God speaks well of us.
Here again, I think David shows us a glimpse of God’s heart, in the sad song he penned following the death of Saul and Jonathan. “Saul and Jonathan—in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.” (vs 23-24)
Even when his enemy had been killed, David didn’t resort to dragging his name through the mud. Instead, he openly grieved for him. In a way, that seems strange, given the fact that Saul’s death opened the door for David to ascend to the throne (although David had made it quite clear on more than one occasion that he wasn’t eager for Saul to die).
What struck me was that in the song about Saul, David picked out and spoke the best truth about Saul that he knew. He was a mighty warrior. He brought plundered riches into Israel. He was a father who loved his son. He didn’t try to make up nice things to say about Saul, nor did he point out all the ways in which he had failed.
I think this is what God is like. It reminded me of the situation Jesus found Himself in when the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Him. He knew the secret sins and failures of the men who were accusing her—but He did not expose those men any more than He condemned the woman. And have you ever read Hebrews 11—the “great faith” chapter? Check out the people who are listed there by God as having great faith. It could raise a few eyebrows!
God always speaks well of us. He always finds the best thing He can say and focuses on it. And if there is nothing positive to say, as in the case of the men who accused the woman caught in adultery, it seems He prefers to keep His mouth closed. God isn’t out to embarrass us or expose us. He always speaks well of us.
God works in unexpected ways.
So, now that Saul is dead, it’s time for David to ascend to the throne of Israel, right? He even asks the Lord what the next step is, and the Lord tells him to go to Hebron (vs 1). David has been waiting so long . . . you can almost sense his relief and enthusiasm as he addresses the men who had been loyal to Saul and praises them for all their service to the Lord’s anointed.
But then, something unexpected happens. Even though David has been anointed by the Lord to be king over Israel, and even though the people of Judah have accepted him as their king, the rest of Israel (under the influence of Saul’s cousin, Abner) have decided to go a different direction. What? No easy path to the throne for David? I thought God was on his side! But instead of David having an easy time of it, a war ensued between the house of Saul and the house of David.
Here’s something I’ve learned about God from my own life, and it seems to be reflected in David’s experience, too: God works in unexpected ways. Even when we are well aware of what His overall plan is for our lives, we often have no idea about how He will go about working out that plan. Often, it has been my experience that He never works in the way I expect. Actually, this is why I think He often doesn’t even let me in on the plan. He knows me all too well, and He knows that if I knew what the outcome was supposed to be, I’d go about trying to make it happen in the way I think would be best.
If you’re like me, you want to have control over your life—especially the things that happen to you. But God asks us to trust Him instead of trying to control our situation. He asks us to believe that He knows the best path to take—even when it looks ridiculous or impossible to us. That’s the difference between our ways and His ways, our thoughts and His thoughts. He works in unexpected, glorious ways. And how much better things would be if we could learn to sit back, relax, and let Him work!
God's justice is different from ours.
Sometimes it’s difficult to make a statement about God from a chapter in the Bible that doesn’t really mention God at all. However, in this particular chapter, one of the small (and often overlooked) events really stood out to me, and I realized it was a great opportunity to draw a contrast between our type of “justice” and God’s justice.
“David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, ‘Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.’ So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, ‘Go back home!’ So he went back.” (vs 14-16)
Do you ever remember hearing about Paltiel son of Laish before? This poor guy gets one teeny mention in Scripture, but what a sad story he headlines! When I read this part of 2 Samuel 3, it almost broke my heart. I envisioned this poor man, totally in love with his wife, weeping all along the journey, knowing that he has no choice but to obey the order of the king.
Is this justice? David had, indeed, been betrothed to Michal, and Saul had done the wrong thing by taking her away from David and giving her to Paltiel. However, so many years had gone by since that injustice—and David had obviously moved on. This chapter alone chronicled the six sons that were born to him by six different wives. David apparently had no problem finding women.
So, for me, the question is: did Saul’s injustice to David warrant David’s injustice to Paltiel? Could we say that justice was served in this situation? Is this God’s kind of justice?
I can’t say that I have an answer for those questions. I do believe that David didn’t do the right thing by taking Michal away from her husband, but I can’t say that I know what would have been a just outcome for David—since Saul had done the wrong thing to him. But I feel quite confident in saying that I don’t believe this is how God would have achieved justice in this situation. I say that because I don’t believe that God’s justice is retributive, but restorative. I don’t think His brand of justice would have benefited one man at the expense of another.
Often, we describe “justice” as having a retributive component, because that’s mostly what we’re confined to in our sinful context. But God has ways of restoring what has been taken from us that involve nothing but good for everyone involved. I don’t know how He does that, and I can’t say that I know what that would or should look like in every situation . . . but I do know that God’s justice is different from ours. For He is equally concerned with all affected parties.
God doesn't get what He wants by force.
What made Rekab and Baanah think that David would rejoice over their murder of Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth? Didn’t they remember how David reacted to the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul? In their zeal to secure the throne for David, they did something very foolish . . . and paid for it with their own lives.
