Agents of Change.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

Here, having completed His discussion of the beatitudes, Jesus begins to use the personal pronoun “you” for the very first time. But to whom is He addressing it? Is He talking to the four disciples: Simon, Andrew, James and John? Is He speaking to the more serious-minded followers within His crowd? Is He specifically addressing Jews as the chosen people of God? It would seem that Jesus is speaking to the “blessed”, those who will be approved by God and experience His kingdom life. Jesus has been explaining what the life of the blessed will look like, now He addresses what the goal of that life will be: To influence and impact the world. But in a radical and revolutionary way that is focused on the kingdom of heaven, not earthly kings and physical realms.

In a world in which selfishness and self-centeredness reign, Jesus brings a message that promotes a selfless lifestyle, where emphasis on “me” gives way to a passion for “Him”. The goal becomes God’s kingdom and the message of His Son. The mindset of those who are approved by God moves from a me-centered, inward focus to an outward, other-oriented one where to mercy received from God is shared with all those around them. In other words, the kingdom life of which Jesus is speaking becomes about giving and influencing the world around you, rather than trying to see what you can get out of it. The kingdom life, the life of the blessed, is not individualistic and isolated, but designed to witness to the world around it. It is intended to make an impact.

To make His point, Jesus uses two metaphors: Salt and light.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” – Matthew 5:13 ESV

Is Jesus saying the four disciples are already salt? Is this His expectation of the Jews in His audience?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 ESV

Is Jesus saying they are already light? Do they already have the light of Christ within them? It would appear that Jesus is speaking prophetically, referring to those whom God would give Him as His followers. The apostle John would later recall the words Jesus prayed in the garden on the night He would be betrayed.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.” – John 17:6-11 NLT

There would be some who followed Jesus who believed in who He claimed to be. But there number was small. The vast majority of those who were in the crowd the day Jesus gave His message on the hillside would later leave Him. They would refuse to accept Him as their Messiah. They would deny their need for Him as their Savior. But there would be those who truly believed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). They would be the ones who had the unique pleasure and thrill of seeing Him appear in their midst in His resurrected form. They would be the ones He told to return to the upper room and wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. This small group of men and women would be transformed into salt and light, agents of change, who would powerfully and radically influence the world around them. The kingdom life, the life of spiritual poverty, meekness, mourning, mercy, purity and peacemaking, will set them apart from the world around them.

Two kingdoms:

The salt (the Church)                        The earth (the world)
Preserves                                             Prone to decay
Seasons                                                Spiritually bland
Disinfects                                             Diseased
Influential                                           Infectious

The light (the Church)                     The world (sinful man)
Exposes sin                                         Loves darkness
Reflects the light of Christ               Marked by darkness
Lights the way to Christ                   Blinded by darkness

Jesus is describing the church age, the era that will follow His death, burial and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is the period in which we find ourselves living. When the Holy Spirit came, the church was born. The disciples were empowered from on high, just as Jesus had told them. They were transformed into salt and light, agents of change in a world filled with decay and darkness. They spoke with power. They began to preach the message of salvation found through faith in Christ alone. And later on, the apostle Paul would take that same message to the Gentiles, revealing the truth that Jesus came to redeem men from every tribe, nation and tongue.

Salt was a staple in that day. It was essential for life. It preserved meat. It prevented decay. If added flavor to what would have otherwise been bland and tasteless. Jesus is saying that the blessed will have influence in the world. But He warns against losing your saltiness. But can salt really become un-salty? No. But it can become diluted and contaminated. It can lose its effectiveness. And the apostle John tells us how.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. – 1 John 2:15 NLT

Our distinctiveness as followers of Christ can be diluted and diminished by this world. We can allow our love for the things of this world to overwhelm our saltiness. We can lose our influence and find ourselves trampled down or overcome by the ways of this world.

What about light? It is intended to illuminate the darkness that surrounds it. Light exposes what is invisible to the eye in the dark. That is why Paul later wrote:

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible.Ephesians 5:11-14 NLT

The lives of those approved by God will impact others. And the result will be conviction. That conviction will lead some to salvation, while others will respond in anger and resentment, resulting in persecution, reviling and slander, just as Jesus warns. We are not to hide our light, in an effort to escape suffering. We are not to prefer darkness to the light, by hiding our light under a basket. We are to set it out for all to see. The apostle Paul tells us:

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  – 2 Cotinthians 4:6-7 NLT

The unique thing about light is that it cannot be overcome by darkness. Darkness is nothing more than an absence of light. Jesus came to bring light into a dark world, and we are to be His agents, His representatives, allowing His light to flow from us into the darkness that surrounds us. Once again, the apostle Paul gives us some powerful words of exhortation:

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. – Philippians 2:15-16 NLT

We are to be salt and light. We are to be agents of change, forces for good in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Our beliefs should change our behavior. The presence of the Spirit of God within us should make a lasting impact on the world around us. But has our saltiness become diluted? Have we allowed our light to become hidden and ineffective? The kingdom life is meant to be a radically different life. It is meant to make an impact and leave a mark on the world around it. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. If you have been approved by God because you have placed your faith in His Son, you are a citizen of His kingdom and a child in His family. You are to live like a child of that kingdom while you find yourself temporarily having to exist in this one.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Benefits of God’s Approval.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

What most people tend to notice when they read The Beatitudes are the nine descriptors of those who are blessed or approved by God: The poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted and reviled. But we spend little time looking at the benefits that come with God’s approval.
…the poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven right here, right now
…those who mourn will receive comfort
…the meek will inherit the earth
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will get what they desire, in full
…the merciful will receive mercy from God
…the pure in heart will get to see God
…the peacemakers will be recognized as the children of God
…those persecuted for their righteousness are part of the kingdom of God right here, right now
…those reviled, persecuted and slandered because of their association with Jesus will be able to rejoice in this life because of their reward in the next life is great

Whether we fully understand them or not, those are some pretty amazing benefits that come as a result of God’s approval. One of the first things Jesus mentions in the way of benefits is the kingdom of heaven. The first and last beatitudes both mention it. This is what is often referred to as an inclusio. It is a literary device designed to act as a set of brackets that bookend what is found in-between. As has been the case throughout the book of Matthew up to this point, the emphasis has been on the kingdom of heaven, or what is sometimes referred to as the kingdom of God. By beginning and ending His list of beatitudes with the mention of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is saying that every one of the beatitudes is about the very same thing. And He makes it clear that there is a now-not-yet aspect to the God’s kingdom. Those are who are approved by God are part of that kingdom right here, right now. They become citizens of God’s kingdom the minute they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Paul would later write to the believers in Ephesus:

He [God] brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. – Ephesians 2:17-19 NLT

