Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Broken Promises

A three-year famine sends David to his knees (2 Samuel 21).

God answers, "It is on account of Saul and his blood stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death."

The Gibeonites were the people of a Canaanite tribe who tricked Joshua just after the Israelites entered Canaan (Joshua 9). They came in tattered clothes, with moldy bread and approached Joshua as if they’d come from a long way off, begging him to make a peace treaty with them.

The Israelite people "sampled their provision but they did not inquire of the Lord" (Joshua 9:14). The result was Joshua and the people made a peace treaty with these Gibeonites. Too late they discovered they had been tricked. For the Gibeonites were not from a long distance away at all but close neighbors. The promise had been made, though, and now Israel was bound by it.

It was this promise Saul had broken when he’d tried to destroy them. Now, years later, God withholds His blessing (in this case rain) on the land.

The justice principle behind God’s action is clear:

"Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it" (Numbers 35:33).


Does this principle, of a land being cursed because of promises broken and innocent blood shed still hold today? If God hasn’t changed in this, perhaps we should be looking at history, personal and national, for why we, as individuals and as a nation, seem to be in spiritual drought. I’m wondering if Dr. David Demian doesn’t have it right to launch initiatives such as Watchmen for the Nations which attempt to confront wrongs from our nation’s past.


Lord, show me where my sin and the sin of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents is blocking Your blessing. Then give me the courage to admit the sin and make restitution. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Desperate Prayer

Absalom’s estrangement from David leads eventually to rebellion (2 Samuel 15, 16, 17). Gradually but deliberately he woos the people away from David and to himself. Finally, he makes his move. One day telling David he is going to Hebron to worship, he goes there to have himself pronounced king.

Perhaps sensing that the tide of power has turned, even some of David’s closest inner circle follow Absalom, among them Ahithophel, his wisest adviser.

Word gets back to the palace. David and his entourage flee Jerusalem to an accompaniment of weeping and expressions of loyalty by some, cursing by others.

David accepts it all - even the cursing. His response shows a demoralized man:

"My son who is of my own flesh is trying to take my life. How much more then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today." (2 Samuel 16:11,12)

But David is not completely forlorn. For early in his flight, he prays one possible defeat on Absalom: "Oh Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel (that man whose advice was regarded up there with talking to God Himself - 16:23) into foolishness."

Soon after that, David meets Hushai. Robe torn, dust on his head Hushai offers to go with David wherever. But David asks Hushai not to go with him. Instead, he requests Hushai return to Jerusalem, and there try to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice.

Meanwhile Absalom returns to the city, follows Ahithophel’s first bit of advice, and violates the ten concubines Dave had left in charge of the palace (publicly, in the sight of everyone. Note on the Quest NIV Study Bible:
"Taking over the king’s harem indicated to the people that Absalom was taking over the kingship. And it was a bold move, disgracing and challenging his father David.)


Then Absalom inquires of Ahithphel what to do next. Ahithophel advises immediate action to track down David.

Uncharacteristically, Absalom asks for a second opinion. Hushai (who has deceitfully declared his defection from David and allegiance to Absalom) suggests that they pursue only after they’ve gathered an army first. After all, David is a brave and wily warrior.

Then:
Absalom and all the men of Israel said, "The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel." For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithphel in order to bring disaster on Absalom. (17:14)

What I learn from this:

1. No matter how desperate the situation, God can turn it around. His creative grab bag is bottomless.

2. David imagined one way Absalom could be defeated. He said it out loud, to God in a prayer. And the scenario he imagined became the means by which the tables began to turn.

Do I have an idea of what I’d like to see God do? Perhaps God has already given me the seed of my problem’s solution as an imagination or thought. Do I have the courage and faith to frame my longings in words? To say them aloud? To pray them? It’s instructive to see that very soon after David expressed his prayer, he recognized in Hushai the beginning of its answer.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Parent and Child Stuff

For all his other good qualities, I’m not impressed with David as a father. Like several other Bible dads, he seemed unwilling to deal with unruly tendencies in his kids and when confronted with the results of their sin, opted for denial instead of confrontation.

Take, for example, the time his son Amnon after sickening himself with lust for his sister Tamar, devised a way to get her by herself, raped her, then compounded his sin by rejecting her and ordering her out (2 Samuel 13).

Tamar was Absolom’s sister. When she came from Amnon’s quarters, wailing and in despair, her virginal robes torn, Absalom consoled her and told her it was no big deal. But he didn’t forget.

David heard about it too. The Bible says "...he was furious..." (2 Samuel 13:21). I’m wondering if Absolom didn’t hold himself back from avenging Tamar, thinking David would discipline his son Amnon. But David’s fury led to nothing.

