1 Chronicles 18: Thus David ruled over all of Israel. He ruled well, fair and evenhanded.
David succeeds on all fronts. Here’s a King who prays passionately, fights successfully, and rules justly. All this could have been said about Saul, but when Saul rejected God, God rejected Saul. Now, finally, the promise made to Abraham long ago has come to pass. His descendants possess the Promised Land and his offspring number in the hundreds of thousands. Israel is now more than a family of wanders or even a nation of ex-slaves. Israel is a nation of the people of God led by the man God, himself, has picked to be their king. The story continues with the ups and downs of life and, as well all know, failure is on the horizon. For the time being though, I think I’ll just camp out here and rejoice with the people of this distant day. God keeps his word. He does good things in and for his people. He enjoys blessing our lives. Yes, this is a good place to hang out for a while.
Take Away: When the Lord blesses us we need to take time to enjoy and appreciate those blessings.
Go ahead…wait! Stop!
1 Chronicles 17: Nathan told David, “Whatever is on your heart, go and do it; God is with you.”
It sounds so right. David’s throne is established and now the Ark resides in Jerusalem. When David tells the man of God that he wants to build a Temple of worship Nathan never hesitates to place his stamp of approval on the project. After all, David is God’s man and who could ever deny God’s man the privilege of building a great house of worship. That night though, God speaks to Nathan. The message is quite a positive one for David. The Lord’s pleased with David and the greatest leader in the history of the world will be one of his descendants. But David isn’t to build a Temple. The prophet is a good man who returns to David the next day to relay this message from God. The “no Temple” thing is brushed aside as David focuses in thanksgiving on the promises he’s just received. Still, I can’t help but think about Nathan at this point. When he tells David to go for it I think his heart’s in the right place. To him, this is a slam dunk that doesn’t even require prayer. He’s probably the most surprised person in the world when he hears this word from the Lord. Really, I don’t think Nathan does anything wrong in this story. His reaction to David’s suggestion has the earmarks of a good man who delights in God being honored and served. Still, his reaction to the message of the Lord is even better. Think of it: he’s already set sail on this Temple project. In fact, he’s granted permission in the Name of the Lord for it to proceed. Then, with just one word from the Lord he pivots one hundred eighty degrees and goes straight to David with the correction. This incident doesn’t cause me to fear having opinions and reaching conclusions based on the facts as I know them. It does, though, teach me not to hold too tightly to those conclusions. Even as a dedicated Christian, I often reach the wrong conclusions. Nathan’s story is a good lesson in how I’m to respond when I realize that has, once again, happened.
Take Away: For godly people to have godly opinions is a good thing, but even such people and such opinions are subject to God, himself.
1 Chronicles 15: God exploded in anger at us because we didn’t make proper preparation and follow instructions.
This is the second effort David has made to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The first ended with death. David says that was because the proper preparations and procedures weren’t followed. This time things will be different because he’s paying better attention to the details. There’s nothing like the Ark in Christianity. Many traditions have holy objects but none of them are revered as was the Ark. There’s a reminder here of the importance of sacred places and things. For instance, there are places that are special to me because I’ve had especially powerful encounters with God in them. Maybe you have your mother’s old Bible and just holding it causes you to feel not only closer to her, but to the Lord. These things aren’t the same as the Ark or, later on, the Temple’s Holy of Holies. Still, though, as I see David making plans to move the Ark, I’m reminded of the power of some things that have been used by the Lord to connect me to him. I don’t worship them, but they are precious to me.
Take Away: It’s a good thing to be reminded of times and places where the Lord has seemed especially near.
I’ll just trust God anyway.
