What Will You Do?

 

Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”

So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was attending to the king). Bathsheba bowed and paid homage to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?” She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”

While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” – 1 Kings 1:11-27 ESV

David is old and bed-ridden. His days on this earth are numbered and, once again, one of his own sons is plotting to take his kingdom from him. When David should be enjoying his final days in peace and quiet, he is suddenly confronted with yet another looming disaster. Until he breathes his final breath, David is still the king of Israel and he must deal with the situation facing his kingdom and protect the right of his son, Solomon, to rule in his place. But the only problem is that David knows nothing about what is going on. He is oblivious to the danger facing the kingdom. He is safely ensconsed in his bed within his royal chamber, being cared for by Abishag the Shunammite. He is completely unaware of the actions of Adonijah, Abiathar and Joab. But Nathan the prophet is on top of all that is going on and sends Bathsheba, David’s wife and the mother of Solomon, to inform David of the gravity of the situation.

One of the problems seems to be that David had made no preparations for his succession. It would appear that Adonijah, as the oldest living son (his three older siblings had all died), assumed that he was the legitimate heir to the throne. He was simply taking advantage of David’s old age and speeding up the transition process. But God had clearly told David that Solomon would be his successor.

“But you will have a son who will be a man of peace. I will give him peace with his enemies in all the surrounding lands. His name will be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel during his reign. He is the one who will build a Temple to honor my name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will secure the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

And yet, it seems that David had done nothing to ensure that the transition of power to Solomon would take place. Once again, his inaction had produced some very negative consequences, and could even result in the death of Solomon, should Adonijah’s coup succeed. So Nathan sent Bathsheba to David, encouraging her to prompt him to take action. And she did just that. She not only informed him of what was going on, but warned him that all the eyes of Israel were on him. He was being watched and the people were waiting to see what he would do. Despite his old age, David was going to have to take action. What he did next was going to secure the future of his kingdom and that of his son, or seal Solomon’s fate.

Nathan saw the gravity of the situation and told Bathsheba, “let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon” (1 Kings 1:12 ESV). He knew there was no time to waste. Something had to be done and David was the one who had to do it. But he would need prompting and support. So Bathsheba’s job was to bring David up to speed and to beg him to do something about the situation. Then Nathan was to come in and corroborate her story and provide much-needed counsel to David. He was also to act as a second witness to anything David decreed in their presence.

Bathsheba was blunt with David. This was not a time for pleasantries and politeness. She knew that her son’s life was in danger. She even reminded David, “If you do not act, my son Solomon and I will be treated as criminals as soon as my lord the king has died” (1 Kings 1:21 NLT). And she was not going to leave David’s side until he took action. So, she boldly challenged him, saying,  “And now, my lord the king, all Israel is waiting for you to announce who will become king after you” (1 Kings 1:20 NLT). There was no time to waste. Inaction was not an option. And just as planned, Nathan followed Bathsheba into the king’s presence, confirming her words and challenging David to do something about this dire situation. The entire nation was waiting on pins and needles, wondering what David would do. A line had been drawn in the sand. Sides had been chosen. Adonijah had put together his team and secured what he thought to be his future. The only one who is conspicuously absent from this whole affair is Solomon himself. He had not been invited to Adonijah’s feast with all their other brothers, for obvious reasons. But he was also not present when Bathsheba and Nathan met with David. His fate was in their hands. His future and that of his kingdom was completely in the hands of his father. He would have to trust that his father would do the right thing. Solomon was at the mercy of David. He does not appear anywhere in the passage. He doesn’t show up, begging David to keep his word and give him the kingdom God had promised him. Perhaps Solomon was not aware of the word that God had spoken to David. But we will see in the next section of this chapter, that Bathsheba knew, and it is doubtful that she kept this news from Solomon. He most likely knew that he was the God-appointed successor to the throne, but he was not demanding his rights or whining about his fate. He had to have known what Adonijah was up to and that all of his brothers were at the feast, enjoying Adonijah’s hospitality and shouting along with all the other guests, “Long live King Adonijah!” (1 Kings 1:25 ESV). But Solomon simply waited in the wings. Like all the rest of the people of Israel, his eyes were on David. What would he do? How would he respond?

So often, we can find ourselves in similar, if not quite as dire, circumstances. We can come to a place where a decision is required, an important, potentially life-altering decision. And others are watching us to see what we will do. Perhaps our family is waiting on us to act, wondering how we will respond. Maybe our co-workers are anxiously watching to see how we will handle a difficult situation in the workplace. There are always others watching us, depending upon us to do the right thing, to make the right decision, and to give them peace and confidence that we can be trusted. Even the world is watching us. The church of Jesus Christ is to be salt and light in the midst of all the decay and darkness surrounding it. As the secular world presses in and the enemy continues his assault on the will and the ways of God, the world is watching to see how the church will respond. Will we do nothing? Will we be marked by inaction and complacency? Are we confident enough in the Word of God that we will confidently take our stand against all the forces lined up against us? What David did next was a matter of life and death. The future of his kingdom and that of his son were at stake. All eyes were on him. What would he do? But what about us? The world is watching and waiting to see what we will do?

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

End-Of-Life Regrets.

 

Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not.

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.

Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother. – 1 Kings 1:1-10 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, the books of 1 and 2 Kings were one book and were considered by the ancients to be a continuation of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, compiled sometime around 250 B.C., the single book of the Kingdoms, as it was known, was divided into two books and called 3 Kingdoms and 4 Kingdoms. They considered our 1 and 2 Samuel to be 1 and 2 Kingdoms. Hundreds of years later, with Jerome’s Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Hebrews text, the books were changed to 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. But in spite of all the name changes, the common belief remained the same: The books of 1 and 2 Kings were closely clinked to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, continuing the narrative that began with King Saul and ended with King David.

With the opening of 1 Kings, we fast-forward and find David advanced in years. He is in poor health and requires round-the-clock nursing care. Long gone are the days of battle. David would no longer accompany his mighty men as they faced the enemies of Israel. Like every other human being, David was facing the inevitable reality of old age and death. This once-great leader was now weak and coming to the end of his long and very fruitful life.