Absalom bided his time (two years). When it became clear David would do nothing, Absalom invited all his brothers to a sheep shearing party, got them drunk, then had his men single out and kill Amnon. Of course, this led to a deepened family rift as the now-outcast Absalom fled to Geshur.

He stayed in Geshur for three years. David got over Amnon’s death. He missed Absalom - but couldn’t bring himself to recall him. Finally Joab, his army chief of staff, seeing David’s despair, convinced David to invite Absalom back to Jerusalem.

Absalom came home but David never sent for him. Another two years passed. Absalom tried to get an audience with Joab to intervene on his behalf with the king but now not even Joab would give him the time of day. Finally, in desperation, Absalom set fire to Joab’s field. That brought him to the house and soon after that David called Absalom in for an audience, "And the king kissed Absalom" (2 Samuel 14:33). But, as the unfolding story proves (2 Samuel 15-18), David and Absalom’s relationship was never restored.

Some things I can learn from this:
1. In some ways we are like God to our children. I think children have a right to expect Christian parents to model God’s fairness and righteousness, even if in the implementing of it, we have to make hard decisions. I think when David failed Absalom (and Tamar and Amnon) in this way, he altered their concept of God.

In that department, perhaps David expected Absalom to be more like himself - completely dependent on God to fight for him, as David had been with Saul. And I do believe that this incident may have been Absalom’s test which, if he had passed, God would have avenged Tamar in some other way. Whatever, I don’t think that excused David from avoiding his duty to model God’s fairness and justice to his children.

2. I need to beware of the temptation to use emotional manipulation as a punishment.

I wonder, what motivated David to avoid and ignore Absalom all those years. Did he perhaps think that by accepting Absalom into the family again, he was condoning his action? Did Absalom’s presence make him feel guilty by reminding him of his own negligence in dealing with the Amnon, Tamar situation? Though he couldn’t rightfully make Absalom pay for Amnon’s death, it seems the silent treatment was at least in part David’s way of punishing Absalom for Amnon’s death.

Ways I can punish emotionally are not speaking, favoring one child over another, being inconsistent in my responses (e.g. bugged by something one day, ignoring it the next, blowing up over it on a third), ignoring conflict between kids (some conflicts - others are best resolved between kids without my intervention). Rather than manipulating in this way, or being passive and avoiding the situation in the hope it will go away, how much better to do the hard thing and confront, discuss, discover and apply principles of justice, truth, mercy, love, forgiveness etc. etc. and work the whole thing out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Boomerang Gift

(2 Samuel 7, 8)

David decides it’s time to build a permanent structure for the ark of God (vs. housing it in the tabernacle - portable fabric tent). When he declares his intentions to prophet Nathan, Nathan’s response is, "Sure, go ahead. God is in this."

Later that night, though, God speaks to Nathan about David. It appears David is not the one to do this project (implied. How it’s stated is a rhetorical question: "Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?"). God goes on to give David some surprising assurances. The gist of what he says: "You think you’re going to build me a house? Well, guess what! I’m going to establish a house for you."

Then he goes on to describe how David’s line will never fade out, "...I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever...But my love will never be taken away from him (David) as I took it away from Saul...your throne will be established forever."

David responds in typical David style - a psalm, puzzlement, changing to praise and grateful acceptance of His intentions.

What I can learn from this:

1. How often don’t I act like Nathan - off-the-cuff. ‘Yes, of course this is God’s way.’ Then God comes to me later, in a silent time, recalls that thing from the day, and gives me the very strong impression, "I wasn’t in that." I need to learn check with God first, be tuned into those inner checks, so I won’t have to backtrack later.

2. God’s ways sometimes seem arbitrary. They make no logical sense - Why does He single out some - Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David? I’m sure I’ll never know in this life and have to be content with - He just did. God’s choices of some and second-stringing of others is as hard to make logical sense of as the individual brush strokes on an artist’s canvas.

I’m part of that painting too. But God will decide which part I’ll be. This is, after all, not about me but all about Him - His story, His glory.

3. We can’t out-give God. He responded to David’s generous impulse to do something for Him, with a gift for David.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Presence

Reflections on 2 Samuel 6

Now established as king in Jerusalem, David decides to add the finishing touch and bring back the ark. (It had been at the house of Abinadab, brought there by the people of Beth Shemesh after 70 men died on looking into it - this when the Philistines returned it to Israel [Beth Shemesh] loaded on a new cart, pulled by two cows - 1 Samuel 6)

It’s interesting to note David decides to transport the ark in the same way the Philistines did - in a new cart. We know the story, how when in transit and the ark looks like it will topple, Uzzah reaches out to steady it, and on touching it, falls down dead.

Of course David is shocked - "angry," "afraid," and stopped in his tracks. They park the ark at the house of Obed Edom and the party of 30,000 chosen men David had assembled for the triumphant occasion, disburses, no doubt demoralized.