He told the same thing to the believers in Philippi:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – Philippians 3:20 NLT

We have a new home. We don’t belong here anymore. Our citizenship has been transferred to our future home: Heaven. And Peter reminds us:

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. – 1 Peter 2:11 NLT

And Paul tells us that we are to live in this life as if we are already there with Him in the next one:

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:6 NLT

But in the meantime, we have to live on this earth and experience the pain and suffering that comes with a fallen, sinful world. We still have to do battle with our own sin nature. We will face attack, rejection, ridicule and resistance for our faith. Yet, because we are citizens of another kingdom, we are to react in a completely different manner than those around us. We are to marked by poverty of spirit, not pridefulness. We are to recognize our sin and our constant need of the Savior’s assistance in putting to death those things associated with our old way of life. And we are to mourn over those things that used to bring us joy, pleasure, and satisfaction. Like Paul, we are to see the former pleasures and achievements associated with our old way of life as “worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And our attitude, like his, should be: “For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT). And when we mourn over the way we used to seek and find joy in the things of this earth, we will be comforted by God. There is a sense in which we receive comfort now, but its complete fulfillment will come with Christ’s return.

Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth. While in this earth we are called by God to give up our rights and place the needs of others ahead of our own, there is a day coming when His children will inherit the earth. This is a blatantly Messianic statement speaking of Jesus’ future reign on earth during the Millennial Kingdom. And this particular message was directed at the Jews in Jesus’ audience that day. While they were currently living under Roman rule and subject to oppression, those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Messiah and gained God’s approval, would someday inherit His earthly kingdom alongside Him. The meek focus on God’s future rewards, instead of demanding them here and now.

What about those who hunger and thirst after righteousness in this life? Jesus promises that they will receive exactly what they crave, in full. They will be completely satisfied and satiated. There is a now-not-yet aspect to this promise as well. When we hunger for the righteousness of Christ in this life, we receive satisfaction. When we deeply desire to be conformed to God’s will and experience the spiritual growth He has planned for us, we receive the satisfaction of experiencing it in this life. But, of course, this will not be fully accomplished until we see Jesus face to face in eternity. There is a day coming when the sin-free life we long for will be ours, completely and fully. And we will be satisfied.

When we live with a spirit of mercy, extending to others what we have received from God, we will continue to enjoy His undeserved mercy in our own lives. Jesus was not teaching that we must extend mercy to others before we can receive it from God. He was saying that showing mercy is the natural response of one who has received it. We were undeserving. So are those around us. And like so many of these beatitudes, this one has a future fulfillment associated with it. There is a day coming when God’s mercy will be fully realized when we stand before Him in His kingdom, having fully received what we never could have earned on our own.

There is a degree to which we can enjoy purity of heart in this life. We have been made new. We have a new nature. But we also have our old sin natures living within us and doing battle with the indwelling Spirit of God. But when we listen to the Spirit and walk according to His will, we can know what it means to live with a pure heart, a heart conformed to the will of God, and characterized by the very nature of God. Paul tells us that when we are led by the Spirit of God, our lives will produce the fruit of the Spirit of God: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). But the day is coming when our sinful natures will be done away with once and for all and we will experience what it means to be completely, wholly dedicated to God. To a certain degree, we get to see God in this life, but we will see Him face to face in the next. Right now, He is invisible to our eyes, but that will not always be the case. Peter reminds us, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). And the apostle John adds, “we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

Peacemakers will be recognized as God’s children. Those who live their lives on this earth focused on reconciling lost men to God, will be see for who they are: God’s representatives. And they will experience both rejection and acceptance for their efforts. Living in a sin-torn world, point people to Christ, will make it obvious that we are sons and daughters of God. But we will not always be accepted and our efforts will not always be appreciated. But when we act as His representatives, we bring glory to His name and make it clear that we belong to Him. And, once again, the day is coming when our status as His children will be confirmed in full when His Son returns.

Finally, those are experience persecution in this life because of their status as the children of God, have the joy of knowing that they are already part of His kingdom. There place is reserved. They cannot lose their inheritance. And Paul would have us remember:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 NLT

Approval by God comes with some significant benefits. And it produces some remarkable character changes in the life of each and every Christ-follower. As Jesus spoke these words to the crowd that day on the hillside, He was attempting to get them to understand that He had come to bring radical change and all that He was going to offer them was freely available to them, but it was going to require repentance, a complete change of mind regarding what they thought about God, His kingdom, salvation, sin, and the Messiah, their long-awaited Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not What They Expected.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

Before we dig into what Jesus is saying in these verses, take a close look at the list of those whom He refers to as approved by God:
…the poor in spirit
…those who mourn
…the meek
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
…the merciful
…the pure in heart
…the peacemakers
…those persecuted for their righteousness
…those reviled, persecuted and slandered because of their association with Him

Now think about how His audience would have reacted to that list. Most, if not all, of these descriptions would have been off-putting to his listeners. What would have been remotely attractive to these oppressed and, oftentimes impoverished people, about spiritual poverty? How in the world were they supposed to see mourning as a form of blessing from God? And within the culture and times during which they existed, meekness wasn’t exactly a handy asset. It got you nowhere and achieved nothing. Then there’s his mention of hunger and thirst. For what was most likely a crowd made up mostly of farmers, shepherds and other common laborers, the mention of hunger and thirst stirred up fairly negative connotations. They knew what it was like to suffer both and would not have viewed either as a blessing from God. Then there’s mercy. These were people living under the cruel and sometimes crushing rule of Rome. The Romans weren’t exactly known for being merciful, so what possible good could come out of showing mercy? And peacemaking wasn’t exactly an attractive option for Jesus’ listeners either. Peacemaking meant giving in and compromising with your enemy. Once again, the average Jew didn’t want peace with Rome, they wanted their destruction. For hundreds of years, ever since returning to the land of promise from captivity, the Jews had been without a king and at the mercy of virtually every nation that wanted to enslave them. They had become easy prey to anyone who wanted what they had. And the last thing they wanted was peace. What about purity of heart? For a people raised on the belief that a strict adherence to the Mosaic Law was their only hope, the idea of purity of heart would have been foreign. Theirs was a behavior-based society. You had to live up to certain rules, laws, and regulations. You had to keep the prescribed holy days, feasts and festivals. You had to do what the law required. It was your outward actions that mattered most. The heart had nothing to do with it.

And then Jesus ends His list by bringing up persecution, reviling and slander. In other words, He tells them that those who suffer for His sake will be approved by God. Now, that would have been great news to his listeners! No, persecution, reviling and slander would have been the last things these people wanted to go through – for anybody’s sake.

