How amazing is God’s love? How many friends would we have lost; how many jobs would we have been fired from; how many people would have slapped or punched us; how many times would our spouse have been angry with us…if anyone and everyone could read our minds and know all our thoughts? And yet God can and still does love us.
“I’ll pray for you,” so easy to say. Could it be an excuse to do nothing? “I’ll pray for you,” too many say. But is it a cold, empty statement hiding our hurt? “I’ll pray for you” but I won’t talk to you. “I’ll pray for you,” but don’t ask me to forgive you. “I’ll pray for you” can be a pretense to righteousness; even used to lie and betray. Just ask Absalom.
Spiritually, Absalom is nothing like his father David. Unfortunately, he is like him in other ways. After Amnon rapes his sister Tamar, Absalom takes revenge on his predator brother, having him murdered. David is often found “inquiring of the Lord.” Absalom learns this can be a valuable tool politically, to fool his father into thinking he is spiritual.
After Absalom connives to murder his unsuspecting brother, he flees. Three years later, Joab sends to Tekoa to find a “clever woman” (2 Samuel 14.2) who tells David a parabolic story, reminiscent of Nathan. Again, David is fooled, not seeing he is the offending character. Subserviently, she reveals in kinder words than Nathan, “Thou art the man.” Absalom returns, but David forgives in words only: “He may return to his house, but he may not see my face” (14.24). David refuses to give what God had given to him, real forgiveness. If David had extended full grace and not some pseudo mercy, would both their futures have been changed? Two years pass before Absalom sees David. Deceptively he bows down before his enemy; deceived David kisses him (14.33). David’s relationship with his son is irreparably broken. Rebellion’s seed is about to sprout and divide the kingdom. This is David and Saul repeated; except Absalom is not God’s anointed, and like Saul, David is reaping his sin.
Four years later, Absalom steals the hearts of the men of Israel (15.6). David was a man after God’s own heart, and Absalom was after the hearts of Israel. Conniving, he gets a chariot, and 50 men to run before him. He rises up early, goes to the people, and when anyone has a grievance, this “politician” pretends to care: “If only someone would appoint me judge in the land. Then anyone who had a grievance or dispute could come to me and I would make sure he received justice” (15.4). Adding a nice touch to his promise, Absalom reaches out his hand, and kisses the plaintiffs (15.5). Call this an ancient version of shaking hands and kissing babies.
Pretending to be spiritual he lies to his father: “Please let me go to Hebron to fulfill a vow I made to the LORD. For your servant made a vow when I lived in Geshur of Aram saying: If the LORD really brings me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the LORD in Hebron” (15.7-8). Hebron is where David began his reign. Hebron is where the rebellion begins (15.10). David is betrayed while Absalom claims to have prayed. What if Absalom really did vow and pray? Then he prayed, not for forgiveness, but for payback.
Prayer Challenge: Pray our prayers are not a front for spirituality, nor an excuse for inaction or unforgiveness.
There is one reality where it is easy to deny God’s existence, where answers are not solutions, just numbing sounds to a soul wanting to be numb. Some questions can only be answered and accepted outside of and before “then and there;” outside of the hospital, before the accident; outside of the pain; before the questions of “why God?” I have not been there. Maybe you have. David has been there too.
David and Bathsheba’s baby is dying, the most unthinkable and unbearable parental reality. The child is innocent. David is not. To make David suffer, the child suffers death. I don’t understand. I don’t even know if what I said is true. Did God do this to make David suffer? What kind of God would do that? Maybe I am wrong. I hope I am wrong. God forgive me for thinking it. But what I am doing is exactly what goes through the mind of someone…”then and there.” There is no denying God is causing the death: “The LORD struck the baby that Uriah’s wife had borne to David and he became ill” (2 Samuel 12.15). There is no unforeseen accident in birth; no unexplainable Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. God is not hidden, not far way. God is painfully there and pain makes us wish He were not. I wonder where my faith would be.
David pleads, fasts, spends all night on the ground, and refuses to eat or get up. When the baby dies, they refuse to tell him, afraid, “He may do something desperate” (12.18). I wonder how many have. David’s reaction to knowing is unthinkable to many: “Then David got up from the ground. He washed, anointed himself, changed his clothes, went to the LORD’s house, and worshiped. Then he went home and requested something to eat.” (12.20). So unthinkable is this, his servants are confused: “While the baby was alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you got up and ate food” (12.21). Pained people can become numb. But David had already felt all his pain.
