Category Archives: Sanctification/holiness

Revelation 2

Letters to the 7 churches- part 1 of 2

Discussion Question

What do you hope God will say to you when you see Him?

Background (Context)

Revelation began with a vision of the powerful Jesus and a messenger telling John to write down what he sees and to send it to the seven churches listed. They will be blessed if they read the words of this book and take it to heart.

Read Revelation 2

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

The structure is of one section for each of the 4 churches in this chapter. The letters have a similar structure of: Announcing the authority of the letter, I know this about you, and yet I have this against you, blessed is the one who…and a reward that follows. A group might draw a table of each letter with the above flow and fill in the squares for a good overview.

  • To Ephesus (1-7)
  • To Smyrna (8-11)
  • To Pergamum (12-17)
  • To Thyatira (18-29)

To Ephesus (1-7)

“To the angel of the church…” Remember that an angel is a messenger. This may be saying that the letter will get to the church via the messenger. The angel/messenger for each church image began in Chapter 1 and it was noted that the churches are not disconnected from the King but his messengers are present. A messenger is someone who brings a message. The churches are receiving this message as they received all revelation from God as they received the gospel.

“…the words of him who holds the seven stars…” The letter begins with the authority of the one speaking. Jesus is giving this message via the messenger. He holds the seven messengers of the seven churches (see 1:20)

“I know…” The second part of the letter is the good news about what Jesus can commend of the church.

“…you cannot tolerate wicked people…[rejected false prophets]…endured hardships…” The image of this church is of a strict “authentic bible only” mentality which is to be praised. The do not allow soft teaching from fools who claim to be of God. They are mighty bounces for the church of Christ. And they are tough enough to persevere because following Jesus and the bible is hard work. They should keep this level of determination going.

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” It seems that this church once loved the grace of God but time and effort have steered them away from this love. They still stand for truth and true religion but even their charity work smells like discipline and duty.

“If you do not repent…” A strict church like this has lost the gospel. Their warning is that they will be removed. They are the lampstand (see 1:20).

“…you have this in your favour…” They hate the Nicolaitans which God also hates. This is a good thing which seems to parallel what they were praised for in Verses 2 to 4. God is fine with the side that they are fighting on but they have forgotten what the fight is about. The Nicolaitans were a sect of the first century. They are mentioned again in Verse 15. Their flaw was trying to work out a “compromise with paganism, to enable Christians to take part without embarrassment in some of the social and religious activities of the close-knit society” (The IVP Bible Dictionary). It is possible that ‘Nicolatan’ is a Greek variation of the Hebrew, ‘Balaam’ who is brought out in later letters. Look at 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1, Rev 2:15 in their context.

“Whoever has ears to hear…I will give…” As was promised in 1:3, those who listen to these words and take them to heart will be blessed. The blessings are for access to the tree of life which was forbidden after The Fall.

To Smyrna (8-11)

“…the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” The authority of the letter is of the risen Lord Jesus. His resurrection is no small thing but defines his power in the context of human salvation.

“I know your afflictions and your poverty…I know about the slander…” Isn’t it beautiful to hear the words: I know : when they mean – I see you. And Jesus’ response to this is not to help them out of their affliction and poverty but to remind them that they are actually rich!

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…” The letter to the Smyrnetians (?) contains an exact prophecy that some will be in prison for ten days. God sees the suffering and the affliction even before it happens and he tells them not to be afraid. He also sees those who claim to be one thing but are actually a house of the devil. Appearances are only real when they are from God’s perspective. Everything else is false or temporary.

“The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The remedy for suffering is hope. Hope makes us persevere. Those who persevere and are victorious, not giving way to fear, are saved from a worse suffering to come. The first death is our mortal death and the second death is the one after judgment. See 21:8.

To Pergamum (12-17)

“…the sharp double-edged sword.” Easily the word of God.

“… not even in the days of Antipas…” Trickles of real history are in this book of Revelation. God really sees a church suffering.

“…where Satan lives…” Such evil was amidst the location of this church that it is aligned with the house of Satan.