Can you imagine the murmurs going through the crowd as Jesus spoke? Can’t you just see people in the crowd turning to one another with looks of confusion and even disgust. Who was this guy? What was He talking about? If He truly was a rabbi trying to attract followers, He wasn’t off to a great start. Maybe He should give up public speaking and stick to doing miracles. I believe there were many in the crowd that day who, after hearing Jesus’ opening remarks, began to have serious questions about not only His subject matter, but His sanity. But He had their attention. And He was just getting started.

One of the things we must remember is that John the Baptist and Jesus both came preaching a message of repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). The Greek word for “repent” is metanoeō and it means “to change one’s mind for the better”. It entailed changing how you believed about things. We tend to think of repentance as turning from our sins and heading in another direction. But before you can turn from your sins, you have to have a change of mind regarding your sins. For the Jews in Jesus’ audience, they were going to have to experience a change of mind about everything from the Law and works to the kingdom of God and who was qualified to be a citizen of it. They were going to have to change their minds about what it meant to be approved by God. And they had been indoctrinated by hundreds of years of teaching that taught them that they were the chosen people of God. They were the descendants of Abraham. And to receive the blessings of God, they simply had to obey the commands of God. But Jesus called them to repent. And now He was giving them an explanation of just exactly what their repentance or change of mind should look like.

First, they should be marked by poverty of spirit, a personal knowledge of their own spiritual bankruptcy. For a people who prided themselves on their status as God’s chosen people, this would have been difficult to hear and comprehend. But Jesus was telling them that, in order to be approved by God, they would first have to become conscious of their own unworthiness before God. Jesus would later tell the Pharisees, who took great pride in their spirituality, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). It is not until we recognize our spiritual unworthiness that we will see our need for a Savior.

Next, Jesus mentions an attitude or mournfulness, a personal grief over personal sin. Paul will later refer to this as “godly grief”.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV

Our mournfulness stems from an awareness of our spiritual poverty. It is the emotional reaction to our impoverished standing before God. We react with sorrow, which leads us to salvation.

Jesus then mentions meekness, the controlled desire to see someone else’s interests advanced ahead of our own. Meekness is not weakness, it is life of willing selflessness and sacrifice. It is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. In a world where everyone is out for themselves, Jesus was teaching that selflessness was what God was looking for in His people. And Jesus would go on to model this very characteristic throughout His life, all the way up to His selfless, sacrificial death on the cross.

When Jesus mentions a hunger and thirst for righteousness, he is speaking of having an insatiable desire for conformity to the will of God. Righteousness becomes the objective and our primary obsession. But righteousness on His terms, not ours. To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to desire a life lived in conformity to God’s will, not our own. It is to long for life as He has planned it.

What about mercy? What is Jesus saying? Mercy is the gracious and generous response to the mercy we have received from God. We are to extend mercy to others because we have received mercy from God. And just as the mercy we received from Him was undeserved and unmerited, so we are to show mercy to those around us who have no right to it.

The Christian forgives because he has been forgiven; he forgives because he needs forgiveness. In precisely the same way, and for the same kind of reasons, the disciple of Jesus Christ is merciful. – D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

What does Jesus mean by purity of heart? Is He calling for perfection? The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). So how can we be pure of heart? But Jesus has something else in mind here. When Jesus was later asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” – Matthew 22:37 NLT

Purity of heart is not outward conformity to rules. The Greek word for “purity” is sometimes translated as “blameless”.  In the Old Testament, purity was associated with the idea of wholeness, completeness or integrity. God called Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless. We are to live our lives with integrity, before God and man. It is a wholehearted seeking after God that impacts all of our life. No compartmentalization. No holding back. Again, the Jeremiah speaks of the heart.

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:13-14 NLT

Jesus is calling for a wholehearted desire for God, not just a half-hearted attempt to keep His laws. Obedience is possible without love. That is not what God requires or desires. IN fact, later on in His ministry, Jesus will say to the Pharisees and religious leaders, quoting from the prophet, Isaiah:

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

Peacemaking is ultimately the desire for reconciliation between God and man. It has less to do with being at peace with those around me, than desiring that they have peace with God. And this desire will come from having been made right with God ourselves. The apostle Paul will later write, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT). And he will go on to say, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). We prove our status as sons of God by seeking what God desires: reconciliation between God and man. Once again, Paul provides us with insight into what Jesus is saying:

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. – Romans 12:17-19 NLT

Finally, Jesus speaks of persecution, reviling and slander. But His primary point is that those who are approved by God had a future focus that sees them through present suffering. Jesus would later tell His disciples:

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:18-19 NLT

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT

We can endure suffering in this life because we are confident of Jesus promises regarding the next life. As Paul reminds us, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

All of this was difficult to hear and even harder to comprehend. Remember, these people are on the opposite side of the cross from us. Jesus had not yet died. He had not yet been resurrected. He is speaking of life made possible by His death, burial and resurrection. He is describing a life available only through faith in His sacrificial death and empowered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. But He is preparing them for what is to come. It was not what they were expecting, but it was exactly what they needed.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Approved By God.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

Jesus wastes no time. Once the crowd has taken their seats in front of Him, He jumps right into His lecture, and He begins with what has come to be known as the “beatitudes”.  This portion of His message derives its name from the repetitive use of the word, “blessing” that appears at the beginning of each line. The Greek word for blessing in the original text of Matthew’s gospel was makarios. In the Latin Vulgate, the word is beati, which is derived from the Latin beatitudo/beatus. Therefore, the name of this section of Jesus’ message became known as “The Beatitudes”.

In order to fully understand what Jesus is saying, we must know what He meant by using the word, “blessed”.  There is no doubt that it has a positive connotation. To be blessed is a good thing. But what kind of blessing did Jesus have in mind? We tend to use the word quite loosely and indiscriminately. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say something like, “He has been blessed with good genes” or “Grandchildren are such a blessing.” From our perspective, we can be blessed by good health, a new job, a strong constitution, a loving spouse and with good friends. Even in Jesus’ day, the word carried the connotation of being “supremely blest; by extension, fortunate, well off” (“G3107 – makarios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Apr, 2017). The problem we face in reading The Beatitudes is applying our definition or understanding of what it means to be blessed and missing out on what Jesus was actually saying. Our natural tendency, just like the 1st-Century Jews sitting in Jesus’ audience that day, is to think that the blessings to which He refers are purely physical in nature and apply to our personal prosperity and happiness. But Jesus had something far more significant in mind.