Here again, I have to admire David—not necessarily for his solution to the problem, but for his utter refusal to jump ahead of God’s timing in the plan to bring him to the throne. In a culture where blood feuds were common, where families who were at odds would wipe each other out, David refused to enter into violence against Saul or the members of his family. To me, this is another flash of the divine coming through David—one of the reasons he was called a man after God’s own heart.
You see, God doesn’t get what He wants by force either. Indeed, He has mysterious ways of fulfilling His will for our lives, but He never resorts to the use of force to accomplish His purpose. Ultimately, force is contrary to the philosophy of love. (I say “ultimately” because I think we often look at some of the Old Testament stories of God’s discipline and apply the label of “force” when, perhaps, it isn’t warranted.)
Love doesn’t force itself on others, and it doesn’t force its way on others either. What God wants is for us to decide to be friends with Him, to engage freely in a love relationship with Him, our Creator. And no part of that process can include force. He can’t force us to love Him, and He can’t retaliate against us if we don’t. (If He does, we were never really free to begin with.) God doesn’t use force to get what He wants, and the closer we come to Him, the more I think we will also emulate that attitude.
God is a servant.
So, finally David is inaugurated as the new king of Israel. And something very short and simple in this chapter stuck out to me: “All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.”‘” (vs 1-2)
There had been a lot of fighting in the previous years—both internal fighting (as Saul pursued David) and external fighting (as the Israelites fought the Philistines). But in the first two verses of this chapter, it was clear to me that what God was after was a king that would have service as his number one priority. Sure, there was still going to be war (since the Israelites hadn’t followed God’s plan to eject the heathen nations from the Promised Land), but God wanted David to be a shepherd, not a warrior.
In thinking of the people of Israel, David wasn’t supposed to view them as recruits for his army, but as people who needed to be cared for. God wanted him to be tender with them, caring for them in a self-sacrificing way (as a shepherd does for his sheep). In other words, God wanted David to be a man after His own heart.
At heart, God is a shepherd. And He loves all His sheep—those who have stayed in the fold, and those who have wandered away. His way of being a king is to serve. His way of displaying His greatness and power is to sacrifice for His children. In so many ways, servanthood is the essence of Godhood.
God cannot be managed.
Right off the bat, I must confess that I owe a debt of gratitude for the way I look at Uzzah’s story to Eugene Peterson’s insights in his book Leap Over a Wall. If you’d like to read more about the life of David, I highly recommend picking up that book. It helped me see a lot of things in a new way—including the story of Uzzah.
David decided to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. Only . . . he didn’t bother to check out how the ark was supposed to be moved. Or if he did, he ignored the instructions. God had specifically decreed that the Levites were to carry the ark wherever it needed to go. However, when the Philistines hauled the ark off into captivity, they decided to move it on a cart. Perhaps the Israelites thought the Philistines were on to something. After all, why lug such a heavy thing around when you can put it on a cart and get some cattle to do the heavy lifting?
There was just one problem. A cart moving over uneven ground isn’t always that steady and stable, and at one point, the ark began to tip. “When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.” (vs 6-7)
I had always found that odd before. Uzzah’s irreverent act? He was trying to keep the ark from falling to the ground. I would have thought that would have fallen under the reverent category. I guess not. And, if that weren’t enough, the next verse doesn’t help very much: “Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and . . . he was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.” (vs 8, 10)
If touching the cart was irreverent, wouldn’t you think getting angry with God would be even more irreverent? How in the world did David have the audacity to be angry with God—and to show that anger—after God had done something so dreadful? Shouldn’t David have been cowering in his boots?
On the contrary, I think Uzzah’s irreverent act was in trying to manage God. From the details in the story, it appears he had more of a boss/employee relationship with God instead of a personal one. He wasn’t worried about what God wanted or didn’t want. He was just trying to move God to the place where he wanted Him to be.
I have recently heard religions referred to as “God management systems.” It’s as if we have constructed a framework of beliefs and traditions around what we think we need to do in order to get God to do what we want Him to do. It’s a way to manage Him. To keep Him in line. To make sure He’s fulfilling His end of the salvation bargain. And all the while, we may be missing out on the whole point—the actual relationship.
That’s what makes David’s anger not irreverent. The fact that David felt comfortable enough with God to, first, get angry with Him for what He did and, second, to leave the ark right where it was for a while suggests that David wasn’t trying to manage God at all. In fact, he wasn’t even trying to manage himself in the context of their relationship. He was just busy having a relationship with God—warts and all.
This is what God wants. He doesn’t want us to try to manage Him. (Hint: He can’t be managed.) Instead, He wants us to have a relationship with Him. He doesn’t want the clear-cut, four-cornered contract. He wants the messiness of a relationship with all the emotions that come with it—love, hate, anger, jealousy, happiness, and sadness. Instead of hiding our true selves from Him, He wants us to bring it all to Him: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Instead of trying to manage God, in the context of our relationship with Him, He wants to help us learn self-management. So, the next time you’re tempted to try to paint God into a corner or manage Him in some way, remember Uzzah. God cannot be managed by His creatures. Trying to put Him where we want Him is a surefire dead end!
