The Shepherd King #37 February 28, 2017

We saw last week how God intervened in the battle between David’s men and Absalom’s army.  Though David longed for God to vindicate him, nevertheless, the victory was bittersweet for David was devastated that his son was killed.  In fact he was inconsolable. He was so overcome with grief that he couldn’t even think about the troops returning from battle but he isolated himself, moaning constantly, ‘O Absalom, my son, Absalom’.

For the whole army the victory that day was turning into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, ‘The king is grieving for his son.’ The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle.  2 Sam. 19:2-3

Duty would dictate that David put his grief aside at least for a time to thank the men who fought so hard for him.  However, David was gripped with a double guilt.

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First, as a parent, David loved his sons, all of them. Being a man after God’s own heart, I believe that David, though he recognized the discipline of God in his own humiliation, nevertheless, knew that what Absalom did was wrong and he had to have hoped his son would repent and do what was right.  To hear that Absalom died without any sign of repentance regarding his rebellion against his father, made the grief that much harder. I believe he grieved for the spiritual state in which his son died, as well as his physical death.

Secondly, he may well have been paralyzed with a sense of false guilt.  False guilt is self-inflicted; it is the result of not forgiving ourselves though we know that God has forgiven us.  David was forgiven for his sin with Bathsheva but there seems to be some evidence that he had great difficulty forgiving himself.  As a result, he failed to discipline his children effectively and to bring them up in the fear and awe of the LORD. Therefore, he may well have thought, ‘If only I had been a better father, Absalom would still be alive.’

This happens to many parents when a child falls away from the LORD or immerses himself in an ungodly culture.  Parents ask, ‘What did I do wrong? Why is he this way?’ The implied answer to those questions is ‘I must not have been a good parent.’

Emphatically I say, Not True!  As parents, we are commanded to bring our children up in the nurture and fear of the LORD. We do our best to fulfill that responsibility. But we must also realize that there is NO perfect parent on the face of the earth; and secondly, that once our children are adults, they make their own decisions for which we are no longer responsible.  Absalom was a man, not a child. He alone was responsible for his decision to rebel against his father.

False guilt is a subconscious attempt to atone for our imagined failures by excessive grief. Worse than that, when we know we have repented of our own sins and been forgiven by our Heavenly Father, to refuse to forgive ourselves is an insult to His forgiveness.

Fortunate for David, he had a good friend who spoke the truth to him in his grief.

Then Joav went into the house of the king and said, ‘Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and your wives and concubines.  You love those who hate you and you hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you.  I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men.  I swear by the LORD that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now.  2 Sam. 19:5-7

Wow – Joav really let David have it, didn’t he? Imagine the courage and confidence it took to confront the king with such forthrightness! Now see David’s response.

So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, ‘The king is sitting in the gateway,’ they all came before him. 2 Sam. 19:8

As soon as Joav said to David, ‘Snap out of it!’ David do so. King though he had been for years, he never lost his humility nor his teachable spirit.  These two qualities emerge as stellar examples of what we are to do and to be – humble and teachable.

Application:

Blessed is the man or woman who has a friend like Joav – a friend who will speak the truth when it’s needed.

Blessed also is the man or woman willing to hear the truth and respond to it in a humble spirit.

May we all be that kind of man or woman.

The Shepherd King #36 February 21, 2017

The king stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands.  The king commanded Joav, Abishai and Ittai (commanders of the army), ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of his commanders.  2 Samuel 18:4-5

The time had come.  King David’s ragtag army was ready to take back the throne from Absalom and restore the king to his palace. The battle took place in the forest of Ephraim and there the army of David defeated the troops of Absalom.  Twenty thousand men lost their lives fighting for the rebel ‘king’.

Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men.  He was riding his mule and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree.  He was left hanging in mid-air as his mule kept on going.  When one of the men saw this, he said to Joav, ‘I have just seen Absalom hanging in an oak tree.’ (2 Sam. 18:10)

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Hearing these words, the commander rebuked the man and said, ‘What you saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? (2 Sam. 18:11) But the soldier had heard what David said to the commanders about how to treat Absalom and he answered, ‘Even if a thousand shekels were weight into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king’s son…’ (2 Sam. 18:12)

Joav, fiercely loyal to David, ignored the man’s remark – and the king’s order – and took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart as he was hanging from the oak tree.  After Joav had thrust the javelins into Absalom, ten of his armour-bearers surrounded Absalom and killed him.

