This Week’s Reading: 1 Samuel 24 – 2 Samuel 4
Inevitably, Saul’s kingdom came to a bitter end. The king, possessed and depraved in his quest to kill David, abdicated his responsibility to his kingdom and paid with his life, falling on his own sword as the Philistines slaughtered his army, himself fatally wounded.
2 Samuel opens with the agony of this report. The foolish Amalekite, (the same tribe as those who had ravaged Ziglag and kidnapped David’s family a few days earlier) brings David expecting a loyalty reward for vanquishing David’s known enemy on the battlefield of Mount Gilboa. In response, David commanded the man executed for high treason, for the audacity of killing the Lord’s anointed. Twice David had been presented with this same opportunity and twice, the fear of God had stayed his hand.
David, the true anointed king of Israel, did not do a victory dance. Instead, this king pens a song of lament to be sung by his people of the death of Saul and his valiant son, Jonathan. David’s men, hunted and chased out of their own nation by Saul’s determined manhunt, now tore their garments in grief and fasted and mourned for Saul, Jonathan and the slain army of Israel, crying in unison:
The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!…Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. ( 2 Samuel 1:19,23)
Grief and loss marked the day.
Yet, with the death of Saul, everything changed. David asked God for next steps and was sent to Hebron, where the men of Judah eagerly anointed him king over Judah. Hebron, the first place Abraham worshiped God upon arriving in Canaan (Genesis 13:18), now marked David’s point of entry as king.
The nation was devastated by the ongoing brutality of the Philistine oppression. When David sent emissaries commending the brave men of Jabesh Gilead for risking their lives to retrieve Saul and Jonathan’s desecrated bodies from the Philistines, Israel’s response was to establish Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, as king. Abner, the power broker uncle of Saul and commander of Israel’s army, continued to lead Israel from behind Saul’s son. For seven long years, there was brutal bloody civil war between the house of David and the house of Saul and between Joab and Abner.
Bad blood brewed between all parties involved. Abner of Saul’s house and Joab of David’s house fought bitterly, often in arm to arm combat. Joab lost his own brother, Abisheil, at Abner’s hands. Abner lost three hundred and sixty men in one single combat against David’s men.
The shift came when Ishboseth challenged Abner’s right to have relations with Saul’s concubine, Rizpah. Abner rallied the elders of Israel and the house of Benjamin to join loyalty with David. David brokered peace with Abner on the condition of his wife, Michal being returned to his household. Abner was welcomed into David’s city and Abner promised allegiance, stating, “I will arise and go and gather all of Israel to my lord the king, that they make make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” (2 Sam. 3:21) David sent Abner to establish these peace covenants with the tribes of Israel on his behalf.
Joab, upon hearing that his dread enemy was sent away in peace by his king, freaked out that David had made peace with Abner. Using his authority as general, Joab facilitated another coup. He sent messengers to bring Abner back to Hebron, and with murderous intent, stabbed Abner at the gates of the city.
David was infuriated by his general’s rebellion. He cursed Joab’s household with leprosy, lameness and death for all generations. David ordered the entire army to mourn Abner’s death, even following the coffin to burial, as if it was his own kin and the people realized David had no intentions to kill Abner, Commander General of Israel. Again, David sang a lament over Abner, weeping at the loss, “As a man falls before wicked men, so you fell” ( 2 Sam 3:34).
When Saul’s sons heard of Abner’s murder, all Israel was troubled. Ishboseth took to his bed, having “lost heart”most likely crushed by all the tremendous loss his family had endured. Horribly, two brothers murdered the king in his bed and then rode all night to victoriously hand Ishboseth’s head to King David. As the Amalekite before them, these men paid dear for their brutality, and were painfully executed for killing a righteous man despite their loyal intent.
God was the only answer. David had endured many losses prior to these events and kept reaching for God for direction, strength, wisdom, perspective. When Keilah was invaded, David inquired, “Should I war, Lord?” (1 Sam. 23:2) At Ziklag, David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue these troops, Lord?” (1 Sam. 30:8). After Saul’s death, David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up to any of the cities in Judah?” (2 Sam. 2:1).
