Category Archives: Sanctification/holiness

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

The Most Excellent Way

Discussion Question

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

Background (Context)

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

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

Read 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is the greatest (13:8-13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn? (Meaning)

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

Now what? (Application)

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

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

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

2 Samuel 22-23

Hope, Strength and the Kingdom

Discussion Question

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

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

(If you are looking just at chapter 22)

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

Background (Context)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read 2 Samuel 22-23

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

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

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

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

A God worth having – 22:2-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

A God of righteousness – 22:21-31

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

Note the parallel between v.21 & 25.

Note the parallel between v.22 & 24

This focusses our eyes on v.23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A God worth having – 22:47-51

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

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

Why David Sings (Part 2) – 23:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we learn? (Meaning)

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

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

Now what? (Application)

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

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

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

2 Samuel 11

A Failed King

Discussion Question

“People never just sin. Sin is always the culmination of several ungodly thoughts rallied together to turn something that is actually terrible into something that is enticing – and then we take it.” Discuss.

Background (Context)

David is the king over Israel as God had decreed. He was chosen by God and carried from the shepherd fields to the battlefield for the sake of God’s Name. He was a legendary warrior who God delivered time and time again. More than that, God promised to David that his kingdom would stand forever. So far, in this book, we have watched David demonstrate the kindness, mercy, righteousness and justice of the Kingdom of God. He has demonstrated what good prayer looks like, what trust in the LORD looks like and has shown us the virtues of gentleness and humility.

While we have noticed hints of David’s broken nature, such as the many wives, we come now to a new lesson from David. We will see just how broken he was. This story is almost as famous as his battle against Goliath and yet it teaches us something completely different.

Read 2 Samuel 11

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’ ”

22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”

25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Beginning: Springtime for David and Israel (1)
  • Problem: Our king did not go (1)
  • Quest: From little things big things grow (2-24)
    • One evening when idleness turned to sin (2-5)
    • The man who was more righteous than David (6-13)
    • Part 2 of the cover up (14-17)
    • Joab is dragged into the mess (18-24)
  • Resolution: Everything put back in order (25-27)
  • End: Or so it looks… (27)

Beginning: Springtime for David and Israel (1)

“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” To my ears, this sounds very ‘Monty Python’ and I can imagine all the kings speaking like proper Brits and striding off to slaughter something somewhere. The reality is that the season brings better conditions for fighting and you lose men to the sword and not to the weather. See 1 Kings 20:22, 26.

“…David sent Joab out with the king’s men…they destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.” This is only the beginning of the story where the scene is set. David’s kingdom is in good shape where his men can be sent off, with a successful commander (Joab) and win battles. The kingdom is being protected. Rabbah is mentioned as being under siege. It seems likely that this is the same city that is under siege later in the story. This will add to the sadness of this narrative even more.

Problem: Our king did not go (1)

“But David remained in Jerusalem.” The problem of this story is not that a war is on but that David, the warrior king, has stayed at home. It’s not the first time since we saw in Chapter 10 that he stayed behind while others went to battle and that was fine then. His staying behind is not wrong by definition. But the story has opened up for us to expect that something is wrong: it’s the season when kings go off to war, but our king, who is not a stranger to battles, stayed in Jerusalem. Will this result in something good?

Quest: From little things big things grow (2-24)

The main content is in the middle of the story. We flesh out what takes place when our hero stays at home. “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” is what I remember my mother saying. We’ll look at Verses 2-24 in the 4 stages of how things went wrong and how David tried to cover it all up.

One evening when idleness turned to sin (2-5)

“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.” It’s evening and David was in bed. He has already retired for the night. What time this is, we don’t know, but the day is done for him. He has arisen in order to wander. There is no threat to his world right now. Even the business of the kingdom is being taken care of by others. So, his mind is active when he ought to be getting rest. The bible both commends sleep and rest because we put our trust in God and it condemns oversleep when there is work to be done. David has no work that is pressing and ought to enjoy the peace that God has brought him. Proverbs 3:21-26 (esp 24).

“From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful…” He didn’t go onto the roof in order to perve. But there he sees a beautiful woman bathing. David may already have mischief in his mind when he got up from his bed – that is uncertain – but now he has a decision to make. He has not acted in sin yet – although he has looked long enough to observe that the woman was beautiful. So he has gazed for too long. Martin Luther once said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” You cannot keep temptation from coming across you but you can stop it from giving birth to sin. See James 1:13-18 on the movement from temptation to death.

