Charlatans, Not Shepherds

1 And I said:
Hear, you heads of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?—
    you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people
    and their flesh from off their bones,
who eat the flesh of my people,
    and flay their skin from off them,
and break their bones in pieces
    and chop them up like meat in a pot,
    like flesh in a cauldron.

Then they will cry to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
    because they have made their deeds evil. Micah 3:1-4 ESV

Once again, Micah uses the two designations, Jacob and Israel, to direct his message to all 12 tribes of Israel. He is addressing both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and letting them know that they are all equally guilty and deserving of God’s judgment. But in these opening lines of chapter 3, Micah, speaking on behalf of God, turns his attention to the civic and religious leaders of the 12 tribes, accusing them of negligence and injustice. As the leaders of God’s chosen people, they were supposed to know right from wrong. God had given them His law and had made perfectly clear His expectations concerning the conduct of His people.

But sadly, these men were “the very ones who hate good and love evil” (Micah 3:2 NLT). They were modeling the worst kind of behavior, encouraging the citizens of Israel and Judah to follow their idolatrous and immoral example. And God pulls no punches in describing the nature of their sin:

You skin my people alive
    and tear the flesh from their bones.
Yes, you eat my people’s flesh,
    strip off their skin,
    and break their bones.
You chop them up
    like meat for the cooking pot. – Micah 3:2-3 NLT

This is a metaphorical description, not a literal one. But it paints a vivid and unflattering image of these men and reveals just how abhorrent their conduct was to God. Their lousy leadership had been no less horrifying and shocking than if they had literally skinned and eaten their own people.

The prophet Ezekiel shared a similar stinging indictment of God against the civic and religious leaders of Israel.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.” – Ezekiel 34:2-4 NLT

Shepherds were intended to feed the sheep under their care, not fleece them for personal gain. The image here is one of stewardship, in which the shepherds or leaders of Israel were working for God, the Great Shepherd. The sheep belonged to Him and these men had been tasked with providing for their daily care and protection. But they had failed at their jobs.

“…though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve.” – Ezekiel 34:8 NLT

God was going to hold these men personally responsible for their dereliction of duty.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

During the good times, these so-called leaders had abused their positions of power, taking advantage of their authority to line their own pockets. And their actions were no less egregious than if they had cannibalized their own people. God had delegated to them His divine authority to care for His flock. And to get some idea of what God expected from these undershepherds, all we have to do is look at the words of the psalmist concerning King David, the consummate shepherd of Israel.

He chose his servant David,
    calling him from the sheep pens.
He took David from tending the ewes and lambs
    and made him the shepherd of Jacob’s descendants—
    God’s own people, Israel.
He cared for them with a true heart
    and led them with skillful hands. – Psalm 78:70-72 NLT

Elsewhere in Scripture, David is referred to as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). David shared God’s love for the people of Israel and exhibited the same care and concern that God had for their physical and spiritual well-being. And the prophet Isaiah provides a wonderful description of God’s shepherd’s heart.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. – Isaiah 40:10-11 NLT

David shared God’s heart for the flock. He cared for them as God would. And one day, another servant of God would appear who would also be a man after God’s own heart. In fact, according to Hebrews 1:3, this man would be “the exact representation of His nature.”

And this man would be the Son of David, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who would shepherd the people of Israel just as His ancestor had done. But unlike David, Jesus would not just care for them with a true heart and lead them with skillful hands, He would lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus would perform the role of the true shepherd, giving His life in exchange for the spiritual and physical well-being of God’s flock.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. – John 10:11-13 NLT

Unlike the shepherds of Micah’s day. Jesus would prove to be a faithful servant of God, willingly sacrificing His own life in order that the flock of God might find safety and security from those who would harm them.

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.” – John 10:7-9 NLT

But the shepherds of Israel and Judah were guilty of neglect and injustice. And when the Great Shepherd decided to hold them accountable for their actions, they would beg Him for mercy.

“Then you beg the Lord for help in times of trouble!
    Do you really expect him to answer?
After all the evil you have done,
    he won’t even look at you!” – Micah 3:4 NLT

But their remorse will prove to be too little, too late. They should have been caring for the sheep all along. They should have taken their God-given roles more seriously and loved the flock of God as He did. But their hearts were not in it. They loved the trappings of leadership and all the perks that came with authority. But they had no love for the people under their care. As Jesus so aptly described them, they were nothing more than thieves and robbers.

