Saturday, March 31, 2012

2 Samuel 21:15-22:51

15 Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. 16 And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new sword, said he would kill David. 17 But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.”
18 In the course of time, there was another battle with the Philistines, at Gob. At that time Sibbekai the Hushathite killed Saph, one of the descendants of Rapha.
19 In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.
20 In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha. 21 When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of Shimeah, David’s brother, killed him.
22 These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.
2 Samuel 22
1 David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 2 He said:
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
from violent people you save me.
4 “I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and have been saved from my enemies.
5 The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
7 “In my distress I called to the LORD;
I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came to his ears.
8 The earth trembled and quaked,
the foundations of the heavens[l] shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him—
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
13 Out of the brightness of his presence
bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The LORD thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at the rebuke of the LORD,
at the blast of breath from his nostrils.
17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the LORD was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
21 “The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD;
I am not guilty of turning from my God.
23 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
24 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
25 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight.
26 “To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
27 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
28 You save the humble,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.
29 You, LORD, are my lamp;
the LORD turns my darkness into light.
30 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.
31 “As for God, his way is perfect;
the LORD’s word is flawless.
He shields all who take refuge in him.
32 For who is God besides the LORD?
And who is the Rock except our God?
33 It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
34 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer
and causes me to stand on the heights.
35 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You make your saving help my shield;
your help has made me great.
37 You provide a broad path for my feet,
so that my ankles do not give way.
38 “I pursued my enemies and crushed them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
39 I crushed them completely, and they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
40 You armed me with strength for battle;
you humbled my adversaries before me.
41 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.
42 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
to the LORD, but he did not answer.
43 I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth;
I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets.
44 “You have delivered me from the attacks of the peoples;
you have preserved me as the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me,
45 foreigners cower before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they obey me.
46 They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.
47 “The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior!
48 He is the God who avenges me,
who puts the nations under me,
49 who sets me free from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from violent people you rescued me.
50 Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.
51 “He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.”

Points of Interest
  • ‘he became exhausted’--David isn’t as young as he used to be. He doesn’t have the stamina to fight a long battle anymore. This guy Ishbi-Benob is no Goliath--his spearhead is only half as heavy as Goliath’s was--and yet David can’t handle him on his own.
  • ‘These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath’--this chapter feels to me a bit like the tying up of loose ends. David has only four remaining enemies, these sons of Rapha. One by one, they are hunted down and defeated by the Mighty Men. And with the defeat of the last son of Rapha, David finally has complete peace on every side.
  • ‘the horn of my salvation’--the horns of an animal are a common image of strength in the Bible’s poetry.
  • ‘He mounted the cherubim’--you may or may not remember from the description of the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6) that cherubim are God’s angelic attendants. Apparently, at least for the purposes of this song, David imagines these angels as being in animal form. Not only are they God’s servants or guardians, but steeds God can ride as well. Some people think that the people of David’s day pictured the cherubim as being like sphinxes or griffins; but we’re not really sure.
Taking it Home
  • For you: Chapter 22 is like a medley of a number of David’s psalms, recounting the ways that God has worked over the course of David’s life. If you were to compile your own list of the ways God has helped you or the different seasons you’ve had with God what would it look like? Start at the beginning of your life--or maybe even just the beginning of this week--and reflect on what God has been doing in your life. If you’re still in the middle of a season where you haven't seen God ‘rescue you’ or don’t feel like he has brought you into a ‘spacious place,’ that’s okay; it doesn't have to be rosy. Use the time to be honest with God about how things are going, telling God the ways in which you really do need him to rescue you.
  • For your six: The image of God reaching down from on high to take a hold of us might be one of my favorites. It’s a comforting image of God looking out for us and a reminder that God is the one who willingly and actively pursues us. Pray that God would increase the ways that he is reaching out to your six. Pray that your six would see how God is working, and know that God sees them and is drawing them out of whatever deep waters they may be in.
  • For our church: David recounts how God took him from a place of angst, trouble, and heartache to a place that felt spacious, abundant, and resourced. Ask God to give our church a sense of that same abundance. Pray that we wouldn’t feel tired, down, over-responsible, and driven, but instead that we would feel connected to the bigness of God’s love and generosity. Pray that the decisions we make, programs we run, and initiatives we start would be based upon and would reflect God’s abundance.
  • For families: Look at the poster that your family made listing your Lent prayers (if you don’t have a poster, just talk about your prayers). Take time to praise God for the things he is doing to fulfill these prayers. Also, take time to praise God for all the other things he is doing that you maybe weren’t even praying for or expecting.

Friday, March 30, 2012

2 Samuel 20

1 Now a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted,
“We have no share in David,
no part in Jesse’s son!
Everyone to your tents, Israel!”
2 So all the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba son of Bikri. But the men of Judah stayed by their king all the way from the Jordan to Jerusalem.
3 When David returned to his palace in Jerusalem, he took the ten concubines he had left to take care of the palace and put them in a house under guard. He provided for them but had no sexual relations with them. They were kept in confinement till the day of their death, living as widows.
4 Then the king said to Amasa, “Summon the men of Judah to come to me within three days, and be here yourself.” 5 But when Amasa went to summon Judah, he took longer than the time the king had set for him.
6 David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba son of Bikri will do us more harm than Absalom did. Take your master’s men and pursue him, or he will find fortified cities and escape from us.” 7 So Joab’s men and the Kerethites and Pelethites and all the mighty warriors went out under the command of Abishai. They marched out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.
8 While they were at the great rock in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Joab was wearing his military tunic, and strapped over it at his waist was a belt with a dagger in its sheath. As he stepped forward, it dropped out of its sheath.
9 Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. 10 Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died. Then Joab and his brother Abishai pursued Sheba son of Bikri.
11 One of Joab’s men stood beside Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab!” 12 Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the road, and the man saw that all the troops came to a halt there. When he realized that everyone who came up to Amasa stopped, he dragged him from the road into a field and threw a garment over him. 13 After Amasa had been removed from the road, everyone went on with Joab to pursue Sheba son of Bikri.
14 Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel Beth Maakah and through the entire region of the Bikrites, who gathered together and followed him. 15 All the troops with Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maakah. They built a siege ramp up to the city, and it stood against the outer fortifications. While they were battering the wall to bring it down, 16 a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” 17 He went toward her, and she asked, “Are you Joab?”
“I am,” he answered.
She said, “Listen to what your servant has to say.”
“I’m listening,” he said.
18 She continued, “Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. 19 We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up the LORD’s inheritance?”
20 “Far be it from me!” Joab replied, “Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! 21 That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bikri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.”
The woman said to Joab, “His head will be thrown to you from the wall.”
22 Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.
23 Joab was over Israel’s entire army; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites; 24Adoniram was in charge of forced labor; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; 25 Sheva was secretary; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 26 and Ira the Jairite was David’s priest.