The author provides us with an interesting piece of information that, at first glance, seems superfluous and unnecessary.

…no matter how many blankets covered him, he could not keep warm. So his advisers told him, “Let us find a young virgin to wait on you and look after you, my lord. She will lie in your arms and keep you warm.” – 1 Kings 1:1-2 NLT

These seems like an odd treatment for David’s condition, but it was actually quite common in those days. To keep an elderly person warm, they would place a healthy person in bed with them. The body heat of the younger person, trapped under the blankets, would provide the warmth the elderly person’s body could no longer produce. So, we should not automatically see this as something odd or as an indication that something sexual was going on. In fact, the text tells us that, while the girl was very beautiful, “the king had no sexual relations with her” (1 King 1:4 NLT). But it is hard not to make the connection between this period of David’s life and the earlier years when his sexual drive had gotten him into trouble. We know well the story of David and Bathsheba. But we should also remember that David had many wives. His love for women would cause him great trouble throughout his lifetime. But now, at the end of his life, David spends his days lying in bed with a young, beautiful woman, receiving no pleasure from her, other than the warmth of her body.

But it is not only David’s physical powers that have diminished. As king, his old age and incapacity are going to weaken his ability to rule. Everyone knows that his days are numbered, and there will be those who see this as an opportunity to seize the throne for themselves. One such individual was Adonijah the son of Haggith. Adonijah, whose name means “Yahweh is Lord”, was David’s fourth son, born to him by Haggith, one of David’s many wives. Adonijah was not in line to be the natural successor to the throne, but that did not stop him from coveting the position and the power that came with it. Taking a page out of the playbook of his older, deceased brother, Absalom, Adonijah “provided himself with chariots and charioteers and recruited fifty men to run in front of him” (1 Kings 1:5 NLT). That is exactly what Absalom had done when he was preparing to take the kingship from David years earlier.

Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. – 2 Samuel 15:1 NLT

Adonijah decided the best way to become the next king was to act like one. And like his former older sibling, Adonijah was handsome. He had seen how far Absalom had gotten on his good looks and kingly image, so he saw no reason not to try. And the text provides us an important insight into Adonijah’s upbringing. “Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, ‘Why are you doing that?’” (1 Kings 1:6 NLT). Once again, we see David’s failure to discipline his children coming back to haunt him. David had been a great military ruler, but had neglected to lay down any laws at home. He was a reluctant disciplinarian who let his children get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. Adonijah had seen how David had dealt with Absalom’s murder of Amnon. David had done nothing. David had even allowed Absalom to return home from exile, refusing to discipline him in any way for what he had done. And David’s lack of discipline had led Absalom to rebel against him, forcing David to flee Jerusalem and give up his kingdom. David’s kingdom had been restored to him only when Joab had killed Absalom. So Adonijah, who had been raised in this atmosphere of unrestrained freedom and license, saw no reason not to take what he coveted. He was not used to being told no. He was accustomed to getting what he wanted. And he coveted the crown.

So, Adonijah began to gather together the group who would assist him in his coup. Among them would be Joab, David’s military commander, and Abiathar the priest. These two individuals probably saw this as an opportunity to secure their positions. Joab, who had disobeyed David and killed Absalom, knew he was not on David’s good side and would probably be demoted if Solomon became king. Abiathar had stood by and watched as David had given Zadok, another priest, increasing prominence in his administration. These two men, among others, cast their allegiance with Adonijah.

Adonijah held a banquet, inviting all his brothers, except Solomon, as well as all the royal officials of Judah. For obvious reasons, David’s mighty men were left off the invitation list. This banquet was designed to win over as many of David’s former allies as possible. Like Absalom, Adonijah was playing a carefully crafted public relations game, where he was gaining favor with all those who could help him gain the throne. And all of this should remind us of the warning given to David after his affair with Bathsheba.

The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own. – 2 Samuel 12:7-10 NLT

Even in the closing days of David’s life, the prophecy would find itself being fulfilled. Yet another one of David’s sons would attempt to take the throne from him. Adonijah didn’t care that Solomon had been chosen by God to be the next king of Israel. He wanted the throne for himself. And all of David’s other sons, except for Solomon, would join Adonijah in his attempted coup. David, the man after God’s own heart, had raised a palace full of children who seemed to have no heart for God. Only Solomon would give evidence of having been raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and this was most likely due to his mother, Bathsheba, not his father. Like most men, who find themselves late in life, facing the prospect of their own death, David would long to leave a legacy of godly children. He would give his kingdom to know that his sons and daughters were godly and that his love for God would be carried on by his progeny. But David had already lost three sons due to sin and rebellion. Now he was facing the prospect of watching yet another son rebel against the expressed will of God and face the consequences. David would be remembered as a great king. But it isn’t hard to imagine that he would have preferred to have been remembered as a great father.

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 Lord Responded.

And when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”

And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up at Gad’s word, as the Lord commanded. And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be averted from the people.” Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God accept you.” But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel. – 2 Samuel 24:11-25 ESV

David had sinned. He had conducted a census in order to determine the size of his nation and his army. In doing so, he had revealed that his trust was in his own strength as king which was based on the size and strength of his army. But David would immediately regret his decision and recognize that he had sinned against God. David even confessed his sin to God.

“I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” – 2 Samuel 24:10 ESV

David could confess his sin, but the iniquity and guilt remained. David knew that there needed to be restitution made. There would be payment necessary to cover the sin he had committed. As the author of Hebrews reminds us: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). David couldn’t just say, “I’m sorry” and then expect everything to go back to the way it was. Payment for sin was required. And God would offer David three different payment plans. He sent word to David through a prophet named Gad. “I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you” (2 Samuel 24:12 NLT). His three choices included a lengthy famine, a devastating plague, or a three-month time period where his mighty army would be powerless against its enemies. In all three cases, death was a non-negotiable outcome. His people were either going to die by the sword, starvation or sickness. David’s response seems to indicate that the one option he ruled out was the three months worth of defeat at the hands of his enemies. He cried out to God, “let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands” (2 Samuel 24:14 NLT).

