Category Archives: Church

2 Samuel 16:15-18:18 – A King’s Son

Discussion Question

Would you describe yourself as a friend of Jesus? How do you recognise a friend?

Background (Context)

David’s house is in turmoil. Everything went pear-shaped after David’s sin with Uriah’s wife. David has fled from his own palace because his son, Absalom, has risen up to take the kingdom from David.

Ahithophel was introduced in 2 Samuel 15:12 as David’s counselor but he was summoned by Absalom and became his adviser instead. You can see in 16:23 how highly the advice of Ahithophel was in the land. Being on Absalom’s side was a real trouble to David. So, he prayed that the LORD would confuse the council of Ahithophel ( 15:34).

Hushai the Arkite was phase one of the answer to that prayer. He was the king’s confidant (1 Chronicles 27:33). He met David as he was fleeing Jerusalem and David instructed him to go and join Absalom’s side in order to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice. He was also instructed to send word to David who would wait at the fords in the wilderness.

David had concubines who he had left behind in Jerusalem. The calamity that has come upon the house of David, forcing him out of Jerusalem, began with the moment he set eyes on a beautiful woman on the roof of her house – he slept with her and had her husband killed. When David was confronted with this by Nathan the prophet, he was told, “Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.” (12:12)

Absalom’s political campaign has gathered many of the people of Israel to his side in conflict with David. We pick up the story as David has fled and Absalom arrives in Jerusalem to occupy his father’s throne.

Read 2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

Copy and paste text here. 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Sleeping with the enemy (16:15-23)
  • The LORD confuses the advice of Ahithophel (17:1-14)
  • Spies work for David (17:15-23)
  • David’s new army mustered at Mahanaim (17:24-18:4)
  • How Absalom died (18:4-18:18)

Sleeping with the enemy (16:15-23)

“Absalom said to Hushai, ‘So this is the love you show your friend?’” Good question Absalom. It sets a theme for the passage before us. What is it to be a friend? Hushai needed to pursuade Absalom that he was now a friend to Absalom. But we know that this is fake.

“Hushai said to Absalom…I will serve you.” Verses 18-19 sound like a blunt lie from Hushai. It is indeed a trick but it is probably a clever one. He avoids using Absalom’s or David’s name but refers to father, son, these people and men of Israel. He especially begins with ‘the one chosen by the LORD’. His intention is to serve the chosen one of God who is the same man (David) the people of Israel all chose back in Chapter 5. He ends his pitch to Absalom with two rhetorical questions: Whom should I serve? And Should I not serve the son? He doesn’t answer them and Absalom can do what he likes with those questions. His final statement sounds very much like a dedication to serve Absalom but if we remember 15:34, he is directly serving David. Hushai is a friend to David and loyal to him.

“Sleep with your father’s concubines…in the sight of all Israel.” Ahithophel gave this advice to Absalom and he does it. In a way that was made known to all Israel. Recall how a similar thing happened in Chapter 4 between the son of Saul (Ish-Bosheth) and his key advisor, Abner? It seems like going one step further than taking a man’s house is to take the man’s concubines. And with that advice, Ahithophel has severely damaged the relationship between David and Absalom. It’s like a massive middle finger to his dad’s authority and place. The deed also echoes two parts of David’s story. It was on the roof that David saw Bathsheba and then sinned with her. And as a result, the LORD declared that David’s wives would be taken away and slept with in broad daylight. There is a difference between wives and concubines but the declaration from Nathan in Chapter 12 and this episode seem too connected to disqualify that difference.

“Now in those days the advice Ahithephel gave was like that of one who inquires of God.” This section ends, or transitions with this high praise of Ahithephel. Both David and Absalom regarded him so highly. We have seen various advisors in the king’s house give really wicked and shrewd advice to the king’s sons. Ahithephel, without any previous mention of him, has entered the story for the purpose of critiquing the wisdom of men versus the wisdom of God. The problem for David is that he needs the wisdom of Ahithephel to be turned into folly.

The LORD confuses the advice of Ahithophel (17:1-14)

“…attack [David] while he is weary and weak…” This was the advice from Ahithophel and what is smart about his advice is the timing. David is weary and weak. While Absalom and all the people strolled into Jerusalem full of breath, David had escaped and needed refreshing (16:14). Ahithophel’s advice is a good one (for Absalom).

