The long arm of the law
1Kings 2: Do what God tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you.
The transition of the throne from David to Solomon will not be bloodless, but considering the day and age, it comes close to it. David calls for Solomon to come to him and they have a father-son (or maybe better, a king-king) talk. Some of what David says is lofty, truly uplifting. He encourages Solomon to walk in God’s ways. If he does that, the Lord will lead and bless him. Some of what David says sounds cold and calculating. There are some people who have acted in ways intended to promote their own agendas rather than his but for various reasons they’ve never been brought to justice. From his deathbed David lists them for the new king. He doesn’t tell him what to do in each case but he reminds him that he thinks something should be done. At its worst, this is just plain old revenge. At its best, it’s a cold reminder of reality. This, I think sums up David’s life. On one hand, he’s a hard pragmatist who’ll unflinchingly kill a man he thinks is a threat to the kingdom. On the other hand, he’s a man who loves God with all his heart, who can write soaring poetry and lift the spirits of all those around him. One thing is certain: there’s nothing lukewarm about David and that’s abundantly clear in this, his final appearance in the Bible.
Take Away: Let’s let David’s unhesitant devotion to the Lord inspire and challenge us in our own relationship with God.
Time flies when you’re having fun
1Kings 1: King David grew old.
First and Second Samuel have told us the stories of two kings. The first failed miserably and the second became Israel’s greatest king. Now we come to the stories of all the rest. All fall somewhere between Saul and David. These “king stories” start with “King David grew old.” It’s interesting to be reminded that even great people grow old. Our days are numbered and, while it’s a blessing to live to old age, it isn’t really much fun to get there! Physically David’s wasting away. His circulation isn’t good and he’s cold all the time. His aids come up with an interesting solution for keeping him warm at night. They recruit the young and beautiful Abishag who serves as a sort of “electric blanket” for “poor” old David. It brings a smile to our faces now, but even the Bible writer notes that David’s advanced years assure that their relationship is purely platonic. The more serious issue for Israel is that there’s jostling among his surviving sons as to who will to take the throne. Throughout David’s 40 years on the throne of Judah and then Israel Absalom’s effort to take the throne has been the only serious threat to Israel’s stability. Now, King David grows old and national unity is threatened once again. David has just one more thing to do. He has to name his successor. Once that’s done the burden of leadership will be lifted from his frail shoulders. I can’t feel sorry for David. He’s lived a robust life. If anyone ever “grabs the gusto” it’s David. Now though, even though he’s bigger than life, it’s life (or maybe better, death) that’s winning. So it is for all of us. There’s only one alternative to getting old and it isn’t a very good choice. With that in mind, I want to live as large as I can; to serve God right now with all my strength. Then, when my turn comes I want to be able to look back on a life lived all out for God.
Take Away: We only have one opportunity to live our lives enthusiastically for the Lord, let’s not miss this opportunity.
Getting out what we put in
2 Samuel 24: I’m not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.
The final story in 2 Samuel is difficult, if not impossible, to understand. It seems that David, fearful that God wouldn’t supply an army strong enough to protect Israel, decides to do a national census. The result is that the Lord moves to punish David and Israel. The king is given three choices of punishment and David picks three days of epidemic sweeping the land because he’d rather be directly in the hands of God than be punished through the actions of his enemies as is proposed in the other two alternatives. This story doesn’t work for me very well. Offhand, it sounds as though an epidemic came and someone connected it to David’s lack of faith in taking the census. However, it’s right here in the Bible, so I’ll take it at face value, while, at the same time, keep in mind that there’s certainly more going on here than I see when simply reading the story. However, what happens next is easy to understand and challenging to me in my relationship with God. The plague is sweeping across the land and thousands are dying. David is told to build an altar in a specific place. If he does so, and offers sacrifices there, the plague will stop. David goes to the owner of the land and asks to purchase it. The man, Araunah, offers to give it to him but David replies that he isn’t going to offer to God that which costs him nothing. The price is set, the purchase made, the altar built, and the sacrifice is made, thus ending the plague. While I struggle with this story, I’m reminded of the tendency to offer God that which costs us nothing. We attend church when it’s convenient, we pray when we think we have the time, and in general, we practice a low impact religion. David’s example is one we need. We get out of our relationship with God what we put into it.
Take Away: I’m going to give the Lord my best because I want to get all I can from living in a quality relationship with him.
