Category Archives: Worship

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

The gifts of the Spirit

Discussion Question

What thoughts or questions do you have about gifts from the Spirit?

Background (Context)

Paul has written a letter to the church in Corinth who need to be pointed away from thinking just like the rest of the world thinks and to consider Christ – the only LORD to worship and the only Saviour of the world. Knowing this changes everything we do.

We cease boasting in people and boast in the Lord. We stop thinking of freedom as an invitation to have everything but turn our hearts to serving Christ, even with our bodies. From Chapter 8, we are warned to flee idolatry but rather glorify God in everything. Chapter 11 turns to a positive view of worship as the theme of worship and relationships is examined. The Lord’s Supper shows us that we are no longer a people who worship in order to get something, but we worship because we have already received in full. The final chapters of 1 Corinthians celebrates how amazing it is to know God and adopt the same character as him. We are no longer tossed individuals in the world responding to things in anger and division but we are a saved people who worship together in love and truth.

What were the people in Corinth doing that Paul didn’t like? We are about to read the passage and hear Paul talk about things gifted by the Spirit of God to the church. About healing and prophecy and miracles and tongues. Were these things happening in Corinth? Was it wrong? Should we get these? We’ll deal with those questions as the study goes on. Whether we know what the church was doing or not has little benefit to what Paul says to us about them. Much wisdom from the scriptures is overlooked when we go looking for background info to shine a light on any passage. The bible has been put together to listen to from any nation in any time.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord
  • One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)
  • Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)

The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord

“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Ironically, I also don’t want you to be uninformed (or ignorant) about this first verse! Although all major translations say spiritual gifts or gifts of the Spirit, the word gifts is not a given in the Greek text. The Greek word used means ‘pertaining to the spirit’, or ‘spiritual’ and the translations have looked forward to Verses 4-11 to look at what the spiritual things is pointing to. We could read, Now about the things pertaining to the Spirit, or Now about spiritual things. See how the major translations are correct and yet, if we are uninformed, we presume that there is a special thing or things called spiritual gifts. The way the rest of the passage plays out will not be affected by this nuance very much BUT the existence of the phrase: spiritual gifts gives license for the uninformed to discuss grand powers as a right in their spiritual experience. The only place in Scripture where the phrase spiritual gifts is ever actually used rather than implied is in Romans 1:11 where the usage in context is clearly about strengthening one another by the truth of the gospel. Note also 1 Cor 1:7 mentions gifts but does not carry with it spirit. The full words of this section plus Chapter 14 explore gifts given through the Spirit. We desire to listen intently without jumping to a world where Christians automatically get super powers.

“You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.” Paul uses the word pagans (gentile, nations, people) as the pre-Christian diagnosis for all. Before coming to Christ, we were all pagan. When we enter this world, we are of the world. We are fleshly and ignorant of the true God. In many and various ways, we are lead to worship false gods. We love to adore things or people. But adoring the One True God is just not in our nature. By default, says Paul, we will be idolaters. Ephesians 2:1-9 (esp V2) expresses it well. There are many and various superstitions around that go unchecked. There are many gods that we can trust and hope in for future security. Even worship in the Christian realm can be misused as merely a superstition – until it is transformed by the knowledge of the True and Living God through the word of God. The doctrine of total depravity describes that we are unable to muster knowledge or belief in God on our own.

“Therefore…” Paul’s assertion in Verse 2 gives him confidence to say what follows. The effect of knowing that we will all be mislead away from God gives the following conclusion.

“…no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” If our human nature cannot take our hearts and minds to worship the True and Living God in truth (but turn to mute idols) then anyone who professes Jesus to be Lord can only do this by the Holy Spirit. Of course, anyone can mouth these words, or read them off a book, but coming to God is only ever a work of the Holy Spirit. The first thing to know about spiritual things and spirituality is that we need the Holy Spirit to bring us to eternal life. The primary gift of the Holy Spirit is to give us the knowledge of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the work of an entirely different spirit to curse Jesus, to reject Jesus.