The fall of Absalom was, from the beginning of this story, just a matter of time.  God is supremely patient with all of us and He was with Absalom.  There was more than enough time for Absalom to repent but he didn’t.

The scripture has numerous warnings against arrogance and pride.  The warnings are there precisely so that we will heed those words, repent of any arrogance in ourselves and learn to walk in humility.  However, for those who refuse to heed the LORD’s warnings, God Himself will eventually humble them.  And it’s not a pretty sight!

Proverbs 16:18 says ‘Pride goes before destruction and a haughty [arrogant] spirit before a fall.’  How graphically that describes what happened to Absalom.

Sadly, Absalom was exceedingly full of himself. He had erected a pillar in the King’s valley as a monument to himself because he had no son to carry on his memory.  Imagine that!  Someone once said that the man who deserves a monument does not need one, and the man who thinks he needs one does not deserve it.

The source of Absalom’s fall was his pride and the source of his pride was his handsome appearance, especially his long hair.  (See 2 Samuel 14:25-26)  He was so proud of his hair that he refused to wear a helmet for he wanted everyone to see his long hair flying behind him in the wind as he rode into battle.  How ironic that it was that very hair that got caught in the branches of an oak tree and left him a hanging and helpless target.

From the fate of Absalom we learn several lessons, primarily this one: it is incumbent upon us to constantly keep before us that whatever we have received is not the result of our own efforts but is a gift of God.  If you are handsome, or strikingly beautiful, do not take pride in that but give thanks to God for how He chose to make you.  Outer beauty is temporary and will yield to age, no matter what you try to do about it.  It is the inner beauty of the heart that will last forever. That is where our attention should be focused.

Being the godly man he was, David surely knew that Absalom’s pride and rebellion were dangerous primarily to himself. It is no wonder that he feared for his son.

In due time, the runner carrying the message back to the king regarding the outcome of the battle, appeared on the horizon.

All is well! He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, ‘Praise be to the LORD your God! He has delivered up the men who lifted their hands against my lord the king.’ (vs. 28)

But David wanted news of his son and asked if Absalom was safe.  Reluctant to tell the king that his son was dead, the messenger gave a vague reply.  Moments later, a second messenger arrived, sent by Joav.  It was he who informed David that Absalom was dead.

The king was shaken.  He went up to the room over the gateway and wept.  As he went, he said, ‘O my son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, m son, my son!’ vs. 32-33

How do we understand the king’s grief?  Remember that David was a man after God’s own heart. He understood the principles of God’s Word.  He knew the power of repentance and forgiveness for he himself had experienced it.  I believe the depth of his grief was not primarily the fact that his son had died but that he died without repenting of his pride and rebellion.  So David cried, ‘If only I had died instead of you…’  What was he saying?

If only I had died instead of you, so that you, Absalom, would have had more time to think about your soul, to ponder your spiritual condition, to find a heart of repentance and learn humility.

Application:

Arrogance – an attitude that assumes superiority over others – is abhorrent to God.  Arrogance cost Absalom his life.  It will also cost us ours if we allow it to rule us unchecked.  We may not be subjected to a hideous death like Absalom but arrogance or pride DOES lead to humiliation of one kind or another.  More importantly, it is obnoxious in the eyes of God.

The struggle against pride is ours for life.  In little ways and big ways we show how self-protective we are. Humility on the other hand grants us the freedom of knowing we have nothing to prove for all we are is by the grace of God and to Him belongs the praise.

Pride is enslaving – it causes you to constantly worry about what other people think, how other people judge you, whether or not, you are being acknowledged and/or applauded as you think you should be.

On the other hand, humility is liberating – it brings peace to your inner person, the ability to care about others freely and generously, the freedom to be yourself at all times without anxiety, clothes you with a gentleness and a kindness that is endearing and delivers you from the burden – and it IS a burden – of constantly worrying about yourself!

May humility be the hallmark of all of our lives!

