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.
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.
Murder most foul
2 Samuel 11: War kills — sometimes one, sometimes another.
David’s failure in 2 Samuel 11 is stunning. There are no excuses, no contributing circumstances that in any way lessen his failure. When Saul takes it upon himself to play the role of priest rather than wait on Samuel it’s a horrible failure, but it’s no greater than the one I read about here. David, King of Israel sees a woman taking a bath and wants her. Abusing his authority as king he sends for her and then has sexual relations with her. When she later discovers that she’s pregnant, he sends for her husband in hopes of covering up his sin. The only things we know about Uriah are what we find in this story but it’s clear that he’s an honorable man and a loyal soldier. Failing in his plan, David sends a note to his general, Joab (a note carried by Uriah, himself) that’s actually a death sentence. When David receives word of Uriah’s death, he shrugs it off with “war kills.” In this case it isn’t war that kills. It’s David. In the words of Agatha Christie, this is “murder most foul.” David’s a great man, a real hero, and a key figure in God’s plan for the world. Still, the writers of Scripture do not avoid the issue here. They tell us the whole ugly story. Still, what happens, as unsavory as it is, isn’t beyond the grace of God. I’m glad the story doesn’t end here.
Take Away: The Lord can’t deal with our sin until we admit we have sinned and repent of it.
1 Samuel 22: I’m to blame for the death of everyone in your father’s family.
When David flees for his life from Saul he stops at Nob, the place of worship. In his desperation David tells a lie to Ahitub, the priest there, telling him he’s on a mission for the king. He asks for provisions and a weapon. Since David is highly respected the priest gives him holy bread to eat and the prized sword of Goliath that is stored there. As David is leaving he sees one of Saul’s men, Doeg the Edomite, who’s also at Nob and has seen what’s happened. However, David’s so afraid for his own life that he hurries on, escaping from Saul. Now we see the consequences of David’s dishonesty and failure to consider the danger in which he placed Ahitub and all those in Nob. Saul’s man, Doeg, reports the incident and Saul takes revenge on all those at Nob: men, women, children, and even the livestock. All are killed except the son of the priest, Ahimelech, who escapes to join David. When he hears what’s happened David says, “I’m to blame.” This is more than a gracious admission; it’s the terrible truth. In his fear David thought only of himself and in doing so, brought destruction to many innocent people. Fear is an awful thing. It causes us to shrink our world to only ourselves. Fear loses sight of God and causes us to ignore the consequences of our words and deeds. David’s admission and his taking Ahimelech in and under his protection is commendable, but it doesn’t undo the damage that was done in his fear-generated failure.
Take Away: Trust is the remedy for fear.
The bigger they come…
1 Samuel 13: God is out looking for your replacement right now.
On the surface, Saul’s failure seems minor. All he’s doing is offering his own sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to do it for him. Beneath that, though, is a fault line that means catastrophe. Any king of Israel must rule only as a servant of God. Things are to be done God’s way. From the beginning of Saul’s story his position has been clearly defined. Samuel is the man chosen by God to provide spiritual leadership and that includes making ritual sacrifices. Saul has crossed that line, claiming authority that’s not his. Because of that God is rejecting him as king. Since he doesn’t accept God’s way of doing things another king will be found. I need to remember here that Saul isn’t making a mistake in this incident. Rather, he’s acting with full knowledge of what he’s doing. Simply put, he’s pushing God’s will to the side and taking what he thinks is a better course of action. While it’s true that God is testing him with the circumstance of Samuel’s late arrival it’s also true that he miserably fails the test. The Lord seeks another king because Saul, by his own decision, makes himself unworthy to be king. As I apply this to my life, I see that I must never forget that he is Lord. I’m not free to do whatever I want to do. While I know God is gracious and merciful, I also know that, in my own free will, I can push God too far. It doesn’t have to be that way, but I know that it remains a tragic possibility.
Take Away: If I’m to be God’s man I have to do things God’s way. He’ll have it no other way.