“…yet…some among you hold to the teaching of Balaam…” This is referencing Numbers. Surely a teaching as old as that is not still current at the time of Revelation in its immediate sense. But there is a parallel to what they have fallen pray to with the story of Balaam and Barak. What we need to know is here in the paragraph before us. People of the church are enticed to do something that is ungodly. 1 Corinthians and Romans talk about food offered to idols in ways that do not outright condemn it. But when someone eats against their conscience, this is a big problem. They also have those who have succomned to the false teaching of the Nicolaitans. Again, the specifics of this are unclear but their teaching is false and people in the church have befallen pray. See earlier notes regarding Ephesus linking the Nicolaitans and the teaching of Balaam.

“Repent…or I will come with the sword of my mouth.” The word of God is powerful and right to judge and to condemn.

“…I will give some of the hidden manna.” Old Testament allusion to relief and mercy from God.

“…I will also give…a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Getting a new name means a new start. Simon is called Peter. Levi is Matthew. The idea of a secret name only known to the receiver is an intimate gift from the One who knows us. It is a personal gift. We don’t conclude that we all get knew names but so what if this ends up being factual – I won’t tell you what name I get.

To Thyatira (18-29)

“…the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” See 1:14-15. Jesus is named here as the Son of God. The description of Jesus is full in Revelation but must be pieced together. The letters have increased our knowledge of him and now we see one of his titles.

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” What a great start! Praise God for their progress and sanctification. Notice the dance between deeds, love and faith. These things are not just ideas but action.

“You tolerate that woman Jezebel…” This is another Old Testament reference in 1 and 2 Kings. She led Israel astray to worship idols and killed off the prophets. To the Thyatirians she was killing them with her sexual immorality and enticing them away. Who are what is referred to exactly may remain unknown but the reference to Jezebel is that her schemes are directly against the people of God.

“…then all the churches will know…” The action of God against Jezebel will be a witness to more churches than just this one. In the end, wicked will be destroyed and all will know that God searches the hearts and minds and repays each according to their deeds.

“… I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” Is it that God demands more of some than of others according to their opportunity and gifts? If one church is worthy enough to hold onto grace until Christ returns and yet another will be held accountable because they did not use the gifts given to expand the kingdom…? This seems parallel to the parable of the talents.

“… I will give authority over the nations.” Paul spoke to the Corinthians about being judges in heaven. The nations here are not nations as we know them but stands for those outside the kingdom of God. The morning star is very likely a reference to Isaiah 14:12ff where Babylon, who was high like a mountain smashing all the kingdoms has now been laid low. It is called the morning star that has come down to earth below. Babylon is used in Revelation as a metaphore for all the nations who rise up against God.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The Church of God is born from the grace of God and the word of God for love and good deeds, for faith and for persevering through suffering, persecution and maintaining truth while keeping love. We live in a battle field wanting to break us and entice us away. Jesus says, if you stand firm and hold fast, then the suffering and the abstaining will be replaced with victory, reigning, riches and a new name. It is not enough to love the bible, we must love God and one another. God sees us and what we go through. He also knows that we are way richer than we think we are.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Love being right or love God. The Pharisees fell trap of turning love into a duty and it seems the church in Ephesus had done the same. Churches who are very, very vigilant against false teaching can lose sight of the beauty of scripture and the joy of knowing the community of believers. It is a wonderful thing to know that you are forgiven and saved and set free. We can learn to genuinely love and to take the words of the scriptures to heart as we read them carefully.

Topic B: Do not fear suffering. This is so easy to write and hard to live out. Hope is the antidote to suffering. As soon as we believe that the removal of suffering is the answer, then we have lost sight of eternity. God will remove the suffering but not until He returns. Let’s remember to be people of eternity. Living for this world will disappoint us or kill us.

Topic C: Avoiding Balaam and watching Jezebel. The Balaam’s and Jezebels of this world will trick us into denying Christ and giving way to quick pleasures. But they will be destroyed and their destruction will testify to the justice of God. Our goal is to stand on the right side of justice at the end. Only the One who can give us a new name, clothe us in white and lift us up to rule the nations is worth giving our lives to. What false teachings and enticing ways do you see amongst us?

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

The Most Excellent Way

Discussion Question

How many classic songs can you list that have ‘love’ in the title? There’s ‘Love, love me do’, and ‘She loves me’, both by The Beatles. What else can you come up with in 2 minutes?

Background (Context)

The church in Corinth needed to hear how they were living no differently to the people of this world. Apart from their history with Paul and Apollos and their knowledge of the gospel, it would be difficult to identify this church as a Christian gathering. Divisions, quarrels, immorality, pride, selfishness, impatience, and superiority complexes – these are just the things off the top of my head to list down. They have forgotten how amazing their God is, how amazing grace is and how important the cross of Christ is. In Chapter 12, Paul reminded them that they are all part of the one body because they are all saved the same Spirit who enables them to call Jesus their Lord.