“…and David sent someone to find out about her.” Wrong move. What could David have done right then and there? I suggest that running back inside and sitting before the LORD and talking to Him about this test. The problem, though, is that David is not giving any indication that his mind is on godly things. When we feel little need for God because of prosperity and calm, we are less inclined to lean on Him for help. The folly is in thinking that we are ever at peace with the evil one. Mark 13:33, Galatians 6:1, Colossians 4:2 1 Peter 4:7, 5:8 and Job 31:1 to do with watchfulness, sober mindedness and prayerfulness. Note also that David is moving slowly toward making this sin fully mature but there is still time for him to repent and stop his investigation. But he is standing too close to the fire. “It won’t hurt to just ask questions about her.”

“She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So now David knows that she is not just a beautiful object on a roof but that she has a name and a father and she is married. Great. Time to go back to bed. Walk away and live.

“David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” While sleeping with her was the final act of sin – we must see how many steps leading to this that David took. When the Apostle Paul writes to Christians and tells them to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (Col 3:5) he doesn’t mean to stand at arms reach from these sins but to put them to death. David puts fuel on the fire when he sends for Bathsheba. His imagination of what could happen is inflamed when she is standing in the same room as him. “…and he slept with her…” is not a statement that shocks us because, as sinners, we can see it coming in the story. Sin never just happens. It comes to fulfillment when we imagine something that is really quite terrible to be something that we desire and really need. I believe this is why Paul calls it idolatry. We believe that we absolutely need this when the only thing we need is trust in God.

“Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.” Her bath on the roof should not be taken as her trying to seduce the king but that she was following the Levitical law about her monthly period (Leviticus 15:25-30). Perhaps she bathed at night so as to be discreet?

“The woman conceived…” Bathsheba’s name is not used. Perhaps we are returned to the initial status of her in the story: she was just a beautiful woman on a roof to David and now she is a woman her has conceived. A night of passion is now to become a scandal. Her monthly period mentioned in the last verse means that this must be David’s child. There were consequences to this sin. He had looked and taken and thought that there would be no consequences but he was wrong.  

The man who was more righteous than David (6-13)

“So David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David.” The second problem in the story is now, ‘what will David do about his obvious sin?’ His options are to come clean, to cover up, or to simply ignore his actions and call this wrong a right, this evil as good. He is in need of repenting before God and offering a sacrifice of atonement (with the real hope of avoiding the penalty of Deut 22:22). He is also in need of repenting to the husband. He summons Uriah from the battle to return to Jerusalem and before David.

“David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.” We have the privilege of knowing what David has done and that this man ought to be angry at David. But they are able to catch up on how things are going. They talk business rather than talk about the wrong that has taken place. The greatest concern to Uriah is the events of the battle and he is led to believe that this is David’s concern also. But the greatest concern to David is his own reputation. The first part of David’s plan to avoid repercussion is to make Uriah believe that he has acted as a messenger of the king.

“Go down to your house and wash your feet.” Rather than being instructed to go back off to the frontline, he is invited to make himself at home back with his wife. The king has given Uriah some R&R.

“…and a gift from the king was sent after him.” Presumably some money or such to help Uriah feel comfortable and without worry. David is orchestrating an environment for Uriah much like David’s own status at the beginning of the Chapter. No worries and every reason to relax with your wife.

“But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace…” David’s plan fails when Uriah does not actually go home but sleeps in the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants. He would have been the only servant returning to his house – with a gift. David’s first interaction with Uriah was smooth but failed. He now confronts Uriah again.

“How could I…?” Uriah cannot fathom sleeping in comfort with his wife when the king’s men and the ark are all out on a war mission. Without knowing it, Uriah is rebuking David for his evil. What’s worse than going home and making love to your wife is making love to someone else’s! How could he!?

“As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” How ironic is this! How could David sleep with another man’s wife. David should have had this mantra in his head all along: as long as YOU/Uriah live, I will not sleep with Bathsheba. But it is Uriah who speaks of never betraying the king’s men. He serves his lord and will not act so selfishly. Uriah is representing righteousness in this Chapter. But this level of righteousness does still not provoke David to repentance. David has another crack at covering up his sin.

“…and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah…did not go home.” If Uriah is so level headed about doing what is right then David organises for Uriah to be not so level headed! The drunkenness ought to lower his inhibitions. But Uriah’s conscience, even in a drunken state, did not allow him to go home. Unless, of course, he was too drunk to find the front door! But I think that it was his deep down conviction that kept him from going home again. The real distinction between Uriah here and David in the passage is the line that Uriah draws for himself. We are not even talking about a sin for Uriah to go home to his wife. It is more that his conviction is that he must be alert and on duty even while at home. David, on the other hand, walked to easily across any line of dignity in this story. And yet, he still goes further into darkness yet!

Part 2 of the cover up (14-17)

“In the morning David wrote…’Put Uriah out in front…then withdraw from him so he will…die.’” We can see how far David would go to cover up his own guilt and sin. The bible has done us a real service in presenting David so highly in our minds with all of his endeavours for the kingdom of God and then to show us that even a man as godly as David can go so deep into the heart of darkness. The first sin of sexual immorality was bad enough. Pride and power have brought David to murder. He has drawn Joab into the problem too. Joab has been a questionable character. He did the wrong thing in Chapter 3 and was cursed by David. He gave us a demonstration of loyalty to David and God in Chapter 10. Joab will do what David asks of him. Well, someone once said, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’ Adultery and now murder. But he has also misused all the blessings that God has given him to do these things. The power that he has is only because God gave it to him.

“So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were.” Let me point out how ridiculous this is. In Joab’s campaign, there was no place where the fighting was fiercest. There was a fortified city that was currently under siege. The strategy of Joab at this point was only to continue doing nothing outside the city while the inhabitants got tired or hungry etc. But, in order to fulfill David’s command, he sends troups to where the city was being defended the best. As mentioned in Verse 1, this is likely Rabbah. David is so engaged with his own personal warfare that he really is not in tuned with what is happening in the real battle.

“…some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.” To cover up his sin, he has drawn other people into his schemes and everybody around him is getting hurt. One night of pleasure has snowballed into this massive cover-up.

How men will report what has happened (18-24)

“Joab sent David a full account of the battle…” Verses 18 to 21 report what Joab planned to say to David and it was all the truth. He wanted everything conveyed and, when he pre-empted what David might say, he wanted the truth be known to David that Uriah was dead. This suggests that Joab knew what was really important for David and that everything else will become white noise to him.

“Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth?” The little example that Joab gives of Abimelek points to Judges 9:50-54. (Jerub-Besheth is also known as Jerub-Baal who we know as Gideon). Now, this story has two layers to it. The first layer is the obvious one: Joab illustrates from Scripture that going so close to a fortified wall during battle is stupid. The story of Abimelek is the story of a dumb way to die. The second layer is more interesting: it is a little parable against David (unbeknownst to Joab) that he should never have gone so close to sin (literally on the roof of his palace) to be destroyed by a woman. He should never have gone there. When someone asks you: why did you sleep with that woman!? You can answer, I did an Abimelek. I don’t wish to make this point humorous but it explains why Joab and the writer of 2 Samuel included that speech on Abimelek. Who brought down the reputation of David? It was a woman and it is completely David’s fault.

“The messenger said to David…” What we are told in Verses 23 and 24 is a slight but important variant on the message that Joab sent the messenger to report. Although we’re told in Verse 22 that the messenger told David everything Joab had sent him to say, there was a slight spin on the retelling. Namely, a little back-story that explains why they found themselves at the bottom of the wall. From Joab, the reason was quite clear – it allowed Uriah to be killed. But from the messenger’s mouth, the story was a little more nuanced and people might believe that it was inevitable for the battle to go down that way. It is a small cover-up by the messenger to help the army save face but follows the theme of the Chapter on cover-ups. We are now at the end of the quest. We saw what David did and the events that followed to cover up what he did. The story only needs to wrap up and everybody lives happily ever after…

Resolution: Everything put back in order (25-27)

“David told the messenger…the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.” David has only learned to be cold during this episode. He is satisfied to move on as if nothing has happened and wants to encourage Joab and others to keep pressing on. His secret is safe and he has an allie in Joab. His advice to Joab is not to stay back and wait longer in the siege but to get on the front foot and end this conflict. This is not a good side of David.

“Say this to encourage Joab.” Far from the king rebuking Joab for ordering a stupid attack that ended in deaths, David wishes to give a gentle message of courage to Joab as if to say: don’t think of what has happened as evil because your king does not see it as evil. David’s conscience has been seared. He lamented over the death of Saul but has no care for the death of Uriah. He calls evil good (Isaiah 5:20).

“David had [Uriah’s wife] brought to his house, and she became his wife…” Bethsheba is not named because what is important to the story is that she is Uriah’s wife. She has lost her husband. Her husband was taken away from her – not by the hand of God but by the hand of her lord. The shepherd king has torn apart her marriage. David may want the world to not remember Uriah but the bible does not want us to forget. In Matthew 1:6 we are reminded that Solomon was the son of David by…Uriah’s wife!