God corrects us.
This is one of my favorite little stories in the Bible. David, in a moment of stricken conscience, decides that he wants to build a proper temple for the Lord he loves so much. What a noble thought, right? Who could object?! But, instead of rushing ahead, he summons Nathan, the prophet, to tell him of his plan.
Nathan, in effect, says, “Sounds good to me. Go ahead, and the Lord will be with you.”
For two seconds, everything looks like a go . . . until later that night when the Lord appears to Nathan and says, “Hey, hey, hey! This isn’t in My plan. I’m sorry you told David to go ahead, but you’ll have to go back and tell him that he won’t be the one to build a temple for Me.”
Wow. Talk about the prophetic foot-in-the-mouth! Where did we ever get this idea that for a prophet to be a true prophet, he must be infallible a hundred percent of the time? If that’s the case, we can toss Nathan out as a prophet right here. But, in fact, that’s not the case. Even the prophets are human beings who make mistakes sometimes—just like the rest of us.
But the great thing about God is that, even when we make mistakes, He is sure and quick to correct us. We really don’t have to sit around and wring our hands, worrying about whether we have done the right things or said the right things. If we haven’t, God will be the first one to let us know! He has so many different ways of communicating with us, we never need to worry that He won’t be able to tell us what we need to know.
The question is, will we listen?
God has His own time zone.
This chapter outlines all of David’s military victories after becoming king of Israel. Incidentally, after defeating the Philistines, the Moabites, the Arameans, the Edomites, and the Ammonites, Israel had finally acquired all the territory that the Lord had promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-19, over 1000 years before.
Over 1000 years before?! Talk about taking time to fulfill a promise! How many generations had risen up and passed away since Abraham—all of them being told of the promise, and all of them looking for the fulfillment of the promise? Yet, in their eyes, the fulfillment of the promise was delayed.
But in God’s eyes, the fulfillment was right on time. And I think that one of the reasons this whole story is in the Bible is so that we would know that when we don’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises when we think they should happen, that doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about us. The Bible says that God’s concept of time is completely different from our concept of time: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” (2 Pet 3:8-9)
So, the next time you feel like God has abandoned you and the promises He’s made to you, remember David and the Israelites. In just the right time, God’s promises will come to pass. You can trust completely in Him!
God loves His enemies.
What another beautiful picture of God revealed in David in 2 Samuel 9. After being established as king of Israel, David looks for a way to pay kindness to the family of Saul: “The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’” (vs 3) This was something quite remarkable in David’s time. In those days, kings would do everything possible to exterminate the descendants of previous kings in order to prevent their ascension to the throne at a later time.
But not David. Up to this point, for the most part, he had trusted in God to take him to the throne at the right time, and he obviously trusted in God to keep him there. He didn’t feel the need to get rid of any competition from Saul’s line of descendants. Neither did he simply leave Saul’s family alone (which would have been considered enough of a good deed). Instead, he actively sought ways to show kindness to the descendants of his bitterest enemy.
This is what God is like. He loves His enemies. And that love is an active love. Not only does He refrain from getting revenge against His enemies, He actively seeks ways to show kindness to them! He returns good for evil! When He is slapped on one cheek, He turns the other cheek also. When someone sues Him for His shirt, He offers His coat as well. When we force Him to go one mile with us, He goes two instead.
As a line from one of my favorite hymns says, O love of God, how deep and great! Far deeper than our deepest hate! We can’t do anything to make God stop loving us. Even if we become His worst enemy, His love for us is forever unchanged.
God isn't defensive.
I love it when the Bible surprises me. I know I’ve read this chapter before, but I read it again today as if for the first time. It seems like David was on a roll, looking for ways to show God’s kindness to those who would be considered enemies. That’s why he sent an Israeli delegation to Hanun, king of the Ammonites, to express his sympathy upon the death of his father.
Hanun became convinced (via his army commanders) that the men were spies, and he did something naughty to them. Although I shouldn’t, I must admit that this made me chuckle: “So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.” Cut off their garments at the buttocks? Anybody who has ever had to walk down a hospital hallway wearing nothing but one of those hospital gowns that don’t quite close in the back knows how humiliating this must have been! With half a naked face and their bums exposed, the men headed back to Israel.
David was obviously not pleased at this turn of events. Here, he had been trying to do a good deed, and he got figuratively cut off at the knees (or the buttocks, I guess). It was around this time that Hanun realized he had made a seriously bad judgment call. And that’s why the next verse surprised me: “When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.” (vs 6)
Interesting, isn’t it? The response from the Ammonites—when they realized their stupidity—was not remorse, but defensiveness! Instead of sending an envoy to David to express their regret, they amassed an army and prepared to go to war! Quite unbelievable!