Warren Wiersbe states that the blessing to which Jesus referred is “an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” So while we might connote blessing with personal prosperity and a lack of problems, Jesus was speaking of something quite different. The root idea behind blessing is approval. God does not bless that which He does not approve. If you take the full context of Jesus’ message, it becomes clear that He is teaching about the kingdom of heaven and the character of those who belong to it. In essence, He is teaching about justification: how to be made right or approved by God. In the very next section, Jesus will bring up the Mosaic law. For the Jews in His audience, the Law had always been the sole requirement for attaining a right standing with God. It was through the keeping of the Law that man attempted to gain God’s approval or blessing.

All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, we have recorded the words spoken by Moses to the people of Israel on behalf of God.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-16 NLT

They were to live in obedience to the commands of God. If they did so, they would be blessed by God. If they refused to do so, they would be cursed. In the previous chapter, Moses had made clear just what the blessing He promised would entail.

“You are standing here today to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God. The Lord is making this covenant, including the curses. By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:12-13 NLT

By obeying God, they would enjoy the approval and presence of God. They would know what it was like to have His protection and to enjoy His provision. The curses would be the result of having lost that relationship. But the Jews had ended up placing a higher value on the material blessings they enjoyed than on God’s approval. The idea that the God of the universe approved of them was less important to them than the personal prosperity they enjoyed as God’s people. And this misunderstanding of the blessing of God had resulted in them turning the Law into a means to an end. They tried to keep the Law in an effort to keep God happy, so that He would keep blessing them with the things that kept them happy. He had become nothing more to them than a conduit to more important things: health, happiness, material goods, crops, children, peace, long life, or whatever else they desired.

So here comes Jesus, preaching a message of what it means to be truly blessed by God. And what He has to say will rock the world of His listeners. He will tie the blessing of God to poverty, mourning, meekness, deprivation, and persecution. He will talk about heavenly rewards versus earthly ones. He will command His listeners to rejoice when they are persecuted, to turn the other cheek when they are slapped, to willingly go the second mile, to love their enemies, and to give to those who ask to borrow, expecting no payment in return. None of this would have made sense to His listeners. None of it would have sounded the least bit appealing. In the mind of the average Jew, it was the wealthy who were blessed by God, while the sick and the lame were cursed by God. They believed material prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing, so poverty must be a curse.

But what Jesus has to say in this passage will turn the tables on that kind of thinking. A great deal of what Jesus says will be in direct contradiction to their skewed understanding of the Law and what they believed was necessary to be right with God. They tied proof of righteousness (a right relationship with God) closely to outward signs of His blessing. But Jesus was going to blow up that presupposition. He was going to go to the heart of the issue – literally. Because Jesus was out to change the hearts of men. With His coming, the days were finished when men would be able to judge their righteousness based on outward evidence. God looks at the heart. And Jesus came to die so that men’s hearts might be redeemed and their behavior radically changed. What Jesus describes in this passage is a new way of living, based not on human effort, but on divine empowerment. He is speaking to a pre-cross crowd, explaining to them a post-cross reality. He knows something to which they are oblivious. He recognizes that all He is saying to them is not only impossible for them to understand, but impossible to pull off until He has died, been resurrected and the Holy Spirit comes. His words are preparatory in nature. He is expanding on His previous message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). Things were about to change. The Messiah had come. The Savior of the world was in their midst. And the means by which men might be made right with God, permanently and perfectly, had finally arrived. But before anyone could accept what Jesus had come to provide, they would have to recognize their need. That is why Jesus would later offer the Great Invitation: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).

The Sermon on the Mount is not intended to be a new list of laws, rules and requirements for people to follow in order to gain God’s approval. It is a glimpse into the lifestyle of those who will find their approval by God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a pre-cross explanation of how right behavior will flow from having a right relationship with God, made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus for the sins of mankind. The key message behind the Sermon on the Mount is the approval of God. And Jesus is in the process of helping His audience understand that right behavior stems from having a right relationship with God, not the other way around.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Radical and Revolutionary.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them… Matthew 5:1 ESV

It was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, who first referred to this text as the Sermon on the Mount. But that title is somewhat of a misnomer, in that the content and the context appears to make it much more of a teaching, than what we would know as a sermon. Obviously, the setting is outdoors, on a hillside in Galilee, at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It is early on in Jesus’ ministry and yet, we know from chapter four, that Jesus has already begun attracting huge crowds.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. – Matthew 4:23-25 ESV

Those who made up the audience sitting on the hillside that day to listen to Jesus speak, were made up of all kinds of people from all over the area. And within the crowd would have been disciples or followers of Jesus. This term was not exclusively used of the 12, but was commonly used to refer to any and all who followed Jesus and were attracted to His message and miracles. As John will make clear in his gospel, many of these individuals would later choose to abandon Jesus when His message became increasingly more convicting and the price of discipleship, more costly (John 6:66). Also in the crowd that day were the first four men whom Jesus called to be His official students. Chapter four also tells us how Jesus had called two brothers: Simon (Peter) and Andrew, as well as another two siblings: James and John. All four of them were common fishermen. But when Jesus extended the invitation to join His ranks as His disciples, they all willingly followed. The final group that listened to Jesus teach that day were the merely curious. They probably made up the largest contingent within the crowd. These were the people who were enamored with Jesus’ miracles and intrigued by what He taught, but were attracted by the novelty of it all. So, as Jesus sat down to teach, He found an audience made up of the called, the semi-committed and the curious. And it is important to keep these three groups in mind as we listen to Jesus’s words, because each of them will have a slightly different take on what He has to say.

The danger we face in reading a passage like this one is to do so from our modern point of view and with our unique perspective as modern believers who know how the story ends. In other words, we have insights the people in Jesus’ audience would not have had. We know about His death, burial and resurrection. We are well aware of the Holy Spirit and the role He plays in helping us live out the Christian life. We know that our salvation is based on faith alone in Christ alone, and not on words or human effort. We also know that our ongoing sanctification is based on faith as well. We can’t make ourselves more holy. We must depend upon the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Word of God. So, when we read the Sermon on the Mount, we hear it with redeemed ears. We are privy to insider information that the original hearers would not have had. They were not yet sure who Jesus really was. Some would have thought Him to be the Messiah, but they would have been few in number. Even the four men whom Jesus called, probably only saw Him as a rabbi or teacher at this point in their relationship with Him. It would be some time later, after He had called all 12 of His disciples, that Jesus would ask them who the people believed Him to be. And they would respond, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead” (Luke 9:19 NLT). So, at this point, early on in His ministry, there would have been much debate about just who Jesus was. And that point will make what He has to say that much more important. How would they have heard His message? What kind of impact would His words have had on them? The challenge we face when reading this all-too-familiar passage, is to not allow our status as modern, 21st-Century Christians to taint or influence the message. Because we know how the story ends, we can have the unfortunate tendency to remove from Jesus’ words all their power and revolutionary nature. What Jesus had to say that day in that bucolic setting was radical and unheard of. Like fingers on a blackboard, His teachings would have grated on the ears of his listeners, causing them great confusion and raising all kinds of questions in their minds. For too many of us, because of over-familiarity, His words have long ago lost their power. The radical, counter-cultural calling found in the words of Jesus no longer have the same impact as they did the day He spoke them. It is almost as if we know too much. Our privileged insights into the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry, His death and resurrection, have robbed what He had to say that day of their intended impact and shocking significance.