David’s answer is considered by some matter of fact and by others as hope springing eternal. The first part is filled with hope that God is willing to be petitioned: “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let him live’” (12.22). In the darkest of dark, David accepted God. The second part says, “But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me” (12.23). Is David speaking of the grave or hoping in eternity? God heals the hurt as only He can (12.24).
Preaching an infant’s funeral, unable to answer why, I repeated, “I do not pity Seth.” Death is painful for those alive. For children and children of God, death is nothing. Pain can question God’s existence when only God can give answers to pain. That’s reality. That’s why worshiping God is the solution before, during, and after “then and there.”
Prayer Challenge: Before “then or there,” prepare here and now to see as God sees here and in eternity’s “there.”
God would rather do great things through us than have us do great things for God. Can we get so fixated on doing great things, even out of deep humility, that we lose God’s focus? Can we become so confused by our pride that we want to do great things instead of God’s simple ones?
David is settled in his palace. God has given him rest from his enemies. Then David has an epiphany, “Look, I am living in a cedar house while the ark of God sits inside tent curtains” (2 Samuel 7.2). “Go and do all that is on your heart, for the LORD is with you” (7.3). Neither David nor Nathan inquires of the Lord. Then God speaks.
God’s attitude towards David is not like towards Saul who also wanted to do great things for God. Saul wanted to keep the flocks’ best to sacrifice instead of obeying and destroying all. Samuel responds to King Saul, “Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sm 15.22). God’s attitude towards David is more compassionate. Saul acted out of fear of man and David out of reverence for God. Despite God’s compassion, what David wanted to do was not authorized by God: “In all My journeys with all the Israelites, have I ever asked…Why haven’t you built Me a house of cedar?” (2 Sm 7.7). To paraphrase Samuel, “to obey is better than to build.” Can anyone claim a closer relationship to God, than David? So if even David could not know what God wanted unless God spoke, we need to respect as holy God’s silence. To act where God has not authorized is wanting to do great things for God instead of having God do great things through us. Then God does something marvelous. Instead of David building a house for God, God will build a “house,” a dynasty, culminating in the Messiah, for David (7.8-16; Heb 1.5). David wanted to do great things for God when God wanted to do great things through David.
What comes from God doing great things through us? Humility: “Who am I, LORD God and what is my house that You have brought me this far?” (7.18). Amazement: “What You have done so far was a little thing to You, Lord GOD, for You have also spoke about Your servant’s house in the distant future” (7.19). Worship: “This is why you are great, Lord GOD. There is no one like You, and there is no God beside You, as all we have heard confirms” (7.22). Gratitude: And who is like Your people Israel? God came to one nation on earth in order to redeem a people for Himself, to make a name for Himself, and to perform for them great and awesome acts, driving out nations and their gods …” (7.23). Courage: “Therefore, Your servant has found the courage to pray this prayer to You” (7.27). Now, those are some great things.
People keep trying to improve God’s ways by doing great things for God, when God would rather do great things through us.
Prayer Challenge: Pray God will use us, and that we won’t use God to do great things.
Sometimes what’s not in the story is the real story. Today’s event is a repeat of a repeat of a repeat. Contrasting it to one where the theme is not repeated shows what’s missing is what’s important.
Once again “David inquired of the LORD” (2 Samuel 5.19). “Should I go to war against the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” (5.19). Once again God says, “Go, for I will certainly hand the Philistines over to you” (5.20). David goes to Ball-perazim and defeats them then says, “Like a bursting flood, the LORD has burst out against my enemies before me” (5.20). The enemy regroups. Once again, again, “David inquired of the LORD” (5.23). Once again, again, God answered, “When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, act decisively, for then the LORD will have marched out ahead of you to attack the camp of the Philistines” (5.24).
Almost continuously, David prays, inquires, and relies on God. Almost. “David inquired of the LORD” is the repeated theme and success is the repeated result (1 Sm 23.2,4; 30:8; 2 Sm 2.1; 5.19,23). One time David doesn’t pray before acting. Prayer makes the difference. Remove flour from a cake, and it falls flat. Remove coffee from your morning, and you fall flat. One story David’s inquiring of the Lord is missing. And the man after God’s own heart becomes a man whose heart is filled with vengeance.
