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.
2 Samuel 21: No more fighting on the frontlines for you!
As the story of David’s leadership begins to wind down we come to a time when things aren’t all that inspirational. Uprisings are put down; there’s an ugly story of the Gibeonites revenge against Saul’s descendants, and a series of one-paragraph accounts of significant battles with the enemies of Israel. Of course, for those involved these are all very big deals (especially for those executed by the Gibeonites!). For us, though, they’re just historical events. David’s army is still fiercely loyal to him but his power as a warrior diminishes with age. When he’s nearly killed in battle his men forbid him from leading the fight as he’s done for decades. He’s simply not up to hand to hand combat anymore and is more valuable as God’s chosen leader than he is as a soldier. In other words, this is a transitional time for David. His advancing age doesn’t hinder his ability to lead, but it does compromise his ability to fight. For each of us, as it is for David, life has times of transition. Generally, we don’t like that very well, but circumstances have a way of dragging us forward, even if we’re kicking and screaming all the way. God isn’t finished with us, but the role we play changes. Let’s be aware of what’s happening and cooperative with God as we move through the various chapters of our lives.
Take Away: As one period of life ends another begins with a new set of challenges and opportunities
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.
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.
My kind of people
1 Samuel 22: All who were down on their luck came around – losers and vagrants and misfits…David became their leader.
As David hides out at the Cave of Adullam people begin coming to him. These aren’t influential, comfortable people. Rather, these are those who have nothing left to lose. Seeing that David has been kicked out they identify with him and become his followers. Hundreds of years later another man will be unfairly mistreated and abused. He’ll be kicked out by the respectable people who are in power. He too will draw “losers and vagrants and misfits” to himself. In him they’ll find acceptance, transformation, and purpose. And, thousands of years later I can report to you that I am one of those “losers” who has come to Jesus. Those who come to David, the original four hundred, become so devoted to him that they will follow him anywhere. That’s how I feel about my Lord too.
Take Away: Jesus invites all those who are weary and burdened to come to him.
The cost of spiritual isolation
1 Samuel 18: Saul hated David
Saul hasn’t forgotten the words of God’s man, Samuel: “God has rejected you as king over Israel.” Still, long after that word of rejection Saul continues in power, enjoying considerable military success. Then comes the Goliath incident. He shouldn’t have let David fight Goliath. As King, the General of the Army, it was his battle, not David’s. But David did fight, winning not only the battle, but also the hearts of the people of Israel. Now, in the eyes of the people of Israel, David can do no wrong. He never acts in a way that speaks of betrayal to his King and, instead, faithfully and with frustrating success carries out every command. The people fall in love with David and because of that Saul hates him. There’s a lot going on here. For instance, Saul is likely clinically depressed. At first, it appears that Saul doesn’t actually need God at all, but now his life apart from God is taking a terrible toll on his mind and spirit. We know that things will only go downhill from here. Then there’s David who simply keeps doing the right thing — even when Saul tries to pin him to the wall with a spear! There’s also an unattractive “but what have you done for us lately” element in the people’s changing loyalties from Saul to David. I don’t guess the writer of this portion of Scripture is teaching any particular lesson in this passage. Rather, he’s just telling the story. Still, there are several things to think about here.
Take Away: Living apart from God takes a terrible toll on a person.
Do I really believe the battle belongs to God?
1 Samuel 17: Everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God.
“This very day God is handing you over to me.” So says David as he prepares for battle with Goliath. For us this is a nifty story, one of the most memorable in the entire Bible. For David, well, this is the real deal. Before him stands a giant of a man who intends to disembowel him. David has chosen a sling and some stones as his weapon of choice but he knows this fight isn’t really about weapons at all. This is a spiritual event, and he correctly identifies it as such: “I come to you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.” In spite of the real and material threat, David correctly classifies it as a real and spiritual matter. As much as I like this story, do I really apply it to my own “real and material” life? Am I good at praying and trusting God only in theory or do I do it into practice, where the “rubber meets the road”? Instead of viewing conflicts as spiritual events, do I rush to defend myself — or call a meeting to plot a strategy for getting my way — or throw my weight around — or manipulate the people involved? To do so is to view the issue at hand as one of “swords and spears” rather than as a spiritual battle that belongs to God. When I do that kind of stuff, I may get my way in the short run, but it will always come at a price to me and to others. Then again, I may not get my way at all and the giant may just win, leaving me fatally wounded.