So God sent a plague across the entire nation of Israel. Remember, David had just finished numbering his people and determining the size of his fighting force. He had discovered that he had a potential army of 1 million three hundred thousand men. That number must have pleased David greatly when he heard it. But then the guilt had set in when he had realized what he had done. The guilt led to his confession and now God was going to exact payment for his sin. And as a result of the plague, David would lose 70,000 men, not to mention an undisclosed number of women and children. The 70,000 number represented close to 20 percent of his fighting force. And they all died as a result of David’s sin, not because they had done anything to deserve it.

When David saw first-hand the destruction he had brought upon his people, he cried out to God again. “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are as innocent as sheep—what have they done? Let your anger fall against me and my family” (2 Samuel 24:17 NLT). And God commanded David, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Samuel 24:18 NLT). This is where it all gets interesting. The threshing floor of Araunah was where the angel of the Lord had been stopped by God from bringing any more destruction upon the people.

But as the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” At that moment the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. – 2 Samuel 24:16 NLT

This place has special significance, because it was there that Abraham had been prepared to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice to God. God had told him:

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2 ESV

And just as Abraham had been ready to take the life of his own son, an angel of the Lord had stayed his hand. Then God provided a substitute sacrifice, a ram whose horns had been caught in a thicket. That ram took the place of Isaac. Its blood was spilled instead of Isaac’s. And on that very same spot, hundreds of years later, God would command David to build an altar in order to offer a sacrifice on behalf of his people.

David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped. – 2 Samuel 24:25 NLT

It would be on this very same spot, the threshing floor of Araunah, that Solomon would build the temple. And it would be in that temple where countless sacrifices would be made on behalf of the people, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. David could confess his sins, but payment was still required. But as believers in Christ, we live under a different dispensation. We are no longer required to make payment for our sins. We don’t have to shed the blood of an innocent animal in order to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. Why? Because our sins have been paid for in full. The apostle John reminds us, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9 NLT). All we have to do is confess our sins. There is no more condemnation for our sins. There is no further payment required. Jesus paid it all. And the author of Hebrews tells us just how different things are now because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

The sacrifices under that system [the Mosaic law] were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:1-4 NLT

But he goes on to give us the good news:

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

Our sins, past, present and future, have all been paid for by Christ’s death on the cross. He paid the debt we owed. He covered our sins with His blood. And as a result, we have complete forgiveness for ALL of our sins. We don’t have to ask for forgiveness. We simply have to confess our sins. The forgiveness is guaranteed. When we sin, God’s Spirit convicts us. And that conviction leads us to confess our sin to God, to agree with Him that we have sinned against Him. And when we confess, He responds with forgiveness. Each and every time.

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 Alone.

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel. They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon, and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.

But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” – 2 Samuel 24:1-10 ESV

This closing chapter of the book of 2 Samuel will not end with David’s death, but with a recollection of yet another of David’s sins against God. This time, he will be guilty of taking a census in order to determine the size of his army. Most commentators believe this was done late in David’s reign and life, because he will use Joab, the commander of his army, as well as his troops, to travel across the length and breadth of the kingdom in order to take the census, a job that would take them nine months to complete. So it is believed that his had to be during an extended period of peace, when there was no eminent threat of war. The latter years of David’s reign was the only time when this could have happened.

But regardless of when it happened, the main concern is that it did happen. And there is a bit of confusion with this point, because the book of 1 Chronicles, in recording this very same episode, tells us, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV). And yet, in this version of the story, it says, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’”  (2 Samuel 24:1 ESV). So, which was it? Did Satan incite David to number Israel, or was it God? While this appears to be a contradiction, it is really a matter of perspective. We know from the book of James that God does not tempt anyone to sin.

God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. – James 1:13 NLT

But God does discipline His people for their sins. And He has a track record of using others to accomplish His will, including the kings of foreign nations and even Satan himself.  In the book of Exodus we read how God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, so that he would refuse to let the people of Israel go. But his stubborn refusal would result in yet another display of God’s glory and greatness. All of this was so that the people of Israel, having lived in Egypt for 400 years, would know that their God was greater than the gods of Egypt.

In the case of David, recounted in this closing chapter of 2 Samuel, it seems that God desired to punich Israel for their disobedience, so he allowed Satan to entice David to take the census. It was in keeping with God’s plan to discipline His own people, but Satan was the instigator of David’s rebellious decision to do what he did. But why was taking a census so bad? What was so wrong about David wanting to know the size of his army? The problem does not appear to be the taking of the census itself, but the motivation behind David doing it to begin with. It was David who wrote:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
– Psalm 20:7 ESV

Another anonymous psalm states a similar truth:

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you. – Psalm 33:16-17 NLT

In taking a census of his fighting force, David was revealing that his hope and trust were in his army, not God. He was placing his confidence in the size of his mighty military machine, not power of God Almighty. He just had to know. So he sent the military commander and his troops to scour the land, determining the exact number of all the men qualified to serve in his army. It is important to remember that this was probably done in a time of peace, when there was no pressing need to have a larger army. But David wanted to know. His action was sinful. And at the heart of David’s sin was his lack of trust in God. And it would appear that David’s lack of trust was an expression of the hearts of the people. God was angry with them, but the text does not tell us why. Perhaps it was their lack of trust in Him that was the real issue here. David, as the king and legal representative of the people, was acting out the very heart attitude of the people of Israel. They had begun to place their trust in someone or something other than God. Perhaps they had become comfortable with David as their king and overly confident in his military prowess and the army’s ability to protect them from their enemies. By the latter years of David’s reign, Israel had become a powerful nation and a force to be reckoned with. Their success had probably produced a fair amount of over-confidence. As is usually the case in most of our lives, when things are going well, we tend to forget about God. In times of relative peace and tranquility, we can find it easy to lose our need for God. Whatever it was that the Israelites had done, God was angry with them, and so, He used David to bring about a fitting punishment for their sin.

David, against the better judgment of Joab, commanded the census be taken, and nine months later he got the news for which he was looking.

