Friday, April 30, 2010

"That Sounds Like David!"

We read about King Hezekiah this morning in 2 Chronicles 29-32, and as we discussed Hezekiah's response to Sennacherib's threats to destroy Jerusalem, Jordan said, "That sounds like David!"

King Hezekiah encouraged the people of Judah with these words: "Be strong and courageous! Don't be afraid of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are just men. We have the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!" (2 Chronicles 32:7-8)

Just as the Philistine giant Goliath had slandered the God of the Israelites in 1 Samuel 17, so Sennacherib belittled the God he clearly did not know, boasting that "no god of any nation has ever been yet able to rescue his people from me or my ancestors. How much less will your God rescue you from my power!" (2 Chronicles 32:15)

In response to Sennacherib's boasting, the angel of the LORD destroyed the Assyrian army, and after Sennacherib returned home in disgrace, he was killed by his own sons. (v. 20-21)

Doesn't it sound similar to the humiliating end of mighty Goliath and the defeat of the powerful Philistine army?

David, a shepherd boy armed only with a slingshot, had shouted at Goliath, "You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD Almighty--the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the LORD will conquer you...and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone will know that the LORD does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours. The LORD will give you to us!" (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

And Goliath fell dead from the impact of one of David's stones on his forehead.

Like Hezekiah and like David, we want to stand in the face of an enemy who can appear bigger and stronger than us; and to trust not in our own strength, but in our great God, who does not need weapons to fight.

We too want to "sound like David!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Everlasting Covenant

What was the difference between God's relationship with King Saul and His relationship with King David?

And why did God say He would tear the Kingdom away from Saul and establish His everlasting covenant with David?

In 1 Samuel 8, the Israelites asked Samuel to give them a king because they wanted to be like the surrounding nations. God agreed to their request, even though He knew that they were actually rejecting Him as their king, and He told Samuel to annoint Saul to be the first king of Israel. I think Saul was the kind of king they thought they wanted: handsome, honored in the eyes of people, and a head taller than anyone else. But, God used Saul's "kingly" appearance to show His people that a man's heart is much more important than what he looks like (1 Samuel 16:7).

The first time that Saul disobeyed the LORD's command, he didn't wait the full 7 days for Samuel to arrive before offering the sacrifice. When Samuel arrived just after Saul had offered the sacrifice himself (because he was afraid of his men scattering), Samuel said, "How foolish! You have disobeyed the command of the LORD your God. Had you obeyed, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your dynasty must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the LORD's command." (1 Samuel 13:13-14)

The second time that Saul disobeyed, by not completing destroying the Amalekites, the LORD revealed His grieving heart to Samuel, and said, "I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has again refused to obey me." (1 Samuel 15:11) The next day, when Samuel confronted Saul about his sin, and Saul (finally!) admitted his grave mistake, Samuel told him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else--one who is better than you." (v. 28)

Saul was clearly not a man after God's own heart, so God chose David with whom to establish His everlasting covenant.

The LORD spoke this promise to David through the prophet Nathan:
"And now the LORD declares that he will build a house for you--a dynasty of kings! For when you die, I will raise up one of your descendants, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house-a temple-for my name. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son. If he sins, I will use other nations to punish him. But my unfailing love will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I remove before you. Your dynasty and your kingdom will continue for all time before me, and your throne will be secure forever." (2 Samuel 7:11-16)

David then prayed to God, "And now, O LORD God, do as you have promised concerning me and my family. Confirm it as a promise that will last forver. And may your name be honored forever so that all the world will say, 'The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!' And may the dynasty of your servant David be established in your presence. O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, I have been bold enough to pray this prayer because you have revealed that you will build a house for me--an eternal dynasty!" (2 Samuel 7:25-27)

I see a connection in the everlasting covenant between God's love for David, David's responsive obedience, and God's revealing even more of His heart and His plans to David. The covenant was not based on David's obedience, but the future generations would either experience God's blessing through their obedience or punishment through their disobedience. God would always remain faithful to do what He had promised, and in covenant love, He would reveal himself to those whose hearts were faithful to Him. Jesus once said to his disciples, "Those who obey my commands are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them, and I will reveal myself to each one of them." (John 14:21)

David's son Solomon was well instructed in the LORD's commands and knew well of the covenant that his father had with the LORD. When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he prayed, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven or earth. You keep your promises and show your unfailing love to all who obey you and are eager to do your will. You have kept your promise to your servant David, my father. You made that promise with your own mouth and today have fulfilled it with your own hands. And now, O LORD, God of Israel, carry out your further promise to your servant David, my father. For you said to him, 'If your descendents guard their behavior as you have done, they will always reign over Israel.' Now, O God of Israel, fulfill this promise to your servant David, my father." (1 Kings 8:23-26)

