The Outcast, the Alien, and the Sick

1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” – Matthew 8:1-17 ESV

Jesus followed up His words with action. Once He had delivered His message, He didn’t seek a quiet place to rest and enjoy some alone-time. He immediately began to do what God had sent Him to do.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Jesus was a man on a mission. He knew His time on earth was limited, and all His time and energy were focused on fulfilling His Father’s will. And it did not take long before Jesus’ empathy for the down-and-out, and the down-trodden began to reveal itself. Matthew records three distinctively different encounters between Jesus and a person in need. The first was a leper. The second was a Roman Centurion. And the third was the mother-in-law of one of His own disciples.

The leper, who was most likely a Jew, was a social outcast and a pariah. Because of his disease, he was required by law to announce himself by the words, “Unclean, unclean!” He was to be avoided and shunned at all costs. He was even refused access to the Temple grounds, making it impossible for him to receive atonement for his sins. And in the Jewish mindset, his disease was viewed as a curse from God, the outcome of some heinous sin in his life.

The second man Jesus encounters was a Roman Centurion, and most likely a Gentile. He was an officer in the Roman army with responsibility for 100 battle-hardened soldiers. To the Jews, he would have been a painful and daily reminder of the oppressive regime that had occupied Israel and forced its people into subjugation. He would have been despised and seen as an oppressor whose presence in their land was unwanted and unappreciated.

The final individual was the mother-in-law of Peter, one of the Lord’s recently recruited disciples. Because it is safe to assume that Peter’s wife was a Jew, we can conclude that his mother-in-law would be as well. And all we know from the text is that she had come down with a fever that had left her bedridden. She was helpless and in need of healing.

Three very different individuals whose circumstances could not have been more disparate: A Jewish man with a disfiguring and life-threatening disease, a Roman Centurion with an ailing servant, and a Jewish woman with a fever. And yet, each of them has an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Messiah of the Jewish people.

It’s important to remember that Matthew wrote his gospel with the goal of proving Jesus’ claim to be the King of the Jews and their long-awaited Messiah. In His just-completed sermon on the mount, Jesus had discussed the nature of life in His Kingdom. Now, Matthew reveals three encounters that provide proof of Jesus’ power and His rightful claim to be the heir to the throne of David.

Back in chapter four, Matthew provided a summary of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. – Matthew 4:23 ESV

Now, in chapter eight, we see the healing aspect of that ministry displayed in three separate scenes. Matthew does not allow himself to be restricted by the chronology behind these events. Instead, he arranges them in such a way that they create a comprehensive picture of who Jesus was and what He came to do. Matthew seems to be much more interested in developing a theme than in trying to provide a reliable timeline of events. These three encounters are grouped together for a reason and provide us with a somewhat 3-dimensional image of the Savior.

The leper was the disease-riddled outcast who had no place within the faith community of Israel because of what was believed to be his obvious sin. He was unwanted. He was considered untouchable and unredeemable by every other Jew. Yet, he called out to Jesus, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2 ESV). At this point, it is interesting to consider the words of Jesus when He was confronted by the self-righteous Pharisees because of His association with tax-collectors and sinners. He simply stated: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12 ESV).

This leper had no problem acknowledging his need. He was sick and in need of cleansing – both physically and spiritually. His disease had left him ceremonially impure and incapable of receiving atonement for his sins. He desperately longed to be clean and whole again. And he saw in Jesus a source of hope and help. So, he called out in faith, and “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him” (Matthew 8:3 ESV). Don’t miss the significance of that statement. Jesus touched him. In doing so, Jesus defiled himself. He became impure and took on the disqualifying nature of that man’s condition. An audible gasp must have leaped from the throats of all those who witnessed this scene. And yet, Matthew states that the man’s leprosy was immediately cleansed. He was made whole – in an instance. Jesus could have spoken a word and the man would have received the healing he desired. But Jesus went out of His way to touch him. He associated with an outcast. He showed love and mercy to undesirable and undeserving.

In the case of the Centurion, Jesus met a man who was just as despised by the Jews, but for different reasons. He was an outsider or alien. He had no place in Israel. He was the enemy and a pagan oppressor of the Jewish people whose very presence made their lives a living hell. Yet, this man approached Jesus with dignity and respect, pleading that He come to the aid of his ailing servant.

The leper had said, “if you will, you can make me clean,” and Jesus had responded, “I will.” The Centurion made no request, but simply stated the need, and Jesus responded, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7 ESV). Jesus was just as willing to heal the servant of a Roman soldier than He was to cleanse the disease of a Jewish leper.

And when the Centurion heard the words of Jesus, he was blown away, declaring that he saw no need for Jesus to go out of His way or trouble Himself. Embarrassed to think of Jesus visiting his humble home, he declared, “only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8 ESV). This Gentile soldier expressed faith that Jesus could simply speak a word and his servant would be healed. And Jesus, blown away by this foreigner’s faith, stated, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10 ESV). And Matthew matter-of-factly reports, “the servant was healed at that very moment” (Matthew 8:13 ESV).

Then, Matthew records the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. It is a simple recounting of what appears to be a much-less perilous problem. She had a fever. But there was no indication that her life was in danger. And in this case, Matthew tells us that Jesus saw, He touched, and she was healed. No request for healing was made. No faith was exhibited. Jesus simply saw a need, and graciously provided a solution.

An outcast, an alien, and a sick woman. Three different individuals with three different needs and three distinctively different backgrounds. But all sharing a common trait. They were helpless to do anything about their condition. They each had a need they could not meet: A devastating skin disease, a desperately ill servant, and a demobilizing fever. And Jesus, the King, provided healing and help.

And it didn’t stop there. These three were just the beginning of many more who would find their way to the feet of Jesus in the hopes of finding a solution to their problems. And Matthew records that Jesus “cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:16-17 ESV).

Matthew is telegraphing a message regarding Jesus’ real intentions. The physical healings He performed were a visible sign of the spiritual renovation He had come to bring to a fallen world. The leper, the servant, and the mother-in-law each received healing from their diseases, but the day would come when each of them would experience another disease or illness, and eventually, each would succumb to the inevitability of death. When Jesus later said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV), He was speaking of far more than a life free from disease, sickness, or pain. He was talking about eternal life that begins with a saving relationship with Him, a lifelong process of Spirit-empowered sanctification, and that ends with the believer’s ultimate glorification.

The primary ailment plaguing mankind that Jesus came to deal with is the penalty of sin. With His death on the cross, Jesus conquered both sin and the grave. He paid the penalty for the sins of mankind, offering His sinless life as the sacrificial substitute for sinful men and women. As the prophet Isaiah so beautifully stated:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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A King Whom God Will Choose

14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. – Deuteronomy 17:14-25 ESV

In yesterday’s post, we saw that a day would come when the people of Israel would reject God as their rightful King and demand that He provide them with a human king. They would make their request known to Samuel, the prophet of God.

“…you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” – 1 Samuel 8:5 NLT

Samuel would find their demands offensive, but God would command him to do exactly as they had requested.

“Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:8-10 NLT

It would be easy to assume that God was simply acceding to their demands and giving them just what they had asked for: A king to judge us like all the other nations have. But that would be a false assumption. As today’s passage indicates, God knew that the day would come when the people would ask for a king.

When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, ‘I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me…’” – Deuteronomy 17:14 NLT

God knew in advance what the Israelites were going to do and he had already planned for it. In fact, God let them know the kind of king they should select.

“…you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king.” – Deuteronomy 17:15 NLT

Notice God’s stipulation. He was more than willing for them to select a king for themselves, but it was going to have to be the man He chose. This man would have to have God’s blessing, and he would have to meet God’s standards, which included Israelite citizenship. No non-Jew was to rule over God’s people. And, while they would demand a king just like all the other nations, God was not going to allow this man to emulate the ways of these foreign potentates.

“…he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so…” – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT

Stables filled with fine horses might characterize the kingdoms of other rulers, but God was going to expect His king to remain set apart, wholly distinct from all other human-appointed rulers. This would include a ban on accumulating wives and concubines, a typical manifestation of royal power and privilege.

“…he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold.” – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

The people were going to demand that they be given a king who looked like every other king. They would be thinking in terms of power, position, and prominence. The kind of king they had in mind would have all the familiar trappings of kingship, much like Pharaoh had enjoyed.

But God was not interested in placing the care of His chosen people in the hands of just any king. There would be rules and requirements involved. This man would have to rule and reign according to God’s will. He would have to obey God’s commands. But to do so, he would have to be intimately familiar with those commands, which is why God commanded:

“When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-19 NLT

A godly king would need to know God’s law. And he would have to rule over God’s people in a way that reflected his knowledge of God’s will. There was no place for pride or arrogance. God’s chosen king would serve as His representative, treating the people of God with the same care and concern He would. And if he did, God promised that “he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:20 NLT).

But years later, when the people of Israel would bring their demand for a king to Samuel, God would warn them that He was going to give them exactly what they were asking for. He would give them a king just like all the other nations.

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the LORD will not help you.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-18 NLT

Their preferred version of a king would end up coming back to haunt them. God warned them that He would give them exactly what they demanded. He would give them their hearts desire, even though it would not turn out well for them in the long-run. But, in spite of God’s warning, they would refuse to relent on their demands.

“Even so, we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.” – 1 Samuel 8:19-20 NLT

God was not opposed to Israel having a king. In fact, He would eventually give them David as their king, a man after His own heart. But before David reigned over Israel, they would suffer under the lousy leadership of Saul, a man who would end up being a king just all the other nations had. And David’s own son, Solomon, would end up disobeying God’s commands, eventually amassing a harem consisting of “700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines” (1 Kings 11:3 NLT). And most of his wives would be foreign-born and idolaters. They would eventually lead him astray, causing him to forsake God and set up idols all throughout his kingdom. And for this indescretion, God would split his kingdom in half, forming the two nations of Israel and Judah.

It was not that God was against Israel having a king, it was that He preferred a king who shared His heart. He wanted a man who would rule and reign as God’s representative, shepherding His sheep as David would eventually do.

With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:72 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

A Question of Authority.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” 

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. –  Matthew 21:28-46 ESV

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In yesterday’s passage, Jesus was asked a question by the Pharisees designed to malign His actions by questioning His authority to do the things He did. They had asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” To understand the gist of their question, you have to consider the context. Jesus had walked on to the Temple grounds and angrily cleared out the moneychangers, overturning their tables. He drove away all those buying and selling animals for the sacrifices. And most importantly, Mark tells us, “he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace” (Mark 11:16 NLT). If you think about it, Jesus completely disrupted the entire sacrificial system for that day. He threw a wrench into the well-oiled machine of the corrupt religious system that had somehow replaced what God had established through Moses in the wilderness.

That sets up the passage we are dealing with today. Jesus had arrived back in Jerusalem from Bethany ande was immediately confronted by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law and the elders. They demanded to know who had given Him the authority to do what He had done. They were specifically talking about His disruption of the sacrificial system the day before.

By asking their question, they are inferring that Jesus had no right or authority to do what He did. His actions were not in keeping with accepted tradition. In their mind, Jesus was a renegade and a trouble maker. He was not one of them. He had not gone through the proper channels or training. He had no authority because He had never been a disciple of one of the great rabbis. He was an imposter and needed to be dealt with as such. Without knowing it, they were actually questioning Jesus’ kingship. Remember, just a few days before Jesus had rode into town to the shouts of “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10 NLT). Jesus had been welcomed as a king. But now they were questioning His authority and attempting to paint Him as a radical and a revolutionary.

Rather than answer their question, Jesus countered with one of His own. “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!” (Mark 11:29-30 NLT). Jesus put them squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If they said John’s authority was from heaven, they would be guilty of rejecting God. If they said it was of human origin, they risked alienating the people who saw John as a prophet. So they decided to plead ignorance. “We don’t know,” they responded. And as a result, Jesus refused to address their question regarding His authority. But in reality, Jesus did answer their question. He did so by telling three short parables. He turned to the crowd and began to teach in His usual method, using simple stories to teach a much deeper truth. But the context tells us what Jesus had in mind by telling these stories. The issue is one of authority and Jesus used these stories to address their original question.

Over in Matthew’s account, we have the three parables and they are the parable of the two sons, the parable of the landowner, and the parable of the wedding feast. In the first one, Jesus tells about a father with two sons, who orders the first son to go into the household vineyard and work. The son refused, but later repented and did what the father had asked. He orders the second sons to go and he initially agrees, feigning obedience, but later refuses, never doing what the father asked. Jesus asked, “Which one obeyed?” and they answered, “The first son.” So what’s the point? The religious leaders believed they were sons of the kingdom due to their heritage as descendants of Abraham. Jesus made it clear that corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes would get into God’s Kingdom before they did. Why? Repentance and belief. The religious leaders refused to repent. They refused to believe. They would not acknowledge Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and His authority as their rightful King.

In the second parable, Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard and then leased it out and moved to another country. When the grape harvest came, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers to whom he had leased the land, beat one servant, killed another and stoned the last. So the landowner sent a larger group or servants and they were treated in the same way. Finally, he decided to send his own son, hoping that they would show him the respect he deserved. But when he arrived, they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus asked what they think the landowner will do to these farmers when he returns. “The religious leaders replied, ‘He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest’” (Matthew 21:41 NLT). Their own answer condemned them.

Over the centuries, God had sent His prophets to His people, and they had been abused, rejected, and in many cases, killed. So He sent more, and they were treated in the same way. Now He had sent His Son, but He too would be killed in just a matter of days. In telling this particular parable, Jesus was referring to a story from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7). Jesus makes sure they get the meaning of the story. “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Matthew 21:43-44 NLT).

Jesus was the stone that the builders will reject, but He will become the cornerstone. And Jesus, as King, had the authority to do as He wished – even if it meant taking away the Kingdom of God from those who rejected Him. The Pharisees didn’t miss the point. Matthew will later reveal: “When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them – they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46 NLT).

Jesus had authority as the Son of God. The entire Old Testament message from the prophets spoke of Him. The nation of Israel had been invited to enter into His kingdom, but they would refuse. They had rejected the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist and would reject the offer of Jesus Christ. And the question you have to ask today, is whether Jesus Christ is the authority in your own life. Do you listen to what He says and obey it? Have you accepted His invitation, or are you too busy, too good, or too smart to buy into something so hard to believe? Does the way you live your life reveal that you sometimes question whether Jesus has authority over your life? Do you refuse to put on the righteousness He has provided because you prefer your life just the way it is? Jesus not only wants to be the Savior, He wants to be your King. He wants to rule and reign in your life. He wants to lead you and direct you. He wants you to worship and obey Him. He wants you to live in submission to Him. Because He loves You and He alone knows what is best for you. He is a gracious, loving, merciful, righteous King who longs to provide for and protect His people.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wisdom Without God Is Folly.

1 Who is like the wise?
    And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
    and the hardness of his face is changed.

I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. Ecclesiastes 8:1-8 ESV

It shouldn’t be surprising that Solomon has a lot to say about wisdom. After all, he was known for his wisdom. In the early days of his reign, when given an opportunity by God to ask of Him whatever he wished, Solomon had asked for an “understanding heart” so he could govern the people of Israel well. And God responded, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” (1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT). And God followed through on His commitment, blessing Solomon with unsurpassed wisdom. Even when the queen of the nation of Sheba (modern-day Ethiopia) made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was blown away by Solomon’s wisdom.
2 When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind. Solomon had answers for all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. – 1 Kings 10:2-5 NLT
Like everything else in his life, wisdom became an obsession for Solomon. Seemingly unsatisfied with what he had been given by God, he constantly pursued wisdom. He even wrote and collected wise proverbial statements and put them in a book. In this book, known as The Proverbs of Solomon, he describes wisdom as a woman calling out from the streets, attempting to get the attention of those who pass her by.

20 Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
21 She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
22 “How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
23 Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise. – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

But everyone ignored her calls. They rejected her advice and shunned her correction. Nobody wanted what she had to offer. And as a result, they were left in their ignorance and complacency. But when the time came when wisdom was needed, she would be nowhere to be found. For Solomon, wisdom was a commodity worth pursuing. He even explained his purpose for writing his book of proverbs by stating:

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young. – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT

Wisdom became one of many obsessions for Solomon. He pursued it with a vengeance, and never seemed to think he had enough of it. But it seems that he often forgot his own advice, failing to remember that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). The pursuit of wisdom without a healthy fear and worship of God is a futile effort. But too often, we make wisdom the focus of our attention, not God. And Solomon knew the benefits of wisdom. He had experienced them firsthand. Which is why he could sing the praises of a life of wisdom. “How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things. Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness” (Ecclesiastes 8:1 NLT). 

And it’s interesting to note that in the following verses, Solomon provides those to whom he is writing a number of examples of what wisdom looks like in real life. But notice that they all have to do with their allegiance to the king. In other words, their faithful service to him.

He starts out with a not-so-subtle admonition to “Keep the king’s command.” This is the king telling his own people that if they’re wise, they’ll obey him. Sounds more like a threat than a recommendation to live wisely. While there is tremendous truth and wisdom in what Solomon has to say, it can’t help but come across as a bit self-serving. Yes, it makes sense for a servant of the king, someone who has made an oath to faithfully serve the king, to follow through on their commitment. It would be unwise to shirk your duty or to join in a plot to overthrow the king. It’s also a bit foolish to question the decisions of the king, because his word is final, and he has the power to enforce whatever he determines to do. If you obey him, you won’t be punished. The wise person will know when to speak up and when to shut up. He will understand that there’s a time and place for everything, even when facing trouble. And it’s our inability to control our words during times of difficulty that can get us in hot water. We say things we end up regretting. We express thoughts that haven’t been fully thought through. And hasty words spoken in the presence of the king can expose our folly and prove deadly. This thought sounds reminiscent of something Solomon said earlier in his book.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. – Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV

The apostle Paul shared a similar word of counsel in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6 NLT

For Solomon, it simply made sense not to question the wishes of the king. Of course, since he was the king, we can somehow understand why he felt this way. As king, he had probably heard more than one citizen of his kingdom say to him, “What are you doing?” And he most likely found the tone of that question offensive and, its timing, unwise. No one likes to have his wisdom and authority questioned, especially the king. And Solomon appears to view his authority as supreme, almost all-knowing in nature. He states that the one who questions the king “does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7 ESV). This individual has no control over anything, including their day of death. Nobody can hold on to their spirit when the time comes for it to depart. Nobody can get out of their obligation to serve when conscripted for battle. They simply have to go. They must do their duty. And the one who chooses a life of evil will find himself hopelessly stuck, experiencing the inevitable outcome of his decision. There is a certain sense of fate in Solomon’s words. You can’t know the future, so you have no control over it. Which brings us back to Solomon’s earlier admonition: Keep the king’s command.

But what are we to do with this? How are we to take what Solomon says and apply it to our daily lives? I believe it is essential to read the book of Ecclesiastes with a clear understanding of the state affairs in Solomon’s life at the time of its writing. He is an old man, having served as king of Israel for a long period of time. He has not finished well. His kingdom is marred by the presence of many idols to false gods. He has repeatedly disobeyed God, marrying more than 700 different women and amassing a harem of 300 concubines. He has been unfaithful to Yahweh. And his unfaithfulness would ultimately lead to God ripping the kingdom from his hands and dividing it in two. Solomon was still a wise man when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. But it is safe to say that he no longer feared God as he once had. His wisdom had been marred by sin. His perspective had been skewed by his pessimistic take on life. There is a lot of truth in the words that Solomon speaks, but we must remove the gems of truth from the muck and mire of Solomon’s sin-distorted viewpoint. Wisdom is a good thing. Remaining faithful in your service to the king is solid and sound advice. The one thing that is missing is a recommendation to fear the Lord. To his credit, Solomon will weave that message into the verses that follow. But it seems that Solomon struggled with maintaining the vital connection between wisdom and the fear of God. At times, wisdom became a stand-alone for him. He seems to have applied to wisdom the same philosophy of life he used with everything else: More is better. There were occasions when he seemed to sincerely believe that wisdom was all you needed. But wisdom without a fear of God is useless. It too will prove futile and meaningless. It is our fear and reverence for God that gives wisdom its power. Knowing right from wrong, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness, begins with knowing God. Being able to make good decisions stems from a solid understanding of who God is and what He expects of us. When we live to please God, we make wise decisions. When we live to please self, we end up living like fools and, as Solomon put it, eating our own flesh. In our effort to make it all about ourselves, we end up destroying ourselves.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

It’s Lonely At the Top.

1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 ESV

As the king of Israel, Solomon had the God-given responsibility to perform the function of a judge on behalf of his people. That required him to take his place each day at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, where he would hear and try the cases brought before him. This would have exposed him to all kinds of unethical, immoral and unjust actions, perpetrated by one human being against another. And it is likely that Solomon witnessed many examples of injustice, as the poor and oppressed brought their cases to him, hoping for some form of protection and righteous representation.

In his Book of Proverbs, Solomon recorded the words of the mother of King Lemuel, reminding her son of his God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and to protect the rights of those who who suffered at the hands of others.

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

But Solomon must have seen his fair share of abuses and injustices. And no matter how many times he might have judged rightly and justly, the next day would reveal yet another case of the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. He had seen it all, which is what led him to say, “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV). He had a front-row seat to the feature-film that is human life. He had watched the tears of the oppressed, who stood before him helpless and hopeless, with no one to plead their case or protect their lives from the powerful and ruthless. The oppressors had money and authority on their side. It was a mismatch, with the oppressed usually getting the short end of the stick. And for Solomon, it boiled down to a simple, yet sad conclusion: The poor are better off dead, because then they no longer have suffer anymore. And better yet, it would be preferable to have never lived at all. That way you would never have to experience the pain and suffering that comes with life under the sun.

It seems that Solomon, in his daily dealings with the injustices of life, saw a pattern. The oppressors were people who were motivated by greed and a desire for wealth. They were addicted to acquiring and retaining, and would do anything to get what they wanted, even if it meant oppressing others. And, as far as Solomon could tell, the driving force behind their actions was nothing but normal, run-of-the-mill envy.

I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors.– Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote some powerful words in the letter that bears his name, where he seems to describe the kind of civil cases Solomon was forced to judge.

1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3 NLT

And for Solomon, it all added up to yet another example of the futility of life. “But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT). The poor get taken advantage of by the rich and powerful, and end up with nothing to show for it but tears and greater poverty. The rich get richer, but their lives end up empty and their lust for more, unquenched. Enough is never enough. More never satisfies. It’s a dead-end street with no outlet. So, what should be the proper response? Is accumulating wrong? Is hard work and a drive to attain sinful? Well, if you fold your hands and do nothing, you may keep from hurting others, but you’ll ultimately destroy yourself. He seems to conclude that the answer is somewhere in the middle. You have to make a compromise. Do something, but be willing to be content with less.

“Better to have one handful with quietness
    than two handfuls with hard work
    and chasing the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 4:6 NLT

From sharing his objective observations regarding the suffering of others, Solomon seems to turn his focus inward. He takes a look at his own life as judge and king. This next section of verses seems to be a personal reflection, outlining Solomon’s assessment of his own life. Remember, he is at the latter stages of his life and reign. He is older and facing the realization that his life is not ending well. His kingdom is full of idols to false gods, erected by Solomon on behalf of his many pagan wives, 700 to be exact. And the very fact that he had so many wives was a direct violation of the law of God.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

And if there’s any doubt whether Solomon’s disobedience had an impact on his life, the book of 1 Kings clears it all up.

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:1-5 NLT

In verses 7-11 of Ecclesiastes chapter four, Solomon paints the picture of a man lacking companionship. He describes this individual as “one person who has no other, either son or brother” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 ESV). He is alone and lonely. And this is likely Solomon’s own description of himself. Yes, he was the king of Israel, and surrounded by thousands of servants, slaves, concubines, wives and administrative personnel. But he was alone. He was isolated and understood just how lonely it can be at the top. Solomon describes this unnamed individual as someone who “works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, ‘Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?’” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 NLT). And Solomon’s own personal experience requires him to conclude: “It is all so meaningless and depressing.”

Solomon knew what it felt like to be alone, without someone to walk alongside him, to pick him up when he fell. Even with 700 wives and 300 concubines, he knew the lonely feeling that comes with sleeping alone and unloved. Friendship and companionship is vital to human flourishing, and Solomon recognized it and longed for it.

The final four verses of this chapter appear to be blatantly autobiographical. In them, Solomon describes himself as “a foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice”, and compares himself to “a poor and wise youth” (Ecclesiastes 4:13 ESV). That was Solomon at the beginning of his reign. He was young and had yet to accomplish anything. He was poor in the sense that he had not accomplished or accumulated anything on his own. It had been given to him by his father. But he had wisdom. Yet, at the end of his life, Solomon had all the money in the world, but lacked the ability to take wise counsel.

Solomon seems to compare his life to that of his father, David. It was David who had been in “prison” – living as a fugitive, constantly pursued by King Saul. But David had moved from prison to the palace, from living in caves to sitting on the throne. And Solomon would become the “youth who was to stand in the king’s place” (Ecclesiastes 4:15 ESV). Solomon succeeded to the throne of his father, David, and while he ruled over a great land, enjoying the subjection and adoration of the people, he sadly concludes that “those who come later will not rejoice in him” (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV). In other words, his 15-minutes of fame will one day end. Another generation will rise up who refuse to accept him as king. And Solomon can’t help but come to the same pessimistic conclusion he has reached before: “Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Even the man at the top, who has everything going for him, who has money, power and influence, will one day find himself rejected and replaced. He is no better off than the poor person seeking justice at the gate or the lonely person desperately in need of companionship. It is lonely at the top, and there is no position or any amount of power or possessions that can remove the futility of life lived under the sun, but without God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The God of David.

Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established. – 1 Kings 2:10-12 ESV

And David died. His long, circuitous life came to an end. The book of 1 Chronicles adds the detail: “Then he died at a good age, full of days, riches, and honor” (1 Chronicles 29:28 ESV). David had been king for 40 years and had experienced all the ups and downs that come with life. He had enjoyed his fare share of great victories, but had also known what it was like to suffer defeat. He had enjoyed the accolades of the people and then stood by and watched as they turned their backs on him. He had been blessed by some and cursed by others. He had lauded as a great king and accused of being a usurper to the throne. David had been a man of great faith, but he had also shown signs of doubt and displayed a tendency to take matters into his own hands. He could be decisive and, at the same time, doubtful. At times, he was impulsive and driven by his desires. At other times, he was unwilling to act until he had heard from God. David was a man of God and a murderer, a man of great faith and an adulterer. He loved God, but he also had an inordinate love for women, marrying far too many of them and disobeying God in the process. David had a heart that beat fast for God, but that, at the same time, struggled with ungodly desires. In other words, David was human. He was just a man.

Too often, we deify someone like David. We turn him into a saint and place him on a pedestal, treating him as an icon rather than seeing him as a living illustration of what it means to walk with God. David was not perfect. He is not presented to us in Scripture as a super-saint or intended to be some kind of unapproachable model of holiness. In the life of David, as portrayed in the pages of the Scriptures, we are given a vivid glimpse into all his faults, failures, weaknesses, and sins. Nothing is held back. We are not given a neatly sanitized version of his life, an autobiographical treatment complete with all the less-than-flattering parts removed. No, we are treated to a warts-and-all, no-holds-barred chronicle of his life. The good, the bad and the ugly. Most of us would be mortified if we knew that our entire life’s story was going to be put in a book for all to read, for generations to come. All our dirty little secrets would be put in print and outlive us for thousands of years. But that’s exactly what happened to David.

David was not an icon of virtue. He was not a perfectly pious saint. He was a man, chosen by God, and commanded to serve as the shepherd of God over the people of God. This was not a position for which David aspired. He had not asked to be chosen. He had been content shepherding his father’s sheep. But one day he was protecting his sheep from predators, and the next he was standing face-to-face with a Philistine giant. David’s life was one of extremes. He would go from the peace of the pasture to the political intrigue of the palace. He would become a warrior of great renown. But he would also become a fugitive with a bounty on his head. David would know what it means to succeed and fail, to experience the heady thrill of glory and the heart-breaking darkness of defeat and disappointment. He would know the pleasure of life in the palace and the uncomfortable reality of life in a cave.

The real hero in the story of the life of David is not David, it’s God. He is the one who chose David. He is the one who stood beside David, through all the ups and downs of his life. God is the one who lovingly disciplined David and graciously equipped and empowered David for each and every victory he enjoyed. God remained faithful to David throughout his life. God never abandoned David or turned His back on him. Yes, there were moments when it appeared as if God had walked out on David, but He was there. God was watching over him, protecting him, teaching him, molding and making him into the kind of man he was meant to be. David, like all men, had rough edges that needed to be smoothed out. He had sinful dispositions that needed to be exposed and eliminated. And David recognized that God was intimately involved in his life, lovingly disciplining him in order that he might be the kind of man God had called him to be. That is why he could write the words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

David loved God and trusted Him to do what was right and just. He didn’t always obey God. He didn’t always rely on God. But when all was said and done, David always came back to God help, hope, strength, and direction. He knew his life was nothing without God. He knew his future was directly tied to the power and promises of God. His life would end, but the covenant God had made with him would last long after he was gone.

David was a man of faith. He trusted God. In fact, his name in mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, the Great Hall of Faith, where the names of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament are given as examples of unwavering faith in the promises of God.

How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. – Hebrews 11:32-34 NLT

Like Abraham, David believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. He trusted in the promises of God. He knew that God was going to preserve his kingdom and place a descendant on his throne, ensuring that his kingdom would have no end. Like all the other Old Testament saints, David would die long before he saw this promise fulfilled in its entirety. But thousands of years later, God would send His Son, Jesus, born as the son of Mary and as a descendant of David. He would be the legitimate and legal heir to the throne of David. Yet, Jesus would die a criminal’s death on the cross. He would be buried in a borrowed tomb. But He would be raised back to life and return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. And one day, He will return. And when He does, He will return as the conquering King and the rightful heir to the throne of David. He will rule from Jerusalem over His people, Israel, and all the nations of the earth will bow before Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—
    to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and blessing.”

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
    belong to the one sitting on the throne
    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb. – Revelation 5:11-14 NLT

The story of David is the story of God. He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God who chooses to use men like David to accomplish His will and bring about His divine plan for humanity. God doesn’t need us, but He graciously uses us. Yet, we need Him. We must trust and rely upon Him, knowing that He will do what He has promised and complete what He has started. Our lives may end, but His work will not. We are temporary, but He is not. And our future is in His hands.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

King and Ruler.

Then King David answered, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. And the king swore, saying, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my soul out of every adversity, as I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ even so will I do this day.” Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground and paid homage to the king and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say so. As the Lord has been with my lord the king, even so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.”

So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.  – 1 Kings 1:28-40 ESV

David listened to the words of Bathsheba and Nathan and took immediate action to have Solomon, his son, anointed as the next king of Israel. This was necessary in order to prevent any attempt by Adonijah to steal the throne. In fact, while Adonijah and his guests were busy celebrating what they thought was his new kingship, even calling him king, David was implementing the plans that would bring their little celebration to a grinding halt.

But what should jump out at us in this passage are the expectations that David, Bathsheba and the others had of Solomon. He was to be the successor of David, but even more than that, he was to carry on the unique relationship that David had with God. David had promised Bathsheba, “he shall sit on my throne in my place” (1 Kings 1:30 ESV). There is more to this statement than meets the eye. David is not just saying that Solomon would succeed him, but that he would act as his representative or replacement. Notice that David refers to the throne as “my throne” and the says that Solomon will serve in “my place”. Solomon is not just to be another king of Israel, but the same kind of king as David. The same expectations that God had placed on David would fall on Solomon. And there is far more to being a king than simply the power and prestige that come with the title.

David called to himself, Nathan, Zadok and Benaiah. These three men represent the roles of the prophet, priest and military commander. Each of them will play a part in making Solomon the next king of Israel. But what is important to notice are the instructions David gives these three men:

“Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah. – 1 Kings 1:33-35 ESV

Once again, David states that Solomon will “be king in my place”. But he adds another aspect to Solomon’s role that must not be overlooked. He says that he has appointed Solomon to be ruler over Israel and Judah. Is this just another way of saying “king”? Does the word “king” refer to his title and “ruler” to his function? The key to understanding the significance to what David is saying is to be found in the words themselves. The Hebrew words for king is melek, and it refers to the actual reign of an individual. But when David says that he has appointed Solomon ruler over Israel and Judah, he is saying something completely different. The Hebrew word David uses is nagiyd and it has a special significance to the Israelites. It is sometimes translated “prince” or “leader” and was often used to refer to someone who ruled at God’s discretion and decree. As we saw with Absalom, anyone could claim the title of king, simply by taking it by force. But only one man could serve as the ruler over the people of God. Only one man could claim to be God’s appointed leader. And with that appointment came heavy responsibilities. Just look back on when God told the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul the first ruler of Israel.

Anoint him to be the leader [nagiyd] of my people, Israel. He will rescue them from the Philistines, for I have looked down on my people in mercy and have heard their cry.  – 1 Samuel 9:16 ESV

When Saul failed to rule or lead as God had commanded, he was told that he would be replace.

But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader [nagiyd] of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command. – 1 Samuel 13:14 ESV

God would later tell David:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader [nagiyd] of my people Israel.” – 2 Samuel 7:8 ESV

Years later, God will tell the wife of Jeroboam, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel:

Give your husband, Jeroboam, this message from the Lord, the God of Israel: “I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over my people Israel. I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me…” – 1 Kings 14:7-9 ESV

You see, Solomon was expected to be far more than just a king. He was to be a ruler over the people of Israel and Judah. He was to carry on the role that God had given David, and that role included godly leadership. But as the story of Solomon’s life unfolds, it will reveal that, while he started out well, he finished poorly. In fact, Jeroboam would be made the king of the northern kingdom of Israel after God split Solomon’s kingdom in half – all due to his disobedience and failure to rule God’s people well. And Jeroboam would prove to be a lousy ruler as well.

David had learned the hard way, that being king was easy, but being God’s ruler was difficult. It required obedience. It demanded faithfulness. It came with serious ramifications if you failed to rule according to God’s standards. Wearing the crown did not make anyone king. It was living in submission and obedience to the one true King that made someone a real ruler. The sad truth about the history of Israel is that they would have many kings, but few rulers. The list of men who had the heart of David would be short. God would tell Jeroboam, “you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted.” He had the crown, but he lacked the commitment to the things of God. And this indictment would be leveled against king after king of both Israel and Judah.

As was proven true with Absalom and Adonijah, anyone can win over the hearts of the people and have themselves crowned king. But few have the heart for God that would qualify them to rule and lead God’s people. I am reminded what God said to Samuel the prophet when he was at the house of Jesse, looking for the next king of Israel. When he laid eyes on Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, Samuel said, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” But God said to him:

“Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

The king wears a crown on his head. But the ruler carries God in His heart.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Just and Righteous King.

Now these are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, the son of Jesse,
    the oracle of the man who was raised on high,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
    the sweet psalmist of Israel:

“The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me;
    his word is on my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken;
    the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
    ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
    like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
    like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.

For does not my house stand so with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
For will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away,
    for they cannot be taken with the hand;
but the man who touches them
    arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear,
    and they are utterly consumed with fire.” – 2 Samuel 23:1-7 ESV

The psalm of David, recorded in chapter 22, is now followed by the last words of David. The former represented the establishment of his kingdom, when he was delivered from Saul and crowned king of Israel. The latter, written at the end of his life, are David’s reflections on his unique relationship with God. His legacy as a king and the future dynasty are both tied directly to God. In this last testament, David passes on what he has learned about serving as the king of Israel, the God-appointed shepherd of His people.

David is described as the “son of Jesse”, a reflection of his humble beginnings. David had not come to the throne of Israel due to royal birth or a high pedigree. He was just a commoner, the youngest son of Jesse, and a shepherd of sheep. And yet, God had called him and anointed him to be the next king of Israel. He “was raised on high” by God. Not because he deserved to be, but because God chose to do so. It would be easy to assume that because God had referred to David as a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), that this was the reason he had been chosen by God. But this would have made God’s choice of David based on works or merit, something that does not gel with the rest of Scripture.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

David had a heart for God, but that does not mean he somehow deserved to be king. He had not earned his way into the position. As we have clearly seen from his life’s story, David was capable of sin, just like any other man. He had committed adultery and murder. He had been impulsive. He had parented poorly. He had struggled with procrastination and exhibited less-than-stellar leadership skills at times. He was far from perfect. And yet, God had chosen him. God had anointed him. And God had made him His spokesman. David wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2 ESV). This isn’t a case of David bragging or tooting his own horn. He is expressing amazement at the fact that he had been given the privilege and responsibility to speak on God’s behalf. As king, he had been God’s mouthpiece. And one of the things God had said to David had to do with righteous leadership.

The one who rules righteously,
    who rules in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning at sunrise,
    like a morning without clouds,
like the gleaming of the sun
    on new grass after rain. – 2 Samuel 23:3-4 NLT

David had not always done this well. But, by the end of his life, he had learned that a king who rules righteously, fearing God, radiates joy and blessings on his people. David had learned the hard lesson that, when a king rules unrighteously, he plunges his people into darkness and despair. His failure to fear God results in pain and suffering for the people under his care. And that truth is played out over and over again in the history of Israel’s kings. Obedience brings blessings. Disobedience brings curses. Righteous rulers bring light. Unrighteous rulers bring darkness.

David’s next statement is a reflection of his understanding of the promise God had made to him.

