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.

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.

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.

Grace to Rule – 2 Samuel 14. RBT Notes, 18th October

“The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Prov.28.1). Since his disastrous failure with Bathsheba, David has lost courage and resolve. His boldness went with his righteousness, and others are filling the vacuum. Step up Joab, and Absalom.

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Joab has shown his impatience with his master before, and will show it again. He is tired of this stand-off between the king and his son, so he engineers a reconciliation – of sorts (vv.1-3). The historian relays in great detail the scene of the woman and David with her carefully-prepared story (vv.4-20). Just as with Nathan’s story after the adultery and murder, David is reeled in again. The effect of this exchange is less to show that David is merciful, and more to show that David is a pawn of others more decisive than he is.

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That indecisiveness even continues when Absalom returns to Jerusalem. This handsome young man was used to the king’s attention, and probably, everyone else’s (vv.25-26), so when the reconciliation seems impossible, he engineers things so that Joab is forced to bring him to the king (vv.28-32).

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Don’t be fooled. David is less the merciful king, more the cowardly one. He avoids heart-wrenching decision about justice for his son, and meekly kisses him and signals his favour. Forgiveness is a great virtue, but cowardice is a reproach for God’s people.

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A Prayer to Pray

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Father, You are a great God, and greatly to be praised. Life is so confusing, and relationships are so complicated. As I look to you I can be wise, and brave. As I look to myself I am foolish, and afraid. Lift my eyes, Lord, and strengthen my heart to live well, to Your praise. Amen.

Devastation – 2 Samuel 13. RBT Notes, 17th October

She was exploited, violated and then left to mourn for the rest of her life. He was brutal, lived like a wild animal, and died like one. The story of Amnon and Tamar is one of the Old Testament’s foulest. It’s told in unhurried detail, so that we feel the complete outrage of this rape. Don’t look for deeper meanings or lessons in it; it is what is appears to be, a chronicle of shame.

Amnon commits incest and rape. Tamar is devastated (her pleading ignored by her predator, vv.12-15). His wicked heart is shown to be worse still, since he discards the woman he abused as so much rubbish (vv.15-18). Her life is broken.

The first two men whose reactions we encounter seem to have different responses to Tamar. Absalom tries to comfort her, whereas David is furious (vv.20-22). David, however, fails to work out the justice he should as Israel’s King. His silence is the result of his own personal compromise with Bathsheba. Sin robs us of conviction to do the right thing. Absalom plots Amnon’s death, and will do so, even if he waits for two years before he works out his plan.

Vengeance achieved, Absalom flees (v.38). Still, the king’s heart goes after him. The family is, as God promised, living out the bitter fruits of their father’s sin (cf 2 Sam. 12.10). Sexual ruin and bloodshed follow David’s fall in those areas.

Pity David and his house. Learn from them. Noone can escape sin, not a king, or a prince, and not a poor man, either. We are sinful from our mother’s womb, and we make disastrous choices, and have to live them out (and inflict them on others). You lust, rage, nurse your revenge, and crush others? You need a Saviour. And you have one.

 

A Prayer to Pray

I hide myself in You, Jesus Christ. You alone can shield me from sin’s destruction, and save me from the judgement my sin deserves. Thankyou that You, though pure, became sin for me. You are my hope alone, and I need no other. Amen.

 

 

Slain, for my Life – 2 Samuel 12. RBT Notes, 14th October

Let’s tell a story. Let’s give the story characters our listener can relate to, and a twist which fills him with disgust. And let’s reel him in by our story. Because it’s all about him, afterall.

Nathan does just that. Happy to hear the prophet’s tale, David jumps up with rage to hear of the rich grinding the poor, and he shouts for justice (vv.5-6). He himself will get that justice, as Nathan tells him that he is the very one the story condemns.

Nathan speaks, and God speaks, too (vv.7-13). David is the guilty man, richly blessed by God, only then to steal, cheat, kill and cover his tracks. The blessed man faces God’s curse, “because you despised me” (v.10). God saw David’s adultery and Uriah’s murder, and remembered. He promises public disgrace, the loss of David’s wives, and the death of the newborn son (vv.11-12).

David is broken. He confesses his sin, and waits for God’s anger to fall (vv.13-14). When his son is taken, David finds strength to rise and worship (v.20). There is the glimmer of hope again in grief, as in time another son is given, “loved by the Lord” (v.25). And then life must resume, the ever-busy and ambitious Joab calling him back to action and to kingly duties (vv.26-31).

God slays by a story. He gives his prophet a story to nail the king’s guilt. Does He change in His dealings with us today? No. We have a story, of how godless, cruel greed destroys the innocent. It’s the Gospel story, where our sin crushes the Shepherd. We read the crucifixion account, we see Jesus betrayed, lied about and taken out to die. We are indignant, until we see who it is who leads Him to His death, as we hear the verdict of God – “you are the man.” We face the cruse of God, and we deserve it.

And yet, as in David’s personal story, there is a son who dies. Not a son who belongs to us, but The Son, God’s Son, calling us to belong to Him, to trust in His death, so that we might be forgiven, and loved by God. The Gospel is the display of righteous justice, and the gift of life-saving grace. Have you sinned? Here is forgiveness, His life for yours.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, if You mark my transgressions I fall and I’m lost. I’m reaching out to Jesus again, and I’m reached. Give me grace to believe, to rest, to be humble, and to rejoice with trembling. He is my Gospel. Amen.