Category Archives: Faith

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

The gifts of the Spirit

Discussion Question

What thoughts or questions do you have about gifts from the Spirit?

Background (Context)

Paul has written a letter to the church in Corinth who need to be pointed away from thinking just like the rest of the world thinks and to consider Christ – the only LORD to worship and the only Saviour of the world. Knowing this changes everything we do.

We cease boasting in people and boast in the Lord. We stop thinking of freedom as an invitation to have everything but turn our hearts to serving Christ, even with our bodies. From Chapter 8, we are warned to flee idolatry but rather glorify God in everything. Chapter 11 turns to a positive view of worship as the theme of worship and relationships is examined. The Lord’s Supper shows us that we are no longer a people who worship in order to get something, but we worship because we have already received in full. The final chapters of 1 Corinthians celebrates how amazing it is to know God and adopt the same character as him. We are no longer tossed individuals in the world responding to things in anger and division but we are a saved people who worship together in love and truth.

What were the people in Corinth doing that Paul didn’t like? We are about to read the passage and hear Paul talk about things gifted by the Spirit of God to the church. About healing and prophecy and miracles and tongues. Were these things happening in Corinth? Was it wrong? Should we get these? We’ll deal with those questions as the study goes on. Whether we know what the church was doing or not has little benefit to what Paul says to us about them. Much wisdom from the scriptures is overlooked when we go looking for background info to shine a light on any passage. The bible has been put together to listen to from any nation in any time.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord
  • One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)
  • Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)

The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord

“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Ironically, I also don’t want you to be uninformed (or ignorant) about this first verse! Although all major translations say spiritual gifts or gifts of the Spirit, the word gifts is not a given in the Greek text. The Greek word used means ‘pertaining to the spirit’, or ‘spiritual’ and the translations have looked forward to Verses 4-11 to look at what the spiritual things is pointing to. We could read, Now about the things pertaining to the Spirit, or Now about spiritual things. See how the major translations are correct and yet, if we are uninformed, we presume that there is a special thing or things called spiritual gifts. The way the rest of the passage plays out will not be affected by this nuance very much BUT the existence of the phrase: spiritual gifts gives license for the uninformed to discuss grand powers as a right in their spiritual experience. The only place in Scripture where the phrase spiritual gifts is ever actually used rather than implied is in Romans 1:11 where the usage in context is clearly about strengthening one another by the truth of the gospel. Note also 1 Cor 1:7 mentions gifts but does not carry with it spirit. The full words of this section plus Chapter 14 explore gifts given through the Spirit. We desire to listen intently without jumping to a world where Christians automatically get super powers.

“You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.” Paul uses the word pagans (gentile, nations, people) as the pre-Christian diagnosis for all. Before coming to Christ, we were all pagan. When we enter this world, we are of the world. We are fleshly and ignorant of the true God. In many and various ways, we are lead to worship false gods. We love to adore things or people. But adoring the One True God is just not in our nature. By default, says Paul, we will be idolaters. Ephesians 2:1-9 (esp V2) expresses it well. There are many and various superstitions around that go unchecked. There are many gods that we can trust and hope in for future security. Even worship in the Christian realm can be misused as merely a superstition – until it is transformed by the knowledge of the True and Living God through the word of God. The doctrine of total depravity describes that we are unable to muster knowledge or belief in God on our own.

“Therefore…” Paul’s assertion in Verse 2 gives him confidence to say what follows. The effect of knowing that we will all be mislead away from God gives the following conclusion.

“…no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” If our human nature cannot take our hearts and minds to worship the True and Living God in truth (but turn to mute idols) then anyone who professes Jesus to be Lord can only do this by the Holy Spirit. Of course, anyone can mouth these words, or read them off a book, but coming to God is only ever a work of the Holy Spirit. The first thing to know about spiritual things and spirituality is that we need the Holy Spirit to bring us to eternal life. The primary gift of the Holy Spirit is to give us the knowledge of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the work of an entirely different spirit to curse Jesus, to reject Jesus.

One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)

“There are different kinds of gifts…service…working…” Gifts and service are both outward in nature from something to something else. God gives gifts, and service is something done for the benefit of others. Working is about activity and effort. Perhaps it is a triune thought about the source and direction of use. That is, God gives gifts for the benefit of others, not simply the one who receives so that their work can be an expression of God’s good work in the world. Whether these three words are meant to be three sides of one thing or whether they are three different areas of thought will become clearer as the passage goes on.

“…the same Spirit distributes…the same Lord…the same God at work…” The emphasis in these three Verses is the unity of the source. The church is one because our God is one. God is at work in calling and saving the church. The Lord is the revealed Lord Jesus whom we serve. And the Spirit is at work in all of the works of God to distribute and call and teach and save. Notice the matching of gifts distributed by the Spirit. The Lord is matched against service. And our work is matched with the work of God. While 1 Corinthians began with the trouble of division in the church, Paul is celebrating the source of unity! Our Triune God is the foundation of the church and the supplier of all its needs. The church is to reflect the unity of God. Though many, we are one. No division in the church even though there is division in the distribution of gifts. Note that different and division are related words. We embrace unity as we celebrate our differences because we recall that our source and service are founded in One God who is at work in all of us. Just as God is one and yet demonstrates His diversity within the Trinity, the church recognises it’s many gifts and services and works and thanks God for being the resource for all of us.

Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Note that any benefit that we receive from knowing God and receiving from Him is for the benefit of the church (and the world). If we recognise a blessing from God, it is not to be put in your back pocket and sat on. Use it. Express God who has manifested the Spirit in you through gifts that you are able to use for the benefit of others. Gifts for service put to work.

“…through…by…the Spirit…” Recall that when we were simply people in this world, we were led astray to mute idols (V2). When we do or say anything under the expression of Jesus as Lord, this is a manifestation of the Spirit within us. This is the logic of Paul here. If it is for Christ, it is through or by the Spirit. If it is against Christ, then it is something else.

“…a message of wisdom…” This would imply wisdom from God rather than wisdom of the world which Paul condemned in the early part of this book (2:6). Wisdom is presenting the truth of God into this world in a practical way. We see how we are best to live and act and react in the world under the grace of God. In Chapter 2, Paul speaks much on wisdom and declares that the wisdom from God is not something that anybody in this world could possibly have mustered up. We declare something that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived. Wisdom from God is God given. It is through the Spirit. It is to have the mind of Christ. And it seeks to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (2:2). If someone claims to have spiritual wisdom and does not proclaim Christ – it is not the same spirit we wish to be fed from.

“…a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…” Chapter 8 focused on the word knowledge. It shows an understanding of matters. It emphasises understanding and intellect rather than virtues like kindness, patience and love. It is neither a good nor an evil. It is a building block for what we choose to do with our knowledge. The greatest truth about knowledge is not about what we know but about being known by God. The Spirit will guide us to true knowledge but knowledge without love is nothing. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

“…to another faith…” It must not be presumed that some will have the gift of faith and others may not. This letter implies a number of times that all in Christ must have faith (2:5; 7:22; 13:13; 15:14, 17; 16:13) But perhaps there are those who manifest a faith from God that feeds the faith of those around them. That is, faith in the church is caught as we stand beside those whom God has especially gifted with faith. I do not mean by this what some might think I mean: that we have faith tanks that can be filled little or much and that the more faith, the greater our relationship with God. Like the faith that can move mountains! I simply mean that while some may manifest their worries and timidness, others can give courage as they manifest their trust in God. This too is not a measure of a person’s worth before God since it is a gift of the Spirit – they didn’t do this of themselves.

“…to another gifts of healing…miraculous powers…” The list of examples gets more and more ‘interesting’! We know that Jesus had the power to heal and perform miracles. We know that the apostles received similar gifts. We certainly believe this to be the work of God when the result of these gifts and powers are to profess and proclaim Jesus as Lord (keeping the context in mind). We also acknowledge and appreciate that healing happens and in many and various ways, God manifests miracles in people’s lives that sometimes can be difficult to explain. The question remains: ought we expect to receive gifts like these in the church or not? If we had these gifts demonstrated all the time and across the ages everywhere that Jesus was preached then we might calmly say that yes, of course healing and mighty powers goes hand in had with Christian churches. When we notice that this is not happening then we ask: are we doing something wrong or are we looking for the right things. Let the bible answer. The spiritual things that Paul is discussing are all shown to be from the One Spirit when Jesus is proclaimed Lord. This is the purpose of the gifts. Healing and miracles are not a fringe benefit of being Christian – one of the perks like the prosperity gospel implies. Healing and miracles are FOR the gospel. Paul will continue to work through this issue over the next few chapters. If the point ain’t Christ then there is no point.

“…to another prophecy…” Paul will again emphasise this gift in 14:1. Prophecy is done to strengthen, encourage and comfort the people of God. Is prophecy about predicting the future? Is prophecy about speaking the word of God? To cut to the chase and keep things short: both are given to us in the Word of God. The closed canaan of Scripture reveals who the Messiah is, how the wrath of God is real and is paid for at the cross, how the world has a non-disclosed use-by date, how God’s love is demonstrated and given at the cross. All that must be known about God has been made known. While Paul wrote this letter, the full measure of Scripture had not been written yet. The church would hear from God as the Spirit saw fit. If we have prophecy today it is by those who bring the word of God (the bible) to the hearts and minds of the church to strengthen, encourage and comfort people.

“…to another distinguishing between spirits…” 1 John 4:1 helps us to understand this and link it to the previous gift of prophecy.

“…speaking in different kinds of tongues, and … interpretations of tongues.” Paul will later show that you need the latter for the former to be useful. These tongues are best understand as different languages. Note that in Acts 2, when people spoke in tongues, it was clearly for the benefit of those who understood those languages. Paul mentions tongues of angels elsewhere but never endorses it or even confirms that such a thing is anything more than hyperbole. Again, this gift of the Spirit is for the sole purpose of communicating the word of God to people. None of the gifts have steered off course of this agenda.