Is it not my family God has chosen?
    Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me.
His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail.
    He will ensure my safety and success. 2 Samuel 23:5 NLT

Yes, God had chosen David’s family. God had clearly told him:

Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. – 2 Samuel 7:11-12, 16 NLT

But remember what David had said. God expected His king to rule righteously. And while Solomon, the son of David, who would ascend to the throne after him, would rule well for the majority of his reign, he would not end well. He would end up worshiping false gods. And God would divide his kingdom. The nation of Israel would be split in two. And these two nations, Israel and Judah, would end up living in a state of constant tension, marked by hostility and warfare. They would see a succession of kings, whose reigns would not be marked by a fear of God, but by wickedness and idolatry. There would be a few good apples in the barrel along the way. But for the most part, the kings of both nations would be far from what God had expected of His kings. And the result would be spiritual darkness among the people and, ultimately, the discipline of God as He would send both nations into captivity for their sin and rebellion against him.

Almost prophetically, David writes:

But the godless are like thorns to be thrown away,
    for they tear the hand that touches them.
One must use iron tools to chop them down;
    they will be totally consumed by fire. – 2 Samuel 23:6-7 NLT

Godless leaders would produce godless people, who would find themselves living in exile because of their stubborn, rebellious hearts. And yet, the everlasting covenant to which David refers, will be kept by God. He is faithful and never goes back on His Word. What He says, He does. What He promises to do, He accomplishes. God had made a covenant with David. He had promised to establish his throne forever. But since the days when the nations of Israel and Judah went into captivity in Assyrian and Babylon, there has been no king of the throne of David. So has God failed to keep His word? Was His promise to David nullified by the sinful actions of the kings of Israel and Judah? No. God would and did keep His word. The apostle John tells us exactly what happened.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 NLT

After hundreds of years of spiritual darkness, God broke through, sending His Son as the light of the world. Jesus, a descendant of David and God’s appointed successor to the throne of David, came into the world. The light of God penetrated the darkness. Yet, He was met with rejection by His own people. They failed to recognize Him as the Messiah, the Savior sent by God. Jesus will even reveal that the people loved the darkness over the light. They would prefer living in sin over freedom provided by faith in Him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21

David was a good king. He may even be considered a great king. But he was not the one true King. He was not the Savior of Israel. That role was reserved for one who would come years later. Jesus, a descendant of David, was God’s appointed heir to the throne of David. He was sent by God to do what David and the other kings of Israel and Judah could have never done, provide freedom from slavery to sin and restoration to a right relationship with God. David could win victories over the Philistines, but he could not defeat sin and death. David could provide his people with periods of relative peace and tranquility, but he could not give them peace with God. Jesus came to do spiritual battle with the forces of evil. The selfless sacrifice of His sinless life on the cross broke the power of sin and death over the lives of mankind. But some would refuse His offer of salvation. They would prefer to live in darkness, rather than enjoy the light of freedom and joy of forgiveness.

David would eventually die. His son would ascend to the throne. His kingdom would end up divided and eventually, his people would end up living in captivity in a foreign land. But God would not be done with Israel or with David’s throne. He would not break His promise to David. Despite the unfaithfulness of the successors to David’s throne, God would prove faithful, sending the one who would be the consummate man after God’s own heart. He would send His Son. And He would bring the greatest victory any king could ever hope to deliver.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

How Things Turn Out When God Gets Left Out.

Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king, “How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am this day eighty years old. Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will go a little way over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king repay me with such a reward? Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother. But here is your servant Chimham. Let him go over with my lord the king, and do for him whatever seems good to you.” And the king answered, “Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you, and all that you desire of me I will do for you.” Then all the people went over the Jordan, and the king went over. And the king kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his own home. The king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him. All the people of Judah, and also half the people of Israel, brought the king on his way.

Then all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, “Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him?” All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is our close relative. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king’s expense? Or has he given us any gift?” And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?” But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel. – 2 Samuel 19:31-43 ESV

These closing verses of chapter 19 set up was is going to happen next. As David attempted to reestablish his claim to the throne of Israel, he was faced with the task of rewarding those who had stood by his side during Absalom’s short-lived coup, but also of winning back the allegiance of those who had sided with Absalom in his rebellion. There were some, like Barzillai, who had aided David in his escape from Jerusalem. This wealthy octogenarian, had provided food for David and his followers while they were in Mahanaim. Barzillai was from Gilead, a region east of the Jordan River that was divided between the tribes of Gad and Manasseh. We are not told which tribe Barzillai belonged to, but only that he had proved to be an ally to David during those difficult days after the loss of his throne. David’s desire to reward him was gratefully rejected by Barzillai because of his advanced age. Rather than accept David’s gracious offer to return to Jerusalem and live out his days in David’s palace, he preferred to return home and die in his own land. But he offered Chimham, most likely his son, to stand as his proxy. Chimham would return to Jerusalem with David and receive the benefit of the king’s gratitude. 

But there was a storm brewing. David’s return to the throne was not going to be easy. And simply handing out rewards to those who had stood by his side was not going to make the transfer of power any easier. If you recall, one of the first things David did when he received his abrupt wake-up call from Joab and stopped his excessive mourning over Absalom, was to call for the tribe of Judah to come to his aid. He sent a message to the leaders of Judah.

“Why are you the last ones to welcome back the king into his palace? For I have heard that all Israel is ready. You are my relatives, my own tribe, my own flesh and blood! So why are you the last ones to welcome back the king?” – 2 Samuel 19:11-12 NLT

This wasn’t exactly the case. David was a bit optimistic in his assessment of the situation, because the text actually paints a slightly different picture.

Meanwhile, the Israelites who had supported Absalom fled to their homes. And throughout all the tribes of Israel there was much discussion and argument going on. The people were saying, “The king rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines, but Absalom chased him out of the country. Now Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, is dead. Why not ask David to come back and be our king again?” – 2 Samuel 19:9-10 NLT

Not everybody was lining up to welcome David home. The Israelites, representing ten of the other tribes besides Judah and the Benjaminites, were divided in their thoughts regarding David. Many were scared that David would seek retribution against them for siding with Absalom. Others argued that David had been successful against the enemies of Israel, but had fled at the sight of Absalom. The only real vote of confidence in David was that, since Absalom was dead, he was the most obvious choice as a replacement. And yet, David was under the somewhat deluded impression that all of Israel was ready to welcome him back and so he used this thought to goad the tribe of Judah into action. But in doing this, David actually made his problem worse.

