In today's readings from 2 Samuel chapters 15, 16 and 17 we find the fascinating story of Absalom's rebellion, and David's fleeing for his life. After just a few machinations of Absalom, and David's receiving word that his son is conspiring against him, David says at 2 Samuel 15:14 "Arise, let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us...".
That struck me. Why? David is king of Israel. He has men at his disposal. He is respected and loved. So why does David flee, and so quickly? Is he lacking faith in God to deliver him from his own son? Is in the thralls of a lack of confidence or depression? Or is he trusting God to act sovereignly and leaving his defense to God?
I went looking for some quick answers, and noted that Christian (and Jewish) commentators have said David was depressed. Some have said he was 'at the lowest point in his life.' He fled in fear from his own son.
But something else occurs to me in the reading of the text. A few pointers in the text to suggest David is fleeing in trust.
1. He appears to say at v. 14 that his fleeing will spare the city a war and ruin. He does not want to fight at this point and risk to see the city destroyed. After all, he might be coming back right?
2. He left concubines to keep his house, v. 16. He was perhaps expecting God to deliver him, and bring him home.
3. He says the above, finally, when he sends the ark back, at v.25, in saying "If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back...." More importantly, he also says at v.26 "But if he says 'I have no pleasure in you,' behold let him do to me what seems good to him." He accepts the sovereign hand and wisdom of God. Either in a return or staying away, he accepts God's wisdom.
4. At v.31, we read that David prays to God to turn the counsel of the priest Ahithophel for his (David's) good, i..e to foolishness for Absalom. He does not lament, "All are against me." He is planning ahead. He is already thinking ahead to deliverance? Planning for a return does not contradict his willingness to accept God's judgement, point 3.
5. At 2 Samuel 16:4, he orders that all the wealth that belonged to Mephiobosheth would be accorded to Ziba, M's servant. How could he give that ruling effect unless he expected or hoped to return as King? If he had been completely depressed and forsaken, he would have said "If I were king, I would..." or "Go, ask Absalom for...".
6. At 2 Samuel 16:11-12, David accepts the cursing of Shimei and says "Let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look upon the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today." He accepts the sovereign hand and will of God.
This reading appears confirmed in the text of Psalm 3, where David laments the many rising against him, and at v.2 says "many are saying of my soul, "There is no salvation for him in God."" David does not say that, but many do!
Instead, David says "But you O LORD, are a shield about me." (v.3)
Instead, David says "I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me." (v.4)
Instead, David says "I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around." (v.6)
Instead, David says "Salvation belongs to the LORD." (v.8)
Finally, after much googling on a holiday Monday, I found a thread, a few scant words, in support of the above. F.B. Meyer's commentary seems to capture it: "And yet there was a beautiful spirit of resignation welling up amid the salt waves of his bitter sorrow."
David trusted the LORD. Was he jubilant in fleeing Jerusalem? No, likely not. Did he have full and complete assurance he would return? No, likely not.
But he did not flee completely depressed or forsaken of God. He trusted God, planned in various ways to return, and went in humility (mourning at the Mount of Olives). And as he wrote in Psalm 3, he trusted God above all.
I recently listened to an interview with RC Sproul, a well-known pastor, writer and theologian. A line that caught my ear as he talked was "don't add to the obnoxiousness of the gospel."
You may have heard similar sentiments expressed before. You will have certainly read Paul's words in his letter to the church in Corinth where he says the gospel is a stumbling block to many; the nature of what the gospel says is offensive, it strikes people as wrong.
"...it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:21-25, ESV)
The gospel truth - yes, good news truth - is offensive in its own stead. There is inherent scandal in the good news. It is a stumbling block, that can not be gotten over for some, or folly, incoherent to others:
So, Sproul's counsel: don't add to that. Speak the truth of the gospel, explain it, and for those who see, it will be a beautiful truth (v.18).
It is not pleasant to receive a diagnosis of serious ill or disease. It is hard truth, uncomfortable and offensive. People go through despair, disillusionment and even anger. But the hard truth of a correct diagnosis allows the disease to be understood and treated. Some people, after weeks or months of being sick, are even relieved to finally get a correct diagnosis, even if the news if bad. It is just good to know what is going on, people are heard to say.