…in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000. – 2 Samuel 24:9 ESV

One million three hundred thousand men. That is a huge army by any standard. And it must have made David proud to know that he had those kinds of numbers at his disposal. This news would have fed his pride and boosted his ego. He was a powerful king with a formidable army at his disposal. But David’s moment of ego-driven ecstasy would be short-lived. We’re told that, “after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him” (2 Samuel 24:10 NLT). He had second thoughts about what he had done. Perhaps he remembered the words of his own psalm. Whatever the case, his heart began to be burdened by what he had done. He recognized his actions as sin and confessed it openly to God.

“I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, Lord, for doing this foolish thing.” – 2 Samuel 24:10 NLT

David had sinned. No surprise there. After all, we have seen him sin before. But the key lesson in this passage is that David recognized his sin and confessed it before God. He admitted his guilt and sought God’s forgiveness. He didn’t attempt to blame anyone else for his actions. He didn’t make excuses. And it’s interesting to note that David confessed his sin before God had done anything to discipline him for it. Sometimes, we can sin against God and be completely comfortable with our actions, until He chooses to punish us. Too often, it is when the disciplining hand of God falls on us, that we see the folly of our sin and confess it to Him. But David confessed before God had done anything. His heart was sensitive enough to recognize the error of his ways and to admit it to God. He didn’t wait until God’s judgment fell on him.

Trust in God is a vital characteristic for the child of God. The proverbs state:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

In numbering the people, David had illustrated his failure to trust God. He was putting his hope and trust in something he could see and count. He was placing his confidence in the physical size of his army, not the invisible might of his God. It’s always easier to trust in something we can see and touch, than to place our confidence in a God who is hidden from our eyes. But God had proven Himself faithful to David, time and time again. He had rescued him repeatedly. He had protected him countless times throughout his life. But here, near the end of his life, David found himself putting his trust in something other than God, and he would pay the consequences for his sin. It is so important for us to remember that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). If we put out hope and confidence in the things of this world, we will lose the battle. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle that will require faith and hope in God. The size of our army or our bank account will not help us in this conflict. Our physical strength will be no match for the spiritual enemies we face. David could number his army, but they would not be his source of salvation in a time of need. God alone can save. God alone deserves our trust. God alone is the one who warrants our attention, affection and hope.

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

A Friend Indeed.

Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, Shammah of Harod, Elika of Harod, Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, Mebunnai the Hushathite, Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai of Netophah, Heleb the son of Baanah of Netophah, Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, Benaiah of Pirathon, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash, Abi-albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth of Bahurim, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan, Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai of Maacah, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, Hezro of Carmel, Paarai the Arbite, Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all. – 2 Samuel 23:24-39 ESV

Chapter 23 closes with a list of 37 men. Several things should jump out at us. First of all is the inclusion of the name of Uriah the Hittite, the man David had exposed to enemy fire on the front lines in order that he might be killed and so that David could take his wife, Bathsheba, as his own. And all of this had been done to cover up David’s affair with her and the pregnancy that had resulted from it. While Uriah had been killed early on in David’s reign, he is recognized here at the end of David’s life as one of “the Thirty.” We don’t know exactly what that title entails and what the responsibilities were for each of these men, but we do know that they were considered men of distinction. Even David had to admit that Uriah, though long dead, was a man of integrity, having refused to give in to David’s attempts to get him to sleep with his wife while his fellow soldiers were battling the enemy. Uriah had turned down David’s counsel to enjoy the comforts of home, instead choosing to sleep at the doorstep of the king’s palace. And he willingly returned to the front lines, unknowingly carrying his own death certificate, in the form of a letter from David to Joab, commanding that Uriah be exposed to deadly enemy fire on the front lines and left to die.

Another thing that should jump out at you is the variety of the men in this list. Some were Israelites. Others were not. You have groups listed like the Paltites, Hushathites, Ahohites, Arbathites, Shaalbonites, Hararites, Gilonites, Arbites, Gadites, Ammonites, Ithrites, and Hittites. We don’t much about many of these people groups, but it reveals the ethnic diversity of David’s mighty men. David’s kingdom and his army were multicultural. These men loved and supported David. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for him, if necessary. We are not given any specifics regarding the actions of these men or how they had come to be included in “the Thirty”, but they were special to David. They had proved faithful to him over the years. No doubt there were some, like Uriah, who gave their lives for David. Others fought for him or gave him counsel and advice. They had diverse backgrounds and different duties, but they all shared a common bond with David.

Conspicuously absent from the list is Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies and the man who had stood beside him all the years of his life. Joab had disobeyed David and killed Absalom, David’s son. He had also killed Abner and Amasa, against the wishes of David. So he is not included in David’s inner circle. But his armor bearer is.

An important character quality of a true friend is that of loyalty. These men had proven themselves loyal and dedicated to David. Joab had as well, but he had also shown himself to be blunt and brutally honest with David. He loved him enough to call him out. When David was stuck in a state of perpetual mourning over the death of Absalom, it had been Joab who called him out and demanded that he act like a king or face the loss of his kingdom. David needed to hear what Joab had to say. It seems that there were times when Joab did what David was either afraid or reluctant to do. That too, is an important character quality of a true friend. Someone who always agrees with you or overlooks your faults and sins, is not someone who loves you. Solomon, the son of David, would record the following sayings in his book of Proverbs:

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. – Proverbs 27:6 NLT

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

The truth is, we all need someone like Joab in our life. It’s always great to be surrounded by those who look up to you and who are willing to do whatever it takes to make you successful. But sometimes we just need one individual who is willing to say the hard things and to hold us to a higher standard. Joab and David didn’t always get along. They didn’t always agree. But Joab had proven himself faithful to David, time and time again. And he loved David too much to watch him do nothing, risking his kingdom by losing the respect of his people.

David had no shortage of faithful followers, brave companions and dedicated servants. But there were times when he could have used a few more men like Joab in his life. What kind of friend are you? Are you steadfast and faithful, always there when your friends need you? Are you willing to risk losing a friend by speaking up and calling them out over their sins? Joab was far from perfect. He had his own struggles with anger, impulsiveness and seeking revenge. But he loved David greatly. So much so that he was willing to risk David’s wrath by standing up to David when he knew that David was wrong. A godly leader who has followers is fortunate, but a godly leader who has faithful and honest friends is blessed.