In the church, there are significant gifts such as prophecy and teaching (more on prophecy again in Chapter 14) but Paul takes a moment to talk about something greater than the biggest roles in the church. Notice that Paul began to talk about gifts from the Spirit in Chapter 12 which continues in Chapter 14. But something that is not a gift for just some people is the virtue of love. 1 Corinthians 14:1 will link this thought by saying: Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit. Love is the characteristic that all gifts need to be expressions of. Prophecy is a great gift but love is the excellent way for it to be shared.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)
  • A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)
  • Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

A rebuke: Love is more important than the work (12:31-13:3)

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”  When Paul has just mentioned ‘eagerly desire the greater gifts’, we firstly wonder what the greater gifts must be! What should we pursue with earnestness? But then he stops to speak about, not the greater gifts, but the most excellent way. Love is not one of the gifts that Paul can ask, do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all have love? The answer to the first two questions is no! But the answer to the last ought to be yes! It is not one of the gifts but the way of Christian maturity. It is a virtuous growth that is expressed across everything that we do. No matter what you are engaged in, 1 Corinthians 13 has instruction on how you must engage in it! See 1 Jn 4:8.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels…” Be careful to notice that Paul is not recommending that the tongue of angels is even a thing but that he says that if or even if we did that – but do not have love, it is nothing to be impressed by.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge…” We can stop for a second and wonder if there is something to learn about the definition of prophecy here. Paul seems to have used hyperbole when describing ‘speaking in tongues’ and so it seems reasonable to think that we can learn something about prophecy but stop short of thinking that prophecy, by definition, is about understanding all mysteries and all knowledge – something like a fortune teller or a wise wizard. A working definition of prophecy is: speaking the word of God into the current environment. When the scriptures were incomplete (the direct revelation from God – see 2 Peter 1:19-21) prophecy is given for people to write down the word of God for the benefit of many to hear, read, pay attention to. But now that the scriptures are written, we refer to the written scriptures and can speak these words of God, with meaning and understanding into the lives of our hearers. Paul suggests that a prophet has knowledge of things beyond human capacity and that fits with the words of 2 Peter 1. The word of God, the scriptures, are filled with all knowledge and the mystery of God’s will revealed to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. But such profound and ‘out-of-this-world’ knowledge is nothing and makes you nothing if you do not have love.

“…if I have faith that can move mountains…” Can you hear the hyperbole? Can you hear the exaggerated examples? Jesus spoke of the ability to tell a mountain to be moved into the sea or wherever with only the faith the size of a mustard seed (Mt 17:20; 21:21). The bible challenges us to put our trust in the God who made the mountains (Psalm 121:1-2). The message, even from Jesus, is to say that if you trust in God, you must raise your expectations of what is possible. But the thing that stops Christians from becoming superheroes with the abilities of Dr Strange is that our faith directs us to the will of God. When we pray, give me today my daily bread, we have first of all prayed, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. Maybe our faith does not more work. Maybe we could experience more if our faith was increased. Or maybe, when we put our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he will do more than move mountains for us, he will usher in a new heaven and a new earth! He will raise our mortal bodies from the dead! And he will use our words of faith to bring people from darkness to light and from death to life! And that would be God’s will being done!

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast…” Here we have again some exaggerated suggestions but a new bit of info. In the place of love, we would be doing these things in order to boast. Speaking in tongues, prophecy, faith acts, giving to the poor and suffering are all under the Christian umbrella of right things (when understood and done right) but none of them are successful or useful when boasting lies behind the motive.

“…I gain nothing…” The absence of love makes a useless action. So, here is the rebuke to the Corinthians: they were boasting for all sorts of reasons. But they possessed nothing because they did it all for their own boasting and pride. Before Paul can talk about the gifts, he needs to rebuke the receivers of the gifts because they are all acting like children who need to grow up and live for others and not for themselves. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 is not an advertisement for love but a rebuke against boasting.

A desire: Love covers a multitude of sins (13:4-7)

“Love is…”  The list of love attributes that follow fill out the full expressions of love. It is way more than simple desire or passion. To say that “love is love” does not say anything. To say “a bear is a bear” does not help describe what a bear is! Paul puts flesh and descriptions on love to help us see the breadth of it. We will discover that it is BIG! And if the Corinthian church had simply put on love and pursued that, then all of the problems outlined in this letter from Paul would not have existed or would have been solved.

