’t think I’ve ever heard modern Christians pray that way. Now, Jesus did say to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. So I think we ought to do that. But have we ever considered that part of our prayers could be asking God to frustrate and confound the schemes of unrighteous and wicked people? Here’s another sample from David:

Let those who seek to take my life be disgraced and confounded. Let those who wish me harm be driven back and humiliated. Let those who say to me, “Aha, aha! ” be horrified because of their shame. (Ps 40:14-15, HCSB)

If we pray in faith, trusting that God knows who truly needs to be confounded frustrated, and who doesn’t I think it is appropriate at times to pray against the success of those who appear to be against God. I’m not saying that we get to judge who those people are – I’m just saying that we can appeal to God to restrain and defeat wickedness, trusting him to judge who is wicked and who is not.

Ahithophel certainly appeared to become a wicked person. His first advice to Absalom was that he publicly violate the women of David’s harem, who had been left behind when David fled. This was a symbolic cultural gesture, expressing contempt for David, and showing the people that he had completely cowed and defeated him. The possession of the King’s wives was a way of solidifying his own claim to be the new king.

Absalom took that advice, fulfilling Nathan’s prophecy that David’s wives would be treated publicly as David treated Uriah’s wife privately. The Hebrew leaves a little bit of room for interpretation. Absalom’s men pitched tents in public view – on the roof of the palace. The text says that Absalom “went in” to the women. It could mean that he raped them. But in the customs of those days, when a married woman was alone with a man who was not her husband, it was a disgrace. Whether or not anything happened, it was assumed that something had. So, whatever happened, from that time forth, those women were treated as if they had been raped. In those days, the custom (not biblical, just cultural) was that no other man would ever again be with them. They would have no place with their previous husband, nor any chance of a new one. However, after the rebellion was all over, David made sure that they were well cared for for the rest of their lives.

Ahithophel’s next advice was cunning and probably would have been effective. He told Absalom to pursue David quickly, to strike and kill him while he was still on the run, and end any doubt about who was king. But Absalom chose to also ask Hushai, David’s secret agent in the palace. Hushai gave advice that sounded excellent. He reminded Absalom that David was a cunning, fearsome old warrior, and that some of the Thirty were also with him. It would be no small thing to take such heroes on without enough preparation or force. David and Abishai (who was with him) had once killed six hundred men in a single battle, just between the two of them. Hushai suggested that Absalom could not risk bad news like a battle gone wrong, so early in his bid for power. The Lord heard David’s prayer, and Ahithophel’s scheme was frustrated.

Ahithophel’s reaction seems completely out of proportion. He goes and hangs himself. The text doesn’t really tell us why. I have a few theories, but they are only guesses. One thought is that Ahithophel reacted a little bit like Judas did one thousand years later, when he betrayed Jesus. Ahithophel may have realized that what he had done was wrong, and failed to believe that he could be forgiven and restored. So rather than repent and trust the mercy of God, he listened to lies of the devil that there was no forgiveness or hope, and destroyed himself.

The text does give us one clue. It says that Ahithophel did killed himself after he realized that his advice had not been followed. It could be that in his wisdom, he realized even at that early stage that if they didn’t kill David quickly, then they would inevitably lose. He may have seen right then that Absalom’s rebellion was doomed to failure. Rather than wait through all the turmoil and then be executed by David, he decided to put his affairs in order and deprive David the satisfaction of doing justice upon his body.

In any case, David’s prayer against evil was answered quite clearly.

Chapter 17 verses 17-29 read like an adventure novel. Hushai didn’t know at this point if Absalom would follow his advice or Ahithophel’s, and so he activated the spy network, warning David to flee across the Jordan river that very night. A servant girl went out from the palace bearing a message to the sons of the two priests. But the activity was noticed, and the two young men were pursued as they carried the message to the fleeing king. They took refuge in the courtyard of a friend, hiding in the well. The woman of the house spread canvas out over the well, and covered it with grain, so that no one even knew it was there. The soldiers of Absalom searched, but failed to discover the hidden well. Afterward, the young men continued on and successfully delivered their message, with the result that David and his household fled further on to safety.

