All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B.

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 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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Are You Persuaded to Worship God?

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila.Acts 18:12-18 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyIf you recall, during the time Paul was ministering in the city of Corinth, God had given him a vision, telling him to keep doing what he was doing. He reminded Paul not to be afraid, but to trust in His providential plan and protective power. We know from Paul’s own words, written to the believers in Corinth some time later, that he had struggled with feelings of fear when he first arrived in the city. He confessed, “I came to you in weakness – timid and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3 NLT). And while, at this point, nothing negative had happened up to him in Corinth, it was just a matter of time. And God had given Paul His unwavering assurance that all would be well.

“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” – Acts 18:9-10 ESV

And then, almost like clockwork, the inevitable happened. A year and a half later, well into Paul’s ministry there, “some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment” (Acts 18:12 NLT). Luke is very specific in terms of his timing, using the proconsulship of Gallio to provide a firm date for this scenario. Gallio was the Roman proconsul or governor of the province of Achaia. Interestingly enough, Gallio a Roman citizen of Spanish descent, whose brother happened to be the Stoic philosopher, Seneca. In some sense, the Roman proconsul served as kind of a supreme court and his decisions on legal matters were binding, containing the full backing of the bēma or judgment seat. This was a raised platform from which the proconsul tried cases brought before him. Their accusation against Paul is simple, but direct. “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts 18:13 ESV). Basically, they are claiming that Paul is proselytizing Roman citizens, a crime according to Roman law. The Jews or any other religious were free to promote their religion, but not among those who were of Roman citizenship. These men were trying to get Paul in trouble with the legal authorities. It is the same tactic used by the Jews in Jesus’ day, who tried to set Him up as a revolutionary and radical, who was stirring up trouble. When the had appeared before Pilate to state their accusations against Jesus, they had said, “This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king” (Luke 23:2 NLT). They tried to portray Jesus as an insurrectionist, stating, “he is causing riots by his teaching wherever he goes—all over Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem!” (Luke 23:5 NLT).

The Jews in Corinth are attempting to use the same ploy in their confrontation with Peter, attempting to set Paul up as some kind of radical revolutionary who posed a threat to the government of Rome. One of the last things the Roman government wanted was anyone disturbing the peace or rocking the proverbial boat. They allowed other religions to practice their faith openly and without government interference. But if they stirred up trouble or attempted to sway the allegiance of Roman citizens away from their dedication to the Emperor, they would face stiff consequences.

But Gallio, sitting on his dais, interrupted the proceedings, even before Paul had an opportunity to defend himself. The proconsul simply stated, “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters” (Acts 18:14-15 NLT). He turned them down flat, deeming their case as non-admissible in his court. He saw through their little ploy and labeled their case as fraudulent and frivolous. It had no business being brought before him for consideration. To him, this was nothing more than a theological dispute among Jews. He could have cared less and, in so many words, told them so. What is easy to miss here, is the weight of Gallio’s apparent non-decision. He had chosen to reject the case, but in doing so he was giving legitimacy to the Christian religion within all the Roman provinces. His action carried weight and set a precedent that would influence the decisions of other, less-powerful proconsuls. From this point forward, the Romans would merely view Christianity as just another sect of the Jews. They would refuse to see it as dangerous or a threat to the Roman way of life or the stability of the government. In their minds, it was a non-factor. This determination would provide a fertile soil in which Christianity was allowed to continue it spread. Because the Roman empire was so vast and encompassed a great many foreign nations, the gospel was given a freedom to go wherever Emperor’s power reigned – all the way to Rome itself.

Paul, while not necessarily vindicated, was at least liberated. But the Jews would find that their attempt to get Paul in trouble would backfire on them. Luke records that “they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue” (Acts 18:17 ESV). The phrase, “they all” most likely refers to the Gentile audience who had gathered to hear what Gallio was going to do. When they heard him reject the case, their anti-Semitic sentiments welled over, causing them to lash out at the Jews by grabbing one of the men who had most likely dragged Paul before the proconsul. Gallio did nothing about this obvious act of vigilantiasm, most likely thinking it would discourage the Jews from bringing their internal debates before him again.

For Paul, it was business as usual. He continued to preach and spread the gospel. Paul would develop a strong affection for the church in Corinth, later penning two separate letters that he would use to encourage and, in some ways, admonish them in their faith.

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 NLT

Paul’s work among the Corinthians had not been without its opposition, but there had also been an eager reception on the part of many. God had made it clear to Paul that there were many in the city who were His (Acts 18:10). He had already chosen them for salvation. All Paul had to do was share the gospel, boldly and faithfully. The results were totally up to God. And God not only saved these people, He filled them with His Spirit and equipped them with all the spiritual gifts they would need to grow as individuals and as a congregation. As Paul later wrote them, they were enriched because of Christ. They were gifted because of Christ. They were going to stay strong to the end, because of Christ. In essence, they were in partnership with Christ – doing His will, growing His church, spreading His gospel and furthering the scope and reach of His Kingdom on this earth.

This little scene involving Paul, the Jews and Gallio, the Roman proconsul, can be easy to blow right by when reading through the Book of Acts. It can be even easier to see it as some kind of divine payback or justice for the Jews because of their efforts to oppose Paul and the message of the gospel. But for us as believers, this event should act as a reminder of the sovereignty of God. The actions of the Jews are almost predictable. They were only doing what they thought to be right. They saw Christianity as a growing threat to Judaism, and they saw Paul as its primary proponent. They were blind to the truth, but didn’t realize it. The Gentiles who beat Sosthenes were only doing what the believed to be right and true, protecting the integrity of their Greek culture and the Roman rule under which they lived and because of which, they enjoyed peace and security. And Gallio was simply doing his job, refusing to waste his time or governmental resources listening to a case that had no merit or business being brought before him.