One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)

“There are different kinds of gifts…service…working…” Gifts and service are both outward in nature from something to something else. God gives gifts, and service is something done for the benefit of others. Working is about activity and effort. Perhaps it is a triune thought about the source and direction of use. That is, God gives gifts for the benefit of others, not simply the one who receives so that their work can be an expression of God’s good work in the world. Whether these three words are meant to be three sides of one thing or whether they are three different areas of thought will become clearer as the passage goes on.

“…the same Spirit distributes…the same Lord…the same God at work…” The emphasis in these three Verses is the unity of the source. The church is one because our God is one. God is at work in calling and saving the church. The Lord is the revealed Lord Jesus whom we serve. And the Spirit is at work in all of the works of God to distribute and call and teach and save. Notice the matching of gifts distributed by the Spirit. The Lord is matched against service. And our work is matched with the work of God. While 1 Corinthians began with the trouble of division in the church, Paul is celebrating the source of unity! Our Triune God is the foundation of the church and the supplier of all its needs. The church is to reflect the unity of God. Though many, we are one. No division in the church even though there is division in the distribution of gifts. Note that different and division are related words. We embrace unity as we celebrate our differences because we recall that our source and service are founded in One God who is at work in all of us. Just as God is one and yet demonstrates His diversity within the Trinity, the church recognises it’s many gifts and services and works and thanks God for being the resource for all of us.

Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Note that any benefit that we receive from knowing God and receiving from Him is for the benefit of the church (and the world). If we recognise a blessing from God, it is not to be put in your back pocket and sat on. Use it. Express God who has manifested the Spirit in you through gifts that you are able to use for the benefit of others. Gifts for service put to work.

“…through…by…the Spirit…” Recall that when we were simply people in this world, we were led astray to mute idols (V2). When we do or say anything under the expression of Jesus as Lord, this is a manifestation of the Spirit within us. This is the logic of Paul here. If it is for Christ, it is through or by the Spirit. If it is against Christ, then it is something else.

“…a message of wisdom…” This would imply wisdom from God rather than wisdom of the world which Paul condemned in the early part of this book (2:6). Wisdom is presenting the truth of God into this world in a practical way. We see how we are best to live and act and react in the world under the grace of God. In Chapter 2, Paul speaks much on wisdom and declares that the wisdom from God is not something that anybody in this world could possibly have mustered up. We declare something that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived. Wisdom from God is God given. It is through the Spirit. It is to have the mind of Christ. And it seeks to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (2:2). If someone claims to have spiritual wisdom and does not proclaim Christ – it is not the same spirit we wish to be fed from.

“…a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…” Chapter 8 focused on the word knowledge. It shows an understanding of matters. It emphasises understanding and intellect rather than virtues like kindness, patience and love. It is neither a good nor an evil. It is a building block for what we choose to do with our knowledge. The greatest truth about knowledge is not about what we know but about being known by God. The Spirit will guide us to true knowledge but knowledge without love is nothing. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

“…to another faith…” It must not be presumed that some will have the gift of faith and others may not. This letter implies a number of times that all in Christ must have faith (2:5; 7:22; 13:13; 15:14, 17; 16:13) But perhaps there are those who manifest a faith from God that feeds the faith of those around them. That is, faith in the church is caught as we stand beside those whom God has especially gifted with faith. I do not mean by this what some might think I mean: that we have faith tanks that can be filled little or much and that the more faith, the greater our relationship with God. Like the faith that can move mountains! I simply mean that while some may manifest their worries and timidness, others can give courage as they manifest their trust in God. This too is not a measure of a person’s worth before God since it is a gift of the Spirit – they didn’t do this of themselves.

