July 31, 2015

Famous Last Words

2 Samuel 23:1–24:25, Jude 1:17–25, Psalm 148:1–150:6

Blues singer Bessie Smith died saying, “I’m going, but I’m going in the name of the Lord.”

William Henry Seward, architect of the Alaska Purchase, was asked if he had any final words. He replied, “Nothing, only ‘love one another.’”

Leonardo da Vinci was overly modest, saying, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Today I’m reading the last words of David: “The oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue . . . .” (2 Samuel 23:1-2) The remaining words are praise for God.

What would I like my last words to be? After what David said, the next part gives me one possible answer. It is related to battle. “These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time.” (2 Samuel 23:8)

The passage goes on to describe others who fought for the king and were valiant in the battles. These were people of great courage and strength. It seems to me that many of the OT wars prefigure and point to NT spiritual warfare. God’s people no longer fight other humans, but spiritual beings in the spiritual realms. Because of that, it seems that these descriptions point to those who are mighty in prayer and in fighting evil. They are often called prayer warriors. It makes me think that I would like my last words to reflect something about that battle, perhaps even a short, “Jesus wins!”

The NT reading also speaks of spiritual battles, not for myself but for the souls of others. It says, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 20–23)

Prayer is difficult and often a battle. God calls me to pray against Satan’s work, but this is the most challenging obedience. The deeper I go into prayer, the greater the resistance. There are days when all I can think about is the work of it and my own fatigue, yet in my heart, I know this is my calling.

It was also the calling of David who wrote, “Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 149:5–9)

He battled flesh and blood. Again, my battle that is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I am to “take up the whole armor of God, that I may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:12–13)

“Jesus wins” are excellent last words. Because He won, even death will not defeat me and Satan is already defeated. Because Jesus won, I win also.

July 30, 2015

Humility needed

2 Samuel 22:1–51, Jude 1:1–16, Psalm 147:1–20

Sometimes I get the notion that living the Christian life is impossible (and it is) and start complaining about my lot in life, unanswered prayer, and anything contrary to what I think God should be doing. The lament psalms confirm that God is big enough to take my general belly-aching, but they also confirm that by telling God my troubles, they soon start to dissolve. That is, they don’t go away, but my crabby and dissatisfied attitude inevitably vanishes.

David had been through much trouble. Not only were the enemies of Israel relentless in trying to bring him down, so had Saul, the king he displaced. Yet when it was over David didn’t complain. Instead, “David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.”

The songs of David became the psalms of Israel and are a huge help for Christians who experience the ups and downs of trying to follow Jesus. When David wrote words like these, I wonder if he had any idea that they would bless people for many generations, and would bless me today . . . .

“The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me . . . . With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you deal purely, and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down . . . . This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. “For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless.” (2 Samuel 22:21, 26-28, 31–33)

David did what God told him to do for most of his life. His sins were forgiven and his eternity was secure, but he gave God the glory for taking him through the trials of life. I need to pay more attention to David and deeply desire the same grace that enabled him to please the Lord; more humility instead of pride. Who do I think I am by telling God He is not doing the right things?

Just an aside: my seminary professors thought that after Bathsheba, David’s life went downhill. I don’t see it that way. He failed that particular test, but God forgave him and used it to humble this man. After it was over, his life became more challenging, but his responses to those challenges showed how he had learned to utterly depend on the Lord. It seems to me that we cannot judge the success of God’s people by any other standard than obedience. How David speaks of the Lord measures the ‘success’ of his life.

The NT reading is interesting. I’ve read Jude dozens of times and never noticed before that it speaks of the saving work of Jesus in the Exodus! “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (Jude 5)

Did David think of the Messiah as one member of the Godhead? He certainly wrote about the saving power of God in a physical sense, but He also spoke of Him who made his way blameless. This is the saving power of Jesus. His way is perfect and He is that shield for all who take refuge in Him.

The psalmist also wrote that pleasing God is never about how powerful I am or that my life has any merit (which it doesn’t). “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” (Psalm 147:10–11)

God is pleased when I recognize my own helplessness — and instead of complaining about it or thinking I know more than He knows, I simply put my trust in Him.

July 29, 2015

Passing it on and yet pressing on

2 Samuel 20:1–21:22, 2 Peter 3:14–18, Psalm 146:1–10

Yesterday I was asked to mentor high school students. My first thought was that there is too large a gap between them and me, not just the age difference, but in the way we think. For instance, I would rather talk than text, rarely use social media, and my favorite music would raise their eyebrows. The main thing we would have in common is that as Christians, we both war with the same spiritual enemies.

That request prompted a different perspective to today’s OT reading than I might have had. It reminded me of how God wants us older people to pass the torch. In yet another war between the Philistines and Israel, David went down with his army. They fought together against the Philistines, but David grew weary.

I know the feeling. For the past couple of days, I’ve felt like ‘retiring’ from this business of being a Christian.  Figuring out the will of God so I can serve Him seems like too much work. I’m getting weary.

However, in the reading God didn’t tell David to press on as I may have expected. Instead, He used the men David had trained to do the fighting for him. When one of the descendants of the giants (like Goliath) thought to kill David, “Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him.” Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” It was okay for David to take a break. He did not have to keep on.

