The Rule of Lawlessness – 2 Samuel 20. RBT Notes, 26th October

Another chapter of indecisive rule, an insubordinate subject who leads a rebellion, and an act-now-think-later military commander who fixes things in his own style. Not edifying reading, perhaps.

This time the rebel is Sheba, one of Saul’s clansmen. Foolish as he is, he at least has the wisdom to know that, if he’s leading a rebellion, he’ll need northern support for it (vv.1-2). To add to David’s alarm, the man he sends to deal with it, Amasa, is slow in his work. Joab has no doubt that this delay is a sign that he is up to no good, so that when he does show, Joab has neither doubt nor hesitation, but takes his life (vv.9-10). After that, the rebellion is swiftly crushed, as Sheba is put to death (vv.21-22). Disaster is averted, but the decline of David’s rule cannot be stopped.

Who can rule? Joab is all that David is not – fearless, decisive, ambitious, and also, ruthless, rash and a man of extremes. All his faults are here. And yet, they are the faults which are accentuated by David’s weaknesses. David fails to lead, so no wonder Joab overcompensates, rushing into decisions, and so falls into his own sins. It was ever thus. A sharp-tongued wife often has a lazy husband, and a wayward son is often actually rebelling against his disinterested parents. My sin encourages yours, and vice versa. Heaven help us.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus, Gentle Shepherd and yet Mighty King, thankyou that You are the perfect Ruler, and the sufficient Saviour. Teach me how to live with the sins of others. Keep me from pride when I don’t share them, but also from sin she opposite to those I see. Teach me to walk in the steps You have left for me. Amen.

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The Clash – 2 Samuel 19. RBT Notes, 25th October

Joab is furious. How dare the king rob the men of their victory joy, and undermine his own rule by his tears? They risked everything for him, only to end up feeling ashamed and embarrassed, Joab tells David. Now he bosses the king into making an appearance to the people, to save his own kingship (vv.5-7). Joab is right in his assessment, but so wrong in his forcefulness with David, and will soon realise it.

With confusion in the whole country, David needs to act fast. He is effective, and the nation is eager to see him back in Jerusalem (vv.14-15). Two scenes follow, where those turned against him recognise that they need to beg for mercy, or die. Shimei is pardoned, to the fury of Abishai, Joab’s brother (vv.21-23). Mephibosheth finds the same pardon. David believes him to be telling the truth (which is probably the right reading of his explanation, and takes a pragmatic decision on his property (vv.24-30). Finally, brave old Barzillai makes another appearance, turning down the kin’gs favour, but knowing his blessing (vv.34-39).

The chapter ends where all defeated coups end – recriminations, bad blood, bickering (vv.38-43). It could be the end of a badly-led and fraught church meeting, or a clash of church leaders or members, couldn’t it? We are all sinners, afterall, and sinners with different views, values and agendas don’t make for easy company. The marvel is not that the nation falls apart, but that God continues with His people. But He always will. This is what covenant love does. May God gives us the humility both to receive it, and to share it.


A Prayer to Pray

Dear Lord Jesus, forgive me when I value forgiveness so little. Your precious blood was shed so that I can be forgiven, and Your Spirit was poured out so that I can forgive. Teach me these truths. Open my heart to worship You, and to forgive others. Amen.

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A Father’s Grief – 2 Samuel 18. Reading the Bible Together, 24th October

At last, David leads in battle. Or he plans to, only meekly to submit to his subjects when pressed not to (vv.2, 4). They ride out with his pleas that Absalom be treated with mercy (v.5). And then it isn’t David’s men who grab Absalom, but, bizarrely, the branches of a tree (v.9). The lengthy exchange recorded between the unnamed warrior and Joab underline the dilemma that both men should have – how do they handle their leader’s son (vv.10-13)? There is no dilemma for Joab, though, and he spears Absalom. That blow is effectively the end of the battle, and the coup. Absalom’s life is sealed with the mention of a monument which is as sad as both his life and his eventual death (v.18).

Can David’s heart take any more misery? Joab isn’t sure. He won’t risk the the son of the priest Zadok taking the news of Absalom’s death in case David rages at the bringer (remember his reaction to Saul’s death?). Instead, he sends an unnamed and probably unknown African to be messenger (vv.19-21). Ahimaaz, in a misguided longing for glory or reward (or both) also runs off to David. The irony of Ahimaaz’s declaration “all is well” (v.28) isn’t lost on us, and will break David’s heart. All for him is lost, because Absalom is dead, however much more bloodshed is averted, and the coup is over. When the original messenger brings the clear word, David must weep his bitter tears in private (vv.31-33).

A horrible, horrible loss. David’s tears must have been as much for his own failures as for the life of his misguided son. What wreckage sin has made of this family. How many parents today, Christian parents, too, weep for their children’s sins and their own? Our Gospel doesn’t bring us all the answers in the face of sin, nor does it mean that we will be delivered from all our temptations and disasters. No true Christian father goes to heaven without aching tears for his children. No true God is unmoved by the sins of His children. Certainly, ours isn’t.


A Prayer to Pray

Merciful Father, You tell us that there is a time to weep, and a time to mourn. This short, sad life so often breaks me, and the needs and troubles of those I love most dearly break me most. Father, You Who lost Your beloved Son, comfort me in my sorrows by Your Spirit. Deliver me from temptation, both to stop loving, or to lose myself in self-pity. Guard this weary, tender heart. I give it to You. Amen.

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A Frowning Providence – 2 Samuel 17. RBT Notes, 21st October

Absalom is goaded on by the seemingly expert advice of Ahithophel, David’s ex-adviser. Ahithophel is brave, decisive, and totally persuasive, even when he coolly counsels the death of the king. And Absalom falls for it all (vv.1-4). But he wants one other opinion, and Hushai is suddenly forced to think on his feet. He’s boxed into a corner, as speaking against the opinion of Absalom and his new right-hand man is highly dangerous. His advice is a masterstroke in seeking to avert bloodshed (vv.7-14). And the king buys it (v.14). Notice, too, that God’s hand is against Absalom, steering his choice of advice for his own eventual downfall. Both the king’s and the would-be king’s hearts are in the Lord’s hand (v.15, see Prov. 21.1).

Hushai quickly gets word to David’s men, since he doesn’t know if Absalom will take his advice or not. There are close calls recorded, but David and his men manage to escape Absalom (vv.17-22). Ahithophel realises that he’s never going to grab power with Absalom, now that his plan has been rejected, so with military efficiency he goes home and takes his life (v.23). David’s men are safe, for now, and grateful for every kindness they receive (vv.24-29).

This chapter is a slice of the affairs of men, their ambitions, risks, danger, decisions and outcomes. A slice of your life or mine might look far less exciting, but the main elements are all there. True in their lives and ours is the hand of God. He guides even corrupt advisers, works out His purposes, and protects His children. In a world like ours, we really need to be sure of this. Life is hard for us all, and our best hopes are often broken. Our good news is that God in Christ loves us, and knows the very number of hairs on our heads. More than that, He has promised to bring us safely to glory. Trust Him.


A Prayer to Pray  

Heavenly Father, as David knew and said, You are my shield and my glory, and the One who lifts up my head. May Your Spirit press these truths into my hearts on sad and difficult days. Be my peace, and my strength. Amen.

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Persevering through Pain – 2 Samuel 16. RBT Notes, 20th October

The past has a way of catching up on us. We feel we’ve come to terms with old feelings, old loves, old enemies, and that all is changed. But then one day we discover that the past never vanished; it just went into hiding for a while.

This power-shift between Absalom and David causes the past to surface. David has a sudden reminder of Saul’s family, as the servant Ziba brings him unexpected gifts for the journey (vv.1-2). His joy is tempered with deep sadness, as he learns that Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson and recipient of so much of David’s kindness, is betting on Absalom to return his own family’s wealth to him (vv.3-4). One of life’s hard lessons is that love does not secure loyalty.

Next is an extraordinary scene, with Shimei ranting and screaming at David (vv.5-14). Like Mephibosheth, Absalom’s challenge to the king is his chance to settle old grievances. David’s reaciont? He appears either as man of humble faith, or as a broken man whose courage has failed him. Both are likely to be the case. David is holding onto what was once his bright faith in happier days, but knows that he’s no longer the man who can cope with conflict. His heart will break further, when he learns of Absalom insulting him in one more public and shaming assault on his rule (vv.15-23).

Life is painful, and those we try to love bring us most pain. Jesus Christ knew the pain of desertion. He witnessed friends seeking old loves and loyalties, when the pressure got too much. His Word warns us of our vipers’-nest hearts, and cautions us against complacency. Before we disgrace ourselves, and our King, when temptation comes we must “put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thess. 5.8). Jesus Himself did.


A Prayer to Pray

Spirit of God, I barely know my heart. And how my heart gets broken, tempted and distracted. Fix my eyes on Jesus, who will never disappoint me. Keep me humble and close to Him, pressing on to the end. Amen.

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Who would be King? 2 Samuel 15. RBT Notes, 19th October

Pity Absalom. Born into privilege, he was also born in notoriety, the son of David and Bathsheba. He had to endure the rape of a sister, and was guilty of the murder of his brother. He knew exile, and then, once returned, he had the pain of never being properly reconciled to his father. Add to this prince’s troubles the frustration of seeing that his father wasn’t doing his job, and that there was no job for him to do. So what was ‘normal’ for Absalom? And what would you do, if you were Absalom?

He was restless, and probably very insecure. He wanted to make an impact, and probably deep down, wanted his country to thrive, seeing that his father’s once strong leadership had given way to reclusive indecision. He forms a plan to win over his countrymen (vv.1-6), and is a great success (v.6).

Success brings contempt, even of his own father. The Hebron trip is a ruse, probably to achieve what he had planned all along. He steals two hundred unsuspecting men to his cause, and also steals David’s main advisor (vv.11-12). Surely David must come out of his palace fighting?

No. David flees. One unsubstantiated report, and the king goes to pieces (vv.13-14). His whole entourage leaves Jerusalem. Note three scenes the historian lingers on, concerning Ittai, Zadok and Hushai (vv.19-37). What we learn about each is that they are brave, and eager to do the right thing for their King. Their bravery effectively shows up the lack of heart and courage this king has. We must wait for another king, who, though betrayed by one He loved, walked up the Mount of Olives. Unlike David, He didn’t flee His responsibilities, but went outside the city in order to meet them. He fought for those who made themselves His enemies, and conquered for them by dying. This is bravery, and this is our King.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus Christ, King, Conqueror, Saviour, I embrace all that You are for all that I need. Thankyou for Your most brave dying love. Like insecure and proud Absalom, how often my heart rises against You. Teach me the joy of trusting surrender to Your love. Amen.

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