So what do we do with all this? Let me be clear as I offer the first application. I am not saying that president Barak Obama is evil or unrighteous or that he is not God’s choice for president. I am not saying either that he is God’s first choice to be our president. But I know that whether or not he is God’s choice for president, many informed faithful Christians are very concerned that he has been reelected.

I want to point out that people have been following the Lord for thousands of years, and really only in the last three hundred years have human beings had consistent opportunities to choose their own government. Christian faith thrives in freedom. Christian faith thrives in oppression. God is not hindered by unrighteous rulers – if he were, Christianity would never have survived. So if you are thrilled that president Obama has been reelected, good. Just remember your hope should be in the Lord, not in a ruler. If you are dismayed, remember the same thing.

Leaders and governments come and go. So do countries and nations. Israel’s hope was not in David’s leadership, but in God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. Our hope is the same. If we are shaken by an election, for good or for bad, then to that extent, our faith is not truly grounded in an eternal God who promises us an eternal hope. David, as he fled from his murderous son, wrote this:

Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)

This isn’t just about elections. This is about anything in life that threatens to shake us. What does it mean, “he will never allow the righteous to be shaken?” When David wrote that, he had lost all that he had worked so hard for decades to attain. He was in danger of losing his life. His own son was trying to kill him. But he says, “the Lord will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Obviously, he did not mean that things would never be hard. Obviously, he did not meant that the future on earth would never look bleak. What he meant is that our faith in the Lord looks beyond the here and now. You may wonder, “am I one of ‘the righteous’?” You are, if you trust Jesus. The promise of scripture is that Jesus imparts his own righteousness to us. This is not based upon what we have done, but rather on our faith in what he has done for us.

I think it is helpful to see David’s heart of faith in his extremely difficult and discouraging circumstance. Paul writes to the Philippians. He mentions people who are focused mainly on what is happening here and now:

They are focused on earthly things,but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)

We are citizens of heaven. We have the same eternal king today that we had two weeks ago, the same leader that our predecessors in faith had two thousand years ago. Our best future is ahead of us, and nothing can take it away. It is difficult when life is unpleasant, or hard, or full of sorrow. But circumstances did not fundamentally shake David. They don’t have to shake your either. Set your hope fully in your eternal future with Jesus.

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.


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.


ark of covenant1

Sometimes the holiness of God is revealed to us in ways that horrify us, and even makes us angry. It is comforting to know that this is a normal reaction – even David had it. But God’s holiness reveals some deep and important truths about us and our needs.

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Download 2 Samuel Part 6

8 David was angry because of the LORD’s outburst against Uzzah, so he named that place an Outburst Against Uzzah, as it is today. 9 David feared the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me? ” 10 So he was not willing to move the ark of the LORD to the city of David; instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the LORD remained in his house three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and his whole family. (2Sam 6:8-11, HCSB)

Here we have the two major themes of this text. First is this: God is so Holy, so different and “other” that he is inapproachable. If it means death to touch the mere representation of God’s presence, who can endure his actual presence? This was shocking and horrifying to David. It even made him angry. I think we forget that the Holiness of God is shocking, terrifying and horrifying. It may even make us angry. Why does God behave so inexplicably?

Sometimes I think because of the grace given in Jesus, we forget why that grace was so important and so unbelievable. I am in my forties, and I remember a time when the Soviet Union was the biggest threat that existed to the freedom and stability of the world in general. The Soviet government tortured and killed people who dared to question them. In fact, they killed almost as many of their own Soviet citizens as the Nazis killed during the battles of World War 2. They dominated the countries around them, creating an Eastern European alliance of oppressive communist governments. They built walls and guard towers and minefields to keep their citizens from escaping to the freedom of Western Democracies. In 1986, I personally stood at the edge of a minefield, watching a communist soldier manning a machine gun in a tower that was behind a mesh and barbed wire fence. It looked like a maximum security prison. I imagined the millions of people trapped behind that fence, people who would be gunned down or blown up if they wanted to be free.

