2 Samuel 15

The beauty of David’s forgiveness of his son Absalom for murder is forgotten this chapter. Absalom, David’s most handsome charming & talented son is also a complete piece of work. 

He’s an ambitious populist who fans his popularity with the people until he’s leading a full scale rebellion against David, who has to flee Jerusalem. 

I think of this as “the decline”. The narratives of the old testament rarely reach closure like good fiction. The go on after the freeze frame where everyone would live happily ever after, to where things become banal and petty, and dissipation and failure set in. Like life. 

This seems to be the fulfillment of the prophesy after David sinned, that the sword would never leave him. He’ll always have trouble. He’ll be an ordinary king…

It all goes to highlight how different the Messiah is. His narrative ends on a high and stays there. His victory is final, his peace everlasting.

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2 Samuel 14

One of David’s most promising sons has killed another of his sons as revenge for a nasty rape and put himself in self imposed exile. We left the last chapter with David, over mourning the dead son, now missing the live one too. Its a tragic mess.

Joab, David’s loyal general is a notable bit player here, and he engineers with a wise woman a bit of a play act.  She gets an audience with David to give him a fake petition about two sons… you get the drift. David does too.  “did Joab put you up to this?” he asks.

Absalom, the exiled son is bought home, but David still can’t bring himself to see him. Absalom eventually forces Joab to pay him attention by burning one of Joab’s fields of barley!  He has to come and see Absalom, and they talk about the real problem.

The chapter ends movingly at the end of this long road of forgiveness with David kissing his son.

My grandfather had a brother he stopped speaking to and never did again in his life.  This chapter is about a profound insight about how much God is not like that – as the woman who Joab chose for the fake petition says “God … devises ways for the banished to be restored.”

This was an incredibly hard relationship to heal, but David, with help from some godly friends, and a lifetime of being schooled in grace, did it.

2 Samuel 13

The story takes a depressing turn. The old testament is the story of false starts, failed messiahs, new leaves turned with no lasting difference. 

It’s the history of god’s relationship with the race from which the Messiah will come, during which more and more of God is slowly revealed. His mighty plans ever so slowly unfold. 

But, short term, everything goes bad and people always let him down. 

God remains unshockable: our depths of cruelty, degradation & nastiness; our small, banal meaness, our flights of destructive passionate self indulgence; he’s seen it all a gazillion times before and his love never fails.

Last two chapters we had David’s sin. That ended with the promise of more strife by the prophet, and here it starts.

It’s a story set among David’s numerous children: brothers, half brothers and sisters. It involves lust, incestuous rape and revenge. At the end, David’s most gifted and promising son, Absalom, is in self imposed exile for the murder of his brother.

Throughout David is: angry, weeping bitterly, sad. He’s reaping the whirlwind for his own messy love life, I suppose. 

There’s no mention at all of God in this chapter. I don’t think it’s necessarily a moral fable, and I don’t intend to come in like Aesop and say “so the moral is …” 

It’s just messy ugly family history showing that, apart from the intervention of God in their lives these people are messed up humans just like us.

2 Samuel 12

Understanding God doesn’t come naturally to us. I think of the old testament as god creating solid concrete learning tools so humans can understand cosmic intangible truths.

So he has a holy of holies which is the location of God. Sacrifices of animals to show that sin is important. But now more of god’s plan is out there, the temple and the sacrifice are revealed as much less specific, more universal truths.

Here we have a story about how violence between each other is also a cosmic injustice against God. The universe knows what we did last summer. So he sends a real man to be the voice of the universal God.

Nathan the prophet knows and declares David’s sin. And the sin has practical consequences: the baby he fathered with the murdered mans wife does not live.

Another consequence is that “the sword will not depart from him” which I take to mean David will have to be a fighter for the rest of his life. After all this incident started when he delegated a battle and stayed home… To lust.

God must have mixed feelings about rest… It’s sometimes when we take him most for granted, get up to the most mischief.

I think sin works this way in this story for the purpose of the story. I don’t think the message is that we’ll always have a prophet to tell it out to us, or that the babies of cheating will always die.

It’s to teach us that sin matters. injustice matters. I wince when God says his punishment for the sin will be out in the sun, when David acted in secret.