“All these are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” We must concluded from this section that nobody is to boast about what they are able to contribute to the church of God since it is all flowing from the one Fountain. And not even a Fountain to be approached and taken from – the Spirit distributes and the Spirit determines who, where and when gifts are given. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

So three lessons flow from this: all church work is fed from one Spirit; all gifts given are for the purpose of proclaiming Christ as Lord; and no gift is given in order to be kept to oneself. Division in gifts but no division in the Giver or receivers. Variety in practice but no variation in purpose.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: What classifies as a spiritual gift? The passage talked about gifts, service and works. The list of gifts were particularly aimed at what we do with our mouths because this is the clearest way of proclaiming the gospel. When we proclaim the gospel we must use our words. But let us not overlook our service and work toward one another. The qualifying mark of a gift of the Spirit is that it points people toward the Lord Jesus Christ. The first and most important and essential gift of the Spirit that we all must embrace and use is the gift of the gospel, first for ourselves and then to those around us. The premiere need of every church is the news of salvation through Christ and that He is the Lord of all. If that is the only gift that you ever receive, you are eternally better off than many souls who do not know it.

Topic B: When will I know I’m using a spiritual gift? Let’s not equate spiritual gifts with super powers. The work of God is subtle and almost always goes on without much attention. As you meet together this week, with a chocolate biscuit in one hand and your bible open in the other, and you open your mouth and encourage the people of your Growth Group that Jesus Christ is Lord – risen from the dead and He is Lord. That the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 is a message from God to encourage us that we all worship and serve the One True God. And show love and care for somebody that you have learned to do because you know the love of God – you are using your gifts given to you, not from your own brilliance but by the grace of God. Can you share other moments when you or others can be exercising their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others?

Topic C: Our church is equipped and built up by the power of the Spirit of God. Do you ponder whether you belong to a spiritual church? Do you lament sometimes that our church could be more spiritual? Let’s remember that it is God who equips, he distributes, he determines how his church will be fed and grow. It is God who is at work. It is Jesus Christ whom we serve because He first served us. It is the Spirit of God who gives life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that the power of God is the gospel itself (Romans 1:16-17). The Spirit of God works through the word of God to teach and to correct and to rebuke and to grow. The fruit of the Spirit is unity manifest in love, kindness, gentleness. If we proclaim Jesus as Lord, then we can only do that by the power of the Spirit of God. No man can lead us back to God without the power of the Spirit.

2 Samuel 21

A King’s Compassion

Discussion Question

This is copied from the BOM website issued 7th August 2019:

 The 31 months from January 2017 to July 2019 has been the driest on record averaged over the Murray-Darling Basin (32% below the 1961-1990 average), as well as over the northern Murray-Darling Basin (38% below average) and for the state of New South Wales (33% below average). All three regions rank second-driest on record, for the 25 months from July 2017 to July 2019, and the 19 months from January 2018 to July 2019; only the 1900-02 peak of the Federation Drought has been drier. The last 31 months have also been the driest on record averaged over the Macquarie-Bogan, Namoi, Gwydir and Castlereagh catchments, with the last three also driest on record for the last 19 months. (http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/)

What, therefore, should we pray?

Background (Context)

As we progress closer to the end of 2 Samuel we begin to hear how David has done, what God has done, and what is the status quo in the nation of Israel at around 1000 BC. It is curious to me that the books are named after Samuel who was so significant in the early chapters of 1 Samuel but died before God took the kingdom away from Saul. Samuel was the last Judge and was used by God to inaugurate kings in Israel. In a key verse we were once told that Samuel was sleeping in the same house as the ark of God and that the lamp of God had not yet gone out (1 Samuel 3:3). This expression seems to indicate that God had not yet given up on Israel (even after the violent years of the Judges).

The land that Israel lived in was theirs because the LORD had given it to them. The other nations that dwelt in Palestine were removed to make way for Israel. The Gibeonites were allowed to remain and an oath was made to them by Joshua that they would not be harmed. Joshua 9 describes the circumstances of this (See especially Verse 15). Israel was tricked into making this deal but the deal was real.

David had been anointed king in Israel and demonstrated his fearlessness toward men when he killed Goliath of Gath. He was a mighty warrior who won many victories but we know that he recognised that it was always the LORD who delivered. David had become, for Israel, a light from the LORD. For David, the LORD was his light (2 Samuel 22:29).

David had shown kindness to Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathon, because of an oath that he had made to Jonathon.

So, we get to Chapter 21 of 2 Samuel. The episode with Ish-Bosheth is done. The drama with Uriah’s wife is over. The threat of Absalom is history. What type of king is David now? Chapters 21 to 24 form an epilogue to the whole storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel.

Read 2 Samuel 21

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The Cursed Land (1-3)
  • The Redemption Price (4-6)
  • The Price Paid (7-9)
  • The Land Released (10-14)
  • The Four that Fell (15-22)

The Cursed Land (1-3)

“During the reign of David…” Not time specific but an episode during his reign. The epilogue of 1-2 Samuel runs through some events in David’s reign. It is indeed a story from the back-end of his reign as we’ll see. But we begin to draw back some themes, not simply within the pages of the Samuel books but from the greater storyline of the bible.

