2 Samuel 23:8-39 (Part 1 of 2)
David’s Elite Warriors

Have you ever been part of a championship team in your life? One of the greatest teams that I was ever a part of was when I was only 12 years old. I was living in Anderson, SC at the time as my dad served as associate pastor at a large church in that city, Trinity United Methodist Church. It was there that I found my championship team. Even though it is now 44 years later, I still remember those days of our 12 & Under church league basketball team. We were a team that started slowly because many of us had never played together before. My friend Eddie Younts and I were the most skilled players of the team but the rest of the team was pretty good but none of them were the go-to guys when we needed a basket. Each player had his role and each accepted that. But those first two games of the year we got skunked pretty badly in both because we all didn’t play as a team but by that third game we started to get and we only lost one more game during the regular season and we ended up being the second seed in the season ending tournament. We blistered our first two opponents pretty badly in the tournament and then came the team we had lost twice to during the regular season, Boulevard Baptist Church. We were by far the best teams in our league and that championship game was one to remember for us as 11 and 12 year olds.

We played so well in that championship game as a team. Even our center who was just a gangly tall kid became a force on the inside with rebounds. Eddie and I played our best games each. No look passes to each other, communicating with our eyes on offense and defense. It was our finest moment as a team in the biggest game. We won that game by 5 and we celebrated as if we had won the national championship in college basketball. It was an awesome highlight moment. Those moments where you just truly connect with the people you have been through the battles with. There’s that soul connection when you are a team that just gets each other. You love them. You would take a bullet for them. And now that I think back on it, the one thing that distinguished us was our coach, Coach Middleton. He was a mild-mannered church member but he ended up molding us into a team that together was far beyond what we were individually.

He was tough on us from the beginning. He worked us to death on ball skills and defense when we would rather be running and shooting. He would run us to death at some point during practice with suicide drills (for the uninformed, suicide drills are where you run from one end of the court to the other, touch the end line with your hand and run back to the other end of the court and touch the other end line with your hand – repeatedly). If one of us would not follow directions, the whole team would do suicide drills. He expected a lot of these rag tag bunch of 11 and 12 year olds. He actually taught plays for us to run on offense and defensive sets to be in on that side of the court. He treated us like we were adults and expected us to pick up all the details. His practices were some of the toughest things I have ever been through (including high school football practices). But though he was tough on us, he praised us when we did things right and began to work as a team. As the season progressed, we fell in line behind his leadership. We loved that man. We would have took a bullet for him. I have never seen a grown man tear up as much as he did when the final seconds of that championship game ticked off. He was a proud father figure to a bunch of kids that were highly individual when we met him in those first December practices, but who he molded into a band of brothers by that early March championship game. Even all these years later, I still remember the toughness he instilled in us. I still remember that “band of brothers” feeling he produced in us. It still is a fond memory of a time in my life that I occasionally revisit with vivid memory when the thought crosses my mind.

That was the thought that came to mind when I read about David’s mighty warriors this morning in 2 Samuel 23:8-39. That thought being about how great leadership takes individuals and makes them into a great team together:

8 These are the names of David’s mightiest warriors. The first was Jashobeam the Hacmonite,[a] who was leader of the Three[b]—the three mightiest warriors among David’s men. He once used his spear to kill 800 enemy warriors in a single battle.[c]

9 Next in rank among the Three was Eleazar son of Dodai, a descendant of Ahoah. Once Eleazar and David stood together against the Philistines when the entire Israelite army had fled. 10 He killed Philistines until his hand was too tired to lift his sword, and the Lord gave him a great victory that day. The rest of the army did not return until it was time to collect the plunder!

11 Next in rank was Shammah son of Agee from Harar. One time the Philistines gathered at Lehi and attacked the Israelites in a field full of lentils. The Israelite army fled, 12 but Shammah[d] held his ground in the middle of the field and beat back the Philistines. So the Lord brought about a great victory.

13 Once during the harvest, when David was at the cave of Adullam, the Philistine army was camped in the valley of Rephaim. The Three (who were among the Thirty—an elite group among David’s fighting men) went down to meet him there. 14 David was staying in the stronghold at the time, and a Philistine detachment had occupied the town of Bethlehem.