And it is interesting to note a life-altering conversation Jesus had with Peter just days after His resurrection. This is the same Peter who had denied Jesus three separate times, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction. Yet, when Peter shared a meal with his risen Lord, the conversation did not center on Peter’s past denials but on his future responsibilities as a shepherd of God’s flock.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17 NLT

Three separate times, Jesus encourages Peter to prove his love for Him by caring for the flock of God. Jesus had laid down His life for the sheep. Now He was asking Peter, along with the other disciples, to serve as His under-shepherds, providing ongoing care for all those for whom He had died.

And this message from Jesus had a lasting impact on Peter. Years later, he would write to a group of elders, leaders in the local churches to whom he ministered, reiterating the very same words He had heard from the lips of Jesus Himself.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Shepherds are to be those who share the heart of God for the flock of God. There is no place for personal gain or the pursuit of selfish interests. Our model is Jesus Himself, who sacrificed His life for the sheep.

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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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

The Knowledge of God.

And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said,

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies.

For the waves of death encompassed me,
    the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry came to his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations of the heavens trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew;
    he was seen on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness around him his canopy,
    thick clouds, a gathering of water.
Out of the brightness before him
    coals of fire flamed forth.
The Lord thundered from heaven,
    and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
    lightning, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen;
    the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the Lord,
    at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.  – 2 Samuel 22:1-16 ESV

 

It was A. W. Tozer who wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.” When studying the life of any man, we can easily become obsessed by his accomplishments and his failures, his actions and apparent attitudes about everything from life to leadership, family to financial success. And David is no exception. In fact, when looking into David’s life, we are provided with so many painfully transparent details that we can assume we know him well. But the one thing we can never really know about any man is his heart. God had to remind the prophet, Samuel, of this very fact when he was searching for the man to replace Saul as the next king of Israel. Seeing that the prophet was using external criteria as a means to determine the right man for the position, God had to tell 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 NLT).

We can’t see into a man’s heart. But in the case of David, we are given a glimpse into what he thought and how he felt at different points in his tumultuous life. In the closing chapters of 2 Samuel, we are provided with a revealing piece of literature written by David, that is almost like reading his personal, private journal. The verses above almost repeat word for word what David wrote in Psalm 18, a psalm that bears the description: “A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” It is important to keep in mind that the closing chapters of 2 Samuel serve as a kind of appendix to the entire book. They are not in chronological order, but function as a summation of David’s life, providing us with a more holistic image of who he really was as a man, leader, father, husband, and servant of God.

Based on the description that accompanies Psalm 18, it can be assumed that this particular psalm was written early on in David’s life. It clearly states that it was written after David had been delivered from the hand of Saul. So it is not a late-in-life exposé written as David lay on his deathbed, looking back in regret or in a fit of nostalgia. These are the words of a young man who found himself in the early days of his calling by God to be the next king of Israel, but having faced a litany of difficult circumstances that seemed to contradict both God’s call and the promises He had made to David. And yet, these words, which prefaced his life, were not negative or filled with complaints and fist-shaking diatribes against God. Yes, the are blunt and highly transparent. David was not one to mince words or to attempt to hide his true feelings from God. He is open. He is transparent. But he is also respectful and reverent in how he talked with God. He was willing to tell God how he felt, but he didn’t let his feelings influence his thoughts about God. Notice how he starts out:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
    my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
    and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
    the one who saves me from violence. – 2 Samuel 22:2-3 NLT

All throughout this psalm, he will speak to and about God with reverential awe and honor. He saw God for who He really was: His rock, fortress, deliverer, savior, shield, refuge, and all-powerful, praise-worthy, transcendent God of the universe. David knew – from experience – that his God was almighty and yet all-loving. He was an ever-present God who was fully aware of David’s plights and heard his cries for help. His God was not distant and disinterested in the cares David faced. David’s God was not unresponsive or unapproachable, even though His dwelling place was in heaven. David knew he could call out to God and, not only be heard, but be helped. His God rescued and redeemed. And not in some passive way that left you wondering if it had really been Him at all.

David describes God’s actions in terms that appeal to the senses and leave little doubt as to His power and majesty:

…the earth quaked and trembled. The foundations of the heavens shook; they quaked because of his anger… – vs 8

Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth. Glowing coals blazed forth from him. – vs 9

The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. – vs 14

It is clear that David had a high regard for God. And it was this unique, personal relationship with God Almighty that set David apart from so many of his contemporaries. In reading this passage and so many of the psalms that bear David’s name, we are left with the inarguable conclusion that David really was a man after God’s own heart. And as we work our way through the remainder of chapter 22 of 2 Samuel, we will see that David not only knew and understood who God was, he was comfortable with who he was in relationship to him. David had no delusions about his own sinfulness and God’s holiness, but he could say, “he rescued me because he delights in me” (2 Samuel 22:20 NLT). He was a man who was at peace with his God and who delighted in the relationship he was able to share with God. He was confident, guiltless, content, joyful, grateful, without fear, and happy to praise his God for who He was and all that He had done.