“…and bore him a son.” While David would have hoped that everyone once thought this would be Uriah’s son growing up with Bathsheba and Uriah, he now hopes that the world will see it as his son, conceived after the death of Uriah. 1 Chronicles 3:5 lists the four sons of David by Bathsheba as Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. This list is not by birth order since Solomon is the second child born to David by Bathsheba. That list in Chronicles is listed to emphasise Solomon, who everybody knew, as a child of Bathsheba, by putting his name last. We don’t know which of the remaining three was born in 2 Sam 11, but we know that the son dies (2 Sam 12:18). One of the sons of Bathsheba, however, is Solomon who will become the next king – the son of the king and of a kingdom that is promised will never fail! We will read of the consequences of sin in the next chapter.

End: Or so it looks… (27)

“But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.” David may have managed to cover up his sin for the rest of the world to know about, but as David was watching Bathsheba bathing from his rooftop, the LORD was watching David. As David summoned Uriah and drank with the man whose wife he took, God was watching. As David instructed Joab to send men to their death, God was watching. Nothing is hidden from God.

The Good Shepherd who would come a millenia later is sent by God to be the true ruler and eternal king of Israel. It is a kingdom, not leveraged off the greatness of men, but established by the only true God our Saviour who died so that everything that displeases Him can be paid for by the blood of the Messiah. In other words, the kingdom of God is a gracious and merciful kingdom established only by the righteousness of God and not by the righteousness of people. David, one of mankind’s best, was a sinner. We may shake our heads at David like we would shake our heads at the news of a murderer on TV but David, has portrayed what a good man of God looks like – mostly – until we get to this Chapter.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Sin does not simply pop in and out of our lives. It begins with a seed of wandering thoughts that are not watchful, grows into an attractive fruit that looks delicious and appears harmless. It then bites us and the sinful man or woman will proceed to cover up their sin as if it is not that bad. We adjust our expectations and consider how we can manage the situation – to contain the damage. We are fooled to believe that if everybody else thinks things are normal then we can take courage and believe that evil is ok. But none of this pleases the LORD.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Standing too close to the wall. David had a number of chances to walk away from temptation but he chose to wander, to ponder and to squander his freedom with sin. As the little analogy of Joab went: he stood too close to the wall and we all know that is a foolish thing to do. Are you standing too close to something that is likely to end in sin? Have you created boundaries for yourself to be careful around dangerous situations? David’s situation did not give anybody else reason to worry for him. He was simply being kingly. David is to blame for putting himself into danger. Bathsheba didn’t cause him to sin. Neither did Uriah. David stood too close to the wall. Where are you standing? Colossians 3:1-14 directs our paths to ponder heavenly things and so walk well away from danger.

Topic B: Sexual sin as an example of lust and lust as something broader than sexual sin. Colossians 3:5 tells us to put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. It lists sexual immorality first and then continues with other areas of human desire. Many of the items in the list sound related to sexual immorality: impurity, lust and evil desires. But then is listed greed and calls it idolatry. Or is it calling everything in that list idolatry and greed is related to everything else as part of our earthly nature!? Lust craves to have something in greater amounts than what is needed or is allowed. Sex is not sinful but sexual immorality craves to take more than belongs to you. Living in your means is perfectly acceptable and praised by God and so money plays a part of that but greed is the lust for money and things. Jesus said that you cannot – you cannot – serve both God and money. Yet many of us fool ourselves to think that we can. This Chapter in 2 Samual leads us to look sin in the face and be serious about how we deal with it. After all, Paul tells us to PUT IT TO DEATH.

Topic C: A seared conscience. By the end of 2 Samual 10, David had made peace with his sin by normalising it. He had covered over the effects of it and, as far as he was concerned, life could go on. He failed to take ownership of his own wrong and instructed Joab and others (such as Bathsheba) to make peace with it too. He had not listened to his conscience when sleeping with Bathsheba nor lying to Uriah nor orchestrating Uriah’s death. He failed to hear any inner voice warn him against his actions. And now his conscience was seared. It is quite easy to move the lines of our own moral compass to allow ungodly things to seem ok. After all, if nobody knows about it, is it really a problem? Sexual sin, ungodly uses of our mouth (gossip, slander, lies) and the sins of envy, pride and covetousness are all easily covered over when nobody else can see what is going on. But God is displeased. Ephesians 5:10 is a good project to overcome a seared conscience: “find out what pleases the Lord.”

One last but important note: It is easy to exit a study like this an do one of two things: to not take sin seriously as if this was David’s problem and it has no real relation to me and my sin or secondly, to be overwhelmed by our sin which has been brought up in this study and feel despair because of it. I want to suggest that both are problems in the highest degree. The middle ground is to confess that we all need the LORD’s help and give thanks and praise with rejoicing that Christ has paid for our sin – as dark and nasty as that sin may be. It could be helpful to close your group time with ‘the grace’ “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Cor 13:14

Also read the following verses of assurance: Matthew 11:28; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:1