Points of Interest
  • ‘a troublemaker named Sheba’--as the last chapter ends, after the collapse of Absalom’s rebellion, all of the tribes are clambering over one another trying to show that they’ve always been loyal to David. They’re all so insistent that they start to get on one another’s nerves. Sheba uses the confusion of this moment of bad temper to start yet another rebellion.
  • ‘He provided for them but had no sexual relations with them’--these ten concubines have been through a lot. And it would just be too much, for everyone, for them to be passed back and forth between father and son. So, David gives them a quiet retirement.
  • ‘the king said to Amasa’--as part of the peace settlement after the battle with Absalom’s forces, the king makes Amasa, Absalom’s general, the commander of the army.
  • ‘he took longer than the time the king had set for him’--Amasa’s weakness as a general seems to be slowness to muster. Just as he let David get across the Jordan to a fortified position, he’s now letting Sheba get away.
  • ‘Take your master’s men’--that would be Abishai’s brother Joab’s men. In the reorganization of the military caused by Amasa’s promotion, Joab is made the commander of special forces: the Kerithites, the Pelithites, and the Mighty Men.
  • ‘Amasa came to meet them’--Joab’s special forces roll out quickly and catch up with Sheba, but Amasa finally arrives with the bulk of the army before Joab’s men have a chance to engage in battle.
  • ‘Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand’--Joab is what I call a complicated man: one part voice of reason, one part psychotic killer. He often shows better military and even political judgement than David: he’s the one who brokered the earlier peace between Absalom and David; he kept his head during the whole Rabbah campaign and Uriah incident when David did not; he kept the army together and avoided a wider war during the battle with Absalom. Again and again, he proves himself a good general and statesman. And yet, he’ll murder a personal rival without so much as a blink of an eye. There’s no way he’s going to let this young upstart give him orders.
  • ‘whoever is for David, let him follow Joab’--regardless of what David might say about it, Joab regains command of the army.
  • ‘Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maakah’--what at first looked like a widespread rebellion turns out to be just Sheba’s own clan. Joab is able to quickly contain him.
  • ‘Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy!’--this reminds me of a mafia godfather saying, ‘I’m a family man, a simple importer of olive oil.’ The guy who just poked the king’s son through with javelins and stabbed his rival in the gut with a hidden dagger is saying, ‘Who, me? I’m a man of peace.’ To his credit, though, he has proven willing to avoid unnecessary bloodshed in battle.
  • ‘they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab’--he may be family and all, but in the end, the town is not willing to die for the sake of Sheba’s ill-conceived, slapdash rebellion.
  • ‘Adoniram was in charge of forced labor’--the soldiers of defeated armies were often assigned hard labor as a punishment. The point of this paragraph as a whole, by the way, seems to be that David has re-established control. His administration is firmly in place again.
Taking it Home
  • For you: As we’ve done all week, we’re responding to today’s passage with a psalm of David. See the beginning of the week for some thoughts about how to use the psalm.
Psalm 5
1 Listen to my words, LORD,
consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3 In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
5 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
6 you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, LORD, detest.
7 But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.
8 Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
10 Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
12 Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
  • For your six: You have to think it was rather devastating for David to have Sheba turn on him just as the trouble with Absalom was ending. ‘Who’s next?’ he must have wondered. Ask God to comfort your six over any ways that they have been abandoned by people--whether it was recently or long ago. Pray that they wouldn't continue to carry that feeling of abandonment, but that God would give them a sense of belonging. Ask God to take away any feelings of loneliness they might be experiencing and to give them a strong community of support.
  • For our church: The woman from Abel Beth Maakah becomes an unlikely ally to Joab and his troops. Ask God to give our church alliances with unlikely people, institutions, and sectors of society. Pray that God would make the dream our church has of influencing secular culture a reality, and that he would do so through unique and creative partnerships.
  • For families: Take a look at your family’s Lent poster on the project God is calling you to as a family in this time. Have you already taken any actions on this? How is it going? Ask God to show you any unlikely people that might help you take the next step toward his idea for your family. If you sense that he’s giving you a name, go talk to that person and see what they might offer.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2 Samuel 18:19-19:8

19 Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run and take the news to the king that the LORD has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies.”
20 “You are not the one to take the news today,” Joab told him. “You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.”
21 Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off.
22 Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.”
But Joab replied, “My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.”
23 He said, “Come what may, I want to run.”
So Joab said, “Run!” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and outran the Cushite.
24 While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it.
The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the runner came closer and closer.
26 Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!”
The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.”
27 The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.”
“He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.”
28 Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.”
29 The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.”
30 The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

19:1 Joab was told, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2 And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3 The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. 4 The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”
5 Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. 6 You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. 7 Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.”
8 So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, “The king is sitting in the gateway,” they all came before him.
Meanwhile, the Israelites had fled to their homes.

Points of Interest
  • ‘You are not the one to take the news today’--this is considerate of Joab. Joab is the one who actually killed Absalom, and he is convinced it was the right thing to do. But he’s under no illusion that David will be happy about it. He doesn’t want young and eager Ahimaaz to bear the brunt of David’s displeasure.
  • ‘Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.”’--while kind to Ahimaaz, this puts the Cushite in a difficult spot. Maybe Joab thinks that this Cushite will be more capable of delivering the news with the required gravity, while Ahimaaz is a bit over-enthusiastic; or maybe he just cares less about what happens to this Cushite. Then again, David’s later interaction with the lookout might indicate that Joab is just trying to get his signals right. If the messenger is someone he knows, David will expect good news; if it’s a stranger, he’ll know there’s bad news involved. If David is prepared well for the bad news, he’ll be less shocked, and perhaps be less likely to do something rash to the messenger. If David is expecting good news, but gets bad news, who knows what might happen? Cush, by the way, is modern Sudan; this man has traveled a long way to end up in David’s army.
  • ‘sitting between the inner and outer gates’--for purposes of defense, the outer walls of a city would be quite thick, and there would be a series of gates. I think that here, though, the point is that David is eager to hear the news; he can’t stand to be fully inside the city. It’s like he’s standing by the screen door, waiting.
  • ‘If he is alone, he must have good news’--David can’t wait to hear the message, but instead takes his signals from what he can see from a distance. What he sees makes him cautiously optimistic. If the battle went truly poorly, you might see whole groups of soldiers retreating to the city.
  • ‘the first one runs like Ahimaaz’--Ahimaaz overtakes the Cushite, which would be more impressive if this were a race. Ahimaaz is a very speedy messenger, but he’s much less competent on the whole message part of being a messenger. David is eagerly looking for news on two subjects: 1) Did his army win the battle? and 2) Did Absalom survive? Ahimaaz has only half an answer for him. Ahimaaz’s very incompetence perhaps saves his life, though. He doesn’t even know the bad news that would give David a nasty shock.
  • ‘If only I had died instead of you’--David’s first reaction is as a father, rather than a general; of course, no parent wants to outlive their child.
  • ‘Now go out and encourage your men’--David’s reaction isn’t entirely fitting to the occasion. All of David’s soldiers have put their own lives at stake to protect David’s life, and now--after the fact--he’s saying that he wishes they hadn’t succeeded. The army has done their duty and done it well, but they’re left feeling as if they’ve done something wrong. Joab reminds David that his position doesn’t afford him the luxury of a personal reaction to his son’s death, at least in public. His soldiers’ duty was to fight for him; and now his duty is to congratulate them on a job well done.