“…patient…” If the church had known patience, they would not have messed up the Lord’s Supper so much. They may have listened patiently to one another instead of taking each other off to court!

“…kind…” If the church had expressed kindness, then they would have avoided the divisions that boasted in one leader over another, would have seen that some of their brothers and sisters were being ruined by the eating of food offered to idols.

“…it does not envy…” Envy is the desire for somebody else to lose. It says, I hope that you fail in your position that I want. It says, I would receive joy in seeing your demise. It says, I should be where you are. Paul spoke in Chapter 4 about his little care for what the Corinthians thought of him since his motives are to act like a servant who is judged by God for what he does. He seeks to pursue works that do not promote envy from anyone.

“…it does not boast…” Then they would not say “I follow Apollos!” See 3:21. No human has any right to boast especially in the church. We are all indebted to Christ so that if anyone were to boast, it ought to be to boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31).

“…it is not proud.” Envy is to wish somebody else’s downfall, boasting is to puff yourself up, and pride is to look down on others. All of these come from a place of insecurity. But when we boast in the Lord and practice thankfulness and praise to him, we exercise these other three out of our bad habits.

“It does not dishonour… not self-seeking… not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs.” Can you picture how these areas may have fixed problems in the Corinthian church? Can you imagine what your life would look like if these four areas were godly? I must say, when our society falls in love with the slogan: love is love and yet displays all the signs of an unloving bunch, we’ve been raised very uneducated by the Word of God.

“Love does not delight in evil…” Remember when Paul pointed out the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife and all were boasting about that?! We may say, again as we look at our culture, that we have delighted recently in some evils. But then we are left with the question, what is evil and what is not. What is good for you may not be good for you. This is where the next statement helps.

“…but rejoices with the truth.” Evil and truth are connected categorically here. Right and wrong have very much to do with truth and lies. To align love with the truth is to align truth with God. Paul pushes us to go beyond ‘aligning with’ the truth and says that love rejoices with the truth. The gospel is truth. The first change that we make when we enter into our relationship of love with God is to confess that we are not lovely. To rejoice in the truth that Jesus is in a different category of humanity and that we need Him. And to rejoice that in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. To run away from this and promote the soft lie that everybody is basically good is, really, to live with evil.

“It always protects…” This seems fitting that love is protecting. It does not follow that love covers up sin or evil or something like that. God is described in Psalm 121 as our protector who always watches over us. It does not follow that God always keeps us away from suffering and trials. These things are actually good for growth and faith. Love does not require “helicopter” protection. Overseers in the church, for example, don’t need to react every time something uncomfortable is going on. A Growth Group Leader, for example, does not need to correct every little thing that is said in a group nor finish every conversation that the group is having. A protector can appear to be very passive (or am I now getting on a personal soap box?). Love always protects – and a good mature protector will not act out of anxiety for others.

“…always trusts…” I find this one tricky because how can we trust everyone? But perhaps we are not told to trust everyone but to always trust – is there a difference? Perhaps it is fitting that this item is placed straight after protects. The two can work quite well together. Note that trust and faith are pretty synonymous. So love is aligned with faith – not simply faith in God but faith in the work that God is doing in the world and that His work stretches to all of our interactions with people and the events in this world. It seems that our knowledge of the Sovereignty of God helps us to be able to trust, even when things look scary.

“…always hopes, always perseveres.” Verse 7 contains attributes of love that all seem dependant on our knowledge of God. He is the God of tomorrow. He is the source of our hope and perseverance. Without our faith (trust) we have no hope. Without hope there is no motivation to persevere.

Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

“Love never fails.” That is it. When wondering what to do or how to act: choose the path of love as prescribed in Verses 4-7. Love always works because it embraces the work of God which is patient, kind, well tempered and so on. The alternatives to love do fail. Envy, boasting, pride, dishonor/lies, self-seeking, quick tempered and fault finding – these fail to get anybody anywhere good. But Paul has a different angle to give us here. It is not just that love is the better way – it is the forever way.