My challenge to you is to read the Sermon on the Mount with fresh eyes. To the best of your ability, get into the mindset of someone hearing His words for the very first time. In fact, try to hear them like a 1st-Century Jew. It is important to remember that even the four disciples of Jesus: Simon, Andrew, James and John, were not yet technically believers. They had not heard all of His teachings. They knew nothing about His impending death. They had heard nothing about His coming resurrection. He had not yet told them about the future coming of the Holy Spirit. No one in the audience would have known what we know. So, listen to His words from their perspective. Hear what they would have heard. Allow yourself to be shocked by the radical nature of what He was saying and how it would have dramatically altered your concepts of life, religion, relationships, and God. Everything you knew to be true was about to be turned on its head. All you had been taught and had learned to lean on as reliable, right and non-negotiable, was about to get rocked.

There would be no mind-blowing miracles performed, no demons cast out or lame people healed. That hillside was not going to be some carnival sideshow, but a classroom. And the subject was going to be the kingdom of heaven. For the very first time, Jesus was going to expand on what He and John the Baptist had been preaching. Both of them had been declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). Now, Jesus was going to begin explaining what life in the kingdom was to be like. And it was going to be more mind-blowing then any miracle He could have performed. This was going to be radical stuff.
Jesus is going to teach persecution and poverty brings blessing, lust carries the same penalty as adultery, anger is equivalent to murder, enemies are to be loved, and reconciliation trumps revenge or retaliation. He is going to demand a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. And any righteous acts done in order to get noticed don’t count. He’s going to outlaw worrying and judging. He’s going to require that we put the needs of others ahead of our own, even those we hate. And to top it all off, Jesus is going to demand fruitfulness and, as if that was not enough, perfection. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV).
It all sounds impossible. And it is. It all sounds so radical. And it was. So much so, that over the years, there have been many who have decided that Jesus’ words were never intended to be followed. They have concluded that this message was speaking of some future time when sin was eliminated and men were made perfect by God. In other words, Jesus was prophetically speaking of His Millennial Kingdom. But while there is some truth to this notion, I don’t believe Jesus would have said all He did if there was not some expectation on His part that obedience to these commands were not only possible, but non-negotiable. The key to understanding what Jesus was teaching is realizing the impossible nature of it all. Like the Law of Moses, Jesus words were exposing the inability of men to live up to the holy standards of God’s Kingdom. Jesus was not teaching a new set of rules or requirements in order for men to be made right with God. He was teaching a new way of life that would be made possible only by the power of God. The righteousness Jesus was demanding was not to be self-made, but Spirit-produced. The behavior that He was expecting would not be the result of human effort, but divine power.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The God of David.

Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established. – 1 Kings 2:10-12 ESV

And David died. His long, circuitous life came to an end. The book of 1 Chronicles adds the detail: “Then he died at a good age, full of days, riches, and honor” (1 Chronicles 29:28 ESV). David had been king for 40 years and had experienced all the ups and downs that come with life. He had enjoyed his fare share of great victories, but had also known what it was like to suffer defeat. He had enjoyed the accolades of the people and then stood by and watched as they turned their backs on him. He had been blessed by some and cursed by others. He had lauded as a great king and accused of being a usurper to the throne. David had been a man of great faith, but he had also shown signs of doubt and displayed a tendency to take matters into his own hands. He could be decisive and, at the same time, doubtful. At times, he was impulsive and driven by his desires. At other times, he was unwilling to act until he had heard from God. David was a man of God and a murderer, a man of great faith and an adulterer. He loved God, but he also had an inordinate love for women, marrying far too many of them and disobeying God in the process. David had a heart that beat fast for God, but that, at the same time, struggled with ungodly desires. In other words, David was human. He was just a man.

Too often, we deify someone like David. We turn him into a saint and place him on a pedestal, treating him as an icon rather than seeing him as a living illustration of what it means to walk with God. David was not perfect. He is not presented to us in Scripture as a super-saint or intended to be some kind of unapproachable model of holiness. In the life of David, as portrayed in the pages of the Scriptures, we are given a vivid glimpse into all his faults, failures, weaknesses, and sins. Nothing is held back. We are not given a neatly sanitized version of his life, an autobiographical treatment complete with all the less-than-flattering parts removed. No, we are treated to a warts-and-all, no-holds-barred chronicle of his life. The good, the bad and the ugly. Most of us would be mortified if we knew that our entire life’s story was going to be put in a book for all to read, for generations to come. All our dirty little secrets would be put in print and outlive us for thousands of years. But that’s exactly what happened to David.

David was not an icon of virtue. He was not a perfectly pious saint. He was a man, chosen by God, and commanded to serve as the shepherd of God over the people of God. This was not a position for which David aspired. He had not asked to be chosen. He had been content shepherding his father’s sheep. But one day he was protecting his sheep from predators, and the next he was standing face-to-face with a Philistine giant. David’s life was one of extremes. He would go from the peace of the pasture to the political intrigue of the palace. He would become a warrior of great renown. But he would also become a fugitive with a bounty on his head. David would know what it means to succeed and fail, to experience the heady thrill of glory and the heart-breaking darkness of defeat and disappointment. He would know the pleasure of life in the palace and the uncomfortable reality of life in a cave.

The real hero in the story of the life of David is not David, it’s God. He is the one who chose David. He is the one who stood beside David, through all the ups and downs of his life. God is the one who lovingly disciplined David and graciously equipped and empowered David for each and every victory he enjoyed. God remained faithful to David throughout his life. God never abandoned David or turned His back on him. Yes, there were moments when it appeared as if God had walked out on David, but He was there. God was watching over him, protecting him, teaching him, molding and making him into the kind of man he was meant to be. David, like all men, had rough edges that needed to be smoothed out. He had sinful dispositions that needed to be exposed and eliminated. And David recognized that God was intimately involved in his life, lovingly disciplining him in order that he might be the kind of man God had called him to be. That is why he could write the words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

David loved God and trusted Him to do what was right and just. He didn’t always obey God. He didn’t always rely on God. But when all was said and done, David always came back to God help, hope, strength, and direction. He knew his life was nothing without God. He knew his future was directly tied to the power and promises of God. His life would end, but the covenant God had made with him would last long after he was gone.

