A tragic story and a reminder of God’s grace…

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2 Samuel 13:David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David’s son Amnon fell in love with her. 2 Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. 3 But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. 4 He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” 5 Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, so that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’ ” 6 So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand.” 7 Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” 8 So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. 9 Then she took the pan and set them out before him, but he refused to eat. Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. 11 But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” 12 She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! 13 As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” 14 But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her. 15 Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, “Get out!” 16 But she said to him, “No, my brother; for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. 17 He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.” 18 (Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for this is how the virgin daughters of the king were clothed in earlier times.) So his servant put her out, and bolted the door after her. 19 But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went. 20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. 21 When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn. 22 But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had raped his sister Tamar.

Given the long and noteworthy life of King David, there is only a very small fraction of his life recorded in the bible. Hence there is assumed to be great care and discretion in deciding which parts of David’s life are included and which are not. Therefore, the question that emerges for me this morning is – why? Why is this story included in the book of 2 Samuel when so many other stories likely are not?

I’m sure there are many possible answers to my question, but I personally believe this story is told to remind us of several important truths:

  • David was one who knew God intimately, was highly favored of God and enjoyed rich blessing with God. Yet, David was NOT immune to the kinds of dysfunctions and messiness which are part of the human experience.
  • David demonstrated incredible wisdom and insight on many occasions, particularly as it related to his role as king and commander-in-chief of the armies. However, as we see in this and other stories, David’s stewardship of his own family was suspect.
  • Finally, I will quote a dear friend and fellow pastor, “The stories of King David’s family are brutal. Their inclusion in scripture reminds us that difficult and painful chapters of life are enfolded into the story of God and God’s people. When bad things happen to us, our tendency is to imagine that God has withdrawn from us. David’s story reminds us that God is complicated and present, even in hard chapters”

One could say that God had every right to reject David as king, as God had done to Saul. But God didn’t do that – to David or to you and me. Even when we make huge mistakes in life, mismanage what we’ve been given, the Lord remains. It’s as Jesus said in Matthew 28, “Remember I am with you always to the end of the age.” Praise be to God.

 

Jesus the judge…

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John 8:21 Again (Jesus) said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” 25 They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? 26 I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

I’m struck this morning by the contrast in Jesus’ response to different people in this chapter. The first part of the chapter (not included in the passage above) tells of Jesus’ encounter with a mob and a woman caught in adultery. Rather than condemn her, or turn her over to an angry mob prepared to stone her to death, Jesus turns the tables on those gathered and invites anyone who is without sin to cast the first stone. Everyone drops their stones and walks away, knowing the truth of their own sin. Then Jesus deals with the woman with tremendous care and mercy, inviting the woman to repent and sin no more. This is the Jesus I am drawn to. Rather than rejecting me when I’ve sinned, Jesus draws me closer and invites me to go and sin no more.

Then there’s our passage for today. The people he’s talking to include religious leaders of his day who are anything but humble. Their confidence is in their adherence to the law of Moses. For these people Jesus has a difficult truth, “…you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he (the promised Messiah).” Jesus was the key to their eternal lives, but they rejected him. There is no care or mercy for these people, just cutting truth and confrontation.

As is true of God the Father, Jesus the Son is far more complex and nuanced than we tend to admit. We embrace Jesus as Prince of Peace or Lamb of God, but Jesus the confrontational judge? Not so much. In the end I expect we need Jesus to be both for us. We need the one who tells us hard truths about who we are apart from the gospel. And we need the one who forgives our sins and invites us closer despite our brokenness.

 

Wrong place, wrong time…

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2 Samuel 11:1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” 

The first verse of this passage sets up the rest, gives it a context. There was a place for a king to be in the spring – with his army. David’s army had laid siege to Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon. David should have been there with his commanders, but he wasn’t. We’re not told why he stayed behind, but one cannot help but think a younger David would never have done this. The boy who took on Goliath would never have stayed home while his men were in the midst of battle. It would have been unthinkable. Hence, in his later years we see David slipping. And now, it’s about to get him in trouble.

Many years ago, before my days in ministry, I was celebrating the birthday of a relative of mine. I asked him where he wanted to meet as he had recently turned 21. He told me to meet him at a particular bar in town, a gentlemen’s club. Not the sort of place I would normally choose, but okay. So I arrived at the appointed time and sat at a table. The birthday boy was late so, tired of waiting on him, I decided to order a drink. As a server approached I held out a $20 bill and waved her over. When I began to place my order, instead of taking the cash, the scantily-clad woman looked me straight in the eye and said with surprising intensity, “You don’t belong here” and kept on walking.

Wow. At first I was stunned, but then I felt convicted. She was right, I didn’t belong there. So I left and went elsewhere. In the years since, I’ve thought about that encounter many times. That woman didn’t know me from Adam, but she had a word from the Lord for me. I think she may have been an angel sent to give me that message, which I needed to hear. Can an angel of the Lord appear as a scantily clad server in a gentleman’s club? Yep. Angels can – and do – appear in all kinds of places.

Where we are makes a difference. There are places where we belong and places where we don’t. Our passage for today reminds me of this important truth. Unfortunate things can happen when we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Brutal and kind… in one person…

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2 Samuel 8:1 Some time afterward, David attacked the Philistines and subdued them; David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines. 2 He also defeated the Moabites and, making them lie down on the ground, measured them off with a cord; he measured two lengths of cord for those who were to be put to death, and one length for those who were to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute… 9:6 Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. David said, “Mephibosheth!” He answered, “I am your servant.” 7 David said to him, “Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always.”