“…prophecies… will cease… tongues… will be stilled… knowledge… will pass away.” Our time here on planet earth – for all humanity – is a passing thing. A day will come when what we think is important now will be shown to be trivial. The work and building and projects that we invest in so much now will all pass away and be replaced with something so much greater. Paul expands on this in Verses 9-10 – those verses I will not expand on.

“When I was a child…” Paul uses the analogy of growing up to illustrate the difference between what we know now and what we will know in the future. You think of your childhood now and you conclude: I had no clue. And now that you are older, you put aside your limited view of life and embrace adult thinking (some people mourn this because they believe that childhood is an age of innocence and purity but it is more of an age of being protected and dependant).

“For now we see only a reflection…” Paul’s second illustration is to say that this life looks clear and true but there is a greater reality that goes beyond this existence. We talk about God and love Him and rejoice in the truth of the gospel but one day, we shall see God and His kingdom in the clearest vision ever! It’s more dramatic than comparing a black and white silent movie with a 3D cinema experience!

“……then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” What a little gem of a line. It is easy to miss these treasures hidden in the midst of other great truths. Paul is talking about the short life-span of prophecy, tongues and knowledge compared to the eternal and unstopping value of love. As he addresses knowledge, it is not that knowledge will cease, but what we know will be vastly superior to what we know now. So, here are my two take-aways from this. 1) knowledge is about clarity. Even now we must expect that our knowledge of things should grow. We come to faith in Christ and young Christians believe they know everything, but as you mature you realise that knowledge of God is just ever-expanding. A young Growth Group Leader should feel confidence in this because they will not be scared of heresy, but simply a knowledge that we grow in clarity as they mature. 2) We will look forward to knowing God better but God already knows us in full. His knowledge of us is not growing in clarity. He knows you. We often worry about how other people perceive us and whether they understand where we are coming from. Well, God understands where you are coming from. How wonderful is that little jewel of knowledge!

“…faith, hope and love.” When all is said and done, our trust in the Lord is paramount and it feeds our hope which in turn strengthens our perseverance. These three words all speak of our relationship with God which is forever. Faith and hope will be modified in eternity because of the clarity of vision and change of environment but love will be unaltered. Our eternal God who is love has shown us the most excellent way!

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Love never fails. Never expires. Always excellent. The attributes of love are seen in the character of God. If we would learn this, we would cover over a multitude of sins. Thank God that His love has done just that for us in Christ Jesus!

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The rebuke of love. Paul’s rebuke to this church is challenged in every way by the description of love. In how many ways has this passage rebuked you? We all fail to love perfectly. That’s why we need the perfect saviour who loved perfectly. Is there one or two aspects that you can identify as urgent areas to repent of? Perhaps it is dishonouring somebody. Perhaps envy or pride. Reflect on what you can do this week to repent and repair a relationship then pray about that.

Topic B: The desire for love. This lesson to love is an ongoing transformation which will never be perfect this side of heaven. It seems wise to take a passage like this and store it permanently so that we can train our hearts to respond in love quicker and quicker over time. So, memorise 1 Corinthians 13. Simple. It’s a small chapter and can be a project that your group begins this week and works on together over time. Why not start with Verses 4-7. Get that in your head. Then add Verses 8-13. Finally, include Verses 1-3.

Topic C: Love speaks less. When we consider the attributes of love in this Chapter, we may begin to see how our tongues are trained. The first thing that acts in many situations is the tongue. Patience? Hold your tongue. Kind? Watch your tongue. Envious, boastful or proud? Convert your tongue to praise and thankfulness. Engaging the brain through prayer and understanding before we speak will save us from much damage. When we continue onto Chapter 14, we discover that we are not told to stop speaking altogether, but to join love and truth together.

2 Samuel 22-23

Hope, Strength and the Kingdom

Discussion Question

(This question will work if you intend to look at all of 22:1-23:7 or just 23)

Pretend you are the CEO of Boost Juice and you are at your retirement party on your last day of work. The microphone is passed to you so you might give a rousing final word of encouragement to your staff. What would you say? What might the balance be between your own achievements, the company’s achievements and future potential? 

(If you are looking just at chapter 22)

When you last praised someone, what did you say to them and why? Do you struggle to praise people who have succeeded in the present but failed in the past? Do you think you praise people enough?  

Background (Context)

In Chapter 22-23 we hear lots of words of David – including what are described as the “last words” (23:1). The narrative appears to stall as the section begins with us listening to a song sung to the Lord when the Lord delivered David from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul (22:1). 