But all of these people were operating under the divine umbrella of God’s will. He was silently, invisibly accomplishing His preordained prerogatives through the lives of men, whether they realized it or wanted it. Sometimes we mistakenly think that we can somehow thwart or inadvertently derail the plans of God. When we read these words of Jesus in his model prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV), we somehow get the wrong impression that we are the ones who bring about God’s will. We have to pray for it or request it. We have to help make it happen. But God’s will is going to be done whether I help or not, pray or not, and even desire it or not. The Jews could drag Paul before Gallio, but not without God’s permission. The proconsul could refuse to take the case, but not apart from God’s sovereign will. The Gentiles could beat the local leader of the Jewish synagogue, but their actions, while unjust and ungodly, would somehow be used by God to further the spread of His Son’s Kingdom. We have no way of knowing how the events of that day impacted the local Jewish community. Perhaps it made them more receptive to the gospel. It could have put a damper on their desire to stand up to Paul and oppose the message he was proclaiming. We don’t know. But God does. None of the things we see happening in the Book of Acts were arbitrary in nature. Every action had a God-ordained reaction associated with it. Seemingly chance encounters were really divine appointments. What appear to be the spontaneous reactions of unruly mobs would end up producing amazing God-inspired outcomes. The entire Book of Acts is a primer on the sovereignty of God, providing us with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into God’s irrefutable involvement in the world as He unfolds and fulfills His plan of redemption for a lost and dying world.

 

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

 

Called By God.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” – Jeremiah 1:4-10 ESV

The verses above contain the conversation Jeremiah had with God concerning his calling to be a prophet. They reflect Yahweh’s sovereign selection of Jeremiah and Jeremiah’s reluctant response to the news. It is easy to read these words and miss the significance of the fact that Jeremiah was talking with God Almighty. We are not told how Jeremiah received this news from God. The text simply says, “Now the word of the Lord came to me” (Jeremiah 1:4 ESV). Was it in the form of a vision? Was it an audible voice? Did an angel appear? We don’t know. But suffice it to say, that Jeremiah was probably a bit surprised to hear from God, no matter how it happened. And, when he heard what God had to say, it obviously caught Jeremiah by surprise. Jeremiah was probably as young as 16, and no older than 20, when he heard this call from God. Which explains Jeremiah’s response: “I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:7 ESV). Hearing God speak to him was shocking enough, but when he heard what God had for him to do, Jeremiah was understandably dumbfounded. He was just a kid. What was God thinking? He didn’t have what it took to be a prophet. But God opened up his conversation with Jeremiah with a statement that should have brought the young man comfort.

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 NLT

Notice what God says. He tells Jeremiah that He knew (yada’) Jeremiah before gestation. The Hebrew word provides a glimpse into God’s incredible omniscience and sovereignty. He knew, had an awareness of, Jeremiah long before he was even conceived. This was not some last-minute selection process where God looked down from heaven and spied Jeremiah and determined he would make a good candidate for a prophet. No, God had pre-ordained Jeremiah’s birth and his ultimate appointment as a prophet. Jeremiah had been created by God for his role as a prophet. In speaking of Jeremiah’s appointment, God used the Hebrew word, qadash. It most often gets translated as “sanctify” and it usually means to consecrate or set apart as sacred. God was telling Jeremiah that he had been set apart by God for His use. He had been created by God for a specific purpose. He was not a cosmic accident or a byproduct of random chance. He had been fore-ordained and set apart to be God’s divinely appointed spokesperson. And that word “appointed” is the Hebrew word, nathan, which most often gets translated as “give”. God was giving Jeremiah to the nations as a prophet. Jeremiah belonged to God and was being sent by God to minister to His people.

And yet, Jeremiah responds to this astounding news by telling God, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6 ESV). All God’s talk of Jeremiah being preordained and created specifically for this role fell on deaf ears. To Jeremiah, this all sounded like a case of mistaken identity. God must have gotten him confused with someone else. So he attempted to inform God that he was too young and too ill-equipped for this assignment. But what Jeremiah failed to comprehend was that the God who had set him apart even prior to his conception, knew things about Jeremiah he didn’t know himself. God hadn’t just made Jeremiah for the job, He had equipped him to accomplish it. Within Jeremiah’s DNA were all the qualities and attributes he would need to do what he had been created to do.

God rejected Jeremiah’s attempt to use his young age as an excuse. God was not going to be limited by what Jeremiah believed to be a chronological deficiency. And his inability to speak was not going to be a deal-breaker either. God had made Jeremiah specifically for this job. He was perfectly suited for the assignment. He just didn’t know it yet. So, God simply told Jeremiah, “you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you” (Jeremiah 1:7 NLT). The only thing Jeremiah had to worry about was obeying God. He was going to be told where to do and exactly what to say. Jeremiah wasn’t going to have to come up with a criteria or agenda. He wasn’t going to have to write any speeches. God had all the details pre-planned, down to the very words Jeremiah was going to say. Not only that, God knew how it was all going to turn out. Which is why He told Jeremiah, “And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you” (Jeremiah 1:8 NLT). At this point, Jeremiah had no idea what it was that God was going to have him say. He wasn’t even sure where he was being sent. But God knew. And God was fully aware of how Jeremiah’s assignment was going to turn out. All Jeremiah needed to know was that God had created him for this role and that the outcome was completely up to God.