Taking it Home
  • For you: For those of you just jumping in at this point in the week, in our ‘For you’ section this week, we’re reflecting on and praying from psalms.
Psalm 143
A psalm of David.
1 LORD, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.
7 Answer me quickly, LORD;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, LORD,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
11 For your name’s sake, LORD, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.
  • For your six: Joab reminds David that regardless of David’s own conflicted emotions upon hearing about Absalom’s death, all of David’s men currently need encouragement from him. Ask God to encourage your six today. Pray that they would feel cheered by good news and hopeful about their circumstances in life. Ask God if there is something you could do specifically to encourage them.
  • For our church: David’s response to Absalom’s death makes me think that David would have gladly forgiven Absalom if Absalom had just come home and said he was sorry. Despite all the competing interests and conflict, we get the picture that David really loved his son. Ask God to make our church one that really, really loves people, even when it’s most difficult.
  • For families: Is there anything that’s happened in your family that is hasn’t been forgiven? Whether it’s something that’s fresh or that has been pushed aside for a while, if it’s still bothering you consider bringing it up today and telling your family member how you feel. Ask God for the right words to use in this conversation. Try your best to both give and receive forgiveness. And pray that the air would be cleared between you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2 Samuel 17:15-18:18

15 Hushai told Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, “Ahithophel has advised Absalom and the elders of Israel to do such and such, but I have advised them to do so and so. 16 Now send a message at once and tell David, ‘Do not spend the night at the fords in the wilderness; cross over without fail, or the king and all the people with him will be swallowed up.’”
17 Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En Rogel. A female servant was to go and inform them, and they were to go and tell King David, for they could not risk being seen entering the city. 18 But a young man saw them and told Absalom. So the two of them left at once and went to the house of a man in Bahurim. He had a well in his courtyard, and they climbed down into it. 19 His wife took a covering and spread it out over the opening of the well and scattered grain over it. No one knew anything about it.
20 When Absalom’s men came to the woman at the house, they asked, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?”
The woman answered them, “They crossed over the brook.” The men searched but found no one, so they returned to Jerusalem.
21 After they had gone, the two climbed out of the well and went to inform King David. They said to him, “Set out and cross the river at once; Ahithophel has advised such and such against you.” 22 So David and all the people with him set out and crossed the Jordan. By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.
23 When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb.
24 David went to Mahanaim, and Absalom crossed the Jordan with all the men of Israel. 25 Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army in place of Joab. Amasa was the son of Jether, an Ishmaelite who had married Abigal, the daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah the mother of Joab. 26 The Israelites and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead.
27 When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim 28 brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, 29 honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, “The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.”
18:1 David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 David sent out his troops, a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, “I myself will surely march out with you.”
3 But the men said, “You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us. It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.”
4 The king answered, “I will do whatever seems best to you.”
So the king stood beside the gate while all his men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands. 5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
10 When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”
11 Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.”
12 But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake’ 13 And if I had put my life in jeopardy—and nothing is hidden from the king—you would have kept your distance from me.”
14 Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
16 Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops stopped pursuing Israel, for Joab halted them. 17 They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rocks over him. Meanwhile, all the Israelites fled to their homes.
18 During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.

Points of Interest
  • ‘Do not spend the night at the fords in the wilderness’--Hushai seems to be a little uncertain as to whose advice, Ahithophel’s or his, will ultimately prevail. Just to be safe, David should put a little space between Absalom and him.
  • ‘Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En Rogel’--these are the sons of the two priests. David’s people have set up a little communication network to get news to David without arousing suspicion: Hushai goes to the Tabernacle, ostensibly to make a sacrifice but really to pass a message to Abiathar and Zadok; the priests send a servant on ‘an errand’ out of town; she passes the message along to Jonathan and Ahimaaz; they carry it to David. Despite the precautions, they almost get caught.
  • ‘He put his house in order and then hanged himself’--once David crosses the Jordan, Ahithophel knows the game is over. He doesn’t need to stick around to see the end.
  • ‘David went to Mahanaim’--Mahanaim was Ish-Bosheth’s capital. I guess, from the fact that both Ish-Bosheth and David choose it as a base, that it must be strategically located for defense, for gathering forces, or both.
  • ‘Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army’--Amasa is a cousin of Joab and Absalom and a nephew of David.
  • ‘Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites, and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim’--now that he has a base of operations, David’s loyalists begin to gather him. Interestingly, one of these significant allies is from Rabbah, the town that David just conquered not so long ago (March 7th, 2 Samuel 12:15-31).
  • ‘brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery’--David’s men left town in a hurry with no supplies or equipment. These allies are helping David gather the necessary provisions from scratch.
  • ‘It would be better now for you to give us support from the city’--as it turns out, the fearsome warrior who eats giants for lunch (see yesterday’s passage) doesn’t even participate in the fighting. His generals think it would be too risky. Battle is unpredictable, and if some accident were to happen to David, the whole thing would be over. It’s best just to keep him safe.
  • ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom’--Absalom may be a usurper, but he’s also still David’s son.
  • ‘David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel’--perversely, David ends up having to fight against his own national army. When it gets down to the fighting, Israel’s army is no match for the ad hoc forces David is able to gather. Maybe it’s a matter of experience and training, David having retained the loyalty of the most battle-hardened troops. Maybe Israel’s army doesn’t have their hearts fully in it, fighting against their own king as they are. Maybe God favors David. Maybe all of the above.
  • ‘Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree’--Absalom is known for his flowing mane (2 Samuel 14:25-26). Embarrassingly, his beautiful head of hair proves to be his downfall.
  • ‘I would not lay a hand on the king’s son’--this guy has been paying attention. The man who grieved the deaths of Saul and Abner and Ish-Bosheth, and executed the purported killers of Saul and Ish-Bosheth, is unlikely to be happy with the one who kills his own son, rebel though his son may be.
  • ‘I’m not going to wait like this for you’--basically, ‘Look, I don’t have time to argue with you.’ Joab has shown before that he is going to do what he thinks is necessary, come what may.
  • ‘Then Joab sounded the trumpet’--Joab’s decision to kill Absalom is not completely heartless. He’s trying to save lives. He suspects that if Absalom were dead, the rebellion would crumble; and he’d like to kill as few of his own army’s soldiers as possible.
  • ‘threw him into a big pit in the forest’--Joab may be, from his perspective, simply doing what needs to be done. But he can’t be too proud of it, if he’s trying to hide the evidence of it in the forest.
  • ‘He named the pillar after himself’--it strikes me as somewhat less than completely dignified that Absalom commissioned a statue of himself. I think for the monument to have its desired effect it really needs to have been someone else’s idea. Poor Absalom so wants to be remembered--and is so afraid that he won’t be--that he throws his own party. His fears aren’t unfounded, though; in the end, the only trace of him left is indeed the ridiculous sculpture he built for himself. Sadly, he may be better off that way. What could he be remembered for, exactly? Killing his brother? Starting a civil war against his father? Apparently, the only thing truly remarkable about him is his hair--and even that betrays him in the end.
Taking it Home
  • For you: Today’s psalm is Psalm 62.
Psalm 62
1 Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
3 How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.
5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
6 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
9 Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
11 One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
12 and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”
  • For your six: Pray for your six’s relationships with their family members. David and Absalom aren’t exactly the picture of a wonderful father-son relationship, and, as we see, that causes more than a few problems for the both of them. Pray that your six’s families would be sources of support and blessing and not conflict.
  • For our church: I’m impressed by David’s ability to lead and delegate well. He is remarkably able to organize his impromptu army and march them into battle quickly and effectively. Ask God to give our church the same kind of efficient, organized system of getting things done. Ask God to somehow give us supernatural help in all the coordination that has to happen here week in and week out. If you are part of a Sunday team, a small group, or some other program or ministry, pray for the leaders who have been appointed to oversee that area.
  • For families: Ask everyone in your family to share about things they do to help make your home and family run well. Talk about why these things are important. Pray for each person and for what they contribute to your household. If there are areas that are not running well right now, talk about those too, and ask for God’s input on how they could run better.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2 Samuel 16:15-17:14

15 Meanwhile, Absalom and all the men of Israel came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel was with him. 16 Then Hushai the Arkite, David’s confidant, went to Absalom and said to him, “Long live the king! Long live the king!”
17 Absalom said to Hushai, “So this is the love you show your friend? If he’s your friend, why didn’t you go with him?”
18 Hushai said to Absalom, “No, the one chosen by the LORD, by these people, and by all the men of Israel—his I will be, and I will remain with him. 19 Furthermore, whom should I serve? Should I not serve the son? Just as I served your father, so I will serve you.”
20 Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?”
21 Ahithophel answered, “Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.
23 Now in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s advice.

