Friday, December 30, 2011

Hospitality and Gratitude

Reflections on 2 Samuel 19:31-40

The scene at the Jordan River crossing near Gilgal was chaotic. An entire royal family was trying to cross the river, two groups were seeking bragging rights for being the first to welcome them, others were trying to atone for previously insulting the king, and one was trying to save himself from slander. In the midst of this confusion is a tender story of loyalty and love.

HOSPITALITY. Barzillai had provided for David and his family while they were in Mahanaim. Providing room and board for a large, royal family would have required great resources, but Barzillai was both willing and capable for he was a wealthy man. Then despite his 80 years, he accompanied his guests from Mahanaim to the Jordan crossing near Gilgal. The distance Barzillai accompanied his departing guests, at least 20 miles, was a measure of his great respect for them.

TACT. At the Jordan River crossing, David said to Barzillai, "Cross over and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you." Barzillai tactfully rejected the king's offer saying that his age prevented him from enjoying the pleasures of the court and would make him a burden to David. In addition, residence in Jerusalem would remove him from his home where he wished to die and be buried. Still, Barzillai suggested two ways he was willing to acknowledge David's gratitude. First, he would accompany David across the Jordan a short way. Then he would send Kimham, probably a son, to accept David's gratitude saying that David could do for him whatever he wished.

GRATITUDE. David was pleased to show his gratitude to Kimham, and promised to do for him whatever Barzillai wished while still insisting he would do for Barzillai himself whatever he desired. Then when Barzillai had crossed the river, David kissed Barzillai and blessed him. Barzillai returned to his home, and Kimham continued with the king to Jerusalem.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dividing a Candy Bar Fairly

Reflections on 2 Samuel 19:24-30

When we were young, Mom would occasionally divide a candy bar between my brother and me. When she did, we often argued over which one got the biggest piece. I am sure this annoyed Mom because when we were old enough to cut the candy bar ourselves, one of us cut the candy bar, and the other got first choice. Something about that process eliminated the arguing. King David had to settle a conflict between two of his subjects: Mephibosheth and Ziba. He divided Saul's lands between them equally. We may never know exactly what dividing the lands accomplished, but this we do know,
As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.
-- Proverbs 25:3
SUSPICION. Like Shimei, Mephibosheth rushed out with the other Benjamites to meet the king at the Jordan River. Also like Shimei, he had reason to fear the king's return. As a sign of distress and sorrow, he had not taken care of his feet, trimmed his mustache, or washed his clothes since David fled the city. David immediately asked him, "Why didn't you go with me when I fled Jerusalem?" With the exception of his personal agents whom he had left in the city, all David's household had fled with him. Because Mephibosheth ate at David's table, he expected Mephibosheth to go with him. Accordingly, David was suspicious when Mephibosheth failed to do so.

EXPLANATION. Mephibosheth explained that he had desired to go with David, and had even asked Ziba to bring his saddled donkey for him to ride, but Ziba had misled him and never returned with his donkey. Not only that, but Ziba had gone to the king and slandered Mephibosheth, saying that he was hoping to become king in place of David.

DILEMMA. David remembered Ziba's accusations against Mephibosheth, and he remembered that he had given all of Mephibosheth's lands to Ziba. So, who was telling the truth? David seemed annoyed and refused to make further investigation. He abruptly directed that the lands be divided between Ziba and Mephibosheth. Was this a judgment or a test? If a judgment, it seems unfair. Was David afraid to alienate Ziba and the other Benjamites who had come to support him? If a test, like Solomon's command to divide the living son and to give a half to each of the women (1 Kings 3:16-28), it lacks a conclusion. Whether judgment or test, Mephibosheth's response was important. When he said, "Let Ziba take everything now that you have returned safely," he made it clear that he had no personal ambitions. Like the woman who begged Solomon to spare the child, so Mephibosheth wished to preserve David's kingdom. Saul's family supported David and would never entertain royal ambitions. It played no role in the developing rift between the house of Joseph and the tribe of Judah which would become apparent soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Eating Humble Pie

Reflections on 2 Samuel 19:16-23
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

When David fled Jerusalem, Shimei had cursed him and pelted him with stones. Shimei assumed that David had lost the throne and would never return. Now David was returning again as king. Shimei had two choices. One was to hide from the king, but that would have been nearly impossible because he lived so near Jerusalem. The second was to try to make amends.

