Category Archives: Judgment

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 24

The Problem With This King

Discussion Question

What has 2 Samuel taught you about Jesus?

Background (Context)

Chapters 21 to 24 are the epilogue to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. David’s song in Chapter 22 accompanies Hannah’s song of 1 Samuel 2. While we’ve watched David ride into battles to defeat the enemy, the song describes a very animated YahWeh who rides on angel’s wings to victory. Chapters 21 to 23 describe a kingdom that is very optimistic in the eyes of the LORD. Sins paid for, boundaries established and the LORD Himself praised. David reflects on the blessings of his kingdom and concludes that God must be for him.

The final chapter now and we are reminded that the kingdom of David falls short of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Read 2 Samuel 24

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The LORD’s anger on David (1-9)
  • How the LORD punished David (10-15)
  • The mercy of the LORD (16-19)
  • The cost of repentance (20-25)

The LORD’s anger against Israel (1-9)

“Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel…” We heard last of God’s anger against Israel in Chapter 21 and earlier in 6:7. His anger is not against David but against Israel and we are not given a reason why. Perhaps it is in connection to the growing troubles of Chapters 19 and 20. The reason is not important as we can trust that the LORD is righteous when he judges.

“…and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” Before I tackle the theological trick of this Verse, let me observe that the separating of Israel and Judah in this perhaps suggests that it is the divisions forming in the nation who are not submitting to the king’s rule in truth that the LORD has issues with. I cannot press too firmly though. Now, the LORD’s anger is not against David but against Israel, but He will incite David to take the census which David will later regard as his own sin (V10). We need not believe that God spoke into David’s ear but that God allowed this willful plan of David’s to play out in order to discipline Israel. 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us that it was Satan who gave David the thought. Job 1 comes to mind as we consider the persuasive power of Satan only being allowed to happen at the will of God. Rather than delivering David from temptation, God allows Satan to influence David in line with his plans to judge Israel. This interaction between God’s righteous will and the evil plans of Satan and men is not rare in the bible and must be included in our theology. Remember the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis and the story of Judas betraying Jesus? The census is not the initial problem but the story introduces us to the topic of God’s anger against Israel. The census and David’s sin in conducting it will be the means by which God punishes Israel. There is no simple cause and effect in this story but the idea of God’s plans and man’s agenda interweaving in layers of intricacy. A child does not die because it sinned nor their parent (necessarily) but that the child is part of a sinful world. God’s grand plan includes many small decisions that we take part in.

“…enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” A census is not inherently evil. God instructed Moses to count the people in Numbers because they were needed to enter the Promised Land and take it. David has no need to count his men. But Satan sowed a seed of thought to David, who took the bait and this plan will result in a portion of his people losing their life.

“The king’s word…overruled Joab…” In a rare switch of roles, Joab tries to change the king’s mind and think righteously. But the king’s mind was made up. No council of men was able to stop him from counting to see how strong his country was.

“…gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.” Verses 5 to 8 clearly describe a thorough work of counting. Note the slowness of God to teach His lesson. The names listed mark out the extremities of the land and some are notable from the time that Israel first entered the land to take it under God’s mighty hand.

“…In Israel there were 800,000…and in Judah 500,000.” Though Israel is the greater portion, Judah is quite strong. Together they make 1.3 million men. Just the fighting men of the nation were many. There were 600,000 that crossed the Jordan with Joshua. Add women and children and older men and priests to this list and the number is getting quite large. It is possible that the word ‘thousand’ may mean a military unit rather than 100×100. We won’t worry about details like that though. These names, the counting of the people and the reference to the Jordan ought to point us to the silliness of counting fighting men when the king ought to know that you only need one great God (1 Sam 14:6).

How the LORD punished David (10-15)

“David was conscience-stricken…’I have done a very foolish thing.’” David was conscience-stricken in 1 Samuel 24:5 when he cut a piece of Saul’s robe. The act had been done and his inner barometer of right and wrong had been pricked. Now, our consciences are not what will make us righteous before God but God has given us all an ability to gauge between right and wrong to a degree. Different people’s consciences have different measuring lines. Paul says in Romans 2 that everybody’s conscience will prove us guilty of sin – let alone the perfect judgement of God. Some people have very sensitive consciences but when they betray their own delicate laws, they are still in the wrong (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Some people have a severely damaged conscience (see 1 Tim 1:19; Titus 1:15). Besides finding out what pleases the LORD (Ephesians 5:10), our agenda ought to strive for a clear conscience (Acts 24:16; 1 Peter 3:16). David didn’t need a prophet or seer to come and rebuke him. His conscience was pricked and this drove him to speak to God in repentance. The lesson is to never go against your own conscience.

