Who’s in charge here?
2 Samuel 5: David prayed to God: Shall I go up and fight?
Those Philistine warlords must be kicking themselves over how they treated David when he lived in Ziklag. There he was, right in their territory with just 600 warriors. It would’ve been easy to have taken him out. Now he’s king of Israel with all the resources of that land under his command. David’s taken over the stronghold of the Jebusites, Jerusalem, as his center of operations, and now the Philistines come to make up for their past mistake by attacking David and his army. As they mass for a fight, David turns to God. He seeks and receives direction from the Lord and then, with God’s permission, engages the enemies of Israel. David’s approach isn’t the one I’m most likely to use. I see enemies and decide to fight. Only then do I call on God to help me win my righteous battle. In other words, I set the agenda and ask God to bless it. David sees enemies, calls on God, and then goes to battle as God directs. The Lord sets the agenda for David. Know what? I think David’s way is better.
Take Away: For some reason it’s hard for us to consistently seek the Lord’s way first.
God, patiently working
2 Samuel 4: And so they anointed David king over Israel.
It’s been a long time coming. David remembers being called in from the fields as he cared for his father’s sheep to meet the old man of God, Samuel. In a private ceremony Samuel anointed him king of Israel. However, Israel already had a king and Saul wasn’t about to give up his position of power, so David waited. He faithfully served Israel, doing anything asked of him. He honored Saul, even as Saul became his enemy. It isn’t that David’s made no errors along the way; he has. The bottom line, though, is that he’s faithfully adhered to this philosophy: if God had him anointed as king, then he’ll be king in God’s own time. Now, the result of treachery in Ish-Bosheth’s camp, the door is finally open and all Israel comes to make David king. The deaths of both Saul and Ish-Bosheth were not by David’s hand. In fact, it isn’t the way he wanted it at all. Still, God works in all things, even things he doesn’t design, to accomplish his purpose. David isn’t the only one who’s been patient. God, Himself, has worked in and through and even around the events that have taken place to move history in the direction he desires. The end result is that, just as Samuel said years earlier: David is king of Israel. Here’s a picture of how God works: not orchestrating and micromanaging events to get his way, but directing the outcome of even bad things, like murder, to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t motivate the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite to kill Ish-Bosheth, but when they do, the Lord uses it to accomplish his purpose of bringing David to the throne of Israel.
Take Away: As Sovereign God the Lord works in this world, even though poor choices made by people, to accomplish his purposes.
Those we empower
2 Samuel 3: Make a deal with me, and I’ll bring the whole country of Israel over to you.
It’s apparent that David’s going to win the war. Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, is an incompetent leader and even his own men doubt him. In fact, David can finish it off any time he wants but for one thing: he continues to refuse to lay a hand on Saul’s descendants. Because of that, things drag on as Ish-Bosheth’s leadership of Israel slowly unravels on its own. One indication is that his general, Abner, secretly comes to David with an offer of peace. Apparently, David thinks that with Abner’s help the foregone conclusion of all this can end sooner and not later, and without his raising a hand against Saul’s son. It doesn’t work out. David’s own general seizes the opportunity to get revenge for the death of his brother at Abner’s hand. Before Abner can act Joab kills him. As often happens in life, the greatest damage done is from “inside” rather than “outside.” In this case, David has one agenda and his general, Joab, has another. One of the challenges of leadership is not only knowing where one is going, but being sure that those we lead — or even better — those we empower to lead with us, share in that goal. Otherwise, they’ll take the authority we’ve given them and use it to pursue their own purposes.
Take Away: Real leaders don’t try to do everything themselves. At the same time, though, it’s important that those who work with us are on the same page as we are.
