Category Archives: Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Resurrection bodies

Discussion Question

For revision: how important is the resurrection?

Background (Context)

The first half of Chapter 15 focused on the truth, reality, historicity and importance of the resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then we are the most to be pitied! Let’s just enjoy life and forget about mission, the gospel, church and God!

But the resurrection is real. Jesus has been raised! And because of this, we have the greatest hope!

From Verse 35 of this chapter, Paul describes what the resurrection might look like. How should we think about the future of our body? What do we mean when we talk about going to heaven? Will the resurrection be worth it?

Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)
  • The old versus the new (42-44a)
  • The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)
  • Therefore… (50-58)

Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)

“But someone will ask…” Paul was a preacher, evangelist and an apologist (this does not mean that he is sorry for what he says but that he defends what he says to his audience). Sometimes it is said that we need more apologetic discussions and debates around to show people why Christianity makes sense. It’s good to note that apologetics is a subset of preaching and evangelism. It ought not to stand alone from those things nor stand above them. Paul is already anticipating what someone might say to him. It seems wise that we all engage in apologetics with ourselves! That is, answer the question: why do you believe that?

“…How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” When we talk about the dead rising, I wonder how many people think about zombies or of the Sixth Sense? The logical next question after defending the reality of the resurrection is to ask: what does it look like?

“How foolish!…you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed…” As The Message puts it (and I do not rely on The Message for deep thought but for alternate ways of phrasing something true), “You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed.” 

“…each kind of seed he gives its own body.” Paul has three dimensions going on in this argument. The first is that the fruit looks nothing like the seed. The second is that each fruit (banana, tomato, apple) looks different! But the third dimension is that the seed becomes what it is destined to be. Each kind of seed gets its own body as God has determined for it to receive. We ought to expect that the resurrection body will be unlike what is sown and that it will be exactly as God has determined for it to be. More of this toward the end of the chapter. He explains for now that there are fish and animals and people and these are all distinct – of a different kind. The same is with the heavenly bodies. They will be something – but something different.

“…the splendor of the heavenly bodies…of the earthly bodies…the sun…the moon…the stars…” When you gaze at the moon, it looks amazing! But the sun is of a different kind of amazing! The stars, when we focus our attention on those, we are in awe, but they are different again from the moon and the sun. The human body is amazing! But there will be a whole level of different ‘wow’ when it comes to the heavenly body. We need to train ourselves to expect something different. Remember Jesus answering a question with the knowledge that there is no giving or receiving in marriage in heaven? It’s not that there will be a ban on marriage and we’ll all be lonely. But that we will enter something of a different splendor in heaven.

The old versus the new (42-44a)

“…sown…raised…” Paul compares the seed of our bodies that is sown compared to the new that is raised. Note that the sowing and raising are passive (done to us).

“…perishable…imperishable…” Humans are clothed in perishable garments. We have a use-by date. An expired date. We have only a lifetime guarantee. Our bodies are disposable. The bible states that we are from dust and to dust we shall return (Gen 2:7; 3:19; Ecc 3:20; Ps 90:3). Our mortality was secured after The Fall since before Genesis 3, humanity was given access to eat from the tree of life (Gen 2:9), when this tree was banned our bodies were destined to perish. That is, we are not immortal by nature but earthly. Our bodies are made for this earth. But God has something better destined for us. An imperishable body which will not suffer from asthma, migraines, fatigue or heart failure.

“…dishonor…glory…” These words help define one another when put in comparison together. The earthly body of dishonor is scared by sin, it is weak, it is enslaved to the things of this world. But the heavenly body is gloriously free for righteousness and honor. Of course we shall not go so far as to say that our bodies are ugly and unworthy of protection and care. But we will be ready to discard this body for the next in a heartbeat. A word search in the bible on ‘dishonor’ will reveal how it is used to describe dishonoring parents or marriages or the created order of things, or a bad word about somebody. This body does not declare what is truly meant to be. It leads us astray and holds us back from pursuing godliness.

…weakness…power…” Perhaps the weakness refers to our need for sleep and rest and our destiny which is death. While power may refer to the opposite of all these. It is easy to link what Paul is saying here with his battle between our flesh and the Spirit in Romans 6-8. While we live in this body, we are lured to the cravings of this body. See Romans 6:1-14. Paul also determined elsewhere to tell his body what it was going to do since mission means more than comfort (1 Cor 9:24-27).

