Category Archives: Judgment

1 Corinthians 16

Working with workers

Discussion Question

What does it look like to be a member of a church?

Background (Context)

We’ve arrived at the final Chapter of this letter to the Church of God in Corinth. Paul has written passionately with instruction, rebuke and grand theology that points all to Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Our faith is in Him and Him alone. Our hope is in an imperishable spiritual body like nothing we have known in this age. Our method in everything is love which flows from the love of God.

With a full letter written and delivered to the saints in Corinth, how shall he sign off? We shall see some things to be expected (Verse 13) and yet we discover that after a letter of rebuke, Paul anticipates a positive response from them.

Read 1 Corinthians 16

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)
  • Paul’s travel plans (5-9)
  • How to treat fellow workers (10-18)
    • About Timothy (10-11)
    • About Apollos (12)
      • Faith, (hope) and love (13)
    • About Stephanas (14-18)
  • Final greetings (19-24)

Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)

“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people…” What is this collection? We see in Verse 2 that it is money and in Verse 3 that it is a gift to Jerusalem. Acts 24:17 describes Paul’s habit of bringing gifts to his people for the poor and to present offerings. In our present Verse, Paul describes the collection as to the Lord’s people – meaning the holy ones in Jerusalem. Just as Paul is writing to the Lord’s people in Corinth, he expects this church to be connected in support to the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. Paul’s theme in Chapter 16 is to elevate the fellowship of the churches throughout the world since they are all of the same faith. It ought to follow that when you are on board for Jesus then you are on board to support one another who are also on board for Jesus. Christianity has never been a solo act or a Lone Ranger faith. We are in it together. His advice on raising the collection in the following verses, despite the exact usage for the money, is a helpful one for us all today. See also 2 Corinthians 8-9 on this topic of financial support.

“…do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” The Corinthians would not know what Paul has told the Galatian churches. He is introducing his instructions as something that is not unique to this letter to Corinth but the same advice he has given elsewhere.

“…set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…” What Paul says in Verse 2 is great financial advice for anybody trying to use money for something beyond impulse buying and he is applying it specifically to the giving portion of a salary. He is not specifying an exact amount. He is recommending that each person set aside a proportion of their salary – thoughtfully, carefully and intentionally. When Paul arrives, he does not want to see everyone reaching into their wallets to see what spare change they have! At the beginning of your pay cycle, set aside the money that you have decided to give to the work of the gospel. As intentional as we ought to be about our faith and works (and Paul will remind us later in this Chapter) we need to be intentional about our faith and money. As we listen in to Paul’s advice to this church, it would be grand for our groups to stop and consider how we are going in this area. Do we put our money where our faith is?

“…letters of introduction to the men you approve…” Paul does not intend to take the money and run away with it. He plans to write a note of introduction for some men chosen by the Corinthian church and they will send the money with them to Jerusalem. In this way, the fellowship with the churches is strengthened – they will gain mutual encouragement – and the collection and distribution of the money is above board and transparent.

Paul’s travel plans (5-9)

“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.” Paul will be going through Macedonia 😉

“…I hope to spend some time with you…” Paul appears unclear of what he will do after reaching Corinth but assures them that he does not wish to simply pass through as he plans to pass through Macedonia. His plans are for mission in Macedonia (including Ephesus) but to stay and be a pastor to the church in Corinth. His rebuking letter ought not to be thought of as coming from an outsider who doesn’t know them or care.

“…if the Lord permits.” A reminder to us always to consider God’s will above our own. See James 4:15; Luke 22:42; Matthew 6:10.

“…I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost…” Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks which took place fifty days after Passover (Deut 16:9-12). It is associated with the promise of divine blessing and Christians came to associate it with the day God poured out His Spirit on the church. Ephesus is in modern day Turkey, north of the Mediterranean Sea. On Paul’s 3rd missionary journey (3 journeys described in the book of Acts) he travelled up the coast from Ephesus, around the Aegean Sea before passing through the region of Macedonia (consisting of towns like Philippi and Thessalonica), this takes him to Athens and then a quick hop down to Corinth. Although he spoke in this letter of staying for quite a while, Acts 20:2-3 tells us that he was forced to keep travelling because of persecution from others (not Corinth). Paul had first visited Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11) where he stayed with them for 18 months.

“…door…opened to me…many who oppose me.” So, this is Paul’s third journey that he is on and Acts 19 provides reading material for this. Acts 19:8-10 describes a period of 2 years where Paul preached the gospel and the opposition actually created more interest in it!