Today, Soviet Communism is still around in little pockets, but it simply cannot threaten the free world in the way that it used to do. My kids find it difficult to look at the Russian Federation with the same kind of dread I used to feel for the Soviet Union – and they shouldn’t. But I do want to them appreciate that the world is a better place today than it was thirty years ago, because people they never knew made sacrifices and choices that led to freedom for Eastern Europe. It is too easy to forget how real the threat was, and to not be grateful that it is over.

The same is true when it comes to the work of Jesus. Without Jesus, if we were simply to wrongly touch a representation of a holy God, we could be killed, like Uzzah. There was an irreconcilable gap between us and him. But since Jesus intervened, we often forget how serious the problem would be without him.

Now, one question that I hear quite often is, “doesn’t God just accept us as we are?” Actually, no. If he did, there would have been no need for Jesus to sacrifice himself. He has to change us before he can accept us. Through Jesus, it is the power of God that does the changing, not our own work and effort.

There is nothing I can think of that really illustrates the holiness of God adequately. But let me take a few tries at it. We raise goats, pigs, and chickens on our little farm. We do not allow these animals in the house with us. Think about it for a minute. Why don’t we allow pigs in the kitchen? Why don’t we allow goats to stand on our table and eat with us? Why do we care if they defecate on the table while we eat?

It starts with this – we are other than these animals. They are fundamentally different than us. I think most people would be willing to agree that pigs are not humans, and that goats do not behave according to human standards. Even though it is quite natural for them, there is something in us that rebels against having a farm animal defecate on the table where we eat. We simply do not tolerate it. It revolts us. This revulsion is deep and instinctive, showing us that the differences between us and our animals are also deep and persistent. We love our animals. But we can still be revolted by their behavior. We love them, but we refuse to let their behavior into our home. We must place limits on how and when those animals can be with us.

We do allow some animals in our home – dogs and cats. But part of why we allow this, is because we can train them to behave according to our standards. Even so, most people don’t allow dogs to sit at the table and eat with them. Most people don’t allow cats on the dinner table either. When our dog Mario goes out and rolls in manure – as dogs like to do naturally at times – we insist upon cleaning him up before we let him back in the house. He can lick himself a little bit, but there is no way he can adequately clean himself up to meet our standards. We have to do the work of making him clean.

Why can’t we just accept the animals as they are, and allow the goats to defecate in our food, and the dog to come into the house covered in manure? Sometimes it is hard to explain why we can’t allow such things, but we can’t. We are too different. It is simply not in our nature to accept such things, while it is in the nature of the animals to do such things.

So, because we are born sinful in nature, it is natural for us to behave in ways that God simply cannot accept. His nature is as different from our nature, as a goat’s nature is different from mine. When our dog manages to sneak into the house covered in manure, my reaction is swift and shocking. I move quickly and loudly to keep him from transferring manure to our carpet. He can’t understand me if I try to explain it to him reasonably, so I have to get his attention in a way that may seem shocking and horrifying to him.

So it is with God. His response to Uzzah is shocking and horrifying. David became afraid when he saw it, and said, “how can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” Meaning, “how could I ever be close to a God who is like this?”

But what the Lord did for us in Jesus is to give us a new nature. This is one of the reasons I think it is so important to realize that when we are in Jesus, (that is, when we have received him through faith) we are no longer fundamentally sinful. God cannot fellowship with fundamentally sinful beings. He has cleaned us up, changed us in ways we could not change ourselves.

Even though that was still in the future during the time of David, the Lord found ways to communicate that was his plan. And he included even those who lived before the time of Jesus in that plan:

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. (Romans 3:25-26)

That grace is evident in this passage too. There is the shocking, horrifying holiness of God, the realization that we are fundamentally different and separated from him. But there is also a revelation here of his great goodness and love for his people. This holy, righteous, dangerous and incomprehensible God is also very, very good. He blessed the home, property and family of Obed-edom simply because the representation of his presence was left there. This is almost the opposite of David’s first problem. If the mere representation of God’s presence brings joy and grace and blessing, how can we not want God’s actual presence with us?