“…to another gifts of healing…miraculous powers…” The list of examples gets more and more ‘interesting’! We know that Jesus had the power to heal and perform miracles. We know that the apostles received similar gifts. We certainly believe this to be the work of God when the result of these gifts and powers are to profess and proclaim Jesus as Lord (keeping the context in mind). We also acknowledge and appreciate that healing happens and in many and various ways, God manifests miracles in people’s lives that sometimes can be difficult to explain. The question remains: ought we expect to receive gifts like these in the church or not? If we had these gifts demonstrated all the time and across the ages everywhere that Jesus was preached then we might calmly say that yes, of course healing and mighty powers goes hand in had with Christian churches. When we notice that this is not happening then we ask: are we doing something wrong or are we looking for the right things. Let the bible answer. The spiritual things that Paul is discussing are all shown to be from the One Spirit when Jesus is proclaimed Lord. This is the purpose of the gifts. Healing and miracles are not a fringe benefit of being Christian – one of the perks like the prosperity gospel implies. Healing and miracles are FOR the gospel. Paul will continue to work through this issue over the next few chapters. If the point ain’t Christ then there is no point.

“…to another prophecy…” Paul will again emphasise this gift in 14:1. Prophecy is done to strengthen, encourage and comfort the people of God. Is prophecy about predicting the future? Is prophecy about speaking the word of God? To cut to the chase and keep things short: both are given to us in the Word of God. The closed canaan of Scripture reveals who the Messiah is, how the wrath of God is real and is paid for at the cross, how the world has a non-disclosed use-by date, how God’s love is demonstrated and given at the cross. All that must be known about God has been made known. While Paul wrote this letter, the full measure of Scripture had not been written yet. The church would hear from God as the Spirit saw fit. If we have prophecy today it is by those who bring the word of God (the bible) to the hearts and minds of the church to strengthen, encourage and comfort people.

“…to another distinguishing between spirits…” 1 John 4:1 helps us to understand this and link it to the previous gift of prophecy.

“…speaking in different kinds of tongues, and … interpretations of tongues.” Paul will later show that you need the latter for the former to be useful. These tongues are best understand as different languages. Note that in Acts 2, when people spoke in tongues, it was clearly for the benefit of those who understood those languages. Paul mentions tongues of angels elsewhere but never endorses it or even confirms that such a thing is anything more than hyperbole. Again, this gift of the Spirit is for the sole purpose of communicating the word of God to people. None of the gifts have steered off course of this agenda.

“All these are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” We must concluded from this section that nobody is to boast about what they are able to contribute to the church of God since it is all flowing from the one Fountain. And not even a Fountain to be approached and taken from – the Spirit distributes and the Spirit determines who, where and when gifts are given. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

So three lessons flow from this: all church work is fed from one Spirit; all gifts given are for the purpose of proclaiming Christ as Lord; and no gift is given in order to be kept to oneself. Division in gifts but no division in the Giver or receivers. Variety in practice but no variation in purpose.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: What classifies as a spiritual gift? The passage talked about gifts, service and works. The list of gifts were particularly aimed at what we do with our mouths because this is the clearest way of proclaiming the gospel. When we proclaim the gospel we must use our words. But let us not overlook our service and work toward one another. The qualifying mark of a gift of the Spirit is that it points people toward the Lord Jesus Christ. The first and most important and essential gift of the Spirit that we all must embrace and use is the gift of the gospel, first for ourselves and then to those around us. The premiere need of every church is the news of salvation through Christ and that He is the Lord of all. If that is the only gift that you ever receive, you are eternally better off than many souls who do not know it.

Topic B: When will I know I’m using a spiritual gift? Let’s not equate spiritual gifts with super powers. The work of God is subtle and almost always goes on without much attention. As you meet together this week, with a chocolate biscuit in one hand and your bible open in the other, and you open your mouth and encourage the people of your Growth Group that Jesus Christ is Lord – risen from the dead and He is Lord. That the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 is a message from God to encourage us that we all worship and serve the One True God. And show love and care for somebody that you have learned to do because you know the love of God – you are using your gifts given to you, not from your own brilliance but by the grace of God. Can you share other moments when you or others can be exercising their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others?