God touched Jeremiah’s lips and told him, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9 ESV). This symbolic gesture was designed to assure Jeremiah that the words he spoke would be the words of God. Yahweh would be using Jeremiah’s lips to deliver His message to the nations. He would be speaking on behalf of God. And Jeremiah’s assignment was “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10 ESV). In these words we have a synopsis of Jeremiah’s message. He was going to tell the people of Judah about God’s plan to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians. They would be destroyed because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God. But one day, they would return to the land and be restored to God. God would rebuke, but He would also redeem. He would punish, but He would also pardon. 

Jeremiah didn’t need to doubt his calling. He didn’t need to worry about his qualification. He didn’t even need to worry about whether he would be successful or not. God had it all under control. From beginning to end, this was all part of God’s sovereign plan. There were no loose ends. There were no aspects of the plan that had not been taken into account. No matter how Jeremiah felt about his qualifications or how he might later view the success of his efforts, God knew what He was doing and had already determined exactly what was going to happen. All Jeremiah had to do was go and speak.

 

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 Lord Had Ordained.

Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.” Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said, “You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.” And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom. – 2 Samuel 17:1-14 ESV

It is next to impossible to discern the will of God, unless He chooses to reveal it. All we can do is look at the external circumstances and wonder what it is that He is doing or whether He is doing anything at all. Paul to the believers in Rome, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT). Solomon, David’s own son, would speak of the unfathomable ways of God in the book of Ecclesiastes. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). Sometimes it is clear what God is doing. Other times, it is almost impossible for us to even sense His presence. But the Bible paints a picture of God that shows Him intimately involved in His creation and within the lives of men. Because of our limited, earth-bound perspectives and our inability to see beyond the physical dimension in which we live, we fail to see God at work. And even when we sense He might be up to something, we question His ways. But He would have us remember:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

So when David found himself being forced to abandon the city of Jerusalem because of a military coup orchestrated by his own sin, he had no idea what God was up to. He was left to wonder if God was punishing him and had chosen to give his kingdom to another. Or perhaps, God had something else in store. David had no idea just what God was up to, but he was willing to believe that God was behind all that was happening to him and around him. He had even sent Hushai, one of his personal counselors, back to the city of Jerusalem, to act as a spy within the administration of Absalom. And this decision, while apparently David’s idea, would be used by God to accomplish His will concerning Absalom.

Ahithophel, another one of David’s former advisors, had betrayed him, having helped Absalom in his planning of the coup that would displace David as king. He had become a close confidant and advisor to Absalom. It was he who had given Absalom the advice to publicly humiliate David by sexually assaulting David’s ten concubines on the palace roof. But it is important for us to recall that this event had actually been foretold by God Himself. He had warned David that this very thing would happen, in exactly the manner it happened (2 Samuel 12:11-12). So Ahithopel’s advice to Absalom had actually been the will of God. The Almighty had used this unfaithful, wicked man to accomplish His will concerning David. And now, Ahithophel came to Absalom with yet more advice. But this time, God would choose to use another source to accomplish His will. Ahithophel most likely felt like he was on a role. He had the new king’s ear and it was to his advantage to make sure David was eliminated as a possible threat. So he asked Absalom for permission to take 12,000 men and hunt David down while he was weak and weary. He swore to kill only David and promised Absalom, “Then you will be at peace with all the people” (2 Samuel 17:3 NLT).
But God had other plans. So, while Absalom was pleased with the advice of Ahithophel, for some reason he decided to seek other counsel and turned to Hushai. It is important to remember that David had been the one to send Hushai back to Jerusalem, having told him, “Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice” (2 Samuel 16:34 NLT). And now, God orchestrated things in such a way, that David’s plan would actually happen. Hushai was able to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel, but only because God gave him the opportunity. The text makes it perfectly clear that this was all God’s doing.
For the Lord had determined to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, which really was the better plan, so that he could bring disaster on Absalom! – 2 Samuel 17:14 NLT
Where did Hushai get the idea for his plan? God. Where had Ahithophel gotten the idea for Absalom to do what he did to the ten concubines of David? God. The Lord had ordained all that had happened. He was behind the events taking place. Absalom’s takeover of the kingdom could not have happened without God’s permission. Even Ahithophel’s betrayal of David was all part of God’s plan. And yet, these very thoughts cause a great deal of discomfort and confusion to many. They wrestle with the idea of God either causing or allowing evil to happen. They struggle with questions regarding the free will of man and seeming fatalism involved in the sovereign will of God. Did God cause Ahithophel to betray David? Was God behind Absalom’s plans to overthrow his father’s government? There are aspects regarding the will of God and how He brings it about that we will never fully understand. The ways of God are beyond our capacity to understand or figure out. The capacity to comprehend how He accomplishes His will is way beyond what our finite minds can handle. And yet, just because we can’t discern or explain the ways of God does not mean we should refuse to see Him at work. Moses would have us remember this important reality concerning God:
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT
We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even approve of how He does things. But who are we to question God? What right do we, the creation, have to disagree with or disapprove of the ways in which the Creator works? The apostle Paul warns us, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 NLT). The prophet Isaiah had a similar warning:
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT
In our desire for autonomy and self-sufficiency, we have bought into the lie that we are somehow in charge of our own fates. That is what led Absalom to do what he did. He had convinced himself to believe that he was a self-made man and in charge of his own future. But he failed to realize that it is God who directs the affairs of men. God does not cause men to sin, but He uses their sinful dispositions to accomplish His divine will. The prophet Isaiah provides us with yet more helpful insights into understanding how God works.

He boasts, “By my own powerful arm I have done this. With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it. I have broken down the defenses of nations and carried off their treasures. I have knocked down their kings like a bull. I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs. No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:13-15 NLT

Our natural tendency is to want to elevate the power of man and to negate the sovereign will of God. Man’s innate desire to be god, is what drives him to reject the power of God. And yet the story of David continues to remind us that our God is in control of all things and at all times. The Lord had ordained the events surrounding David’s life. And He had a perfectly good reason for all that was happening.

 

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

Light In the Darkness.

Now Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. And when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” And Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, for whom the Lord and this people and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain. And again, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son? As I have served your father, so I will serve you.”

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom. – 2 Samuel 16:15-23 ESV

Absalom entered Jerusalem. His carefully and patiently planned coup had come off without a hitch. Without lifting a sword or shedding a drop of blood, Absalom had stolen his father’s throne and elevated himself to the highest position in the land. And yet, from God’s perspective, nothing had changed. David was still the anointed king of Israel. God had not chosen Absalom to replace David. But God was using Absalom to fulfill the words He had spoken against David for his sins of adultery and murder. The prophet, Nathan, had given David the bad news:

“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NLT

And in keeping with His word, God saw to it that this was exactly what happened. Based on the counsel of Ahithophel, Absalom took the ten concubines who had been left behind by David to maintain the palace, and had sexual relations with them. This was intended to be an insult to David, showing that Absalom had not only taken David’s kingdom and palace, but everything that had once belonged to him. And this final slap in the face to David was done in public view so everyone would know exactly what was happening. A tent was erected on the roof of David’s former palace and the news was of what Absalom was doing was spread throughout the city. But it is essential that we recognize this all part of God’s will. He had warned David this very thing would happen. From that very same roof top, David had spied Bathsheba bathing and lusted after her. He had sent for her and slept with her. Then to cover his sin and the unexpected news that she was pregnant, he would have her husband executed. David’s sin had been done in secret. But God’s discipline of David would be for all to see.

Like so many other times in the Scriptures, God was using an enemy to teach His child a lesson. God was using an unexpected source as a means of discipline in the life of one of his children. And it would seem that the counsel Ahithophel provided to Absalom came directly from God Himself. God was using this former counselor of David, who had treacherously aided Absalom in his overthrow of the kingdom, to accomplish His divine will concerning David’s punishment. This was all part of God’s plan. At no point was God out of control or up in heaven shaking His head in surprise at all that was taking place. God was using these events to accomplish His will and He had more in store for Absalom than his surprising ascension to the throne. While, from a human perspective, all looked lost, God was in complete control of every single aspect of this entire affair. As demoralizing and humiliating as all of this was to David, God was at work. He was simply fulfilling what He had promised and accomplishing all that He had planned. What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster was actually part of God’s sovereign will.

There is an invaluable lesson in this chapter for each of us who claim to be children of God. When we encounter difficulties and trials in our lives, it is so easy for us to automatically assume that God is somehow out of control. We have somehow convinced ourselves that the presence of difficulties in our lives is a proof of the absence of God. When we see our enemies celebrating their victories over us, we jump to the conclusion that God doesn’t care. It would have been easy for David to assume that God was now with Absalom. After all, he had won the hearts of the people. And David could think of plenty of reasons why God would want to replace him as king. But David didn’t have access to the mind of God. He had no idea what God was doing behind the scenes. And one of the hardest things for the child of God to do is to trust God, regardless of what we see happening around us. From a human perspective, it all appeared as if Absalom’s plans had succeeded. But the Scriptures would have us remember that God’s plans trump those of men each and every time.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken – who can change his plans? When his hand is raised, who can stop him? – Isaiah 14:27 NLT

Absalom believed his plan had succeeded. And it had. But only because God had a greater plan in store for all involved. While Absalom gloated over his victory from the throne in Jerusalem and David mourned over his fate somewhere along the banks of the Jordan, God was working His plan. He was orchestrating affairs in such a way that both men would be in for a surprise as to how this whole affair turned out. God had chosen David to be king, and nothing Absalom did was going to change that fact. He could take over David’s throne temporarily, but not permanently, and only because God had allowed it. David found himself defeated, dethroned, and demoralized, but God was not done yet. He was still God’s choice to be king. His son, Solomon, would be God’s handpicked successor, not Absalom. And while things looked bleak, God was in full control.

When our circumstances create uncertainty and leave us in a state of doubt and confusion, we are to look to God. He is always on His throne. His power is constant. His will is unavoidable. His plans are unstoppable. His love for us is inescapable. It was during this difficult time in David’s life that he penned the words of Psalm 3. They reflect his trust in God’s unfailing love for him – even in the darkest moments of life.

O Lord, I have so many enemies;
    so many are against me.
So many are saying,
    “God will never rescue him!” Interlude

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
I cried out to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
    Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Victory comes from you, O Lord.
    May you bless your people. – Psalm 3


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

Dazed and Confused, Yet Confident.

When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of donkeys saddled, bearing two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, “Why have you brought these?” Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who faint in the wilderness to drink.” And the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’” Then the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” And Ziba said, “I pay homage; let me ever find favor in your sight, my lord the king.”

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.– 2 Samuel 16:1-14 ESV

It seems that with each step David took, the news got worse. All he was trying to do was leave the city in peace and before he could get past the summit of the Mount of Olives, yet another individual shows up with bad news. Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, arrived with a couple of donkeys loaded down with supplies. When David asked Ziba why he was there, he explained that Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul, had decided to align himself with Absalom, in hopes of getting back what was rightfully his as an heir of the former king. Ziba’s news had to have stung David deeply, because he had shown great mercy and love to Mephibosheth, allowing him to live in his palace and eat at his table. He had kept a vow he had made to Mephibosheth’s father and now, Mephibosheth was returning the favor with betrayal.

But later on in the story, we will discover that Ziba had been lying. When David eventually returns to Jerusalem, Mephibosheth is one of the first ones to greet him, and he explains to David what really happened that day.

Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” the king asked him.

Mephibosheth replied, “My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best.” – 2 Samuel 19:24-27 NLT

But when Ziba showed up that day, it was impossible for David to know what was really going on and, at that point, David would have not been surprised by anything he heard. That Mephibosheth might have decided to betray him was not shocking news to David. He took it in stride and determined to reward Ziba for his kindness by giving him all that belonged to Mephibosheth. Of course, this reward would remain unclaimed by Ziba as long as David remained in exile and Absalom was on the throne.

The next thing that happened to David was even more disconcerting and disturbing. As he and his retinue continued their escape, they passed by the town of Bahurim, where a man came out and began to verbally assault David, cursing him and accusing of being a man of bloodshed. As David went on his way, this man followed, spewing his words of anger and resentment and throwing stones at the former king. Shemei, it seems, was related to Saul and he had some long-held resentment toward David for having replaced Saul as the king of Israel. He even seems to blame David for Saul’s death, as well as that of Abner and Jonathan. His accusation that David was a man of bloodshed was another statement that had to have hit David hard. While David knew he had played no part in the death’s of Saul, Jonathan or Abner, he would have been reminded of his role in the death of Uriah. It is likely that he recalled his refusal to deal with the actions of his own son, Amnon, which eventually led to Amnon’s murder by Absalom. David was a man of bloodshed. He knew it well and lived with the knowledge of that fact each and every day of his life. And while he had been forgiven by God, he would never forget the events of his life that had led to the discipline of God. Even now, David could not be sure whether all of this was yet another demonstration of God’s displeasure with him.

The words of Shemei had to have hit David hard.

“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

David was dazed and confused. He was reeling from the rapid-fire series of events that had left him without at throne and on his way into exile yet again in his life. What had happened? How did everything fall apart so quickly and unexpectedly? What was God doing? And what had David done to deserve it?

There are moments in all of our lives when we question what God may be up to. We struggle with understanding the nature of the events surrounding our life and almost immediately begin to wonder what we have done to make God angry with us. We tend to see the presence of disorder or disaster in our lives as a sign of God’s displeasure with us. And David would have felt the same way. He was unsure of the cause of these events, but almost automatically assumed it had something to do with him and was the result of something he had done. He was trying to trust God, but it was difficult. Wave after wave of bad news engulfed him, leaving him reeling and wondering what he had done to deserve this fate.

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, there will always be well-meaning friends who step in to give us advice. In their effort to ease our pain, they will say things meant to encourage and comfort us, but so often, their words will lack Scriptural backing or the authority of God. Abishai, out of love for David, offered to silence Shimei by cutting off his head. While that would have done the trick, David refused, saying, “If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?” (2 Samuel 16:10 NLT). David was not willing to commit further bloodshed in an effort to eliminate this discomfort in his life. It it was God-ordained, then there was nothing to be done. He went on to tell Abishai and all those with him, “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT).

It is so easy to believe that the removal of the discomfort in our lives will solve our problem. We can so easily convince ourselves that the elimination of whatever is bothering us is the key to restoring our joy and contentment. But David knew that his hope was in the Lord. Killing Shimei would not resolve his problem. Silencing the words of an angry man would not make David’s life any better or easier. Only God could bring peace in the midst of the chaos and restore David’s joy. David had a strong belief that all things come from the hand of the Lord. He believed in the sovereignty and providence of God. Like Job, David lived by the mantra, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). David was dazed. He was confused. But he was confident that God was in control. He may not have fully understood why these things were happening, but he was fully assured that God knew. And in time, God would make His will in all of these things plain to David.

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 Will Is Unclear.

And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.

And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king. Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.

And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city. Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there. – 2 Samuel 15:13-29 ESV

It is difficult to read this text and not wonder why David, when he heard news of Absalom’s coup, simply abandoned the city and refused to put up a fight? What would have caused the king to give up his kingdom so quickly and easily? Was he giving up or just relocating his seat of government in case Absalom attacked the capital? Many of these questions will remain unanswered because the text doesn’t tell us. When David received the report, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:13 ESV), he showed no surprise. It is as if he had seen it coming. As obtuse as he could be at times, David wasn’t completely oblivious to Absalom’s plans. And just as the people of Israel had switched their allegiance from Saul to David years before, he saw it happening again. This time it was his son who had won the hearts of the people. So David abandoned the capital, perhaps to prevent it from facing destruction in the event of a war.