Could you stand it if everyone could see your worst thoughts and actions?  Well you shouldn’t be able to forget that god can. Ethics matter, sin matters.

2 Samuel 11

If you could do a perfect murder and it just improved everyone’s life, how is it wrong?

David and Bathsheba is a classic Bible story, this is the chapter.

He lusts after Bathsheba the girl next door, has an affair and she’s pregnant. Her husband uzziah is a soldier on active duty. David organises some R’nR hoping to give some plausible deniability to the babies fatherhood.

Uzziah is so damn noble he won’t sleep with his wife knowing his brother soldiers are dying in the field.  David tries again, this time with alcohol, but even drunk Uzziah has too much self discipline to disguise David’s lack of it. 

So, shockingly, David organises Uzziah’s death under cover of the battlefield. 

It’s so neat, Bathsheba mourns then becomes his wife. Within their culture it has the appearance of David actually honouring uzziah by providing for his widow. The perfect murder

It’s not quite perfect though because the general, Joab has been corrupted by being involved in the scheme. He wasn’t told why he should organise a particularly dangerous mission for uzziah, but surely he would have figured it out in about 9 months… 

The narrative quite cuttingly includes the cold way the death is handled in the reports from the battlefront – David has this horrible false reasonableness when he forgives the incompetent strategy that meant men, including Uzziah, were lost.

Likewise you wonder if Bathsheba surely would have suspected the neatness of it all.
But the man thing is, it displeases the lord.

Death comes to all of us. God is in charge of that. David the warrior king was the agent of so much death, but God remained king. King David was God’s servant.

But this death was different, David intended it for his own gain. Ironically, the only time David truly was Uzziah’s king was when he had him killed.

David cried to God in the song about his sin “against you only have I sinned”.

I still struggle with the fairness of this way of viewing it: I mean he’s also sinned against the guy whose wife he stole then killed, right?

It’s about being ethical. You can get away with things but you lose yourself if you can’t be honest to god. It’s not to disregard Uzziah’s injustice to say it’s a sin against God, it’s to magnify it. 

Jesus says you are a murderer if you think of murdering. by the time it becomes action your heart has already become corrupt against God.

I’m in a funk, end of year burnt out ready to go on holidays before I can. My concentration is shot. In a funk is easy to give myself permission to be selfish and unloving. 

I’m gonna work on staying fair even when there is not fair weather.

2 Samuel 10

David makes another attempt at kindness with a neighbouring country that is treated with suspicion and humiliatingly rebuffed. It sparks a war involving mercenary Syrians which the Israelites easily win.

Where is god in this? Nowhere explicit, though David’s kindness which sparked the conflict no doubt came from his love of God. 

Some people are determined to see evil and hidden agendas where there are none. It brings to mind the old English motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense: evil is to him who thinks evil. 

It’s one of the saddest things when grace is staring someone in the face and they can’t see it. 

One of the things that makes me saddest about Donald Trump is his tendency towards conspiracies, to refuse to see the good in poeple he doesn’t like. He poisons so much of what he touches.

2 Samuel 9

David finds and honours mephisbosheth, who is Jonathan’s son, grandson of Saul. He returns to him much of Saul’s property and treats him as a son, having him dine at his table from then on. 

We last saw mephisbosheth in the narrative when he was fleeing the royal palace as a child, his nurse dropped him and he became lame in both feet.

This kindness is unusual and unnecessary behaviour for a king, and it shows again his respect for the lord’s anointed, Saul, his love of jonathan, and of course it springs from the sincere love of God that both men had. 

It’s a powerful thing when Christians act, do. When we behave with generosity contrary to the normal self serving dictates of a position, against our own best interests, it makes our love of God real.

Pray that god gives me way to behave counter intuitively.

2 Samuel 8

Davids military victories, and his stable organised government.

David’s military victories are hard reading for a lefty peacenik like me. But my dad fought in war, I do get war. It’s not god’s plan. 

In the new Jerusalem wars will cease, god will shatter the spear. They spring from the evil in our hearts. It’s like “choose your evil”. Believers get caught in them, some standing against, some joining in. But there are ways to do war. 

David’s cruel treatment of Moab, randomly killing many, was not racism, his great grandmother was Ruth the Moabite. They must have represented a major threat.