Water from the well
2 Samuel 23: There is no way, God, that I’ll drink this.
As David’s life is being summed up, we find a listing of significant warriors who served him. Three warriors are especially outstanding: Josheb-Basshebeth, Elazar, and Shammah. These three men were the most fearsome of all the fighters in Israel. As an example of their ability and faithfulness to David, we hear one of their stories. David and his men are holed up in a cave while the Philistines occupy nearby Bethlehem. David remarks that a drink of water from the well there would taste very good to him. The Three decide to get him that drink. They fight their way through enemy lines to that particular well, draw water out of it, and then fight their way back out of the town. The Philistine soldiers must have been very confused by all this! When the three return to camp, they offer David water from the well. At this point, the focus turns from the Three to David. He pours the water out as an offering to God, remarking that the water in that container is like the blood of these brave men. To drink it would be to take their lives too lightly. I’m thankful today for the bravery of another Warrior. His life started in that very town, but, when the time was right he fought his way to the very gates of Hell to provide me living water. The blood of that brave Warrior is precious to me too.
Take Away: Life is mine by the precious blood of Jesus.
Singing songs that rhyme
2 Samuel 22: I stood there saved — surprised to be loved!
As a conclusion to David’s story we’re given what is probably a favorite song from the great king. We might call this a displaced Psalm. With characteristic passion and absolute honesty David praises God but also tells of dejection and fear. God answers with earth shaking power. He rescues the one he loves and puts him back on his feet, giving him victory. From that experience, David says he’s learned some things about God. The Lord sticks by people who stick by him. When I turn to him, I find he’s already turned to me. And, even when I know I’m unworthy, I’m surprised by his wonderful love for me. David concludes, “That’s why I’m singing songs that rhyme your name.” I see why the writer of these books of Samuel likes this song!
Take Away: The Lord is good to us and we have every reason to sing his praises.
2 Samuel 21: No more fighting on the frontlines for you!
As the story of David’s leadership begins to wind down we come to a time when things aren’t all that inspirational. Uprisings are put down; there’s an ugly story of the Gibeonites revenge against Saul’s descendants, and a series of one-paragraph accounts of significant battles with the enemies of Israel. Of course, for those involved these are all very big deals (especially for those executed by the Gibeonites!). For us, though, they’re just historical events. David’s army is still fiercely loyal to him but his power as a warrior diminishes with age. When he’s nearly killed in battle his men forbid him from leading the fight as he’s done for decades. He’s simply not up to hand to hand combat anymore and is more valuable as God’s chosen leader than he is as a soldier. In other words, this is a transitional time for David. His advancing age doesn’t hinder his ability to lead, but it does compromise his ability to fight. For each of us, as it is for David, life has times of transition. Generally, we don’t like that very well, but circumstances have a way of dragging us forward, even if we’re kicking and screaming all the way. God isn’t finished with us, but the role we play changes. Let’s be aware of what’s happening and cooperative with God as we move through the various chapters of our lives.
Take Away: As one period of life ends another begins with a new set of challenges and opportunities
He’s my friend, but…
2 Samuel 20: Amasa didn’t notice the sword in Joab’s other hand.
Following the defeat and death of Absalom David returns to Jerusalem, victorious but weakened. Soon, there’s another uprising led by Sheba. David realizes that he has to act decisively if he’s to hold Israel together. He shakes up his inner circle, replacing commander Joab with Amasa. The new general is given three days to rally troops to go after Sheba. Time passes and Amasa, for some reason, doesn’t report in and David, feeling time is of the essence bypasses Joab again, this time naming Abishai to lead the force. Being overlooked again angers Joab and with ruthless cunning he acts to regain his position. He, and those loyal to him, joins Abishai’s expedition to root out Sheba. When this group meets Amasa and the force he’s rallied, Joab approaches Amasa as though he’s going to warmly greet him. He then plunges a sword into him, killing him instantly. Amasa is now numbered with Abner and Absalom, all murdered by Joab. Before anyone can respond, he calls for unity in the name of David. In reality, it’s all about him and his power. Joab, though faithful to David, is a ruthless person but David never deals with him. However, he tells his son Solomon that Joab has spilled much innocent blood and that because of him his legacy is stained. I can’t help but wonder why David let Joab get away with it all. He’s David’s nephew but I doubt that has anything to do with it. I think the problem is that Joab serves David’s purposes so well. He’s on David’s side even though his actions aren’t approved of by David. We Christians would do well to study the relationship between David and Joab. Is it possible that we’re too quick to overlook wrong doing by our allies? If someone who’s on “our side” is behaving in an unethical way do we tend to look the other way? Christians are called to a high standard. That should include our reigning in or even disavowing our “friends” when their behavior violates that standard.