Yet, haven’t you found this to be the case in your own life? When I know I’ve made a mistake or done something wrong and I’m called out for it, my first internal urge is not to admit my mistake, but to defend myself. I hate that feeling when it comes up inside. But it always does. I think it’s a natural function of my sinful nature.
That’s why I deduce from this that God isn’t defensive. I can’t think of a single place in Scripture where He acts defensive. (Please enlighten me if I’m making a false statement here, and I’ll try not to get defensive. Ha ha.) Defensiveness is a result of our guilt (as evidenced by the Ammonites in this passage), which is a result of our sin. And, obviously, God doesn’t fall into that category.
I’m glad for that, because it is really hard to deal with a person who is defensive. I sympathize with God in that respect. We’re all sinners (which means we’re all prone to the defensive), and God wants to help us, but it’s hard to help a person who is defensive. Fortunately, God is never defensive. On the contrary, He is always on the offensive. Instead of trying to defend Himself, He is always looking for ways to get through to us.
God is not prejudiced.
Sometimes, Bible chapters seem scant on the information they provide about God. However, there is a very clear statement about God at the end of 2 Samuel 11. After David’s affair with Bathsheba and the ensuing cover-up (which included the premeditated murder of Uriah), the chapter ends with this declaration: “The thing David had done displeased the Lord.” (vs 27)
We might not think of this as a remarkable declaration, but think about it from the viewpoint of David’s culture. First of all, in his day, whatever the king did was “above the law,” so to speak. The king was the law, so he could pretty much do whatever he wanted. Second, since the Israelites were God’s chosen people, one could easily have assumed that God would support them in everything they did—no matter what they did.
Perhaps this was what David subconsciously thought as he planned the death of Uriah. After all, Uriah wasn’t a Jew. He was a Hittite, an outside, a foreigner. If he had been an Israelite, maybe David would have thought twice. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so quick to spill innocent Israelite blood. But a foreigner . . . well, he didn’t really count, did he?
In a word, yes. Yes, he did matter. To God he mattered. God was very angry at David for what he did to Uriah. And that’s how we know that God is not prejudiced like we are. We all have prejudices—and they’re not always about race or skin color either. Somehow, over time, it’s easy for us to craft a picture of God who, conveniently, likes the same things (or people) we like and dislikes the same things (or people) we dislike.
But God holds no such prejudices. He loves everyone. Every person is important to Him. In His eyes, there are no “little” people. And when we act in a way that marginalizes one of our fellow human beings, God is displeased with that!
God reels us in.
I love things that remind me of my father. Today’s chapter reminded me of the topic of voice inflection that he covered in his Speech classes. He would hand out slips of paper to different students—all with the same phrase, but each indicating a different mood in which to utter the phrase. Then, we would go around the room, each of us saying the same thing—but with very different results. It is true that the actual words comprise only a fraction of communication.
And what a familiar phrase I found in today’s reading! You are the man! It’s something I say often to my husband, especially when he has done something that I am particularly proud of him for doing. Who knew that popular saying was Biblical? Yes, I often say, “Honey, you are the man!”
However, I have a feeling that that’s not quite the meaning that was conveyed when the prophet Nathan uttered those words to David. I imagine his tone of voice was more convicting, accusatory: You are the man! (Can’t you just see the finger pointed in David’s direction?)
This has to rank right up there as one of my most favorite stories in the Bible, because I love what God does with David—and what it reveals about how He deals with us in the context of our relationship with Him. As we discovered at the end of the previous chapter, the Lord was severely displeased with what David had done. In fact, in 1 Kings 15, this incident is singled out as the one incident in which David was not a man after God’s own heart.
And I love the way God chooses to make His displeasure known to David. He doesn’t show up and furiously announce, “I’m angry with you!” He doesn’t “go off” on David. Instead, He sends a prophet to tell David a story. And in the course of the story, David is reeled in. He personally becomes incensed at the actions of “the rich man,” leading him to declare, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” (vs 5-6)
What God did, here, was genius. He reeled David in and got him to agree with Him on the principle of the matter. And once David agreed that such behavior was despicable, then David was in a position to hear the awful truth: “You are the man!” (vs 7) Wow, talk about lowering the boom!
This is how God deals with us, and though it may sometimes be painful, it’s remarkable. For our own best good, He is interested in helping us understand more and more of the truth—even when it is hard truth to hear. And He does this so effectively, by reeling us in, by helping us see the principles behind His way of doing things. In so doing, we have the opportunity to come to the place where we agree with Him and His way of doing things . . . and then we are open to allowing Him to address the things within us that are out of harmony with that.
Huh. Who knew God was such a great fisherman?
God is not afraid to say the hard things.