In the wilderness, unasked, David protects Nabal’s property and men (1 Samuel 25). Then he sends a greeting informing Nabal of his good deed. In Hebrew, “greet” is the same as “inquire.” David says to Nabal “Ask your young men” for proof (25.8). “Ask” is the same word as “inquire” in Hebrew. David continues, “Please give whatever you can afford to your servants and to your son David” (25.8). There’s a lot of inquiring going on between men, but not to God. Nabal refuses. Abigail, his wife, later in the narrative will say to David, “pay no attention to this worthless man Nabal, for he lives up to his name: His name is Nabal and stupidity is all he knows” (25.25). Because Mr. Stupid refuses, David acts stupidly: “All of you put on your swords!” (25.13). David, along with about 400 men, is about to commit murder. Abigail intercedes, using language reminiscent of David’s victory over Goliath with God’s help. “He will fling away your enemies’ lives like stones from a sling. When the LORD does for my lord all the good He promised and appoints you ruler over Israel, there will not be remorse or a troubled conscience for my lord because of needless bloodshed or my lord’s revenge” (25.29-31). This placates David, “Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand” (25.33). What’s missing from this story is the real story. David does not inquire of the Lord. What follows is not success, but personal failure.
Prayer Challenge: It does not matter how often we pray. What matters is when we do not pray. Examine the mistakes in our lives to see how often they come from not praying. Can you see how important inquiring of the Lord is every time? Always inquire.
Prayer is supposed to solve problems. Talking to God and getting advice from God is not supposed to cause pain, suffering, and division. But this time it does.
Once again “David inquired of the LORD” (2 Samuel 2:1). Saul, along with three sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, are dead. The sons are killed in war (1 Samuel 31.2) against the Philistines. Severely wounded by archers, Saul commits suicide (31.4-5) rather than suffer humiliation or torture. That is the end of 1 Samuel but not the end of Saul’s dynasty. Second Samuel begins with David receiving the news and singing a dirge for Saul and Jonathan. David never considered Saul his enemy.
David asks God, “Should I go to one of the towns of Judah?” God says yes. Remember, David is from Judah. David inquires further, “Where should I go?” Hebron is God’s direction (2.1). “Then the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2.4). This public anointing begins the division. This also begins the public acknowledgment God’s anointing David through Samuel (1 Samuel 16). Officially and divinely, David is king over Judah. Israel does not agree. God’s people are divided. David’s first act is attempting to unify people. Jabesh-Gilead had rescued the mutilated body of Saul who earlier rescued them as one of his first acts as king (1 Sm 13). These men are honorable. So David sends a message of blessing, kindness and faithfulness. After praising them he encourages them that they are not his enemies despite their loyalty to Saul: “Therefore, be strong and courageous, for though Saul your lord is dead, the house of Judah has anointed me king over them” (2 Sm 2.5-7).
Trouble is brewing. Not all of Saul’s sons were killed in battle. Forty year old Ish-bosheth is taken by Saul’s commander of the army, Abner, and made king (2.8-10). Possibly Ish-bosheth was Saul’s oldest son and remained out of battle for the sake of safety. Possibly he was unfit for battle as will be seen. Regardless, the monarchial line must be preserved and succession is not based upon ability. For two years there is civil war, a nation divided, compatriots now fighting against friends (2.10; 3.1). Abner grows stronger. Despite appointing Saul’s son as king, he was aware of God’s promise to David and turns on his king (3.9). Ish-bosheth grows afraid of Abner. Fear can make you unfit for battle. A deal is made to unite the kingdom once again. A deal that ends bloodshed and brings more. Abner is now assassinated by David’s commander, Joab, in retribution for Abner killing his brother in the civil war (3.30).
This scene begins with prayer. Prayer is supposed to make life better. Good intentions are supposed to make for good results. Problem is life is not filled with people praying and with good intentions.
Prayer Challenge: Pray knowing challenges are often brought by prayer and that conflicts come despite good intentions to unify. Pray knowing that life is messy.
Success. Few words in the English language have more power and allure than “success.” In sports, success is often narrowly defined as defeating an opponent. Success means winning. Winning means someone loses. Success also means teamwork. Golf, of course is a team of one, oh, except professional golfers don’t carry their bags, do they? Coaches preach, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” Quipsters like myself would snarkily say, “There is an ‘I’ in win.” Maybe that’s why my best position was the bench! Sadly, teamwork becomes lost in the glamor of “me.” Oftentimes when we succeed, our success makes us fail. As there are sore losers, there are bad winners. When in the spiritual world, the fail is even sadder.