David was a man of faith. He trusted God. In fact, his name in mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, the Great Hall of Faith, where the names of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament are given as examples of unwavering faith in the promises of God.

How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. – Hebrews 11:32-34 NLT

Like Abraham, David believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. He trusted in the promises of God. He knew that God was going to preserve his kingdom and place a descendant on his throne, ensuring that his kingdom would have no end. Like all the other Old Testament saints, David would die long before he saw this promise fulfilled in its entirety. But thousands of years later, God would send His Son, Jesus, born as the son of Mary and as a descendant of David. He would be the legitimate and legal heir to the throne of David. Yet, Jesus would die a criminal’s death on the cross. He would be buried in a borrowed tomb. But He would be raised back to life and return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. And one day, He will return. And when He does, He will return as the conquering King and the rightful heir to the throne of David. He will rule from Jerusalem over His people, Israel, and all the nations of the earth will bow before Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—
    to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and blessing.”

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
    belong to the one sitting on the throne
    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb. – Revelation 5:11-14 NLT

The story of David is the story of God. He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God who chooses to use men like David to accomplish His will and bring about His divine plan for humanity. God doesn’t need us, but He graciously uses us. Yet, we need Him. We must trust and rely upon Him, knowing that He will do what He has promised and complete what He has started. Our lives may end, but His work will not. We are temporary, but He is not. And our future is in His hands.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Passing the Buck.

“Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother. And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” 1 Kings 2:5-9 ESV

As was pointed out in the previous blog, David had two sets of instructions for his son. One was spiritual in nature, while the other was of a more personal nature. In the first four verses of this chapter, David instructed Solomon about what it means to be a man – a godly man. He encouraged Solomon to be obedient to God, reminding him that it would be the key to the success of his kingdom. But now, David makes a slight departure and gives Solomon some last-minute instructions regarding a few personal matters. These involved some unresolved issues linked to David’s reign and involving a few individuals whom David wanted to pay back – either positively or negatively.

There are three men mentioned: Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies; Shimei, the Benjaminite who cursed David as he fled Jerusalem during the coup by Absalom; and Barzillai, the wealthy Gileadite, who provided David and his companions with “beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd” (2 Samuel 17:28-29 ESV), after Absalom took over Jerusalem. In the cases of the first two men, David was passing on to Solomon the responsibility to mete out justice for what they had done to him. In the case of Berzillai, David was instructing Solomon to show favor to this man and his family by rewarding him for the kindness he had shown him.

It seems odd that David would have waited all these years to do anything about all of these situations. In the case of Shimei, David had sworn an oath before God, that he would not take his life. The exchange that took place between Shimei and David upon David’s return to Jerusalem is so significant about David asking Solomon to execute him. After the defeat of Absalom’s forces by Joab and armies of David, Shimei ran out to meet David, crying out:

“My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:19-20 NLT

Shimei confessed his sin to David. He acknowledged the gravity of what he had done. He had cursed the king and even thrown stones at him as he made his way of our Jerusalem. But now, he is remorseful, perhaps even repentant, for what he had done. And he pleads to David for mercy. And while those around David counseled him to kill Shimei for what he had done, David rejected their advice and responded, “‘This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!’ Then, turning to Shimei, David vowed, ‘Your life will be spared’” (2 Samuel 19:22-23 NLT). How would Shimei have received that news from David? With joy and great relief, but also with a sense of permanence. In other words, Shimei would have taken David at his word and believed that his life was permanently spared. He was forgiven and granted mercy for his entire lifetime. But that was not to be the case. Now, David was asking Solomon to take the life of Shimei. He doesn’t leave Shimei’s fate up to Solomon’s discretion, but clearly tells him, “I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him” (1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT). All that David left up to Solomon was the form of execution.

In the case of Joab, David had more than enough reasons to take his life. During the days when David had ascended to the throne after Saul, Abner, Saul’s military commander, had led a rebellion against David, placing Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, on the throne of Israel. When Abner offered to strike a treaty with David, promising to bring all the tribes of Israel with him, the king accepted, But Joab, seeking revenge for Abner’s murder of his brother, killed Abner. His action infuriated David, but he chose to do nothing about it. Years later, when David’s son, Absalom, raised up a rebellion against his father in order to take the throne from him, Joab would kill Absalom in battle, against the clear command of David (2 Samuel 18:9-15). Finally, when David chose to demote Joab for his disobedience, and replace him with Amasa, Joab would respond by murdering Amasa in cold blood (2 Samuel 20:8-10). In each of these cases, Joab had committed murder and was deserving of death. But David had chosen to ignore his responsibility as king and had allowed Joab to live. And yet, now that David was about to die and Solomon had been crowned the next king of Israel, he was passing off his responsibilities to his son. Once again, David leaves nothing up to Solomon’s imagination when it comes to the fate of Joab, except the form of his execution. David matter-of-factly states, “Do with him what you think best, but don’t let him grow old and go to his grave in peace” (1 Kings 2:6 NLT).

So, Solomon, the newly anointed king of Israel, is being given the unenviable task of meting out vengeance on behalf of his father against two men. He would have to do his father’s dirty work and clean up what David should have taken care of long ago. In the case of Shimei, there should have been no vengeance taken, because David had sworn an oath before God that this man’s life would be spared. It is clear that David had never really forgiven Shimei. His oath had all been a show, designed to make all those around him think that he was a gracious and forgiving king. But obviously, David had never forgotten what Shimei had done. And in the case of Joab, David had never forgiven him for murdering Absalom, even though that was the very fate his son had deserved. Joab’s murders of Abner and Amasa meant far less to David than Joab’s decision to murder Absalom. And while David had every right and a royal responsibility to deal with Joab’s crimes, he had chosen not to do a thing. And now, he was passing on that responsibility to his son.

In his commentary on the book of 1 Kings, D. J. Wiseman writes:

David was wrong in passing on responsibility to Solomon to execute the judgment he himself should have ordered at the time. This was to cause his son and successors much trouble and feuding. – D. J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary

David had a habit of putting off the inevitable and the unpleasant. He had allowed Amnon to get away with his rape of Tamar. He had sat back and done nothing after Absalom murdered Amnon. He had ignored all the signs of Absalom’s plan to take over his own kingdom. And while Absalom had been guilty of murder and treason, David had determined to do nothing to punish him, demanding that his life be spared. Joab had three murders to his credit, but David had chosen to turn a blind eye. Part of it was probably motivated by expediency and convenience. He needed Joab. As long as David was alive, Joab was an asset he couldn’t afford to lose. But now that David was dying, Joab was no longer a necessity and Solomon could clean up David’s messes.