17:1 Ahithophel said to Absalom, “I would choose twelve thousand men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. 2 I would attack him while he is weary and weak. I would strike him with terror, and then all the people with him will flee. I would strike down only the king 3 and bring all the people back to you. The death of the man you seek will mean the return of all; all the people will be unharmed.” 4 This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel.
5 But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say as well.” 6 When Hushai came to him, Absalom said, “Ahithophel has given this advice. Should we do what he says? If not, give us your opinion.”
7 Hushai replied to Absalom, “The advice Ahithophel has given is not good this time. 8 You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops. 9 Even now, he is hidden in a cave or some other place. If he should attack your troops first, whoever hears about it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the troops who follow Absalom.’ 10 Then even the bravest soldier, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a fighter and that those with him are brave.
11 “So I advise you: Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba—as numerous as the sand on the seashore—be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle. 12 Then we will attack him wherever he may be found, and we will fall on him as dew settles on the ground. Neither he nor any of his men will be left alive. 13 If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we will drag it down to the valley until not so much as a pebble is left.”
14 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 Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.

Points of Interest
  • ‘No, the one chosen by the LORD’--Absalom knows of Hushai’s close connection with David. One way or another, it makes him suspicious--and, as we know from Sunday’s passage, rightfully so--of Hushai’s loyalty. Either Hushai is still working for David, or he’s a turncoat, in which case, what’s to stop him from someday switching sides again? Hushai cleverly answers that nothing has changed; he serves the king, not David, and right now Absalom is the one sitting on the throne.
  • ‘all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious‘--nobody wants to pick sides if they think there’s still a good chance that Absalom and David will patch things up. Sleeping with his father’s concubines would be Absalom’s crossing of the Rubicon; there’s no going back from there. People would then know it’s time to back either David or Absalom.
  • ‘he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel’--this fulfills Nathan’s prediction that David would someday understand just what he had done to Uriah (March 6th, 2 Samuel 12:1-14). It also turns Absalom into the very thing he despises. This whole thing starts because Amnon rapes his sister; and now Absalom is raping his father’s wives.
  • ‘I would attack him while he is weary and weak’--momentum and the element of surprise are in Absalom’s favor. If he were to make a quick thrust, he could succeed. As time goes by, the fragility of Absalom’s position will start to show, and David will have the chance to gather his strength.
  • ‘Summon also Hushai the Arkite’--Absalom’s entire fate hangs on this decision; so he wants to hear as much advice as possible before making a final decision.
  • ‘as fierce as a wild bear’ --Hushai evaluates the situation differently. To him, Absalom’s main challenge is David’s fearsome reputation as a general and a warrior in his own right. If Absalom goes for the quick knockout punch and fails, it will only serve to enhance David’s reputation as someone who cannot be defeated; then everyone will defect back to David. Hushai is probably not wrong in this regard. And yet it doesn’t change the fundamental soundness of Ahithophel’s advice. The truth is that Absalom only has one shot, and his chances of success are small regardless. However, his odds are somewhat better if he makes the quick punch, as Ahithophel suggests.
  • ‘he will not spend the night with the troops’--Hushai reminds Absalom that David spent years hiding in the wilderness. If they go for the quick strike, they can’t even be guaranteed to find him; they’ll have shot their wad for no reason.
  • ‘from Dan to Beersheba’--Hushai’s conclusion is that Absalom should aim for overwhelming force instead of going for the quick strike. It sounds like a good idea, except for the tiny detail that Absalom has very little chance of being able to muster overwhelming force.
  • ‘The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better’--Hushai’s constant harping on just how fearsome David is--‘Did I ever tell you about the time he felled a giant with just a pebble, and then cut off the giant’s head? I’ve never seen anything like it’--saps Absalom’s enthusiasm for a fight. Suddenly, waiting sounds good. Unfortunately, it’s too late for second thoughts; he’s already crossed the Rubicon. He follows enough of Ahithophel’s advice to get himself into trouble, but not enough to actually see it through.
Taking it Home
  • For you: Today’s psalm is Psalm 61.
Psalm 61
1 Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
4 I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
5 For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
7 May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.
8 Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.
  • For your six: Hushai was able to strategically use his position and skills. He recognized that he had influence and saw how he could leverage it for good. Ask God to use the gifts, talents and skills of your six in ways that matter--maybe not as sneakily or deceptively as Hushai did, but with just as much impact. Ask God to make your six aware of the unique influence they have and to give them a sense of their purpose in the world.
  • For our church: Ask God to give our church the wisdom to recognize good advice when we hear it. Pray that God would protect us from ruinous advice like Absalom received in today’s passage, instead putting us in the hands of trustworthy people who will help strengthen our church.
  • For families: We all find ourselves in situations where we’d appreciate some good advice. Have you or a family member been in any situations like that recently? What was going on? Who did you turn to for advice? Why did you choose them? Think and talk about the qualities of people who give good advice. Pray that God would continue to give them wisdom and discernment when giving advice, and that God would develop these qualities in you and your family members.

Monday, March 26, 2012

2 Samuel 16:1-14

1 When David had gone a short distance beyond the summit, there was Ziba, the steward of Mephibosheth, waiting to meet him. He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine.
2 The king asked Ziba, “Why have you brought these?”
Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”
3 The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”
Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the house of Israel will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”
4 Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”
“I humbly bow,” Ziba said. “May I find favor in your eyes, my lord the king.”
5 As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. 6 He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. 7 As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! 8 The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”
9 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”
10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”
11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “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. 12 It may be that the LORD will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”
13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.