But we ought not view this pause in the narrative as disjunctive. Remember back in 2 Samuel 21 – David and his men conquered the Philistines in 4 back to back battles (that may not have been back to back but are written as such). Throughout the Old Testament it is not uncommon for a song to be sung after a significant battle or salvation moment (cf. Exodus 15; Judges 5; 1 Samuel 18:7).

The song before us carries further significance because this enemy has been Israel’s constant nemesis and now it appears they have been finally routed at the arm of David and his men. 

In addition to these comments on literary context, it is worth remembering the theological context of these chapters. Remember that David is the LORD’s King who he has strengthened (2 Samuel 2:10), and made promises to (2 Samuel 7:12-16) and been with (2 Samuel 5:10). In the midst of all his failings he has always been the LORD’s king who the LORD delighted in. The LORD has never departed from David as he did from Saul and indeed David redeemed himself in 21:1!

You may wish to refresh the events of 1 Samuel 16, 2 Samuel 5, 7, 11 and 12 to your mind in preparation for this study. 

As a final note, although 2 Samuel 23 contains the “last words” of David, David is not yet about to die. He has a few more things he needs to do and you can read about them in 1 Kings 1-2.

Read 2 Samuel 22-23

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Why David Sings (Part 1) – 22:1
    • A God worth having (v.2-4)
    • A God who powerfully saves his King (v.5-20)
    • A God of righteousness (v.21-31)
    • A God who gives strength to the King (v.23-46)
    • A God worth having (v.47-51)
  • Why David Sings (Part 2) – 23:1
    • The God who speaks (v.2-3a)
    • The Word God speaks (v.3b-4)
    • The impact of righteousness (v.5)
    • The impact of unrighteousness(v.6-7) 
  • David’s Mighty Men and David’s Mighty Failings
    • The Big Three (v.8-17)
    • The Other Two (v.18-23)
    • The Thirty (v.24-39)

Why David Sings (Part 1) (22:1)

“when the LORD delivered” – when the song is sung is a critical question for interpreting the words of the song. Psalm 18 (where this song is repeated) gives us no help! The natural reading of v.1 is to say that it was sung after (and its meaning ought to be taken as being after) the events of chapter 19-21. The Philistines and Absalom were the last of David’s enemies who have now been defeated. Note that David took up a lament reflecting on Saul’s life in 2 Samuel 1. Is this now a song reflecting on his life? If it is, he has a lot to praise God for and he does it with vigour!

A God worth having – 22:2-4

“My…my…my…my…” – note that for David his relationship with God is not just religious but is personal and it is based on all that God has done for him in protecting him from enemies and danger. It is important to note the interaction between these verses and the setting for the Psalm. The narrator tells us “when” it is written and David tells us “who” is worthy of praise and “why” he has the privilege of singing this song. His enemies are clearly defeated because of the work of God and David is saved by the hands of God. We might ask of David, what was your role in all this?

A God who powerfully saves his King – 22:5-20

“Death…destruction…death…” – the language here is extreme and shows the way David thought about his time as King. He was constantly under threat. Note that some of these threats were self-induced because of his sin. His sin lead him to the edge of death at the hands of his enemies. Noting this will help us as we decipher v.21-25.

“ears…nostrils…mouth…feet…” – in the New Testament we read that God is Spirit and we know God does not literally have human form or come down in human form until Christ. This language (often called anthropomorphism) is used to help us connect with the actions of God and understand the view or action of God by using human forms. But it also underlines the reality that we have read throughout 2 Samuel and again here in v.2-4 – God is the victor; God is the triumphant LORD; God is the winner of battles. The humans involved cannot claim their own power or majesty for God is the powerful majestic God over all people and all the world. 

“because he was angry” – God was angry that his King was threatened with destruction. Sometimes the anger of God is confusing (doesn’t God = love?) but the anger of God against death and destruction and hatred is good news.

“He rescued…he rescued… because he delighted in me” – the confusion starts to set in here. In what way is God delighting in David given what we know of the Bathsheba/Uriah incident and the Amnon’s/Tamar incident and the Absalom incident… v.21-31 take this confusion to the next level.