“…take away the guilt of your servant.” David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah had been taken away and dealt with but not without consequences. 

“…the word of the LORD had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer.” We were informed in 1 Samuel 9:9 that prophets were once called seers. 1 Samuel 22:5 mentioned Gad previously. He has been serving as David’s seer for many years now.

“Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” David was given three bad options to choose from. All three involved the death of people in Israel and not isolated on David. Remember that God had intended from the beginning to bring judgment on Israel and this would be the means by which He did it. And it would fall on David to choose. I suppose that this is a ‘two birds with one stone’ kinda thing. Israel will be inflicted but David, who sinned by his pride and self-reliance, would now need to choose the infliction.

“Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” We may presume that David has made his choice by this answer but actually he does not make a choice out of the three. Rather, he allows God to decide. In famine, the starving will rely on the provision of men but God can still be merciful here. In battle, Israel may die at the hands of men but it is always God who delivers from battle. No, it seems that David is leaving even the choice of the three, not in his hands, a mere man, but in the hands of the merciful God. I am often reminded that God’s mercy is always greater than men. Any time we accuse God of being too harsh, let’s remember that he is always kinder than men can be. 

“…and 70,000 of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.” This is a region mostly occupied by Judah (including the regions of Dan, Judah and Simeon). David had counted fighting men but the plague did not discriminate. It may have worked out to be a small percentage of the population but it was still 70,000 people.

The mercy of the LORD (16-19)

“…the LORD relented concerning the disaster…” This is the mercy of God as his falls short of complete destruction. The city of Jerusalem was saved. This was the location of the ark of the covenant. And the place where God had promised to David that his ‘house’ would stand forever (referring to David’s dynasty). The mercy of God and the promises of God are what hold back the wrath of God.

“…said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough!”” Again, as with the work of Satan inciting David to sin and God allowing that to happen, it is the work of those who God has sent (angel/messenger) that the destruction is delivered.

“The angel of the LORD…” Ge 16:7; 19:13; Ex 12:23; Ac 12:23.

“…I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep…Let your hand fall on me…” Even in David’s sin, he gives us future hope that one day there would be a Good Shepherd who will lay down His life for His sheep. John 10:11. This prayer of David’s seems to happen after the LORD relented but is quite possible that this is just David’s perspective of events. David’s prayer initiates instructions to David on what to do but we already know that the LORD has stopped the plague from running its full course (of 3 days). I suggest we have God’s perspective in Verse 16 and David’s perspective from Verse 17 on. What God saw and what David saw. Another element of the layers of how God works. He doesn’t simply sit back and wait for our prayers and pleas, nor does He ignore them.

“So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad.” God shows His mercy in giving David instructions on what to do. God is able to provide ways for forgiveness. 

The cost of repentance (20-25)

“May the LORD your God accept you.” This is the hope. But He won’t just accept David as he is. A sacrifice was asked for. The man named Araunah could not simply put all that was his onto this sinner and expect God to accept him. But Jesus would one day provide the sacrifice that is needed for the sinner without cost.

“…the threshing floor…” We know from 2 Chronicles 3:1 that Solomon would build the Temple of the LORD at Mount Moriah on this very land that David bought for the altar on this day. The end of 1-2 Samuel concludes with a rather lengthy description of how this land was acquired. It links clearly this story of David making atoning sacrifice for the sheep of Israel and the same place that Solomon would dedicate as the house of the LORD where all future sacrifices ought to take place. 

“…I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” Of course, it doesn’t make sense for a sacrifice to not cost you anything. The point of the sacrifice is that it hurts you somewhat. The animal sacrifice required your best sheep and cattle, not the average or worst of the herd. But the bible teaches us that no amount of sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all our sins. We keep sinning and need to offer more and more sacrifices. Therefore, at just the right time, Christ Jesus came into the world as a sacrifice for sins – once for all – the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God. The death of Christ has cost us nothing. And there is now no sacrifice left to give.