15 David remarked longingly to his men, “Oh, how I would love some of that good water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem.” 16 So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. But he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the Lord. 17 “The Lord forbid that I should drink this!” he exclaimed. “This water is as precious as the blood of these men[e] who risked their lives to bring it to me.” So David did not drink it. These are examples of the exploits of the Three.

18 Abishai son of Zeruiah, the brother of Joab, was the leader of the Thirty.[f] He once used his spear to kill 300 enemy warriors in a single battle. It was by such feats that he became as famous as the Three. 19 Abishai was the most famous of the Thirty[g] and was their commander, though he was not one of the Three.

20 There was also Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior[h] from Kabzeel. He did many heroic deeds, which included killing two champions[i] of Moab. Another time, on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it. 21 Once, armed only with a club, he killed an imposing Egyptian warrior who was armed with a spear. Benaiah wrenched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with it. 22 Deeds like these made Benaiah as famous as the Three mightiest warriors. 23 He was more honored than the other members of the Thirty, though he was not one of the Three. And David made him captain of his bodyguard.

24 Other members of the Thirty included:

Asahel, Joab’s brother;
Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem;
25
Shammah from Harod;
Elika from Harod;
26
Helez from Pelon[j];
Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa;
27
Abiezer from Anathoth;
Sibbecai[k] from Hushah;
28
Zalmon from Ahoah;
Maharai from Netophah;
29
Heled[l] son of Baanah from Netophah;
Ithai[m] son of Ribai from Gibeah (in the land of Benjamin);
30
Benaiah from Pirathon;
Hurai[n] from Nahale-gaash[o];
31
Abi-albon from Arabah;
Azmaveth from Bahurim;
32
Eliahba from Shaalbon;
the sons of Jashen;
Jonathan 33 son of Shagee[p] from Harar;
Ahiam son of Sharar from Harar;
34
Eliphelet son of Ahasbai from Maacah;
Eliam son of Ahithophel from Giloh;
35
Hezro from Carmel;
Paarai from Arba;
36
Igal son of Nathan from Zobah;
Bani from Gad;
37
Zelek from Ammon;
Naharai from Beeroth, the armor bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah;
38
Ira from Jattir;
Gareb from Jattir;
39
Uriah the Hittite.

There were thirty-seven in all.

In this passage, we see how these verses tell of the exploits that the special corps of David’s army carried out (they were the Army Special Forces, the Navy SEALS, the Marines Force Recon, the Air Force Special Ops teams of their day). There were two groups of elite men: The Three and The Thirty. To become a member of such a group, a man had to show unparalleled courage in battle as well as wisdom in leadership. “The Three” was the most elite group. The list of “The Thirty” actually contains 37 names but mentions some warriors known to be dead from our readings of the biblical texts (Uriah is an example – he was one of “The Thirty” who was purposely deserted on the battlefield by order David so that he would be killed in action – the whole Bathsheba incident). Thus, the list contains the original member’s name plus his later replacement.

Although David makes major blunders in leadership during his time as a military leader and then as king, one way to understand his successes is to notice the kind of men who followed him. During the time Saul was hunting him, David gradually built a fighting fore of several hundred men. Some were relatives, others were outcasts from society, many were in trouble with the law, but they all had one trait in common – complete devotion to David. Their achievements made them famous. Scripture gives us the impression that these men were motivated to greatness by the personal qualities of their leader, David. David inspired them to achieve beyond their goals and meet their true potential. Likewise, the leaders we follow and the causes to which we commit ourselves will affect our lives. David’s effectiveness was clearly connected to his awareness of God’s leading. He was a good leader when he followed the leadership of God. When David was in alignment with God, he was able to take a rag-tag bunch of misfits and turn them into an elite fighting force.

In just the same way, Coach Middleton did the same for us. We were a bunch of middle class, bratty 11 and 12 year olds that thought we knew it all and thought we the Julius Ervings of that time period. Jordan had not come along yet so Julius Erving (Dr. J.) was the man in the NBA. We thought too that we were little versions of the great stars of college basketball of the time. He shattered that idea quickly and if we were going to be on his team we were going to play like a team. It was kind of like Remember the Titans where they went to summer camp and the coach built a team in the two a days of a hot August in Virginia. You have break the individual so that you can build a team. Coach Middleton built us into a team because we knew he put us through all that for a reason and eventually we saw the results on the court and we began to be willing to follow him through fire. Great leaders expect excellence and draw it out of you. Great leaders develop a team first attitude and make you believe in one another and seek the best for each other. Lessons learned under Coach Middleton resonate to this day in my life.