“…natural body…spiritual body.” This statement leads into the next section. It is worth considering what we imagine when we think about heaven. We shall not be floating spirits but we shall have spiritual bodies. People often mention that Jesus still carried the scars of the cross after his resurrection and that he could also ‘walk through walls’ so to speak (John 20:26). It’s worth mentioning that Philip, though still in his earthly body, was transported from where the eunuch stood (Acts 8:39). So, what the spiritual body will look like, be able to do etc. is up to the imagination as we read between the lines of scripture. But let’s continue listening to Paul…

The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)

“If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” In Verses 44 to 49 Paul makes the observation that we are all stemming from mankind. We are descended from Adam who did not exist prior to God creating him. His kind is the natural kind. The flesh and blood kind. And we are all of that kind! But through Christ, we are destined to be raised up a different kind – not just better but mapped with the same kind as Christ. I’m not suggesting that we will be god. But Paul says that the first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. When we are raised a spiritual body we will be native to heaven as the ‘second man’ is. We shall be welcomed to the environment that we were recreated for. To dwell with God and He with us. 

Therefore… (50-58)

“…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” In its context, we are told here that we ought to forget the concept of keeping our bodies in heaven. We would be like fish out of water. Enoch and Elijah were taken up without dying that also raises the question of what happens when Christ returns and there are those who have not died?

“We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…” Paul describes this as a mystery. Meaning that we know some pieces but we don’t have the whole picture. We know that we will all be changed. How that happens is yet to be seen. Nobody, Enoch, Elijah, or all those still alive at the second coming, nobody can hold on to their perishable bodies. For the old order of things must pass away!

“For the trumpet will sound…” The trumpet is synonymous with a triumphant/loud announcement (Matt 6:2) and is linked closely with the second coming of Christ (Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). It is used in Numbers (10:7) to gather the assembly. It was blasted out on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9). The trumpets were also a feature in the book of Revelation (see Rev 11:15). In 1 Cor 15:52 Paul records that at the end, with the unavoidable sound from heaven, the dead will rise and then all who are in Christ will be changed. Those who die prior to the trumpet blast shall lie sleeping and waiting for that time (this is just one view).

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable…the saying…will come true…” When Christ returns, the reign of this world will be over and death will be completely defeated. The victory over death was done at the cross and resurrection of Christ but we currently wait for the complete victory of death to be matured. Then we can say that death has been swallowed up. Revelation 20:14 describes the end of death itself.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Often, Paul can be understood when read backwards (don’t be too literal with that advice!). The law reveals sin within us. Without the law, sin would be powerless – meaningless – without strength, weight or consequence. Without sin, death would be harmless. It would either not exist! Or it would simply be a transition from one state to the next. But we die in our sin and we die in our sin because of the law.

“But thanks be to God!…through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Christ, we are cleared from all breaking of the law and therefore sin has no power over us and thus death has no sting. We shall still die. But our death shall mean a new spiritual body. And this is all only through Christ. Death does not bring us rest or peace if we die in our trespasses and sin. But we have already died with Christ at the cross and so death – our mortal end – does not have its sting. Like a toothless shark.

“Therefore…your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Paul concludes his piece on the resurrection. At the beginning of the Chapter he declared that if you throw out the resurrection you may as well throw out the cross of Christ also. He then declared, in this study, that the resurrection is the completion of Christ’s work in us. Death is not the end. And our efforts ought to be for the kingdom of God first and foremost and then for every other need second (Matthew 6:33). Paul commends us, not only to hold firm to the gospel, but to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. This is why we promote Growth Groups and long to see people pursue a daily bible reading plan AND to foster the work of making disciples. There are things that we pour effort into which last a little while and then have no meaning, but everything done for raising up disciples of Christ is eternal work worth every effort.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Heaven will not be like earth. Descendants of Adam are all destined to return to the dust. But those who have been born again of the Spirit through the gospel will exchange their perishable bodies for imperishable. Heaven is only guaranteed for those who are in Christ Jesus, through Whom the sting of death has been removed.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: How to prepare for the afterlife. When much of the future remains a mystery (not fully known but we do know enough to have eternal hope), how can we prepare for it? Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all [the needs of tomorrow] will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33) The first priority is to know Jesus and salvation through Him. This is all about truly understanding the grace of God and our desperate need for forgiveness. Then, our pursuit is to remain in Him, and to help others to see this same gospel truth. This can come across sounding like fundamentalist faith but the bible, like all wisdom, teaches us to get the most important things in life right first and then pursue what’s next without letting go of the first. Jesus said, this is eternal life: to know  [God], AND Jesus Christ, whom [God] has sent (John 17:3). Knowing God through Christ is how we prepare ourselves and others for the afterlife.