Step by step, through the mess and the distress, God lead David. And David obeyed God. That is the success strategy.
Did this remove the sting of coups, murder, betrayal, loss? Probably not. Yet David knew His God was the compass to David’s life, and that with Him, David could navigate kingdom with supernatural guidance, provision and power.
Do you know this reality?
How did David stay steady with God when life was so tough to endure? Did he really just put his head down and push through, or did he bravely face reality, voicing the pain, and wrestling with God till perspective came once more?
If you have ever read David’s psalms, you know it was his intimacy with God, not his stoicism, that kept David moving forward until his kingdom was massive, wealthy, with peace from enemies on every side.
Lord, all my desire is before You; And my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pants, my strength fails me; As for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, And my relatives stand afar off. Those also who seek my life lay snares for me; Those who seek my hurt speak of destruction, And plan deception all the day long. But I, like a deaf man, do not hear; And I am like a mute who does not open his mouth. Thus I am like a man who does not hear, And in whose mouth is no response. or in You, O LORD, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God (38:9-15)
In other words, David says “God, my life is pretty wretched right now. All I can see is pain. But what You say is the only thing I want to hear. You are my ONLY hope, God. You’re it. There’s no Plan B.”
In Psalm 17: 1-9, the Message translation shows how bluntly David brought God his problems, with his trademark straightforward honesty:
Listen while I build my case, GOD, the most honest prayer you’ll ever hear. Show the world I’m innocent– in your heart you know I am. Go ahead, examine me from inside out, surprise me in the middle of the night– You’ll find I’m just what I say I am. My words don’t run loose. I’m not trying to get my way in the world’s way. I’m trying to get your way, your Word’s way. I’m staying on your trail; I’m putting one foot In front of the other. I’m not giving up. I call to you, God, because I’m sure of an answer. So–answer! bend your ear! listen sharp! Paint grace-graffiti on the fences; take in your frightened children who are running from the neighborhood bullies straight to you. Keep your eye on me; hide me under your cool wing feathers from the wicked who are out to get me, from mortal enemies closing in.
Despite life’s mess, David lived in intimacy with His God. Samuel had prophesied that “The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14) and David kept seeking God, despite treachery, loss, personal failure, family breakdown, plagues, war, sin and death of his own son and Israel just kept prospering under this man’s leadership.
Lord God, we seek Your heart like David did. This day, we choose to be priests and kings unto God by Your grace and through the leading of Your Spirit. Father, as Your kids, we ask for the grace to stay honest with You, even when we are disappointed and broken by life’s mess. Holy Spirit, we are empowered by You, and ask You to reveal this reality in greater measure as together, we impact this world with eternal kingdom impact. Lord Jesus, we reach for You with great intentional expectation this day. May we shift out of that lie of isolation into the truth of Your abiding presence now, in Your Name, we pray. We are not alone. We are the Beloved of the Lord. Thank you Jesus. Amen.
1. Has the mess of life sent you heartsick to bed, like Ishboseth or driven you to war in deep hatred like Joab? Can you, like David, keep trusting your God, even if your spouse has been stolen or given to others by a jealous foe? What has stopped you from reaching for God?
2. When you reached up to God in loss, grief, anger, did He comfort You? Does prayer leave you empty or satisfied? Is it duty or relationship for you?
3. Journal writing can sometimes open up our hearts in ways that praying or worshiping can’t. Try writing a few pages a day this week and see what God reveals to you. Were you surprised?
4. David’s journey from anointed shepherd to king over Israel was long and painful. What words would you use to describe your life journey? Have you seen God’s hand along the way? What Psalm would describe your journey thus far?
5. Why did seeking the Lord work for David and yet not for Saul? What was the difference between the two king’s choices when seeking the Lord?
Next Week’s Reading: 2 Samuel 4 -14 for July 11 – 17 2015