And so David is encouraged in his faith, and decides to bring the ark back to Jerusalem after all. As they proceed, David and the others with him are filled with joy and thankfulness to God.

5 David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of fir wood instruments, lyres, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals. (2Sam 6:5, HCSB)

14 David was dancing with all his might before the LORD wearing a linen ephod. 15 He and the whole house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of the ram’s horn. (2 Samuel 6:14-15).

There is a sense of extravagance and freedom here. There are all sorts of instruments. People are shouting, and dancing and blowing horns. God’s grace and joy are filling the people.

Now, I want to point a few things about this. First, it shows us that we don’t have to be narrow in how we worship God. Some people sang. Others danced. We have six different instruments named, and it sounds like there may have others used that weren’t specified. Worship, as described here, included free and open expressions of joy through music and dancing. The instruments listed here are a lot more like guitars, bass and drum than they are like a pipe organ. It looks there was a lot of spontaneity also.

David’s first wife, Michal, did not approve. She told David that he made a fool of himself. David’s response is one of the best verses in 2 Samuel:

21 David replied to Michal, “I was dancing before the LORD who chose me over your father and his whole family to appoint me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel. I will celebrate before the LORD, 22 and I will humble myself even more and humiliate myself. (2Sam 6:21-22, HCSB)

David understood that the only opinion about worship that matters is God’s opinion. He worshipped the way he did for the Lord, not for anyone else. He was willing to go even further, and look even more foolish for the Lord.

This is very important, and in more ways than you might realize. First, I think we need to be encouraged by this to give honor and worship to God, even if it means looking silly to the people around us. If you are worried about how you look, you will not be able to fully worship God. When I’m not playing guitar, sometimes I raise my hands. I do this sometimes even when I’m not “feeling the vibe.” I do it because God is worthy to raise my hands to – he deserves that kind of honor. I do it to remind myself to quit thinking what others around me might be thinking, and wonder instead what God thinks. Worship should not be governed by what we think is socially expected, but rather by how we can truly honor God.

The second point is this: Worship should not be governed by what we think is socially expected, but rather by how we can truly honor God. Yes, I know I just said that, but this time, turn it around the other way. I’ve been in worship services where the social expectation is that you raise your hands and dance and jump up and down. I think that is terrific if those things are the way you express honor to God. But sometimes, I want to honor God by kneeling quietly, or bowing my head and standing still, or just singing with all my heart. I should not allow social expectations to force me to raise my hands or dance, any more than I should allow them to stop me from doing those things.

Now, please don’t use that as an excuse to stand with your hands in your pocket, refusing to give God the honor he deserves. I’m just saying, don’t let what others think you should do, or what others are doing (or not doing) be your guide for how you worship. Freely and fully express yourself to God in keeping with the person he made you to be. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may nudge you to go out on a limb and be more expressive – if he does, do it. Sometimes the Spirit may nudge you and remind you not to put on a show for others, but to focus on Him alone. Listen to that too.

Our God is holy. I think one reason David and his people worshipped so extravagantly, is because they had a very recent reminder of how holy God is, and how big the gap was between them; and yet they also had a reminder of how good and gracious he is to bridge that gap himself.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about this today.


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?





When we are faced with trouble we have several options. Maybe we blame and abuse ourselves and slip into self-absorbed despair. Perhaps we blame others and feel better by thinking about that. Maybe we are more positive, and jump and try to control and fix the situation. David did not do any of these things. Instead, he simply held on to God.


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1 Samuel #28. 1 Samuel Chapter 29. David in Jeopardy (again).

A few weeks ago we observed that though David went to live among the Philistines without consulting God, things seemed to go well for him. But starting this chapter, and culminating in the next two, we will learn why it was a mistake. Remember, though, even though David made this mistake, God was gracious and continued to work for David and through him.