As is his nature, before David advances towards a goal, he prays: “Should I pursue these raiders? Will I overtake them?” (1 Samuel 30.7). These Amalekites “raiders” had kidnapped all the family members of David and his companions (30.1-3), along with stealing their possessions. Such sorrow overcame them, these warrior men wept until they had no strength left to weep (30.4). David is praying for both permission to pursue and for success. God says yes. While David says “I,” soon we shall see David does not mean “Me, myself and I alone.”
Six hundred men begin, but 200 stop en route by the Wadi Besor because they are too exhausted. Unable to continue, they contribute to the cause by staying with the supplies (30.24). I wonder if they are they still physically spent because earlier they had wept until exhaustion. Those left to trudge forward find an Egyptian slave of the raiders who leads them to their foes. Success follows, followed by failure. Upon returning triumphantly to the 200 left behind, “all the corrupt and worthless men among those who had gone with David argued, ‘Because they didn’t go with us, we will not give any of the plunder recovered to them except for each man’s wife and children” (30.22).
Now notice David’s wisdom: “My brothers” – camaraderie and comradeship. “You must not do this with what the LORD has given us” – blessings come from God. “He protected us and handed over to us the raiders who came against us” – Power and protection come from God (30.23). Then David adds, “The share of the one who goes into battle is to be the same as the share of the one who remains with the supplies. They will share equally” (30.24) – the ones staying behind contribute in their own way.
Therefore, success comes from recognizing 1) we are in this together; 2) everyone has different contributions; 3) God is the source of triumph. That’s success in a few words.
Prayer Challenge: Pride and selfishness manifests when we give ourselves credit and discredit the contributions and importance of others. Pray not to fail when we succeed.
Ignored by God, terrified by life, left all alone, Saul turns to a witch. Feeling powerless, panicked, and lonely is dangerous; often leading to despair and desperate acts. “I would never” often and sadly means, “I haven’t yet.” Regret leads to regret. How many have done what we promised we never would, committed acts formerly disavowed, and contradicted everything we once stood for? How often and how many “just this once” have there been? A shocking discovery is how looking for hope can cause us to sin.
Saul is left all alone. Samuel has died (1 Samuel 28.3). Even though Samuel never saw the king again after his failing yet again (15.35); Saul is still struggling to do some good. In Saul’s defense, unlike many kings to follow him, he never falls into idolatry. And yet we see him inch towards it one time. In obedience to the Law, “Saul had removed the mediums and spirits from the land” (28.3). But Saul is living a false spiritual life. He doesn’t worship false gods, still believes in Yahweh, and yet is disconnected from God personally and spiritually. Doing some good, obeying some laws, cannot erase sin.
Saul is terrified by life. Although appearing ready for battle, “When Saul saw the Philistine camp, he was afraid and trembled violently” (28.5). Fear is the ruling emotion in Saul, making decisions for him. Fear leads to distrusting others, even maligning them falsely. Fear destroys relationship with God, family and friends. Every decision Saul has made is leading him to betray his own beliefs.
Saul is ignored by God. He “inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him in dreams or by the Urim or by prophets” (28.6). This happened the last time we saw this rejected king praying (14.37). No doubt God is signaling His disfellowship to Saul.
So Saul turns to a witch. What do we turn to when feeling powerless, panicked, and lonely?
There are many side stories to this yet another fall of Saul. Saul fears for his life and the dead, yet alive, Samuel prophecies he will die, further terrifying the terrified (28.19-20). Sometimes the answers we get are not what we want. Plus, God, not angels or departed saints, is the only one we pray to. Samuel chastises Saul saying, “Since the LORD has turned away from you and have become your enemy, why are you asking me?” (28.16). And then there is the witch’s scream showing she is a charlatan; which is all witchcraft and sorcery is, fakery (28.12). But what strikes me the hardest is the desperate act of a desperate man. Unwilling to get on his knees and repent, Saul is willing to trust a witch. After that night, no more could Saul say, “I would never do that.”
Prayer Challenge: “What do we turn to?” can be haunting. Even if it includes God, does it include other things we keep trying to turn away from? Pray.
How good are you at making the right decisions? To become good requires surrounding yourself with those smarter than you, and who you respect, resulting in a willingness to follow their advice. A recurring theme in David’s life is one all should incorporate into their decision making process, realizing we are poor sources of ultimate authority, wisdom or knowledge: “David inquired of the Lord” (1 Samuel 23.2,4).