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

When God’s People Live Ungodly.

Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!”

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.

Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.” And there went out after him Joab’s men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died.

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him. When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. – 2 Samuel 20:1-13 ESV

David had not yet made it back inside the walls of Jerusalem when another disaster struck. He had just eliminated one rebellion, when another one raised its ugly head. The ten disgruntled tribes of Israel, unhappy with what they viewed as David’s favoritism for his own tribe of Judah, decided to throw in their lot with Sheba, a Benjaminite. This “worthless fellow” took advantage of the unstable conditions in Israel and called for another rebellion against David. It is impossible to read this account and not recall the curse God had placed on David as a result of his affair with Bathsheba.

“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” – 2 Samuel 12:10 ESV

There was going to be more bloodshed. And more people were going to die unnecessarily, all as a direct result of David’s sin. The conditions in his kingdom remained unstable and insecure. Even when he finally made it back to Jerusalem, David had to deal with the ten concubines whom Absalom had sexually violated and publicly humiliated. It must be remembered that what happened to them was also tied to David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. God had told David:

“Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV

So these women were shamed and forced to remain in a state of widowhood, not because of anything they had done, but all because of the sins of David. The wake of human misery and destroyed lives that David left behind him is unprecedented. He had lost three sons to death. His daughter had been violated by her own brother. Tens of thousands of his own people had been killed in an unnecessary civil war. And the death toll would continue to rise. When David called for his troops to put down the uprising led by Sheba, he put Amasa in command. It’s important to remember that David had replaced Joab with Amasa, as the commander of his army, all because Joab had disobeyed a direct order and had killed Absalom. Now, Joab was going to take the life of Amasa, in an attempt to eliminate the competition and get his old job back. And the day would come when Joab would get what he deserved. But it would not be under David’s watch. Once again, just as we saw with Shimei, David would put off meting out justice and leave it to his son, Solomon, when he took the throne. It would be Solomon who would eventually deal with Joab and his murders of Abner and Amasa.

“Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” – 1 Kings 2:31-33 ESV

But there was no peace in Israel. At least not during David’s day. The body count was mounting. The violence was escalating. And the instability of David’s kingdom seemed to be getting worse, not better. All in spite of the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart. David’s relationship with God did not protect him from failure or inoculate him from the ramifications of sin. The people of God are just as prone to bad decision-making as anybody else. Believers can undervalue the wisdom of God and overlook the sins taking place around them. We can surround ourselves with bad counselors, put off making difficult decisions, give in to impulsive desires, and leave God out of our daily lives. And when we do, we can find ourselves facing the same kind of unnecessary outcomes. David loved God. He had a deep-seated desire to serve God. But our desires must who up in our behavior.  His love for God must be accompanied by a commitment to obey God. Any hope he had of serving the people of God as the faithful shepherd of God was totally dependent upon his complete reliance upon God.

As believers, we are God’s people living in a godless environment, surrounded by ungodly people who don’t share our views or our love for God. It is difficult to live as child of God on this earth, but we can make it even more difficult by refusing to rely upon Him. There will always be a temptation to do things our own way and simply assume that our relationship with God will provide us with some kind of invisible force-field, protecting us from the dangers of sin. But our salvation, while it has delivered us from the judgment of sin, does not inoculate us from the temptation to sin. That is why Paul so strongly urged his readers to rely upon the Holy Spirit.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

A man after God’s own heart who refuses to let God have is heart, will find himself surrounded by discord and difficulty. Our ability to survive and thrive on this planet is dependent upon our commitment to remain totally reliant upon God. David would continue to learn that invaluable lesson. He would discover the reality that being God’s hand-picked king meant nothing if he did not live as a God-dependent man.

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 House Divided.

And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: “Say to the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.’” And he swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, “Return, both you and all your servants.” So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan.