“…Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba – as numerous as the sand on the seashore – be gathered to you…then we will attack him…” Hushai is given a chance to give counter advice and he takes it. He convinces Absalom with knowledge of David that is factual but not the full truth. David is a mighty warrior and all of Israel know this. Before Absalom was even a twinkle in his father’s eye David had great experience as a warrior. What Hushai does not tell Absalom is that he knows where David is waiting. And he is camped with his army, not hiding in a cave. Then Hushai gives advice that sounds awesome but is really buying David time. Rather than act swiftly and quickly and get the job done while David is weary, Hushai says, do this right. Get all of Israel together and let’s just bulldoze David down. We don’t want stealth and risk. We want to throw all our resources into this and do it once and do it right.

“For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.” Not much to comment on here but to draw attention to this verse. God’s sovereignty and the plans of men are on view here. God gets his way without even turning up. Absalom heard two plans and chose the more foolish one. Praise God.

Spies work for David (17:15-23)

Let’s just quickly do names…

Hushai – the king’s confidant now acting as spy to frustrate Absalom’s adviser.

Zadok and Abiathar – priests.

Jonathan and Ahimaaz – sons of those two priests (2 Sam 15:27, 36).

En Rogel and Bahurim seem of low significance at a quick glance but give movement to the story. The Jordan is of course a major landmark which is like a gateway to the promised land.

“Now send a message at once and tell David…” The friends of David will network now to save David’s neck. The king was to wait at the fords in the wilderness for a message from the priests (2 Samuel 15:27-29). Hushai advises the priests who then send a female servant to the priest’s sons waiting in En Rogel. They hid in a well at Bahurim to escape Absalom’s men. When they felt safe, they found David and delivered the message. They risked life to get the message to David, their king.

“By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.” The escape was not just for David but for all of the king’s followers. They didn’t delay in case the plan of Ahithophel was set in motion. Hushai had saved David from a quick and sudden attack. The plans were thwarted and he was allowed to retreat so that David, not just Absalom, could muster an army. David’s advantage was growing.

“…Ahithophel…hanged himself…” He had advised Absalom to sleep with David’s concubines in phase one of his plan but phase two was not followed by Absalom. His plans had been frustrated and not followed. He saw no way out but to end his own life. Such a hopeless end. His eggs had been placed in one basket and it depended on his plans being followed. His hopes were in his own wisdom and that had failed him. Praise God that our hopes do not rest on our own wisdom and strength. The story has informed us, the readers, that he was up against the wisdom of the LORD who had determined to frustrate his plans. It’s an uneven competition. He was not wise enough to realise this.

David’s new army mustered at Mahanaim (17:24-18:4)

“David went to Mahanaim…” Remember that this was where Saul’s son set his base when competing with David for king of Israel. The town name means ‘two camps.’ We see again a divided kingdom and wait to see which will last.

“For they said, ‘The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.’” We might remember the words of Ziba in 2Sam 16:2. We suspect that Ziba had a hidden agenda and was deceitful to David. We see more hospitality given to David but without any hint of deceit. Mixed with the subtle but real theme of friendship in this passage, I wonder if we are seeing true hospitality here. The exiled king is still received and cared for.

“Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us.” We finish this section now with an overwhelming allegiance to David. He may not know a fraction of who these people are but there are thousands of people who know who David is and consider him their friend. It is not a friendship like two mates chatting over coffee, but it is a loyalty of the many who name David as their beloved king. They are prepared to give to him, welcome him in, leave their homes and palace for him and die for him.

How Absalom died (18:4-18:18)

“The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’” These words sound more like the words of a father for his son than of a king for a rebel. There is grace and mercy, compassion and patience, and longing in David’s instructions. Pitty? The three generals were given these plain instructions and the troops all heard the instructions.

“The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.” Ephraim would become the popular name for the alternate and rebellious kingdom of Israel when it splits after Solomon. The battle on this day went everywhere and the land itself seemed to do more damage that the weapons. An odd thing but sets us up for what happened next.

“He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.” The image is ironic. Note that his hair is not mentioned here. Later commentators would suspect that his glorious hair was part of his demise in the end. The text doesn’t tell us that at all. But ok. It works. He is floating between heaven and earth – with his majestic…mule…riding away from him. Is this a reflection of his foney kingdom? Left behind by a donkey – like a donkey. His end is not beautiful. It gets worse.