1 Chronicles 13: God erupted in anger against Uzziah and killed him because he grabbed the Chest.
The death of Uzziah is shocking to me even as it is to David in this passage. They’re doing a good thing, bringing the Chest of God back from obscurity to its rightful place of honor in Jerusalem. Everyone agrees that it’s “the right thing to do.” For transport they go so far as to build a brand new cart and David and others lead the way in a joyful procession. It’s at the threshing floor in Kidon that disaster strikes. The oxen pulling the cart stumble and Uzziah, who is, it seems, somehow involved in the mechanical part of the move reaches out and touches the Ark to steady it. That’s when the shocking thing happens. God strikes Uzziah dead for showing a lack of reverence for this holy object. If you expect me to explain all this away I’m afraid I must disappoint you. Even David who’s right there is frightened by what he’s just seen. He decides to put the Ark in the building there, unwilling to bring it to Jerusalem. It may be that Uzziah didn’t really need to steady the Ark and only used the incident as an excuse to reach out and touch it. After all, everyone knew that the Ark was to be carried with poles so that the Levites who were entrusted with the task wouldn’t ever actually touch it. However, that’s just speculation. Ultimately I’m left with my belief that God’s character is pure love and that he never acts in a way contrary to his character. This situation, like a million others, is beyond me. It’s another of those “I’ll just trust God anyway” situations we find in both the Bible and in our own lives.
Take Away: Happily, our salvation isn’t based on knowledge, but is, rather, based on faith.
Department of human resources
1 Chronicles 12: Hardly a day went by without men showing up to help – it wasn’t long before his band seemed as large as God’s own army!
David’s cause is a just one. He’s been open and honest and faithful. Still, King Saul knows that his throne is, in reality, David’s. He’s done nothing but be loyal to Saul yet he finds himself named public enemy number one. David withdraws simply to save his own life. However, like a magnet, he begins drawing fellow outcasts. Saul can’t find David, but everyday people just show up and ask to join him. Before long, he commands a force to be reckoned with and some of the great warriors of history are numbered among David’s band. How’d this happen? I think God’s finger prints are all over this. The Lord picked David and now the Almighty’s building his team for the work to be done. Many years later David’s most famous descendant has surrounded himself with twelve good men. Still, there’s much to do. A great harvest beckons, but more workers are needed. Jesus tells his core group to pray that the Father will send more harvest workers. In David’s day people who probably weren’t even sure how they found him just showed up to join his cause. In the Gospels, Jesus puts out a call for harvest workers. Maybe we church leaders should take note of what happens here. If we’re doing what God wants done, he’ll supply the people to do it. The Lord doesn’t use up human resources so we can do what we want to do. However, as we see in David’s case, he has an abundant supply of people to help us do what he wants done.
Take Away: If we’re faithful to the Lord he’ll supply the resources necessary for us to do what he wants done.
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.
The long arm of the law
1Kings 2: Do what God tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you.
The transition of the throne from David to Solomon will not be bloodless, but considering the day and age, it comes close to it. David calls for Solomon to come to him and they have a father-son (or maybe better, a king-king) talk. Some of what David says is lofty, truly uplifting. He encourages Solomon to walk in God’s ways. If he does that, the Lord will lead and bless him. Some of what David says sounds cold and calculating. There are some people who have acted in ways intended to promote their own agendas rather than his but for various reasons they’ve never been brought to justice. From his deathbed David lists them for the new king. He doesn’t tell him what to do in each case but he reminds him that he thinks something should be done. At its worst, this is just plain old revenge. At its best, it’s a cold reminder of reality. This, I think sums up David’s life. On one hand, he’s a hard pragmatist who’ll unflinchingly kill a man he thinks is a threat to the kingdom. On the other hand, he’s a man who loves God with all his heart, who can write soaring poetry and lift the spirits of all those around him. One thing is certain: there’s nothing lukewarm about David and that’s abundantly clear in this, his final appearance in the Bible.
Take Away: Let’s let David’s unhesitant devotion to the Lord inspire and challenge us in our own relationship with God.
Time flies when you’re having fun
1Kings 1: King David grew old.