And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin. And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king’s household and to do his pleasure. And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord‘s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. – 2 Samuel 19:11-23 ESV

Joab had forced David out his lingering state of mourning over Absalom and demanded that he take back the reins of his fractured kingdom. And the very first thing David did was attempt to win back over his own tribe of Judah. They had backed Absalom during his attempt to take the kingdom from David and now, David was going to have to win back their trust and favor. So he sent the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, with an offer of pardon and restoration if they would only recommit themselves to him as their king. He even offered to replace Joab as the commander of his army with Amasa, the man whom Absalom had made his leading general. We know little about Amasa other than what we are told in 2 Samuel 17:

Absalom had appointed Amasa as commander of his army, replacing Joab, who had been commander under David. (Amasa was Joab’s cousin. His father was Jether, an Ishmaelite. His mother, Abigail daughter of Nahash, was the sister of Joab’s mother, Zeruiah).   – 2 Samuel 17:25 NLT

Whether or not this was a wise move on David’s part is yet to be seen. But it was an obvious slap in the face to Joab and intended as punishment for his role in the death of Absalom, against the explicit orders of David to spare his life. Once again, we see David making judgments that appear to be motivated by emotion rather than logic or reason. It had been Joab who led David’s army against the forces of Absalom and delivered a resounding victory. It had been Joab who spoke words of truth to David and commanded him to stop his mourning over Absalom and start acting like a king again. But David would reward Joab by giving his position to Amasa, Joab’s own cousin and the man who had led the army that had tried to destroy David. Some might say that this was just a case of political posturing on David’s part – an attempt to win back over the opposing side. David was just “reaching across the aisle” in a gesture of good will. But was this a wise move? Better yet, was it a godly move? In his effort to unify his fractured nation, was David going too far? Was he sending the wrong message? It is interesting to note that David does little to punish those who rebelled against him, yet he demotes Joab, his long-time friend and the commander of his army. Just as he never punished Amnon for raping Tamar or Absalom for murdering Amnon, David seems reluctant to mete out any kind of justice for the many acts of treason committed against him. And it is important to remember that each and every person who participated in the coup against David was actually sinning against God, refusing to accept His appointed king and determining to replace him with their own.

David even pardoned Shimei, the man who had cursed and thrown stones at him as he was fleeing from Jerusalem. This disgruntled member of the clan of Saul had publicly berated and chastised David.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Not surprisingly, it was Shimei who was one of the first to show up on David’s doorstep begging for forgiveness.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

And just as on the day when Shimei had hurled rocks at David, Abishai spoke up and offered to take his life, saying, “Shimei should die, for he cursed the Lord’s anointed king!” (2 Samuel 19:21 NLT). But, once again, David rebuked Abishai, and told him, “Why have you become my adversary today? This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!” (2 Samuel 19:22 NLT). Rather than retribution, Shimei was given a full pardon. David was understandably reticent to mar his return to office with additional bloodshed or acts of vengeance. He wanted to be viewed as a peacemaker, not a vindictive, revenge-seeking dictator who was going to pay back everyone who had wronged him.

But there is an interesting side note concerning David and Shimei that sheds some light on David’s real attitude toward this man. Years later, when David was nearing death and preparing to hand over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, he gave him a series of directives, to be carried out after his death. One of them concerned Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings2:8-9 NLT

It seems that David’s pardon of Shimei was temporary in nature. David would keep his word and not seek revenge against Shimei, but that did not mean his son would not. David was basically commanding Solomon to kill Shimei for him. But Solomon came up with a different plan.

The king then sent for Shimei and told him, “Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

This arrangement would work well for Shimei until he made the mistake of leaving Jerusalem in search of a couple of runaway slaves. When Solomon found out, he had Shimei executed. So David’s revenge against Shimei was ultimately carried out. He paid for his sins. But it seems that David was constantly letting someone else do his dirty business. He had let Absalom carry out justice against Amnon. Then it took Joab to pay back Absalom for his act of treason against his own father. And he assigned Solomon with the task of dealing with the rebellion of Shimei.

There is no doubt that David was in a difficult spot. He had a divided kingdom. His reputation was in a shambles. Absalom had spent years disseminating vicious rumors concerning David’s poor leadership and lack of justice. He had raised questions regarding David’s integrity and undermined the peoples’ trust in him. So David had his work cut out for him. But what he really needed to do was act like a king. He needed to lead decisively and justly. He could not afford to be complacent or to be seen as lacking in conviction. David’s desire to be politically correct and to try and treat everybody with kid gloves was going to blow up in his face. It would seem that David should have spent more time worrying about what God would have him do, rather than obsessing over what was politically expedient. The people wanted and needed a king. Part of the reason they had backed Absalom was that he came across as the kind of leader they had been looking for. He had exposed flaws in David’s leadership. And David continued to allow those very same weaknesses to plague his reign.

God had provided a means by which the kings of Israel were to rule. He had given them His law and statutes. They were to operate based on His will, not what was politically correct or personally convenient. In fact, God had clearly said:

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

David’s divided kingdom needed a king who had God’s undivided attention. They needed a monarch who was obsessed with doing the godly thing, not the expedient thing. They needed a man after God’s own heart, not a king who spent all his time trying to win over theirs.