Take Away: It’s a real challenge to retrain oneself to recognize spiritual battles for what they are.
Shopping for armor
1 Samuel 17: Then Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor.
Since David’s going to fight Goliath, Saul’s preparing him for battle. Being given the king’s own helmet and sword is an honor for David. However, in spite of the seriousness of the situation, the result is comical. The helmet’s way too big, the sword, when strapped around his waist, drags the ground. The oversized armor weighs David down to the point that he can hardly move much less fight. Thus we come to the truism that we each must wear our own armor. We individualist Westerners can really get off on this one! “I have to do this my way…what works for you won’t necessarily work for me…after all, I can’t wear someone else’s armor.” Let’s step back for a minute and look at this situation again. Saul’s armor, including his weapons of war aren’t suitable for David so David simply picks another approach that already belongs to someone else. We don’t know who invented the sling, but it certainly wasn’t David. Probably way back in the first pages of Genesis there’s an untold story about how some enterprising fellow came up with the sling as a way to hunt. When wars came along the sling became one of the weapons every soldier attempted to master. So, when David rejects Saul’s “armor” he is actually accepting that of someone else. I think that it’s rare for God to call us to be totally original. After all, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” The Bible’s full of principles that can be applied to the issues of life. Someone has already thought through ways to deal with most issues. David didn’t go out and invent the sling so he could fight Goliath; he simply picked it as the method for accomplishing his purpose — a method pioneered by someone else. The fact that David couldn’t fight in Saul’s armor doesn’t give me permission to go around acting like the Lone Ranger doing everything my own way. It just reminds me that there’s more than one way to accomplish things, and I need to know enough about the issue at hand, and to listen carefully enough to the voice of the Lord in my life, to pick the right one.
Take Away: A wise person has more than one tool at hand and that person knows which tool fits that particular situation.
Grace at work here
1 Samuel 16: At that very moment the Spirit of God left Saul.
Over in Bethlehem a secret meeting between Samuel and David is taking place. With his brothers as witnesses, David is anointed king of Israel. This young man is God’s pick to replace Saul. Of course, Saul is unaware of all this. If he knew…well, David wouldn’t survive the day. However, in a strange way Saul knows something has happened. A spiritual light in his life is gone. In its place is a darkness that frightens him. It’s been some time since Saul’s failure with the Amalekites. It was back then that God rejected Saul as king of Israel. The interesting thing is that, according to this scripture, God’s Spirit has remained with Saul, even though God is in the process of replacing him. I can’t help but wonder why that is. Here are my two possible answers, and it really isn’t an “either/or” proposition. First, it might be that, in spite of the absolute language about Saul that the Lord’s willing to give him time and help to turn it around. The scripture tells us that Samuel grieves Saul’s failure. I can’t help but think that God does too. Maybe the Spirit of God has continued to tug at his heart even when it is almost certain that it’s too late. Second, it could be that God has continued to bless Saul for the sake of Israel. Failure or not, Saul has the power and authority in Israel. His days are numbered but as long as he remains in office God will help him — not for his sake, but for the sake of Israel. I’ve heard stories of ministers who had some secret, devastating sin going on. When it was made public people were amazed because of the power of their ministry with many lives being changed. Maybe we have a similar situation with Saul. God continues to bless his leadership and even provide personal strength for his own purposes. The sun’s setting and a new leader will take his place, but for now the Spirit of God remains with Saul. I like both scenarios. I like the idea that God gave Saul a “second chance” and I also like the idea that God took care of his people even through such an imperfect leader as is Saul. In either (or both) case(s), I see the grace of God at work.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances; also, the Lord cares for his people even through imperfect leaders.