“…there was a famine for three successive years…” Famines are not good, although I’ve not lived through one, it doesn’t sound great. We’ve been in drought for a while now but, despite the hardships experienced by our farmers, we have plenty of food still in the aisles of our supermarkets. We really live in plenty. It’s been almost three decades since the last recession. For Israel though, they had food issues that was extending into a fourth year. Three harvests have come and gone with nothing or not enough to show. In the Promised Land, this means curse. Something is wrong. 

“…so David sought the face of the LORD…” The visible problems are clear but David knows that there is a deeper spiritual problem because God had promised to bring blessing on the land if Israel would walk with him in humility and obedience. So he talked to God about it. The details of how are not described. But we are told that God gave him and answer…

“It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” I’m unaware of this event being written down for us but we are being informed now of it. What we do know is why this is a problem. And the narrator fills us in on what we need to know in Verse 2.

“David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance?”” See Joshua 9 regarding the history of the deal made with the Gibeonites and see 2 Sam 21:2 with the brief narration of the problem here. David knows that the famine is a direct result of the injustice dealt on the Gibeonites. He uses the language of atonement which we know to be important relational speak. With atonement made, the Gibeonites will be able to bless the LORD’s inheritance. So much is packed into this little verse! An injustice between two peoples has caused a curse on the land which is the means of grace of God to the people of Israel. That is, God blesses Israel, making them His own possession and gives them a land in which to show them blessing. When the Gibeonites are able to bless Israel again, the relationship will be restored. The land that is shared by Israel and the Gibeonites will receive God’s blessing again. We’ll look at the application of this in the application section below. Note that God told David what was the cause of the problem (the root) but not how to fix it. David went to the harmed party to ask what they required.

The Redemption Price (4-6)

“We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.” It would seem that the Gibeonites were well aware of what fits the crime and that they are in no position to enact the price for atonement. They didn’t want to sue. They wanted blood for blood. But they have no right to do this.

“What do you want me to do…” David seems to know what they are asking and is willing to get done what they feel is fair.

“As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel…” They begin with a summary of how they have been wronged and it comes back to one man who caused this. That man is dead, however, and it is not that he (Saul) killed another man, but he decimated a population. It might be clearer to understand that Saul did destroy them and consumed them in order to decimate them with not place in Israel. They clearly are not decimated and do have a place in Israel but radically reduced and harmed and afflicted.

“…let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul – the LORD’s chosen one.” They propose that a representative of seven males (a whole number maybe representing the whole household of Saul but also would be literally seven men) be put to death. Their dead bodies be displayed before the LORD and before the people of Saul’s hometown of Gibeah. This is not pictured as a killing of passion but a judicial execution before the LORD. Note that this was not prescribed by God but by the Gibeonites. Note the awkward similarity of the names here. The Gibeonites are from Gibeon – not Gibeah. They are two different places. What is proposed is a horrific suggestion. The descendants of Saul will be executed for the sins of their father. This is the requirement for atonement instructed by the offended party and they declare that this will be carried out in the sight of God. The matter will be dealt with. Atonement made. It is difficult to understand God’s point of view over this matter. I suggest that justice and atonement is an important issue and that many horrific things take place because of the failure of people to do right by one another. We may not be able to draw out a direct application for us in this but the striking and startling and horrific payment for wrong should shock us. The dead men will be ‘exposed before the LORD at Gibeah’. Wasn’t our LORD, the chosen one, exposed before God and all on Calvary? He died for the sins of all those who will put their trust in Him. There has been no greater misdirection of justice ever in the world. Let’s learn to be shocked at ‘new’ stories in the bible in order to get a better appreciation of the cross of Christ.

The Price Paid (7-9)

“The king spared Mephibosheth…because of the oath…” Remember that when David wanted to show favour on the house of Saul back in Chapter 4? And good old Ziba, a servant of Saul’s household, told Davi that there is only one descendant and that is Mephibosheth? It has become clear over the course of 2 Samuel that Ziba is not to be trusted. He wants the blessings of the king without the truth and justice of his household. Ziba aligned himself with David even when David was in exile – but his motives are for self reward. Ziba lied about the descendants of Saul in order to present to David a lame and useless person. Mephibosheth had no earthly value to give to the king but Ziba’s plan backfired and ‘Shebby” got everything. Ziba then betrayed Shebby during the exile story and gained everything for himself but lost the respect of the king. The story of Ziba and Shebby is a wonderful case study in these books. Shebby now wins again because his life is saved because of David’s oath. He is saved because the king had promised to protect him. Shebby has done nothing again to receive any blessing but enjoys the goodness of the king because of the promise of the king. Shebby always gives us a lesson on grace. This is the last we hear of Mephibosheth the lame.

“…two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah…” There is no significant history of Aiah but she is constantly mentioned in connection to Rizpah – it would distinguish her from another Rizpah so that we know who she is. Rizpah is the concubine who Abner had slept with in 2 Samuel 3. Her two sons are numbered among the seven and we see how this devastated her in the rest of this story.