SERVICE. When the men of Judah went to bring King David back across the Jordan, Shimei and a thousand other Benjamites went with them. When they got to the Jordan, Shimei and his men did not hesitate. They rushed across the Jordan to bring the king's household back across the river and do whatever else the king wished. Shimei tried to make amends by providing useful services to the king.

SUPPLICATION. While the men with Shimei were helping the king's household across the Jordan River, Shimei found the king, he fell prostrate before him, acknowledged his guilt, and begged forgiveness. He made no excuses. He ate humble pie.

SUPPORT. Finally, Shimei noted that that very day he had been the first of the "whole house of Joseph" (i.e. the northern tribes) to meet the king, to welcome him back, and to give him their support. Certainly, he hoped that his zeal in gathering support for David would help make amends.

Shimei had a good recipe for humble pie. Even though Abishai tried to dissuade the king, David promised on oath that Shimei would not die.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Putting Humpty Together Again

Reflections on 2 Samuel 19:9-15
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

Although David's men had defeated Absalom, David did not march back to Jerusalem with his victorious army to reclaim the throne. Instead, he waited for popular support to arise because he wanted the people to bring him back. Like Solomon after him, he knew that "without subjects a prince is ruined" (Proverbs 14:28).

ISRAEL. Support arose for David first in the northern tribes. Those who wanted to bring David back began making their case. "Who," they asked, "could be a better choice than David? He is the one who delivered us from our enemies, and Absalom is now dead." David was encouraged by Israel's desire to restore him as their king and anxiously waited for news from Judah.

JUDAH. Surprisingly, David's own tribe did not ask him to return. They had been the first to give their support to Absalom, and may have feared reprisals. Accordingly, David asked Zadok and Abiathar to assure them of his favor. Through them, David reminded the men of Judah that he was from their tribe and offered to remove Joab from being commander of his army and to replace him with Amasa, who had been Absalom's commander. This move not only pleased the men of Judah but also punished Joab for disobeying his command regarding Absalom. The men of Judah asked David to return as their king and to bring his men with him.

MERCY. So why didn't David march back to Judah and punish those who joined Absalom's rebellion? David knew by experience that Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together with a hammer. When he had sinned, God had shown him great mercy. Though he suffered the consequences of his sin, God had forgiven him, made an everlasting covenant with him, and restored his fellowship with God. As one who had who had experienced God's mercy, he knew he should show mercy to others (see Matthew 18:33). He knew that mercy could put the nation together again but that cruelty never would:

A kind man benefits himself,
but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.
-- Proverbs 11:17 NIV

When Jesus, the son of David, came to this earth, people often asked him for mercy (Matthew 9:27; 15:22; etc.). His mercy reunites us with him. We love him because he first loved us.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Royal Party Pooper

Reflections on 2 Samuel 19:1-8
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

David was a highly emotional person who experienced both great despair, as when he was hiding from Saul in the Desert of Ziph (1 Samuel 23:16), and great elation, as when he brought the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14-16). Both emotions molded a great part of his lyric poetry and music in the psalms. Often, he was able to express his emotions in a way that comforted, encouraged, or motivated Israel, but on this occasion, his inconsolable grief over the death of Absalom nearly cost him the kingdom.

CELEBRATIONS CANCELED. David's victorious army returned to Mahanaim only to find David weeping uncontrollably above the city gate. No parades or celebrations greeted them. Instead, David's grief shamed them so that they entered the city like defeated, cowardly soldiers afraid to show their faces. Their "enthusiasm was soon depleted" (Bergen, 2001, p. 425). Unless David changed his behavior quickly, those who stole into the city would steal out of the city and leave David and his family deserted and vulnerable.

SAVED LIVES FORGOTTEN. David's army had saved David's life, the lives of his sons and daughters, the lives of his wives, and the lives of his concubines, but instead of rejoicing with his army over the many lives they had saved, David mourned for a single life that had been lost. The army, not congratulated and feeling unappreciated, would soon slip away unless David showed them his gratitude.

LOYAL LOVE SPURNED. David's army had served him loyally with the love they had covenanted with him when he became king, but David appeared more devoted to a rebel who had not only renounced covenant love but filial love as well. Joab put it more bluntly, "You love those who hate you and hate those who love you." Those he "hated" might soon oppose him unless David returned to them the covenant love they had shown him.