“I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.” Can you imagine it? “Excuse me general…ah Joab, sir?” – “Yes, what is it?” – “I just saw Absalom…hanging in an oak tree.” – “Are you sure?” – “Yes, it definitely looks like an oak tree. I could be wrong.”

“Joab…took three javelins in his hand and plunged the into Absalom’s heart…” We all know what David had wanted. The troops knew. This was clearly against the wishes and order of the king. But those were the words of a father. The very father who had failed to discipline his sons (Amnon and Absalom). Who failed to retrieve Absalom and deal with his methods swiftly and helpfully. Joab saw an opportunity to make a decision on behalf of the king. Sometimes, as they say, it’s better to say sorry than to ask for permission. Joab had dealt like this before (2 Samuel 3:30) and David had commented on how hard Joab was compared to his gentleness (2 Samuel 3:39).

“…it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.” We are told that Absalom had no sons which must mean that those mentioned in 14:27 had died young – makes sense since they were never named. Absalom’s body is discarded like a sinner or enemy of Israel and all that remains of him is a monument. The lasting memory of Absalom for most people is that of him hanging in an oak tree. Not an heir of David’s kingdom. Not a son of David who inherited the kingdom of David’s house. But a muleless rebel.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

We have observed a growing friendship and loyalty surrounding David while Absalom died alone in the woods. He was easily tricked by Hushai because all he heard was what he wanted to hear. He also responded to the tactic of winning by creating a huge army. Once he died, there was no more battle and all that was left was a monument that he had made for himself. His body was discarded. No tribute by his followers. Absalom had built a shallow kingdom for himself. It looked good on the outside but had no substance. David, in contrast, had thousands willing to lay down their life for him. Absalom tried to make a name for himself but it had no substance. David was the king of a living body, proactive and for him. Not just shallow friends but friends in deed.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The great effort of making nothing for ourselves. Much effort can be spent in life to build – what? Jesus tells us to choose where our treasure is. Money (power, economic position, social status, things, location, etc) or the Kingdom of God. One is eternal and has your name written in the book of Life. The other is temporary and will not last. It is an empty shell. Absalom betrayed God’s king in order to make a name for himself. God’s king, Jesus, has already made a name for us by emptying himself at the cross. Once again, let’s be thankful for the effort that Jesus made to give us a life full of substance.

Topic B: What a friend we have in Jesus. Now, this is a bit of a backward application. The passage has described all of the friends of the king, rather than the king being friends of his kingdom. So, if I am to say that Jesus is my friend, what kind of friend am I? What kind of friend are you? Being loyal to the true king always. Not putting anybody above his friendship. Sharing and being hospitable with brothers and sisters in Christ. Love as he has first loved us. Talk about him with others like you know him, love him and think others would be better off if they were friends with him too! 

Topic C: Are you struggling with this part of scripture? We are a long way into 2 Samuel. Many times, in our study we have noticed that the story of David is the story of the foreshadowing of God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus said that all of the Old Testament is about Him (John 5:39). “God’s Big Picture Plus+” is a course (following a book written by Vaughan Roberts with extra material added) we run at Campbelltown Anglican Churches and we are due to run the course again soon. Look out for it being advertised. Every Christian ought to get a grip on the whole message of the bible in all of it’s parts put together as one Big Picture.

2 Samuel 5

A conquering king

Discussion Question

What stops us from trusting in the LORD with all our heart? Why do we become impatient and anxious about the future?

Background (Context)

1 and 2 Samuel tell the story of how Israel received David as their king. The main characters, of course, include David, Saul and Samuel. The story is carried along by the nation of Israel’s number one enemy of the time: the Philistines. Samuel’s leadership is marked with success as “throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:13). The instruction from Samuel to the people of Israel was that Saul would deliver them from the oppression of the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16) and yet in Chapters 10 to 13 we read of how Saul failed to do this because of his disobedience. The summary of Saul’s reign is described in 1 Samuel 14:52, “all the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines.” Even before David is made king over all Israel, he demonstrates his ability to fight and defeat this enemy in Chapters 17 to 23. It is at the hand of the Philistines that king Saul is killed in battle when Israel were defeated, and when many Israelites abandoned their towns “the Philistines came and occupied them” (1 Samuel 31:7). The king in Israel was meant to be subject to Yahweh and bring peace and blessing to the nation of Israel. Saul had failed to be that king.