Points of Interest
  • ‘steward of Mephibosheth’--Mephibosheth is Jonathan’s son, the one with two broken legs. Out of respect for Saul and love for Jonathan, David sort of adopts Mephibosheth, granting him land, the right to eat with the king at the palace, and Ziba’s services to take care of all of the heavy labor at the farm.
  • ‘He had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded’--David left Jerusalem in a hurry without proper provision. Ziba provides for his food and transportation needs.
  • ‘He is staying in Jerusalem’--Mephibosheth lives in Jerusalem, eating at the king’s table everyday. He hasn’t, however, evacuated with David. Perhaps he’s hoping his family can make a comeback during all of the turmoil.
  • ‘All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours’--Mephiboseth’s absence contrasts badly with Ziba’s thoughtful generosity. David decides that he’s been rewarding the wrong person.
  • ‘The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul’--actually David did his best to avoid bloodshed in the house of Saul. He did, however, take the throne from the family of Saul. I suppose it would be asking too much to expect this relative of Saul to make the distinction. He’s been waiting a long time for David to get his comeuppance. I imagine he’s all the more pleased that David has been betrayed by someone from his own household.
  • ‘If he is cursing because the LORD said to him’--I don’t think David is claiming here that God did indeed tell Shimei to do this. He’s basically saying that Shimei’s cursing is none of Abishai’s business, nor even David’s; it’s between Shimei and God.
  • ‘It may be that the LORD will look upon my misery’--David knows that public opinion is fickle. Of course, people will curse him when things are looking down. If things make a turn for the better, the cursing will stop on its own.
  • ‘throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt’--Shimei certainly does take the liberty David has given him to the limit. Abishai is something of a hothead; but in this case I might, along with him, be tempted to take Shimei’s head off after a certain amount of dirt was showered on me.
Special Week 5 ‘Taking It Home’ Instructions
This week in our ‘Taking it Home’ section, things will look a little different. We’re going to delve a little deeper into the life of David by reading his prayers recorded in the book of Psalms. Every day the ‘For you’ section will be a Psalm written by David, perhaps during this very time of his life. While our passages in 2 Samuel tell us much about the events going on in David’s life, the Psalms add a level of richness to the story, as they give us a compelling look at how David responded to the events and reached out to God. Each day, read through the Psalm a few times--paying attention to:
What strikes you about David’s response in the Psalm in correlation to the story? What can you learn from this?
How do you resonate with his prayers? Is there a part that sticks out the most to you?

Lastly, try making David’s Psalm your prayer to God for the day.

Taking it Home
  • For you: Today’s psalm is Psalm 3.
Psalm 3
1 LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
3 But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
7 Arise, LORD!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
  • For your six: Man, was it a good day for Ziba. I imagine it would be like returning home from the office after getting the biggest raise ever and saying “Honey, guess what happened to me today.” Good days--they are just so good, and sometimes hard to come by. Pray that God would come through for your six today in a way that leaves them resolutely feeling, ‘Today was a good day.’
  • For our church: David seems remarkably unconcerned about the insults coming his way. He seems to be connected to God in way that gives him such strength, peace, and purpose that the insults don’t matter. Ask God to help our church connect with God in a similar way. Pray that God would give us a sense of our purpose as a church. Pray that we would be so focused on it that we wouldn’t be bothered by small and unimportant things.
  • For families: Has anyone ever called you a name or said mean or hurtful things about you? How did that make you feel? Words have great power to lift us up or bring us down, but God is even more powerful than people’s words. Pray that God would tell each of you who he says you are and write down anything you hear. You could even write this up nicely for each person in your family and put it in a little frame in their room. Come back to God’s words for you the next time someone says something that hurts your feelings. Pray that God’s words would be more powerful and would drive out any power that the other words have over you.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2 Samuel 15

1 In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. 2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, “What town are you from?” He would answer, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” 4 And Absalom would add, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”
5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.
7 At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, “Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD. 8 While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: ‘If the LORD takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the LORD in Hebron.’”
9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he went to Hebron.
10 Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” 11 Two hundred men from Jerusalem had accompanied Absalom. They had been invited as guests and went quite innocently, knowing nothing about the matter. 12 While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, to come from Giloh, his hometown. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.
13 A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.”
14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”
15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”
16 The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace.17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king.
19 The king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. 20 You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your people with you. May the LORD show you kindness and faithfulness.”
21 But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
22 David said to Ittai, “Go ahead, march on.” So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him.
23 The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the wilderness.
24 Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the covenant of God. They set down the ark of God, and Abiathar offered sacrifices until all the people had finished leaving the city.
25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”
27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Do you understand? Go back to the city with my blessing. Take your son Ahimaaz with you, and also Abiathar’s son Jonathan. You and Abiathar return with your two sons. 28 I will wait at the fords in the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar took the ark of God back to Jerusalem and stayed there.
30 But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. 31 Now David had been told, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “LORD, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”
32 When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go with me, you will be a burden to me. 34But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘Your Majesty, I will be your servant; I was your father’s servant in the past, but now I will be your servant,’ then you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice. 35 Won’t the priests Zadok and Abiathar be there with you? Tell them anything you hear in the king’s palace. 36 Their two sons, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and Jonathan son of Abiathar, are there with them. Send them to me with anything you hear.”
37 So Hushai, David’s confidant, arrived at Jerusalem as Absalom was entering the city.