Joab was a pragmatic and blunt military officer who had often exasperated King David, but he usually observed courtly protocol in the presence of the king. On this one occasion, he cast aside all protocol to rebuke the king and command him to go out and encourage his men that very day. David put aside his private grief for the public good. He went down to the city gate, reviewed the victorious troops, and saved the kingdom.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A King's Grief

Reflections on 2 Samuel 18:19-33
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

If only I had died instead of you-O Absalom, my son, my son!
-- King David, 2 Samuel 18:33 NIV

The agonized sobbing of David as he climbed the stairs to the room over the gateway to the city of Mahanaim is one of the most memorable scenes in the life of David. It evokes both pity for the man who had been a great warrior and king, and perhaps even contempt for his weakness and failure. Yet, in the scene, there remains a hint of the divine love that would characterize his son, Jesus.

INCONSOLABLE. The messengers brought the good news that David's enemies had been defeated, but when David understood that Absalom was dead, David's body trembled uncontrollably, and he left sobbing, "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom." His inconsolable grief stands in stark contrast to his reactions to both the death of Jonathan and the death of Bathsheba's first son. In the first case, he composed a tribute to his friend and taught the song to Israel, and in the second case, he rose from his mourning, washed himself, worshiped the Lord, and ate. Why was David so inconsolable in this case?

ALIENATED. David grieved because he had alienated his son. David had not provided justice for Absalom's sister, Tamar, when Amnon raped her. After Absalom avenged the rape of his sister by murdering Amnon, he fled to Geshur where he lived in exile for 3 years (2 Samuel 13:38). David eventually recalled Absalom from exile, but he still refused to see Absalom for two more years (2 Samuel 14:28). Absalom finally forced an audience with David (2 Samuel 14:33), and David kissed him, but the effort was too little and too late. Absalom's resentment continued to grow. David had not treated either him or his sister fairly. Absalom felt he was more capable of providing justice than David (2 Samuel 15:4). Alienation led to resentment and rebellion, and rebellion had led to death. Death cut off the possibility of reconciliation forever. David mourned for this reason.

UNRECONCILED. Reconciliation escaped David because he learned the depth of reconciling love too late. His love was too shallow to make him willing, even eager, to forgive in order to achieve reconciliation. Recalling Absalom from exile yet refusing to see him did not communicate that willingness. Furthermore, his love was too shallow to seek forgiveness by confessing his own offense. David had not confessed his own failure to punish Amnon for raping Tamar, and his failure remained a hindrance to reconciliation. But now, too late, he understood that he desired reconciliation so much that he would have been willing to die in Absalom's place. "If only I had died instead of you-O Absalom, my son, my son!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Divine Conspiracy

Reflections on 2 Samuel 18:1-18
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.
-- Proverbs 19:21

Absalom had big plans. He was going to trap David in Mahanaim like a caged bird, pull down the city's walls, and kill his father so that he would be the undisputed king of Israel. God had different plans. He had determined to bring disaster on Absalom (2 Samuel 17:14).

POWERLESS TO SAVE ABSALOM. Although King David was fighting to save himself and his family from Absalom, he did not want to destroy his son. He instructed his army commanders to "be gentle with the young man Absalom." However, David's wishes were unable to save Absalom. The army of Israel had answered Absalom call to arms, but Israel's army could not save Absalom. One of David's soldiers who had heard David's instructions to the commanders refused to kill Absalom, but even that did not save him. God's purpose would prevail.

DEADLY PROVIDENCE. Absalom's army never attacked Mahanaim because David's army attacked his forces in the Forest of Ephraim where the forest happened to consume more of Absalom's army than the sword. Absalom fled, but he happened to meet some of David's men. He tried to escape from them on his mule, but as he rode through the trees, his head happened to get caught in the branches. The mule did not stop, and Absalom was left hanging from the tree like one cursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:23). Unarmed and defenseless, he died like a criminal rather than a soldier. What happened was not mere coincidence; it was determined by God.

ABSALOM'S MEMORIAL. David's soldiers took Absalom's body down from the tree, threw it into a pit, and covered it with stones. The heap of stones over Absalom's body was a more fitting memorial for a rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) than the pillar Absalom had erected for himself earlier in the King's Valley near Jerusalem.