In just the same way, Jesus did the same for his elite three (John, James, and Peter) and overall, The Twelve. He takes a rag-tag bunch of guys from all different walks of life and he invests in them. He’s tough on them. But he invests his heart in them. He prepares them for the day when he will no longer be with them. He instills in them the lessons of the kingdom and sends the Holy Spirit upon them and molds them into a force that the world has never seen before or since. These disciples of Jesus Christ literally changed the course of human history. They were so passionate about their leader that they spread Christianity from Jerusalem to the far reaches of India in one direction and to Spain in the other direction and down into North Africa within the first 100 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Talk about your championship teams molded by a great leader!

Jesus can do the same thing for you and me. He can take you and me as maybe a highly self-centered person, maybe a social outcast, maybe a troublemaker, maybe a _______ (fill-in the blank), and make us into a redeemed child of God. Through salvation in Him, we go from someone destined for trouble and to hell into a person made holy, clean, and useful to the kingdom, part of the kingdom team. So, if you think that your past disqualifies you from being useful to the kingdom, just think of the fact that Jesus turned some salty fishermen, a tax collector, and rebel against Roman occupation, and generally just a rag-tag bunch of average guys into world changers. They were not the religious elite of their day. They were just common folk with nasty, dirty lives that would be embarrassing and condemning before God and molded them into the greatest evangelists that the world has ever known. You, too, can become part of Jesus’ championship team just by submitting your life to His leadership and giving Him complete allegiance in every aspect of your life.

Then, you will be part of the greatest team…Jesus’ team. The work is hard. The rewards in this lifetime may be few, but together we are a team of Christ followers who will follow Him through the fires of this life because He inspires us to do great things for the kingdom that we could never do on our own.

Amen and Amen.

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2 Samuel 23:1-7
David’s Last Words

To hear people call me Pastor Mark these days is just a testament to the grace of God. When I look back at my past, I think how can this be? I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I was at church every time the doors were open. But accepting Christ as my Savior was not part of the deal for me, then. I was numb to the church. I was there all the time. The majesty and wonder of church, of Jesus Christ, of the things of God is was all just part of the “family business” to me. Then, after getting married at age 18, I was in a little family church made of three main families of which my first wife was a part. The church was more of a social club than a church. There was no discipleship. No challenges to be more than just a good person making good choices. I was never confronted with who I am in Christ. Then, in college, at a liberal arts university, all my beliefs were challenged, especially about the existence of God, who Jesus was, and what the Bible was. My faith was so shallow that it blew me away.

Then after college, life happened. My life revolved around not so much about pleasing God but pleasing the women in my life and living the rollercoaster that such a world is. I made poor choices. I bent my morality to the breaking point whenever it was convenient. Life was a series of two marriages, divorces, seeking value in sex and alcohol and never truly finding it. When I look back on the man that I was before I finally came to Christ as my Savior at age 39, it sickens me. What I could have done differently if I had just met Jesus when I was younger. I envy those who accepted Christ as a child or even as a teenager or early 20s. The pastors that I work with are career pastors who have been in Christ since they were teens. Then there’s me. When I think about the mess that my life was before Christ and even in the maturation process in Christ since the cross, it saddens me deeply at the man that I was.

To hear someone call me Pastor Mark is surreal. This is something that I have been aiming for in some way, shape or form since the day of my salvation in December 2001 but specifically since 2011 when I entered seminary. The road from who I was at age 18 when I married the first until that point is a testament to the loving nature of God – how he guided me to the cross, how he guided me toward preparing for ministry, and how he guided me to this day where I am a pastor. But to think of the depths of my sinfulness and to now be a pastor with a desire to go wherever, and do whatever God desires of me is a testament to Holy Spirit sanctification.

To think of the man that I was, the sins that I committed, and to think of how God redeemed all of that and has made me His child and His child who is serving Him full-time is evidence that the Holy Spirit does indeed change us from the inside out. To me, I do not want to ever lose the memories of the man that I was. I want to continually look back and be revolted by the pre-salvation Mark. It will keep me humble. Grace is a wonderful thing but if I ever forget that I was the worst of sinners then I will become prideful and think that I have arrived. It is through my past littered with sins, broken relationships, poor choices, situational ethics, etc. that it keeps me humble.