The gospel is a true diagnosis of our condition, and the remedy. To those who are being saved, as it reads at verse 18 again, it is the power of God.
For reflection today, how do we as Christians add to the folly, the obnoxiousness, of the gospel, in ways that we should not?
We come to the last chapter of Acts in today's readings, Acts 28, where Paul finally arrives at Rome. Within a few days he has called the leaders of the Jews together to explain his position, his reason for being in Rome, and the gospel of which he is an ambassador, now in chains. See verse 20.
Starting at verse 23, when on an appointed day they have come together to hear his views, he launches in:
"23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved."
So far, so good. Some are believing as is always the case, and some are not. But then we have verse 25 and following, which seems to stand out:
"25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
What is Paul doing? He was getting some response in his earlier defense of his faith and argument from scripture. But then, suddenly, "they departed after Paul made one statement."
Why did Paul make this one statement? Is this the best he could do? I went looking for some answers.
John MacArthur dealt with his passage in a sermon he preached (in 1975!) available here. He said "What began as a willful act turned into the sovereignty of God. Israel rejected, willfully blinded themselves, willfully deafened themselves, willfully did not understand and consequently were tied to that kind of destiny as God sealed their ears, their eyes, and their minds."
That is what Paul is testifying to. This is a repeated theme in the NT, and in response to the lack of faith of some, Paul faithfully declares the biblical truth.
Again, MacArthur: "...willful unbelief is turned into sovereign unbelief. He hath blinded their eyes, hardened their heart that they should not see with their eyes nor understand with their heart and be converted and I should heal them. Now what began as willful blindness turned into sovereign blindness."
Paul is faithful to declare the truth. That is the best he could do.
For more on the gospel to Israel vs Gentiles, read the MacArthur sermon linked above, or go directly to Romans 9-10, among other texts.
There is much to reflect on in today's readings.
From 2 Samuel 11 and 12 we have David's sin with Bathsheba, against God and Uriah. In Psalm 51, we see some of the greatest teaching on a cry for repentance: 'wash me whiter than snow, create in me a new heart, restore the joy of salvation.' In Acts 27, we read about a treacherous journey as Paul sets out for Rome, as a result of his appeal to Caesar. There is much to reflect on in these readings.
Psalm 32 is also in today's readings, and that is where our focus will lie. With the backdrop of David's sin against God with Bathsheba, and the very well-known Psalm 51, Psalm 32 stood out this morning, for a very simple message.
Confess sin, and be glad in the LORD.
The Psalm starts with the truth that the one who is forgiven is blessed. It is blessed to be forgiven. We can experience that in daily life, with some transgression, however minor, against a family member or a work colleague. And when they say 'I forgive you,' and when you know they mean it, there is release. There is freedom.
That is even more true when our sins are all, at their core, against the God of the universe. As Nathan the prophet said to David, 'you have sinned against God.' Yes, there was sin against Bathsheba, against her husband Uriah, and against his commander Joab (who was incorporated into David's plotting). But ultimately it was sin against God. Imagine that being pardoned!
In Psalm 32:2, we read that the man who is truly blessed is the man whose sin against God is not counted. There is not accounting of it because it is forgiven. It is a forgotten debt. It is covered. (v1)
That happens when we confess. Keeping silent regarding sin is deadly (vv3-4). It is fatal.
Acknowledging sin (v5) is right and good. Only in acknowledging and confessing sin can it be covered. Sin is the condition, the diagnosis. Confession before God is the prescription, the remedy (we could expand on that!). The result or healing is better conduct (vv8-9), as God leads us, and love and joy (vv10-11).
The last verse of the Psalm in particular was what stood out to me the most in reading this morning, just the first few words: "Be glad in the LORD."
We are glad when we are walking right with God, having confessed sin ('keep short accounts before God,' as someone has said before me), sought forgiveness, and found counsel and direction.
Then we can sing, and be glad. Then we can be counted 'upright in heart,' when our sin is confessed, forgiven and we are glad in the LORD. Those are the hallmarks of the upright in heart. They are not naturally good. They are good in God.
