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.
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.
A friend in need is a friend indeed
2Samuel 18: You are worth ten thousand of us.
David’s escape from Jerusalem has been successful but the battle is still to come. Even as Saul had pursued David, now David’s own son Absalom has an army and is pursuing him. Even as, years earlier, David refused to kill Saul, he now gives orders that Absalom is to be spared. However, anyone hearing that order might find it a bit confusing. It’s David who’s on the run with inferior forces under his command. Absalom has the upper hand here, leading an army that David, himself, assembled. David prepares his forces for the fight and announces that he will lead in battle. However, his men are having none of it. To the core they’re loyal to David. They’ll fight for him and die for him. What an encouragement it must be to David to have such loyal friends! I don’t have anyone trying to take my life, but when life is unfair, when I’m mistreated, it makes a wonderful difference to have some key people who let me know that they value me and are willing to take some hits for me.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for good friends.
2 Samuel 17: Shobi…Makir…and Barzillai…brought beds and blankets, bowls and jugs filled with wheat, barley….
David and his supporters have fled Jerusalem with scant preparation for their exile. Still, David has friends. Hushai takes his life in his hands to not only be a spy in Absalom’s court, but even offers Absalom bad advice as he makes plans to go after his father. Jonathan and Ahimaaz and an unnamed servant girl serve as couriers. A woman at Bahurim helps these couriers hide. Meanwhile, others are providing provisions for David and those who have fled with him. Before long they have “roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey, and curds and cheese” thanks to Shobi, Makir, and Barzillai. Know what? As I type the names of these people the spell checker on my computer is going crazy. Apparently, my computer has never heard of Hushai or Ahimaaz or Makir. Maybe you haven’t heard of them either. These people aren’t major figures in history so their names aren’t well known. However, on this day as David flees for his life, they all play vital roles. You might say that they each rise to the occasion. The fact is that there are a lot more people like dear brother Barzillai and the woman at Bahurim than there are people like David. I identify with that crowd and maybe you do too. We may not get the headlines, but, if we’re faithful to do the right thing at the right time, we might just make a major, if unnoticed difference in the world.
Take Away: Not all heroes are famous.
Have you ever had anyone kick up dirt in your life?
2 Samuel 16: Shimei followed along on the edge of the hill alongside, cursing, throwing stones down on them, and kicking up dirt.
As David flees his son Absalom he encounters various people. Some come to help and offer to join him; others come to cheer his seeming defeat. Shimei can be included in the second group. He’s somehow related to Saul and this is his chance to let David know just how he feels about him. In his eyes, David stole the throne from Saul and is at fault for his death. It’s probably a bigger deal that. Had Saul’s family retained the throne Shimei would have some prime position in government. Whatever the reason, he comes to taunt David and his companions as they leave Jerusalem. One of David’s men offers to go up and lop off Shimei’s head but David forbids it. This guy is really nothing, just hot air and noise. After all, his own son is out to kill him! The fact that one of his enemies cheers that almost makes sense. Wouldn’t it would be nice if no one ever “kicked up dirt” in our lives and if everyone treated us with gentleness and respect. But that isn’t going to happen. Like David, we have to decide that not everyone’s going to like us and some people are going to be happy when things aren’t going our way. We can’t run around beheading all those who are pleased that we’re having problems. Instead, we’d better focus on being a people of God, doing his will and remaining victorious through the trial and leave such small potatoes matters alone.
Take Away: Don’t worry too much about people who oppose you – just focus on that which really matters, leaving their opposition in the hands of God.
Outsiders and insiders
2 Samuel 15: Where my master is, that’s where I’ll be — whether it means life or death.
Absalom has patiently prepared to betray his father, King David, and he decides the time has come to act. With the skill of a big business publicist he orchestrates things to make it appear that the public and the leaders of Israel have made him king. Earlier, David could have easily stopped all this. In fact, he could have kept Absalom in exile in the first place. Instead, David has believed the best in Absalom and turned a blind eye to his scheming. When word of the power grab reaches David he immediately retreats, believing that Absalom has the upper hand. It’s as he flees Jerusalem that we hear the pledge Ittai makes to David. Ittai is from the city of Gath, which means he’s a Philistine. Apparently, he’s deserted his native land to follow David. When David sees him he tells him to go home to Gath, but Ittai will have none of it. He’s committed to David and pledges to follow him even to death. This warrior’s words to David shine in the darkness of an otherwise bleak day. In a spiritual view of things, I am a Philistine, an outsider in the family of God. Like Ittai, the King, himself, has made me welcome. And like Ittai, I cast my lot with my King, all the way, life or death.