“…together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab…” Merab was offered to be David’s first wife in 1 Samuel 18 but was married to Adriel the Meholathite instead.

“…killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together…” This was a very public execution. The time, the place are all described and the men were killed side by side. The bible doesn’t tend to draw out descriptions of things like a modern novelist would, so the point by point detail given here is enough for us to slow down and breath in the morbidness of this event.

The Land Released (10-14)

“Rizpah…took sackloth…from the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down…she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night.” Rizpah mourned and used her sackloth to aid her in preventing the bodies from being consumed by animals. The beginning of harvest is April and the rains are likely to be in October to November (Autumn). Can you imagine what that woman had to go through to keep up her devotion to those bodies? While atonement had been satisfied for the people of Gibeon, the respectful treatment of those bodies was yet to be performed.

“When David was told…” Unsure why it took so long for the news to get to David. Perhaps everyone imagined the woman would eventually go home and let nature deal with the dead. The duration of her grief had become newsworthy for the king.

“…he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan…and the bones of those who had been killed…” In Verses 12 and 13 we are reminded of how Saul and Jonathon had been struck down and left but that the people of Jabesh Gilead respectfully took the bodies to give them a more respectful resting place. David resolved to deal gracefully with the bodies of those seven men along with Saul and Jonathan.

“After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.” ‘After that’ refers to the whole incident but the rain had begun pouring prior to the bodies being buried. There is a conclusion, however, when the bodies of the dead are buried respectfully. Let’s note the end of Verse 14 as the end to this story. The problem was famine. The cause was injustice or sin. The atonement for this sin was met and the blessing from God is restored.

The Four that Fell (15-22)

“Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel.” This can seem like every other weekend that the Philistines show up! But at the end of 1 and 2 Samuel, there is a battle between Israel and the Philistines. They were the greatest threat to Israel at the beginning of 1 Samuel. 1 Samuel 4-5 described their first attack which ended in the stealing of the ark! They were a nuisance, dealt with briefly by Samuel’s faithfulness but rose up again as we are introduced to Saul as King and David as the Philistine conqueror. David’s trust in the LORD and his strength in battle was, more times than not, with the Philistines as the backdrop. So, at the close of these two books, the Philistines reappear and we will see how the narrator wants us to remember that great battle between David and Goliath. What does the narrator want us to learn?

“David went down…to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted.” Nothing sinful about David being exhausted. He is older now and, like Barzillai the Gileadite (19:34-35), he has become too old for battle. But when we read that he went down to fight the Philistines, we may have pictured a younger David who stood one on one against a giant of a man named Goliath – and won. The issue now is that David is too old for battle, how will Israel be delivered from the Philistines?

“And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose brone spearhead weighed three hundred shekels…said he would kill David.” Dead set, we must be reminiscing over Goliath now!? Ishbi-Benob may not be a name that rolls off the tongue like Goliath but his description is familiar. A man from Rapha, we know is coming from the land of the Rephaim (see 5:17-25) which is known as the land of the giants. Rapha(h) in Hebrew means giant. Ishbi-Benob is descended from giants. We may remember that the Israelite spies described those living in the Promised Land as giants. David has gone up against the Philistines and this time, a giant is going to kill him.

“But Abishai…struck the Philistine down and killed him.” Super easy. The killing is on par with young David’s efforts with a slingshot.

“Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.” The people regarded David as a blessing to them. Not because of his ability in battle, but because he is the one through whom all Israel is blessed. The lamp of God was mentioned in connection to Samuel back in 1 Samuel 3. When David was made king over all Israel in 2 Samuel 2-5, he advised the people of Jabesh Gilead that God will bless them through David’s rule (2:6). Now, the men of Israel refer to David as the lamp of Israel. David himself regards the LORD as the lamp (22:29). See also 1 Ki 11:36; 15:4; 2 Ki 8:19; 2 Ch 21:7; Ps 132:17 for references on the lamp of David referring to David’s kingdom – the kingdom which God had established and promised to maintain forever. While the city of God (Jerusalem) and the lamp of God appears to be extinguished today (and for over 2000 years), the lamp of God burns forever in the LORD Jesus Christ. He is the forever King who never grows tired or weary. The kingdom of God is blessed forever because Jesus is the King. 

“…another battle with the Philistines…that time Sibbekai…killed Saph…one of the descendants of Rapha.” Another giant from the Philistines to fight. Killed by Sibbekai.

“…another battle with the Philistines…Elhanan…the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite…” Convinced of the repetition and the references back to the battle between David and Goliath. What was once a legendary battle has become a repeatable event. David has lead Israel for years and raised up people not to be afraid of giants anymore.

“…still another battle…a huge man with six fingers…descended from Rapha. When he taunted Israel…” Remember how Goliath taunted Israel every day (1 Samuel 17:8-10, 16).