This passage is from two different chapters of 2 Samuel. Chapter 8 (black letters) illustrates the brutal nature of David’s wars in which many thousands of people and thousands of animals were put to death. Read verse 2 above. Wow. But then there’s the passage from chapter 9 (blue letters) in which David shows mercy to one of his deceased friend’s sons – Mephibosheth. What a contrast. It’s as if David is two different persons – at once brutal and yet also kind.

I expect some people might say the same of me. I can be very different depending on the situation. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, as I expect many people are like this. But it’s jarring to read about the contrast in someone else. This morning I’m wondering how people closest to me experience me. Do I seem like Jekyll and Hyde to others? What about you? How do different people experience you?

Leaning into the Lord…

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Psalm 119:17 Deal bountifully with your servant, so that I may live and observe your word. 18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. 19 I live as an alien in the land; do not hide your commandments from me. 20 My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times. 21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments; 22 take away from me their scorn and contempt, for I have kept your decrees. 23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. 24 Your decrees are my delight, they are my counselors.

We aren’t told who authored this psalm. It may or may not have been King David, but it sounds like him. Once again he psalmist is in trouble, “princes sit plotting against me”. There are threats on many sides. So how does the psalmist respond? “…your servant will meditate on your statues…”. When things look bad, lean into the Lord!

What captures my attention is the WAY in which the psalmist leans in. He mentions bringing particular focus to “your law”, “your commandments”, “your decrees”, “your statues”. Given that the psalmist lived in a time when the covenant between God and people was driven by the law, it makes sense. But we live in a different time.

As Christians we live under a new covenant. The words of our liturgy for holy communion quote Jesus, “This is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law by giving himself to die for us sinners, then being raised from the dead on the third day. Given this new covenant, it wouldn’t make sense for us to use the laws and statutes of God to lean into the Lord in times of trouble. So what does this look like for a new covenant Christian? Three things come to mind:

  1. Leaning into my faith means, first and foremost, giving thanks to God for all of the ways God has been faithful in the past. In my case, there have been many situations which looked dire, yet God delivered me and those I love. Just the act of recalling such times gives me strength and hope.
  2. Next I will generally spend some time in prayer. There’s something very cathartic about being honest with God when I know I’m in over my head. Peace tends to come when I allow my desperation to come through.
  3. Finally, I will invite others into my situation. This one is hard for me because I’m not great at asking for help, but the older I get the more I realize how important this is. Two or more people agreeing in prayer is far more powerful than a single individual.

What comes to your mind in this regard? How do you lean into the Lord?

Dancing before the Lord…

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2 Samuel 6:14 David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 16 As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

I love this image of King David dancing with all his might before the Lord, to the point of looking foolish. He just didn’t care what people thought about him. His dancing and worship was to please the Lord alone. Even his own wife was embarrassed by him. Whatever. There is a boldness in lavish worship that blesses God and people

I’m part of the Lutheran denomination, which is not a tribe known for lavish, unabashed worship – at least not in a physical sense. You won’t see much in the way of jumping or dancing or even raising hands. That’s not a bad thing. It’s simply a cultural reflection of the northern European roots from which Lutheranism comes. Worship in a Lutheran church tends to be orderly, controlled, dignified. Again, this is not a criticism, but my experience of things.

That said, I was once pastor of a church (one in which I served as the church planter) which was not nearly as reserved in its physical expression of worship. There was much more movement, verbal participation, even dancing. There was more of a charismatic edge in the church’s worship life than what I had anticipated in its formation, but was glad to embrace when it emerged. This morning I’m aware that I miss that kind of worship. There’s something about worshipping with a sense of physical abandon that is cathartic for me, pleasing, spiritually satisfying.

Lord give me grace to worship you with physical vigor, like David did. For we are not on this earth to please other people, but to please you. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Revenge…

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2 Samuel 3:5 Now the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, set out, and about the heat of the day they came to the house of Ishbaal, while he was taking his noonday rest. 6 They came inside the house as though to take wheat, and they struck him in the stomach; then Rechab and his brother Baanah escaped. 7 Now they had come into the house while he was lying on his couch in his bedchamber; they attacked him, killed him, and beheaded him. Then they took his head and traveled by way of the Arabah all night long. 8 They brought the head of Ishbaal to David at Hebron and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ishbaal, son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life; the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.” 

The sons of Rimmon (Rechab and Baanah) took revenge on Ishbaal because he had killed one of their brothers. The fact that it served King David’s purposes was a bonus. They expected to be reward by David, but that’s not what happened. David had them killed because they had killed the man in a manner God would not approve. David didn’t want innocent blood on his hands.

What I find interesting is the contrast between how David and the two brothers Rechab and Baanah responded to enemies. The brothers took matters into their own hands. David, on the other hand, “forgave” Saul. He had two chances to kill Saul but didn’t to it. In other words, David returned to God the right to deal with Saul rather than doing so himself – something that can be really hard to do.

It’s one thing to let the offense go when there’s little opportunity for revenge. It’s another when revenge is staring you in the face.