Pride goes before a fall
2 Chronicles 26: Arrogant and proud, he fell.
Uzziah is just a teen when he becomes king of Judah. By and large, he does a good job as king and his long reign is a good one for his nation. From the beginning he seeks God. The Lord is pleased with him and blesses his life with successful building projects and a strong army. Then, when it seems Uzziah will be one of the rare kings who have nothing but positive things on their record something ugly happens. His successes go to Uzziah’s head. We don’t know the full story but Uzziah decides, like Saul did many generations earlier, to take over the worship activities. He takes the one role in the nation that’s denied him – going into the Temple and acting as priest of God. The legitimate priests, descendants of Aaron, try to stop Uzziah, but he ignores them. With the holy censor in hand, he refuses to hear the objections of the priests. Then, God objects, and when he objects, he can’t be ignored. The dreaded disease of leprosy breaks out on Uzziah’s hand as he holds the censor. This is God’s judgment. It’s too bad isn’t it. Uzziah comes so far and does so many things right. His downfall comes, not as a result of some big temptation or some great threat. Instead, it’s brought about by his success. When things are going right and it’s clear that God is blessing us we need to remember Uzziah. Here we see a lesson in how success can lead to failure.
Take Away: The distance from impressive success to dismal failure is shorter than we might think.
Starting at the end
1 Chronicles 10: Saul died in disobedience.
When we first read the story of King Saul in 1 Samuel we get the full treatment, so we know all about how he was anointed and how his rejection of God unraveled his kingship and his life in general. Here, we start at the end of his life. The writer seems to be in a hurry to get to King David and I think I know why. This book is being written to remind the people of Israel where they came from and who they are. The desire is to reignite their connection to one another and to God. Saul could have been the first and greatest king of Israel, but he failed, dying not in glory, but in disobedience. Later on, we’ll work through the failures that led to the exile, but here in the early going the idea is to inspire and ignite enthusiasm. Sad to say, Saul’s story might be good for warning people of pending failure but it won’t do much to unite and give a sense of pride. There’s a time to focus on such things. After all, spiritual failure is a real possibility. For now, though, the writer just wants to set up the story of David and give his readers something to cheer about. Know what? That’s okay with me too!
Take Away: While we know all about spiritual failure it’s good to be reminded of the very real possibility of spiritual success too.
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.
Have you ever had anyone kick up dirt in your life?
2 Samuel 16: Shimei followed along on the edge of the hill alongside, cursing, throwing stones down on them, and kicking up dirt.
As David flees his son Absalom he encounters various people. Some come to help and offer to join him; others come to cheer his seeming defeat. Shimei can be included in the second group. He’s somehow related to Saul and this is his chance to let David know just how he feels about him. In his eyes, David stole the throne from Saul and is at fault for his death. It’s probably a bigger deal that. Had Saul’s family retained the throne Shimei would have some prime position in government. Whatever the reason, he comes to taunt David and his companions as they leave Jerusalem. One of David’s men offers to go up and lop off Shimei’s head but David forbids it. This guy is really nothing, just hot air and noise. After all, his own son is out to kill him! The fact that one of his enemies cheers that almost makes sense. Wouldn’t it would be nice if no one ever “kicked up dirt” in our lives and if everyone treated us with gentleness and respect. But that isn’t going to happen. Like David, we have to decide that not everyone’s going to like us and some people are going to be happy when things aren’t going our way. We can’t run around beheading all those who are pleased that we’re having problems. Instead, we’d better focus on being a people of God, doing his will and remaining victorious through the trial and leave such small potatoes matters alone.
Take Away: Don’t worry too much about people who oppose you – just focus on that which really matters, leaving their opposition in the hands of God.
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.
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?
I’m part of this story
2 Samuel 7: God himself will build you a house!
For David, the sun’s finally beginning to shine. His long struggle with Saul has come to an end. The promise made to him when he was a mere shepherd has come to pass and he sits securely on the throne of Israel. Even the Ark of the Covenant is now at rest in the city called the “City of David.” David’s comfortable and settled and he wants the same for the precious Chest of God, so he proposes the first ever permanent worship structure, a Temple, for Israel. To his surprise God says “no.” It isn’t that the Lord’s against the building of such a place but this is not the time. Still, God’s pleased with David and he tells him so. David will become one of the most famous people in the world. He’ll reign in peace and when his days on earth are over it will be one of his own offspring who will rule Israel. Even as the Lord fully rejected Saul he now fully accepts David. His family will rule Israel forever. David doesn’t know it, but he’s just heard the promise of the Messiah. One of his descendants will be King of kings and Lord of lords. He’ll rule, not only Israel, but all of Creation — forever! I’m not a part of the people of Israel but, today, I’m a beneficiary of the promise God makes to David. That ultimate Ruler only hinted at in this passage is the Ruler of my life. How wonderful to read about an event that happened thousands of years ago and to suddenly find myself a part of the story!
Take Away: All those who live by faith have a place in the story of the people of the Lord.
Follow the Leader
2Samuel 6: I’ll gladly look like a fool.
One of David’s wives is Michal, the daughter of Saul. It may be that she remembers her father’s “kingly demeanor” as she watches David playing the drum major role in leading the Ark into town. In her eyes, David comes up far short of her father at this point and she simply doesn’t understand why David would make such a spectacle of himself. Not only that, but, frankly, the outfit he’s wearing doesn’t lend itself to such an animated, exuberant display and she tells him about it. David’s reply shows us his where his priorities lie. His joy – his dance – was energized by his love of God. If displaying that joyful love makes him look like a fool that’s just fine with him. Here we see that spiritual leadership isn’t all about programs, plans, and meetings. Christian spiritual leaders are, first of all, followers. We follow the King of Kings, and it isn’t all business. As the Ark is brought into Jerusalem, David isn’t afraid to rejoice openly and emotionally. As he points out to Michal, the maids she’s worrying about know the real thing when they see it and his leadership is enhanced rather than lessened by his transparent joy in the Lord.
Take Away: Christian leadership is as much about leading people in enjoying the blessings of the Lord as it is about organization, vision, and plans.
God, patiently working
2 Samuel 4: And so they anointed David king over Israel.
It’s been a long time coming. David remembers being called in from the fields as he cared for his father’s sheep to meet the old man of God, Samuel. In a private ceremony Samuel anointed him king of Israel. However, Israel already had a king and Saul wasn’t about to give up his position of power, so David waited. He faithfully served Israel, doing anything asked of him. He honored Saul, even as Saul became his enemy. It isn’t that David’s made no errors along the way; he has. The bottom line, though, is that he’s faithfully adhered to this philosophy: if God had him anointed as king, then he’ll be king in God’s own time. Now, the result of treachery in Ish-Bosheth’s camp, the door is finally open and all Israel comes to make David king. The deaths of both Saul and Ish-Bosheth were not by David’s hand. In fact, it isn’t the way he wanted it at all. Still, God works in all things, even things he doesn’t design, to accomplish his purpose. David isn’t the only one who’s been patient. God, Himself, has worked in and through and even around the events that have taken place to move history in the direction he desires. The end result is that, just as Samuel said years earlier: David is king of Israel. Here’s a picture of how God works: not orchestrating and micromanaging events to get his way, but directing the outcome of even bad things, like murder, to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t motivate the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite to kill Ish-Bosheth, but when they do, the Lord uses it to accomplish his purpose of bringing David to the throne of Israel.
Take Away: As Sovereign God the Lord works in this world, even though poor choices made by people, to accomplish his purposes.
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.