 

The Shepherd King – #35 February 14, 2017

David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds.  David sent the troops out – a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai, son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite.  The king told the troops, ‘I myself will surely march out with you.’   2 Samuel 18:1-2

The humiliation and betrayal that David suffered at the hands of his son, Absalom and his grind, Ahithophel, were huge.  However, when David prayed, God stepped in and sent Hushai to the palace to nullify Ahithophel’s evil advice to Absalom as we saw in the previous lesson.  Because of Hushai, David realized that God intended to restore him.

David had left the palace with just a handful of loyal subjects but over time, thousands of Israelites had joined the king in exile and by now he had a sizeable army, ready to do his bidding.  In the verses that open the 18th chapter of 2 Samuel, we see a new David – a David who had been disciplined by the LORD, learned his lesson and was a changed man.

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Change is always what God is after in us when He chastens us.  David demonstrated the fruits of God’s discipline in three ways:

First, he became vulnerable.  He declared that he would march with his troops; literally that he would lead them out.  This was a courageous decision for as a seasoned warrior, David knew that those on the front lines are most often the first killed.  But he dismissed all thoughts of his own importance and purposed rather to demonstrate his gratitude towards all those who stood with him; a gratitude that moved him to be willing even to lay down his life for his followers.

Secondly, David became even more teachable than he’d been in the past.  In other words, he was humble.  Notice vs. 3-4 of this chapter:  The men said, ‘You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us. It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.’  The king answered, ‘I will do whatever seems bet to you.’  2 Sam. 18:3-4

Formerly, David might have said, ‘Who are you to tell me what to do?’  But not now.  He was comfortable with listening to and accepting advice.  That’s how a humble man behaves.  One way to define repentance is that you change your thinking and become teachable.

Thirdly, David manifested a gentle attitude toward his ‘enemy’, Absalom.  The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’ 2 Sam. 18:5

In spite of the pain of betrayal, David’s heart was still tender enough toward his son that he warned his commanders against taking vengeance against Absalom.  David knew that Absalom had sinned. He did not deny that, but he also knew that it was God’s business to deal with Absalom, not anyone else’s.

One of the signs that we have truly forgiven our enemies – anyone who has wronged us or injured us in any way – is that we are willing to let God take care of them while we renounce any and all inclination to take our own revenge.

How could David be so magnanimous, you may ask?

David remembered where he came from.  He was a simple shepherd whom God chose and elevated to kingship.  It was not David’s own doing.

David remembered that he had abused the privilege God gave him by sinning with Bathsheba.

David remembered that he was a forgiven man; therefore he could forgive Absalom.

David saw that God Himself was intervening and therefore he had full confidence that God would complete the task of restoring him to the throne in His time and in His way. David could rest in that assurance and be at peace within himself.

Application:

Is there someone who’s hurt you, betrayed you?  Have you been struggling to forgive them?

Remembering how gracious God is to forgive us when we fail Him or sin against Him is the greatest motivation in helping us overcome the reluctance to forgive someone else.  May the example of David inspire all of us to live a life that includes total forgiveness towards anyone at any time.

 

The Shepherd King – #34 Feb. 7, 2017

2 Samuel 17

By this time in his life, David may well have felt that his best days were behind him.  His son, Absalom, had seized the throne in rebellion against his father.  While God had forgiven David for his sin with Bathsheba, nevertheless, the prophecy of Nathan that the sword would never leave his house was being fulfilled.  (2 Samuel 12:10)  Now, accompanied by a few loyal friends, the exiled king walked barefoot across the Kidron Valley, weeping. Despite his bitter circumstances, David was not shaking his fist at God and asking ‘Why is this happening to me?’  He knew it was the discipline of the Lord and he accepted it with dignity.

However, learning that his close friend and counselor, Ahithophel, had defected to Absalom was particularly painful.  David fell to his knees and cried out to God.  ‘So David prayed, O LORD, turn Ahitophel’s counsel into foolishness.’ 2 Sam. 15:31

This would prove to be a key moment in David’s life for if God indeed heard his prayer, everything would change.  David had always been a man of prayer and now was no different.  He was grateful for the loyal friends around him, but in his heart he knew the One he really needed was God.   Only God could turn the situation around and assure him that he still had a future in God’s service.

We cannot always judge what is going on by the way we feel for feelings can be supremely unreliable.  What matters is not what you feel but what God is doing.  And many times in life we are not aware of what God is doing because our perception of Divine activity is limited.  That is where faith comes in.  At this dark hour of his life, David turned in faith to the only One who could make a difference.