1 Samuel 9: He had a son, Saul, a most handsome young man…he literally stood head and shoulders above the crowd!
Since I know where this story’s headed I tend to brush past the way the Bible introduces Saul. Here’s a good man. In spite of his physical domination and naturally handsome good looks he’s humble. We meet him taking care of his father’s business, looking for some lost donkeys, but also concerned that his father might be worried about him. When it’s suggested that he visit the man of God, Samuel, and ask for help in locating the animals, he goes with offering in hand. When I read this introduction to Saul I’m impressed with him. He has the potential of being a terrific leader of Israel who’ll guide the people to a close, faithful walk with the Lord. As I begin reading the story of Saul I find no reason to expect failure on his part. Instead, everything’s in place for success at every level of his life. In choosing him, the Lord isn’t setting him up for failure. Instead, Saul’s being set up for success. That’s true, too, I think, in the lives of followers of Jesus. No one is saved to ultimately fail. In fact, success is guaranteed by the blood of Jesus. The only way my spiritual journey can end badly is if I sabotage it myself. Sorry to say we’re about to see an illustration of that from this capable young man.
Take Away: The Lord gives us everything we need to live for him and then live with him in eternity.
Making the most of what God has given
1 Samuel 2: I’ll establish for myself a true priest. He’ll do what I want him to do, and be what I want him to be.
The priest Eli is an interesting person in the story of Samuel. He presides over the worship activities at Shiloh but is a deeply flawed individual. He has some spiritual insights, but won’t control his own sons who make a mockery of spiritual things. At the same time, he’s entrusted with the young Samuel who’ll usher in a new day in Israel’s relationship with God. I want to cut him some slack because he lives in these days of transition but it’s plain that the Lord holds him accountable for his failure. I don’t have to judge him because the Lord already has. Eli is, I think, a person who has great potential that’s never realized. He has position, insight, and opportunity to make a real impact for God. Instead, he shows only occasional flashes of that and is ultimately told by the Lord that he and his family will be replaced by someone more worthy. Frankly, I think one reason I want to go easy on Eli is that I fear my life also sometimes fails to measure up. God has been good to me and blessed me in many ways. I don’t want to someday look back and see years of wasted opportunity.
Take Away: Make the most of opportunities the Lord gives you.
Hair today, gone tomorrow
Judges 16: Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me, dear, the secret of your great strength.”
Samson is a one-man army. Other Israelite liberators inspire people to follow them and rally armies to action. Samson does it all by himself. It’s just Samson and God. Well, really it’s just God. Samson’s unshaved head is the symbol of his connection to God and cutting his hair will break that relationship. Subtract God from his life and Samson is a zero. When Samson stupidly tells Delilah his story he breaks that relationship with God. Soon, the wheels come off and all is lost. I’m tempted to say, “Without his hair Samson’s just an ordinary man.” Actually, though, it’s, “Without his God, Samson’s just an ordinary man.” Subtract the unique features of this story and we’re left with the truth Jesus stated in John 15:5: “apart from me you can do nothing.”
Take Away: Every good thing I accomplish is because of the Lord’s presence in my life.
So how’s that “ignoring God” thing working out for you?
Judges 10: They just walked off and left God, quit worshiping him.
It’s been over 60 years since Gideon died. We have short paragraphs mentioning two other leaders who have judged Israel and now, once again, the wheels have fallen off. The word picture is graphic. “They just walked off.” This was definitely one of those, “If God seems far away, who moved?” scenarios. The people aren’t kidnapped and carried away from God. They don’t accidentally wander off. Instead, we see them pull the plug, deciding that they’re no longer going to worship the One who has been so faithful to them. However, that’s not the most sobering part of this story. You see, God doesn’t chase after them. When they come to him in their distress, he replies, “I’m not saving you anymore. Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you’ve chosen over me.” It’s when they repent that the Lord reconnects with their lives. God always honors our free will. He doesn’t force us to serve him and he’ll allow us to face the consequences of our choices. The good news here is that he remains true to his character. While he won’t force us to live our lives in a relationship with him, he’s always ready to forgive and welcome us back into that relationship.
Take Away: We’ll either live in a relationship with the Lord of our own free will or we won’t live in a relationship with him at all…