First and Second Samuel have told us the stories of two kings. The first failed miserably and the second became Israel’s greatest king. Now we come to the stories of all the rest. All fall somewhere between Saul and David. These “king stories” start with “King David grew old.” It’s interesting to be reminded that even great people grow old. Our days are numbered and, while it’s a blessing to live to old age, it isn’t really much fun to get there! Physically David’s wasting away. His circulation isn’t good and he’s cold all the time. His aids come up with an interesting solution for keeping him warm at night. They recruit the young and beautiful Abishag who serves as a sort of “electric blanket” for “poor” old David. It brings a smile to our faces now, but even the Bible writer notes that David’s advanced years assure that their relationship is purely platonic. The more serious issue for Israel is that there’s jostling among his surviving sons as to who will to take the throne. Throughout David’s 40 years on the throne of Judah and then Israel Absalom’s effort to take the throne has been the only serious threat to Israel’s stability. Now, King David grows old and national unity is threatened once again. David has just one more thing to do. He has to name his successor. Once that’s done the burden of leadership will be lifted from his frail shoulders. I can’t feel sorry for David. He’s lived a robust life. If anyone ever “grabs the gusto” it’s David. Now though, even though he’s bigger than life, it’s life (or maybe better, death) that’s winning. So it is for all of us. There’s only one alternative to getting old and it isn’t a very good choice. With that in mind, I want to live as large as I can; to serve God right now with all my strength. Then, when my turn comes I want to be able to look back on a life lived all out for God.
Take Away: We only have one opportunity to live our lives enthusiastically for the Lord, let’s not miss this opportunity.
Getting out what we put in
2 Samuel 24: I’m not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.
The final story in 2 Samuel is difficult, if not impossible, to understand. It seems that David, fearful that God wouldn’t supply an army strong enough to protect Israel, decides to do a national census. The result is that the Lord moves to punish David and Israel. The king is given three choices of punishment and David picks three days of epidemic sweeping the land because he’d rather be directly in the hands of God than be punished through the actions of his enemies as is proposed in the other two alternatives. This story doesn’t work for me very well. Offhand, it sounds as though an epidemic came and someone connected it to David’s lack of faith in taking the census. However, it’s right here in the Bible, so I’ll take it at face value, while, at the same time, keep in mind that there’s certainly more going on here than I see when simply reading the story. However, what happens next is easy to understand and challenging to me in my relationship with God. The plague is sweeping across the land and thousands are dying. David is told to build an altar in a specific place. If he does so, and offers sacrifices there, the plague will stop. David goes to the owner of the land and asks to purchase it. The man, Araunah, offers to give it to him but David replies that he isn’t going to offer to God that which costs him nothing. The price is set, the purchase made, the altar built, and the sacrifice is made, thus ending the plague. While I struggle with this story, I’m reminded of the tendency to offer God that which costs us nothing. We attend church when it’s convenient, we pray when we think we have the time, and in general, we practice a low impact religion. David’s example is one we need. We get out of our relationship with God what we put into it.
Take Away: I’m going to give the Lord my best because I want to get all I can from living in a quality relationship with him.
Water from the well
2 Samuel 23: There is no way, God, that I’ll drink this.
As David’s life is being summed up, we find a listing of significant warriors who served him. Three warriors are especially outstanding: Josheb-Basshebeth, Elazar, and Shammah. These three men were the most fearsome of all the fighters in Israel. As an example of their ability and faithfulness to David, we hear one of their stories. David and his men are holed up in a cave while the Philistines occupy nearby Bethlehem. David remarks that a drink of water from the well there would taste very good to him. The Three decide to get him that drink. They fight their way through enemy lines to that particular well, draw water out of it, and then fight their way back out of the town. The Philistine soldiers must have been very confused by all this! When the three return to camp, they offer David water from the well. At this point, the focus turns from the Three to David. He pours the water out as an offering to God, remarking that the water in that container is like the blood of these brave men. To drink it would be to take their lives too lightly. I’m thankful today for the bravery of another Warrior. His life started in that very town, but, when the time was right he fought his way to the very gates of Hell to provide me living water. The blood of that brave Warrior is precious to me too.
Take Away: Life is mine by the precious blood of Jesus.