At the beginning of chapter 28, David gets put in a very difficult position. He has deceived king Achish of Gath into believing that he has been attacking Israelites. So when all the Philistines together begin a campaign against the Israelites, Achish invites David along. In fact, it sounds almost like a test of loyalty. He says to David, “you know of course, you and your men must come along with me.” I love David’s answer. “Good. You will find out what I can do.” Notice, he doesn’t say who he is going to do it to. I think David secretly meant, “Good, you’ll find out what kind of warrior I am when I have to fight you.” Achish, believing as he does that David has truly defected to the Philistines, does not catch the possible double meaning. Instead, he feels that David has passed the test of loyalty, and he even offers David to be his lifetime bodyguard. So David is on his way to the war between the Philistines and Israelites – but he is on the wrong side.

Now, I want you to picture how it was for David and his men. David has consistently refused to hurt Saul. They have never attacked fellow Israelites. But now, suddenly, they are marching to war against Saul and the people of Israel, allied with their long-time hated enemies, the Philistines. I can’t imagine that David’s men were happy about this.

They will have two choices. First, they could do what they appear to be doing, which is, to remain allies with the Philistines, and fight on their side during the battle. This could create considerable emotional and spiritual turmoil. They may find themselves facing friends and relatives, and truthfully, they don’t believe in the righteousness of the Philistine cause for war. If they do this, they will be traitors, and Saul, for all his unfair suspicions in the past, will be proved right in the end. If they win, they will have destroyed their country, and no on in Israel would ever accept David as king again. If they lose, they will have destroyed themselves.

Their second choice is to betray the Philistines in the middle of the battle. But that would be problematic for several reasons. First, it shows them as faithless to the Philistines who have treated them fairly kindly for more than a year. Also, if they do that, they will be immediately fighting behind enemy lines, surrounded by the enemy army. Casualties would be very heavy. Another thing is, the Israelites may not understand what David’s men were doing, and if they were able to fight through and link up with Saul’s army, the Israelites might start fighting them anyway. Remember there were no cell phones or radios for them to communicate their intentions to the Israelite army. Finally, Saul’s history shows that even extreme demonstrations of loyalty do not convince him for long. There is no guarantee that turning on the Philistines would actually win Saul’s favor. Saul might even take the battle as an opportunity to kill David, even if he knows that David is helping him.

This is not a good time for David. It is possible that he wrote Psalm 38 at this time (though not certain):

1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

and meditate treachery all day long.

We don’t know what David would have done – it is not clear in the text. I suspect that he had some vague thought that Saul might be killed in the battle, and then he could rally the Israelites himself. We’ll never know, however, because the Philistines interfered. David was allied with king Achish of Gath. But there were five Philistine kings all together. Each Philistine King ruled over a city and some surrounding territory. When the other four kings saw that Achish had David and 600 Hebrew warriors with him, they objected strenuously. They couldn’t trust him, and so reluctantly, Achish sent David back to the town he had given him, Ziklag. David objects to Achish, and I’m not sure if the objection was genuine, or merely to maintain the deception that he was truly loyal.

In any case, it seems to me that the Lord arranged things to get David out of a very difficult position. David had placed himself there, by deceiving Achish about who he was raiding over the past year. It was his own fault that he was between a rock and hard place. But the Lord extricated him anyway. This is more evidence of God’s incredible, undeserved grace.

So David and his men did not take part in the battle, but traveled home to Ziklag. It took them three days to get back, and when they arrived they received a horrible shock – it was burned to the ground, and all their wives, children and possessions were gone. The Amalekites were very wily. They had seen that the Philistines and Israelites had focused all their attention on one another. So they raided all the through the southern territories of both peoples, finding only defenseless towns and villages, for all the men had gone off to war.

David and his men were devastated at the loss of their families. It says:

4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. (1Sam 30:4, ESV)

When the grief was over, anger kicked in. But it was chiefly anger against David. His men had fairly good reasons to complain. David had led them to settle with the Philistines in the first place. David had not let them be at peace in Ziklag, but had raided the Amalekites, arousing their ire. David had decided to deceive the Philistines into thinking they were allies. Therefore it was David’s fault that they had marched away with the Philistine armies, leaving their families defenseless. The men talked not just of mutiny, but of stoning David to death. Stoning wasn’t considered murder – it was considered just punishment for gross wrongdoing.