What a sad, sordid chapter. It’s hard to know where to begin. Amnon, eldest son of David, somehow got it in his head that he wanted to have sex with his half-sister, Tamar. Once she became aware of his desire, she begged him to make her his wife instead of just using her and throwing her away like a piece of trash. But he wouldn’t listen. He went ahead with his disgusting plan to rape her, and in the end, he “hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.” (vs 15)
That would have been sad and shocking enough. But then, there was this verse: “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” (vs 21) That was it—the entirety of the royal response (or lack thereof). The Bible doesn’t record that David did or even said anything about the matter to Amnon. All it said was he was furious. I couldn’t believe that! I mean, you find out that your son has raped your daughter (and then shunned her—which made it worse), and you can’t even bring yourself to say something?!
Don’t you wonder if it was David’s personal guilt that held him back? Here, he had just exploited his own position and power to use a woman and then have her husband murdered. Perhaps David felt like he didn’t have any room to talk about morals and ethics with his children. What a shame. This is one of the consequences of guilt. It not only damages us and those around us, but it then renders us less willing to confront evil when we see it in other places. After all, what right do we have to point out evil elsewhere when we can’t rid ourselves of it? (At least, that’s our thought process.)
I wonder how things might have been different if David hadn’t been afraid to speak up. And that’s why I don’t think God would have us ignore evil—whether it’s evil we see in ourselves or elsewhere in the world. Instead, I think He wants to teach us how to say the hard things (when it’s appropriate). Because that’s what love does. It says the hard things. That’s what Jesus did.
I’m sometimes amazed by the one-sided brush Jesus gets painted with at times. It’s as if “love” has become synonymous with “nice” in our thinking. So much so that we forget that Jesus was not afraid to say the hard things. He was very “un-nice” at times. But He was never unloving.
Sometimes I watch the television show Intervention. Have you ever seen it? Families, desperate to save a loved one who is on the verge of self-destruction, come together in one last attempt to convince the person to seek treatment. Often, what this entails is the willingness on the part of the family to give up their own “nice” behavior (which has been enabling their addicted loved one) and instead do the truly loving thing—which seeks the best good of the beloved.
Sometimes that means cutting off money, contact, and even living necessities unless the person goes to treatment. Some of those things sound very, very hard. But more often than not, the families who stick to their guns and do the loving, un-nice things are the ones who see their loved ones emerge healthier from treatment.
The bottom-line message of an intervention is this: “I love you so much, there is nothing I won’t do to help you get better; but I also love you so much that there is nothing I will do to help this destructive behavior continue for one more minute.” That is the full-bodied picture of love. And it’s the love we see in God through Jesus, who was never afraid to do and say the hard things.
God looks at life and death differently than we do.
I loved verse 14 in this chapter. Let me quote it here from the New Living Translation: “All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.”
From our perspective, death is like water that has been spilled out on the ground. We don’t have the power to “unspill” it. Over the years, with medical technology, we have certainly gained a lot of power over keeping the water from being spilled prematurely. But, eventually, we all fall out of the bucket.
Is this a problem for God? Nope. Apparently, what we see as “the end” isn’t the end to Him at all. Instead, He devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from Him. Our “death” on this Earth is not the kind of death God wants to keep us from. He wants to keep us from the true and everlasting kind of death—the kind that comes from being ultimately and irrevocably separated from Him.
So, while it’s normal to grieve when we lose a loved one (I just went to a funeral today, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place), let’s not forget that God looks at death very differently than we do. When it looks to us like the water has been spilled out on the ground, it’s not the end from God’s perspective. He can and He will bring us back.
God can be trusted.
This has to be the most important lesson we could ever learn in life . . . and it certainly seems it was a lesson David had learned well. As he was fleeing Jerusalem—running for dear life from his own son—he realized that the Levites and the high priest had carried the ark of the covenant out of the temple. This wasn’t unusual. In the past, if you’ll remember, the Philistines had captured the ark and carried it away—sort of like a good luck charm. Well, that didn’t work out so well for them.
And David was apparently determined not to treat God like a good luck charm again. He had seen firsthand that such an approach didn’t work, and he didn’t want to try to cram God into his plans for survival. Instead, David said this: “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.’” (vs 25-26)
David knew this truth about God: God can be trusted. We can trust Him to do what is right in every situation, and because of that, we can place ourselves in His hands, knowing that He will do with us whatever is best. Even if we are lost. Have you ever thought about that? Remember how Jesus treated Judas—never condemning him, treating him with respect and love even to the very end, simply serving him. Even if we set ourselves against God, He still treats us with kindness.
Who else could we trust so implicitly? I am ready to say with David (and I hope you are, too) that I am more than willing to let God do with me whatever seems good to Him. I know He can be trusted to do what is best!
God is going to sort things out.
Poor David. Fleeing from Jerusalem, rumors flying around him, and now, being abused by a man from Saul’s family. Not only was the man cursing David, but he was throwing stones and dirt at him and his troops as well. Finally, one of David’s men asked if he could go over and cut the guy’s head off. (What a nonchalant request.) David’s reply was very interesting:
“But the king said, ‘What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, “Curse David,” who can ask, “Why do you do this?”‘ David then said to Abishai and all his officials, ‘My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.’” (vs 10-12)
Wow. What happened to the David who—just a few years before—was ordering people around, stealing wives, and sending people to their deaths? Since that time, I think David had gotten a big dose of reality and, as a result, he learned that he wasn’t as “in control” of things as he thought he was. That’s a hard lesson for us to learn; I would think it would be an especially hard lesson to learn if you are in a position of great power and authority like David.