A God of righteousness – 22:21-31

This whole section ought to have your group saying “say whaaaaaat?”. Just work through the passage and see the number of times David claims that he is OK with God. Verses 22 & 24 are stunning – has David got amnesia; is David claiming he sinned in these ways but never lost his vision for God; is this song placed here by mistake and should be sung at the end of 2 Samuel 10; or is something else going on? It will be important not to disconnect your conversation on these verses from what has already been said in this song. In the structure of the study you may wish to ensure you look carefully at v.1-20 first. 

Note the parallel between v.21 & 25.

Note the parallel between v.22 & 24

This focusses our eyes on v.23.

The laws and decrees of the LORD include pathways for forgiveness and hope for sinners. David says here that he has never lost the reality that God is kind and merciful and wants to be in relationship with his people. He is noting that the sacrificial systems described in the laws and decrees were set up to symbolise forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. They point to the very heart of God as one who is able to delight in sinners because he acts to save them from death and rescue them from their enemies – even the last enemy death. We don’t read that David sacrificed and felt atoned but we know that forgiveness was God’s plan for his people. And David is able to cling to this reality and speak as he does here because he has already been forgiven by God. Do you remember 2 Samuel 12:13? You may want to plunge into Psalm 51 for further reflection on mercy and forgiveness and David.  

David’s evil actions do not undermine the fruit of God’s grace and promise in his life precisely because his wicked deeds have been forgiven, taken away and washed clean. 

“You…you…you…” – v.26-31 almost seem to provide apologetic weight to what we have read in v.21-25 as David focuses on the remarkable work of the God who forgives, saves and rescues.  

 A God who gives strength to the King – 22:32-46

The God who has delivered David so many times from dangers has one more accolade to be laid on him – he had plans to make David a great King. 

“His…his… his…You…you…you…” – David rejoices in what God has done for him personally which looks like the outworking of v.26-31. There we saw what God is like and here we see what he does because of it. 

“You have preserved me as the head of nations” v.44 – The outworking of God’s promises in 2 Samuel 7 has come to fruition. 

 A God worth having – 22:47-51

This rejoinder not only wraps up this song but all the themes of the Kingdom that are interconnected from 1 Samuel 16 through to 2 Samuel 7 and beyond. I wonder if you might imagine this part of the song on the lips of another King? I wonder if you might imagine all the song on the lips of another King. 

I wonder what our response to earthly Kings and heavenly Kings ought to be in light of verse 51?

Why David Sings (Part 2) – 23:1-7

Some people have called these last words, words of prophecy. You might want to ponder that characterisation. There is no inference that they connect to the previous chapter (as in David kept singing) but there are clear thematic parallels. We might (despite what is to come in 1 Kings) judge that these are the last words of David that sum up his life; they are perhaps the key to understanding everything that we have read about David and his whole life.

Note who is taking the action and in control in these verses.

Verse 1 – the layering of four descriptions of David describe his Kingship. The last is a little strange but is essentially noting that the people of Israel triumphed David as King not just the LORD. Working your way through the 4 phrases or descriptions of David here will be worth it for your group. (Cf 1 Samuel 16, 2 Samuel 5:10-15, 2 Samuel 7 for clues as to what the four phrases mean)

Verse 3 – “fear of the LORD” – cf 1 Samuel 12:12-25 – not a scared fear but a reverent and awe-captured fear that promotes submission to the rule and love of God.

Verse 5 – “my house….”  certainly we know his house is not perfect and only a shadow the Kingship to come but God has actually used David in accordance with his promises. 

Note the way this little song points us to the eternal realities of the promises of God in Christ. When our house is right with God, he brings to us salvation and grants every desire. 

David’s Mighty Men and David’s Mighty Failings- 23:8-39

Names, names and more names. The conclusion to this section is obscure if only for the fact that you are going to see lots of names you have never heard of, and the one name you do expect to hear about when we are talking of Mighty Men is only spoken of incidentally. Is the absence of Joab a subtle indication of the tension that existed to the end with David?

“The LORD brought about a great victory” – v.10, 12 – to miss what is behind these mighty men is to miss the whole purpose of this section. We may have outstanding stories about outstanding men who won outstanding victories (that are tantalising for their lack of detail) but we have one outstanding detail. God is in this. God is in charge of the outcome. God always had the battles in hand.

“He poured it out” – v.16 – what looks like dishonour to the men who risked their lives here is actually ultimately great honour to them and to God. The great devotion and sacrifice they showed really belongs to the LORD so the key words here are those at the end of v.16 – “before the LORD”. Here is David not taking honour to himself but directing great honour to God. He’s just like the LORD’s king should be. 