Call it what you will: procrastination, conflict avoidance, or merely shirking responsibility, David was guilty of putting off on his son those things he had chosen to ignore or delay. And while David had given Solomon wise counsel regarding what it means to be a man, a godly man, he was actually illustrating just the opposite. He had been disobedient to God. He had failed to listen to God’s commands and deal with his own son justly. He had neglected his responsibility as king to punish Joab for his crimes. He had made an oath before God concerning Shimei and now he was planning on breaking it by somehow convincing himself that his oath lasted only as long as he was alive. He justified his decision by rationalizing that he would not be the one to kill Shimei, Solomon would be. Not exactly godly reasoning. Not what you might call the manly thing to do. But David was far from perfect. He was a man, just like any other man, and prone to the same character flaws and moral indiscretions as the rest of us.

And one of the main lessons that jumps out of the life of David is that it isn’t how well you start, but how well you finish. David had lived a long life and had an illustrious reign. To this day, he is considered the greatest king Israel has ever had. But the closing moments of his life are not exactly his finest. His final words to Solomon, while filled with wisdom, are also marred by his own human flaws. You can see his weaknesses on display. You can sense his ongoing struggle with sin, even to the very last. He would pass on to Solomon a great kingdom. He would hand over to his son a powerful army and a remarkable legacy. But he would also pass the buck, leaving to his son the responsibility to deal with his own unfinished business.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Godly Manhood.

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” 1 Kings 2:1-4 ESV

Solomon is the newly anointed king of Israel. But David is still alive and will serve as the acting king until his death. Solomon will serve as his co-regent and, because of David’s ill health and Solomon’s youth, he will serve as the face of the crown, representing David in any public events. But in the meantime, David has a chance to pass on words of wisdom to his son, while he is still living. David will give Solomon two sets of instructions. One will be spiritual in nature, while the other will be personal.

The first thing David does is pass on to his son what God had told him. Back when David had come up with the idea to build a house for the Lord, God had denied him that privilege. But God had also made a promise to David:

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ESV

David knew that the key to any success he had experienced as a king had been due to God. And he knew that the success of Solomon’s reign was going to be dependent upon the Lord as well. So, he passed along what God had told him. And he added a few vital words of encouragement and warning:

Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn… – 1 Kings 2:2-3 ESV

Where had David gotten this bit of information? How could he be so sure that God would prosper Solomon if he would be obedient? All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, long before there was a king in Israel, God had given the people of Israel a series of commands concerning the day when they would demand to have a king like all the other nations.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV

God had instructed that each and every king of Israel was to live by His law. The king was to keep a copy of the law at hand and have it read to him every day of his life. But it wasn’t enough to be familiar with the content of the law, the king was to keep it – every word, statute and commandment. There was to be no veering to the left or right. No cherry picking or selective obedience. The health and longevity of the king’s reign was going to be directly tied to his obedience to the law.

So David makes sure Solomon is well aware of God’s expectations. In fact, David ties Solomon’s manhood to his ability to keep God’s law. He tells him to act like a man and be strong. And he makes it clear that the proof of Solomon’s manhood will be found in his obedience to God. But David knew what God knew. Solomon would sin. He would have times of disobedience, just like David had. But God had promised to deal with Solomon in a loving manner, like a father to his son.

“If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul…” – 2 Samuel 7:14-15 NLT

Yet, David knew that obedience was preferable to discipline. It was far better to obey than to learn the difficult lessons that come as a result of God’s loving hand of discipline. David had lost three sons due to his own sins. He had watched as two of his sons attempted to take his kingdom from him. He had seen innocent people die because of his disobedience. And he knew that living in submission and obedience to the will of God was far better in the long run, and the true mark of a godly man. He also knew that obeying the Lord was going to take real strength. For Solomon to do what God commanded was going to take faith, trust, and a willingness to die to his own self-centered desires and wishes. Disobedience is the way of cowards.

The words that David speaks to Solomon are very similar to those Joshua spoke to the people of Israel as he prepared for his own death.

“Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.” – Joshua 23:7-8 ESV

Be strong. Obey. Don’t veer to the left or right. Stay the course. Cling to the Lord your God. Joshua knew what the people were going to have to do if they were to be successful in their attempt to possess the land. And David knew what Solomon was going to need to do if he was going to be successful in leading the people of Israel. His success would not be tied to his own leadership skills, the strength of his military, the combined intelligence of his cabinet, or the size of his kingdom. It would be directly tied to his willingness to obey God. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul gave a similar charge. He encouraged them to, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV). Living the Christian life is anything but easy. Following the will of God is far more difficult than giving in to your own will. It isn’t easy to stand firm in the faith you have in the gospel of Jesus Christ when everything around you seems to be caving in and the waves of doubts confront you. Solomon was going to have days of doubt. He was going to have moments of despair. He would end up turning to all kinds of things, like money, materialism, human wisdom, sexual pleasure, food and even science, in an attempt to seek meaning in life. In fact, he would chronicles his thoughts in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon would end up surrounding himself with hundreds of wives and concubines, whose false gods would lead him astray. Solomon would start out strong, heeding his father’s advice and obeying the Lord’s commands. But his reign would end poorly. He would start out as a godly man, but not end that way.

And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.” – 1 Kings 11:9-11 ESV

Hundreds of wives and concubines didn’t make Solomon a man. A mighty kingdom and a massive army didn’t make Solomon a man. A reputation for wisdom and wealth didn’t make Solomon a man. A true man is a godly man, a man who loves, fears, and obeys his God. A godly man is a man who knows his help is from the Lord, who realizes that he is nothing apart from the presence and power of God in his life. Faith in God requires real strength. Disobedience is easy. Which is why Paul calls us to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God’s Will Be Done.

 

Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. And when Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “What does this uproar in the city mean?” While he was still speaking, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came. And Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and bring good news.” Jonathan answered Adonijah, “No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king, and the king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites. And they had him ride on the king’s mule. And Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king at Gihon, and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you have heard. Solomon sits on the royal throne. Moreover, the king’s servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May your God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.’ And the king bowed himself on the bed. And the king also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has granted someone to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it.’”

Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose, and each went his own way. And Adonijah feared Solomon. So he arose and went and took hold of the horns of the altar. Then it was told Solomon, “Behold, Adonijah fears King Solomon, for behold, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’” And Solomon said, “If he will show himself a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the earth, but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” So King Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and paid homage to King Solomon, and Solomon said to him, “Go to your house.”1 Kings 1:41-53 ESV

While all the emphasis in this opening chapter of 1 Kings seems to be on its three main characters: David, Adonijah and Solomon, it would be a mistake to lose sight of God’s sovereign hand working behind the scenes. God had promised to establish David’s kingdom and raise up a son after him who would sit on his throne.

Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. – 2 Samuel 7:11-16 NLT

David had made a vow before God that Solomon would be the successor to his throne. Why would he have done this? Solomon was not the next in line in terms of age, Adonijah was. But David had made the decision to give his throne to Solomon. And this move was directed by God Himself. In order for God’s promise to David to be completely fulfilled, it was necessary that Solomon be the next king. Verses 11-16 are prophetic in nature and speak of someone greater and more significant than just Solomon. Part of this passage would be fulfilled in Solomon, but there is another aspect of the promise that would be fulfilled in Jesus.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16 ESV

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh… – Romans 1:3 ESV

…he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. – Acts 13:22-23 ESV

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. – Luke 1:31-33 ESV

So, there is much more going on in this passage than just the succession of Solomon to the throne of David. Jesus would be a direct descendant of David, born through the line of Solomon, not Adonijah. Had Adonijah become the next king of Israel, the promise God had made to David would have remained unfulfilled. But God had clearly arranged for Solomon to succeed David, and God would bless Solomon in many ways. Yet, even Solomon would eventually fail the Lord and worship false gods, forcing God to split his kingdom in two. And the kings who would rule over Israel and Judah from that point forward would, for the most part, continue to downward spiral of spiritual and moral decay. Ultimately, God would be forced to send both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah into captivity. And while He would eventually return them to the land, they would never again experience the kind of days they had under David and Solomon. To this day, there is no king in Israel. And yet, God is not yet done. His will concerning Israel is not yet complete.

The prophet Isaiah records the following prophecy concerning Jesus, the Messiah:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV

Jesus did come. He was born. He was a descendant of David and Solomon. But He has not yet established His throne in Israel. But that day is coming.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. – Revelation 20:11 ESV

The apostle John will go on to record the very words of Jesus, spoken from the throne of David in the New Jerusalem.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” – Revelation 21:1-6 ESV

It was necessary that Solomon be crowned king. It was part of God’s will that Solomon build the temple. But while Solomon would fail to be the kind of king God demanded, and the temple would eventually be destroyed, God had a great plan in store. A new heaven and a new earth, a new kingdom, a new temple and the King of kings and Lord of lords to rule over it all. From the throne of David. God’s will will be done.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

King and Ruler.

Then King David answered, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. And the king swore, saying, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my soul out of every adversity, as I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ even so will I do this day.” Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground and paid homage to the king and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say so. As the Lord has been with my lord the king, even so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.”

So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.  – 1 Kings 1:28-40 ESV

David listened to the words of Bathsheba and Nathan and took immediate action to have Solomon, his son, anointed as the next king of Israel. This was necessary in order to prevent any attempt by Adonijah to steal the throne. In fact, while Adonijah and his guests were busy celebrating what they thought was his new kingship, even calling him king, David was implementing the plans that would bring their little celebration to a grinding halt.

But what should jump out at us in this passage are the expectations that David, Bathsheba and the others had of Solomon. He was to be the successor of David, but even more than that, he was to carry on the unique relationship that David had with God. David had promised Bathsheba, “he shall sit on my throne in my place” (1 Kings 1:30 ESV). There is more to this statement than meets the eye. David is not just saying that Solomon would succeed him, but that he would act as his representative or replacement. Notice that David refers to the throne as “my throne” and the says that Solomon will serve in “my place”. Solomon is not just to be another king of Israel, but the same kind of king as David. The same expectations that God had placed on David would fall on Solomon. And there is far more to being a king than simply the power and prestige that come with the title.

David called to himself, Nathan, Zadok and Benaiah. These three men represent the roles of the prophet, priest and military commander. Each of them will play a part in making Solomon the next king of Israel. But what is important to notice are the instructions David gives these three men:

“Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah. – 1 Kings 1:33-35 ESV

Once again, David states that Solomon will “be king in my place”. But he adds another aspect to Solomon’s role that must not be overlooked. He says that he has appointed Solomon to be ruler over Israel and Judah. Is this just another way of saying “king”? Does the word “king” refer to his title and “ruler” to his function? The key to understanding the significance to what David is saying is to be found in the words themselves. The Hebrew words for king is melek, and it refers to the actual reign of an individual. But when David says that he has appointed Solomon ruler over Israel and Judah, he is saying something completely different. The Hebrew word David uses is nagiyd and it has a special significance to the Israelites. It is sometimes translated “prince” or “leader” and was often used to refer to someone who ruled at God’s discretion and decree. As we saw with Absalom, anyone could claim the title of king, simply by taking it by force. But only one man could serve as the ruler over the people of God. Only one man could claim to be God’s appointed leader. And with that appointment came heavy responsibilities. Just look back on when God told the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul the first ruler of Israel.

Anoint him to be the leader [nagiyd] of my people, Israel. He will rescue them from the Philistines, for I have looked down on my people in mercy and have heard their cry.  – 1 Samuel 9:16 ESV

When Saul failed to rule or lead as God had commanded, he was told that he would be replace.

But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader [nagiyd] of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command. – 1 Samuel 13:14 ESV

God would later tell David:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader [nagiyd] of my people Israel.” – 2 Samuel 7:8 ESV

Years later, God will tell the wife of Jeroboam, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel:

Give your husband, Jeroboam, this message from the Lord, the God of Israel: “I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over my people Israel. I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me…” – 1 Kings 14:7-9 ESV

You see, Solomon was expected to be far more than just a king. He was to be a ruler over the people of Israel and Judah. He was to carry on the role that God had given David, and that role included godly leadership. But as the story of Solomon’s life unfolds, it will reveal that, while he started out well, he finished poorly. In fact, Jeroboam would be made the king of the northern kingdom of Israel after God split Solomon’s kingdom in half – all due to his disobedience and failure to rule God’s people well. And Jeroboam would prove to be a lousy ruler as well.

David had learned the hard way, that being king was easy, but being God’s ruler was difficult. It required obedience. It demanded faithfulness. It came with serious ramifications if you failed to rule according to God’s standards. Wearing the crown did not make anyone king. It was living in submission and obedience to the one true King that made someone a real ruler. The sad truth about the history of Israel is that they would have many kings, but few rulers. The list of men who had the heart of David would be short. God would tell Jeroboam, “you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted.” He had the crown, but he lacked the commitment to the things of God. And this indictment would be leveled against king after king of both Israel and Judah.

As was proven true with Absalom and Adonijah, anyone can win over the hearts of the people and have themselves crowned king. But few have the heart for God that would qualify them to rule and lead God’s people. I am reminded what God said to Samuel the prophet when he was at the house of Jesse, looking for the next king of Israel. When he laid eyes on Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, Samuel said, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” But God said to him:

“Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

The king wears a crown on his head. But the ruler carries God in His heart.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson