Grace in the End – 2 Samuel 23-24. RBT Notes, 31st October

David knows what it means to lead a nation for God, even if his reign was marred by failure (vv.1-4). He also knows the indescribable blessing of being a man whose life and family know God’s covenant love (vv.5-7). This love is such an undeserved gift: with all of David’s sins, he can yet be sure that the God who has taken hold of him will never let him go. This is Gospel grace, afterall.

And then, as the book draws to a close, a list of David’s valiant soldiers. Deeds of faith are mixed with deeds of derring-do (vv.8-39). Their courage matches that of David in his prime (for example, note v.21), but now that he is ageing, these men are essential to his safety, and remind us that every ruler has his day.

But this book will not close in a nostalgic glow. Instead, its fire flares up, in this desperate narrative of David’s sin and its  consequences (ch. 24). The passage is troubling in theological as well as emotional levels. Whay was God angry? Is David responsible, therefore, for this decision to number his men? Why does a nation suffer the consequences of God’s anger, and David’s foolhardiness?  And to the mix, is this anger ultimately directed towards a nation which did in fact choose Absalom in his rebellion, rather than stick with their King, David? If the writer were putting pen to paper in order to win fans – or if God were out to broaden His fanbase – then the chapter fails. But our historian has to write is as it is. And God? Well, He has His reasons. He is God, you know.

The result of David’s sin is a satisfaction for sin which kills seventy thousand (v.15). David is heart-broken – “let Your hand fall upon me and my family” (v.17). And how we remember the King who prayed that He, and He alone, would take the wrath of God for God’s straying sheep. This passage gives us no neat answers for how God works, and for how sin is dealt with. It does remind, us, though, like all of this book of 2 Samuel, of the true, sinless King, who was also the stricken shepherd. He has taken our sin, our plague, and our death. In Him is life, forevermore.

So ends a largely very sad book. God is always good in 2 Samuel. He is not always easy. Sin, of course, is never easy. It always bites, wounds and brings death. David’s God is preaching His Gospel to us. Will we seek grace, and find life?


A Prayer to Pray

Father God, You are never less the God You were in David’s day. You are always wrathful where sin is present, and always merciful where broken sinners cry out. Give me David’s humility before Your Lordship, and a fear of sin which drives me to You. Amen.

A Song for all Seasons – 2 Samuel 22. RBT Notes, 28th October

Few praise God when life is full of disappointment. Of course we should, but faith seems to take strength in its celebrations, not its commiserations. Is this the praise which comes from victory over the Philistines recorded immediately before (21.15-22)? Possibly. Maybe it comes from a far happier season in David’s life, say, at the happy arrival at Jerusalem? Whatever its setting, our challenge is that God’s praises must be in our hearts “through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy”.

Because God is worthy. He is always mighty, merciful, utterly reliable, always strong to save, always rescuing in His grace (vv.1-4).

Because grace is personal. You have danger, tears, stress? Cry out to God, discover His power to save you, as David did (vv.5-7).

Because God is mighty. God is never more glorious than when He’s confessed by His church as the Triune Lord of His Word. He is yet more glorious when He is seen to be at work, displaying the might of that Triune name in acts of judgement and salvation (vv.8-20).

Because noone deserves salvation. Don’t misread David’s confession as smug pride and desperate lack of self-awareness. This is not pride before a fall. This is a grace-adopted child of God rejoicing that because of grace he can be confident of grace. The God who gave him a heart to seek Him gives him power and joy in obedience, and a ready answer for his prayers (vv.21-25).

Because courage comes from God. He reveals Himself, and does so clearly in His Word. He is the shield and the encourager and trainer of all who fight in His name. He gives strength and He brings victory (vv.26-47). Do you know this God?   

Because God Lives. Idols falls, dreams fade, and even temptations lose their power. God endures, and shall endure forever. He is the Rock, and must be the praise of our hearts, lips and lives (vv.48-51). In Jesus this song of David truly sings. Jesus is the One exalted to conquer, and by His Cross and Resurrection He has.


A Prayer to Pray

God of Grace! Thankyou for this wonderful song, which by grace can by my song. Please, be the Lord of my heart, the One who brings Your strength and joy to my needy life. Amen.


Atonement-Hill. 2 Samuel 21. RBT Notes, 27th October

Every leader hates dealing with messes. Worst of all is an inherited mess. David faces a problem he could never have foreseen, which he must now deal with. The Gibeonites are a tribe whose ancestors ingeniously secured a covenant of protection with the Israelites (Josh. 9), only to be decimated by the over-zealous Saul. Nor was this a fact of increasingly-ancient history: God was so grieved about it that He brought a three year famine to the land (vv.1-2).

When David asks the Gibeonites what they want from him, their response must have shocked the king and the whole nation: blood for blood (vv.4-6). Modern minds recoil. Did ancient ones? Hard to say. Are David and his historian inwardly repelled? We don’t know. What ancient and modern minds feel in this exchange, and in the gruesome scenes which follow, is that life is unspeakably precious, and that sin is unbearably serious. What people do matters. Every person, when outraged, needs justice to come, whether it’s worked out well or badly. Life is the cost of sin at this murder-hill (v.10). See this scene of justice and loss, and think on another son on a different hill who pays the price for the sin of others. Remember His mother, weeping at his exposed body. Then learn that Your sin can never be covered up, but must be covered by the perfect payment of a just life.  Jesus has. He has done it. It is finished.


A Prayer to Pray

Almighty God, Your justice is infinite. You demand life where You see sin. You demand faith in Your substitute Son from all sinners. And You gift repentance and faith. I come back to those most precious gifts, and to the great work of Your Son Jesus, and I receive life. Thankyou. Thankyou. Amen.

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.

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.

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.