But there is a certain degree of resignation in David’s words recorded in this passage. It was not as if he viewed this whole affair as a bump in the road. When he spoke to Ittai, the leader of the men from Gath, David told him, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go” (2 Samuel 15:19-20 NLT). Those don’t sound like the words of an optimistic man. He was already referring to Absalom as king. His abdication of the throne was a done deal. And he had no idea where he was going or what he was going to do. The only indication that he had hopes of one day returning are the fact that he left ten of his concubines to maintain the palace for him. But everyone else left. For the second time in his life, David found himself running for his life, but this time he was not alone. He had followers and loyal subjects. Even 600 Philistine soldiers who had followed him from Gath and pledged themselves to his service, refused to abandon him in his time of need. And as David and his retinue left the city, “Everyone cried loudly as the king and his followers passed by” (2 Samuel 15:23 NLT). He still had loyal subjects. Not everyone had turned against him, but it seems that he knew that Absalom’s smear campaign against him had been successful. He was forced to give up his kingdom without a fight. 

And as David left, the Levites attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant along. But David refused to let them do so. He allowed them to offer sacrifices, but demanded that the Ark be returned to the city. It is at this point that we get a small glimpse of David’s hope that he might one day return, but it is accompanied by a certain degree of doubt.

If the Lord sees fit,” David said, “he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again. But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him.”  – 2 Samuel 15:25-26 NLT

David had no idea what was going to happen. He had evidently received no word from God regarding the outcome of these events. As far as David knew, his kingship could be over or this could be yet another difficult reversal of fortune that God would one day remedy. But we see reflected in David’s words his reliance upon God. His return to Jerusalem would have to be God’s will, if it was going to happen. If God had determined to replace David with Absalom, there was nothing David could do about it. If David had learned anything from his years of running from Saul, it was that all of Saul’s efforts to kill David were a waste of time, because God’s will that David be king was irrevocable and unstoppable. So, if it was God’s will to make Absalom king, David knew it would be useless to try and stand against it. David was willing to trust God. If God was through with him, so be it. If God wanted to return him to power, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, including Absalom.

The hearts of the people could be fickle. The nation of Israel was still a loosely held together confederation of independently minded tribes. Each was out for its own best interests. David’s construction projects in his new capital did nothing to line their pockets. His moving of the Ark to Jerusalem had made some angry. His building of a fancy palace had made others jealous. His affair with Bathsheba had caused many to doubt his competence to be king. Absalom had raised serious doubts about David’s leadership capabilities and undermined his reputation as a just and caring king. The tribes of Israel were quick to change sides and seek out their own selfish agendas. But David knew he could trust God. No matter what happened, he knew God was faithful. God’s will might not be crystal clear, but His character was unquestionable. God might not be telling David what the future held, but David had no doubt that God held the future. So, he would trust God. When God’s will is unclear, it requires that we trust Him. When His plans appear uncertain, it demands that we wait patiently for Him to show us what He will do or what He would have us do. Life can be filled with dark days and moments of uncertainty, but one thing is always certain: God is in control at all times. He knows what is happening and He also knows how He is going to use what appears to be the worst days of our lives to accomplish something for our good and His glory.

 

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

Here We Go Again.

But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David. And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months. 
Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool. And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men arise and compete before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.” Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon. And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David. – 2 Samuel 2:8-17 ESV

The fact that verse 8 starts with with the word “but” should tell us something. The is something about to happen that is going to stand in direct contrast to the events of the first seven verses. David had received a warm welcome from the people of Judah, but that was to be expected, since he was of the tribe of Judah. David knew he was going to have a more difficult time winning over the rest of the tribes of Israel and convincing them to make him their king. That’s part of the reason behind his overtures to the men of Jabesh-gilead, because they were of the tribe of Gad. The nation of Israel, while having been united under the leadership of Saul, was still little more than a loose confederation of 12 tribes. Their relationships with each other were typically fractious and contentious. Now, David was attempting to unite them under his leadership and sovereignty as king.