Points of Interest
  • ‘In the course of time’--we skipped a chapter, in which Joab brokers peace between David and Absalom. David allows Absalom to return to Jerusalem, and offers him protection from revenge on the part of Amnon’s people. But Absalom is now kept out of any government affairs.
  • ‘Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men’--Absalom is apparently next in line for the kingship. He is the third oldest son. He himself eliminated Amnon, the oldest. We never hear anything about Kileab, the second; whether he died early, is unfit somehow to rule, or is simply uninterested is unknown. So, Absalom has the right combination of seniority and fame to make a claim. But, because of his assassination of Amnon, he’s being frozen out. He’s tired of waiting to be let back into David’s good graces and decides he’ll make something happen himself. The first step is to get himself on the front page of the news. He does the Iron Age equivalent of Dukakis’ publicity stunt driving the tank, with the difference that it actually works for Absalom. By the time he’s done, the word around town is, ‘He may have murdered his brother, but you have to hand it to the guy: he looks great on a chariot.’ If you’re tracking with our story, however, you’ll recognize that the author is signaling that there’s a problem with Absalom. It’s not necessarily a good thing that Absalom has that natural leader look. It puts him in company with Saul and with David’s oldest brother Eliab, both of whom looked very kingly but were rejected by God for being substandard king-making material. Meanwhile, the very fact that David is again and again willing to make the unkingly choice—use a sling instead of a sword, dance with his ephod showing, wear sackcloth—gains him the long-lasting respect of God and the people.
  • ‘If only I were appointed judge in the land’—step two in Absalom’s campaign is to position himself as the ‘Washington outsider.’ If he were in charge, he’d eliminate all of that government red tape and get rid of the politics as usual atmosphere of the capital.
  • ‘would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him’—step three is a straight-out charm offensive.
  • ‘Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD’—apparently, David has been keeping a close eye on Absalom. He needs an excuse to get out of Jerusalem and away from all of the prying eyes at court. Hebron is his birthplace. So, he’s asking David to let him go home, get back in touch with his roots, and spend some time with God in the more comfortable and low-stress atmosphere away from Jerusalem. Hebron would be to Absalom as Kennebunkport is to the Bushs, or Hyannis is to the Kennedys. Or, at least, that’s how he’s presenting it to David.
  • ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’—Hebron is also the place from which David made his bid for the crown, and that’s really what Absalom has in mind.
  • ‘We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom’—it’s unclear to me whether David is panicking or being prudent here. On the one hand, Absalom has taken David by surprise, has some well-placed allies, is well-organized, and executes his plan well. So, maybe it’s wise of David to step back to regroup. On the other hand, Absalom’s rebellion is more a matter of theater than of actual power; in the end, it consists of little more than some horns, some shouting, and two hundred influential people who are being presented as his supporters when they’re actually unwitting dinner guests.
  • ‘he left ten concubines to take care of the palace’—I suppose someone needs to be left behind to feed the cats and water the plants, but I don’t think I’d want to be these women. The fact that David is leaving them at the palace suggests that he’s making a tactical withdrawal, rather than retreating outright. David fully expects to return. In the meanwhile, though, they’re entirely defenseless.
  • ‘All his men’—that would be the king’s bodyguard company, like we discussed David being for Achish on March 26th (1 Samuel 28:2).
  • ‘all the Kerethites and Pelethites’—the Kerithites and Pelethites are two crack units, probably of foreign mercenaries. The best guess is that the Kerithites are from Crete and the Pelethites are Philistines; thus, both companies are what we might loosely call ‘Greeks.’ (‘Cherethites and Pelethites.’ The Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980). The Kerithites and Pelethites fit the profile of a typical foreign-born king’s company—and they’re referred to as his bodyguard in 2 Samuel 20:23—but they’re listed here separately from ‘David’s men’ referenced in the note above. Even if distinct from the king’s company, they’re particularly closely attached to the king; they’re commanded by one of his highest-ranking Mighty Men (not quite one of the Three, but greater than the Thirty). Besides his bodyguard and the Kerithites and Pelethites, David has with him his original 600 from the outlaw days, here called ‘the Gittites.’ So, all in all, while it’s a little unclear at this point who controls the national army, we do know that David has maintained the loyalty of four elite units: not a bad core.
  • ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—Ittai is apparently a Philistine, newly arrived from Gath. David gives him the chance to break contract, letting him know that he might be safer or get paid better with Absalom. As a hired gun with nothing invested in this fight, why should Ittai make life difficult for himself? Ittai swears by God--David’s God, the LORD--that he will stick with David. While David’s own son uses a fake religious ceremony as cover for rebellion, this stranger genuinely calls upon God as witness to his loyalty.
  • ‘Take the ark of God back into the city’--David doesn’t consider himself to have a monopoly on God. Whether he wins this contest or not, whether Absalom ends up king or he does, he wants the ark, the symbol of God’s presence, to be in Jerusalem.
  • ‘LORD, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness’--Ahithophel may be Bathsheba’s grandfather (Baldwin). If so, it’s curious that he would side with Absalom, as one would expect that his own grandchildren would lose out if Absalom succeeds. Whatever his relationship to the royal family, he is definitely a wise and respected counselor. Knowing the good advice Ahithophel has given him over the years, David is afraid of what might happen with that brilliant mind turned against him.
  • ‘you can help me by frustrating Ahithophel’s advice’--apparently, Hushai is another of David’s counselors. David sends him to Absalom as a spy and fifth columnist. I think the idea is that it will be harder for Absalom to make a good decision if he is getting contrary advice from two people with such reputations for wisdom.
Taking it Home
  • For you: Absalom seems pretty convinced that his father would never give him what he wants (He clearly never read the tip from last Friday, March 16th, about Baanah and Rekab and how taking things into your own hands often doesn’t go the best). I wonder though what it would have been like if Absalom had explicitly asked David for what he wanted. How do you feel about asking God for things? You probably can relate to how good it feels when someone takes the time to ask you something; more times than not it feels good to be asked for your thoughts, opinions, and help--even if it’s help you can’t even quite pull off. I wonder if God is the same. Practice today asking God for the things you need and want. And like any good asking goes, wait and expect that God will respond to your request.
  • For your six: Whether he is panicked or prudent in his fleeing of Jerusalem, having to gather his entire staff and march to a place of refuge all because of a rebellious child has to be a pretty humbling experience for David; it probably puts into question his ability to be father, let alone a king. Are there ways that deciding to follow God would be particularly humbling and therefore challenging to your six? Ask God to give your six the joy and courage to follow after him. Pray God would remove any ways that pursuing him threatens them and call their sense of identity into question.
  • For our church: David wants people to worship God, regardless of whether or not he is still around or personally involved. Ask God to give our church the same stance; pray that we would care more than anything else about people being able to connect with God, and that we would feel excited for any of the ways that that might happen, even if we’re not directly involved.
  • For families: Thinking back to Monday’s ‘Taking It Home For Families’ tip about good ideas from God that God doesn’t want us to act on quite yet. Spend time praying together and asking God for these things. If it feels unfair to you or you worry you might never get what God promised, tell God that and ask God to provide for what you need. Encourage each person in your family not to give up on things but to continue to ask for the things they want even if the answer is ‘not yet.’

Saturday, March 24, 2012

2 Sam 13: 23-39

23 Two years later, when Absalom’s sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king’s sons to come there. 24 Absalom went to the king and said, “Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his attendants please join me?”
25 “No, my son,” the king replied. “All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you.” Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go but gave him his blessing.
26 Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us.”
The king asked him, “Why should he go with you?” 27 But Absalom urged him, so he sent with him Amnon and the rest of the king’s sons.
28 Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” 29 So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled.
30 While they were on their way, the report came to David: “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons; not one of them is left.” 31 The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants stood by with their clothes torn.
32 But Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, “My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar.33 My lord the king should not be concerned about the report that all the king’s sons are dead. Only Amnon is dead.”
34 Meanwhile, Absalom had fled.
Now the man standing watch looked up and saw many people on the road west of him, coming down the side of the hill. The watchman went and told the king, “I see men in the direction of Horonaim, on the side of the hill.”
35 Jonadab said to the king, “See, the king’s sons have come; it has happened just as your servant said.”
36 As he finished speaking, the king’s sons came in, wailing loudly. The king, too, and all his attendants wept very bitterly.
37 Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned many days for his son.
38 After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years. 39 And King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death.