Since Saul’s death, David has demonstrated his patience and kindness toward all of Israel, waiting on the LORD to unite all the people of Israel under him. He seeks God’s will before acting. He acts in righteousness and judges justly. He weeps and leads the people in lamenting. We come now to see, when the people accept him as their king, will he be the king he promises to be. What about those Philistines?

Read 2 Samuel 5

5 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 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.’ ”

3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

6 The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.

8 On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”

9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces  inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

11 Now Hiram king of Tyre sent envoys to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built a palace for David. 12 Then David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

13 After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him. 14 These are the names of the children born to him there: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, 15 Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, 16 Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet.

17 When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 19 so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?”

The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.”

20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim.  21 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off.

22 Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 23 so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. 24 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” 25 So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon  to Gezer.

What did you see? (Observation)

The first noteworthy thing about this chapter is that it acts as a resolution to the whole saga of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel 1-4. David is a worthy king and the people are ready to receive him. Once he reigns he proves himself to be the very leader they always needed. Not because he is great, but because the LORD is with him. So, the structure is not so much as a narrative with Beginning, Middle and End but scenes that reveal how he establishes a safe kingdom for Israel.

Structure

  • The tribes of Israel come to David their king (1-3)
  • David takes Jerusalem (and a bunch of concubines!) (4-16)
  • Round 1 against the Philistines (17-21)
  • Round 2 and the Philistines are gone (22-25)

The tribes of Israel came to David their king (1-3)

“All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron…” Clearly the whole entire people did not come to Hebron but the elders who represented all the tribes. But all the tribes coming to David is a very significant thing. They have come to their senses.

“We are your own flesh and blood.” The people recognise that they know David. He is one of them. And they have known about him for some time. The people used to sing songs about his victories even when Saul was king. He is not a stranger, a foreigner or a Johnny-come-lately. They have come to David who they know very well. His credentials, track record AND the word of the LORD support David. All the people are coming to David as ‘his body’ to call him their head.

“…the king made a covenant with them at Hebron…” The deal is done. David is now the King over all Israel. The covenant is not detailed here but the scope that the bible gives to this role is quite big on both parts. Deuteronomy 17 outlines what would happen when Israel gets a king. And the king is required to listen to the law of God and lead the people. It is through the king that the people are blessed. We’ll see later that David knows this.

The people have not been forced to bow to David. The people are not agreeing to make him king under duress. The patience of David who, for many years even while running away from Saul, has consistently trusted in the LORD to deliver and to bless has paid off.

David takes Jerusalem (and a bunch of concubines!) (4-16)

On the history of the Jebusites in the city of Jerusalem and Israel, see Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:8, 21 (also Joshua 10). The only other history of this city prior to David (which is not conclusive) is of another key figure named Melchizedek who was a priest of God and king of Salem in Genesis (which means peace). ‘Jer’ usually means foundation while Salem means peace. The link between Jerusalem and Salem is more of a whisper than of a solid link (although Psalm 76:2 seems unambiguous about the two being one). The book of Hebrews makes more out of Melchizedek’s priestliness than of his kingship. But Jerusalem seems like it was destined to become the city of David, the King of the LORD’s people.

Israel had not been successful in removing the original inhabitants from this city. David strikes to take a city which a) no other man has laid claim to in Israel to date and therefore it can be truly the king’s city (aside from it being part of the land prescribed for Benjamin), and b) because the Jebusites seem to have claimed that David could not take it even if they defend the city with blind and lame people. They sneer at Israel’s new king. They claimed that “David cannot get in here”. They claim that they are their weakest is too strong for God’s king. David proves them wrong.

“Because the LORD God Almighty was with him.” This is the important note in this story. We are seeing a triumphant king because he is working with the LORD God Almighty. Romans 8:31 – if God is for us, who can be against us?

“…Hiram king of Tyre…built a palace for David.” Even the nations around David were seeing this as a blessing and a kingdom to get behind. Tyre is a foreign nation in the north-west of Israel. In David’s reign and also Solomon’s, the nations around Israel, beyond their borders, look to Israel as a blessing. And also a nation to be feared (1 Chronicles 14:17).