So, reflect: 'Confess your sin, and be glad in the LORD.'
In today's readings in Acts 26 we read of Paul's defense, delivered before King Agrippa and Festus. Paul as been accused by the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 24:1-9), and in the course of his defense, Paul talks about the vision of Christ he had on the road to Damascus, and the command of Christ that he go and be a witness (26:15-18). And then he says that is what he did ("Therefore O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared..."), first in Damascus, then Jerusalem and then Judea and beyond.
The message he preached and declared is summarized at v. 20: "that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance."
Performing deeds in keeping with repentance. This is an important phrase. We are sanctified, made clean/righteousness, by faith is Christ (end of v.18), with the righteousness of Christ imputed or credited to us. But the command remains, to perform deeds in keeping with repentance. On first blush, I take it to mean two things:
1. In the context of your own sins, repent, and perform 'better' deeds, deeds and acts different from the ones you practiced in your sin. You are saved to God by faith, imputed with the righteousness of Christ, your new advocate before the Father. But the text says something about 'your' repentance, and to me it suggests your respective repentance, your change from your sins to the new man/new woman. Put away your sins, your old behavior. The good deeds they/we are to do must be in keeping with their/our repentance. This reading is subject to further study. One risks reading too much into the word 'their.' IF it does not mean in the individual sense of contrast, new life vs old sins, it means, at a minimum, repent, as in the next point, below.
2. The second and main point is that we must be different in our new self. We must all, no matter our past, perform deeds in keeping with repentance. We can not profess faith, repent, and allege allegiance to Christ without change. Christians are to perform good deeds, and it is intimate to the conversion we experience, and as we grow in grace, as we grow in faith, as we walk with Christ. We are not saved by good works, but we must walk as he walked, we must do good. We must seek to do the good, that God has actually ready for us to do! In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes "For we are his [God's] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)
In yesterday's readings and reflection we looked at David's song in 1 Chronicles 16. Today we hae Davids prayer, from 1 Chronicles 17, especially vv 16 through 27.
16 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O LordGod, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 17 And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant's house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O Lord God!18 And what more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant. 19 For your servant's sake, O Lord, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things. 20 There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 21 And who is like your people Israel, the one[b] nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making for yourself a name for great and awesome things, in driving out nations before your people whom you redeemed from Egypt? 22 And you made your people Israel to be your people forever, and you, O Lord, became their God. 23 And now, O Lord, let the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house be established forever, and do as you have spoken, 24 and your name will be established and magnified forever, saying, ‘The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, is Israel's God,’ and the house of your servant David will be established before you.25 For you, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you. 26 And now, O Lord, you are God, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. 27 Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever before you, for it is you, O Lord, who have blessed, and it is blessed forever.”
There is much, much, much to reflect on in this prayer. We could consider it from David's perspective. God has just informed him via Nathan the prophet that it is his son who will build the temple, not David (after Nathan having apparently initially told David it will indeed be his task, v. 2). We could consider it from the perspective of God, his ultimate plan for his people Israel, and his chosen instruments to see his great plan unfold, whether David, Solomon, or ultimately Christ. There are other perspectives and angles to come at this from, undoubtedly.
The line that stood out to me is at verse 20, where we read "There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears."
There is none like God. All other gods, whether professed as gods or unknowingly worshipped as false idols (consumerism, self, etc) are indeed false. The claims of Jehovah God are far-reaching, ultimate, and final. Just as there are finite and universal physical laws, there are universal and perfect spiritual laws. Perhaps it stood out to me because of something I read last night.
In the closing words of his book Peculiar Glory, writer/pastor/theologian John Piper writes the following:
"... the Scriptures are the supreme and authority in testing all claims about what is true and right and beautiful. In matters not explicitly addressed by the Bible, it implies that what is true and right and beautiful is to be assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture. All of this implies that the Bible has final authority over every area of our lives and that we should, therefore, try to bring all our thinking and feeling and acting into line with what the Bible teaches.