David is asking God about rescuing Keilah, a city in Judah (23.2). Unselfishness in attitude is our first tip on making good decisions. Not only is David praying, God is answering (23.2). David knew who to ask. Knowing the right source is a second tip. When we surround ourselves with those afraid of being less than a “yes man” we cannot make good decisions. God tells David to act. Doing so would be dangerous. It is safer doing nothing. Usually the right answer is the hard answer. That is our third tip. Saul also inquired of the LORD: “But God did not answer him that day” (14.37). A fourth tip on making good decisions is good relationships. David had one with God, Saul did not. Finally, get others involved. While Abiathar is not seen praying, he is part of the process: “When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, ‘Bring the ephod’” (23.9). Then David prays again.
Apparently, God’s answer did not suffice for David’s men. “Look, we’re afraid here in Judah; how much more if we go to Keilah against the Philistines forces!” (23.3). One common reason for making the wrong decision is fear. David prays again (23.4) and I wonder if he inquires for his benefit or his men. If for him, we see a second common reason for making the wrong decision, peer pressure. Plus, not every outside source is good. That’s a third cause of bad decision making. Saul is pursuing David because he heard he had gone to Keilah. Saul wrongfully thinks God is helping: “God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself by entering a town with barred gates” (23.7). Here is find a fourth danger in making decisions. We wrongly interpret God’s providence. Not everything is a divine answer. Sometimes it just is what it is.
Despicably, Saul is willing to destroy Keilah to destroy David (23.10). David asks if these people he rescued will betray him. Sadly, they will (23.10-13). Just because God answers our prayers, just because we make the right decisions, none of that means others will stick with us when times get tough. Even when it is people we have helped.
David knew to make good decisions he needed to surround himself with God. We should too. God is smarter than us, so we should respect Him, and be willing to follow His advice. That includes surrounding ourselves with His godly people.
Prayer Challenge: There is hardly a day where a decision is not made, or needed. Pray, remembering how to make good decisions, and the causes of bad ones. Be willing to stand alone with God even when we stand alone because of God.
I do not want to serve the purpose of God. I want to be special. Now, few would say that. However, is that our unspoken attitude spoken in whining, “That’s not fair?” Do we look around and think, “Why not me, God?” Is this modification more palatable: I do want to serve the purpose of God. But I want to be special in how I serve. Being special means not being treated like the others. So while bemoaning life is not fair, we are not after fairness; we want to be treated better than everyone else. Including by God.
David is unfairly treated by Saul. Confused, he asks Jonathan, “What have I done? What did I do wrong? How have I sinned against your father so that he wants to take my life?” (1 Samuel 20.1). Divinely protected, the persecuted warrior runs to Ahimelech the priest at Nob (21.1). As to his purpose, David deceives and asks for food. Contrary to sacrificial law, Ahimelech gives him the removed Bread of the Presence. Jesus teaches this is mercy (Mt 12.7). Our narrative does not explain except the hint Ahimelech inquired of the Lord (22.10,13,15). God must have approved this breach of ceremony.
Its possible David deceived the priest to protect Ahimelech from Saul. It didn’t work. Saul falsely accuses God’s representative of conspiring against him even though he pleads, “your servant didn’t have any idea about all this” (22.15). Paranoid, Saul orders his death and all the priests at Nob, “For they knew he was fleeing, but they didn’t tell me” (22.17). Unable to find an Israelite willing to desecrate God’s priests, a non-Israelite, Doeg the Edomite, commits the atrocity – 85 priests are murdered, plus the men, women, children, infants, oxen, donkeys and sheep of Nob (22.18-19).
One escapes, Abiathar, who flees to David who escapes. Why didn’t God protect the others like He protected these two? Ahimelech prays and dies. Is this fair? All these innocents die. Is this fair? When some of God’s people are protected and others are not, is this fair? Abiathar is special as a priest, more so than others. But God’s purpose for him does not include protection. David is protected. He is the anointed. His purpose is not yet fulfilled. Not only is David serving; the forerunner of Christ is extra special.
Each is called and gifted for God’s purpose. I am not the most intelligent, eloquent, insightful, or creative servant of God. I am not the most anything or everything. Compared to most, I am not special, and neither are you. All are special in that God loves us. Anyone can be extraordinary since serving God is a blessing. But few are remarkable in how they serve. Some are noteworthy because of how short they serve; others how long. Others illustrate God’s purpose by suffering; some by triumphing. Some serve in anonymity and others in fame. Don’t seek to be special. Seek to serve. Life does not need to be fair. Was it fair Jesus served God’s purpose by dying?
Prayer Challenge: Pray we will not compare ourselves to others, or think about fairness; but to be willing to serve even if it means others receiving blessings we do not.