Topic B: At home in your own skin? One lesson from this Chapter is that our bodies that we spend so much time in and get to know so well will be taken from us in place of something much more glorious. What does this say to time and money spent looking after our bodies? Or what about time and energy spent in preserving our planet? Of course there is a need for a balance in our answer. Anyone who lives long enough will have to grieve over the loss of a younger body. How can our lesson on the resurrection hope alter the way we perceive ourselves and live life this side of eternity? Consider in your discussion the challenge that living in this body brings when we are enslaved to sin. 

1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Resurrection hope

Discussion Question

What would change for you if you knew you were going to receive a billion dollars in 15 years from now?

Background (Context)

The topic of spiritual gifts has been discussed by Paul since Chapter 12 and concluded in Chapter 14 with the reminder that the word of God did not originate from them nor is it singularly aimed at them. Prophecy is desired above all gifts for the church to understand the mind of God in the present age in anticipating the age to come. This is where Paul picks up in Chapter 15 – looking toward the future.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The well established message of the gospel (1-11)
    • The priority of the gospel (1-2)
    • The content of the gospel (3-5)
    • The witnesses to the gospel (6-8)
    • The unworthy witness (9-11)
  • The historic resurrection of Christ is key (12-19)
  • The order of God and of the end (20-34)
    • The firstfruit of the resurrection (20-23)
    • Then comes the end (24-26)
    • The order of God (27-28)
  • What’s the point if death’s the end? (29-34)

We have so much text to deal with here and some deep theological issues to grapple with. I will endeavour to speak to only the things that are hardest!

The well established message of the gospel (1-11)

The priority of the gospel (1-2)

“…remind you…I preached…you received…you stand…you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached…” These verses are simple enough to understand and the lesson is important. Paul preached for a good reason – so that the hearer might be saved. He urges the Corinthians to stand in that same message and not move. The urgency of the gospel is that it is the only way of salvation. This whole chapter stems from these simple words that belief in the gospel is essential – otherwise our faith is in vain. Paul will expand on everything that he has said in these short verses.

“…are being saved…” This is a curious expression. It taps into the idea of the now but not yet – meaning that salvation has come now through Christ and all who believe are saved, but the full reality of salvation is still yet to come. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and these opening verses in Chapter 15 urge the reader to stay with the gospel or else they will not be saved. This speaks into the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It may imply sanctification but the context of the chapter leads the meaning toward hope for the future as Paul focuses on the topic of the resurrection.

The content of the gospel (3-5)

“For I delivered to you of first importance…” Recall Paul’s words in Chapter 2:2 ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What he lists next as the content of his message has been considered by scholars to be a record of the earliest creed – a concise statement of faith that is being transmitted as the core of what the early church believed.

“…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” The first point to be made is that Christ/Messiah died for our sins. He did not die as an example of love and/or suffering only. His death was for our sins. It is the promised One of God who died. 

“…he was buried…” So as to be sure that he truly died.

“…he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” The two emphasised points in the creed is that Jesus died (and then buried) and that he rose (and seen by many). Both are marked with the words, ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. This is not to say that these things happened according to a particular piece of Scripture but that the whole of the Scriptures were pointing to this conclusion. His death accords with the sacrifice of the OT and his resurrection accords with the hope of restoration as described in the OT. See Luke 18:31-33 and Luke 24:44-47 on Jesus aligning the events of his ministry with that of the Scriptures. Of course, there are also moments in the OT that draw very real pointers to the death and resurrection of Jesus such as Isaiah 53:5-6, 11-12 but I commend the reading of the Bible to you as one unfolding story which makes sense when it is concluded in Christ.

Note that the message of the gospel is not primarily the story of those who are saved but the story of Christ. That he died, was buried and rose and that our hope rests on the genuineness of His story over ours. The NT teaches us to find ourselves ‘in Christ’ and that we die because He died. What is paramount and of first importance to us is not our own experience of salvation but the knowledge of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Cephas” is Peter in Aramaic and means rock.

The witnesses to the gospel (6-8)

“…appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…” This is a key verse for the historicity of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ made such a powerful impact on the people in the first century that on one day, 3000 Jews came to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 2). It was after the resurrection that the Christian church arose. Christ’s resurrection was the proof of His ministry and declaration that He was not only sent by God but the One that God had been promising would come. His death suggested his weakness but the resurrection proved his authority and genuineness. The encounter of Jesus with this large crowd of 500 people is not recorded other than here. The risen Christ remained among us for 40 days before his ascension (Acts 1:1-3). These witnesses were able to testify to the resurrection to the readers at Corinth.