Misleading and Repetitious

This is a review of a book I recently read. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

LIVING CLOSE TO GOD WHEN YOU'RE NOT GOOD AT IT by Gene Edwards begins by describing the difficulty of developing an intimacy with God during the course of a work day. He remembers a time when he would return from work and realize that he had not thought of God even once during the course of his work day. He had been, for all practical purposes, a "temporary Christian atheist." Even when Mr. Edwards was working in full-time Christian ministry, he felt a lack of fellowship with his Lord. This early description of human frustration with finding fellowship with God is perhaps the best part of the book. After this, he begins telling how he found that fellowship, and I found this part misleading and overly repetitious.

The book is misleading because Mr. Edwards says that he found that the traditional recommendations of prayer and Bible reading to be of little value, and that books on spiritual formation and the lives of the saints were also of little value because they were also about prayer and Scripture. He says he was a man of action. He could not imagine praying for an hour each day, and he failed to find that Bible reading made him feel any closer to God. He sought other ways, but ironically, and apparently without his awareness, what he discovered to create that fellowship and intimacy with Christ was prayer and Scripture! The reason he failed to notice that he had discovered other ways to read Scripture and to pray, which are actually described in books about prayer and spiritual formation, is because he had several misconceptions.

Misconception #1: A person does not need to read Scripture to be spiritual. What convinced him of this is that illiterate people can be spiritual. That is true enough, but even an illiterate person must hear God's word being read or recited. Whether read or heard, we must do more than recognize a sequence of words. We must be active listeners or readers. As active listeners or readers, we remember or memorize portions (often quite small), meditate on them, listen to God speaking to us in them, recall them in spare moments during the day, and use them appropriately. This active reading and listening is, in fact, what Mr. Edwards recommends, but he does not call it Bible reading.

Misconception #2: Prayers of spiritual giants are always long, often an hour or more. On the contrary, many of the prayers of David and Paul were quite short. Prayer need not be long. We can talk to God during spare moments in a day, as Mr. Edwards suggests, and those short talks with God are indeed prayers even if they are short.

Misconception #3: Prayer is asking, nothing more. Again, Scriptural examples show prayer to be much more than asking. Expressing our praise, awe, and love for God is entirely appropriate in prayer whether spoken silently, whispered, or even sung. Mr. Edwards learned to express his love to Christ in words, and in so doing he was praying whether he calls it praying or not.

So if you are not good at living close to God, don't disparage Bible reading and prayer. If your Bible reading and prayer is not communication with God, you may need to enrich your communication. Study of Scriptural prayers and reading books on spiritual formation may then be useful in helping you find ways to enrich your communication with God. Read in this way, even Mr. Edwards' book may be helpful.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Actions Louder than Words

Reflections on 2 Samuel 17:24-29
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

When a friend is in trouble, don't annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it.
- Edgar Watson Howe

A DESPERATE NEED. David had been a fugitive when he was young, a shepherd boy turned soldier. He was a fugitive again as a mature man, a king who had been settled in a palace ruling a vast territory. Israel's army, which he had formerly led to numerous victories, was camped in Gilead ready to attack him. Judah, his own tribe, had given their support to Absalom at Hebron. Jerusalem, his city, was divided and no longer safe. Many of his own family now opposed him: Amasa, David's nephew, was commander of Israel's mutinous army, and Absalom, his own son, had proclaimed himself king. David had fled leaving most of his household possessions behind. He and his family were hungry and tired.

APPROPRIATE ACTIONS. More than sympathetic words, David needed helpful actions, and God sent true friends who proved helpful (see Psalm 55:22). Mahanaim, a fortified city which had served as Ishbosheth's capital after Saul's death (2 Samuel 2:8 ff.), gave David and his family refuge. Still, David's large family, which fled its home hurriedly, needed bedding, kitchen utensils, and a pantry full of food. Three friends anticipated these needs and generously supplied them. None of these friends were close relatives. Makir and Barzillai were from cities in Gilead and probably belonged to the tribe of Manasseh. Shobi was an Ammonite from the royal family of Nahash. They didn't merely offer their sympathy and say, "If there is anything you need, let us know." They demonstrated their sympathy by doing something appropriate.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
-- James 2:15-16 (NIV)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Treacherous City

Reflections on 2 Samuel 17:15-23
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

