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.
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.
Blown away by God’s grace
2 Samuel 7: You’ve done all this not because of who I am but because of who you are.
The promise God makes to David through the prophet Nathan is an enormous one. His offspring will rule Israel forever. When I see how Saul’s sad story plays out then compare it to this promise of “forever” made to David I find it to be breathtaking. All this blows David away too. He goes into the presence of the Lord to express his thanks. Along with that is a real sense of unworthiness on his part. While David’s done a lot of the right things, this isn’t God responding to David’s deeds. Instead, this is God acting out of his goodness and David responding as he ought to respond. It’s true of me too. Oh how blessed I am! God is good to me in wonderful ways. He’s blessed me, not because I’m more spiritual, or more obedient than others. He’s blessed me because of his goodness. Like David, I’m blown away by all the Lord has done and is doing for me. And, like him, I want to express my thanksgiving to the Lord.
Take Away: How can I say thanks for all the good things the Lord has done for me?
War games aren’t fun
2 Samuel 3: The war between the house of Saul and the house of David dragged on and on.
Sadly, Saul’s death and David’s return to Israel isn’t the end of Saul’s story. His general, Abner, makes Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth king over Israel. Meanwhile, David has moved to Hebron in the area of Judah. He’s made king there. Israel’s now divided, with the larger part being ruled by Saul’s son and the smaller area ruled by David. The result is civil war. David no longer needs to run. He has an army equal to that of Israel. Because of that both sides jealously defend their territory. This is civil war at its ugliest, with relatives battling one another. One major battle takes place at the Pool of Gibeon, where the armies meet face to face. In a deadly game, representatives from each side are pitted against one another in one-on-one fights to the death. As David’s men win one round after another things escalate to a major battle in which fighters from each side can call one another by name. It is ugly, ugly, ugly. Civil wars are the worst wars in which people who know one another and share common interests and goals fight it out, leaving corpses scattered across the battlefield. There’s nothing more tragic than war within the family. Church people should do everything possible to avoid such wars. The problem is that, as happened at the Pool of Gibeon, such wars start with much smaller barbed “games” of saying two edged things to one another or giving or taking offense easily. Oh, how we need the grace of God in our relationships with one another.
Take Away: We can more skillfully hurt those closest to us – so dealing with these precious ones must be especially flavored with grace.
1 Samuel 12: And neither will I walk off and leave you. That would be a sin against God! I’m staying right here at my post….
Samuel’s an old man but he has plenty of life left. If these people had trusted God with the future Samuel would have kept them on the right track for years to come. Then, at the right time, the Lord would have raised up another national and spiritual leader to guide them even as he gave them Samuel. It isn’t going to be that way though. They insisted on having a king and God has given them one. Still, there’s evidence of God’s grace here. The Lord won’t forsake them. If they and their king cooperate things will be just fine. Now, Samuel adds a personal note. Even as God promises to remain faithful, so does he. Really, Samuel can do nothing else. As God’s man his actions must reflect God’s character. It would be unthinkable for him to say, “I represent God, and God is going to stand by you; but as for me, I’m out of here!” People who represent God, those who claim to be his people, reflect God in all their lives. Samuel could have gotten his feelings hurt and just “handed them over to God” but he doesn’t do that. As a man of God I must allow my life to reflect his character even when people treat me unfairly or misunderstand me or hurt my feelings. It’s simply a part of being a man of God.
Take Away: The people of God reflect him in all they do and say – on both good days and bad.
The God of Second Chances
Judges 16: But his hair, though cut off, began to grow again.
Samson, lacking both self-control and common sense, has ruined everything. His undisciplined behavior with women and specifically his inability recognize Delilah for the traitor she is has cost him everything. His pride, strength, freedom, and eyesight are gone. The phrase “his hair began to grow again” is powerfully symbolic of what’s happening in Samson’s heart. As he does the work of an animal, grinding out grain, somehow, through his darkness, he begins to see God. However, a word of clarification is needed here. This isn’t a Samson story; rather, it’s a God story. We aren’t to focus on Samson’s strength or his stupidity, but on the marvelous grace of God. Samson had been raised up to be a deliverer of his people and even in his miserable state the Lord’s still willing to work in his life to that end. “His hair began to grow again” is a hopeful word in a terrible situation. This is a picture of our God of Second Chances at work. Samson’s end is not the conclusion to the glorious story as it could have been. In the exercise of his free will Samson sabotages his own life. However, even when everything’s messed up we find God at work salvaging even this destroyed life. That’s the kind of God I serve.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances, full of grace and mercy, offering us undeserved restoration.