Points of Interest
  • ‘Two years later’--I guess Absalom is a ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’ kind of guy.
  • ‘when Absalom’s sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor’—this would be like the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a chance to rest after a hard season’s labor, to celebrate a job well done, and to thank God for another abundant year.
  • ‘All of us should not go’--after inviting all of his brothers, Absalom goes on to invite the king, anticipating that David would decline. Rather like never having the President and Vice-President in the same airplane, David is avoiding having the entire royal family in one place, lest the nation be left leaderless in the case of some tragedy. He offers a more gracious excuse for declining, though, basically saying, ‘No, you and your brothers go on ahead and have your fun without me.’
  • ‘we would only be a burden to you’--when I was in high school, the President (it was Reagan) spoke at our school on a campaign stop. Not only on the day, but for a couple of weeks before, there was total chaos. The place was crawling with secret service agents, advance campaign staff, political advisors, White House staff, and reporters. A helipad was installed in our football practice field, and all of our landscaping was redone. It’s quite an undertaking to host a head of state.
  • ‘please let my brother Amnon come’--as the oldest son and therefore probably the Crown Prince, Amnon would be a part of the king’s retinue. Absalom is asking David to send Amnon as his representative.
  • ‘Why should he go with you?’--David seems a bit suspicious, but Absalom outlasts him in the ‘Why?/Why not?’ game.
  • ‘When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine’--Absalom wants them to strike when Amnon and those loyal to him would most have their guard down. This plan has the added benefit of being embarrassing. The last picture of Amnon would be as a drunken fool. Absalom wants Amnon not just to die, but to experience at least some of the shame he inflicted on Tamar.
  • ‘strong and brave’--I wouldn’t exactly call it an act of heroism to strike down a drunk man. Then again, they are about to kill a prince. Maybe it’s not so much the actual ‘fight’ as the aftermath they’re afraid of.
  • ‘all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled’--the rest of the princes, perhaps not aware of the private feud between Amnon and Absalom, think that Absalom is executing a palace coup. Step one would be eliminating all competition.
  • ‘not one of them is left’--while the princes scatter in a panic, rumors of this supposed coup make it to the palace.
  • ‘Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said … “Only Amnon is dead”’-- Jonadab certainly has a way of inserting himself into the middle of palace intrigue, doesn’t he? A confidant of Amnon in the last passage, he also seems to be well-informed about Absalom’s plans.
  • ‘ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar’--note that he doesn’t say, alleged rape,’ or, ‘that thing between Amnon and Tamar.’ Regardless of what he’s said before, at least now Jonadab is calling it what it was.
  • ‘Meanwhile, Absalom had fled’--Amnon may very well have deserved to die. That doesn’t mean Absalom had the right to kill him. He has just assassinated the Crown Prince. This could spark wider feuding among the various parties and sub-families in the royal family, or even a civil war.
  • ‘Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur’--this is Absalom’s maternal grandfather. Like when David’s father Jesse went into exile in Moab, Absalom is seeking family protection outside of Israel.
  • ‘for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death’--David’s judgment of Absalom is softened by the fact that it was not, in the end, a coup, and by the fact that Amnon’s death wasn’t exactly unjustified. Plus, as time goes by, he simply misses Absalom. However, the fact remains that Absalom is a murderer and traitor. So, David can’t easily welcome him back.
Taking it Home
  • For you: David and his family perform a poor life decision hat trick: it’s not often you get murder, incest, and fratricide within one week’s Bible Guide passages. It seems like Absalom had a fairly sizeable number of friends, family members, and neighbors who would join him for his dinner party. Nothing ruins a good party, though, like murdering your brother in the middle of it. Absalom could have been enjoying a pretty rich relational world if only he weren’t so obsessed by Amnon. Who are the people you spend your time with? Are they at work? at church? in your neighborhood? in a sports league? Ask God to help you pay attention to them. Are there ways that you are distracted by one person or dynamic, such that you neglect all the others in your midst? Ask God to place you in a community of people who will uplift you, encourage you, and help you follow after him.
  • For your six: Since Jonadab knew about it, apparently Absalom had expressed his intention to kill Amnon. Maybe he said it sarcastically, or under his breath, or at an inappropriate time; somehow no one seemed to follow up. What are things your six often talk about? What are the comments they make repeatedly or topics they seem to bring up again and again? Ask God to help you pay attention to the things your six say--both the words they say and the meaning beneath those words.
  • For our church: Who knows what reconciliation between Absalom and Amnon would have looked like, or even if it were possible at all? These two feuding brothers paint yet another picture of the incredible mess of grief, misery and despair that results when two parties are at odds. Pray for God to bless our church with peace and reconciliation so that we could then actively play a part in creating peace and reconciliation in our cities, countries and the world. Forgive the Miss American pageant cliché, but ask God even for world peace--or, at least, that God would help us learn how to get along ourselves.
  • For families: Is there a time in your family when you purposefully connect and have time together? In today’s society, it’s easy to get distracted or try to multitask to get everything done, inadvertently not listening fully to others. Ask God for some time today to listen to each other--and to God--without distractions. Is there anything someone in your family has said recently that you have not followed up on? Consider finding time to do that today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

2 Samuel 13:1-22

1 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.
2 Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.
3 Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. 4He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”
Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”
5 “Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”
6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”
7 David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” 8 So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. 9 Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.
“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. 11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”
12 “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”
16 “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”
But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.
20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.
21 When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22 And Absalom never spoke to Amnon again; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.

Points of Interest
  • ‘Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar’--Amnon is David’s oldest son, and Absalom is also among the older siblings; both of them were born during the time when David was king of Judah in Hebron. I gather that Tamar is a full sister to Absalom and a half sister to Amnon. I imagine that it could have been confusing to live among a large gaggle of siblings, half-siblings, stepmothers, and step-siblings constantly moving into and out of the royal court. However, Amnon, Absalom, and Tamar all seem to be fairly close in age, raised together as brothers and sisters at a time when the court was much smaller and less sophisticated. The fact that Amnon would develop this obsession with his sister seems highly unnatural. I wonder if this is an advanced version of David’s own illicit obsession. David fell in love with the wife of a brother-in-arms, someone who should be like a sister to him, not a lover. Amnon falls in love with an actual sister. David was raised as a simple shepherd and had to work his way over time to being an egocentric star. Amnon was born a prince; self-indulgence comes naturally to him.
  • ‘Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother’--Amnon’s cousin Jonadab is maybe a lifelong friend, maybe a social climber, maybe both. In any case, unlike David’s counselors like Nathan the prophet and even Joab, Jonadab makes no effort to help Amnon actually figure out what is best here. He simply helps Amnon get what he wants.
  • ‘Let her prepare the food in my sight’--Amnon deftly plays on the sympathy we tend to have toward loved ones who are sick. Everyone will be extraordinarily attentive to his comfort and deferential to his whims.
  • ‘Bring the food here into my bedroom’--he continues to play the role of sick child well. Claiming that having so many people around is tiring him out, he asks that everyone else be sent away and that Tamar serve him in bed: ‘I just need a little peace and quiet.’ Not suspecting he has lustful feelings toward his own sister, everyone thinks of this as a benign and relatively normal request. At worst, they think, Amnon is something of a high maintenance patient.
  • ‘Come to bed with me, my sister’--Amnon seems to be under the delusion that Tamar shares his feelings: ‘Finally, we’re alone together.’ But she’s shocked and horrified--and she realizes too late the vulnerable position she is in.
  • ‘he will not keep me from being married to you’--I think Tamar is just trying to buy time here, by pretending to be in favor of the relationship as long as it’s handled properly. She hopes that cooler heads would prevail if she can just get out of that room. It’s unlikely that, upon consideration, Amnon would even have the boldness to ask David for such a thing; and there’s absolutely no chance David would grant it.
  • ‘Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred’--predictably, the satisfaction of his obsession doesn’t match his expectations. How could it? Still captive to his narcissism, rather than repent as David eventually did, he blames the whole thing on Tamar.
  • ‘Get this woman out of my sight’--as so often in the case of rape, there are no witnesses. So, it becomes a he said-she said scenario. As the more powerful one, Amnon is able to control the situation in his favor.
  • ‘the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore’--through no fault of her own, Tamar is no longer qualified to wear her clothes. She tears them off in grief and protest.
  • ‘Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you?’--Absalom seems to have had his suspicions of Amnon, perhaps lurking in the back of his mind for a while. Absalom probably just didn’t think that Amnon would ever have the right combination of audacity and opportunity to do anything.
  • ‘Don’t take this thing to heart’--at first blush, this sounds heartless. As it turns out, Absalom himself very much does take it to heart. I wonder if he’s not so much saying here, ‘It’s no big deal,’ as he’s saying, ‘It’s not your fault, and don’t worry; I’ll take care of you.’
  • ‘Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house’--she would need to marry beneath her station to find someone willing to take someone who is not a virgin. Instead of debasing herself in that way, she becomes a spinster aunt in her brother’s household.
  • ‘When King David heard all this, he was furious’--this is a strangely impotent fury. I recognize that parents try to avoid taking sides or picking favorites among their children; but when one child accuses another of rape, isn’t some sort of action called for? This is the second instance in a disturbing trend. Just like when Joab murdered Abner, in the face of unjustified violence by a powerful close relative, David does nothing.
Taking it home:
  • For you: Does reading about what happened to Tamar make you angry? It’s just so unfair. It doesn't make sense why such a bad thing needed to happen. Has something terrible and inexplicable ever happened to you? Maybe it’s not as extreme as what happened to Tamar, or maybe it is. Talk to God about this issue. Tell God the pain and frustration it’s caused you. Ask God to stand with you in the midst of the questions and pain. I think he’d be up for the conversation.
  • For your six: Pray today for your six’s romantic relationships. Are they married, dating, single? How is it going for them? I doubt that their relationship situations are quite as complex as Amnon and Tamar’s--let’s hope not--but they probably have their own set of challenges, drama, and heartbreak which relationships inevitably bring. Pray that your six would find God helpful in their relationships and that God would resource your six with everything they need to thrive relationally.
  • For our church: Ask God to make our church a place of refuge and advocacy for the innocent and vulnerable. Pick a group in society today which seems particularly vulnerable (homeless, battered women, human traffic victims, refugees) to pray for. Ask God to use people in our church to bring God’s hope and restoration to this particular group.
  • For families: Think about all the different relationships between individuals in your family. How do you each relate to the other members? It’s interesting how each of our personalities sometimes brings out different aspects of others’ personalities. Give each person an opportunity to share honestly about a part of themselves that others might not think of at first glance. Thank God for the ways God has made all of you unique and ask God to show all of you new ways of respecting and loving one another.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2 Samuel 12:15-31