War games aren’t fun
2 Samuel 3: The war between the house of Saul and the house of David dragged on and on.
Sadly, Saul’s death and David’s return to Israel isn’t the end of Saul’s story. His general, Abner, makes Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth king over Israel. Meanwhile, David has moved to Hebron in the area of Judah. He’s made king there. Israel’s now divided, with the larger part being ruled by Saul’s son and the smaller area ruled by David. The result is civil war. David no longer needs to run. He has an army equal to that of Israel. Because of that both sides jealously defend their territory. This is civil war at its ugliest, with relatives battling one another. One major battle takes place at the Pool of Gibeon, where the armies meet face to face. In a deadly game, representatives from each side are pitted against one another in one-on-one fights to the death. As David’s men win one round after another things escalate to a major battle in which fighters from each side can call one another by name. It is ugly, ugly, ugly. Civil wars are the worst wars in which people who know one another and share common interests and goals fight it out, leaving corpses scattered across the battlefield. There’s nothing more tragic than war within the family. Church people should do everything possible to avoid such wars. The problem is that, as happened at the Pool of Gibeon, such wars start with much smaller barbed “games” of saying two edged things to one another or giving or taking offense easily. Oh, how we need the grace of God in our relationships with one another.
Take Away: We can more skillfully hurt those closest to us – so dealing with these precious ones must be especially flavored with grace.
2 Samuel 2: God bless you for this — for honoring your master, Saul, with a funeral.
David mourns the passing of Saul and his good friend Jonathan and prepares to end his self-chosen exile from Israel by moving to Hebron in Judah. He also hears of the bravery and sacrifice of the men of Jabesh Gilead who took their lives in their hands to retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons from where they were on display in Philistine territory. They brought the bodies back to Israel for a decent funeral. On one hand we have the story of the man who claimed to have finished Saul off, now we have the story of these valiant men who went into enemy territory following a devastating defeat to show proper respect for their dead king. David knows valor when he sees it and honors those men for what they did. Times of crisis define us. We may be able to put on an act that convinces about everyone, but when the pressure is on the real person is seen, for good or for bad.
Take Away: Challenging times have the potential to bring out the best in each of us.
Song for a funeral
2 Samuel 1: “You asked for it,” David told him.
There’s no passage of time between the end of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. We simply turn the page and keep on reading. David returns to Ziklag after rescuing those who were taken captive and is, I guess, rebuilding the destroyed town. An Amalekite shows up in camp with what he thinks will be received as good news. Saul and Jonathan are dead. In fact, he claims (apparently a lie) that he personally finished Saul off. This fellow was probably robbing the dead on the battle field and came upon Saul’s body. He thinks that having David indebted to him will be worth more than the royal headband and bracelet he took off of Saul’s body. Clearly this guy doesn’t know David. After all, David has more reason to kill Saul than anyone, yet he has twice passed up the opportunity to do so. The bearer of bad news goes out to meet his Maker soon thereafter. David composes a song of lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. He could have sung of disappointing failure and lost opportunities. Instead, he remembers the bravery of these two men and the security and prosperity they brought to Israel. As the Amalekite learned the hard way, cheering the death of even a deeply flawed individual isn’t David’s way. It’s not God’s way either.
Take Away: As the Lord is gracious and merciful to us, so should we be to all, even those who don’t measure up.
1 Samuel 31: Saul…died…that day.
He came to a pitiful end. Saul, as a young man, was chosen by God, himself, to lead Israel. His very stature dominates a room. Even strong warriors were willing to follow his leadership. This capable man could bring order, peace, and safety to those under his command. But he’s also a deeply flawed man who could hear the direction of God and then ignore it to do what seems best to him at the time. Also, he’s an empty man. When he rejects God’s authority in his life God rejects him. From that day onward, life drains out of Saul, leaving him just a shell of what he could have been. Now, pursued by his enemies and fleeing in defeat, he meets his end on Mount Gilboa, wounded and then falling on his own sword. Saul’s story is one of unfulfilled possibilities. He had every reason to go down in history as Israel’s first and greatest king. Instead, he dies without God and without hope. He arrives here because of his own decisions. His epitaph simply reads, “A disappointment.”
Take Away: It all starts with our simply obeying the voice of the Lord in our lives.