But that’s not the only “but” in these verses. There was yet another facing David’s quest to become the king of Israel. It seems that not all of Saul’s sons died with him on the battlefield. There was one name left out: Ish-bosheth. He was the youngest of Saul’s four sons and would have been about 40-years old when his father and brothers fell at the battle of Gilboa. His given name was Eshbaal,which provides us with an interesting insight into King Saul. Baal was a Canaanite deity. And the name Eshbaal means “man of Baal”. So Saul names his youngest son after a false god. Interestingly enough, the Jews would not repeat the name of this pagan idol, so they substituted the word, “boshesh”, which meant shame of confusion. So, Eshbaal became known as Ish-bosheth. And the son Jonathan, who will appear later on in the story, was known as Mephibosheth.
But back to Ish-bosheth. It seems that this one son of Saul either survived the battle at Gilboa or was not even present. And Abner, the commander of Saul’s armies, decided to use this sole surviving son as a tool to keep David from ascending to the throne. Keep in mind that Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, as was Abner, his uncle. So it seems that Abner was attempting to keep the crown within the ranks of the Benjaminites.
So, Saul “appointed him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel” (2 Samuel 2:9 ESV). This would have been way out of Abner’s area of responsibility as Saul’s former commander in chief. It was not up to him to choose and appoint the king. The Israelites were to be a theocracy, ruled over by God Almighty. It was up to Him to choose their king, just as He had chosen Saul. Abner did not have authority or permission from God to do what he did. But he didn’t let that small detail stand in his way.
Lest we think this was small matter that was of little or no significance, notice that Ish-bosheth was made king over Geshur. That was an area within the territory belonging to the tribe of Manasseh. Jezreel was in the land belonging to the tribe of Issachar. And then the text goes on to include the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin and “all Israel”. So effectively, Abner crowned Ish-bosheth as king over all Israel, even countering David’s claim to be king over Judah. And we’re told that Ish-bosheth reigned for two years. This was no short-lived, flash-in-the-pan event. Once again, David found himself with serious opposition and facing another enemy from within his own nation. Saul was dead, but his son was alive and so was Abner. And Abner had probably never forgotten the little lecture David had given him at Gibeah, after David had snuck into their camp and taken Saul’s spear and water jug as he slept.
“Well, Abner, you’re a great man, aren’t you?” David taunted. “Where in all Israel is there anyone as mighty? So why haven’t you guarded your master the king when someone came to kill him? This isn’t good at all! I swear by the Lord that you and your men deserve to die, because you failed to protect your master, the Lord’s anointed! Look around! Where are the king’s spear and the jug of water that were beside his head?” – 1 Samuel 26:15-16 NLT
Abner even led his troops into battle against David and his men, meeting them at the pool of Gibeon. The initial conflict was an agreed-upon battle between 24 men, 12 from each side. This mini-battle ended in a draw, with all 24 men dead. But that was not the end of the hostilities. It was followed by a pitched battle between the forces of these two opposing kings. Many would die that day. Like our own Civil War, this battle represented brother fighting against brother. It characterized the divided nature of the kingdom at that time. And this was the contentious atmosphere in which David was forced to begin his reign.
David’s path to the throne had been anything but easy, and it was not getting any smoother. He had been anointed by Samuel years earlier, but it had taken a long time before a crown was placed on his head. And even when it was, it represented the allegiance of a single tribe, his own. Winning over the other 11 tribes and solidifying his God-appointed position as King of Israel was going to be difficult and drawn out. There were still lessons for David to learn. And God was providentially shifting the mindset of the tribes of Israel from autonomous people groups living in isolation and under self-rule to that of a single nation united under one king. God was unifying what had been fractious. He was solidifying what had been disparate. He was making of the divided tribes of Israel a great nation that would be ruled by a great king who was a man after His own heart. The days ahead would be rocky. They would be filled with disappointment. Many would die. Others would loose loved ones as a result of the battles that followed. David’s fledgling kingdom would suffer before it ever experienced any success. But it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

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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The Transfer of Power.

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. And on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. David said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” And David said to him, “How did it go? Tell me.” And he answered, “The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.” Then David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” And the young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ And he said to me, ‘Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. And David said to the young man who told him, “Where do you come from?” And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.” David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the Lord‘s anointed?” Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go, execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died. And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord‘s anointed.’” – 2 Samuel 1:1-16 ESV

The Bible is full of irony, and this story is a case in point. Saul, having taken his own life by falling on his own sword, was left on the field of battle, his body unprotected and easy pickings for the Philistines soldiers to find. But according to this story, an Amalekite got to Saul before the Philistines did. He took Saul’s crown and armlet and made his way to Ziklag, having concocted a false version of the events surrounding Saul’s death, in hopes that David would reward him for having killed Saul. But the irony in all of this is that this man, who falsely took credit for Saul’s death and stole his crown and armlet, was an Amalekite. All the way back in 1 Samuel 13, Saul was commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites, completely wiping out every man, woman and child. But Saul was disobedient to God. He failed to do what God had commanded him to do. And as a result the Amalekites were alive and well. In fact, the second point of irony is that this man made his way to David, proudly proclaiming his Amalekite ethnicity, totally unaware that David had just defeated and plundered his countrymen for having raided his city and capturing its inhabitants. In other words, this young man picked a bad time to be an Amalekite and to brag about killing the king of Israel with his own hands.

The fact that the account of chapter one of 2 Samuel differs slightly from that of chapter 31 of 1 Samuel has caused some consternation over the years. But it is not a case of a discrepancy in the Bible. It is simply the facts related to the events. Chapter 31 of 1 Samuel records what actually happened as it relates to Saul’s death and the aftermath. Nowhere does it mention his crown or armlet. Only his head, decapitated body and armor were taken by the Philistines. Had they found something as significant as his crown, it would probably been mentioned. But according to the story in chapter one of 2 Samuel, the crown had been taken by an Amalekite who was plundering the bodies of the fallen. And he was not mentioned in the closing chapter of 1 Samuel, because it was a record of Saul’s death, not David’s reaction to it. The author reserved the events surrounding the Amalekite and his plundering of Saul’s crown and amulet until later.

And the Amalekite mercenary’s arrival in David’s camp and his news of Saul’s death were not received with the joy and gratitude he had imagined.

David and his men tore their clothes in sorrow when they heard the news. They mourned and wept and fasted all day for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the Lord’s army and the nation of Israel, because they had died by the sword that day. – 2 Samuel 1:11-12 NLT

This was not what the young man had expected. Instead of David reacting with joy and offering the Amalekite a reward for his claim of having killed David’s archenemy, he went into mourning, weeping over the death of the Lord’s anointed. There was no celebration, no gloating, no dance of victory over Saul’s well-deserved death. And the idea that an Amalekite had been the one to take the king’s life was too much for David to handle. Based on the young man’s bold claim, David had him executed. Not exactly the reward he had been seeking.

What is interesting to note in this story is the sovereign hand of God at work. These two chapters provide a turning point in the story of David’s life. Between them, we see a transition of power taking place between Saul and David. It is fascinating to consider that this unsuspecting Amalekite was used by God to bring the very crown of Saul and hand it to the man whom God had appointed and anointed to be the next king of Israel. It was a tangible symbol of what was taking place within the story – all part of God’s strategic plan for David’s rise to the throne of Israel.