“…David’s brother, killed him.” So, four giants taunting Israel and four men who were not David killed them. The old story of David and Goliath has become Groundhog Day for Israel. Every day a threat. Every day a victory. But look how the story ends…

“These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.” David is given the victory because his men have one the battle in his name. He is the lamp that burns for Israel. The men fight under the banner of the king – the true king of Israel.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Curses and blessings. The blessings on Israel were suspended while injustice had been unfinished. God chose this timing to provoke a query from David. The sufferings of life ought to drive us to prayer. The resolution is that the sin of the past must be paid for and once that happened, the blessings of the LORD were restored. This is a story about atonement. This is not a story about prosperity. The ultimate act of atonement was done at the cross for us. One man, the chosen one of God, was killed and held up as a public spectacle in the sight of God and all. It is horrific to read of a man being killed for something that he did not do. This is the story of the cross. The victory of the Messiah also means that although we continue to face battles, he has gone before us. He is the lamp or the light of the world. The forever king who reigns. His kingdom is pure and powerful.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Does a drought mean that there is atonement needed in the land between those who live on it? We need to be careful in connecting what was happening in the Promised Land under the covenant of Abraham with things that have happened elsewhere around the world and even in Australia. That said, all natural disasters and hardships are a result of the fall and the curse of sin. You could certainly put a case forward that Australia is moving far away from God and we need to turn back to him in prayer. But to connect the drought to any one or a few things is a long stretch. We live under the curse of sin and every generation must hear the gospel – repent and believe for the kingdom of God is at hand. We can certainly turn conversations about water restrictions toward our need for restoration. Come to the Living Water!

Topic B: Atonement, sacrifice, justice, peace, blessing. We cannot escape the language of this story being about atonement for wrongdoing. For the wrath of God being propitiated (turned away) and the need for restoration. There is the language of sacrifice. That seven men die so that the land of Israel may bring forth fruit again. For justice. That the right penalty be inflicted on the right people. And for peace and blessing from God when the penalty of sin has been paid for. The story of the Lord Jesus Christ springs out of such Old Testament stories as this. Jesus said that all the scriptures are about him (John 5). A common error in reading the bible is that we may look for morals and rules for life so that we know how to respond but the pages of scripture are about our need for atonement which comes through sacrifice to satisfy the justice of God and therefore bring peace and blessing. We get blessings instead of curse because the curse we deserve is poured out on the blessed One.

Topic C: Fighting the good fight. The last phase of Chapter 21 is about the men of David’s kingdom fighting the same type of fight that David fought when he won the hearts of Israel to begin with. He stood up against Goliath because of his faith/trust in the Living God. His courage comes not from his own hands but from the One who has promised to bless Israel when they put their trust in Him. With David no longer physically in the battle, his men fight as though they are David. They regard the king as the lamp of Israel. Nobody is pushing David aside as irrelevant but as the light that gives Israel hope, strength and power. The Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned us to continue in the mission of spreading the kingdom of God. We do this by our words but we walk unafraid of any enemy because Jesus has already conquered death, given us life and shown us the way. So, fight the good fight with all of thy might…

…Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

Cast care aside, lean on thy Guide;
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its life, and Christ its love.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

Hymn: John Monsell: 1811-875

2 Samuel 15:1-16:14 The King betrayed

Discussion Question

As we observe the powers of this world gain strength (politically, commercially, wealth etc), how does it affect your commitment to Jesus?

Background (Context)

David taught us much about the kingdom of God which looks for faith rather than beauty. It looks for faithfulness rather than force. Then David’s sin with Bathsheba happened in Chapter 11 and we’ve watched the wonder of David’s partnership with God digress to a limping image of inaction.

Chapter 15 is different. Absalom becomes a background character after his initial acts of political spin and we will watch David portray something of the kingdom of God again.

Mephibosheth appears again in the story along with Ziba, his carer. The former was a grandson of Saul who was lame in both feet but was blessed by David, eating at his table.

We have learned back in Chapter 3 that Hebron was an important spiritual place for Israel. Another piece of background info is the description of Absalom in Chapter 14 as a beautiful man without blemish, with amazing hair and that the people loved him. He had ordered the death of his older brother, Amnon. Now, it seems, Absalom is the next in line to be king. At the end of Chapter 14, we read of Absalom and David being reconciled.

Read 2 Samuel 15-16:14

Read 2 Samuel 15 online here

Read 2 Samuel 16:1-14 online here

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Absalom’s political campaign (1-12)
  • The King walks the streets of Jerusalem (13-37)
  • The King’s hope (16:1-14)

Absalom’s political campaign (1-12)

“If only I were appointed judge in the land!” Absalom is a politician. A man who orchestrates devotion from the people. His play is to win the backing of Israel so that they will love him more than David. He builds his own entourage. He greets people at the gate and spins the truth to sound like the king has no time for his people. Except that we only read a chapter ago that David listened to a woman from a southern town in great detail. Lastly, Absalom recalls back to the days of the judges when there was action to resolve issues – neglecting the fact that the people of Israel wanted to end the days of the judges and move forward to having a king like the other nations. Absalom was playing a political game to weaken his father’s kingdom and make people feel like they needed him.

“…so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” Not only did he undermine his father’s kingdom and offer much to the people of Israel (more than he could really deliver) – but he showed much charisma. None of this ‘bow down and worship’ nonsense! No need to show honour and submission before this ‘man of the people’. Forget what you have known about the old days and welcome in a new age of Absalom!