Take Away: What an honor it is for an outsider to be invited to the inside by none other than the King, himself.
Simply doing the right thing
2 Samuel 15: Absalom…stole the hearts of everyone in Israel.
Permitted back into Israel and King David’s presence should have humbled Absalom. He should be grateful for the kindness of his father in restoring him after had murdered one of his own brothers. It doesn’t work that way though. Absalom wants more. To be exact, he wants the throne of Israel. With that in mind, he implements a patient plan. First, he begins to play the part of the king, making a regal procession wherever he goes. Then, he sets up shop at the city gate, the place where the community leaders meet to deal with issues under their jurisdiction. Absalom plays the part of the kind, caring friend to all who come. He suggests, ever so gently, that his father, the King, doesn’t care about the common man enough to grant justice. The impact isn’t immediate, but over time Absalom rises in popularity to the point that he can challenge his father for the throne of Israel. It shouldn’t be this way. Absalom ought to be the greatest and most committed supporter of David. Instead, he sets himself up to be his father’s greatest enemy. Sadly, this is how life is sometimes. We befriend people, forgive them, and make ourselves vulnerable to them and then they let us down. It happened to David, and, with Judas, it happened to Jesus too. Frankly, I can’t control what other people do, right or wrong. All I can do is the right thing and demonstrate the gentleness and mercy of God in my life. It would be better if the result of that were blessed and solid relationships. Sometimes, though, I have to settle for knowing that the Lord is pleased with me for trying. That, of course, is extremely valuable in itself.
Take Away: Sometimes we do the right thing and the results are everything we hoped for. Other times, it doesn’t work out, but there’s still great value in doing the right thing.
God provides a way back
2 Samuel 14: God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back.
After avenging the terrible thing done to this sister Tamar by murdering his half-brother, Ammon, Absalom has fled, fearing for his own life. Now three years have passed and David’s general, Joab, thinks it is time for David to reconcile with his son. Earlier, Nathan brought to David a made-up story and confronted him with the memorable words: “You are the man!” Now, Joab sends a woman from Tekoa to do a similar thing. She pretends to be the mother of two sons. In her story, one son has killed the other. Now her family is out for revenge by taking the life of her remaining son. David rules compassionately saying he’ll take care of it. It’s then that the woman challenges David for doing the same thing concerning Absalom. She points out that God seeks ways to bring the exile back and that David should do the same thing. David sees the hand of Joab in this but agrees to at least open the way for his son’s return. This incident is a mere snapshot taken during a fast moving flow of events, but I’m taken with the wisdom of the woman from Tekoa. Before Jesus ever tells the famous parable, she pictures for us the forgiving mercy of God for the prodigal. She’s one hundred percent correct: “He works out ways to get the exile back.” We serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: Never give up on God – after all, he never gives up on us.
The reach of sin
2 Samuel 13: Kill him…and don’t be afraid.
When Nathan the prophet confronts David with his sin he not only tells him that the child of his illicit relationship with Bathsheba will die, but that there will be killing and murder in his family. This story about his daughter Tamar and sons Ammon and Absalom illustrates the truth of this statement by Nathan. It’s pretty ugly stuff. Ammon is in love with his half-sister Tamar. His first cousin Jonadab tells him to get her alone and force himself on her. Ammon takes Jonadab’s advice and ends up raping Tamar. When David hears what’s happened, he’s outraged, but does nothing about it. Could it be that his memory of his own relationship with Bathsheba stops him from acting? Technically, he didn’t rape Bathsheba, but when he sent for her on that terrible day, he did so with all the authority of the throne. She really couldn’t say “no” to the king. Beyond that, what David did went public. His family, including Ammon, knew all about it. Surely, knowing that his father took another man’s wife when he wanted her influenced his thinking in this. So Ammon rapes Tamar. When David fails to act, her full brother, Absalom decides to take matters into his own hands. He murders Ammon. Clearly, this isn’t a pretty story. No one in this incident except the victim is portrayed in a positive manner. David has repented of his sin and been forgiven by the Lord, but there are still consequences to his failure. This isn’t God punishing David by encouraging rape and murder in his family. Instead, it’s the outflow of David’s willful actions. Our actions have consequences, some reaching farther and into places we’d never imagine.
Take Away: Don’t underestimate your influence – for good or for bad.