“Then David knew…” David knew three things. 1) that the LORD had established this kingdom. 2) that David’s kingdom had been exalted in the sight of other nations – ie, shining, and 3) that it is for the sake of God’s people that this has been done. So, David may be the king, but God is blessing the people of Israel – not just David. And David knows this. He is to be a shepherd over the people and not a tyrant (5:2).

“David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem…” David is indeed God’s king over the people of God. His victories are showing how he inquires of the LORD and listens and obeys. And yet, the bible is very truthful about the failings of humans. While the story is overwhelmingly positive, the narrator gives us clues to suggest that even David will not mount to being the king that does everything right. The practice of many wives and concubines is tolerated by God in the Old Testament – never prescribed and often spoken negatively about – but it is tolerated for the moment. It will be the greatest symptom of Solomon’s downfall. See Deuteronomy 17:17 on the direct instruction from God to the future kings of Israel not to accumulate wives or wealth.

Round 1 against the Philistines (17-21)

“When the Philistines heard…” Philistines had been living among the towns of Israel sins they conquered Saul at the end of 1 Samuel. They are a present threat and an enemy living in their midst. See the background (context) section regarding the significance of these people as the constant threat to Israel. The people of God have been dwelling in the promised land since Joshua brought them across the Jordan and brought down Jericho. But Israel has been unable to completely remove foreigners from the land that God was giving them. It would be God’s king who will bring peace in the land and remove the enemy. This kind of language often disturbs Christians who wonder what to make of all this. Keep in mind that the gospel story is an historic one and at this stage in the story, the world is being taught that God calls a people who were not a people and blesses them. God never promised Israel that they would rule the world but that they would be a blessing to the world. The borders of Israel were set by God. The occupants of the land would submit to the rule of God or get out. Also, it is the Philistines who go to ‘search’ for David.

“Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the LORD…”  The Valley of Rephaim got its names from those who once lived there, the Rephaites. They were giants (Deut 2:20-21). The Septuagint (or LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) calls it ‘the valley of the giants or titans. This triggers a memory of David going up against a giant Philistine back in 1 Samuel 17. He had defeated Goliath in the name of the LORD in that day. And on this occasion, he still does not resort to his own strength thinking, ‘I’ve beaten them time and time again, I’ll just do it again now.’ Rather, he inquired of the LORD.

“So that place was called Baal Perazim.” Baal means lord or master and Perazim means breaking through or bursting forth. When David defeated the Philistines, he knew that it was because Yahweh, the LORD, had delivered them into his hands and David renamed the place in memory of what God had done there. David has inquired, listened, obeyed and remembered.

“David and his men carried [the Philistine idols] off.” The idols of the Philistines were useless to save them while the living God of Israel broke through and won the battle. He alone is mighty to save. Instead of the foreign gods carrying David and his men away, David and his men carry them off. Isaiah 46 gives a comical comparison between idols that do nothing – in fact they need people to do everything for them – with the living God who creates and delivers. Deuteronomy 7:5 commands Israel to conquer the enemy in the land and smash and burn the idols. 1 Chronicles 14:12 describes the same battle and informs us that David did just that.

Round 2 and the Philistines are gone (22-25)

Verses 22 to 25 provide a repeat performance. The Philistines try a second time to defeat David. We should note two things. Firstly, that David continues, despite his past record of winning, to inquire of the LORD. Secondly, that when David goes to battle in obedience to God, he is to listen for the sound of God’s army going out before him. The story is contrasting the living God of Israel against the fake and phony idols of the foreign nations. The Philistines were driven out of the land of Israel.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

We are seeing a foretaste of the Kingdom of God victorious to defeat the enemy. Fortresses that promise much (like wealth) and false gods provide no defense against the true and living God. The church is the body and Christ is the head. He has defeated the enemy and sat down at the right hand of God to reign. The head of God’s people is a shepherd who will rule for the good and blessing of God’s people.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Many kings that went after King David were poor shepherds of Israel. They lead people away from the living God and toward dead idols. But Jesus is the Son of the living God who leads his church to worship God in Spirit and in truth. The victory that Jesus brings is release from the enemy of sin and death. Freedom in Christ is eternal freedom.

