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.

Bless, and do not Curse – 2 Samuel 8-9. RBT Notes, 11th October

A king without a kingdom is an imposter. So is a King without enemies. Though our modern sensibilities take offence at enemies, battle and bloodshed, they were facts of life in Bible times, and certainly for King David. David faces them, because he is the king, and he is successful. North, south, east and west, the King’s enemies are defeated (vv.1-6), because “the Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (v.6). His statement of Psalm 118.43-45 is especially true of this period of his life: “You have made me the head of nations; people I did not know are subject to me. As soon as they hear of me, they obey me; foreigners cringe before me. They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds.”

This wise king is also merciful. “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake”, he inquires (2 Sam. 9.1). David has no war with Saul’s line, but has been showing Saul’s house forgiveness and welcome since his death. Now he meets Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. And he graces him. Reconciliation, land, fellowship, all shown to a man undeserving of David’s favour and, due to his disability, unable to work to look after himself (vv.7-13).

This is the Gospel, and the King of the Gospel. The undeserving are brought to the King’s house, not to find judgment but mercy, and the riches of shared love. King Jesus gives His love to the helpless and undeserved, and welcomes us into His Kingdom, His home and His heart. Our King delights to show mercy. This is the wonder of the Cross.

“Bless and do not curse” (Ro. 12.14) is the grace of the Gospel, and it is the way of David’s discipleship, and of ours.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, teach me to be a disciple, brave to fight battles as I should, braver still to live in forgiveness and friendship. Teach me to live as Jesus did. Amen.

Vengeance is not mine – 2 Samuel 3. RBT Notes, 5th October

Abner was a powerful man, and it was maybe because he feared that power that Ish-Bosheth, Israel’s “sort-of King”, brought a trumped up charge against him (v.8). Abner has also been reading the times. Maybe he really was as outraged at the accusation brought against him as he claimed; perhaps, though, it was a convenient way for him to abandon his king and to go over to the clearly more powerful (and more God-honoured) king, David. Abner very quickly shows his loyalty and his usefulness, and the stage is set for a long and illustrious career in the king’s service (vv.17-21).
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Except it isn’t. Joab won’t forget his brother’s murder, and certainly won’t work alongside his murderer. So he kills him (vv.26-27). Notice how Joab is as rude and sceptical of his lord as Abner is of his old king, and probably just like Abner, he uses his apparent indignation to cloak his own agenda.
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No one is deceived, not King David (v.28-29), nor the historian (v.30). David goes out of his way to show the people that he had no part in Abner’s death, and certainly no desire for it (vv.31-39).
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Killing is sometimes very easy, especially when it’s killing by attitudes, or words. Moral indignation is even easier. Christians are experts at it, as we weigh just how much we’ve been wronged (so we think), and assess how far we can push our behaviour. Shame on us. Joab’s efforts ended in his shame. Ours will, too. Vengeance really is the Lord’s.
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A Prayer to Pray
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Lord God, when I really look at myself, then I truly understand that I’m the proudest person I know. Lord, I nurse my grievances, and feed them with the poison of my indignation. Enough. Teach me humility, and the power of forgiveness, however costly. As much as it depends on me, help me to live at peace with all men. Amen.

Strength to Love – 2 Samuel 1. RBT Notes, 3rd October

David is heartbroken. He’s shattered by the news which comes to him that Saul is dead. The man he served and loved – and was violently persecuted by – was, afterall, the Lord’s anointed (v.14). That belief kept David from harming Saul over the years when David was a hunted fugitive. Now he’s told that Saul and Jonathan, David’s closest friend, are dead. It’s obvious that the Amalekite is seeking a reward for not only the news, but for the slaying of Saul. The reward he gets is his own death at David’s command (vv.15-16). David then sinks in grief, and also celebrates God’s goodness, in the lives of these two completely different men – murderous Saul and loyal Jonathan (vv.17-27).

“Weep for Saul” is the King’s command (v.24). That must astonish us. Saul wanted to kill David. David refused to kill Saul. No revenge, no self-defence? The world may call it cowardice, but the Bible shows it for what it is: strength, courage and faith. He will bless, and not curse.

