You don’t always get… Job 20-21. RBT Notes, 13th January

The middle of the book of Job feels like a tennis match: back and forth, back and forth, heavy bass-line slugging, much grunting, and it’s very, very long. Ok, there are three on one side (soon to be four), and one on the other, but the scoring’s pretty even. Each side knows that God’s honour is at stake, and each knows that the truth will out. We spectators don’t quite know what to make of it.

For Zophar it’s simple: Job is a sinner who, like every other sinner, will get his comeuppance. He is angry that Job is refusing to concede that their assessment of him is true (vv.2-3), and adamant that he is guilty and under God’s judgement. His speech is another word picture of a man who is meeting his Maker and will not escape. Is that you, Job?

No!, insists Job. He is as disturbed as they are about the apparent prosperity of the wicked (21.7-15). They have everything – except problems. Job knows that they will be judged. But his challenge to his friends is this: the wicked are often very comfortable in their lives (vv.29-33). They don’t get what they deserve. Precisely! Why, then, should Job’s friends be so sure that each man gets what he deserves in this life, when all can see that this is patently untrue? And if all can see that this is untrue, why are the friends hammering Job, telling him that his circumstances prove that he is a sinner under God’s wrath? They are wrong (v.34).

Bad theology wounds, and it kills. Simplistic theology discourages true believers. What the world and the church needs is theology straight from God’s Word, which is more than able to deal with mystery, uncertainty and tragedy in this world, ministered with care and respect. If you’re not comfortable with mystery, and if you’re too impatient to share your convictions gently and carefully, then who is it you worship? A God of black and white, easy answers? A God of slot machine cause and effect dealings? Be careful.


A Prayer to Pray  

Father in heaven, give me a faith which is able to cope with what I don’t understand, knowing that You understand it. Give me a faith to trust in You in the sadness of life, sure that You have the answers. Give me the patience to wait for those answers, and, if You don’t give them, to wait for You in heaven. 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.

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.

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.

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).


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.


A Prayer to Pray

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.



The Man born to be King – 2 Samuel 4-5. RBT Notes, 6th October

With Abner dead, and David’s popularity growing all the time, Ish-Bosheth must realise just how futile his own rule is. Everyone else probably does, and two men, Recab and Baanah, work a plan to gain favour with David by taking Ish-Bosheth’s life. Murder is the easy part, but they lose their own lives for committing this outrage (4.5-12). God’s king doesn’t need favours, least of all, favours gained at the cost of innocent life. And in deaths of the guilty murderers, David’s new nation will learn what sort of king she has.

The king wins his people over, but he wants a city fitting for his rule. Once Jerusalem is his, “he became more and more powerful, because the Lord Almighty was with him” (5.10). This is the real start of his reign, a reign born with the promise of God’s blessing, refined through the years of danger and exile as Saul hunted him, and now begun in earnest with the possession of Jerusalem. All the glory must go to God, for He has established this kingship – people, city, palace and all – as David recognises (v.12).  And it is God who defeats David’s enemies, as David obeys Him (vv.19-25).

A good king, and one day a great one. All human greatness is flecked by sinful desires and habits, though, even if culture endorses them. Is our historian making this hint, as he records David’s concubines and wives (v.13)? We remember that, however great king David was, his rule points us to a far greater Promised Son. The only palace Jesus entered was a Roman one, and not to be honoured, but tried and sentenced to death. He took no wife, led no armies, had no wealth. And yet, as with David, the Lord handed over His enemies to Him. Jesus is a King, the King of God’s once-rebels, who bow the knee to Him. His kingdom has no borders, but only grace, a grace which keeps on reaching out to all who seek peace with Him.


A Prayer to Pray

“Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace, Hail, the Son of righteousness. Light and Life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.” Lord Jesus, I celebrate Your magnificent rule, and adore You as a blood-bought subject. Today, let me celebrate Your Lordship in my life, and let my heart rest content as You have Your way in my life. Amen.

No Other Lord – Amos 3. RBT Notes, 3rd June 2016



1.     Vv.1-.2: what is the connection between God’s choosing Israel, and His judging them? What do you learn about His character?

2.    A Lion, and a Lion whose roars the prophet brings to the people (vv.3-8). What had Amos’s people forgotten about God, and what are we tempted to forget about Him, too?

3.    Why is Israel being punished, in vv.14-15? Compare Isaiah 42.8 and 48.11, and ask yourself if this is bad or good news.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord God Almighty, You are so utterly removed from the vague, washed-out, come-and-go gods of our day, or of any day. You alone are God! Teach me awe, reverence, humility, and the fear of the Lord, above all. Amen.