David may have thought he was in control, in charge, but the events that had transpired in his own family in the previous few years had served to make him think twice about that. And, to me, what he was saying in his reply to Abishai was, “Don’t worry about what’s going on right now. We can’t judge all the circumstances. God is the only one in a position to know how things are supposed to play out.”
David didn’t know if this man from Saul’s family was doing the right thing or not. All he knew was that it wasn’t a pleasant experience, but he seemed to know this truth about God: that God is going to sort things out. He alone is in a position to see the entirety of our lives—from beginning to end—and know how everything is supposed to fit together. David must have known so well by this time that trying to work things out in his own way was a surefire plan for disaster.
Are you facing anything difficult today? Know that God is going to sort things out! He can see things you can’t see. He knows things you can’t know. You can trust Him with your life, your whole life. You can trust Him to defend you, if need be, or to put you back in your place, if need be. While it may be hard to face the reality that we aren’t as “in control” of things as we would like to think we are, how freeing it is to leave ourselves totally in God’s hands. You don’t have to figure out a way to make everything work out the way you think it should. God always does what is right and best for us, and you can be sure that in His time, He is going to sort things out.
God is loyal.
Sometimes it’s a lot easier to draw conclusions about God by contrasting Him with what we are (or what we are not). That was the case with this chapter of 2 Samuel. After David fled Jerusalem, Absalom was seeking some advice on what to do next. His top advisor told him that he should go after David and kill him while he was at his weakest. Then—apparently—all the people of Israel would rally around Absalom as king.
The most disturbing verse was next: “This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel.” (vs 4) This plan seemed good to all the elders of Israel? What was the matter with these people? How fickle! These were the leaders of Israel who had been under the leadership of David for many years. And, with a misstep here and there, it’s not as if David was a bad king. He wasn’t a tyrant. Yet, at the drop of a hat, these men were ready to help Absalom and Ahithophel hunt down David and kill him.
Astonishing. Aren’t you glad God isn’t like this? If there’s one thing God is, it is fiercely loyal. He is committed to us and will do anything He can for us. If we call out to Him, He will help us. And even if we turn against Him, He doesn’t turn against us. As the Bible says, “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” (Num 23:19) He is steady and sure—always loyal to us, no matter what.
God is a tenderhearted father.
Outside of Jesus’s cry of abandonment on the cross, this chapter contains, perhaps, the most heart-wrenching cry in the Bible: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (vs 33) Sure, at first you might think any father would be devastated over the loss of a child. But this wasn’t your average child. Absalom wasn’t a good boy. In fact, when he was killed, he had one goal in mind: to murder his father.
So, how could David grieve like this? The same way a brokenhearted God could cry in Hosea 11:8—”How can I give you up? How can I let you go? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” True love is not altered by the response of the beloved. If true love is scorned, it does not retaliate against the one who scorned it. Instead, it grieves for the one it lost. That’s how David could say, “If only I had died instead of you.” It didn’t matter that Absalom was out to kill him, David still loved him with an unconditional love.
God is the same way. If David could be such a father even though he was a sinful human being, how much more is God a tenderhearted father! And when He is scorned, He does not retaliate against the one who scorned Him. Instead, He grieves over the one who is lost. And, as David said, He would much rather it be Him who experienced death than us.
In fact, that’s what the cross was all about. By dying, Jesus revealed the truth about God and the truth about sin and death. It is this truth that sets us free and heals the damage done by sin. It is by Jesus’s death that we have the opportunity to live. But even if we are out to kill Him, God doesn’t want us to die any more than David wanted Absalom to die. And, in the end, if we are destroyed by our sin, God will cry, “Oh my child, my child! How can I let you go?!”
God loves those who hate Him.
You love those who hate you! This was the accusation that Joab leveled at David after the big battle where David’s son Absalom was killed. David was absolutely devastated by Absalom’s death, so instead of celebrating the victory of his “enemy,” David returned home, weeping over the loss of his child. Apparently, Joab didn’t like that:
“Today,” he said, “you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead.” (vs 5-6)
Joab certainly spoke truthfully when he claimed that David loved those who hated him. He had specifically instructed his men not to harm Absalom (a command Joab expressly ignored), and even though Absalom was out to kill him, David didn’t care. In fact, he wished that it had been him who had died instead of his son.
In this way, David was like God, who loves all those who hate Him. Where Joab got it wrong, however, was in what he said next: ” . . . and hate those who love you.” You see, in Joab’s mind, if one was true, the other must also be true. If David loved those who hated him, then it also meant that he hated those who loved him. This is how the unconverted mind works. It believes that to love your enemies automatically means that you are short-changing your friends. But this isn’t the way of love. God, who is love, can love everyone without short-changing anyone.