Another King commands His followers, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5.44). Jesus loved and gave himself for twelve men who were to abandon Him, including one who betrayed Him. He loved them, taught them, washed their feet and bled for them. Can you love, even love those who hurt you, humiliate you, ignore you or wound you in other ways? The King says you can and you must. His grace means that you will. And that life alone is the life of true freedom and peace.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, my heart is narrow and hard, and too often burns only with the fire of self-righteousness and revenge. Forgive me. Empower me, to love, to forgive, to serve, to persevere, all dependent upon Your grace. Make me like Your Servant Son, strong only in the working-out of forgiving love, in the power of Your grace. Amen.

New Life – Acts 3. RBT Notes, 3rd March

Begging isn’t much of a job, but it was a legitimate way to spend your days if you had a disability in the First Century World. So the man Peter and John met that afternoon wouldn’t have been a threat, a nuisance or a freeloader, just another man with a desperately sad story and incurable condition, trying to live as honestly as any other (vv.1-3). In a few seconds his world is transformed, and a city is confronted by the power and the word of Jesus.

Peter and John have little money, but something far, far better than even a whole bag of it: they know that Jesus wants to heal this man (v.6). And He does. Just see him walking and jumping! “And leap you lame for joy”, urged Charles Wesley in his famous hymn. We can. Jesus comes with power, and when He does, we should be “filled with wonder and amazement” (v.10).

mistyflatbwWhen the Colonnade is crowded with astonished people, Peter and John seem quite calm, and they know what they must do. This is the time to declare that God vindicated the very One they had condemned a few weeks before, His servant Jesus (vv.12-16).  Jesus brings healing. More than that, Jesus has the power to forgive. They are to repent. They may have acted in ignorance, but now they must act with the knowledge they have, to turn to the crucified Lord and to seek His forgiveness (vv.17-19).

Peter explains that Jesus is the Prophet Moses spoke of long ago, and He is the Returning One. If they are to be truly part of God’s People, then they must listen to and obey Him (vv.21-23). Exactly the same is true for you and for me. It is not enough to know that God is powerful, or that God has been faithful to our ancestors: we must find our peace with God, and our place amongst His covenant people through repentance and faith in Jesus  (vv.24-26). Accept Him, and we are accepted – and alive!

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, Your Son has set me free! Thankyou so much for life in His name. In a world where people are starving to find life, please give me the daily bread of Jesus, and the compassionate and believing heart to share Him with others. Otherwise, they will die – and so will I. Amen.

 

 

Wrath, and Rule – Revelation 11. RBT Notes, 15th February

Jesus has been enthroned, and His rule shall never end. This is the song of heaven, and the comfort and joy of the saints below (vv.15-17). We share in His triumph, as we thrill in the forgiveness of all of our sins which He has won for us. He has given us everlasting life.

We also need to face up to other truths, too. If we are saved, others are lost. If we are forgiven, others aren’t. If the Gospel is life to those who are being saved by Jesus, then an altogether different destiny awaits the unforgiven. Jesus is enthroned as the Saviour of all who trust in Him, and as the Lord who will judge and condemn all who have rejected Him.

imageThat is the lesson of chapter 11. More than more than 600 years before, Ezekiel had a vision of God’s servants measuring out Jerusalem as it faced God’s judgment, and now John is to be the one who symbolically marks out his Jerusalem for God’s judgment (vv.1-2). It was the Romans who would lay siege to the city for the three and a half years as John was told (v.2). In that time, God would send two unique messengers. Their astonishing ministry shows God’s favour is on them, and their coming alive after their murder further testifies to God’s power upon them (vv.3-12).

Who are these witnesses? The theories are as legion as the Roman soldiers who would stand at Jerusalem’s city walls. We might never be sure about their identity, and that is just fine. God’s Word is always true, whether we understand all of its details or not. The truth overarching these details is that Jesus has come into His reign. Because of that He will come to his world, in wrath and in rescue. Are we ready for Him?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus, You hold the keys of death and of death’s dominion. You are Lord over all peoples. I delight in Your love, but teach me to revere You, Judge of the living and the dead. By Your Sprit, teach me to live in the light of Your coming Day. Amen.