The short passage which describes the ark’s sojourn at Obed Edom’s house has always fascinated me: "The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed Edom the Gittite for three months and the Lord blessed him and his entire household." (2 Samuel 6:11)

It brings to mind the kind of blessing - of community, relationships and agriculture seen in some of the Transformation videos. This is how I imagine it happened for Obed Edom:


PRESENCE BLESSING

"The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months and the Lord blessed his household and everything he had." I Chron. 13:14

The carrots are thick as my arms,
tomatoes, cucumbers, figs
gathered an omer a day
by my overwhelmed, pregnant wife.
The midwife says, "It’s twins;
the way they kick, they are boys!"

Rain and sun synchronized
have overflowed our bins
with barley, wheat and corn.
Cow hasn’t dried up in three months,
milk still covered with cream
thickens to cheesy white curd.

The love and peace in our home -
sensed even by passers-by -
those rhythms of lightness and joy
have gone to my fingers and thumbs
so that now King David requests:
"Obed-Edom, we need your harp’s psalm
in Ark’s triumphant parade
As we take it from your home, to mine."

"...and Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel and Azaziah were to play the harps..." 1 Chron. 15:21

(Copyright © 2003 by Violet Nesdoly)


David observes God’s blessing on Obed Edom and determines to try again. This time he transports the ark by the instructions (Exodus 25:10-22 esp. vs. 14 - "Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it.")

What a procession – singers, lyres, harps, cymbals, trumpets, rams horns, with king David whirling, twirling, leaping, dancing before God - a child trying to express unexpressible joy (1 Chronicles 15).

We mustn’t miss the telling little footnote about Michal (the daughter of Saul and one of David’s wives). As she observes her husband celebrating thus before God, she despises him in her heart, and greets the jubilant David with a cold water splash of sarcasm: "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today..."

Of course she’s no match for him. He replies in kind: "It (the dancing) was before the Lord who chose me rather than your father or anyone from your house..."

What I can learn from this:

1. A lot about God’s holiness. God’s holiness will not be compromised - either by ignorance or good intentions. The law was clear about how the ark was to be transported, and if the Psalms he wrote, extolling the practice of studying God's law (Psalm 119 for example) are any indication of David's preoccupation, he knew how it was to be done. Also, David’s intentions were undoubtedly sincere and honorable. But when the "No Touching!" ban was broken (and David couldn’t object he hadn’t been given a warning when the 70 were killed in a similar scenario years earlier), when these people trespassed on God’s holy otherness, His power went out to destroy them as surely as gravity draws things downwards.

I don’t think we have any concept of this in our day. We transgress any number of God’s standards with impunity, holding the cavalier attitude - "What does it matter? It’s under the blood anyway." In one sense that’s true. But in another, I think someday, in this life or the next, we’ll be in for a great shock.

2. I am reminded, God’s presence in life brings blessing. I know I am not immune from pain, sorrow, loss, death, sickness etc. etc. But I also know God’s presence includes protection, refuge, safety (Psalm 91), and has the power to transform even the painful stuff into good.

3. I learn something about worship. God sees, accepts, is pleased with worship that comes from a celebrating child-like heart which ignores and is not inhibited by concerns of what people will say.

Oh Lord, temper my view of You as One who is friend, brother (lackey even? - perish the thought), with a consciousness of how holy, pure, other and deathly You can be.

May my life be an illustration of Your blessing, like Obed Edom’s was.

Change me from a stiff, formal, lazy, bored worshiper to one who is childlike, spontaneous, energetic, whole-hearted.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

David on the Run

(1 Samuel 20-23)

With the little ditty the ladies sing: "Saul has slain his thousands but David his ten thousands," a jealousy seed takes root in Saul’s heart. As his obsession to rid the land of David grows, more and more people feel its ramifications: Jonathan, the priests of Nob, and all their families, (indeed the entire town of Nob is destroyed including women, children, animals), David’s family who must now live in exile. And of course, David - who’s driven from the palace, to sneak around in caves, fields and forests.

Keeping in mind David is one of God’s favorite, it’s almost comforting that God doesn’t do any more for him than He does for us in tight and threatening situations. When David inquired of God whether to stay in the town of Keilah or if Saul would come to find him there, God answered, yes, Saul would come. When David inquired whether the townsfolk would give him over to Saul, God replied, yes, they would. Now, since God knew all that, why couldn’t or didn’t He simply intervene - prevent Saul from coming or change the peoples’ minds. There’s no answer, except, God doesn’t often do that, for reasons known only to Him.

What these things teach me:

1. The "little" sins I allow in my life (think of the smallest thing, say the right to be irritable or grouchy perhaps) can grow to have huge results. "Who despises the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:10) can refer not only to the beginnings of great projects, but to beginnings of great destructions.