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 Power of Friendship.

These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time.

And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew. He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the Lord brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain.

And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory.

And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the Lord and said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did.

Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against three hundred men and killed them and won a name beside the three. He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three.

And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and won a name beside the three mighty men. He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard. – 2 Samuel 23:8-23 ESV

When reading the life of David, it is easy to picture him as this lonely, isolated figure who was always having to do everything by himself. The early years of his life, after his anointing by Samuel, were spent in seeming isolation, running and hiding from Saul. He had to leave behind his wife, Michal, his best friend Jonathan, and his spiritual mentor, Samuel. Even during his reign, David appears to have suffered the curse of loneliness that comes with leadership. He was the sole individual responsible for the care of his kingdom and the well-being of his people. God had anointed him king and given him the task of shepherding the people of Israel. But we see in this chapter, that God had also given David companions and compatriots to walk beside him and assist him all along the way. Here in chapter three, we are introduced to thirty of them, a group of individuals referred to as David’s mighty men. David was not alone. Not only was God with him, he had the benefit of being surrounded by those who loved him and would give their lives in support of him.

It has always been my strong belief that the mighty men listed in 2 Samuel 23 are the very same men who showed up at the cave of Adullam, when David had been forced to flee for his life from the wrath of King Saul. We are told about these individuals in 1 Samuel 22.

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men. – 1 Samuel 22:1-2 NLT

Notice how it describes these men. They were in trouble, in debt and discontented. And there were nearly 400 of them who they showed up at David’s doorstep. Not exactly what most of us would consider a great core group with which to form an army. But that’s what David had to work with. And yet, over time, some of these men would become the mighty men of David. How? What was it that transformed them from troublemakers, debtors and malcontents? It was God. But it was also the trials and tribulations they were forced to endure as they walked alongside David all those years. They had lived in the caves beside David. They had fought the enemies of Israel alongside David. They had endured hardships and the loneliness of living on the run with David. And when David had finally become the king of Israel just as God had promised he would be, these same men were by David’s side to serve alongside him. And they were there when David was forced to evacuate Jerusalem when his son, Absalom, turned the people of Israel against him and took his throne.

But these men stood beside David. The performed mighty deeds on behalf of David. But over and over again, we see that their strength came from God. Sprinkled throughout this chronicle of their mighty deeds, we are given clear indications that their accomplishments were due to God.

And the Lord brought about a great victory that day – 2 Samuel 23:10 ESV

and the Lord worked a great victory. – 2 Samuel 23:12 ESV

The list of their exploits is impressive. Their accomplishments are not to be ignored. But we have to ask ourselves, why are they here? What was the author’s purpose for placing this list of mighty men and their mighty deeds at the very end of his letter? If you recall, these closing chapters of 2 Samuel form a kind of appendix to the book. They are a wrap-up to all of David’s life. The content of these chapters are not in chronological order. They are a glimpse back into David’s long life, providing us with insights into some important details regarding his life. This list of mighty men lets us know that David had help all along the way. He was never alone. God had given him companions – faithful men who would serve him with distinction, displaying the characteristics of bravery, self-sacrifice, dedication and unwavering loyalty. Rather than being impressed with their deeds, we should be blown away by their faithfulness to David. Virtually every one of their accomplishments were done on behalf of David, not for their own glory. Of the 30 men mentioned, only a handful have the distinction of having their names listed. There are Josheb-basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah, the three men who seemed to serve as commanders over the 30. It would seem that it was these three who risked their lives in order to fulfill David’s wish to drink water from the well at Bethlehem, his home town. And when they had risked life and limb to bring David water from that well, he poured it out as a sacrifice to God, unwilling to enjoy the refreshment it would have brought, because they had risked their lives for him.

The text says that Josheb-Basshebeth killed 800 men with his spear in one battle. Eleazar “struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword” (2 Samuel 23:10 ESV). Shammah “took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines” (2 Samuel 23:12 ESV). Impressive? No doubt about it. But it was God who gave these men their victories. They served David, but in the end, they were instruments of God. He is the one who had placed them in David’s life and equipped them for service to the king. Great leaders will always find themselves surrounded by great men and women who come alongside them and serve them selflessly and faithfully. The exploits of these men are not listed so that we might be impressed, but so that we might be reminded that God is always at work in and around our lives, using others to accomplish His will for our lives. David had his mighty men. But we each have our faithful friends. Those individuals who will stand beside us and fight alongside us during the difficult days of our lives. How will we know who they are? They will show up in the darkest moments of our lives. They will be the ones who cry with us, rejoice with us, rescue us, pray for us, and refuse to abandon us, even when things get tough.

But before you start trying to determine who the mighty men or women in your life are, why not spend time asking whether you are performing the very same role in someone else’s life. Are you a faithful, dedicated, loyal friend whom God is using in the life of another? Are you present when tragedy strikes someone else’s life? Are you willing to risk life and limb for the sake of another? Will you wield the spiritual sword on behalf of someone else, until your strength is gone? What we all need are more mighty men and women, willing to give their all on behalf of someone other than themselves.

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

A Just and Righteous King.

Now these are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, the son of Jesse,
    the oracle of the man who was raised on high,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
    the sweet psalmist of Israel:

“The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me;
    his word is on my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken;
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
    ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
    like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
    like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.

For does not my house stand so with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
For will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away,
    for they cannot be taken with the hand;
but the man who touches them
    arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear,
    and they are utterly consumed with fire.” – 2 Samuel 23:1-7 ESV

The psalm of David, recorded in chapter 22, is now followed by the last words of David. The former represented the establishment of his kingdom, when he was delivered from Saul and crowned king of Israel. The latter, written at the end of his life, are David’s reflections on his unique relationship with God. His legacy as a king and the future dynasty are both tied directly to God. In this last testament, David passes on what he has learned about serving as the king of Israel, the God-appointed shepherd of His people.