I do not write those words lightly. They make a staggering claim. Breathtaking. If they are not true, they are outrageous. The Bible is not the private charter of a faith community among other faith com- munities. It is a total claim on the whole world. God, the creator, owner, and governor of the world, has spoken. His words are valid and binding on all people everywhere. That is what it means to be God. And to our astonishment, his way of speaking with unique, in- fallible authority in the twenty-first century is through a book. One book. Not many. That is the breathtaking declaration of the Christian Scriptures." (a PDF of his book is available free from Desiring God Ministries, here)
Worth our reflections. The claims are clear, in our bible reading this morning, and by extension.
In today's readings from 1 Chronicles 16 we find David's Song of Thanks. David has been fully established as king over Israel, and the ark has been brought to Jerusalem and appropriately installed in the tent that David has set up for it.
This chapter is a chapter of thanks, culminating in the words of the song David wrote, and we might safely assume, sang. At v.4 we read that David appointed some of the Levites to "invoke, to thank and to praise the LORD." Time is appointed to thank the LORD (v.7), and then David composes his song of praise and thanks (vv. 8-36). It is a beautiful song for a bright sunny morning, a favorite chair, a moment of quiet to sit and read. Yet as I read though, I thought 'this is more.' The openings words of the first few lines stand out..
MAKE KNOWN his deeds
SING to him
GLORY in his holy name
SEEK the Lord and his strength
REMEMBER the wondrous deeds
This, I wrote in the margin, is our calling. We could spend a lifetime working out these lines in our lives. What would each day look like if we started with this? And it continues later in David's song. At v.24 we are told to sing to the LORD; at v.24, to declare his glory; at v.28, to ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
The culmination of the song is found in v. 35:
"Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise."
This is our calling. We are to glory in his praise. We are lifted, we have some 'casualty of dignity of use' (Pascal), as we glory in God's praise. John Piper's A Peculiar Glory is on this very theme. God's is a 'condescending glory' (my words, but I think that is what Piper is saying.) God condescends to save lowly men and women. As it says in Isaiah 30:18, "He exalts himself to show mercy to you." We get the glory of being saved for praise, for God's greater glory still.
His glory is magnified and made evident in the humbling of Christ on the cross to save his people. So David can compose wth accuracy, sing to God, praise him, remember his deeds, and cry yet again, 'save us that we may give thanks, and glory in your praise.'
God gets the glory due his name. His due. We get the glory of exalting the one true God with praise.
So sing with David.
Modern day sports fans get pretty excited and 'celebratory,' to put it mildly (I am not talking about the degeneration into hooliganism, just the celebration aspects of modern fans). It can be pretty contagious, to be in the stands of either some professional sports team or even your kids local soccer league. I speak from experience.
In Christianity, some traditions are pretty mute, and tend to the contemplative side of things. That can be appropriate in many circumstances. And even where there is a tendency or tradition of getting more excited, we can be exerting efforts to dampen things down, to not let our enthusiasms get out of control. That too can be appropriate.
But in 2 Samuel 6 in today's readings, dancing and celebrating before the LORD is the order of the day.
At verse 5, we read "And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals."
At verse 16, we read: "King David leaping and dancing before the Lord," and at verse 21b-22, "and I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this."
David was celebrating, and nothing would hinder him. And he was in the right, judging from the consequences of Michal's rebuke that befell her.
We know from Psalms as well, there is much commendation of dancing, singing and celebrating before the LORD. Psalm 146:1-2 reads "Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being." Psalm 147 and 148 continue in the same theme: praise the LORD. And there are many more.
Praise the LORD, for our reflection today. Is there anything we might praise the LORD for? A song? A little dance?
I love the theme of God's sovereignty, as illustrated again in today's reading from 2 Samuel 5: 19-25. Some people struggle with this theme, and can not decide or grasp how God is sovereign, in relation to the responsibility of men. If God is sovereign, what is our role and responsibility?
The first step to grasping the tension or relationship is simply accepting the truth of it, as evidenced in scripture, and in today's readings.
At verse 19, we read that David inquires of the LORD as to whether he should go up against the Philistines in battle. But note, David asks not just for 'permission,' but whether God will give the Philistines over. God answers in the affirmative.