We don't know when Psalm 55 was written, but it describes quite well how David felt when he fled the Jerusalem with Shimei cursing him, pelting him with rocks, and throwing dust in the air.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.
-- Psalm 55:1-3

David's primary concern was to find a place of rest and safety for himself and his family.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest-
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert; Selah
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm."
-- Psalm 55:4-8 (NIV)

JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM. The city David left behind was a treacherous place. Many within its walls were allied with Absalom, and looked at others suspiciously. David's friends were in danger, so he prayed,

Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech,
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.
-- Psalm 55:9-11 (NIV)

FRIENDS. Hushai, David's friend, faced great danger. He had infiltrated Absalom's council of advisers to learn Absalom's plans and disrupt them if possible. If his real mission were exposed, he would surely have been executed. Zadok and Abiathar, priests of God, also faced danger. They were longtime allies of David both in worship and in war. They were also ears and intermediaries between Hushai and David. Jonathan and Ahimaaz were messengers who would carry the intelligence gathered in the city to David. Their mission was so dangerous they could not risk being seen in the city. They hid by a spring outside the city walls. A servant girl relayed the information from the priests to the messengers near the spring. Her life was at risk. When the messengers were seen by a friend of Absalom, they fled and hid in a well on the far side of the Mount of Olives near Bahurim. The owners of the well covered it with grain spread out to dry in the sun. By hiding the messengers, they put their lives in danger.

FOES. David's primary foe was Absalom, his own son. David's most dangerous foe was Ahithophel, who had formerly been one of his closest advisers. In anguish, David cried out,

If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God.
Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the grave,
for evil finds lodging among them.
-- Psalm 55:12-15 (NIV)

God answered David's prayer. God confused the wicked (Psalm 55:9) and turned the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness (2 Samuel 15:31). In a short time, death would claim Absalom by surprise. For Ahithophel, who had betrayed God's chosen king, death came even sooner. When he saw his advice had not been followed, he went home, put his affairs in order, and hung himself. Centuries later, another man who betrayed God's chosen king would also go out and hang himself.

Blessed are those who are faithful to God's chosen king. No risk is too great; they remain faithful in the midst of treachery.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pampering a Superstar

Reflections on 2 Samuel 17:1-14
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

If superstars don't demand pampering, someone will pamper them for their own purposes. Absalom was a superstar, and his advisers spent a lot of time pampering his ego. Absalom's swollen ego led to his downfall.

AHITHOPHEL. Absalom was already basking in the adulation of the multitudes. Although some had fled with David, Ahithophel assured Absalom that they too would return to him if David were dead. "Let me," he advised, "lead a sudden attack on David while he is still in flight. Let me take 12,000 men to surprise and overpower him. Our only goal will be to kill the king. Then all the people will return to you." Ahithophel's advice was brilliant because David had not yet joined up with Joab, who was apparently on the other side of the Jordan, but had only a small bodyguard protecting him and his family. Ahithophel's advice won initial approval, but it had one weakness: the fame for killing David, a fierce and crafty warrior, would go to Ahithophel instead of Absalom.

HUSHAI. "On previous occasions," Hushai told Absalom, "Ahithophel's advice has been good. This time, however, it is not good because David's men are fierce, experienced warriors who will not leave David open to attack and who are undoubtedly preparing an ambush." Therefore, Hushai suggested a better strategy: "Absalom, you yourself should gather and lead such an immense army against David that neither David nor his men will be able to escape alive." In giving this advice, Hushai appealed to Absalom's pride and raised questions about Ahithophel's motives without making any direct accusations.

ADVISERS. Normally, it is good for kings to have many advisers. After hearing Ahithophel, Absalom also sought out Hushai in accordance with Proverbs 24:6, which says, "For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers." In this case, seeking additional advice backfired because "the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom." Hushai was actually David's agent, and he cleverly appealed to Absalom's vanity to overturn Ahithophel's advice so that David might have time to escape and gather an army. When Absalom approved of Hushai's advice, his advisers proved to be "yes" men instead of astute advisers. Unlike David, Absalom had no prophets or priests among his advisers who were unafraid to confront his sin or expose his vanity.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Achilles' Heel

Reflections on 2 Samuel 16:20-23
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

The counsel Ahithophel gave Absalom to lie with his father's concubines on the roof of David's house was brilliant, but it had a fatal weakness.