“Chief of the three” – v.3, 18 – who was chief of the three. It is likely that the footnote in our NIV to v.18 is the better reading. There cannot be two chiefs! 1 Chronicles 11:20 openly embeds the confusion. Abishai appears more likely to be chief of the 30. 

Our section ends with lots of cheering and fist pumping for the victories of the King and the triumph of the Kingdom. But let us not be fooled. There is more here than the Mighty Men and their victories under God. 

David’s men do a great job of overcoming violence with more violence. In the end, this is dissatisfying for the Kingdom of God because what we have been promised in 2 Samuel 7:10-11 is the end of violence and the bringing about of rest. There is no rest for David and the Kingdom. Perhaps 2 Samuel 21 indicated this. The Philistines just keep coming and coming and coming and coming. There must be some other Kingdom that awaits – and there is! Isaiah 9:6-7 and Luke 2:11-14 point us to a King who is Prince of Peace and who will bring peace.

That is not the only problem with the way things end here. Do you note who is mentioned in v.34? Eliam. Have a look at who he is related to!! (2 Samuel 11:3) And then look at the last name on the list of David’s mighty men!!

David’s great might was poisoned by David’s great failings and we ought to ponder whether these lists are here to bear the names that point clearly to David’s mighty failure – and thereby in turn point to God’s great gracious mercy. The mighty men might be mighty and faithful and devoted – but David murdered one of them! This Kingdom consumes even its own. But there is another Kingdom to come that will be characterised by there being no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4). Oh let us look at David and his mighty men, and while giving thanks for the mercy of God, let us long for the Kingdom of Christ which only required one mighty man to conquer every enemy and who will take us to be with him forever. By his wounds, our enemies and sins are destroyed.  

What did we learn? (Meaning)

At the high point of his kingship (22:1) and at the end of his life (23:1), David waxes lyrical! But his focus is not upon himself! He recognises all that God has done for him and the way the LORD has conquered his enemies, saved him from death and placed him in a safe, secure position. The one who is the Rock of Israel has been for David a secure Rock on which to stand – despite his failings, despite his disgraceful sin, despite his errant ways. We are pointed here afresh to the character of God as the one who forgives sins, keeps his promises and does not deal with his people as they ought to be dealt with. God is indeed compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). He has mercy on failures like you and me because of his unfailing love (Psalm 51:1). 

Although we may want to stand in judgement over David (and be shocked at God’s mercy) the meaning of these chapters ought to be considered from a personal perspective. Have you noticed in the New Testament that God does not label Christians “completely failed sinners who I forgave” but “saints” or “God’s holy people”! (Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1) There is a sense of completion to the forgiveness and mercy of God in and for us through the death and resurrection of Christ such that we are deemed to be holy! Perhaps we are best to reserve our shock at God’s mercy toward David until we consider that the same mercy is towards us in Christ?   

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The Anger of God and the Anger of Man. People sometimes object to the idea that God can be angry. God is love and Jesus was rarely angry at anything except religious hypocrites. However, the anger of God means that life matters to God. The things that go on in the world matter to God. God is more complex than we might imagine and to think that he could not both love the world and be angry at the world at the same time is to underestimate God. You might want to ask your group, “Is it good news that God is angry with the world?” Would they rather a God who did not care or a God who is moved by the state of his creation? 

Topic B: Earthly Kings and the Heavenly King. There are a myriad of people who you can follow in this world. Pop stars like Taylor Swift are kings. Politicians like Scott Morrison and Donald Trump have been treated like kings by some. But are these kings worth having? Who is worth following in the world? You might want to ask your group to think about who influences them in life? Our Kings need not be stars or authorities, they can be family members and spouses. Are these “kings” worth devoting yourself too? How does your devotion to earthly kings get shaped by your devotion to Jesus. How does having (or Does having..) Jesus as your King actually shape your attitude to earthly “kings”?  

Topic C: Waiting patiently for the LORD. There is a real sense of frustration in the world when you see evil prosper. You could discuss what people’s experience of this is like; do they get frustrated, do they feel they need to speak out and act out all the time. Are they willing to leave judgement to the LORD. 2 Samuel 23:6 reminds us that the LORD will deal with people who are evil. You may want to look at Romans 12:14-21 together and ponder how you might encourage each other to wait patiently for the LORD in a world that wants nothing to do with the LORD.