David is described as the “son of Jesse”, a reflection of his humble beginnings. David had not come to the throne of Israel due to royal birth or a high pedigree. He was just a commoner, the youngest son of Jesse, and a shepherd of sheep. And yet, God had called him and anointed him to be the next king of Israel. He “was raised on high” by God. Not because he deserved to be, but because God chose to do so. It would be easy to assume that because God had referred to David as a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), that this was the reason he had been chosen by God. But this would have made God’s choice of David based on works or merit, something that does not gel with the rest of Scripture.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

David had a heart for God, but that does not mean he somehow deserved to be king. He had not earned his way into the position. As we have clearly seen from his life’s story, David was capable of sin, just like any other man. He had committed adultery and murder. He had been impulsive. He had parented poorly. He had struggled with procrastination and exhibited less-than-stellar leadership skills at times. He was far from perfect. And yet, God had chosen him. God had anointed him. And God had made him His spokesman. David wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2 ESV). This isn’t a case of David bragging or tooting his own horn. He is expressing amazement at the fact that he had been given the privilege and responsibility to speak on God’s behalf. As king, he had been God’s mouthpiece. And one of the things God had said to David had to do with righteous leadership.

The one who rules righteously,
    who rules in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning at sunrise,
    like a morning without clouds,
like the gleaming of the sun
    on new grass after rain. – 2 Samuel 23:3-4 NLT

David had not always done this well. But, by the end of his life, he had learned that a king who rules righteously, fearing God, radiates joy and blessings on his people. David had learned the hard lesson that, when a king rules unrighteously, he plunges his people into darkness and despair. His failure to fear God results in pain and suffering for the people under his care. And that truth is played out over and over again in the history of Israel’s kings. Obedience brings blessings. Disobedience brings curses. Righteous rulers bring light. Unrighteous rulers bring darkness.

David’s next statement is a reflection of his understanding of the promise God had made to him.

Is it not my family God has chosen?
    Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me.
His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail.
    He will ensure my safety and success. 2 Samuel 23:5 NLT

Yes, God had chosen David’s family. God had clearly told him:

Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 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.…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. – 2 Samuel 7:11-12, 16 NLT

But remember what David had said. God expected His king to rule righteously. And while Solomon, the son of David, who would ascend to the throne after him, would rule well for the majority of his reign, he would not end well. He would end up worshiping false gods. And God would divide his kingdom. The nation of Israel would be split in two. And these two nations, Israel and Judah, would end up living in a state of constant tension, marked by hostility and warfare. They would see a succession of kings, whose reigns would not be marked by a fear of God, but by wickedness and idolatry. There would be a few good apples in the barrel along the way. But for the most part, the kings of both nations would be far from what God had expected of His kings. And the result would be spiritual darkness among the people and, ultimately, the discipline of God as He would send both nations into captivity for their sin and rebellion against him.

Almost prophetically, David writes:

But the godless are like thorns to be thrown away,
    for they tear the hand that touches them.
One must use iron tools to chop them down;
    they will be totally consumed by fire. – 2 Samuel 23:6-7 NLT

Godless leaders would produce godless people, who would find themselves living in exile because of their stubborn, rebellious hearts. And yet, the everlasting covenant to which David refers, will be kept by God. He is faithful and never goes back on His Word. What He says, He does. What He promises to do, He accomplishes. God had made a covenant with David. He had promised to establish his throne forever. But since the days when the nations of Israel and Judah went into captivity in Assyrian and Babylon, there has been no king of the throne of David. So has God failed to keep His word? Was His promise to David nullified by the sinful actions of the kings of Israel and Judah? No. God would and did keep His word. The apostle John tells us exactly what happened.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 NLT

After hundreds of years of spiritual darkness, God broke through, sending His Son as the light of the world. Jesus, a descendant of David and God’s appointed successor to the throne of David, came into the world. The light of God penetrated the darkness. Yet, He was met with rejection by His own people. They failed to recognize Him as the Messiah, the Savior sent by God. Jesus will even reveal that the people loved the darkness over the light. They would prefer living in sin over freedom provided by faith in Him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21

David was a good king. He may even be considered a great king. But he was not the one true King. He was not the Savior of Israel. That role was reserved for one who would come years later. Jesus, a descendant of David, was God’s appointed heir to the throne of David. He was sent by God to do what David and the other kings of Israel and Judah could have never done, provide freedom from slavery to sin and restoration to a right relationship with God. David could win victories over the Philistines, but he could not defeat sin and death. David could provide his people with periods of relative peace and tranquility, but he could not give them peace with God. Jesus came to do spiritual battle with the forces of evil. The selfless sacrifice of His sinless life on the cross broke the power of sin and death over the lives of mankind. But some would refuse His offer of salvation. They would prefer to live in darkness, rather than enjoy the light of freedom and joy of forgiveness.

David would eventually die. His son would ascend to the throne. His kingdom would end up divided and eventually, his people would end up living in captivity in a foreign land. But God would not be done with Israel or with David’s throne. He would not break His promise to David. Despite the unfaithfulness of the successors to David’s throne, God would prove faithful, sending the one who would be the consummate man after God’s own heart. He would send His Son. And He would bring the greatest victory any king could ever hope to deliver.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 NLT

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

A Living God.

“You delivered me from strife with my people;
    you kept me as the head of the nations;
    people whom I had not known served me.
Foreigners came cringing to me;
    as soon as they heard of me, they obeyed me.
Foreigners lost heart
    and came trembling out of their fortresses.

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
    and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation,
the God who gave me vengeance
    and brought down peoples under me,
who brought me out from my enemies;
    you exalted me above those who rose against me;
    you delivered me from men of violence.

For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
    and sing praises to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his offspring forever.” – 2 Samuel 22:44-51 ESV

David knew that his life was inextricably linked to God. Nothing he did was outside the influence and direct impact of God. David’s victories were due to God. His power and position were attributable to God. His physical strength was a gift from God. And even his sins were lovingly disciplined by God. There was no area of David’s life that escaped the notice of God, because his God was a living, active god. The Hebrew word David used is chay and it literally means “alive”. It was used to refer to flowing water and a green plant. It was an expression that referred to the evidence of life. A stagnant pond would not have been “alive”. A brown plant would have showed no evidence of life. For David, the proof of God’s “life” was in God’s constant activity and non-stop involvement in his own life. He could “see” God. He didn’t have to wonder if God existed. He was convinced of it by simply by looking at the visible evidence of His actions and activities.

