Seeking a righteous response
1Kings 2: The final verdict is God’s peace.
On his death bed David reminds Solomon of some unfinished issues that need attention. Solomon’s response is to execute some people. This isn’t pleasant devotional reading but there’s at least an insight into why David sets this agenda for his son. When Joab’s executed we’re reminded that he’s killed some innocent people. Then we read, “Responsibility for their murders is forever fixed on Joab and his descendants; but for David and his descendants, his family and kingdom, the final verdict is God’s peace.” We see that these executions aren’t for revenge but rather are for justice. David believes that if the crimes committed by these people are left without response that he and his descendants will be responsible in part for what happened. The concept here can only be carried so far and it’s important to remember that Solomon isn’t acting here as a vigilante. He’s acting in the capacity of king, head of the government. But let’s step away from the specific of executions and also lay aside the role of the government here. When I do that I’m still reminded that if I stand by while some wrong is done, declaring, “It’s none of my business” I become a part of that wrong. That’s true not only for government but for individual citizens as well.
Take Away: Sometimes doing nothing makes us as guilty in the eyes of the Lord as if we have done something.
He’s my friend, but…
2 Samuel 20: Amasa didn’t notice the sword in Joab’s other hand.
Following the defeat and death of Absalom David returns to Jerusalem, victorious but weakened. Soon, there’s another uprising led by Sheba. David realizes that he has to act decisively if he’s to hold Israel together. He shakes up his inner circle, replacing commander Joab with Amasa. The new general is given three days to rally troops to go after Sheba. Time passes and Amasa, for some reason, doesn’t report in and David, feeling time is of the essence bypasses Joab again, this time naming Abishai to lead the force. Being overlooked again angers Joab and with ruthless cunning he acts to regain his position. He, and those loyal to him, joins Abishai’s expedition to root out Sheba. When this group meets Amasa and the force he’s rallied, Joab approaches Amasa as though he’s going to warmly greet him. He then plunges a sword into him, killing him instantly. Amasa is now numbered with Abner and Absalom, all murdered by Joab. Before anyone can respond, he calls for unity in the name of David. In reality, it’s all about him and his power. Joab, though faithful to David, is a ruthless person but David never deals with him. However, he tells his son Solomon that Joab has spilled much innocent blood and that because of him his legacy is stained. I can’t help but wonder why David let Joab get away with it all. He’s David’s nephew but I doubt that has anything to do with it. I think the problem is that Joab serves David’s purposes so well. He’s on David’s side even though his actions aren’t approved of by David. We Christians would do well to study the relationship between David and Joab. Is it possible that we’re too quick to overlook wrong doing by our allies? If someone who’s on “our side” is behaving in an unethical way do we tend to look the other way? Christians are called to a high standard. That should include our reigning in or even disavowing our “friends” when their behavior violates that standard.
Take Away: Ultimately, there’s no right way to do a wrong thing.
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.
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.
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.
Those we empower
2 Samuel 3: Make a deal with me, and I’ll bring the whole country of Israel over to you.
It’s apparent that David’s going to win the war. Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, is an incompetent leader and even his own men doubt him. In fact, David can finish it off any time he wants but for one thing: he continues to refuse to lay a hand on Saul’s descendants. Because of that, things drag on as Ish-Bosheth’s leadership of Israel slowly unravels on its own. One indication is that his general, Abner, secretly comes to David with an offer of peace. Apparently, David thinks that with Abner’s help the foregone conclusion of all this can end sooner and not later, and without his raising a hand against Saul’s son. It doesn’t work out. David’s own general seizes the opportunity to get revenge for the death of his brother at Abner’s hand. Before Abner can act Joab kills him. As often happens in life, the greatest damage done is from “inside” rather than “outside.” In this case, David has one agenda and his general, Joab, has another. One of the challenges of leadership is not only knowing where one is going, but being sure that those we lead — or even better — those we empower to lead with us, share in that goal. Otherwise, they’ll take the authority we’ve given them and use it to pursue their own purposes.
Take Away: Real leaders don’t try to do everything themselves. At the same time, though, it’s important that those who work with us are on the same page as we are.