BRILLIANCE. Ahithophel's advice was brilliant because it gave a sense of justice being done for a royal crime that appeared to have been ignored. It was an "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" kind of justice which the public understood and perhaps even made Absalom a hero. Furthermore, when Absalom disgraced David's concubines, he made it clear he was not merely seeking to be named heir or designated coregent. He made himself such a stench to David that reconciliation was impossible. He declared he would be king, and nothing less. Such a bold action was sure the embolden Absalom's supporters.

WEAKNESS. Although Ahithophel's advice was brilliant, it had an Achilles' heel. It flaunted the basic principles of morality. First, it paid no heed to the example of Reuben, who slept with his father's concubine, and forfeited the inheritance of the firstborn as a consequence (Genesis 35:22; 1 Chronicles 5:1). Absalom's right as the oldest living son to sit on David's throne would go to another. Second, Ahithophel's' advice also gave no heed to the Law, which designated a death penalty for the son who had lain with his father's wife (Leviticus 20:11). Before many days had passed, Absalom himself would be dead.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death.
-- Proverbs 14:12

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Master of Double Entendre

Reflections on 2 Samuel 16:15-19
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves.
-- Carl Jung

The proud person thinks that he is the most important person on the earth, so it naturally follows that he thinks all praise and honor belongs to him. His first inclination upon hearing words of praise and honor is that they are directed to him. Herein is the potential for the proud person to be deceived. Hushai, David's loyal friend, deceived Absalom precisely because Absalom could not imagine anyone else receiving the praise Hushai gave.

KING. When Hushai met Absalom, Hushai said, "Long live the king! Long live the king!" Of course, those words are usually said when meeting a king, and Absalom naturally thought Hushai was recognizing him as king even though Hushai had never mentioned his name. For his part, Hushai was undoubtedly thinking, "Long live King David!" Certainly, he would work to that end. Absalom, however, could hardly believe his good fortune in attracting another of his father's best counselors. Laughing inwardly he asked, "Is this the love you show your friend? Why didn't you go with your friend?" (Absalom could have been suspicious, in which case his deception was delayed a short time.)

CHOSEN. Hushai replied with more apparent flattery. "No," he said, "I will remain with the one chosen by the LORD, by these people, and by all the men of Israel." He seemed to imply that recent events had convinced him that God and the people had chosen Absalom (Smith, 2000, p. 462), and Absalom absolutely loved it. Inwardly, however, Hushai was proclaiming his loyalty to David whom God had truly chosen (David was often called God's chosen, but Absalom never. See Youngblood, 1992, p. 1006). As for the people and leaders of Israel, they also had chosen David, and many of them were still loyal to him (2 Samuel 15:23).

SERVE. Hushai continued with a rhetorical question, "Whom should I serve?" He answered, "I will serve the son," but the real question is, "How would he serve the son?" Hushai said he would serve Absalom with the same loyalty he had shown David. Absalom, blinded by his ego and Hushai's flattery, thinks Hushai will serve him, but Hushai inwardly means that he will serve Absalom as a loyal friend of David (Bergen, 2001, p. 410).

The Scripture says that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). In Absalom's case, it not only went before his destruction, it also set him up for destruction. His egotism blinded him to the danger posed by Hushai who never wavered in his loyalty to David in word or deed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Reflections on 2 Samuel 16:5-1
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

The old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is not entirely true. Although words do not damage the physical body, they do cause emotional pain. Consequently, self-control and faith are required to keep from retaliating when attacked verbally. David exemplified that self-control and faith when Shimei cursed him as he fled Jerusalem.

INSULTS. Shimei yelled at David like one would chase away a troublesome dog, "Get out, get out!" Then he called David a "man of blood" equating him with a common murderer for the way he had treated Saul's family (a false accusation, by the way). He also called him a "scoundrel," which means something like "worthless" or even "pernicious" (later, Belial would become a name for Satan). When David didn't respond, Shimei threw stones at him as if David was a fleeing dog and threw dust in the air. Shimei felt justified in his verbal and physical insults because he saw what was happening as the Lord repaying David for his evil deeds.