2. If God let even His favorite, David, go through such a tough time - why not me? If only I’d handle it as well as he does - without whining and ever on the lookout for how to help others (ch. 23) even during times of stress.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

David and the Big Boys

I Samuel 16,17

I love the way God engineers David’s career path. He starts out as an unknown to all but God, is anointed by Samuel, after which the Bible says, "...and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power." Then watch things fall into place:

1. Saul’s torment leads him to search for someone to play the harp for him.

2. A servant has heard of David, recommends him and he comes to the palace. (Curious thing it says Saul contacted Jesse, David’s father to get permission for David to come. Yet later, after the Goliath incident, Saul doesn’t know who Jesse is. Isn’t this often the way - bit players enter our lives and re-enter, and we don’t pay much attention – until their presence there is underlined by God in an apparent coincidence. God’s way of saying, "Pay attention to this person, or event or chain of events.")

3. David plays for Saul, Saul finds relief from the spirit, so David becomes a sometimes-fixture at the palace.

4. David, at home again is sent by his father to check on his brothers at war. Goliath comes out to challenge the Israelites. David’s can-do attitude plus his faith in God propel him forward to volunteer to challenge Goliath. David’s attitude is instructive: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" Of course, the David and Goliath story unfolds from there.

I find the attitude of David contrasted with that of his older brothers particularly interesting.

1. David looked to God rather than at the enemy. He compared the size of the enemy with the size of the God he knew - and there was no comparison. He saw only the fact God’s reputation was at stake - and he wouldn’t have it!

2. His brother’s reaction, besides looking like simple sibling rivalry, is in many ways a typical response (without God - and carnal). I picture him in some ways like the older brother of the prodigal son story - jealous because as the faithful plodder, he deserves more than to be eclipsed by this young show-off, who will probably do something stupid to embarrass him in front of his mates.

Some things I can learn from this story:

Career path: the one engineered by God may by turns seem arbitrary, full of apparent coincidences, winding and directionless, with some potholes, false hopes, assumptions this is going to the someplace it never does. It defies all the conventional wisdom which says, ‘have a goal, know where you’re going and plot your course to it.’ I’ve heard it referred to, in some places, as allowing God’s story to be played out in one’s life. For a Type A, driven person, that’s a hard thing to do – take the hands off the steering wheel and not fret when the trip seems to stall.

Goliath-type intimidation: there’s a lot of that toward Christians these days. We’d probably be a lot less distressed by it if we had David’s mind-set, always remembering the greatness of the God we serve, habitually responding to the God-possibilities in a situation.

Reaction to those God exalts: to me the older brother attitude comes naturally. But what a pharisaical, faith-stomping attitude it is. Deliver me from it!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Fatal Flaw

Following his coronation, the Bible records mostly negative things about King Saul. In situation after situation, he is outright disobedient or foolish.

1. He makes an offering when he was to wait for Samuel to do that (I Samuel 13)

2. He puts his army under a foolish ban not to eat anything when they’re in the thick of battle. (What’s with making these outrageous promises or vows? Do Saul and others think God needs to be convinced of their sincerity, or a push to be on their side?) Then after the victory, when he asks God a question, gets no answer, inquires about why and discovers it’s because Jonathan has broken the no-food ban, Saul is ready to and would have offered (killed) his son if the army hadn’t spoken up in Jonathan’s defense. (1 Samuel 14).

3. He defies God’s command to kill the Amalekite King Agag and completely wipe out the Amalekite people, and instead "spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs – everything that was good." (Contrast this unwillingness to destroy these material things with his willingness to sacrifice his son Jonathan a little earlier.) When Samuel confronts him with his disobedience, he spins it into a good thing: "‘Yes I have obeyed the voice of the Lord and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king o f Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things to be utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal’" (1 Samuel 15:20,21)

God doesn’t buy it. After this last incident, He announces to Saul (through Samuel) because of his disobedience, rebellion, arrogance and rejection of God, he's effectively finished. (I Samuel 15:22,23).

What was at the root of Saul’s actions? Is there a common thread weaving all these instances together?

I see in all these vignettes a rebellious "I know best" attitude. Obedience is replaced with an attempt to force or manipulate events to get the desired results another way. He himself would perform the sacrifice if the man of God didn’t show up on time. He would move God’s hand by putting his army under an impulsive ban. He would make the decision of what survived of the Amalekite spoils. (I wonder what he really planned to do with King Agag and the plunder he saved.)

It’s easy for me to cluck my tongue at bad King Saul. But don’t I often see the same tendencies in myself. I follow my own "good judgement" because waiting for God to come through seems too risky. I make rash promises or vows to force God’s hand. And I rationalize away the extreme sacrifice God wants of me - my life, everything - by keeping segments of it for myself to further my own agenda. Then when He asks, "What about that?" I figure out a way to spin my rebellion to look like consecration.

I can learn a lot from Saul.

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