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 Godly Response To Ungodliness.

And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar. He said:

“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
    How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
    publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
    lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.

“You mountains of Gilboa,
    let there be no dew or rain upon you,
    nor fields of offerings!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
    the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.

“From the blood of the slain,
    from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan turned not back,
    and the sword of Saul returned not empty.

“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
    In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles;
    they were stronger than lions.

“You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
    who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
    who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.

“How the mighty have fallen
    in the midst of the battle!

“Jonathan lies slain on your high places.
    I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
very pleasant have you been to me;
    your love to me was extraordinary,
    surpassing the love of women.

“How the mighty have fallen,
    and the weapons of war perished!” – 2 Samuel 1:17-27 ESV

What is the normal reaction someone has to the failure or fall of an enemy? It probably isn’t to compose a beautiful poem or song lauding their accomplishments. Most people wouldn’t go out of their way to praise the one who had stood against them and caused them pain and suffering. No, the most likely response would be a sense of relief mixed with a somewhat veiled form of glee. Any outward expressions of sorrow and regret would be the result of good etiquette. For most, their true response would remain hidden from view. Inside, they would be celebrating what could only be seen as the wicked getting their just desserts.

But it is amazing to see how David reacted to the death of Saul. Here was a man who had made it his sole mission in life to kill David, hunting him down relentlessly and making his life a living hell. Two different times David had spared the life of Saul, receiving Saul’s word that he would no longer pursue him. But those words proved empty and Saul’s promises, unreliable. He continued to treat David with contempt and took every opportunity to bring about his death.

But when David heard that Saul was dead, he did not rejoice. There were no expressions of relief or prayers of thanksgiving to God for having delivered him from his enemy. No, David mourned. Now, it would be easy to say that most of David’s sorrow was directed at his friend Jonathan, the son of Saul, who was also killed on the field of battle that day. But this lament won’t allow us to draw that conclusion. David goes out of his way to express his sorrow over the death of Saul, the very one who had, on two different occasions, tried to kill David by his own hands. He even praises the life of the one who had sought his death.

For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled;
    the shield of Saul will no longer be anointed with oil. – 2 Samuel 1:21 NLT

The bow of Jonathan was powerful,
    and the sword of Saul did its mighty work.
They shed the blood of their enemies
    and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes. – 2 Samuel 1:22 NLT

How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! – 2 Samuel 1:23 NLT

O women of Israel, weep for Saul – 2 Samuel 1:24 NLT

This lament reveals a great deal about David. It was not that David was above seeking vengeance or wishing ill-will on those who proved to be his enemies. We can see in Psalm 28 that David had the capacity for calling down the wrath of God on his enemies.

Do not drag me away with the wicked—
    with those who do evil—
those who speak friendly words to their neighbors
    while planning evil in their hearts.
Give them the punishment they so richly deserve!
    Measure it out in proportion to their wickedness.
Pay them back for all their evil deeds!
    Give them a taste of what they have done to others.
They care nothing for what the Lord has done
    or for what his hands have made.
So he will tear them down,
    and they will never be rebuilt! – Psalm 28:3-5 NLT

But throughout his ongoing conflict with Saul, David viewed him as the Lord’s anointed. He was the king of Israel, appointed by God, and therefore, worthy of honor and respect. To attack Saul would have been to attack God. To dishonor the king would be to show disrespect to the One who had placed him on the throne in the first place. But there is more here than just a respect for a position. David legitimately loved Saul. He saw him as a father figure. When David had the first opportunity to take Saul’s life, he referred to him as “father,” assuring him, “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24:12 ESV). Later on, in chapter 26, David had a second chance to take Saul’s life, but declined, referring to himself as Saul’s servant and telling him, “Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation” (1 Samuel 26:24 ESV). David had served in Saul’s court. He had been Saul’s armor bearer. He had been at Saul’s side in battle and even in the throne room when Saul did battle with an evil spirit. David would play his lyre to calm Saul’s troubled mind. As a result, Saul had treated David like a son. He had even allowed David to marry his daughter. And David experienced no joy at Saul’s death. His heart was broken.

The king was dead. His best friend was gone. The armies of Israel had been defeated. The kingdom was demoralized. And the pagan Philistines were celebrating their victory over the God of Israel. David had no cause for joy. He had no reason to gloat or celebrate demise of his former pursuer. He had learned to see things from God’s perspective and there was no joy in heaven. God was not celebrating the death of Saul and the fall of Israel to the Philistines. God finds no joy in the fall or failure of His people. So why should we? In fact, the Scriptures make it clear that God doesn’t even rejoice in the death of the wicked.