But that didn’t stop the enemy. After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. A warrior named Sibbecai struck down another descendant of the giants. Then Elhanan from Bethlehem struck down Goliath the Gittite. The war went to Gath where another huge man also descended from the giants began to taunt Israel. Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down. These gigantic enemies fell by the hand of David’s men, people he had trained. (2 Samuel 21:15–22)

The Word of God stresses the importance of mentoring the next generation. Not only do they need to be equipped to deal with attacks against their spiritual lives, but also encouraged to obey God. So do I need that kind of encouragement. Peter gives the reason why and exhorts me to always keep growing . . .

“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17–18)

No matter how weary I am, obedience and continuing to grow spiritually are still important.

The reading from the psalms stresses an important perspective when I feel too tired to go on; some of the verses point to the eternal aspect of following Christ. That is, this does not end. There is no retirement for Christians, no permission to disobey or to stop growing in my faith. That is reserved for matters of this world, not eternal matters.

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever.” (Psalm 146:3–6)

The average person makes plans, yet death ends all that. However, those who worship God know that life goes on forever with Him. I am bound to the Living God for eternity. Whatever I do in this life in obedience to Him will last, not go to a grave and stay there. This is motivation . . . even though I am still very weary.

July 28, 2015

David’s heart

2 Samuel 19:1–43, 2 Peter 3:1–13, Psalm 145:1–21

Absalom plotted against his father and tried to overthrow his rule as king. Absalom was killed by Joab who found out that, “the king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people also heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” And the people stole into the city that day as people steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Then Joab came to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” (2 Samuel 19:1–7)

Joab was the commander of God’s army and you’d think he knew what he was talking about. However, I’m not convinced that David erred in mourning his son Absalom. He needed to consider his people and assure them of his continued leadership, but Joab’s advice sounds more like politicking than godly counsel. David must have thought so too. . . .

The people of Israel were upset and wondered why the king at not returned after fleeing from Absalom. King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’ ” And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” (2 Samuel 19:10–14) Joab lost his position. Was it for killing the king’s son? Or was it for telling David he should not care so much about his son?

David’s heart toward his enemies comes out a few verses later as well. A man called Shimei had earlier cursed him, so Abishai the son of Zeruiah asked if Shimei should be put to death for this. David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” (2 Samuel 19:21–22)

David’s actions are like Jesus (also usually misunderstood) who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven . . . .” (Matthew 5:44-45)

The NT reading adds something interesting about the value system of David as compared to Joab. Joab put much stock in the world and its kingdoms, but Peter says, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11–13)

Did David have eternity in mind? Was he thinking that the kingdom belonged to him and to the Great King that would come after him, regardless of Joab’s worries that he should be pleasing the people? Or did his heart reflect the heart of God, even toward his enemies? Perhaps David’s heart was like the heart of God and he didn’t act foolishly. This is supported by his words: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:8–9)

If I had to choose, I’d rather be like David than be politically correct like Joab. Besides, and I repeat, it is better to err on the side of mercy!

July 27, 2015

Deal gently for my sake

2 Samuel 18:1–33, 2 Peter 2:12–22, Psalm 144:1–15

Natural affection for family can be a snare. On the other hand, it can also be confused with the love of God for family. Jesus loves us with an everlasting love, even while we were still sinners He died for us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Shouldn’t we love our family members like that? Or close?

David’s armies went to war against the army his son Absalom had rallied in rebellion against his father. What kind of love did the king demonstrate when he told them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom”? (2 Samuel 18:5) Was this God’s love, or natural affection, or some of both?

Whatever made David say that, his rebellious son did die and Absalom’s death was unusual. His mule ran under a tree and his head was caught in the branches. While he was hanging helplessly, the king’s commander Joab and his men killed him.

When David found out, he “was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (2 Samuel 18:33)

Most biblical commentaries are critical of David at this point. They say that a godly king should have not have been so overcome. Absalom sinfully plotted against him without respect for him as his father or for his position as king. He should have put down this rebellion instead of trying to protect Absalom.

This could be viewed another way. David’s life so often points to the Greater King, Jesus Christ where there are parallels. Jesus loves His children and gladly died for them. No matter how great our sin, He deals gently with us and His love remains. He came to save, not condemn and He even forgave those who plotted His death.

However, if those Jesus came to forgive persisted in rebellion after they knew the truth, there is a terrible consequence: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:20–21)

David could not condemn his own son, but God did it for him by hanging Absalom in a tree. However, this death does not point to Jesus because it was nothing like the willing sacrifice made by God’s son. Absalom was entangled in far more than the branches of a tree and it would have been better for him if he had stayed home than to have tried to seize the kingdom and wind up (literally) without a leg to stand on.

I cannot criticize David for loving his son. He had desires for his offspring. He wrote: “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:12–15)

It didn’t turn out that way for Absalom. Perhaps David’s natural affection was too great for him to act without bias. Was that wrong? It has been said that when there is a need to choose between judgment and mercy, it is better to err on the side of mercy. Maybe David’s only mistake was misplaced mercy?

When I pray for my children or for others whose relationship with God seems strained or absent, there are days when their sin brings out thoughts like “give them what they deserve,” yet it is not my place to condemn. More often I am with David and saying to God, “Deal gently, Lord, deal gently.”