Sometimes, we may think of God as being forced to get revenge (or “justice,” as we sometimes call it) on those who are evil in order to show His love for the righteous. I mean, I’m sure you probably know somebody who would say that Hitler really needs to burn in order to pay for all the awful things he did while he was alive. But, from God’s perspective, one of His children (Hitler) hurt a lot of His other children. And, just because that child chose to do evil things—as Absalom did—didn’t make him any less God’s child.
And surely you know that when your child hurts, you hurt—no matter how “good” or “bad” they’ve been.
God’s love is unlimited. He is able to love those who love Him while, at the same time, loving those who hate Him. And undoubtedly, there will come a day when God will grieve over His lost children the way David grieved over Absalom. I think, by then, those of us who are with God and love Him will not be like Joab. We will not rebuke God for loving those who hate Him, nor think that His immense love for His enemies in any way diminishes His great love for us. Instead, maybe we will grieve with Him and reassure Him that there was nothing more He could have done to bring His lost children home
God exercises true power.
There is an interesting parallel between this chapter and 2 Samuel 8. Both contain a list of David’s officials. The list in 2 Samuel 8 comes after David has advanced to the throne, subdued the enemies of Israel, and returned the ark of God to Jerusalem. In other words, he has followed God’s leading all the way to victory for Israel. The second list (in this chapter) comes after the mess David created for himself with Bathsheba, Uriah, and the ensuing family chaos. See if you can spot the difference between the two lists:
“David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people. Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelek son of Abiathar were priests; Seraiah was secretary; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; and David’s sons were priests.” ( 8:15-18 )
“Joab was over Israel’s entire army; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; Adoniram was in charge of forced labor; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; Sheva was secretary; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira the Jairite was David’s priest.” (20: 23-26)
The biggest and most interesting difference I see is in the very first line. The list from chapter 8 begins with David. He was the most powerful man in Israel at the time—reigning over everyone, doing what was just and right for all his people. I think this last part was the true key to David’s power and authority, and it’s also the true key to God’s power and authority. David was a called a man after God’s own heart because he ruled his people the way God rules His people. With justice and righteousness. Any person who behaves in such a way has true power.
Unfortunately, by the time the second list was written, David had been removed from the list! He was still king of Israel—having outlived the attempted coup by his son Absalom. However, David had tarnished his powerful position by abusing his power (in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah) and neglecting matters of justice (in the case of Amnon and Tamar). I think this opened the door for Joab, head of his army, to seize a more powerful position by the use of force.
David wasn’t happy with Joab—he kept murdering people, even when David specifically told him not to—but David couldn’t deal with him. He needed Joab, but he couldn’t control him. As a result, David no longer held the esteemed position he once had in the minds of the Israelites.
If David had wanted to remain great and powerful, he should have continued to exercise true power, doing what was just and right for all his people. This is how God remains the most powerful Being in the universe—not that He secures His position by force, but He uses His authority and power to benefit His creation. True power comes from strength of character, not use of force. That’s a lesson David learned the hard way.
God has more for us.
Once again, I’m confounded by David’s actions. I suppose, like the rest of us, he has times of victory and times of failure. I was confused by what he did in this chapter, so I read some commentaries on the matter. Seems like there are differing opinions as to whether God sanctioned David’s actions with the Gibeonites or not. Either way, one thing is clear: Scripture doesn’t record that David asked God beforehand about what he did.
Here’s the Bible account: “During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them . . . David asked the Gibeonites, ‘What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?’” (vs 1-3)
To me, it appears that David prematurely stopped asking God questions. Once he found out what “the problem” was, he didn’t bother to ask God if He had any solutions in mind! Instead, he went to the Gibeonites, who were more than happy for a little revenge. Some commentaries suggest that David actually got tricked into handing over members of Saul’s family to the Gibeonites. Regardless, what I’d like to know is, why didn’t David ask God the follow-up question? Why did he ask Him what should be done about the famine? Why did he assume that in order to deal with the famine, the Gibeonites would have to “bless the Lord’s inheritance”?
We so easily forget that God always has more for us. He doesn’t just want to ask one question and stop. He is eager to reveal to us more . . . and more . . . and more. So, the next time you’re wrestling with God over a tough situation in your life, don’t just get the initial information from God and then run off to do things on your own. Stick with Him for as long as you can. The more you do, the better things will turn out!
God deals with us according to our righteousness.
In this song of praise from David, there was an interesting little line that jumped out at me: “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.” (vs 21) Doesn’t this seem totally contrary to what we always profess? We normally say that God doesn’t treat us according to our unrighteousness. That’s what we understand grace to be.
And, of course, there is truth in that. But I also think David is speaking something true about God, here. In a very important way, God does deal with us according to our righteousness. What I believe this means is that God will deal with us in the way He knows is absolutely appropriate to help us along in our journey of healing. If we are extremely unrighteous, then God will (out of necessity) do things differently with us than He will with—say—one of His creatures who has never rebelled.
