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.
I wonder if Nathan checked his life insurance policy first
2 Samuel 12: You’re the man!
It’s through the prophet Nathan that God responds to David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her righteous husband, Uriah. We don’t know much about Nathan, but he carries on in the spirit of his predecessor, Samuel. In Nathan we see the same boldness we saw in Samuel when he stood up to Saul. A few pages back, when David wants to build a Temple, its Nathan who first agrees but then returns with the disappointing news that God doesn’t want David to build a Temple. Now, when David has fallen in sin, it’s Nathan who takes his life in his hands and confronts the king with what he’s done. The prophet is pretty smart in his approach. He comes to David with a made-up scenario about a farmer and a lamb. When David reacts with righteous indignation over what he thinks has happened Nathan responds with the famous words, “You’re the man!” David, who could have any available woman in Israel (it’s acceptable in this society for him to have multiple wives), instead wanted another man’s wife. David, who’s bravely fought God’s enemies all his life, has used God’s enemies to do his dirty work for him. It’s Nathan who stands up to David. It’s nice to be God’s spokesman and tell people about the story of God’s love for us, preaching sermons from John 3:16. However, there’s a place for confrontation too. We’d just better be sure it’s God who’s sending us with that strong message.
Take Away: No one is big enough, so valuable to God’s Kingdom, that they can get away with sin.
Peacemaking can be hazardous business
2 Samuel 10: I’d like to show some kindness to Hanun, the son of Nahash.
There’s a bit of a mystery here. The only other Nahash we have in Scripture is a brutal king who was going to partially blind the men of a village in Israel. His threat energized Saul’s early leadership of Israel. It’s unlikely that the man named in this story is the same one. In some way unknown to us the Nahash mentioned here showed a kindness to David, possibly during his time in exile. David, now settled as king, hears of Nahash’s death and sends representatives to express his sympathy to his son, Hanun. However, Hanun takes them to be spies. He humiliates them and sends them back to David. This event sets off the war that’s described in this chapter. Although these events happen on a large scale, such things do happen in everyday life too. We try to do the right thing, to be peacemakers, only to be rebuffed. Happily, such things don’t have to always end in war. Had Hanun not responded as he did, an alliance might have been formed here, similar to what Israel formed with Hiram of Tyre under Solomon. Probably a larger reminder is that even our best intentions can sometimes backfire. My responsibility is to be a peacemaker and, as Paul writes in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As we see here, it isn’t always possible, but it should be our first effort.
Take Away: More often than not it is possible to live a peace…as the people of the Lord we’re to make that our priority.
2 Samuel 9: Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table.
David remembers his friend Jonathan. He and David stood together in the dark days years earlier. At that time they made promises to one another and David hasn’t forgotten those promises. When David learns that Jonathan has a surviving son he seeks him out. Mephibosheth is lame and has had no contact with David, yet David treats him with respect and kindness. Mephibosheth, obviously, has done nothing to earn anything from David. In fact, as the grandson of Saul, he might still have a claim on the throne in the eyes of some people. Most kings of that era would make it their first order of business to wipe out all his predecessor’s heirs to the throne. David, though, does the very opposite. He returns all Saul’s wealth to Mephibosheth and then gives him an honored place in his own household. David’s action here reminds me of the unmerited favor the King has shown to me. Like Mephibosheth, I’ve done nothing to make myself worthy of this great kindness. And, as David reached out to Mephibosheth because of Jonathan, so has the Lord reached out to me because of Jesus.
Take Away: All the people of the Lord are recipients of the unmerited favor of God – unworthy, but made welcome in his household.