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” – Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” – Ezekiel 18:32 ESV

“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” – Ezekiel 33:11 NLT

David was a man after God’s own heart. If that phrase means anything, it means that David shared God’s compassion and concern for His people. David may not have like what Saul had done to him. He may not have enjoyed the suffering he had to endure at the hands of Saul. But he still viewed Saul as the king of Israel and as a son of God. Saul’s death brought David no pleasure, because he knew it brought no pleasure to God. So he mourned. He wept. He lamented. And he celebrated. Not his victory over Saul, but the life and legacy of Saul. He honored the man who had dishonored him. David offered praise for the life of the man who had offered rewards to anyone who would take the life of David. Not exactly a normal response. But it is a godly response.

Jesus Himself provided us with the godly response to wickedness in our lives. And even now, it goes against the grain. It pushes against our normal predisposition. But it provides us with the godly reaction to ungodliness and the righteous response to unrighteousness.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:42-48 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

:)

A Heart-To-Heart Talk.

“See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. – 1 Samuel 24:11-22 ESV

There are those who struggle with the Bible’s references to David being “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). After all, this is the man who committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband killed so he could marry her. He was far from perfect morally or spiritually. So why the lofty designation as a man after God’s own heart? Today’s passage provides us with a glimpse into the very heart of David. Under the worst of conditions and after a great deal of stress and emotional duress, David reveals his true heart, and provides a stark contrast to the dark and hardened heart of Saul.

David has just passed on the opportunity to take Saul’s life. He had the motive, the means, and the full support of his men. But he refused to act, telling his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him” (1 Samuel 24:6 NLT). He allowed Saul to walk out of the cave with his life, but missing a small section of the hem of his royal robe. When Saul stepped out of the cave and into the light of day, David followed and confronted him. He called out to Saul, addressing him as “My lord the king!” (1 Samuel 24:8 ESV). David treated Saul with honor and respect. There was no screaming. No angry accusations. No claims to holding the moral high ground. All David wanted to do was to assure Saul that he had nothing to fear from David. He was not attempting to usurp his throne or take his life. He was still a loyal servant of the king and recognized Saul as the Lord’s anointed (vs. 10).

David started out his address to Saul by referring to him as king. But then he shifted his emphasis, calling Saul, “father” (vs. 11). David was Saul’s son-in-law, but he also viewed Saul as mentor. He had been Saul’s armor bearer and court musician. He had lived in the palace, served at the king’s side, and ministered to Saul in some of his most dark and lonely moments, playing his lyre in order to calm Saul’s tormented heart. David had proved himself faithful, serving as one of Saul’s commanders and successfully defeating countless numbers of the nation’s enemies, even while on the run. He had faithfully served Saul even while Saul was obsessively seeking to kill him. So David told Saul, “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24:12 ESV). This is where we are given what is probably the most vivid explanation for David’s designation as a man after God’s own heart. In spite of all he had been through and the countless reasons he may have had to justify being angry with and taking action against Saul, he responded with restraint. He focused his attention on God, rather than Saul. At no point does he judge or accuse Saul. David even gave Saul the benefit of the doubt, excusing Saul’s actions as nothing more than the result of bad advice. David was going to leave any judgment up to God. And if there was a need for any avenging to be done, as far as David was concerned, that was God’s purview, not his. David was going to trust God. And the heart of David is best seen in the psalms of David. Psalm 57 was written during the days in which David was hiding in the caves, seeking refuge from the relentless pursuit of Saul.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy!
    I look to you for protection.
I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings
    until the danger passes by.
I cry out to God Most High,
    to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.
He will send help from heaven to rescue me,
    disgracing those who hound me.
My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness. – Psalm 57:1-3 NLT

Psalm 142 was written during the same period of David’s life.

4 I look for someone to come and help me,
    but no one gives me a passing thought!
No one will help me;
    no one cares a bit what happens to me.
Then I pray to you, O Lord.
    I say, “You are my place of refuge.
    You are all I really want in life. – Psalm 142:4-5 NLT

David had a heart for God. He sought after God. He trusted in God. In his darkest moments, he called out to God, seeking deliverance and direction from God. And he let Saul know that he had nothing to fear from him. As far as David was concerned, Saul was the king and would remain so until God deemed otherwise.

