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.
Back from the brink
1 Samuel 30: A gift from the plunder of God’s enemies!
The story of David’s rescue of the women and children of Ziklag is a companion to the events of the previous chapter in which David isn’t allowed to join the battle against Saul and the army of Israel. It takes him and his men three days to return to their base camp of Ziklag. When they arrive there all that’s left is smoldering ruins. Amalekite raiders have taken advantage of the fact that all warriors throughout the territory are massed at Aphek in preparation for a major battle. Ziklag and other area towns have been attacked and ransacked. The women and children have been carried away to be used as slaves or worse. David pursues them, driving his men to exhaustion. By the time he catches up to the Amalekites his forces are severely depleted with only 200 of the original 600 warriors still at his side. With God’s help, his band of 200 routs the much larger Amalekite force. They recover all the captives and a large bounty of goods taken, not only from Ziklag, but from the other towns as well. David insists that the spoils be equally shared with all, including those who were unable to fight. He also sends portions of the plunder to the towns of Judah, “A gift from the plunder of God’s enemies.” The coupled events of David being turned back from the battle at Aphek and his success against the Amalekites rescue David from the brink of personal destruction. In one case, he is stopped from becoming an enemy of Israel. In the other, he turns his trust back to God, and then acts in an honorable way in handling the plunder. Here we see God putting David back on track to lead Israel. Oh, the mighty hand of God, working through our stubbornness and human weakness. God works through a million and one circumstances to bring about his good purpose. It’s that way with David and it’s that way for us too.
Take Away: We don’t always recognize it, but quite often the Lord works through the circumstances of our lives to bring about good.
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.
The big bang!
1 Samuel 12: God, simply because of who he is, is not going to walk off and leave his people.
Talk about “multi-media!” As Samuel brings his farewell sermon, he tells them how displeased the Lord is with them over their insistence on having a king. Then, to illustrate that displeasure, Samuel prays up a thunderstorm! Now, that’s an “attention-getter!” The storm scares them to repentance and they plead with Samuel to pray for them. He promises his prayers and also assures them that God can work through the king arrangement. It may not be God’s first choice, but he can handle it as long as king and people cooperate with him. And, even though the Lord’s disappointed in their poor choices, he isn’t giving up on them. How does Samuel know this? He knows it because his knows God. “Because of who he is, he will be faithful to you.” Wow! What a relief! It’s great to know that my relationship with God isn’t performance- based. That doesn’t give me license to ignore God and do my own thing, but it does encourage me today. Even when I’m functioning at peak capacity I tend to mess up. I’m glad for this reminder that God doesn’t walk out on people who make poor decisions.
Take Away: The Lord can work through even our poor decisions if we walk humbly with him.
1 Samuel 7: If you are truly serious about coming back to God, clean house…they did it.
A slow but sure movement of God has been taking place for over 20 years. People are more reverent concerning spiritual things and the worship of the Lord God has become more and more common. Now, through the ministry of God’s man, Samuel, they’ve arrived at a crossroads. It’s time for a clean break with the gods of Canaan and to surrender to the true God. They’ve come a long way during these 20 years but it’s now time to close the deal. It’s time to decide. It’s time to commit. Their response is a powerful three-word sentence: “They did it.” Reading these words reminds me of watching the eastern horizon at the dawning of a new day. The sky slowly becomes brighter, a hint of things to come. Then, with dazzling beauty, the sun slips into view, flooding the earth with the light of a new day. In the book of 1 Samuel we can watch the process with spiritual eyes. A childless woman prays and a son is given. The boy hears the Voice of God calling him in the night. The adventures of the Ark of God begin to transform the thinking of the people. Samuel inaugurates his ministry by calling for a decision. “They did it.” A new day dawns for Israel! Spiritual awakenings call for decision and commitment.
Take Away: God moves, but he doesn’t force us to respond.
Happily ever after
Ruth 4: Boaz married Ruth.
It’s a happy ending. The sadness of loss is replaced by a new, glorious day. Ruth, who lost so much, is now experiencing God at work in her life. In Boaz, Lord has a good husband for her. The Lord’s working in ways no one could have imagined. The result is, well, a match made in heaven. God is the God of Second Chances. For Ruth it’s another chance for a happy life. For Naomi, it’s a grandchild, the continuation of her family. Then, one more thing: you see there is more going on here than anyone knows. We finish the story with the future family tree. Boaz and Ruth’s great-great grandson will be a fellow named David who’ll be King of Israel and one of David’s descendants will be Jesus, our Savior. Oh yes, God is at work here.
Take Away: The Lord works at multiple levels providing for things we may never live to see.
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.
So how’s that “ignoring God” thing working out for you?
Judges 10: They just walked off and left God, quit worshiping him.
It’s been over 60 years since Gideon died. We have short paragraphs mentioning two other leaders who have judged Israel and now, once again, the wheels have fallen off. The word picture is graphic. “They just walked off.” This was definitely one of those, “If God seems far away, who moved?” scenarios. The people aren’t kidnapped and carried away from God. They don’t accidentally wander off. Instead, we see them pull the plug, deciding that they’re no longer going to worship the One who has been so faithful to them. However, that’s not the most sobering part of this story. You see, God doesn’t chase after them. When they come to him in their distress, he replies, “I’m not saving you anymore. Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you’ve chosen over me.” It’s when they repent that the Lord reconnects with their lives. God always honors our free will. He doesn’t force us to serve him and he’ll allow us to face the consequences of our choices. The good news here is that he remains true to his character. While he won’t force us to live our lives in a relationship with him, he’s always ready to forgive and welcome us back into that relationship.
Take Away: We’ll either live in a relationship with the Lord of our own free will or we won’t live in a relationship with him at all…
Cities of refuge
Joshua 20: A person shall escape for refuge to one of these cities.
We’ve been looking over Joshua’s shoulder as the newly occupied Promised Land is divided up among the tribes of Israel. Frankly, this isn’t an especially inspirational section of the book. Now we are down to special cases: cities for the Levites and priests, and the Asylum-Cities. These cities are important places indeed. If a person has messed up and accidentally killed someone they can flee there and find mercy. These cities of refuge are the only hope for some in need of a second chance. I think there will always be a need for “cities of refuge.” Simply put, people mess up. Our world is filled with broken families, broken promises, and shattered dreams. The need of the day is not for the Church to tell lost people how bad they are as it is to tell them that there’s still hope. To some extent every church is to be a “city of refuge.” God’s people are to offer, in Christ, mercy and hope of restoration. The Church is to be a city of refuge for hurting, broken people.
Take Away: Hurting people, including people who’ve messed up, need hope and through Christ the Church offers that hope.
There’s a remedy
Deuteronomy 4: If you seek God…you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul.
Again, Moses is no stranger to spiritual failure. As the leader of this people he’s seen repeated failure. Even as he warns them against trifling with God, even as he cautions them about having wandering hearts — even then, he knows that they’ll mess up again. The thing is, not only is Moses familiar with spiritual failure, he’s also familiar with God’s grace. Time after time he’s seen God reach out to these people in mercy, love, and forgiveness. In this, Moses has learned some important things about the God who called to him from the burning bush decades earlier. He tells them, “Before anything else, God is a compassionate God.” Even if his warnings to these people go unheeded, God’s character will be unchanged. People, even people who have miserably failed, who seek God whole-heartedly, find God. There’s so much hope here that it takes our breath away. There’s a remedy for spiritual failure. There’s hope for the fallen. There’s a God of Second Chances and if we seek him with all our hearts we’ll find him…and in finding him we’ll find hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.