Putting out a fleece
Judges 6: Let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece.
Here we are reading about Gideon and his fleece of wool. Actually, Gideon asks for, and receives, three signs from God. First, the angel of the Lord causes a fire to miraculously appear and consume his offering. Second, his fleece of wool gets wet from the dew while everything else stays dry. Third, the situation is reversed and the fleece stays dry while everything else gets wet from the dew. This is interesting reading, but it isn’t a lesson in how we’re supposed to deal with God. We’re to be people of faith, trusting in the Lord and learning to hear his voice. We’re not supposed to be sign-seekers and deal-makers. The star of this story isn’t Gideon, a near heathen who keeps getting signs from God confirming what he’s clearly already been told. The Star is God, who is patient even when Gideon keeps asking him to prove his own words. I’m thankful for a patient God who puts up with my shallowness even as he works to produce in me a more mature relationship with himself. Generally speaking though, I need to just do whatever it is God has made clear to me without “putting out a fleece.”
Take Away: Don’t press God’s patience – just obey in the first place.
Asking God hard questions
Judges: 6: If God is with us, why has all this happened to us?
The startling honesty of Gideon arrests my attention today. Even as he has an extraordinary encounter with the Lord he’s brutally honest about how things are going. Of course, the answer to his question has already been given. God didn’t leave the people. Rather, they left him: they “went back to doing evil.” God isn’t going to stay where he’s unwelcome. The Lord departs and they’re quickly dominated by Midian. Still, God doesn’t forget them. When the time is right, the Lord appears to Gideon and calls this unlikely person a “mighty warrior.” More on Gideon’s leadership later on, but, again, my attention is drawn to his honesty before God. If God is so good, if he’s on our side, if he’s our deliverer then why are things so bad? There’s power in asking hard questions to God. In this case Gideon need only look to the pagan practices he and his fellow Israelites have incorporated into their lives for his answer. God’s grace is clearly evidenced by, first, the fact that they haven’t been wiped off the face of the earth, and second, the fact that God is right there carrying on a conversation with him. The truth is, though, that God isn’t offended by our asking hard questions. We aren’t to take up permanent residence in that house of questions but we almost have to pass through that neighborhood to ever arrive at a meaningful faith.
Take Away: It is okay to ask the Lord hard, honest questions.
Generation to generation
Judges 5: God chose new leaders, who then fought at the gates.
Following the defeat of the oppressor Sisera we hear a duet being sung by Deborah and Barak, the two people instrumental in the victory that has been won. It’s a war song, all about how God fought for them and how he empowered them to do what needed to be done. The book of Judges gives us history in 40 year or so chunks, so, while I earlier walked with Abraham year by year and traveled with the children of Israel in their wilderness journey at a much slower pace, each page of the book of Judges represents the rise and fall of an entire generation. In this song, I find a description of how “God chose new leaders” to fight for him in their generation. While there’s a lot of ugly stuff in this book of the Bible, I’m reminded that God continues to be active in Israel. Even though it’s sometimes hard to spot, I see the golden thread of God’s grace here. A set of leaders fail and Israel plunges into the darkness of sin. Then, the Lord graciously reaches down into that darkness and lifts a new leader to call his people back from the brink. This is far from ideal. It could and should be so much better. Still, the grace and faithfulness of God shines like a beacon against this bleak backdrop of sin and failure.
Take Away: God’s grace is seen in dark places. It fact, it shines there, bringing both light and hope.
A humbling reminder
Deuteronomy 7: God wasn’t attracted to you…because you were big and important…he did it out of sheer love.
It’s a bit humbling. Moses is talking to the “chosen people” who are about to enter the “promised land.” Everything about this causes them to think of themselves as being somehow special. But Moses says “no” to this kind of thinking. Frankly, this shouldn’t be too hard. Their ancestors for ten generations were mere slaves in Egypt. Their parents were nomads without a land to call their own. Moses says to them, “You aren’t special – it’s God’s love that’s special.” Well, that’s kind of what he says, but the other side of this coin is that because God loved them and treasured them — because of that, they are special. As I read these words I find myself, rather than being a somewhat interested bystander, right at the heart of this story. I was on the outside looking in, unworthy and unwelcome. Then, I received an invitation to come in. That invitation was signed in blood, the signature: “Jesus Christ.” Now, I read these ancient words of Moses with new eyes and with a whole new level of respect. God wasn’t attracted to me because I was big and important. In sheer love he reached out to me. Today, I’m humbled by this reminder.
Take Away: I am who I am by the grace of God.