“…Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD.” His third move is to hint to the king that he is a reformed man of God. The story he gives the king about an oath does not seem credible. Nothing so far hints that this is a real story and the chapter will unfold to show that this is a big scheme to evoke spontaneous allegiance to Absalom as king. But we can imagine that the king’s heart is softened by this gesture of authentic worship. He gives the appearance of godliness.

“The king said to him, ‘Go in peace.’” That will be the last thing that David says to his son. Absalom wishes no peace on his father’s house. Absalom will force David to escape the palace and become a fugitive again like the days of King Saul.

“…as soon as you hear the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” This town, as we saw back in Chapter 2, was a spiritually significant one to Israel. Abraham had lived there and received promises from God there. David was sent there to be anointed king over Judah. It is the perfect location from Absalom to orchestrate a coup. Make no mistake. Everything is being choreographed by Absalom. The people are being manipulated to forget that they anointed David as their king and that David had won many battles for the people. The people of God will be mislead by the clever actions of Absalom.

“While Absalom was offering sacrifices…the conspiracy gained strength…” How can one give honour to God and at the same time spin lies throughout the land. Absalom cannot be trusted. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings…Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.” James 3:9-10. Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of religion that offers something to God but comes out of a man with hatred in his heart (Matthew 15:1-19 esp, Verse 8-9).

The King walks the streets of Jerusalem (13-37)

“We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin us and put the city to the sword.” David’s escape was not about saving his own skin but for the protection of the city and his people.

“The king set out, with his entire household following him…” Watch and listen for the imagery of this story now. David has been betrayed and is leaving the city and his faithful ones of his household will all follow him. The story has created an enemy of the kingdom – someone who everyone is easily trusting – but a small few who are named as the household of David. They will walk with him out of the city. Let’s keep listening for more clues about who this will remind us of (hint: it’s Jesus).

“…he left ten concubines to take care of the palace.” The fact that he had concubines is not good but it is not new information to us (see Chapter 5). Leaving them behind will end badly for them in Chapter 16) But it seems that David had ideas that he would return to the city again and he left them there. How they took care of the palace is unclear – but the palace was not left totally empty.

“…they halted at the edge of the city. All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and the Pelethites; and al the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.” King David was God’s King. The Messiah. The ancestors of Abraham were being manipulated to follow a false and lying betrayer while the entourage of the Messiah consisted of people from surrounding nations as well as some of the King’s own. They are the true Israel.

“Ittai [the Gittite] replied to the king, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.’” This is the true statement of a believer. We do not follow who looks to be winning but we follow the true king.

Verse 23: “The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.” Before you read my words, go and re-read Verse 23 and see what you can see…. The king, the Messiah, the chosen one of God has been betrayed by a smooth talking conspirator and he is walking away from Jerusalem, the city of God. This is a sad, sad day. The Kidron Valley lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. The reputation of this valley will increase in the Old Testament with the place that you throw unholy things (1 Ki 2:37; 2 Ki 23:12; 2 Ch 15:16; 29:16; 30:14; Jer 31:40). The only reference to it in the New Testament is in John 18:1. Jesus will one day walk the same road that David walked on this day. He too will be the rejected Messiah. Jesus will take on the place of the unholy and represent the sinners as he goes to the Mount of Olives. The final piece of sorrow is in the King leading the faithful back into the wilderness. They were leaving the promised land that God had blessed them with and headed back to the place of testing. No home. No Jerusalem. But they had the King.

“If I find favour in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back…” David is once again putting his faith in the LORD to deliver him, as we loved seeing him do in the past. He is no longer the inactive and passive, stand back and do nothing, kind of king. He is now the Messiah who lays down his life in the hope that God will raise him up again! Yes, I am reading the resurrection out of this. The point of the ark staying in Jerusalem instead of staying with the king is about David’s submission to God. David will be restored as King as God intends him when David is returned to Jerusalem – brought back to God’s presence. It is not God who is being expelled from the city, but David is willing to go and will wait for God’s reply. Meanwhile, he walks through the valley.

“But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot.” We see a king as vulnerable as a king can be. Weeping. Barefoot. Head lowered and hidden. At the point that Jesus went to the cross, we see his weakness too. Weeping and weak but allowing his betrayers to get what they want and putting his faith in God.

“…David prayed…” He prayed on the Mount of Olives. The prayer concern was not for the death of his son but for his council to be foolishness. He wanted the schemes of the evil one to be confused. The answer to the prayer occurred, in part, before he reached the end of his ‘prayer-walk’. He met Hushai who would become the confusing council in the house of Absalom. God’s prayers often do get answered quickly. And when they are answered, they are often as practical as that. Our partnership with God in prayer is exactly that: partnership. We pray for our concerns and that our concerns would match God’s concerns and that our actions will go hand in hand with God’s responses. We talk to God. We trust God. We walk with God. We do not simply take things into our own hands, nor do we pray and then leave it solely with Him. Our walk with God is a partnership, with him always in the lead.