15 After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”
19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”
20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; 25 and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.
26 Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel. 27 Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, “I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. 28 Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it. Otherwise I will take the city, and it will be named after me.”
29 So David mustered the entire army and went to Rabbah, and attacked and captured it. 30 David took the crown from their king’s head, and it was placed on his own head. It weighed a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones. David took a great quantity of plunder from the city 31 and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brickmaking. David did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then he and his entire army returned to Jerusalem.

Points of Interest
  • ‘the LORD struck the child’--here we go with God striking people again, and this one bothers me even more than the others. With Saul and his evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:1-13, Monday, March 14th), there was some ambiguity as to whether God was actively harming Saul. With Uzzah (2 Samuel 6, last Sunday’s passage), the punishment was swifter and more severe than I’m completely comfortable with, but at least I could see what Uzzah had done to provoke God’s reaction. This time around, a baby gets struck. I can understand that God would not want to allow David and Bathsheba to murder Bathsheba’s husband and then just form a nice little family and move on as if nothing had happened. But I have a problem with the fact that the baby, obviously a victim and not a perpetrator in the whole affair, bears the brunt of the punishment. I have to confess that I wonder if the narrator is mistaken here, wrongly interpreting the child’s death as the action of God; but I have no basis for that hypothesis beyond my own discomfort with the story. I keep coming around to the thought that God and I seem to place different values on matters of life and death. To my mind, there’s nothing worse than death. But God seems to consistently employ death as the better option in certain situations. That could be because God rates the alternatives more unacceptable than I do, or it could be because God knows death isn’t as bad as I think it is. Apparently, God considers it so important that this particular child never be king that God is willing to kill him--either because God knows how awful it would be were this child to become king, or because God knows that death isn’t a terribly awful fate for this child. I’m still not able to say, ‘Oh, now I see how striking this child was really a great idea.’ But at least it gives me a possibly fruitful way to talk with God about it: God, how do you and I see death differently, and what can I learn from it?
  • ‘The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground’--apparently, as when he danced in his skimpy ephod a bit too vigorously for Michal’s taste (again 2 Samuel 6, last Sunday’s passage), David is behaving less dignified than a king--even a king with a dying child--is expected to act. I take this as a good sign that David is recovering from his self-indulgent phase and returning to what we always liked about him. He’s back to his theme: ‘I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.’ David is, once again, willing to look like a fool, banking everything on his passion for God.
  • ‘The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live’--it’s worth noting, for all of my angst about the God striking the child, that the child’s own father puts his hope in God’s goodness. David considers himself to blame for what has happened, and he turns to God as the one who may just be able to bail him out.
  • ‘I will go to him, but he will not return to me’--I find this a poignant way of putting it, both sad and hopeful. They will meet again, but only by David following his son into death.
  • ‘The LORD loved him’--this is a surprise turn of events. David and Bathsheba have another son, and this one--for unexplained reasons--is a particular favorite of God. I wonder if God simply wants to honor the change of heart God sees in David and Bathsheba. The first child was conceived in an atmosphere of selfishness, greed, lust, lies, betrayal, murder, and neglect of duty. This one comes to life in the midst of humility, quiet sadness, and tender care. This is a child God wouldn’t mind seeing as king.
  • ‘sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah’--God has his own nickname for Solomon. It means, ‘God-loved’ (Baldwin).
  • ‘Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah’--all of this time, Joab has continued the campaign against the Ammonites.
  • ‘Otherwise I will take the city’--this is both wise and kind on Joab’s part. He’s seen, with David under Saul and with Abner under Ish-Bosheth, how things get hairy when a general becomes more successful and popular than the king he serves. He’d rather avoid a song like, ‘Joab Defeated the Ammonites, While David Stayed Home,’ making it to the top of the charts. Plus, he’s giving the newly revived David the chance to get back in the game.
  • ‘So David mustered the entire army’--this whole, sad debacle started when David decided not to show up for work. Now, we’re back on track.
Taking it Home
  • For you: David fasts as a way to turn his heart and attention back toward God. Have you been fasting from something during this season? How is your fast going? Is there something specific you are fasting for? What have you been learning, and what has God been teaching you? If you aren’t fasting from anything specific, pick something today that will help you direct your attention to God.
  • For your six: God’s willingness in this passage to let the child die is, at best, unsettling. God can do things that are pretty hard to understand. How do your six view God? If you don’t know, consider asking them. Do they see God as loving and kind? Distant and aloof? Angry and ready to strike down babies, the elderly, and anyone in between? Pray that God would give your six an understanding of who God actually is. Ask God to take away any views they have of God that might misrepresent him and get in the way of them turning to him.
  • For our church: Instead of ignoring, repressing or excusing it, David lets the weight of what has happened hit him. He lets himself be troubled by this horrible situation, and rightly so: it is troubling. Pray that our church wouldn’t shy away from troubling situations, but would wrestle through and come before God with them. Pick a recent troubling issue in the news, any one that struck you as less than ideal. Don’t worry; I’m sure there are lots to choose from. Pray about that troubling issue today, asking God to show his power and redemption in that situation.
  • For families: Talk together about fasting. The thing I find most important about fasting is what I am fasting for, not what I am giving up. Talk together about something that would be worth fasting for--maybe some of your Lenten prayers from your poster. Consider fasting from something together as a family as a way of saying, “God, we are really serious about these things.” Talk about the choices you might face to do something or not while fasting. Check in, support each other, and see how God responds in your faith experiment.