God did answer His prayer in having his friend Hushai suddenly appear and agree to go to Jerusalem and counterbalance Ahithophel’s influence on Absalom.  Though David was not privy to what was happening behind the palace walls, God was very much at work.

In Jerusalem, Absalom was receiving bad advice from Ahithophel:

Ahithophel said to Absalom: ‘I would choose 12,000 men and set out tonight in pursuit of David.  I would attack him while he is tired and weak.  I would strike in terror and then all the people with him will flee.  I would strike down only the king and bring all the people back to you. The death of the man you seek will mean the return of all; all the people will be unharmed.’ This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel. 2 Samuel 17:1-4

Had Absalom followed this advice, David would surely have been killed.  But unbeknown to Absalom, the LORD prompted him to get a second opinion:

Absalom said: ‘Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so that we can hear what he has to say.’ vs. 5

That one sentence altered the course of history.  Absalom himself sought Hushai’s advice. Amazing.  Our God can do anything!  He can even cause enemies to impulsively act in such a way that everything changes in an instant.  Hushai’s response to Absalom’s inquiry was this: Hushai replied to Absalom, ‘The advice Ahithophel has given is not good this time…’ vs. 7

Notice how diplomatic Hushai was for he implied that Ahithophel did give good advice at times but that on this occasion Absalom should take ‘other things’ into account.  Hushai then shook Absalom’s self-confidence with these words:

‘You know your father and his men; they are fighters and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs.  Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops.  Even now, he is hidden in a cave or some other place.  If he should attack your troops first, whoever hears about it will say, ‘there has been a slaughter among the troops that follow Absalom.’ Then even the bravest soldier, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will melt with fear for all Israel knows that your father is a fighter and that those with him are brave.’  vs. 8-10

Hushai continued: So I advise you: Let all Israel from Dan to Beersheva – as numerous as the sand on the seashore – be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle. Then we will attack him wherever he may be found and we will fall on him as dew settles on the ground.  Neither he nor any of his men will be left alive.  vs. 11-12

Absalom was a very proud man, and particularly proud of his long hair. (2 Sam. 14:25-26) As Hushai spoke, Absalom could picture himself leading his triumphant troops and being admired and cheered by all the people.  Little did he realize that through Hushai, God persuaded him to adopt a plan that would ensure his defeat.  Pride goes before a fall, wrote Absalom’s half brother, Solomon.  Was Solomon thinking of this occasion when he penned those words?

In any event, Absalom’s only concern was his own power and prestige. Neither he nor his followers asked God for guidance as his father always did. And they did not take into account that his father was a man of prayer, a man after God’s own heart.

Hushai sent two messengers to David to inform him of Absalom’s plan.  They told David: ‘Set out and cross the river at once; Ahithophel has advised such and such against you.’ vs. 21  Though Absalom had appeared to reject Ahithophel’s advice, Hushai was taking no chances that Absalom might change his mind and still send 12,000 men after David.  Hushai’s thought was that regardless of what happened, David could defend himself if he was forewarned.

For David it was the most encouraging news he’d heard. God was still with him; God had answered his prayer and that gave him strength to cope with the situation.  He knew that God was still working on his behalf.

Out of the blue, three men appeared bring provisions for David and his men for they said, ‘The people have become hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert.’ vs. 27-29 These new friends encouraged David, gave him practical help and more importantly, David saw God at work.  Nothing could have been more strengthening than that.

He who was a victim of a terrible injustice when his son seized the throne now arose, made a better man because he knew how to receive the discipline of the LORD with humility and graciousness.

David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds.  David sent the troops out – a third under the command of Joab; a third under Joab’s brother Abishai, son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite.  The king told the troops, ‘I myself will surely march out with you.’  2 Samuel 18:1-2

David had changed.

Application:

In times of hardship, trials and difficulties, David’s behavior is our example.  If we will learn to humble ourselves, particularly when it is hardest to do so – when we have been unjustly treated, humiliated or betrayed – God will fight on our behalf.  He works in ways that we do not always see until later but we can be assured that He hears every prayer, every cry, and that in the worst of situations, He will undertake for us as He did for David, if only we are willing to learn and embrace the greatest of virtues, humility.  Let God fight your battles for you; He is truly the only One who can.