David’s path to the throne had been a long and arduous one. From the day he had been anointed by Samuel the prophet, until the moment Saul fell on his sword, taking his own life, David had experienced a lengthy, pain-filled journey filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, and moments of doubt and despair. David’s faith had been tested. He had been oftentimes confused by the events surrounding his life. He didn’t always understand what was going on or enjoy the manner in which God had chosen to direct his life. But he kept trusting. He kept waiting. And while he had been given two different opportunities to take Saul’s life, he had refused. In both cases he had considered Saul the Lord’s anointed and was unwilling to raise his hand against him. Up until the very end, David had showed honor and respect for the Lord’s anointed, even mourning the death of the very man who had dedicated years of his life to the David’s destruction.

Saul was defeated by the Philistines. He took his own life. An Amalekite plundered the crown from his dead body and claimed responsibility for his death. He expected a reward from David. But David mourned and rewarded the Amalekite with death. Saul’s crown, the symbol of his power, had been handed over to David by an unlikely source and in an unexpected manner. Saul’s short-lived dynasty had come to an abrupt and ignominious end. And with his death, the transfer of power had begun. David was poised to become the next king of Israel. God’s hand-picked successor was about to ascend the throne of Israel and assume the responsibility of leading the people of Israel on behalf of God. The man who had repeatedly shown honor and respect for the Lord’s anointed was about to become the Lord’s anointed. And every single event and circumstance up until this point had all been part of God’s sovereign plan for David’s life. The timing was perfect. The plan was unfolding just as God had ordained it.

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

An Ending Point.

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. – 1 Samuel 31:1-7 ESV

While David and his men were pursuing and defeating the Amalikites, Saul and the Israelites were doing battle with the Philistines. David had sought the help of God and had found success. Saul had sought the help of a witch and would die in battle, along with his three sons. And David was busy distributing the spoil of his victory among his men and the elders of Judah, Saul’s defeat and death would result in the mass evacuation of the cities near the battle and the occupation of those cities by the Philistines. Two men. Two completely different outcomes. And both taking place simultaneously.

What is interesting to note when reading this passage is the easy-to-miss reference to King Saul’s armor bearer. Verse six reads: “Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.” What makes this verse interesting is the fact that, at one time, David had been Saul’s armor bearer.

And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. – 1 Samuel 16:21 ESV

While just a passing reference in the text of 1 Samuel 31, it is significant to realize that David’s somewhat difficult-to-understand exile from the palace of Saul had been a literal godsend. God had ordained David’s disassociation from Saul in order to spare David the same fate as Saul. All those close to Saul, including his son, Jonathan, would die as a result of his stubborn rebellion against the will of God. Had God not removed His Spirit from Saul and allowed an evil spirit to torment him, David could have remained in his service. David could have been a part of that very same battle with the Philistines. But it had been God’s plan all along to separate David from Saul, so that he might be spared and prepared to be Saul’s eventual replacement.

This entire scenario had been the work of God. He had even warned Saul that it was going to happen. In fact, when Saul sought out the aid of the witch of Endor, and asked her to conjure up the departed spirit of Samuel, the prophet, God intervened. Much to her surprise and shock, she was actually able to call up Samuel and he gave Saul a chilling prediction:

“Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” – 1 Samuel 28:18-19 ESV

The end to Saul’s reign was at hand. As part of His divine plan, God had determined that the time had come for Saul to step down and David to take over. And this time, when Saul faced the Philistines in battle, there would be no young shepherd boy to save him. There would be no defeat of the Philistine champion. Saul would be forced to go into battle, without the aid of the Lord, and witness the complete destruction of his army by the enemies of God. And it should not escape our attention that Saul, while wounded in battle, was not killed as part of the battle. He lived to see his sons die. He had to remain alive to the very last, watching as his kinsmen were slaughtered in front of him or as the deserted the battle field in fright. And when all was lost, Saul was not allowed the dignity of falling in battle at the hands of his enemies. He would be forced to end his own life by falling on his own sword. Saul’s nearly 40-year reign over Israel (1 Samuel 13:1) came to an abrupt and ignominious end. Even in the moments before his death, Saul feared man more than he feared God. He was more worried about being captured by the Philistines and facing mistreatment and death at their hands, than what was going to happen to him when he had to stand before God Almighty. Perhaps Saul had deluded himself into believing that he had been a faithful king and obedient servant of God. Maybe he had convinced himself of being a man of integrity. But whatever the case, Saul was facing a judgment far worse than anything the Philistines could do to him. It was Jesus who warned, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT).

Saul died. Just as the prophet had foretold. Israel was defeated. The Philistines were victorious. But God was still sovereign. He was not surprised at the outcome. He was not panicked by what had happened or suddenly forced to come up with a new plan to deal with this significant setback. It had all been part of His divine plan and sovereign will. God had given the people what they demanded: A king. But they didn’t want just any king, they wanted a king like all the nations. And that is exactly what God gave them, while clearly telling Samuel the prophet, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). The peoples’ 40-year experience with the world’s brand of leadership was coming to an abrupt end. And God was preparing to replace their kind of king with His own. A man after his own heart. Not a perfect man. Not a sinless man. But a man whose heart had been trained to rely upon and rest in the will of God. A man who had learned the invaluable lessons of trusting God rather than relying upon self. A man who had experienced first-hand the futility of self-preservation and the more preferable choice to rely upon God’s salvation. 

Saul was done, but God was not. Israel was down, but not out. Their best days lie ahead of them. The king they wanted was dead. But the king they needed was alive and well closer than they could have ever imagined. And it was all part of God’s perfect plan.

 

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