“Then the LORD answered his prayer…and the plague on Israel was stopped.” When David offered the right sacrifice in the right place then the wrath of God on Israel stopped. This coincided with the relenting of God earlier. God made way for sin to be forgiven, the price to be paid, and the wrath to be propitiated. I think we are now ready to offer a meaning to this story.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

On the Old Testament side of the cross, the relationship of God to Israel is still about blessings and curses. But when the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, the wrath of God is stopped without a cost to the sheep. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. King David closes the books of 1 and 2 Samuel as a shepherd to the sheep of Israel who offered a sacrifice as prescribed by God to stop the plague on the people. Thank God that because of Jesus, the wrath of God is satisfied.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Conscience-stricken. Acts 24:16 and 1 Timothy 1:19 place listening to your conscience as a high priority. Some have shipwrecked their faith because they have ignored their conscience. The conscience is a kind of barometer of right and wrong. It does not trump God’s word but allows us to respond mentally to choose the right and reject the wrong. Our conscience is not the law. But failing to listen to our conscience leads to sin. We sharpen our conscience skills by learning from God’s word – sometimes sharpening it to say no to ungodliness, and sometimes to soften it because we learn to understand grace better. But we don’t abandon it. Our conscience is a gift of God as part of his design for us to choose between right and wrong. Coming to Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit even allows us to say no to ungodliness in a way that people without the Spirit cannot. Titus 2:12.

Topic B: Now no condemnation. Romans 8:1 begins the wonderful celebratory Chapter with these words: therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… The cross of Christ has achieved for us something that the sacrificial system could never achieve. David was able to sing in Chapter 22 and 23 that he is right before God and yet in Chapter 24 was in need to offer sacrifice for himself and the land. Living on this side of the cross gives us such a freedom that has not been fully realised for thousands of years before. Sure, Jesus death also covered over the sins of those who feared God and walked with Him by faith in the Old Testament, but they were unable to sing: no condemnation now. Praise God for all that He has done for us in Christ!

Topic C: The wrath of God and the propitiation for sin. On the flip side of Topic B is this topic. Without a successful offering, the wrath of God is not satisfied. There remains for all who trust in their own righteousness (like David counting the strength of his army) condemnation. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

2 Samuel 18:18-19:8

A King’s Lament

Discussion Question

What makes good news good? Can you remember some news you received that brought you joy? Why did it do that?

Background (Context)

David, the king of Israel, had a rebel son named Absalom. This son was aiming to kill David in order to take and keep his throne. David’s will was for his son to be treated gently on the battlefield. Against David’s wishes, Joab and his men killed Absalom and so rid the king of the one who was raising his hand against the king. There was nobody left to grieve for Absalom. But David had been blessed by many people who were faithful to him and were willing to die for him.

Read 2 Samuel 18:19-19:8

Link to the passage at BibleGateway…

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Who will take the good news to David? (19-23)
  • Hoping for good news (24-27)
  • The good news is delivered (28-32)
  • Grief over the news (33-19:8)

Who will take the good news to David? (19-23)

“Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok…” Remember Zadok was one of the priests who attend to the ark and Ahimaaz is his son who sent the message of Absalom’s plans to David. He risked his life to get that news to David.

“Let me run and take the news to the king that the LORD has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.” Ahimaaz was eager to be the one to bring the news to the king. It was good news. The threat to the kingdom is over and the LORD has brought deliverance from the enemy. The language created by Ahimaaz is like the Psalms of David when he has been rescued from his enemies (See Psalm 18!). We shall have singing and praise in the land because the LORD is good.

“…you must not [take the news] today, because the king’s son is dead.” The news is good but this is about the King’s son. The good news that Ahimaaz is excited to give includes the tragic news that David’s son is dead. Joab was a smart man and he knew that this would be awkward news to deliver to the king.

“Then Joab said to the Cushite, ‘Go, tell the king what you have seen’.” Joab sends a foreigner rather than the son of a priest. A prudent choice given Joab does not know how David will react. His instruction was to tell the king what he has seen. There is no spin or lies but go and let the king know what has happened.

“My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.” Great question. Why does Ahimaaz need to go? He was part of the adventure when he set out in Chapter 17 to bring news to David. Now that the battle is over, he wants to close the deal with the message. He won’t take no for an answer. He is so excited by the outcome of David’s victory that he must go and tell David! He loves this good news.