Take Away: Ultimately, there’s no right way to do a wrong thing.
We are family
2 Samuel 19: Because the king is related to us, that’s why!
David is a part of the tribe of Judah and as he victoriously returns to Jerusalem following the defeat of Absalom it’s the warriors from Judah who lead the way. This doesn’t sit too well with the other tribes, collectively called “Israel.” Ultimately, the rivalry between these “brothers” will result in one kingdom becoming two. For now, the seeds of the coming division are seen in arguing about who is most loyal to David. Shortly, Sheba of the tribe of Benjamin will try to divide Israel from Judah, but David’s forces will put down his rebellion. For now, we focus on the response of the men of Judah to the complaint that they’re being overly possessive of King David. Their answer is simple enough: “he’s related to us.” They feel a special connection to David and real pride in his leadership. Because of that, they want to stick as close to him as possible. As Christians, we feel that way about our King. We’ve been adopted into his family. He’s our Master and Savior, but he’s also our Brother. We want to stay as close to him as possible. After all, we are family.
Take Away: I’m glad I’m part of the family of God!
One or the other got away with it
2 Samuel 19: You and Ziba divide the property between you.
On the day that David fled Jerusalem several came to offer help and encouragement. One of those people was Ziba, servant of Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth. Normally, a new king would kill all of the previous king’s family but David did just the opposite. He invited Mephibosheth into his household and gave him all of his grandfather’s wealth. When David fled his son, Absalom, Mephibosheth was nowhere to be seen, it was his servant Ziba who came out to assist David. When David asked him where Mephibosheth was Ziba reported that Mephibosheth had said he was glad to be rid of David and that he was scheming to take his grandfather’s throne so that neither David nor Absalom would have it. David replied by granting all of Mephibosheth’s wealth to Ziba. Now that the battle between Absalom and David has ended in David’s victory and David is returning home, one of the people who come out to greet him is Mephibosheth who cheers David’s victory. David asks Saul’s grandson where he was when he was fleeing the city and he replies that Ziba tricked him, leaving him behind when he very much wanted to stick with David. In this case either Ziba or Mephibosheth is lying. It may be that Ziba gambled that David would win in the struggle against his son so he wanted to discredit his master and get on the good side of David. The other possibility is that Mephibosheth did think that he might somehow beat out both David and Absalom and take his grandfather’s throne. If that’s correct, then when David wins, we here see Mephibosheth quickly acting to cover his tracks and make up with David. Which one is it? I have no idea! Interesting isn’t it? If Ziba lied, he got away with it, and came away with half of Mephibosheth’s wealth. If Mephibosheth lied, he got away with it, losing only half of his wealth and remaining a very rich man. My devotional thought on all this? Not much, really; maybe a fresh realization that the bad guys sometimes win in this world. God will sort it all out in Judgment.
Take Away: Someday all wrongs will be made right. Till then, we just have to trust the Lord with the sometimes unfairness of life
They told me men shouldn’t have long hair
2 Samuel 19: O my son Absalom, Absalom my dear, dear son!
The battle between those loyal to Absalom and those loyal to David is a fierce one, but it’s apparent that David’s forces are winning. Twenty thousand soldiers fall that day in bloody one-on-one fighting in the most tragic kind of war: brother against brother. Absalom flees but in an ironic twist of fate, it’s his hair, apparently his most prized feature, which brings about his downfall. As his mule gallops under a tree his hair is entangled in the branches. He hangs there, helpless before his enemies. Knowing that David has forbidden the killing of his son, some are afraid to act, but one of his generals, Joab, kills him and then others join in making sure he is dead. When word comes to David his heart is broken and he mourns the death of his son. To Joab and maybe to us this is downright silly. Absalom murdered his brother, tried to take his father’s throne and life, and is responsible for the deaths of twenty thousand good men. Still, David is deeply saddened by the failure of his son — possibly thinking of what might have been. I think David’s response to Absalom’s death is a reflection of our Heavenly Father’s sadness over the wasted lives of those who live in rebellion against him. He mourns the spiritual failure of those who have followed Absalom’s example to tragic ruin.
Take Away: The Lord wants all people to be saved – and, actually, it’s not as though any of us deserves to be saved, it’s all by his love and grace.