It is so easy for us to attribute the actions of God to something other than God. We refer to luck or good fortune. We say things like, “I was just in the right place at the right time” or “I guess I had that coming.” We jokingly refer to karma and kismet. We talk about fate like it was a real thing. Even a Christian can tend to think the outcome of their life is either completely up to them or at the mercy of unseen forces. But David would argue that God is the invisible, unstoppable agent of influence in the life of the believer. He is alive and active, and the evidence of His life is all around us. But seeing and believing it is a matter of perspective. When difficulties come into our life, we tend to ask, “Where is God?” In other words, we assume that the presence of trouble signals the absence of God. But David would argue that God is there, even in those dark moments. He is revealing Himself to us in the grace, peace and mercy He shows us in times of difficulty. Sometimes it comes to us disguised in the form of friends who encourage and comfort us. He sends His children to act as His representative, expressing His love and giving tangible evidence of His existence.

Seeing God requires that we look for Him. God told the Israelites, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13 NLT). But we have to look for Him. We have to assume His presence, even when our first impression is that He is nowhere to be found. God is there. He is always there. And He is always active, because He is a living God. He is not a lifeless idol sitting on a shelf. He is not a dead God bound up in an old, out-of-touch book written thousands of years ago. He is the living God of the Bible, a living, active document that has the ability to change lives. The author of Hebrews describes it as “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT). Everything about God is alive, from His Word to His Spirit who lives within each and every believer. And unlike the false gods of this world, our God is a living, breathing, active and all-powerful God. Listen to how the prophet Jeremiah describes the false gods of his day.

A tree from the forest is cut down
    and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
    and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
    for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
    for they cannot do evil,
    neither is it in them to do good. – Jeremiah 10:3-5 ESV

But Jeremiah goes on to describe God.

But the Lord is the true God;
    he is the living God and the everlasting King. – Jeremiah 10:10 ESV

He is the living God. He didn’t have to be made. He wasn’t result of man’s creative capabilities. In fact, God is the creator – of all things. He doesn’t have to be carried around. He doesn’t live on a shelf and isn’t restricted to heaven and dependent upon our efforts to call Him down. As followers of Christ, the living God lives within us. We are His temple. Paul reminded the Corinthians of this fact in his second letter to them.

For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV

He lives within us and the proof of that life should be evident all around us. Paul told the Galatians exactly how to spot the evidence of God’s life within us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… – Galatians 5:22 ESV

That is all the proof we need that our God is alive. He reveals Himself in us and through us. But He also shows up all around us, in the daily affairs of life. We can see Him in the many blessings we enjoy in our lives. We can sense Him even in the difficulties that show up in life, as He comforts and corrects us, encourages and perfects us. God is always there. We just have to learn to look for Him. David had become adept at looking for and seeing God in the everyday affairs of life. He had trained himself to seek for God and to expect to find Him. David wasn’t surprised when God showed up. It was his expectation. And David’s response to the presence of God was to praise Him.

For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
    and sing praises to your name. – 2 Samuel 22:50 ESV

God’s active involvement in David’s life caused David to praise Him. David bragged about God. He gave God the credit. He literally sang His praises. And while he directed his praise at God, he voiced it within earshot of the people of God. He wanted them to hear. He also wanted the nations to hear. His God was alive. His God was powerful. His God was worthy of praise, glory and honor. He wasn’t sitting on a shelf. He was actively involved in the lives of His people and working out His sovereign will among the nations.

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

This God.

“For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?
This God is my strong refuge
    and has made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip;
I pursued my enemies and destroyed them,
    and did not turn back until they were consumed.
I consumed them; I thrust them through, so that they did not rise;
    they fell under my feet.
For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
    you made those who rise against me sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me,[g]
    those who hated me, and I destroyed them.
They looked, but there was none to save;
    they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
I beat them fine as the dust of the earth;
    I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets.”  – 2 Samuel 22:32-43 ESV

 

Whether we want to admit it or not, we have other gods we worship. And it has always been that way. While some of our national currency still carries the phrase, “One Nation Under God”, it has never said, “One God Over the Nation.” Like every culture and generation before us, we Americans have, and always have had, a predisposition toward idolatry. And the people of Israel were no different. That’s why God gave them the Ten Commandments, the first four of which have to deal with man’s relationship with God. God prefaced His list of commands with the statement, “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2 NLT). He was telling Moses and the people of Israel that He was to be their God, their one and only God. And then He clarified exactly what He meant. “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT). In other words, unlike all the other cultures around them, they were to have only one god, not many. They were to worship one deity, not a plethora of gods like the Egyptians had. They were to give their allegiance to the one true God. And it was not as if God was admitting that He had real competition and was demanding their undivided attention. God didn’t have to worry about competitors, but He did have to be concerned about man’s natural tendency to create false gods, man-made substitutes or stand-ins for Him. That is why the psalmist wrote:

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

But the fact that these gods are false has never stopped men from placing their hope in them. And while the psalmist is obviously referring to actual 3-dimensional idols made to represent a false deity, we 21st-Century human beings have moved to a much more sophisticated, yet sinister, form of idolatry. Our gods come in a variety of forms. They don’t sit on a shelf where we offer literal sacrifices to them. But they demand our worship nonetheless. We have made gods out of everything from work to entertainment, the television in our home to the money in our bank. There are so many things in our lives that demand our undivided attention or, to put it another way, our worship. We revere these things and sacrifice our time, attention and even our money to them. We turn to them in times of trouble, hoping they will rescue us. We lean on them for a sense of contentment and happiness during the dark days of our lives. We seek satisfaction from them. We put our hope in them. But the God would remind us:

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?
Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:5-7 NLT

David knew there was no reliable source for help and hope in his life, but God. Which is why he rhetorically asks, “who is God except the Lord?” The answer is obvious: No one. There is no god but God. He has no real competition. We may attempt to find help elsewhere, but those things will always come up short. They can’t deliver. That is why David said, “This God is my strong refuge” (2 Samuel 22:33 ESV). It was God to whom he turned for help, hope, safety, security, rescue, rest, strength and victory. THIS God, and no other.