SELF-CONTROL. In response, Abishai insulted Shimei calling him a "dead dog" when he requested permission to kill Shimei. David refused to retaliate. He did not have the vengeful disposition of his nephews. Perhaps surprisingly, David recognized that Shimei's curses were perhaps part of God's discipline, not for his treatment of Saul's family but for his sin with Bathsheba which was the cause of his family problems and with Absalom. He would not himself punish Shimei if this all was the Lord's doing.

TRUST. Instead of retaliating, David chose to trust God. He thought that perhaps God, seeing the evil accusations that he endured patiently, would repay him with good. David entrusted himself to the Lord, who judges justly. God did repay him with good, and brought him back to Jerusalem. When he returned, Shimei met David in humble submission, like a dog with his tail between his legs.

David was patient and self-controlled partly because he knew his afflictions were the Lord's discipline and, more importantly, because he trusted the Lord to do what was right. His promised descendant, Jesus, who was without sin, also endured affliction patiently leaving us an example that we should follow.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
-- 1 Peter 2:21-23 (NIV)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stealing from a Lame Man

Reflections on 2 Samuel 16:1-4
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.
The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
-- 1 Timothy 6:10

Ziba had managed Saul's estate for years. He managed it after Saul's death, and he continued to manage it when David gave Saul's estate to Saul's grandson Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:1-12) to keep a promise he had made to Jonathan. Ziba's life was in the estate, and his heart was in it, too. The only problem was that it was not his. In this episode, Ziba revealed himself to be both shrewd and greedy. His greed led him into sin.

SHREWD. If Absalom was able to secure the throne, he would undoubtedly confiscate Saul's property and make it part of his royal estate. Ziba astutely perceived that the best hope for preserving the estate was to gamble that the rebellion would fail, so he cast his lot with David. He quickly gathered donkeys and supplies that would be useful during flight and brought them to David. In this way, he obtained David's favor. Ziba knew that "a gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great" (Proverbs 18:16).

GREEDY. What Ziba really wanted was to make the estate his own, and he saw his opportunity in the confusion of the moment. In David's hurry to leave Jerusalem, he would not have time to investigate an accusation thoroughly, so Ziba slandered Mephibosheth accusing him of staying in Jerusalem in hope that Saul's kingdom would be given to him (cf. 19:26-27). He guessed correctly. David gave the estate to Ziba without a second witness or thorough investigation as required by Law (Deuteronomy 19:15; see also Proverbs 18:17; 25:2).

It would have been absurd for Mephibosheth, crippled as he was, to expect restoration of the throne to Saul's family, but Ziba's accusation was believable because a pathetic character like Mephibosheth might be expected to entertain such a fantasy. Furthermore, Ziba gambled that, in the confusion of Absalom taking over the city, Mephibosheth would be killed or neglected and left to die. Hopefully, when David finally returned to the city, no one would be able to prove his slander, and the estate would be secured for himself and his children forever.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Grace for the Humble

Reflections on 2 Samuel 15:24-37
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
-- James 4:10

David had to swallow his pride to flee from his son Absalom and allow him to occupy the royal city. Not only did David swallow his pride, but he also humbled himself before God.

RESPECT. David showed the utmost respect for God when he sent the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem. The ark was the symbol of God's presence in Israel. When Israel had been traveling from Egypt to Canaan, the ark went with them. Indeed, it led them. But now God had given Israel their inheritance and no longer led Israel from place to place. Now he had chosen Jerusalem as his dwelling place (2 Kings 21:7-8). David respected God's choice, and he believed that God could bring him back to Jerusalem if he found favor in God's sight. Therefore, he commanded Zadok, "Take the ark of God back into the city."

HUMILITY. Moreover, David was willing to accept whatever God chose for him. As he left the city, he wept. He did not weep for what he was leaving behind, but he wept in humble repentance knowing that God was disciplining him for his sin. Therefore he covered his head and removed his sandals as he ascended the Mount of Olives just as Moses had hid his face and removed his sandals at the burning bush on Mt. Sinai.

PRAYER. As David was leaving the city, he was told that his trusted advisor Ahithophel had joined Absalom's conspiracy. Ahithophel had a reputation for giving counsel that was like the counsel of God (2 Samuel 16:23), so David knew that he had to depend on God to nullify Ahithophel's advice. Showing his dependence on God, David prayed, "O LORD, turn Ahithophel's counsel into foolishness."