It is interesting to note that Saul was moved by David’s words. He was legitimately moved by what he heard. Even he saw the stark contrast between his heart and that of David. Perhaps it was the words of the ancient proverb that David quoted: “Out of the wicked comes wickedness.” Saul may have been given a sobering glimpse into the darkness of his own heart. The Proverbs of Solomon say,  “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23 ESV). Jesus told His disciples, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV). As David stood before Saul that day, he provided Saul with a less-than-flattering reminder of all that he had become. David served as a stark counterpoint to Saul’s godlessness, heartlessness, faithlessness and self-centeredness. And he could not help but respond, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil” (1 Samuel 24:17 ESV).

These two men, one the anointed king of Israel and the other, the anointed king-elect of Israel, could not have been more different. But the greatest contrast between the two of them was not external, but internal. It was the spiritual conditions of their hearts. David was committed to seeing his life through the lens of God’s sovereignty. He was going to trust in God’s will and leave his life in God’s all-powerful hands. Saul had been committed to preserving his own legacy, at all costs – even attempting to thwart the revealed will of God. He was a man after his own heart, not God’s. He was self-consumed and overly obsessed with doing whatever he had to do to protect his way of life. And when he stood there that day, in a face-to-face encounter with David, he got a glimpse into the condition of his heart. He would be convicted. He would show remorse. He would feign repentance. And he would walk away. But his heart would remain unchanged.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke these words concerning false prophets, but they apply to the situation between Saul and David as well.

“You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” – Matthew 7:16-20 NLT

David’s actions revealed the true nature of his heart. And Saul’s heart had been exposed as what it really was: Dark, diseased, and devoid of a healthy relationship with 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.

A Friend and A Foe.

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

“Saul has struck down his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands.”

And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul eyed David from that day on. – 1 Samuel 18:1-9 ESV

David’s victory over Goliath was going to bring him great fame and a full-time position on Saul’s staff. No more dividing his time between the sheepfold and the palace. Saul gave him a permanent place on the royal payroll. Not only that, David was able to strike up a deep and lasting friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan. But David’s close proximity to the king was going to result in a growing tension. His popularity among the people was unprecedented. He was a rock star, with a growing fan base and people were not only singing his praises, they were actually making up songs about him. All of this far from pleasing to Saul. He knew what the prophet Samuel had said:

But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you. – 1 Samuel 13:14 ESV

Those words rang in his ears and he couldn’t help but be paranoid and a bit defensive regarding David’s growing popularity. He began to question David’s loyalty and wonder whether this ambitious young man would be satisfied with fame. Would he set his sights on the throne next? Saul was concerned that David would use his friendship with Jonathan and his access to the palace as the means for staging a coup. He intended to keep David close so that he could keep an eye on him.

This part of David’s life is fascinating. So far, he has done everything right. He had proven to be a faithful son, caring for his families flocks, even returning to care for them after having received the anointing of the prophet, Samuel. He had obediently followed his father’s commands, taking food to his brothers on the front line. Then, when he had seen the Philistine champion and heard his taunts, he had been shocked that no one was stepping forward to deal with this pagan who was defying the God of Israel. So he stepped up and offered his services to the king, placing his hope in God, and defeating Goliath with nothing more than a sling and a stone. But despite all this, David found himself under the suspicious and watchful eye of the king. He had made a new friend in Jonathan, but was quickly developing a formidable enemy in Saul. And it is not yet clear whether David even knew that his anointing by Samuel had been for the kingship of Israel. He most likely saw himself as just another servant of Saul, trying to do the right thing and serve the king in whatever way he could. Up to this point, David had been Saul’s armor bearer and harp player. He had done the king a huge favor by eliminating the threat of Goliath. And it seems that whatever David did, he did well. In fact, the text tells us:

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. – 1 Samuel 18:5 NLT

David was faithful. He had the Spirit of God dwelling upon him. But all his success would prove his downfall. In God’s providential plan, He had David right where He wanted him. None of this was a surprise to God. And Saul’s hatred of David was not only expected, it was planned. All of this was part of God’s divine strategy for preparing David to be king. David had received the anointing to be king, but now he was going to get the practical training required for him to be the kind of king God intended for him to be. Whether David realized it or not, he was being placed in God’s boot camp for kingship. David was going to have a ringside seat to watch lousy leadership on display. But there were other valuable lessons that David was going to need to learn in order for him to rule righteously. His world was about to be rocked. Those days in the pasture tending sheep were going to look increasingly more appealing. But God had much to teach David. He was a man after God’s own heart. In other words, he had a passion for the same things God did. But now God was going to begin the process of giving David a godly heart. His passions for the things of God were going to deepen. His love for the ways of God would become richer and fuller. His trust in the strength of God would grow. His reliance upon the care and provision of God would increase exponentially. And it would all begin with the growing hatred and animosity of King Saul. Things were about to heat up, because God’s lessons for David were about to start up.