“Ahimaaz … outran the Cushite.” He was finally let go by Joab and told to run! So he ran and he ran in a direction that saved him time and got him there first. Two people are racing to bring news of the victory to David. Both carry the same message. One is sent by order and the second is allowed to go because of his enthusiasm. We may believe that the Cushite is now wasting his energy. Or we wonder what plan does Ahimaaz have? Is he wise or foolish?

Hoping for good news (24-27)

“While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates…” We find David staying back in Mahanaam as his troops had advised him to do but not in the comfort of his house. He is anxious to know what is going to happen and also, perhaps, ready to protect the city if things go pear-shaped (2 Samuel 18:3). A watchman is in a position to give the king warning of any coming news or threat.

“If he is alone, he must have good news.” I am not sure where this wisdom comes from. This book called 2 Samuel opened with a single messenger coming to David with a mixed report. How one person running is any indication of good news, I’m not completely sure. It could be exciting news of victory or anxious news of warning. While this could be a true statement, I feel that David is full of wishful thinking. He wants to hear good news. But what he expects that good news to be is unclear. Either his troops are safe or Absalom is safe – David somehow hopes for both to be true.

“And the runner came closer and closer.” There’s a Monty Python scene where two knights at the entrance of a castle watch Sir Lancelot approach them running from a distance. Probably my favourite scene from “The Holy Grail”. Enough said.

“He must be bringing good news, too.” Where is David getting this logic? Surely he just wants things to turn out well and is hoping. Note well the phrase, ‘good news’, as we get closer to the meaning of this story.

The good news is delivered (28-32)

“All is well!…Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” This is the same essence of the message that Ahimaaz said he would bring to the king. It really is good news. God has won the victory and the people of God who are for God have been delivered. This is a report of deliverance, redemption, salvation! All is well because God wins.

“The king asked, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’” We see that this is at the forefront of David’s mind and the news is incomplete until he hears what has become of his son. We remember that he had commanded the three leaders of all his troops to be gentle with Absalom. But Absalom had been decidedly killed and discarded by Joab.

“Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.” Some have argued that Ahimaaz is not hiding the truth at this point but is speaking what he truly knew. I only mention that for the reader to ponder but I cannot make sense of Verse 20 if Ahimaaz doesn’t know the answer to David’s question. Absalom, the king’s son, is dead and Ahimaaz knows that. Why hide this truth? I suggest because Ahimaaz wants the good news to only contain good news for all. He is not willing to deliver the whole truth to the king. He knows that the Cushite is behind and will give the bad news. We are given this distinction of two messages: one that is half the story and the other which is complete. Both messengers are delivering the ‘good news’ but only one has the complete story. Ahimaaz wants to be a messenger with only good things to say.

“The king said, ‘Stand aside and wait here.’” We are reminded that the king is most concerned about the news of Absalom. The news that God has delivered his men and his kingdom has not sparked joy in David’s heart. He is anxious for his son. Ahimaaz has not received the thank you and joy that he had hoped for.

“The the Cushite arrived and said, ‘My lord the king, hear the good news!…’” The news that he gives the king is closer matched to Ahimaaz’ planned message of Verse 19. Again, the good news is that God has given victory and vindicated David – restored his kingdom. Those who rose up against David have been defeated – that is good news.

“Is the young man Absalom safe?” David wants to know how this news played out for Absalom.

“May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” The Cushite’s answer is not direct but it is clear. Absalom has received what all the enemies of the king ought to get. Absalom was the head of all those who rose up against the king and God has delivered the king from his enemies. This means the enemy being removed – killed. The good news includes justice delivered. That is the whole news. The Cushite is the gospel messenger who gives the whole story of the good news. God has one and evil is destroyed. People who are against God and His people are judged and the sentence delivered.

Grief over the news (33-19:8)

“The king was shaken” His son is dead and his fears have been realised. This is David’s emotional response to the news and we must allow him his humanity which we just cannot predict of ourselves. Pragmatics and logic just don’t fix the way we respond to bad news. 

“He went up to the room over the gateway and wept.” The place where he wept will add to the problem of his response as we continue. All those arriving back from battle through that gate will hear the king weeping loudly over this news.