“…Cephas….James…to me also…” Three key elders in the church alongside all of the Apostles also mentioned in Verse 7. Peter and Paul were central to the story in Acts as the gospel began in Jerusalem and spread out from there (Acts 1:8) and James, the brother of Jesus, lead the expanded leadership of followers beyond the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15). That is, Peter was head of the 12, Paul the leader in world mission and James the head of the first century church. This is a very short and simplification of things and I do not wish to say anything further than reason why these three names in particular are listed in our current passage. The faith stemming from the resurrection is the faith central to the Christian church from day one.

The unworthy witness (9-11)

“Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” The message preached and believed is the important thing. Who preached it and who believed is secondary. The letter opened with a similar argument: forget who belongs to Cephas or Apollos or Paul or even Christ – the gospel preached is of Christ died and raised again. Despite Paul’s shaky beginnings, it is the message that he now preaches that matters. And it ought to matter to us too. The quality of the church comes down to the centrality of the gospel – preached and believed.

The historic resurrection of Christ is key (12-19)

The argument in Verses 12-19 are a response to those who claim that there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul’s response to that is to conclude that a) then Christ did not raise b) our preaching is useless because the central message is about Christ died and raised, c) your faith is empty and worthless, d) we are misrepresenting God as One who did the raising, e) you are still in your sins because Christ did not conquer sin and death, f) there is no hope for those who have died before us, g) and if faith in Christ is only beneficial before the grave then this is a really pathetic faith. The resurrection of Christ is crucial to all that we believe. If our belief is in a mystical resurrection or an ideological resurrection or anything other than a bodily resurrection then our hope is gone.

“…we are of all people most to be pitied.” We have the words of eternal life. Without that, we have nothing. And to many outside the church who do not believe in the resurrection through Christ will likely pity us. If the resurrection is fake news then we ought to be at the beach sipping latte’s on a Sunday morning.

The order of God and of the end (20-28)

The firstfruit of the resurrection (20-23)

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” Paul believes this to be fact. Stated as much already in the opening Verses of this passage. Here put succinctly that the resurrection is a fact. Christ was raised. He was passive in this action. These are the little details that create a bigger picture of the work of the Trinity in salvation. See Romans 8:11.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The logic here is not a universal salvation logic but that through one man came sin and through one man is the source and fountain of salvation. Paul describes Jesus as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His is the initial resurrection and a model of the rest to come. Christ was raised first and is the risen LORD seated on the throne right now. Next will be raised all who have died in Christ (and those who believed God in the past (not just believed in God but had the faith of the righteous). Then all who belong to him. Compare 1 Thess 4:13-18.

Then comes the end (24-26)

“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The sequence of events in Verses 24-26 are not actually a sequence but a comparison between now and later. Paul begins with “then the end will come…” and mentions the reign of Christ until his enemies are defeated but a careful read ought to reveal that when the end comes, he will hand the kingdom over to God the Father who gave Him the name that is above all names to begin with. Jesus must reign until his enemy is defeated and then the end will come. His reign is right now. Death has been defeated and a day will come when death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). So Paul is not describing any millennial position here (for those who understand) but that the next thing to happen in God’s plans for this creation is for death to be destroyed and the kingdom handed back to the Father.

The order of God (27-28)

I have nothing to add to what seems to be a clear statement of fact in Verses 27-28. It is an adventure to pick up clues throughout all of Scripture with regard to the relationship inside the Trinity. If anybody is to use this Verse as an argument against Jesus being God, then further reading on the Trinity is recommended.

What’s the point if death is the end? (29-34)

“…what will those do who are baptized for the dead?” Now this is an interesting verse if ever I’ve seen one! Let me tell you what I believe this means by stepping you through my investigation into this…

  1. That verse looks odd because it immediately doesn’t fit my theology.
  2. Either my theology is wrong and we ought to be baptising people on behalf of the dead OR there is something else happening – something I’m missing.
  3. I wonder if Paul is referring to something that the Corinthians are doing and rather than correct them, he is using their practice (right or wrong) to continue to defend the resurrection.
  4. BUT I almost never need to lean on background information (cultural practices and such) in order to understand a tricky passage. What is it that we need to use? Context!
  5. Context will definitely come in handy but I still can’t get around the simple reading of this verse that seems to tell me that people are being baptised on behalf of the dead. I will go to a commentary for some help with the original language…
  6. Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa, in their 2012 commentary show convincingly that the word ‘for’ can definitely be translated ‘on account of’. This changes the purpose of the baptism – not for the dead but because of the dead. That is, why do you get baptised on the basis of the faith of those who are now dead?! This is worth exploring and seeing how it fits in the CONTEXT of the rest of the section.
  7. “If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on account of them? And…why do we endagner ourselves…if the dead are not raised” (emphasis added using Verses 29-32 to see this in it’s context).