Topic B: The battle is over before it begins. There is not much detail of the battles in this chapter. Three battles are fought, three victories won but the detail is mostly missing. Revelation 19:11-21 describes One riding who is named the Word of God and he is confronted with the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies to wage war against him. But, in a sentence, the beast is captured and the rest defeated by the words coming from the rider’s mouth. We are to remember that the King we serve is none other than the creator of heaven and earth. There is nothing and nobody greater than He. An even clearer image and appropriate cross-reference is that of Psalm 2, widely regarded as the Psalm used when consecrating a king in Israel.

Topic C: Inquiring of the LORD. Although David’s story is unique and points us first and foremost to Jesus and His kingdom, the model of turning to God is translatable to the church also. As Jesus came to teach and preach about the Kingdom of God he demonstrated his own dependance on turning to God in obedience to His will. He instructed his disciples to pray ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done’. Hebrews 5:7-10 describe Jesus as much more than a casual prayer. He bore his heart to God and acted in obedience. 

The head of the body prays and so ought the body of Christ. Love, joy, peace AND patience are fruit of the spirit. Time in prayer is not time wasted. Even when the anxiety of life looms on us, we should learn to turn to God in prayer and seek his face.

‘They will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God their Saviour. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.” Psalm 24:5-6

Study 16 – 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Idols and believers

Discussion Question

What has been a highlight for you in this series of Chaos to Christ?

Background

We reach the end of the 1 Corinthians 1-10 – Chaos to Christ series and I hope that Paul’s letter has highlighted the need to find our foundation on the cross of Christ. Our faith in Christ does not make us proud or bold to do whatever we want but we respond to the grace poured out on us with a sober approach to life.

From chapter 7, Paul has been looking at some specific things that concerned the church in Corinth and pointing them to the freedom they have in Christ. It is, however, a freedom to express love toward one another and to engage in our ministry here on earth rather than freedom to do as we please. In the previous section (10:1-13) he showed us how the Old Testament gives us example after example of how people fail to live rightly before God and that we are to learn from their mistakes. He singled out idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling as three horrible actions of any believer. Back in Chapter 9, Paul talked about how his freedom allowed him to cross into the lives of others in order to win them to Christ. He said that he was willing to become all things to all people so that by all possible means some may be saved. Paul now continues this theme and concludes that he is worth following in this because he is following Christ’s example.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”c

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

11 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Sometimes something that is nothing is really something (14-22)
  • It’s not all about you (23-24)
  • Seeking the good of others so that they may be saved (25-11:1)

Sometimes something that is nothing is really something (14-22)

“Therefore, my dear friends…I speak to sensible people…” It feels at times that Paul is speaking down to the Corinthians like they are school children who know nothing but we see an example here of how Paul writes optimistically to his audience. They are more than a distant church, they are dear to him, he cares about how this letter is received, and he has hopes that they will read it with their brains engaged and ready to think about what is said. I hope this is how we address one another in Growth Groups and church services.

“…flee from idolatry.” In Chapter 6 Verse 18 Paul commanded us to flee from sexual immorality as a most intimate of sins. He listed idolatry, sexual immorality and grumbling as the three examples of the Israelites failing in their faithfulness.

“…judge for yourselves what I say.” Paul is not saying that they can make up their own mind what is right or not, but to listen to Paul’s argument and examine whether he is right or not – ie, it’s not a call to one’s own opinion but a call to use their intelligence to detect truth from lies or false argument.

“…the cup of thanksgiving…” This would be the Lord’s Supper. The method of conducting the Lord’s Supper has varied over the centuries but the principle at the heart of it is bread and wine that is shared in thanksgiving for the death of Christ for us. Our response to God’s mercy must be thankfulness if anything! Perhaps our ongoing thankfulness for the cross is our way of fleeing grumbleness!

“…a participation in the blood of Christ?” While the wine and the bread remain always simply wine and bread, and while Christ’s death on the cross was paid once for all (Romans 6:9-10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10), the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a communal event that means something. It is not nothing. Paul expands on this in 11:27-29.

