Obedience is required
1Kings 11: He hasn’t lived the way I have shown him, hasn’t done what I have wanted, and hasn’t followed directions or obeyed orders….
This epitaph of Solomon’s life gives me insight into what it is that God wants. He wants me to live as he’s shown me to live, to do what he wants me to do, and to follow his directions and obey his commands. If I build impressive church structures and amass great wealth yet fail at these key points God will not only be disappointed in me, he’ll take action against me. Sometimes we act as though all this “obey God” business is kind of theoretical; not literal, but something that happens only in an ideal world. We really think that we can pretty much do what we want and tip our hat to God once in a while and he’ll be satisfied with that. In this passage I see that no matter how much I do in the Name of the Lord I never get beyond the requirement of simply living the way he has shown me to live. If I ignore that, then all the “Temples” I might build are meaningless in his eyes.
Take Away: If we think we’re so valuable to the Lord that we don’t have to obey him – well, we’d better think again.
Close only counts in horseshoes
1Kings 11: Solomon faithlessly disobeyed God’s orders.
Solomon has accomplished much in God’s name. He’s built the lavish Temple, made Israel a world force, and stabilized the nation. He’s amassed knowledge and written proverbs filled with good common sense. But, because of his lack of self-control in relation to the opposite sex he becomes a miserable failure before God. My society seems to think God keeps a sort of balance sheet on our lives. Therefore, the goal is to do more good things than bad things. If a person attains that goal, they’ll make it to heaven. Solomon’s story teaches us better. His failure isn’t that he destroys the Temple or begins writing bad proverbs. Instead, it’s that he disobeys God. One act of disobedience destroys a lifetime of obedience. We all stand in need of God’s grace, and if we make it to heaven it will be because of that grace. Still, God requires obedience. A lifetime of accomplishment can’t atone for even one act of disobedience.
Take Away: It’s worth repeating: a lifetime of accomplishment can’t atone for even one act of disobedience.
1Kings 11: King Solomon was obsessed with women.
It’s too bad that Solomon’s story can’t end with chapter 10. That whole chapter is about his achievements and fame. I read it and can’t help but be impressed by all he does. Then, I turn the page and here’s “King Solomon was obsessed with women.” Even as he’s over the top in his achievements he’s also over the top with his obsession. He collects women in the same way he collected wealth and fame. This will lead to his downfall. The Bible is always up front with us when it comes to the failures of its heroes, and that’s the case here. Even as I read of Solomon’s making silver as common as rocks in Israel, I read that he sins against God by marrying women from the surrounding pagan nations and allowing them to influence him away from God. His willingness to be “unequally yoked” brings about his great failure. No doubt infatuation with the opposite sex has been the downfall of many throughout history but the larger issue here is that God requires my first allegiance. Anything that comes between God and me becomes my god. To obsess over anything is to deny his Lordship in my life.
Take Away: We’re never too smart or successful or, yes, even too wise to mess up. The key is to live close to the Lord and follow his directions for living.
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.