 

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 Lord Will Deliver.

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine. – 1 Samuel 17:31-40 ESV

For most of us, the story of David and Goliath has become little more than a motivational lesson used to conjure up images of facing the giants in our lives. Like David, we can stand up against the formidable foes we face and come out victorious – as long as we have faith. And while there may be aspects of this story that can be used to encourage our personal faith and motivate us to stand up to the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our lives, I don’t think that was intended as the primary takeaway. We must read this story while keeping it in its appropriate context. It is when we isolate biblical narratives and remove them from their context that we run the risk of arriving at interpretations that fail to meet the author’s original intentions. This is a story about God and the people of Israel. They have had a less-than-stellar relationship with the God who chose them out of all the other nations of the world. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had faithfully led them through the wilderness. He had given them the land of Canaan just as he had promised. But they had failed to eliminate all the nations that occupied the land. As a result they were surrounded by hostile enemies who not only attempted to eliminate them, but were highly successful in negatively influencing their faithfulness to God by causing them to worship false gods.

The period of the judges, which followed their occupation of the land, was a time of turmoil, marked by their constant unfaithfulness, God’s punishment, their eventual remorse and God’s sending of a judge to deliver them. This cycle repeated itself over and over again. Then it ended with the people demanding that God give them a king just like all the other nations. So God gave them Saul. He fit the bill. He met the requirements they had asked for. And he proved to be not only a lousy king, but an unfaithful and disobedient one. So God determined to replace him with a man after His own heart. He chose David, a young shepherd boy. And the story of David and Goliath is the first glimpse we are given of this young man’s faith and the stark contrast it provides to the unfaithfulness of Saul.

The call of the Philistine champion that the Israelites send out a man to face him is a direct challenge to King Saul. He has clearly indicated that the soldiers in Saul’s army are nothing more than his slaves or bondservants. They have drafted into military service just as God had warned they would be (1 Samuel 8:11-13). Goliath is challenging Saul to a winner-take-all, one-on-one face-off. But Saul is cowering far from the front lines, unwilling to take on the giant. In fact, he has offered an attractive reward to anyone who will step up and take on the challenge. But there have been no takers.

Until David arrives on the scene. As Saul’s armor bearer, he had direct access to the king and was able to tell him to his face, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:32 ESV). Saul attempted to dissuade David, reminding him that he was no match for this veteran warrior. But David simply recounted his own exploits while serving as a shepherd over his father’s flocks.

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

The issue for David was one of doing the right thing. As a shepherd, it was his duty to protect the flock and he was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill his responsibility. Why would these situation be any different? This uncircumcised Philistine was defying the armies of the living God. He was treating the king of Israel, and therefore the God of Israel, with disrespect. In David’s mind, this had nothing to do with the size of the foe or the odds against victory. It was about doing the right thing. Someone had to stand up to the enemy of God. And if no one else was willing, David would do it. And he would do it in the strength of the Lord. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV).

Saul reluctantly agreed, telling David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV). And then he came up with a plan. He would dress David in his own armor in the hopes that this might fool the Philistines into thinking that the king of Israel had finally agreed to do battle with their champion. In the unlikely case that David won, the glory would go to Saul. Should he lose, it would be easy for Saul, without his armor, to disappear into the crowd and not be humiliated as the defeated king of Israel.

But Saul’s armor was much too large for David and he removed it. He would face Goliath with the very same weapons with which he had faced the lion and the bear: A sling and a few stones. His real weapon was God Himself. Remember what he had told Saul: “The Lord … will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” To David, Goliath was nothing more than another enemy of God. He doesn’t mention his height or the weight of his weapons. He didn’t dwell on size of the task or the odds against his victory. He simply recognized an enemy of the living God and the need for someone to do something about him.

Goliath represented an enemy of God, not David. This Philistine had done nothing to David. He didn’t stand as a personal problem or insurmountable obstacle in the young shepherd boy’s life. Goliath is presented in the story as the epitome of the ungodly and unrighteous enemy of God and His people. He is formidable and seemingly invincible. He is loud and brash. He questions the bravery of God’s people and the power of God Himself. He is self-assured and confident of his victory. He sees Saul as a coward and the people of God as nothing more than slaves of their king. So he taunts and ridicules them. And they take it, day after day.

But not David. He is a man after God’s own heart, and as such, he is unwilling to sit back and listen to this Philistine beat his gums and demean the honor of God’s name. He fully believed that the living God of Israel was fully capable of bringing victory over Goliath and that He could and would do it through him.

 

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.