“…because there is one loaf…we are one body…” We are the body of Christ – this is a metaphor to express how important the church, the gathering of God’s chosen people in the name of Christ, is to God. We are more than a collection of people with a common interest. And when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we visibly recall and give thanks as a community for the death of Christ for us. It is his actual sacrifice for sins that we are remembering. Our God requires sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. But we remember a sacrifice that has already happened and give regular thanks for it. Even though a living thing is not slaughtered with the blood spilt before our eyes, we are still recalling the one true sacrifice made for the forgiveness of sins. Paul, in this letter, wants us to learn that the cup and bread of thanksgiving has real meaning. It is important to announce before Communion that all are welcome who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and if not, to withdraw from the celebration and think of what the cross of Christ means.

“Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?” Leviticus 7 has background information on this. The eating of the remaining meat from the sacrifice was to be done at the sanctuary. There was a meal involved during the sacrifices in Israel.

“Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything…?” So, this is where we need to have our ears open and our brains on to ‘judge’ what Paul is saying. He is not about to contradict himself. In 8:4 Paul affirmed the truth that God has no competition. There is only One God and every other so-called god is nothing. He is not about to change that claim. But what he will say is that if you are to participate in a sacrifice to another god, then you are actually doing something!

“No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons…” There is no other god to sacrifice to and the food offered to idols is just meat that we are free to eat, but we are not to think that these sacrifices don’t mean anything! There is evil behind false religion. Just today I received in the mail a flyer highlighting how Christ’s return is just about to happen, giving bible passages and current affairs as proof. They do not read the bible correctly and they are deceived greatly with their conclusions and I wondered how a person can be so convinced of a lie that they are willing to print quality flyers and deliver them in their area (I realise others might say the same about our faith but…). There is more than ignorance lying behind the lies of false religion or heretical doctrine. There is a spiritual warfare invisible to us but manifest in the actions derived from lies.

“…both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.” It appears that people in the church in Corinth were dabbling in both for some reason. Perhaps their participation in the Lord’s table (being more than a wafer and a sip of drink, see 11:20-21) was merely one meal to them and the sacrifice to demons another. Or perhaps they had sincere involvement in the Lord’s Supper and all the while participating in pagan rituals – whether they were trying to maintain multiple religions is difficult to conclude. The point remains that these rituals, both the Christian meal and the pagan meals, have significant meaning behind them and they are not nothing!

“…trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?” By participating in the meal of Christ and the meal of a demon, this means something to God too. We are to have no other God but one. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. We are to be devoted to God and not share him with anything else. The Lord’s jealousy may have brought his discipline on some as we read in 11:29-32.

It’s not all about you (23-24)

“I have the right…” Verse 23 is very reminiscent of 6:12. The slight difference in the two verses is helpful. Not everything is constructive. Back in Chapter 6, Paul was concerned about sins that take hold of a person and have master over them. Now in Chapter 10, Paul wants us to think of how our actions can be harmful to other Christians. It is not all about us!

“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” This is the centre principle of this current passage. Love others as Jesus has loved you! Knowing our freedoms is one thing, but applying those for the benefit of others is another.

Seeking the good of others so that they may be saved (25-11:1)

“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions…” This returns us to the earlier principle that the meat is just meat and don’t worry about it. If you are not participating in the meal to demons then don’t let it bother you. He quotes from Psalm 24:1 but see also Ps 24:1; Ex 9:29; 19:5; Job 41:11; Ps 50:12; 1 Ti 4:4.

“If an unbeliever invites you to a meal…” The scenario given by Paul highlights the freedom of Christians to go anywhere and eat anything with anyone – being all things to all people. The food is just food as long as you want to go there and eat it. But if the fact that this meat was sacrificed to a pagan god comes up then this has now become a highlighted issue. While it was not an issue, it was no issue at all. But now, in this scenario, that the meat has been labelled as sacrificial meat, then the topic becomes important. The person noticing this and drawing attention to it needs to know that this is not ok.

“I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?” Paul has been wanting us to follow his logic and judge for ourselves if he is right or not. If we are free, then we are free! If meat is just meat then it’s just meat. If someone else thinks it is something spiritualy harmful or evil, then their perspective does not change what that meat is. But the wise and loving thing to do in response is to care for the conscience of the other person. In other words, their conscience does not alter what that meat means to you BUT it does alter what you will choose to do with that meat.