Topic C: Our church is equipped and built up by the power of the Spirit of God. Do you ponder whether you belong to a spiritual church? Do you lament sometimes that our church could be more spiritual? Let’s remember that it is God who equips, he distributes, he determines how his church will be fed and grow. It is God who is at work. It is Jesus Christ whom we serve because He first served us. It is the Spirit of God who gives life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that the power of God is the gospel itself (Romans 1:16-17). The Spirit of God works through the word of God to teach and to correct and to rebuke and to grow. The fruit of the Spirit is unity manifest in love, kindness, gentleness. If we proclaim Jesus as Lord, then we can only do that by the power of the Spirit of God. No man can lead us back to God without the power of the Spirit.

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 24

The Problem With This King

Discussion Question

What has 2 Samuel taught you about Jesus?

Background (Context)

Chapters 21 to 24 are the epilogue to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. David’s song in Chapter 22 accompanies Hannah’s song of 1 Samuel 2. While we’ve watched David ride into battles to defeat the enemy, the song describes a very animated YahWeh who rides on angel’s wings to victory. Chapters 21 to 23 describe a kingdom that is very optimistic in the eyes of the LORD. Sins paid for, boundaries established and the LORD Himself praised. David reflects on the blessings of his kingdom and concludes that God must be for him.

The final chapter now and we are reminded that the kingdom of David falls short of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Read 2 Samuel 24

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The LORD’s anger on David (1-9)
  • How the LORD punished David (10-15)
  • The mercy of the LORD (16-19)
  • The cost of repentance (20-25)

The LORD’s anger against Israel (1-9)

“Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel…” We heard last of God’s anger against Israel in Chapter 21 and earlier in 6:7. His anger is not against David but against Israel and we are not given a reason why. Perhaps it is in connection to the growing troubles of Chapters 19 and 20. The reason is not important as we can trust that the LORD is righteous when he judges.

“…and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” Before I tackle the theological trick of this Verse, let me observe that the separating of Israel and Judah in this perhaps suggests that it is the divisions forming in the nation who are not submitting to the king’s rule in truth that the LORD has issues with. I cannot press too firmly though. Now, the LORD’s anger is not against David but against Israel, but He will incite David to take the census which David will later regard as his own sin (V10). We need not believe that God spoke into David’s ear but that God allowed this willful plan of David’s to play out in order to discipline Israel. 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us that it was Satan who gave David the thought. Job 1 comes to mind as we consider the persuasive power of Satan only being allowed to happen at the will of God. Rather than delivering David from temptation, God allows Satan to influence David in line with his plans to judge Israel. This interaction between God’s righteous will and the evil plans of Satan and men is not rare in the bible and must be included in our theology. Remember the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis and the story of Judas betraying Jesus? The census is not the initial problem but the story introduces us to the topic of God’s anger against Israel. The census and David’s sin in conducting it will be the means by which God punishes Israel. There is no simple cause and effect in this story but the idea of God’s plans and man’s agenda interweaving in layers of intricacy. A child does not die because it sinned nor their parent (necessarily) but that the child is part of a sinful world. God’s grand plan includes many small decisions that we take part in.

“…enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” A census is not inherently evil. God instructed Moses to count the people in Numbers because they were needed to enter the Promised Land and take it. David has no need to count his men. But Satan sowed a seed of thought to David, who took the bait and this plan will result in a portion of his people losing their life.

“The king’s word…overruled Joab…” In a rare switch of roles, Joab tries to change the king’s mind and think righteously. But the king’s mind was made up. No council of men was able to stop him from counting to see how strong his country was.

“…gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.” Verses 5 to 8 clearly describe a thorough work of counting. Note the slowness of God to teach His lesson. The names listed mark out the extremities of the land and some are notable from the time that Israel first entered the land to take it under God’s mighty hand.