Unfortunately, Solomon did not stay faithful to the LORD throughout his reign, and so his son Rehoboam experienced the division of his father's great kingdom into the two separate nations of Israel and Judah. Knowledge of the everlasting covenant, however, continued through the line of Judah's kings (all descendants of David), and Rehoboam's son Abijah spoke with confidence before the much larger Israelite army. "Don't you realize that the LORD, the God of Israel, made an unbreakable covenant with David, giving him and his descendants the throne of Israel forever?.. as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not abandoned him...We are following the instructions of the LORD our God, but you have abandoned him. So you see, God is with us. He is our leader....So Judah defeated Israel because they (Judah) trusted in the LORD, the God of their ancestors. " (2 Chronicles 13:5, 11, 12, 18))

And we know that the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who was a descendant of King David and of Abraham (Matthew 1:1), was the amazing fulfillment of the everlasting covenants with both David and with Abraham (Genesis 17:2-8), which included blessing all the nations of the earth through Abraham's line of descendants (Genesis 12:3). Jesus is the promised King of Kings who will reign forever, and through whom all nations will be blessed!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Water As Precious As Blood

Why didn't David drink the water?

We just read and discussed 1 Chronicles 11:17-19, and our kids were imagining (and imitating) David just carelessly pouring the water out on the ground.

We were challenged to look closer, to see if that was really David's attitude as he poured the water out. Verse 18 says that he "poured it out before the LORD." What does that mean?

David was obviously thirsty, as he had earlier remarked to his men how much he would love some water from the well in Bethlehem. David's Three mighty warriors had courageously broken through the Philistine lines to bring back to David some of the water that he desired to drink.

How did the Three feel when they presented the water to David, and he poured it out?

Our kids imagined them being angry with David for not drinking it.

Maybe they were angry, and felt that their efforts had been in vain.

Or maybe they were honored by how much value David placed on their lives.

He said, "God forbid that I should drink this! This water is as precious as the blood of these men who risked their lives to bring it to me." (v. 19)

I think David had an amazing respect for life that is very difficult for us to understand. It's the same kind of respect that kept him from killing Saul when he had two perfect opportunities (1 Samuel 24 and 26), and from killing Shimei when he threw rocks at and cursed King David (2 Samuel 16).

David valued the lives of his Three loyal warriors because they had performed such a sacrificial service for him. The water he refused to drink and poured out to the LORD represented the blood of these men. Because of how touched David was by what his men had done for him, he wanted to offer this precious sacrifice up to God more than he wanted to quench his own thirst.

I would have quenched my own thirst. I have a lot to learn from David about respect for life and about sacrifice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finishing Well

I’ve been thinking about my father-in-law this week, as his birthday was April 12. He died of a heart attack four years ago, and his 67th birthday was also the day of his funeral. Our whole family was not able to fly back to Missouri at that time, so Charly made the trip by himself. He was greatly impacted at the funeral by the number of people who testified about his Dad finishing well. They shared that Tom’s greatest joy in his last months was to talk with people about Jesus. As we live on the other side of the world and are able to share only limited windows of time with our families in the US, it was a great blessing for Charly to hear testimonies from his Dad’s friends who witnessed the way his Dad finished his life.

As we watched Tom’s physical health steadily decline over his last few years, through Parkinson’s Disease, we could also see his heart become more humble and repentant. At the funeral, Charly shared that what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about temporary suffering, was true of his Dad. “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) Paul also wrote that “the troubles we see will soon be over but the joys to come will last forever.” (v. 18) We rejoice that Tom has entered into eternal joy with the LORD, after finshing well his life on this earth!

After King David’s death, when his son Solomon was just starting his reign, the LORD appeared to him in a dream and said that He would give him whatever he asked for. Solomon viewed himself as a mere child with the great task of ruling God’s people, so he asked the LORD for wisdom. “Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong!”
(1 Kings 3:9)

The LORD was pleased with Solomon’s request, and blessed him with wisdom beyond that of any other man. Solomon started his reign well, in governing the Israelite nation and in undertaking his father’s dream of building the Temple of the LORD. However, even early on, there were signs of weeds that would eventually choke out his reverence for the LORD and his pure devotion to Him. Solomon would be remembered for his great wisdom, but not for his faithfulness.

“Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, and married one of his daughters.” (1 Kings 3:1)

“Solomon loved the LORD and followed all the instructions of his father, David, except that Solomon, too, offered sacrifices and burned incense at the local altars.” (1 Kings 3:3)

After seven years of building, Solomon dedicated the magnificent Temple, and “shouted this blessing over the entire community of Israel, ‘Praise the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises He gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may He give us the desire to do His will in everything and to obey all the commands, laws, and regulations that He gave our ancestors...May people all over the earth know that the LORD is God and that there is no other God. And may you always obey His laws and commands, just as you are doing today.’” (1 Kings 8: 55-58, 60-61)

The LORD then appeared to Solomon and answered him, “I have heard your prayer and your request. As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, always obeying my commands and keeping my laws and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father David, ‘You will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your descendents abandon me and disobey my commands and laws, and if you go and worship other gods, then I will uproot the people of Israel from this land I have given them…” (1 Kings 9:3-7)

Years earlier, the LORD had given clear instructions to Moses at Mt. Sinai regarding Israel’s future kings (recorded in Deuteronomy 17: 16-20). The king was not to build up a large number of horses, to return to Egypt, or to get horses from there. He was also not to take many wives or to accumulate vast amounts of wealth. He was instructed to copy the laws on a scroll to read for himself every day. “This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. This will ensure that he and his descendents will reign for many generation in Israel.” (v. 20)

How well did Solomon keep these instructions given to Moses?

“King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king in all the earth.” (1 Kings 10:23)

“Solomon built up a huge force of chariots and horses.” (1 Kings 10: 26)

“Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt.” (1 Kings 10: 28)

“He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And sure enough, they led his heart away from the LORD.” (1 Kings 11:3)

So, “the LORD was very angry with Solomon for his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshipping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the LORD’s command. So now the LORD said to him, ‘Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my laws, I will surely tear this kingdom away from you and give it to one one your servants. But for the sake of your father David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.’” (1 Kings 11:9-13)

And so, because Solomon did not stay true to the LORD, after his death, the kingdom was divided into Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south). All of Israel’s kings followed in the ways of idolatry of their first king, Jeroboam, until they were eventually conquered by the Assyrians. God remained faithful, however, to his covenant with David, and one of his descendents ruled over Judah, until they were taken captive by the Babylonians. While some of Judah’s kings had humble, faithful hearts, as they followed in the path of their father David, other kings had hardened, proud hearts, and were more influenced by the surrounding nations and their gods than they were by the Word of the LORD.

How can we stay faithful to the LORD, avoid having our devotion to the LORD choked out by weeds of sin (like Solomon's did), and finish our lives well?

“…the LORD has already told you what is good and this is what He requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
(Micah 6:8)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Whose Approval?

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God?
Or am I trying to please men?
If I were still trying to please men,
I would not be a servant of Christ."

Galatians 1:10 NIV

I memorized this verse in college, and it convicts me to this day because I am naturally a people-pleaser. I am more like King Saul than I wish to admit.

The story of Saul's second big blunder as king in 1 Samuel 15 strikes me as sadly humorous. Saul had clear instructions to completely destroy the Amalekites, and instead, he saved the best of the plunder for himself and his men and spared King Agag's life. When Samuel arrived the next day, while sheep were bleating and cattle lowing in the background "Saul greeted him cheerfully. 'May the LORD bless you. I have carried out the LORD's command!" (1 Samuel 15:13) A few verses later, he again insisted, "But I did obey the LORD." (v. 20) He even had a good excuse for saving the best of the sheep and cattle: to be able to offer a worthy sacrifice to the LORD.

Samuel, however, could see right through Saul's words to his heart and rebuked him: "Obedience is far better than sacrifice." (v. 22) So, "Saul finally admitted, 'Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the LORD's command, for I was afraid of the people and what they demanded." (v. 24)

Saul's first blunder had also been the result of fear in 1 Samuel 13, when he didn't wait the full seven days for Samuel to arrive before offering the sacrifice. Faced with the mighty Philistine army, Saul's troops were "trembling with fear" and "rapidly slipping away." (v. 7-8)

Saul was more concerned with what people thought than with doing what was right in the LORD's sight.

After Samuel had made it clear to Saul that the LORD had torn the kingdom away from him and would give it to someone else, Saul pleaded with Samuel, "I know I have sinned. but please, at least, honor me before the leaders and my people by going with me to worship the LORD your God." (1 Samuel 15:30)

Saul's main desire was to be honored in the eyes of the people.

I find this to be the biggest difference between Saul and David. While David is remembered as a great king with whom God was very pleased, he was far from perfect. His biggest sin was committing adultery with Bathsheba, and then having her husband Uriah murdered to try to cover up what he had done (2 Samuel 11). We have a wonderful psalm though that David wrote after he was convicted of his sin, which reveals his heart and his greatest desire. It wasn't to be honored in the eyes of people, but to have a clean heart and a restored relationship with the LORD.

"Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me-
now let me rejoice.
Don't keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
renew a right spirit within me.

Do not banish me from your presence,
and don't take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me again the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you
.
Then I will teach your ways to sinners,
and they will return to you...

The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit.
A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise."