“So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.” The end of Chapter 15 highlights how narrowly David escaped the city before Absalom arrived. David had reached the summit of the Mount of Olives and, by the time Hushai descended back to Jerusalem, Absalom was arriving. David would be out of site of the city and on his way, but just in time. This is the reverse image of Jesus entering Jerusalem in Luke as he got to the summit and saw Jerusalem in his view – then he wept.

The King’s hope (16:1-14)

The king’s hope is that God will find favour in the LORD’s eyes and be brought back to see his dwelling place again (15:25). This hope is shown in the next two episodes with Ziba (1-4) and with Shimei (5-14).

“The king asked Ziba, ‘Why have you brought these?’” Ziba was the steward of Saul who was then given charge over Saul’s property on behalf of Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth (Shebby). What we read in Verses 1-4 is a contrived story that makes Ziba look amazing and Shebby look bad. It maps a bit with Absalom’s lies to get the country behind him instead of David. Both Ziba and David seem to believe that the kingdom still belongs to David. What Ziba wants is for the deeds to his master Saul’s property. The support for this is found later when we hear from Shebby that Ziba had tricked him (2 Samuel 19:24-30).

“As he cursed, Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul…” Shimei does not stop cursing David. We must understand that he starts and then does not let up. His accusation against David is about bloodshed and so, this man has concluded that because of the many deaths David has made in battle (see the second half of 1 Samuel) that God has caught up on this. He is unlikely referring to Uriah since he mentions all the blood shed in Saul’s household. So, here is a man who has seen the king exiled and believes it is right in the eyes of the LORD. We may say that this man cannot fathom God’s will also including times of suffering and misfortune for His greater good. Shimei will ask for forgiveness in Chapter 19 when David is restored by God.

“Then Abishai…said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?’” Abishai’s method of dealing with this (verbal and physical attacks) is to slay the man down. David took off the head of Goliath for mocking the people of God and therefore God. Why not the same approach with this ‘dead dog’ (that language ought to remind us of Goliath). But David’s response is to maintain that God will do what is right with David. Abishai will have some dejavu in Chapter 19.

“If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” David does have reason to feel that God has taken the kingdom away from him and needs this time of exile. Not only did he have Uriah put to death (a deed that God has forgiven and dealt with) but he watched as his eldest sons commited adultery and then murder. How is even David to know if this man is not a prophet, speaking the very message of God? He then explains himself well in Verses 11-12. Note particulary David’s hope that God will restore his covenant blessing – a promise that David’s throne would go on forever.

“The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.” The walk to the destination, the fords in the wilderness (15:28), was made more exhausting by fact that Shimei son of Gera was throwing stones and dirt out over the head of David and all around him. Those who followed David had to endure what David endured. If he is cursed, then they would be too. No student is better than their teacher or servant better than their master. When they finally arrived, David refreshed himself. He had arrived and was only to wait now. Will David’s hope to be restored by God come to fruition. The kingdom is in God’s hands.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The chosen one of Israel has been rejected by the descendants of Abraham who have been mislead by a want-to-be king. Although Absalom has the appearance of godliness, he wishes to fool everyone to submitting to him and giving him the kingdom that does not yet belong to him. David’s exile is one that foreshadows the exile of the Messiah to the cross. He walks the same path through the valley and the motive is both the same and also enlightening – the Messiah commits his hands into God’s will for the outcome. He goes out for the benefit of his followers. But his followers all share in the same suffering. David is back.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Moving forward while leaving it to God. David prayed and then acted on solving his own prayer. David also hear the warnings about Absalom and retreated in wisdom, all the while trusting in God for the outcome. His walk with God is exactly that: a walk. He does not walk alone and he does not sit still in faith. He uses both his leg muscles and his faith muscles. I’ll pass on here four things I saw recently as healthy coping practices of the godly. 1) work together with God as partner. 2) Do what you can and put the rest in God’s hand. 3) Look to God for strength, support and guidance. 4) Ask others for prayer. These four interweave and overlap in practice but I see David demonstrating all of these as he walked through the valley, praying and making wise decisions as he went – all the while knowing that God has got this.

Topic B: Beware of those who appear to have God’s interests at heart. Absalom and Ziba both gave the appearance of generosity and kindness and a heart for God, while always they were just working out an inheritance for themselves that was not theirs to have (at least not yet). Read 2 Timothy 3:1-9. How do you compare this description with Absalom? How can we watch for people like this and how should we respond? 

Topic C: Praise God for Jesus’ darkest hour. We must not forget what this passage ultimately points us to: the suffering servant who did not treat his divinity as something to be godless with. He humbled himself to the place of a convicted human and suffered death on the cross for our sake. He gave over his future into the Father’s hands. The link between Jesus’ walk and David’s walk is made clear in John 18:1-14 and there is a similar echo in the words of Jesus who told Peter to put his sword away. He did not go to the cross to save himself but to save us. He is the King that we need and our walk with Him, through the toughest of times, is worth it knowing that He is the King that God pulled out of the grave (Romans 8:11; Galatians 1:1).