Try and get inside the mind of David for a minute. There is no doubt that he himself had made a mess of things. He didn’t have many good options to start with, with Saul chasing him, and people betraying him, but even so, all his choices of the past 18 months had led to this mess. He had lost his own family. He had lost the families of his faithful men, and all the possessions they had finally been able to accumulate after years of homelessness. Now his men were turning on him.

There were several options for David at that point. He could have said, “yes, go ahead and stone me.” That would have been the response of despair and giving up. He could have been angry. War leaders in those days had a great deal of authority over their men. He was, after all, God’s anointed. He could have rebuked his men, and blamed them for some of what happened. After all, there is no doubt that they had been happier in Ziklag than wandering homeless in the desert. He would have been within his rights to execute the ringleaders of the rebellion. He could have tried to fix the problem himself immediately, trusting in his own strength and wisdom to pull off some kind of miracle.

Instead, it says:

But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)

The word “strengthened himself” is the Hebrew word transliterated “chazaq.” It means to seize upon, to lay hold of with obstinate persistence. The sense it gives us, is that David focused and fastened his heart, mind, soul and strength on God and God alone, and held on for dear life. He did not immediately try to fix anything or even to defend himself. He just held on to the Lord.

Once more, we see evidence of David’s faith-filled heart. There is no doubt that he has already made some very bad decisions in his life. He is in a mess created by some of those unfortunate choices right now. But his instinct is always to turn back to the Lord. That is the life of faith. It isn’t about performing perfectly, or even performing well. It is about grabbing ahold of the Lord through faith, and holding on for dear life, through good and bad, through the evil brought about by others and the messes brought about by yourself. This, and this alone, is what made David such a great man.

We can see how David’s focus on the Lord brought him back on track. He already knew that the Amalekites were God’s enemies. Clearly, they have already attacked, and this is war. It was certainly David’s right to pursue them and bring them to battle if he could. It would be easy just to assume, and then act. But David, after strengthening himself in the Lord, also humbles himself, assuming nothing, wanting earnestly to hear from God. So before doing anything else, he inquires of the Lord.

Once more, “inquiring of the Lord” most likely involved a sacrifice and a worship service, and possibly even a fellowship meal. It wasn’t a quick thing. But David took the time to worship the Lord, and to lead his men to do the same, before anything else was done.

I want to pause and consider a few things here. I hope David’s life is showing us that perfection is not necessary – only faith is. But think for a moment about your typical response when you are in difficulties. Do you waste time and energy blaming yourself? Do you tend to trust yourself to come up with a solution? Do you want to control the situation and work it out, essentially save yourself? Or maybe your response is depression and despair. You might tend to think the worst will happen to you, so you may as well get resigned to your fate. Perhaps you even blame yourself and accept that you deserve the disaster because you brought it on yourself. Maybe you typically take another approach – you blame others, and get angry at them when things don’t go well. It helps you feel better or more righteous to say it is someone else’s fault.

I think we all tend toward one or more of these things when trouble comes. I want to encourage us, however, to be more like David. He didn’t do any of these. Instead, he fastened his hope and trust on the Lord. Like a bulldog latching on and not letting go, he focused on God with all his soul, heart and strength. All the energy that he might have put into controlling the situation, or blaming others or blaming himself – he put into holding on to the Lord. Don’t put your energy into blame, or self-abuse. Don’t even put your energy into fixing things. Put all your focus into obstinate faith. This is just as true even when you know it is all your own fault.

It is also possible that David wrote Psalm 91 somewhere around this time, either while he strengthened himself in the Lord, or perhaps after his battle with the Amalekites. But whether or not he wrote it, then it is relevant here:

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High; will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler; and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-
the Most High, who is my refuge-
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you; to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation