Category Archives: Sovereignty of God

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 21

A King’s Compassion

Discussion Question

This is copied from the BOM website issued 7th August 2019:

 The 31 months from January 2017 to July 2019 has been the driest on record averaged over the Murray-Darling Basin (32% below the 1961-1990 average), as well as over the northern Murray-Darling Basin (38% below average) and for the state of New South Wales (33% below average). All three regions rank second-driest on record, for the 25 months from July 2017 to July 2019, and the 19 months from January 2018 to July 2019; only the 1900-02 peak of the Federation Drought has been drier. The last 31 months have also been the driest on record averaged over the Macquarie-Bogan, Namoi, Gwydir and Castlereagh catchments, with the last three also driest on record for the last 19 months. (http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/)

What, therefore, should we pray?

Background (Context)

As we progress closer to the end of 2 Samuel we begin to hear how David has done, what God has done, and what is the status quo in the nation of Israel at around 1000 BC. It is curious to me that the books are named after Samuel who was so significant in the early chapters of 1 Samuel but died before God took the kingdom away from Saul. Samuel was the last Judge and was used by God to inaugurate kings in Israel. In a key verse we were once told that Samuel was sleeping in the same house as the ark of God and that the lamp of God had not yet gone out (1 Samuel 3:3). This expression seems to indicate that God had not yet given up on Israel (even after the violent years of the Judges).

The land that Israel lived in was theirs because the LORD had given it to them. The other nations that dwelt in Palestine were removed to make way for Israel. The Gibeonites were allowed to remain and an oath was made to them by Joshua that they would not be harmed. Joshua 9 describes the circumstances of this (See especially Verse 15). Israel was tricked into making this deal but the deal was real.

David had been anointed king in Israel and demonstrated his fearlessness toward men when he killed Goliath of Gath. He was a mighty warrior who won many victories but we know that he recognised that it was always the LORD who delivered. David had become, for Israel, a light from the LORD. For David, the LORD was his light (2 Samuel 22:29).

David had shown kindness to Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathon, because of an oath that he had made to Jonathon.

So, we get to Chapter 21 of 2 Samuel. The episode with Ish-Bosheth is done. The drama with Uriah’s wife is over. The threat of Absalom is history. What type of king is David now? Chapters 21 to 24 form an epilogue to the whole storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel.

Read 2 Samuel 21

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The Cursed Land (1-3)
  • The Redemption Price (4-6)
  • The Price Paid (7-9)
  • The Land Released (10-14)
  • The Four that Fell (15-22)

The Cursed Land (1-3)

“During the reign of David…” Not time specific but an episode during his reign. The epilogue of 1-2 Samuel runs through some events in David’s reign. It is indeed a story from the back-end of his reign as we’ll see. But we begin to draw back some themes, not simply within the pages of the Samuel books but from the greater storyline of the bible.

“…there was a famine for three successive years…” Famines are not good, although I’ve not lived through one, it doesn’t sound great. We’ve been in drought for a while now but, despite the hardships experienced by our farmers, we have plenty of food still in the aisles of our supermarkets. We really live in plenty. It’s been almost three decades since the last recession. For Israel though, they had food issues that was extending into a fourth year. Three harvests have come and gone with nothing or not enough to show. In the Promised Land, this means curse. Something is wrong. 

“…so David sought the face of the LORD…” The visible problems are clear but David knows that there is a deeper spiritual problem because God had promised to bring blessing on the land if Israel would walk with him in humility and obedience. So he talked to God about it. The details of how are not described. But we are told that God gave him and answer…

“It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” I’m unaware of this event being written down for us but we are being informed now of it. What we do know is why this is a problem. And the narrator fills us in on what we need to know in Verse 2.

“David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance?”” See Joshua 9 regarding the history of the deal made with the Gibeonites and see 2 Sam 21:2 with the brief narration of the problem here. David knows that the famine is a direct result of the injustice dealt on the Gibeonites. He uses the language of atonement which we know to be important relational speak. With atonement made, the Gibeonites will be able to bless the LORD’s inheritance. So much is packed into this little verse! An injustice between two peoples has caused a curse on the land which is the means of grace of God to the people of Israel. That is, God blesses Israel, making them His own possession and gives them a land in which to show them blessing. When the Gibeonites are able to bless Israel again, the relationship will be restored. The land that is shared by Israel and the Gibeonites will receive God’s blessing again. We’ll look at the application of this in the application section below. Note that God told David what was the cause of the problem (the root) but not how to fix it. David went to the harmed party to ask what they required.

The Redemption Price (4-6)

“We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.” It would seem that the Gibeonites were well aware of what fits the crime and that they are in no position to enact the price for atonement. They didn’t want to sue. They wanted blood for blood. But they have no right to do this.

“What do you want me to do…” David seems to know what they are asking and is willing to get done what they feel is fair.

“As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel…” They begin with a summary of how they have been wronged and it comes back to one man who caused this. That man is dead, however, and it is not that he (Saul) killed another man, but he decimated a population. It might be clearer to understand that Saul did destroy them and consumed them in order to decimate them with not place in Israel. They clearly are not decimated and do have a place in Israel but radically reduced and harmed and afflicted.

“…let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul – the LORD’s chosen one.” They propose that a representative of seven males (a whole number maybe representing the whole household of Saul but also would be literally seven men) be put to death. Their dead bodies be displayed before the LORD and before the people of Saul’s hometown of Gibeah. This is not pictured as a killing of passion but a judicial execution before the LORD. Note that this was not prescribed by God but by the Gibeonites. Note the awkward similarity of the names here. The Gibeonites are from Gibeon – not Gibeah. They are two different places. What is proposed is a horrific suggestion. The descendants of Saul will be executed for the sins of their father. This is the requirement for atonement instructed by the offended party and they declare that this will be carried out in the sight of God. The matter will be dealt with. Atonement made. It is difficult to understand God’s point of view over this matter. I suggest that justice and atonement is an important issue and that many horrific things take place because of the failure of people to do right by one another. We may not be able to draw out a direct application for us in this but the striking and startling and horrific payment for wrong should shock us. The dead men will be ‘exposed before the LORD at Gibeah’. Wasn’t our LORD, the chosen one, exposed before God and all on Calvary? He died for the sins of all those who will put their trust in Him. There has been no greater misdirection of justice ever in the world. Let’s learn to be shocked at ‘new’ stories in the bible in order to get a better appreciation of the cross of Christ.

The Price Paid (7-9)

“The king spared Mephibosheth…because of the oath…” Remember that when David wanted to show favour on the house of Saul back in Chapter 4? And good old Ziba, a servant of Saul’s household, told Davi that there is only one descendant and that is Mephibosheth? It has become clear over the course of 2 Samuel that Ziba is not to be trusted. He wants the blessings of the king without the truth and justice of his household. Ziba aligned himself with David even when David was in exile – but his motives are for self reward. Ziba lied about the descendants of Saul in order to present to David a lame and useless person. Mephibosheth had no earthly value to give to the king but Ziba’s plan backfired and ‘Shebby” got everything. Ziba then betrayed Shebby during the exile story and gained everything for himself but lost the respect of the king. The story of Ziba and Shebby is a wonderful case study in these books. Shebby now wins again because his life is saved because of David’s oath. He is saved because the king had promised to protect him. Shebby has done nothing again to receive any blessing but enjoys the goodness of the king because of the promise of the king. Shebby always gives us a lesson on grace. This is the last we hear of Mephibosheth the lame.

“…two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah…” There is no significant history of Aiah but she is constantly mentioned in connection to Rizpah – it would distinguish her from another Rizpah so that we know who she is. Rizpah is the concubine who Abner had slept with in 2 Samuel 3. Her two sons are numbered among the seven and we see how this devastated her in the rest of this story.

“…together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab…” Merab was offered to be David’s first wife in 1 Samuel 18 but was married to Adriel the Meholathite instead.

“…killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together…” This was a very public execution. The time, the place are all described and the men were killed side by side. The bible doesn’t tend to draw out descriptions of things like a modern novelist would, so the point by point detail given here is enough for us to slow down and breath in the morbidness of this event.

The Land Released (10-14)

“Rizpah…took sackloth…from the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down…she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night.” Rizpah mourned and used her sackloth to aid her in preventing the bodies from being consumed by animals. The beginning of harvest is April and the rains are likely to be in October to November (Autumn). Can you imagine what that woman had to go through to keep up her devotion to those bodies? While atonement had been satisfied for the people of Gibeon, the respectful treatment of those bodies was yet to be performed.

“When David was told…” Unsure why it took so long for the news to get to David. Perhaps everyone imagined the woman would eventually go home and let nature deal with the dead. The duration of her grief had become newsworthy for the king.

“…he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan…and the bones of those who had been killed…” In Verses 12 and 13 we are reminded of how Saul and Jonathon had been struck down and left but that the people of Jabesh Gilead respectfully took the bodies to give them a more respectful resting place. David resolved to deal gracefully with the bodies of those seven men along with Saul and Jonathan.

“After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.” ‘After that’ refers to the whole incident but the rain had begun pouring prior to the bodies being buried. There is a conclusion, however, when the bodies of the dead are buried respectfully. Let’s note the end of Verse 14 as the end to this story. The problem was famine. The cause was injustice or sin. The atonement for this sin was met and the blessing from God is restored.

The Four that Fell (15-22)

“Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel.” This can seem like every other weekend that the Philistines show up! But at the end of 1 and 2 Samuel, there is a battle between Israel and the Philistines. They were the greatest threat to Israel at the beginning of 1 Samuel. 1 Samuel 4-5 described their first attack which ended in the stealing of the ark! They were a nuisance, dealt with briefly by Samuel’s faithfulness but rose up again as we are introduced to Saul as King and David as the Philistine conqueror. David’s trust in the LORD and his strength in battle was, more times than not, with the Philistines as the backdrop. So, at the close of these two books, the Philistines reappear and we will see how the narrator wants us to remember that great battle between David and Goliath. What does the narrator want us to learn?

“David went down…to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted.” Nothing sinful about David being exhausted. He is older now and, like Barzillai the Gileadite (19:34-35), he has become too old for battle. But when we read that he went down to fight the Philistines, we may have pictured a younger David who stood one on one against a giant of a man named Goliath – and won. The issue now is that David is too old for battle, how will Israel be delivered from the Philistines?

“And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose brone spearhead weighed three hundred shekels…said he would kill David.” Dead set, we must be reminiscing over Goliath now!? Ishbi-Benob may not be a name that rolls off the tongue like Goliath but his description is familiar. A man from Rapha, we know is coming from the land of the Rephaim (see 5:17-25) which is known as the land of the giants. Rapha(h) in Hebrew means giant. Ishbi-Benob is descended from giants. We may remember that the Israelite spies described those living in the Promised Land as giants. David has gone up against the Philistines and this time, a giant is going to kill him.

“But Abishai…struck the Philistine down and killed him.” Super easy. The killing is on par with young David’s efforts with a slingshot.

“Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.” The people regarded David as a blessing to them. Not because of his ability in battle, but because he is the one through whom all Israel is blessed. The lamp of God was mentioned in connection to Samuel back in 1 Samuel 3. When David was made king over all Israel in 2 Samuel 2-5, he advised the people of Jabesh Gilead that God will bless them through David’s rule (2:6). Now, the men of Israel refer to David as the lamp of Israel. David himself regards the LORD as the lamp (22:29). See also 1 Ki 11:36; 15:4; 2 Ki 8:19; 2 Ch 21:7; Ps 132:17 for references on the lamp of David referring to David’s kingdom – the kingdom which God had established and promised to maintain forever. While the city of God (Jerusalem) and the lamp of God appears to be extinguished today (and for over 2000 years), the lamp of God burns forever in the LORD Jesus Christ. He is the forever King who never grows tired or weary. The kingdom of God is blessed forever because Jesus is the King. 