(Psalm 51:7-13, 17)

Am I seeking the approval of men or of God?

Monday, April 5, 2010

God's Heart for Reconciliation

The story of David and his son Absalom is a troubling one. I have struggled to understand how David could have intentionally remained estranged from his beloved son. If David had simply chosen reconciliation, it seems that so much pain and trouble could have been avoided! And yet, the LORD had spoken to David through Nathan the prophet after David's sin with Bathsheba: "Because of what you have done, I, the LORD, will cause your own household to rebel against you." (2 Samuel 12:11)

I believe that God's heart was grieving during the years of David and Absalom's un-reconciliation, as He allowed it to be used for the fulfillment of his prophesied punishment on David's household.

David wept bitterly when he heard the news that his firstborn son Amnon had been murdered by Absalom (a revengeful act for Amnon's rape of Absalom's sister Tamar). It seems that David, while mourning for Amnon, felt the need to punish Absalom with silence for what he had done. But, after three years, David "now reconciled to Amnon's death, longed to be reunited with his son Absalom." (2 Samuel 13:39)

Why wasn't he?

Joab, the commander of David's army, "realized how much David longed to see to Absalom" (2 Samuel 14:1), so he sent a wise woman from Tekoa to fabricate a story to rebuke David for refusing to bring home his banished son. David was convicted by the woman's story and sent Joab to Geshur (where Absalom had fled after the murder of Amnon) to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem. "But the king gave this order: 'Absalom may go to his own house, but he must never come into my presence.' So Absalom did not see the king." (2 Samuel 14:24)

My heart hurts when I read this passage because I so long for David and Absalom to be reconciled!

Finally, after two years of waiting and wanting to see his father, Absalom set fire to Joab's barley field to get his attention and to plead for his help. Joab then went to King David on Absalom's behalf, and Absalom was able to bow before David and receive his kiss (2 Samuel 14:33). However, in the absence of real forgiveness, healing, and restoration, the very next chapter begins with Absalom's stealing the hearts of the people of Israel away from his father in his plan to sieze the throne.

This morning, after we read this tragic story, CJ shared how he especially liked these words that the woman of Tekoa spoke to David: "All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. That is why God tries to bring us back when we have been separated from him. He does not sweep away the lives of those he cares about--and neither should you!" (2 Samuel 14:14)

CJ said he could see in this verse God's desire for reconciliation, as well as His fulfillment of that desire by sending Jesus so that we could be restored to a relationship with God after having been cut off from Him by our sin.

While my heart still grieves over David and Absalom, I am encouraged by CJ's insight. Our own stories are much like David and Absalom's, full of human weakness, unforgiveness, and mistakes. But God's plan for reconciliation is perfect and complete. It has already been done through Jesus' death on the cross! And we can now stand, completely forgiven, before God's holy throne without any shame because the blood of Jesus makes us perfectly clean and acceptable to God.

Hallelujiah!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Step Back and Let God Judge

We had a lengthy discussion yesterday morning on this topic before starting home school. How can we step back and let God be the judge for one another without seeking revenge or trying to force someone to do what we think is right?

A practical application our kids came up with at the end of our discussion is to just remind one another once to do what is right, and then let that person choose what he or she will do. Allow the sibling to face the consequences of the right or wrong choice, and to focus instead on making one's own right choices.

We are responsible for ourselves and for how we respond to others. We are not responsible for others' choices.

This morning we were challenged by David's almost slip in taking revenge on Nabal in 1 Samuel 25. The wise and quick-acting Abigail "was sent by God" (v. 32) to keep David from killing her husband and thus spilling needless blood. When God later struck Nabal dead, David praised Him for paying Nabal back for his sin and for keeping David from doing it himself. (v. 39)

David also chose to let God judge Saul for his actions and refused to kill him when he had two golden opporutnities. Saul was repentant and humbled by David's actions, crying out "You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil." (1 Samuel 24:17)

Years later, when David's son Absalom tried to take the throne from him and David was forced to flee Jerusalem, Shimei cam out to curse and throw rocks at David (2 Samuel 16). David's companions were disgusted and asked for permission to cut off Shimei's head. David responded, "No! What am I going to do with you sons of Zuriah! If the LORD has told him to curse me, who am I to stop him?" (v. 10) David's attitude there toward being cursed is truly amazing to me!

I love the gracious way Abigail spoke words of truth to David, reminding him that "Even when you are chased by those who seek your life you are safe in the care of the LORD your God, secure in his treasure pouch!" (1 Samuel 25: 29)

When we know we are safe and secure in God's treasure pouch, we don't have to try to be the judge for others. We can rest in God's perfect justice for ourselves and for those who seek to harm us.

God's justice and timing are perfect when we don't get in the way.

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