Given the headlines right now about Syria, David’s body count there makes my heart stop. How long will this go on?

But they lived in a bloody, kill or be killed region. He is sharp and effective, does it once and does it right. 

His decisive victories, done in a spirit of subjugation to God’s will, bought to an end conflicts that have been going on for the whole time Israel has been in the promised land. 

This campaign would not have been needed if the people had followed god’s commands about taking the promised land when they moved in.

And he’s not one of those rulers who are good at military stuff so make war for the heck of it.  

He makes peace if neighbours offer peace. He’s about good rule. His adminstration is fair, prosperous and organised. 

2 Samuel 6

I’m getting old testament fatigue again. Reading the whole Bible means reading a lot of old testament… In terms of words it’s a ratio of about 3:10. 

And OT is exhaustingly culturally remote. You figure out one fiendishly difficult chapter one day and then there is another the next. Boom boom boom. It’s tiring. 

If you forget the hard bits, this one is quite simple and wonderful and momentous. David is king over united Israel. He has established Jerusalem as the capital, now he brings the ark in, the presence of God.

And David dances like a crazy humble loon as it is carried in, one of the Bible’s most appealing visions of pure joy in the whole Bible. 

But it’s so uncomfortable that a person dies, and a woman is seemingly struck barren for getting the tone wrong. 

And what is with the ark anyway. I thought God wanted to teach mankind that he lives in or hearts, why this object of veneration?

I turned to a commentary. They saw it, interestingly as a parable for ministry. 

The first attempt to get the ark back was where someone died. They made a special cart for it … God commanded that it be carried. When it fell, the guy who died reached out to steady it. God said you can’t touch it. He should have let it fall.

David was angry with god’s over the death, and left the ark out of Jerusalem for a long time after that. 

The commentators compared it to Christians who try to do what God wants, but do it their own way. In their enthusiasm to just “get it done” they fixated too much on the task and forgot the larger point that this was about honouring God. Disobedience does not honour God. 

I remember a church I was at was obsessed with the idea that the old pews were restricting their ministry, and started pulling them out without getting the necessary legal council permission. I think that was a small example of this principle. God doesn’t need our special cart.

Death was a strong way of teaching that, you may think, but God is creator, life is in his hands, we’ve learned that over and over by now. 

The woman who was barren was Michal, who is the ultimate bit player in this story. She was Saul’s daughter and David’s first wife. She helped him escape Saul, and then was given seemingly into bigamy as wife to another king by Saul, then called back at a tense point in the civil war. 

She has strong ideas how a king ought to act and dancing with no kingly dignity with the people in few clothes was not one of them. 

But she was letting her sense of what is proper kill her enthusiasm for God, sort of the opposite of the first attempt with the ark. 

The commentators noted that it is merely an editorial comment, not linked to god’s judgement that she never had children. 

We’ve learned in this book in particular to pay attention to that… Things aren’t of God just because they are there, you have to have it spelled out. It’s more like the tone of journalism than sermon.

They saw it as an ironic or symbolic observation by the writer of 2 Samuel. Her personal story echoed a spiritual barrenness that had characterised Saul’s reign. she remained too caught up in the pomp of earthly kingship, and less excited by heavens king.

So we’re all set up for Israel’s most glorious period. But the warnings are there too. With joy in God ‘s times of rich blessing remember obedience and humility. 

2 Samuel 5

David is made king. He takes and establishes Jerusalem as the capital. He pushes back the philistines in two big defeats, asking God each time if it is the right thing to do, and god gives him detailed strategy which he follows. 

He is at one with God, in synch. A godly king.

But I think it’s important to remember we’ve been clearly told kingship, earthly king, is second best, not god’s plan. He takes lots more wives and concubines, has lots of offspring. But that is not god’s reward, women are his weakness, a chink in his armour.

The most sinful of us can, any time, be godly. The most godly of us must always be aware that they are sinners. 

We can be living how god wants us to live even though the whole context of our situation is not remotely ideal to God. We can be ticking all the god boxes in our situation and wrong headed as hell.

Last week they preached on mission. They said our mission is love. No matter where you find yourself, no matter how much you fail, or feel successful, love. I pray that simplifies things.