“…another battle with the Philistines…that time Sibbekai…killed Saph…one of the descendants of Rapha.” Another giant from the Philistines to fight. Killed by Sibbekai.

“…another battle with the Philistines…Elhanan…the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite…” Convinced of the repetition and the references back to the battle between David and Goliath. What was once a legendary battle has become a repeatable event. David has lead Israel for years and raised up people not to be afraid of giants anymore.

“…still another battle…a huge man with six fingers…descended from Rapha. When he taunted Israel…” Remember how Goliath taunted Israel every day (1 Samuel 17:8-10, 16).

“…David’s brother, killed him.” So, four giants taunting Israel and four men who were not David killed them. The old story of David and Goliath has become Groundhog Day for Israel. Every day a threat. Every day a victory. But look how the story ends…

“These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.” David is given the victory because his men have one the battle in his name. He is the lamp that burns for Israel. The men fight under the banner of the king – the true king of Israel.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Curses and blessings. The blessings on Israel were suspended while injustice had been unfinished. God chose this timing to provoke a query from David. The sufferings of life ought to drive us to prayer. The resolution is that the sin of the past must be paid for and once that happened, the blessings of the LORD were restored. This is a story about atonement. This is not a story about prosperity. The ultimate act of atonement was done at the cross for us. One man, the chosen one of God, was killed and held up as a public spectacle in the sight of God and all. It is horrific to read of a man being killed for something that he did not do. This is the story of the cross. The victory of the Messiah also means that although we continue to face battles, he has gone before us. He is the lamp or the light of the world. The forever king who reigns. His kingdom is pure and powerful.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Does a drought mean that there is atonement needed in the land between those who live on it? We need to be careful in connecting what was happening in the Promised Land under the covenant of Abraham with things that have happened elsewhere around the world and even in Australia. That said, all natural disasters and hardships are a result of the fall and the curse of sin. You could certainly put a case forward that Australia is moving far away from God and we need to turn back to him in prayer. But to connect the drought to any one or a few things is a long stretch. We live under the curse of sin and every generation must hear the gospel – repent and believe for the kingdom of God is at hand. We can certainly turn conversations about water restrictions toward our need for restoration. Come to the Living Water!

Topic B: Atonement, sacrifice, justice, peace, blessing. We cannot escape the language of this story being about atonement for wrongdoing. For the wrath of God being propitiated (turned away) and the need for restoration. There is the language of sacrifice. That seven men die so that the land of Israel may bring forth fruit again. For justice. That the right penalty be inflicted on the right people. And for peace and blessing from God when the penalty of sin has been paid for. The story of the Lord Jesus Christ springs out of such Old Testament stories as this. Jesus said that all the scriptures are about him (John 5). A common error in reading the bible is that we may look for morals and rules for life so that we know how to respond but the pages of scripture are about our need for atonement which comes through sacrifice to satisfy the justice of God and therefore bring peace and blessing. We get blessings instead of curse because the curse we deserve is poured out on the blessed One.

Topic C: Fighting the good fight. The last phase of Chapter 21 is about the men of David’s kingdom fighting the same type of fight that David fought when he won the hearts of Israel to begin with. He stood up against Goliath because of his faith/trust in the Living God. His courage comes not from his own hands but from the One who has promised to bless Israel when they put their trust in Him. With David no longer physically in the battle, his men fight as though they are David. They regard the king as the lamp of Israel. Nobody is pushing David aside as irrelevant but as the light that gives Israel hope, strength and power. The Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned us to continue in the mission of spreading the kingdom of God. We do this by our words but we walk unafraid of any enemy because Jesus has already conquered death, given us life and shown us the way. So, fight the good fight with all of thy might…

…Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

Cast care aside, lean on thy Guide;
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its life, and Christ its love.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

Hymn: John Monsell: 1811-875

2 Samuel 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).