This does not mean David walks out into the battlefield, and waits for the Philistines to fall over dead. He does not simply sit, battle arms ready, as it were, and wait for the Philistine army to fold. God's promise to deliver must be accomplished through David's actions, so David acts. As we read at verse 20, David defeats them. That is accurate.
But note what David says in the same verse: "The LORD has broken through my enemies..." David credits God for the successful battle. That is true and accurate.
At verse 22, the Philistines prepare again, and as we read, when David inquired of the LORD, God advises not just on the result of the battle (as in, 'I will deliver'), but directs David as to battle strategy: "You shall not go up [directly]; go around to the rear...." Here is the whole text:
"23 And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. 24 And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” 25 And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer."
Note, David inquires, God directs on strategy, tells David to rouse himself in response to hearing 'God' working, and says "for then the LORD has gone out before you to stike down the army of the Philistines."
And note then what the text says next, at v.25: "And David did as the LORD commanded him, and struck down the Philistines."
David struck down the Philistines? Or God?
Clearly, it was God, through his instrument David. David is not just a utilitarian instrument, not simply a perfunctory battle leader. He is key in this, as we see in the text.
But God remains the ultimate actor, and maintains his sovereignty. And as he is here in this story, he is in life, for all of us.
The role of confidence in life is highly contested and debated. For Christians, we say it is a worldly attribute, a mix perhaps of misplaced ego, self-confidence, really just a version, perhaps milder, of braggadocio. But we need some confidence, when all is said and done. We need confidence based on a right reading of our abilities, exercised in the context of Christian humility, and thinking better of others, as the bible commands.
Earlier this week I listened to a podcast from the Ligonier Interview Archives, featuring R.C. Sproul, Dr. Stephen Nicols. and Lee Webb. The title was "Confident Christians." I agree with the entire premise, that we must derive our confidence as Christians from God's promises and plans. That is what the interview was about, mostly.
But RC Sproul, in his opening remarks on the above, makes a statement we'll come to shortly. Let me first say that confidence is not one of my personal attributes. I can be arrogant, self-righteouss and the rest of it. I can, in a given situation, think I know best. But this is not self-confidence. It is usually a mask for lack of. That's why self-confidence and the trait of confidence generally is one of interest to me, and caught my ear when I heard Sproul say the following:
"...as a former sportscaster and all that, I think that confidence is so critical to performance in any realm of life, but particularly evidence in the athletic world and you wonder how significant coaches may be and what import they bring to the performance of a team. And I really believe the single most important thing that a coach brings or a manager brings to an athletic team is the ability to destroy or instill confidence. Because I am convinced and have been for many many years that self-confidence is not something that happens to us magically but it actually is a result of somebody else showing confidence in us and having the ability to generate or instill what we call self-confidence. Self-confidence is then dependent on someone else's prior confidence." (For the full podcast, click here.)
Those words stood out to me. I played it over and over (especially this morning, trying to get it typed out). When others have confidence in us, we can at least assume they have a right assessment of our abilities or talents. They have the benefit of distance, or perspective. Getting perspective from ourselves is a challenge. Others can still be wrong, and think we can do things we can not. But having the confidence of others in giftings or abilities we have - even if we know we have those capacities - is powerful. I perform best when I know someone is believing in me.
Our greatest problems remain theological, he reminds us. He goes on from the above statement to talk about the confidence we can have as Christians in God's prior confidence in us. The thesis is central, that we can have assurance of salvation, he says. That assurance comes from God, and he is the ground of our confidence. If we look first to ourselves he says, we have a shaky premise on which to stand. But if we look to God, and ground ourselves in his word/truth, we are firm, and confident.
(Two) great truths to reflect on this weekend.
And don't forget the podcast above (and Nicols has a new book out as well, click here).
Derek Butler - I am a Christian, husband, father, son, brother, friend, reader, et al, all inadequately. This blog is a tool to encourage daily bible reading, for myself and others.
Click above to access the 5 Day Reading Plan used here. I am using the 5 readings Monday through Friday, with other postings on topics of interest Saturdays and Sundays.
Some Favorite Sites
Desiring God Ministries
Bible Design Blog
Calvary Baptist Church