“…In Israel there were 800,000…and in Judah 500,000.” Though Israel is the greater portion, Judah is quite strong. Together they make 1.3 million men. Just the fighting men of the nation were many. There were 600,000 that crossed the Jordan with Joshua. Add women and children and older men and priests to this list and the number is getting quite large. It is possible that the word ‘thousand’ may mean a military unit rather than 100×100. We won’t worry about details like that though. These names, the counting of the people and the reference to the Jordan ought to point us to the silliness of counting fighting men when the king ought to know that you only need one great God (1 Sam 14:6).

How the LORD punished David (10-15)

“David was conscience-stricken…’I have done a very foolish thing.’” David was conscience-stricken in 1 Samuel 24:5 when he cut a piece of Saul’s robe. The act had been done and his inner barometer of right and wrong had been pricked. Now, our consciences are not what will make us righteous before God but God has given us all an ability to gauge between right and wrong to a degree. Different people’s consciences have different measuring lines. Paul says in Romans 2 that everybody’s conscience will prove us guilty of sin – let alone the perfect judgement of God. Some people have very sensitive consciences but when they betray their own delicate laws, they are still in the wrong (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Some people have a severely damaged conscience (see 1 Tim 1:19; Titus 1:15). Besides finding out what pleases the LORD (Ephesians 5:10), our agenda ought to strive for a clear conscience (Acts 24:16; 1 Peter 3:16). David didn’t need a prophet or seer to come and rebuke him. His conscience was pricked and this drove him to speak to God in repentance. The lesson is to never go against your own conscience.

“…take away the guilt of your servant.” David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah had been taken away and dealt with but not without consequences. 

“…the word of the LORD had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer.” We were informed in 1 Samuel 9:9 that prophets were once called seers. 1 Samuel 22:5 mentioned Gad previously. He has been serving as David’s seer for many years now.

“Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” David was given three bad options to choose from. All three involved the death of people in Israel and not isolated on David. Remember that God had intended from the beginning to bring judgment on Israel and this would be the means by which He did it. And it would fall on David to choose. I suppose that this is a ‘two birds with one stone’ kinda thing. Israel will be inflicted but David, who sinned by his pride and self-reliance, would now need to choose the infliction.

“Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” We may presume that David has made his choice by this answer but actually he does not make a choice out of the three. Rather, he allows God to decide. In famine, the starving will rely on the provision of men but God can still be merciful here. In battle, Israel may die at the hands of men but it is always God who delivers from battle. No, it seems that David is leaving even the choice of the three, not in his hands, a mere man, but in the hands of the merciful God. I am often reminded that God’s mercy is always greater than men. Any time we accuse God of being too harsh, let’s remember that he is always kinder than men can be. 

“…and 70,000 of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.” This is a region mostly occupied by Judah (including the regions of Dan, Judah and Simeon). David had counted fighting men but the plague did not discriminate. It may have worked out to be a small percentage of the population but it was still 70,000 people.

The mercy of the LORD (16-19)

“…the LORD relented concerning the disaster…” This is the mercy of God as his falls short of complete destruction. The city of Jerusalem was saved. This was the location of the ark of the covenant. And the place where God had promised to David that his ‘house’ would stand forever (referring to David’s dynasty). The mercy of God and the promises of God are what hold back the wrath of God.

“…said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough!”” Again, as with the work of Satan inciting David to sin and God allowing that to happen, it is the work of those who God has sent (angel/messenger) that the destruction is delivered.

“The angel of the LORD…” Ge 16:7; 19:13; Ex 12:23; Ac 12:23.