How to treat fellow workers (10-18)

About Timothy (10-11)

“…see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you…” The church is a refuge for believers. While the world may be hostile, indifferent, uncaring or other toward the gospel, our churches become a network of safe havens for believers alike. Paul aligns Timothy’s work with his. If you treat Timothy badly, you are doing harm to Paul. A cute parallel to the way that Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). Timothy was younger than Paul, called a son in the faith (1 Tim 1:2) and Paul advised Timothy not to let others look down on him because of his age (1 Tim 4:12).

About Apollos (12)

“Now about Apollos…” Acts 18:24 introduces us to Apollos. It was friends of Paul who found Apollos teaching from the Scriptures and educated him in the true gospel. Apollos spent time in Corinth while Paul was elsewhere. He was a capable man of God. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dividing over who was the best leader – Paul was not feeling insecure but wanted the church to be united over the gospel. Each leader does this or that but it is the gospel of Christ that gives life and eternal hope.

“…I strongly urged him…he was quite unwilling…but he will go when he has the opportunity.” Paul has had disputes and disagreements with people with regard to mission (Acts 15:37-40). Here, Paul shares a disagreement between himself and Apollos about when Apollos should go to Corinth. We mustn’t conclude, however, that this was a sharp dispute. It is an example of two people looking to please the Lord. Apollos’ missionary work was not Paul’s mission but the Lord’s. Our work with one another for the gospel does not boil down to setting up a leader and doing whatever they tell us to. It is about unity, peace, discussion and prayerfully moving forward. Paul’s next words may seem out of context but it could very well be an insight into how Paul has responded himself to this disagreement with Apollos…

Faith, (hope) and love (13)

“…Do everything in love.” Verse 13 helps us frame all of our relationships in the church and with regard to fulfilling the commission of the Lord:

  1. Be on your guard. Other texts remind us to be watchful. We are not to be found snoozing, idle, or misdirected in this life. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober minded because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Paul and Apollos spoke about their differences, this would have been a great moment for the devil to take a bite! Be careful with every conversation – you never know which will lead to a moment of destruction rather than encouragement.
  2. Stand firm in the faith. The gospel is our firm foundation to stand on. Everything we do must be built up on top of that sturdy ground (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). See also 1 Cor 10:11-13; 15:1; 15:58. The warning to stand firm is given so that those who love the Lord will listen and take heed. Those who do not love the Lord will not take heed of such warnings. Paul is wise to consider what rock he stands on. If this gospel is built upon his logic or strategy, then it is not the gospel. He is wise to seek God’s kingdom and not his own. If Apollos is being pulled in a different direction, then trust God with that decision. Time will reveal if it was the will of God or not.
  3. Be courageous; be strong. Not just a good Colin Buchannan song, this is a charge given to the Lord’s people across the ages (Joshua 1:9). The reason we can be strong is because the Lord is with us. Paul has not been writing to a water-polo club – but to the church of God in Corinth. As God’s people, do not let any forces of nature or man overwhelm you. With Apollos delaying his travel to Corinth and Paul also remaining away for a while longer, the church in Corinth are called to be strong and courageous because God is with them. The absence of a leader does not mean the absence of the Lord.
  4. Do everything in love. He has spoken of this in Chapter 13. Without love, Paul may have shown impatience and no kindness toward Apollos. He desires the church in Corinth to respond in love also.

About Stephanas (14-18)

“…the house of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia…” Paul remembers Stephanas in passing back in 1Corinthians 1:16 when he was recalling the few people that he had actually baptised. Achaia was the province or region where Corinth and Athens were/are located. See Acts 18:2. Stephanas was part of Paul’s first visit to Corinth.

“…I urge you…to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labours at it.” We are getting the theme of this Chapter emerge by bits as we join up the little elements together. Churches everywhere who call on the name of Christ, such as the church in Jerusalem, are all part of the same mission. Giving financially, helping workers feel safe, allowing differences to exist without being divided, and getting behind those who are working hard for the Lord. This is not secret men’s business. It is open and transparent communication of the Lord’s business. It is not a closed ‘inner circle’ faith. All are welcome to hear the gospel, respond and then get on board the mission. With Paul’s direction in Verse 13 we shall be robust to work together and get behind one another.