In this passage, David weaves together an interesting mixture of pronouns, repeatedly referring to both himself and God. He was not putting himself on the same level with God, but was simply trying to show that his life was totally dependent upon God.

He makes me as surefooted as a deer – vs 34

He trains my hands for battle – vs 35

You have given me your shield of victory – vs 36

your help has made me great… – vs 36

You have made a wide path for my feet – vs 37

It was God who had done these things for David and, as a result, David was able to say:

I chased my enemies and destroyed them – vs 38

I did not stop until they were conquered… – vs 38

I consumed them – vs 39

I struck them down… – vs 39

I ground them as fine as the dust of the earth… – vs 43

David had done his part, but only because God had made it possible. David knew he was not a self-made man. He could take no credit for his victories. He was in no place to brag about his exploits – apart from God’s help. Anything he had done of value in his life was attributable to God. God got the glory. God deserved the credit. Which is why David was able to say to God, “your help has made me great” (2 Samuel 22:36 NLT). He had no problem acknowledging God as the source of all his victories and the explanation behind any value he had as a person. Without God, David was nothing. Apart from God, David would have done nothing. At least, nothing of lasting note or significance. It was as if David was saying, “THIS God has made THIS man who he is.”

How easy it is for us to take credit for what God has done. How tempting it is to give credit to someone or something else, for what is clearly the work of God in our lives. We are sometimes prone to give more credit to luck than we do to the Lord. We explain our good fortune as fortuitous, when we should be given God the praise He deserves. Back in Exodus 20, we read the words of God. “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods” (Exodus 20:5 NLT). God will share His glory with anyone or anything. He will not tolerate faithlessness and infidelity among His people. Which is why He repeatedly referred to the people of Israel as adulterous. They cheated on Him, on a regular basis. They shared their attention and affections with others. They refused to give Him the credit He deserved and the honor His status as God demanded. But we are so often guilty of the same thing. And David provides us with a sobering reminder that THIS God of ours is worthy of our praise, glory, honor, gratitude, worship, and undivided attention. For who is God except the Lord?

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

His Way Is Perfect.

“He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
    and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to my cleanness in his sight.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
You save a humble people,
    but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
For you are my lamp, O Lord,
    and my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”  – 2 Samuel 22:17-31 ESV

 

This section of David’s psalm contains an interesting contrast. In it we will see David continue to exalt His God, while at the same time, seemingly praising himself for his own blamelessness, guiltlessness and righteousness. At first blush, it would appear that David is bragging about something he has no right to claim. Even if this psalm was written in the early days of his reign, immediately after the fall of Saul, David was far from a sinless man. And yet he claims, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right; he restored me because of my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:21 NLT). But wait, there’s more. “I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not turned from my God to follow evil” (2 Samuel 22:22 NLT). And then he audaciously claims, “I am blameless before God; I have kept myself from sin” (2 Samuel 22:24 NLT). What is going on here? Is David delusional or simply suffering from an overactive sense of self-worth? One of the things we have to remember is that this passage is virtually identical to Psalm 22, written in the early days of David’s reign. This chapter opened with the descriptor: “David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” So this is very early on in his career as king. So context is critical to understanding what David is either saying or claiming. When we read the word, “blameless,” we tend to interpret it as meaning sinless. But it is a word that speaks of integrity of heart or wholeness of character. David was simply saying that he was rescued by God because he had done nothing to deserve God’s displeasure or punishment. David’s suffering under the hand of Saul had not been due to his own sinfulness. He had been the innocent victim of Saul’s anger and jealousy against him. When this psalm had originally been written, David had been coming off years of life as a fugitive, under constant threat of losing his life because of Saul’s hatred for him. And when David writes, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right. He has seen my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:25 NLT), he is simply acknowledging that he had done nothing to deserve his suffering. He had been given two opportunities to take Saul’s life and had refused to do so, out of respect for the Lord’s anointed. He had feared God more than he he despised his own circumstances. David had a clear conscience before God.

But this psalm is less about David than it is about God. It is an acknowledgement that God was all-knowing and fully aware of the circumstances surrounding David’s life. David’s suffering had not been the result of his own sin, but the divine will of a sovereign, all-powerful God. He had seen David’s plight and heard his cries, and He had responded. He had rescued. He had shown Himself faithful to David because David had remained faithful to Him. He had responded to David with integrity because David had shown himself to be a man of integrity. Not all the time. Not every moment of his life. But within the particular context in which this psalm was originally written.

What makes this psalm so interesting is its placement at the close of Second Samuel and at the end of David’s life. It had been written early on in his life, but reappears here when David’s reign in coming to an end. It reflects a reality that David had experienced in his life, but that had not been true every moment of his life. We know of his sin with Bathsheba. We are well aware of the murder of Uriah. We have read about his many faults and failings. David was not always a man of integrity. He didn’t always do the right thing or react in the proper manner. He didn’t always seek God or rely on Him for help. Sometimes he took matters into his own hands. But David did know that, in principle, God rescues the humble, rewards the righteous, and restores the innocent.

But David’s point in all of this is to exalt God, not himself. He is simply trying to state an indisputable reality when it comes to God’s relationship with men. He doesn’t reward the wicked. He doesn’t smile down on the prideful. He refuses to forgive the sins of the wicked, as long as they remain unrepentant and self-reliant. David states, “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection” That had been David’s experience. He had seen it proven true in his own life. At no point along the way, could David point his finger at God and accuse of Him of dealing falsely or faithlessly with him. God’s way is perfect, even when David’s way was not. God had always dealt faithfully with David. And we have seen that to be the case all along the way as his life’s story has unfolded before us. Even when David had sinned, God had dealt with him lovingly and faithfully. God had repeatedly rescued and restored him. Yes, David had suffered for his sins. He had been forced to endure the consequences of his disobedience to God. But nowhere along the way had God proven unfaithful, unloving or unwilling to keep His promises to David. His ways are perfect. All His promises prove true. He is there when we seek for Him. But He is also there when we fail to recognize or rely upon Him. David may have left God on occasion, but God had not left David.

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