Even when Jesus was here, He dealt with people differently, according to their righteousness. The thing was, the people who had “more” righteousness weren’t necessarily the people you might have thought. For instance, Jesus didn’t have many hard words for the prostitutes, outcasts, or “sinners” who flocked around Him. But He said shocking things to the Pharisees, to those who claimed to be the most righteous of all.
The good news, here, is that we don’t have to worry about our sin problems. We don’t have to try to diagnose our sin or figure out a plan of healing. God knows what we need, and He will deal with us according to our level of righteousness. If we don’t have any (which is the category I often think I fall into), that’s okay. He’s got a plan for that! Trust Him!
God wants a moment with you.
Friends, applaud. The comedy is finished. —Ludwig van Beethoven
Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight. —Lord George Byron
Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal? —King Louis XIV
I’m bored with it all. —Winston Churchill
I have tried so hard to do the right. —President Grover Cleveland
All my possessions for a moment of time. —Queen Elizabeth I
Oh, do not cry. Be good children, and we will all meet in heaven. —President Andrew Jackson
Either that wallpaper goes, or I do. —Oscar Wilde
These statements are all the famous last words of the person who uttered them. You might find some of them surprising. I certainly did. I thought Queen Elizabeth’s utterance was especially insightful. When you come right down to it, you can’t take anything with you. And depending on how you’ve lived and where you’re at in life, you might give everything you have for more time.
In this chapter of 2 Samuel, I was intrigued by the final words of David. To me, it was interesting what he chose to focus on. He didn’t mention his family, his friends, or his possessions. He didn’t talk about all his conquests and exploits as king. Instead, he focused on his relationship to God. In that moment—and it’s this way for every person—it all comes down to what is between you and the Lord.
All of us will, in one way or another, face that moment. It’s a moment God wants to have with us. It’s a moment where we come face to face with the reality that we are totally helpless, totally dependent on something or someone outside of ourselves. None of us have the power to sustain our own lives. Even those with great power, authority, and wealth will have to face the fact sooner or later that all their money and all their power can’t buy them one more minute.
In that moment, it will just be you and God. Your spouse won’t be able to help you. Your children won’t be able to save you. And what will go through your mind when you know that your time is up? When you are facing the door to the mystery of the future, will you trust God with what lies beyond? In that moment, it will just be you and Him.
God wants to have that moment with you. I think He designed it that way once Adam and Eve plunged us into sin: “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen 3:22-24)
Instead of allowing us to continue on living forever in this sinful world, God “blocked our way to the tree of life.” He opened up the opportunity for each of us, at some time, to have that final, Earth-bound moment with Him where it is just the two of us. I wish we wouldn’t be so afraid of that moment. I wish we could understand and embrace the idea that the gracious God who sustains us during our life is the same gracious God who holds us in our death. In life, we are in His hands. And in death, we are still in His hands.
Every moment we live is another moment closer to that special moment God will share just with us. What will we do when confronted with the reality that we are not autonomous? Maybe, for some, that is their first real moment of surrender to the Almighty. Perhaps others see it as just another opportunity to thumb their nose at a God they hate.
How will you respond when that moment comes? What will your last words be? My hope is that, when the time comes, I will not be afraid, but will echo the famous last words of another dying man:
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. —Jesus Christ
God sees you as more than a number.
Perhaps the same question that went through my mind also went through yours as you read this chapter: Why did the Lord get so angry over a census? Clearly, not only was God not pleased with what David had done, but David himself recognized that he had done a bad thing once it was over: “David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.’” (vs 10)
In the past, I have heard it explained that David’s sin was in putting his trust in the size of his army instead of in God. And that seems like a valid argument to me. However, I’d like to add a little something more to the mix today. You see, I don’t think taking a census was the problem. God had never told David (or the Israelites) not to take a census. On the contrary, He had given very specific instructions regarding the taking of a census:
“When you take a census of the Israelites, each person must pay the Lord a ransom for his life when he is counted. Then no plague will happen to them when they are counted.” (Ex 30:12) This was the instruction regarding taking a census. Everyone who was over the age of 20 had to appear before the Lord at the time of the census and bring an offering. So, the census was designed to be an opportunity for all the adult Israelites to meet with God—not for a king to find out how much firepower he had.
God sees us as more than just a number. To Him, we are not facts, figures, and statistics. We are individuals. When the people were counted en masse, God paired with that a highly personal encounter. I believe that was to symbolize to us just how valuable each person is in the eyes of God. We’re not a number to be written down in a record, but a special, flesh-and-blood person whose existence is important to God.
Thus, David’s big sin was not only wanting to trust in his army over God, but treating people as impersonal objects, as numbers and statistics. He removed the personal, relational component from the census process, and God is never happy when we treat others like that. Because He never treats us like that.
To God, you are much more than a name or a number or an object to be used for a government’s advantage. You are precious. You are special. You are one-of-a-kind. You are His.