We’re told that, “All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel escorted the king on his way” (2 Samuel 19:40 NLT). Not everyone was on board with David’s return. Many were in hiding, fearing what David was going to do when he returned to power. And the leaders of the ten tribes expressed to David their concern over what they saw was a case of cronyism. 

But all the men of Israel complained to the king, “The men of Judah stole the king and didn’t give us the honor of helping take you, your household, and all your men across the Jordan.” – 2 Samuel 19:41 NLT

It was important to these men that they have the favor of the king, because they were the ones who had sided against him. So when they saw the men of Judah, David’s own tribe, getting the honor of escorting him across the Jordan, they became jealous and fearful. They knew their actions against David were going to make it difficult to win back his favor, and they were concerned that David’s close ties to his own tribe were going to make reconciliation that much more difficult. So an argument broke out. It is important to remember that these people had just fought a major battle against one another in which 20,000 men had died. There were still emotional and physical wounds to be healed. The civil war that had just taken place, while short-lived, had left deep-seated animosities between the tribes. Every step David took, both literally and figuratively, was going to be hyper-analyzed. His leadership skills were going to be tested like never before. His ability to navigate the stormy and dangerous waters of reunification was going to require a wisdom greater than he possessed. If David ever needed God, it was now. But there is a marked absence of any reference to God in any of this narrative. In so many other times during David’s life, we saw him seeking God. He would turn to God for counsel and refrain from making any decisions until he had heard from God. But here, in the heat of the moment, David seems to be acting out of impulse. Perhaps he was in a hurry to put this nasty episode behind him and get things back to normal. But it appears that every decision he made blew up in his face. He was learning the difficult lessons that come with leadership. Simply wearing the crown did not make him a king. Getting his kingdom back wasn’t going to win his people back. Handing out rewards was not going to heal the wounds that plagued his nation. David needed the wisdom of God. Without His help, David was like any other man, susceptible to outside influences, filled with inner conflicts, motivated by fear and self–preservation, capable of anger, and always subject to sin.

Far too often, we read the stories of the life of David and attempt to make him into an icon of virtue, a model for spirituality and godly leadership. But David was a man. Yes, he was a man after God’s own heart, but that does not mean he always did was God would have him do. The real lessons to be learned from the life of David have to do with the faithfulness of God, not the righteousness of David. His life is a stark reminder of just how much each of us needs God. He was God’s anointed king. He had been hand-picked by God for his role. But without constant reliance upon God, David was an accident waiting to happen. Apart from God, his life tended to end up a train wreck with bodies strewn across the landscape. The good news of the gospel is not just that we have been chosen by God to receive His mercy and grace as made available through His Son’s death on the cross. It is that we have access to His wisdom and power every day of our lives. We have forgiveness for the sins we will inevitably commit. We have His unfailing love even when we fail to love Him consistently or completely. David wasn’t a perfect king, but he was God’s king. And his life provides us with a powerful reminder that our best days will be those in which we recognize our weakness and our need for God’s power. Trying to be king without God would never work out well for David. Trying to be a Christian without God will never turn out well for us either. It is not the title that sets us apart. It is our relationship with and dependence upon God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

King Class 101.

The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.

Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. – 1 Samuel 18:10-16 ESV

Saul had his eye on David. He didn’t trust him. He viewed David as a threat to his crown and resented this young upstart’s growing popularity among the people. While he had been grateful for David’s victory over Goliath and the Philistines, it had actually made things much worse for Saul. And it wasn’t long before his oversensitive ego and the “harmful spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV) ganged up on him and produced some less-than-normal outcomes.

At one point, Saul was having one of his “fits” and David was playing his usual role as musical therapist, when the king grabbed a spear and attempted to pin David to the wall with it. Not once, but twice. The text tells us that Saul feared David. He knew that the same Spirit of God that used to dwell on him, was now on this young man. And Saul knew that fact did not bode well for him. He was crazy, but sane enough to remember what the prophet, Samuel, had said.

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 13:26 ESV

And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. – 1 Samuel 13L28 ESV

Saul had put two and two together and reached the conclusion that David was the one who would be replacing him as king, and it scared him. He knew his days were numbered. So to deal with the frustration created by David’s constant presence, he Saul decided to send him away. Part of his reasoning behind this move was likely out of his love for David. He genuinely loved this young man, and regretted his inability to control his anger against him. So by sending David away, he removed any temptation to harm David and provided a distance between the two of them that acts as a buffer of protection.

Saul made David a commander over a thousand men. But this new role did little to solve Saul’s jealousy problem. It seems that David was quite successful as a leader and continued to impress the people with his skills as a soldier. Verse 14 tells us, “And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.” This phrase is very reminiscent of statements made regarding Joseph during his stay in Egypt. It seemed that wherever Joseph ended up, God was blessing him and all those associated with him. God’s presence assured Joseph’s success, and the same thing proved true for David. His success and subsequent popularity only served to drive an even greater wedge between he and the king. We’re told, “when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him” (1 Samuel 18:15 ESV). All Saul could do was stand back and watch in wonder as David’s stock continued to rise as his own fell. The prophesy of Samuel was coming true right before his eyes. God had rejected him as king. He was ripping the kingdom our of his hands and giving it to someone better than him. This was a difficult pill for Saul to swallow and he would prove to be a lousy patient, refusing to accept God’s remedy for his own disobedience.

And yet, David was loved by all. He was young, handsome, successful and extremely popular. God was with him and all the people were for him. And all Saul could do was wait for the inevitable to happen. But Satan, the arch-enemy of God would not this change in leadership lying down. He was not about to relinquish Saul’s hold on power. Saul was just the kind of king Satan wanted ruling over Israel. He was disobedient to God. He was self-centered and egotistical. He had proven adept at twisting the words of God and blaming everyone but himself for his mistakes. Watching Saul get replaced by a man after God’s own heart was not something Satan was eager to experience. So he would do everything in his power to resist the will of God by influencing the king God had rejected.

The following years of David’s life would be marked by ongoing and increasing animosity between himself and the king. His path to the throne was going to be a rocky one. This would prove not to be a smooth transition of power. But God was in control of the entire process. None of the events recorded in David’s life reflect a flaw in God’s plan or an inability on His part to control the situation. This was all part of the divine strategy for preparing God’s anointed king for his role as the shepherd of Israel. David was going to learn that being in the will of God does not necessarily guarantee a trouble-free life. Becoming the kind of man God intended him to be was going to require painful lessons in failure, defeat, loss, and abandonment. But he would also learn to recognize his own weakness and trust in the power and presence of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.