“…I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep…Let your hand fall on me…” Even in David’s sin, he gives us future hope that one day there would be a Good Shepherd who will lay down His life for His sheep. John 10:11. This prayer of David’s seems to happen after the LORD relented but is quite possible that this is just David’s perspective of events. David’s prayer initiates instructions to David on what to do but we already know that the LORD has stopped the plague from running its full course (of 3 days). I suggest we have God’s perspective in Verse 16 and David’s perspective from Verse 17 on. What God saw and what David saw. Another element of the layers of how God works. He doesn’t simply sit back and wait for our prayers and pleas, nor does He ignore them.

“So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad.” God shows His mercy in giving David instructions on what to do. God is able to provide ways for forgiveness. 

The cost of repentance (20-25)

“May the LORD your God accept you.” This is the hope. But He won’t just accept David as he is. A sacrifice was asked for. The man named Araunah could not simply put all that was his onto this sinner and expect God to accept him. But Jesus would one day provide the sacrifice that is needed for the sinner without cost.

“…the threshing floor…” We know from 2 Chronicles 3:1 that Solomon would build the Temple of the LORD at Mount Moriah on this very land that David bought for the altar on this day. The end of 1-2 Samuel concludes with a rather lengthy description of how this land was acquired. It links clearly this story of David making atoning sacrifice for the sheep of Israel and the same place that Solomon would dedicate as the house of the LORD where all future sacrifices ought to take place. 

“…I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” Of course, it doesn’t make sense for a sacrifice to not cost you anything. The point of the sacrifice is that it hurts you somewhat. The animal sacrifice required your best sheep and cattle, not the average or worst of the herd. But the bible teaches us that no amount of sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all our sins. We keep sinning and need to offer more and more sacrifices. Therefore, at just the right time, Christ Jesus came into the world as a sacrifice for sins – once for all – the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God. The death of Christ has cost us nothing. And there is now no sacrifice left to give.

“Then the LORD answered his prayer…and the plague on Israel was stopped.” When David offered the right sacrifice in the right place then the wrath of God on Israel stopped. This coincided with the relenting of God earlier. God made way for sin to be forgiven, the price to be paid, and the wrath to be propitiated. I think we are now ready to offer a meaning to this story.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

On the Old Testament side of the cross, the relationship of God to Israel is still about blessings and curses. But when the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, the wrath of God is stopped without a cost to the sheep. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. King David closes the books of 1 and 2 Samuel as a shepherd to the sheep of Israel who offered a sacrifice as prescribed by God to stop the plague on the people. Thank God that because of Jesus, the wrath of God is satisfied.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Conscience-stricken. Acts 24:16 and 1 Timothy 1:19 place listening to your conscience as a high priority. Some have shipwrecked their faith because they have ignored their conscience. The conscience is a kind of barometer of right and wrong. It does not trump God’s word but allows us to respond mentally to choose the right and reject the wrong. Our conscience is not the law. But failing to listen to our conscience leads to sin. We sharpen our conscience skills by learning from God’s word – sometimes sharpening it to say no to ungodliness, and sometimes to soften it because we learn to understand grace better. But we don’t abandon it. Our conscience is a gift of God as part of his design for us to choose between right and wrong. Coming to Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit even allows us to say no to ungodliness in a way that people without the Spirit cannot. Titus 2:12.

Topic B: Now no condemnation. Romans 8:1 begins the wonderful celebratory Chapter with these words: therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… The cross of Christ has achieved for us something that the sacrificial system could never achieve. David was able to sing in Chapter 22 and 23 that he is right before God and yet in Chapter 24 was in need to offer sacrifice for himself and the land. Living on this side of the cross gives us such a freedom that has not been fully realised for thousands of years before. Sure, Jesus death also covered over the sins of those who feared God and walked with Him by faith in the Old Testament, but they were unable to sing: no condemnation now. Praise God for all that He has done for us in Christ!

Topic C: The wrath of God and the propitiation for sin. On the flip side of Topic B is this topic. Without a successful offering, the wrath of God is not satisfied. There remains for all who trust in their own righteousness (like David counting the strength of his army) condemnation. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”