“O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!” You can’t miss the grief in this sentence. And all the troops will get this message as they arrive home. His love for his son was real. He had failed to guide and protect his son – to discipline and mould this rebellious son – but he loved him. And in this very emotional Verse we also see the path forward for rebellious sinners in the bible: If only I had died instead of you. This is how God will ultimately deliver the kingdom from the enemy – he will die for the enemy! Mark 10:45; Romans 5:6-11. But that is for Jesus to accomplish. We may pick up that the king’s son had to die in order for victory to be won. While that is a true statement, it seems too thin to point to Jesus – the Son who died for us. Absalom was a rebel. David’s desire in grief to die in the sinner’s place is the strong link to the gospel.

“Joab was told, ‘The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.’” The story of David and Joab has been a contrast between two hearts. David is described as gentle (NIV: weak) and Joab described as hard (NIV: strong). David’s desire to be gentle with Absalom may or may not be a righteous one. It is unclear. Is he thinking like a man of God or like the father of a wayward son? Is it a bit of both? But Joab decided to disobey the king and he killed Absalom. He performed justice on the rebel child. Only Jesus is able to react in perfection to all of this complexity. He is able to weep for the sinner and die for him. He is able to set the prisoner free and preach hell to those who will not come to the kingdom. But in 2 Samuel, we have the king and Joab. Both are right and both are imperfect.

“Then Joab went into the house to the king and said…” Verses 5-7 contain a very heated rebuke from Joab to the king. This is not a time for Joab to comfort the king for his loss because the king is not being a king to his people right now. Verse 6 is perhaps a step too far to say that David hates those who love him but this is Joab’s reaction. David’s men have risked their lives to save and David only cares about the man who was prepared to kill David and all his family. This seems unjust, unfair, unloving, uncaring, selfish and wrong – especially for the king.

It takes my mind to the Psalms of crying out to God – ‘How long O LORD?’ The Psalms that report that the wicked are getting everything and the righteous are getting beaten and mocked. Where is your justice God? Where is the side of the ‘good news’ that reports that evil has been punished?

“So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway…” Absalom had gone to the gate of the city to head of the people from the country and tell them that the king is too busy. Well, now the king is not too busy and he is ready to be seen by all of his people. He is ready to be their king.

“Meanwhile, the Israelites had fled to their homes.” These were the Israelites who had backed Absalom. The story sets us up for the new problem: what will happen to Israel, who had deserted David. And will David be king over all Israel again?

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The Good News of the deliverance of God includes the news that the enemy has been defeated. The good news is about justice and righteousness. The only way that the good news is good for the enemy is when their guilt is taken away. Ahimaaz only wanted to share the happy news of the good news. David focused on the grief of the good news. In the end, the Good News is that there is a King in heaven who has died instead of us, that all need to hear that he is waiting to call home all sinners, but those who will not repent and bow before him will be denied the Kingdom of Heaven. Our King is with us and ‘at the gate’ ready to welcome us and hear our prayer. The victory is won. Jesus is the King.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The 2 ways to live message that excludes justice. The gospel message goes further than saying that God is real and that Jesus loves you. It says that if you do not respond then you remain condemned (John 3:18, 36). Our God is for us. But this is only news to rejoice in for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8 is an amazing chapter in the new testament – well worth reading regularly! But it is about the joy of our relationship in Christ – not just knowledge of God. For salvation to be true for us, we must have obedience to the great exchange at the cross. We must understand that the cross means punishment dealt out on the Son when it should have been me (or you).  Justice has been met in the Son of God. For all who do not believe and do not receive Jesus as their LORD, are not received as children of God but will remain outside of his protection. So, how can we include a dash of pepper to our talk of Jesus to those outside the kingdom?

Topic B: Good grief. David’s sorrow is plain to see in 18:33 to 19:4. Too many of his children (one is enough) have died. David knew sorrow. And he was not a man too tough to express his feelings as many of them are written in the psalms. To make it harder, his grief was for his son who had rebelled and not died under the banner of love and faithfulness. How can we find joy in times like that?! It’s tragic that people are not flocking to the Kingdom of God before it is too late. Psalm 2:10-12 gives us our number one mission in life: serve the LORD with fear. The loss of our loved ones who have not understood the love of God ought to remind us to remain in his love and serve him with fear. We leave the departed in His hands – He is good and will do what is just.