“If I take part in the meal…” This meal is a simple meal at a friend’s house. They have made the meal and you are thankful to the eternal God for this meat and the company you eat it with. This is not a sacrificial meal as part of a pagan festival. If it were, then the principle that Paul is teaching us would apply too – it’s just meat, but you are clearly engaging in a sacrificial ceremony to a demon – so why would you do that! Once the meat has been declared as a sacrificial offering, our mission mind teaches us to approach the beautifully juicy and wonderfully cooked up meal differently.

“So…do it all for the glory of God.” Our stomachs and our Christian freedom will not be our God. Remember 1 Corinthians 9:19-27? We shall not allow our body to rule over us but we will say no to this meat for the glory of God. In every decision we make in this life, bring it under the filter of, “how will this bring glory to God?”

“Do not cause anyone to stumble…” This is the core teaching of Paul here. It doesn’t matter what you think of what’s in front of you, we always look out for ways to love others. Paul called it a sin to cause someone to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

“…whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God…” These three categories fit neatly with Paul’s earlier description of those under the law, those not under the law and those who are weak. The whole church of God are not weak but those within the church of God who may stumble over their own level of understanding.

“…even as I try to please everyone in every way.” Sometimes the rules or guidelines get complicated. While Paul is free to be all things to all people (9:22), he is teaching us that we also need to be aware of how this freedom affects others. While being like one NOT under the law, will he be causing a weaker brother to sin?

“…so that they may be saved.” Keep this as your guiding principle and everything will be ok. Paul’s aim in life is to expand the kingdom by all possible and permissible means. His aim is not to be self serving and exercising his right to freedom.

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” What a great sentence to conclude this series with! From the chaos of following the ways of the world and thinking like mere humans (3:1-4), Paul has taught us to think and act like Christ in all things. He said this early on by putting his and our focus on the cross of Christ (2:2). And as he has been talking to us about Christian freedom, rights and responsibilities for growing the kingdom of God he reminds us that we are not just following Paul’s methods – we are following the very mind and nature of Christ. He was free from all and nobody owned him (9:19). He expressed his freedom to enter into our world and become one of us for the sake of saving as many as possible (9:20-23) and he did not allow even his own body to get in the way of saving people but lay down his life for us (9:24-27) and so in all of this, Jesus Christ did not seek his own good but the good of many that they may be saved (10:33; John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Philippians 2:5-11).

What did we learn?

In all things, do it for the glory of God, showing love and care for those around you SO THAT they may be saved. Our teacher is Paul and our model is Christ. So, engage your mind to explore the wisdom of God and turn from chaos to Christ.

Now what?

Topic A: What is your understanding of the Lord’s Supper?. It is clear from this passage that the cup and bread of thanksgiving was practiced by the first generation of Christians and it is important to have a right approach to it. Here are a couple of points to make.

  • The Last Supper shared by Jesus and his disciples on the night before his death was the Jewish Passover meal – something that any practicing Jew would observe annually.
  • Jesus repurposed this Passover meal to no longer remember the Exodus where God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, to now remember his death on the cross to rescue sinners from sin and death. The Exodus was a foretaste and shadow of what the cross of Christ has become for all believers.
  • It is one of only two sacraments that we observe in church life: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament is a visible sign or ceremony which articulate a true spiritual reality (my attempt at a definition). They are observed in and by the church because they exist in scripture and are endorsed by the Lord himself.
  • The details of how the Lord’s Supper are to be performed are varied and customisable as long as it adheres to the teaching of Christ and of St Paul – see Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 10-11.

Topic B: Flee from idolatry. As Paul expands on this point he directs us to be conscious of what other people think when it comes to eating meat. But he also reminds us that the things that people dedicate their life to (through sacrificial meat as an example) may be driven by evil forces out of our sight. When we dabble with anything that takes our minds off glorifying God, we move toward idolatry. Paul said in another place that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Can you see areas of life where you are not fleeing but leaning toward idolatry?

Topic C: Not my good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. We saw how this is modelled to us by Paul and ultimately by Christ. The kingdom of God is defined by other-person-centredness. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist for the good of the other. Christ gave up his eternal throne in order to enter our world and save it. Christians are called to lay down their lives for the sake of the kingdom (see Romans 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:24). None of us, by nature, live for the sake of others. Pray for God’s help to mature you in this knowledge and wisdom.