“…they have supplied what was lacking from you.” The context implies that what was lacking was any refreshment for the spirit. Paul’s letter to Corinth is shaped by Paul’s disappointment with how they are living out their faith. If all he had to work with were the bad reports, perhaps he could dismiss that church as having abandoned the faith. But he has the refreshing visit from Stephanas and co. These men are worth getting behind! They deserve recognition. Not just from Paul but from the church that they have come from. There is a distinction between praising and fan-club-following like Paul was rebuking in Chapter 1 and when someone deserves to be recognised for their work in the faith.

Final greetings (19-24)

“…the province of Asia…” Not to be confused with what we call Asia, this is marked on historic maps as the western side of modern Turkey. Ephesus was the capital.

“Aquila and Priscilla…” They took Paul in as he worked with them as a tent-maker when he had first visited Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). This is a husband and wife team who worked for the Lord (Romans 16:3).

“…in my own hand…” The content may have been dictated but Paul always signed his letters with his own hand (2 Thes 3:17).

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” Paul is not expressing anger toward anybody. Rather, stating the point that anyone found on judgement day without love for the Lord will be cursed. This is the harsh side of the gospel. It’s how salvation works and it’s how church fellowship works. There are those like Stephanas who ought to be recognised because they love the Lord, and then anyone who wants to take the words of this letter with hate can reconsider where they stand with the Lord.

“My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s letter of rebuke ends with a message of love. How people respond to this letter will depend on their love of the Lord! Paul hopes that they will respond with the advice of Verse 13 just as the relationship between Apollos and Paul is preserved on the basis of watchfulness, faith, hope and love. (I have aligned hope with courage and strength because it is based on how hope in the Lord for deliverance).

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Fellowship in the Lord’s work is made possible when the church loves the Lord. Giving financially, being flexible with plans, caring for the weak and respecting the strong and working through different perspectives can all be made possible when we love the Lord. Our faith is not dependant on the church but the church exists and thrives on the energy of faith. We are not alone. We are the church of God. Anybody who does not pursue love for the Lord can consider themselves not part of the church.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Planning to invest in the work of the Lord. When you are part of the church of God, our whole lives are given to the work of the Lord. Romans 6 says that we have died and now live for Christ. Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money. So, what shall we do? Consider everything as though it belongs to God and make life decisions about how you use your money! With your salary, some of it shall be used for daily living, some of it to save for something, and some of it for giving! The rule is to be generous in all things (1 Tim 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Paul equates the gift of the gospel with riches given to us by God – not a prosperity gospel but that we now have everything we need in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul had to write the Corinthians so that they would begin to save for the time that Paul came to collect their gift. Saving and giving are both conscious decisions. Spending is a piece of cake! But giving is a spiritual discipline which flows from our response to God’s great gift to us! Without sharing details of income and giving, take time to reflect on what approach people have to getting behind the work of God financially. Note that the church you are a part of is not the only place that you can give money too but it is an important place to give – because we are working on mission together.

Topic B: Dealing with differences without division. The church is filled with people who think differently, have different perspectives and different aims and goals. But when each member shares the same core truth of serving the Lord in all that we do, then these differences will not be about gospel issues but about which is best next. When people have a different view on something (as Apollos and Paul did) it is important to discuss it – otherwise we break fellowship and perhaps assume why the other person is acting in a different way. We need to share points of view, to listen and understand before differences flame into feuds. Then, we ought to go back to the basics of Who is LORD, Who’s kingdom are we serving, be on our guard against the devil taking advantage of us, stand for the faith, trust in God who delivers and then proceed with love.

Topic C: Inside the church or outside the faith. People say that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Of course there is a slither of truth to this since going to church does not make everybody Christian. But when we individually turn to Christ then Christ directs us to community. Paul expects that those who love the Lord will even take a stern rebuke and still remain friends. He expects that the church be filled with Christ-centred souls who love one another on the basis that Christ has loved them. Paul send his love to all of you in Christ Jesus. It wasn’t just to those people he liked but his fellowship is immediately handed out to those who call on the name of the LORD to be saved. Being part of our church is more than just being present when you can. We encourage all to 

  1. know God through Jesus Christ, 
  2. to be a regular member of a church service to encourage the people of God, 
  3. Be connected to a Growth Group. This is not always easy. But these are designed to help the people of God to grow in their faith together and to nurture one another in faith and life.
  4. Be serving at church in a ministry. This may be operating the screens in church, serving in a kid’s program, visiting members at home, praying and many other ministry.
  5. Be active in mission. Praying for at least one other person is where we begin. As a church, we also support local, national and overseas missionaries. But we also encourage one another to be missionaries where we are at.

Being on board at church looks like this. What do you think?

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.”