PROVISION. God saw David's humility before he fled the city or knew his need, so God had already made provision for him. God's priests, Zadok and Abiathar, had remained loyal to David. David was able to send them back into the city where they could collect valuable information and relay it on to David. When David prayed that God would turn Ahithophel's advice to foolishness, God had already planned for Hushai, another of David's wise counselors, to meet him. David sent Hushai back to Jerusalem to infiltrate Absalom's inner circle, nullify Ahithophel's counsel, and pass Absalom's plans to the priests Zadok and Abiathar, who would then inform David.

David did not depart the city a proud and defiant man. He did not stand at the top of the Mount of Olives overlooking the city and vow, "I shall return." In his humility, he left his future in the hands of God. God saw his humility and chose to lift him up. David wisely used the help that God gave him.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Curious King

Reflections on 1 Sam. 17:55-18:1

Saul asked the same question of two different people at two different times. First, he asked Abner while watching David going out to meet Goliath, “Whose son is this youth?” Second, he asked David when he returned from striking down the Philistine, “Whose son are you, young man?” He may not have been asking for the same reason each time.

FOOLISH. The first time, he may have been thinking, “This is crazy. He’s only a kid, and he’s going to get slaughtered by that veteran Philistine (see 17:33). I’m going to have to notify his dad that he got killed.” Then he turned and asked, “Abner, whose kid is this?”

NAÏVE. Or he may have been thinking something like this the first time. “This kid is naïve, but I like his pluck. If he harasses the Philistine and somehow survives to grow into a suit of armor and to learn to wield a sword, he’d make a good recruit” (see 17:38-39). Turning to Abner, he asked, “Whose kid is this?”

VALIANT. The second time Saul asked the question, David was returning with Goliath’s head in his hand. Then Saul may have been thinking, “He isn’t just plucky. He’s valiant and lucky too. I’m going to have to make his dad’s family free from taxation” (see 17:24). Then Saul said to David, “Young man, whose son are you?”

What kind of faith do people see in you? Do they think it nothing more than foolish talk? Do they think that you are merely naïve and that experience of real life will destroy your idealism? Or do they see that you live your faith even in difficult circumstances and that you come through those trials even stronger in faith?

(I place the killing of Goliath before David is introduced to Saul as a “man of valor, a man of war” (1 Sam. 16:18), before Saul sent to Jesse to ask that he be relieved of his duties with the sheep and be sent to him (1 Sam. 16:19-20), and before he had become familiar with armor and weapons as Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Sam. 16:21).)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hurried Flight

Reflections on 2 Samuel 15:13-23
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.


Soon after Absalom had been proclaimed king, a messenger came and told David, "The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom." David immediately decided to flee from Jerusalem. Why would he abandon Jerusalem?

LACK OF TROOPS. God had given Israel peace from the surrounding nations, so David had sent the militia their homes. The messenger's report suggested that the hearts of many who served in the militia were now with Absalom (The phrase "men of Israel" appears to refer to the militia in Judges 7:23; 20:11 ff.; 1 Samuel 7:11; 14:24.). David's only force in Jerusalem was his personal bodyguard consisting of the Kerethites and Pelethites along with 600 Gittites.

FAMILY DANGER. God had promised David would be followed on the throne by a son whom God would love. When God had made it clear that he loved David's son Solomon, David had promised Bathsheba that Solomon would be the next king (see 1 Kings 1:13). Absalom was not the one God had chosen, and if he was willing to depose his father, he would not hesitate to kill Solomon. David fled with his family to protect the heir to his throne from intrigue and murder.

DOUBTFUL LOYALTY. If David had remained in the city, he could not have depended on the absolute loyalty of those within the city walls. Two hundred men of Jerusalem had gone with Absalom to Hebron, so David could not be sure of the loyalty of their families. If the citizens were divided, some supporting Absalom and some David, danger could be as great inside the city as outside. David had been well aware of this kind of danger earlier when he fled Keilah (1 Samuel 23:12-13). Therefore, David fled with only those absolutely loyal to God and himself. Even Ittai, a Philistine warrior from Gath, swore loyalty to David, much as his great-grandmother Ruth had sworn loyalty to Naomi, before he was allowed to go with David.

Fleeing Jerusalem was probably the best for David himself, but that was not the major reason he fled. He was actually thinking more of others than himself (Philippians 2:3-4). By fleeing, he saved the city from civil strife. By fleeing, he protected God's chosen heir to the throne.