So, that is the process I went through to untangle this passage. I did need a commentary to help me at this point and it gave me the confidence with the author’s thorough investigation in the use of the Greek to suggest an alternate reading and then I checked that new reading against the context of the section and it fits very, very well.

Paul has been arguing that if the resurrection is not true then our faith is empty and useless. Verses 29 to 32 are the nail in the coffin of this argument. If death is the end, then why are we bothering to be baptised ourselves and why would we endure the hardships of evangelism? Let’s just eat and drink and sleep in on Sundays cause death is the end!

“…wild beasts in Ephesus…” Paul is using this language to speak of the push back he received there against the gospel but it was worth it for the sake of those who were baptised in the end. It is worth it because the resurrection is real.

“Do not be misled…come back to your senses…there are some who are ignorant of God…” The final two Verses make a good segway to the second half of the Chapter where we’ll pick up next week. There are clearly some people speaking into the hearers in Corinth saying that there is no resurrection and Paul reports that this is corrupting their faith resulting in sin. Perhaps it is these people who are saying: “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Paul says, let’s preach Christ crucified and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit since the resurrection means that we will all be raised up in glory at the last.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The hope that we have which drives all that we do is for the resurrection. If there is nothing after death, then our faith is stupid. If there is a resurrection then we must pay close attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins, and raised up in glory. If we trust in him then we shall be raised up with him. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the pinnacle of our faith. It points us back to the historic and researchable evidence of Christ and it points us forward to eternal life. And it shapes our present to persevere and fight the good fight of faith.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The historic resurrection. Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then our faith is pointless. So, when we live in an age that even doubts the moon landing (don’t get me started), how can we be so confident that Jesus rose from the dead. Surely we should wonder if this is just an incredible myth that found traction and we’re all fools for continuing to believe it! Well, here are a few thoughts in this very short space. 1) Jesus did die. This is true beyond the gospel narratives. If there is to be a resurrection ‘legend’ then his death must also be concrete. Otherwise any news of seeing Jesus could be discredited by the claim that he didn’t die to begin with. 2) The report that he rose from the dead would be a very extreme lie, easily refuted. This is known as the ‘criterion of embarrassment’. Why would our church thrive on such a ridiculous claim? Furthermore, the gospel accounts speak with such credibility because they use women as their first witnesses. If it was a made up story, it would not have been women as the primary source unless that’s exactly what happened. 3) Paul and Peter and James all claim to have seen the risen Jesus. Now, that’s not the proof. The weight of their report is not in what they said but in the life and ministry that they were willing to die for. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 – why go through all that if the resurrection was not real? Paul was not relying on secondary evidence but on his own eyes seeing the risen Lord. 4) The shape of the Jewish church did not change on the basis of Jesus’ death but on the basis of His resurrection. There were others who claimed to be the Messiah or someone of importance that came and went, so what made Jesus different? If it were just his teachings then his crucifixion showed that all who followed him fled at such persecution. But the speeches in Acts show that it is the resurrection that gave the apostles the confidence that this was all for real and worth giving your life to.

Topic B: Dealing with difficult Verses. Look back to the explanation of Verse 29 and discuss the good approach to understanding the bible when things are hard. Things NOT to do: 1) write difficult things off as cultural or impossible to know because we don’t know the culture. 2) Ask Google. 3) write off difficult things just because it seems odd or silly. We must humble ourselves under the word of God and not treat the word of God as something that we have the right to sit in judgment over. 4) Import whatever we feel to be right and force the text to agree with us.

Topic C: Looking forward to the resurrection. Paul says that His faith means something only because of the resurrection. He says that he goes on endangering his life because of the resurrection. So, it follows that we ought to have a faith that is strong if we hold fast to the hope of the resurrection and that we are willing to live sacrificially because of the resurrection hope. We can lose everything that we have and know that we will be eternally rich. We can risk friendships if it might mean that people hear the gospel and turn to Christ and live. We can learn the lesson of perseverance and thankfulness even through pain and suffering because we believe in the resurrection. What would you do differently if you knew that in a year from now, you would be living your eternal life with Christ in heaven?

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

Discussion Question

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

Background (Context)

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

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

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

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

Read 2 Samuel 15-16:14

Read 2 Samuel 15 online here

Read 2 Samuel 16:1-14 online here

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

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

Absalom’s political campaign (1-12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King’s hope (16:1-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn? (Meaning)

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

Now what? (Application)

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

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

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