So, when people at my church lovingly call me Pastor Mark, it almost makes me cry when I think of it. To know that God reclaimed me, a dreadful sinner, and cleaned me up and set me on a high place just makes me well up with emotion. To know that He sees enough usable materials in me to allow me to become a pastor is just, well, an indescribable miracle gift. Now, the thing is to move forward and use my past to help others see the cross and accept Christ as their Savior. Now, the thing is to help Christ followers deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, I have a past that makes me want to throw up but God will make it useful in the kingdom. Yes, I have a past but God has washed me clean and set me free from the penalties of my sins. Yes, I have a past but God makes us useful to Him. Each one of us who is a Christ follower most likely has a past that we are not proud of. Let it keep us humble. The only difference between us and the non-believer is salvation in Christ. We are all sinners granted grace. None of us have a right to be proud. We are sinners who have been granted a reprieve from the penalty of our sins and have been made clean and useful. So, that on our final days on this earth, we can say that we are forgiven, we have been useful and that the Lord sees us as pure and spotless.

I hope that I never get any less emotional to the point of tears when I hear someone call me Pastor Mark. That is just an amazing testimony of what God can do. That idea of how we are made clean in Christ is what I thought of when I read this passage, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, this morning and how David can sincerely make these claims in this passage even though he was a dreadful sinner as king of Israel. Let’s read it now together:

Chapter 23
1 These are the last words of David:

“David, the son of Jesse, speaks—
David, the man who was raised up so high,
David, the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
David, the sweet psalmist of Israel.[a]

2
“The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me;
his words are upon my tongue.
3
The God of Israel spoke.
The Rock of Israel said to me:
‘The one who rules righteously,
who rules in the fear of God,
4
is like the light of morning at sunrise,
like a morning without clouds,
like the gleaming of the sun
on new grass after rain.’

5
“Is it not my family God has chosen?
Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me.
His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail.
He will ensure my safety and success.
6
But the godless are like thorns to be thrown away,
for they tear the hand that touches them.
7
One must use iron tools to chop them down;
they will be totally consumed by fire.”
Our text says, “Now these are the last words of David” (v. 1). However, 1 Kings 2:2-9 give us David’s real last words—David’s instructions from his deathbed to Solomon, who will succeed David as king. Those words are quite different from the lofty words of our text from 2 Samuel. In 1 Kings 2, David instructs Solomon to be faithful to God. Then he instructs Solomon to deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai, who had supported David in his hour of need. He instructs Solomon to deal harshly with Joab and Shimei. So, maybe, this is David’s last public words or last written words. Regardless, the words here are pretty lofty when you think about all that has transpired in David’s house since he became king.

Is David’s house really like this? David’s house, where Amnon raped Tamar? David’s house, where Absalom killed Amnon and raised an army against his father? David’s house, where the royal line will proceed through the child of Bathsheba, a woman whom David “took” both before and after killing her husband? David’s house, under which the people have suffered civil war already and under which they will come to suffer conquest? David may be the beloved of God, but is his house really like the sun? However it was intended, the identification of David’s house with the righteous sun in verse 5 includes both an affirmation and a question.

Remember, too, that David was just a lowly shepherd boy. He had no great lineage as the son of Jesse. Much earlier, while Saul was king, God sent Samuel to anoint David as Saul’s successor (1 Samuel 16). We remember how Jesse marched one tall, good looking son after another before Samuel, but God rejected each of them. After Jesse had marched seven sons before Samuel, Samuel had to ask if Jesse might have another son. Then Jesse remembered that he did, indeed, have one more son—David, his youngest son, who was tending sheep in the wilderness. Jesse hadn’t thought of David sooner, because Jesse had so many other sons who seemed better candidates than young David. But God chose David, the least of Jesse’s sons, to become the greatest of Israel’s kings. God often chooses the least likely candidates for the greatest tasks, because that makes it clear that the resultant successes are due to God’s power—not the person’s strength or wisdom.

What we might be inclined to forget is that Jesse was as unlikely a candidate to become the father of Israel’s great king as David was to be that king. Jesse was just an ordinary man—common—undistinguished. God didn’t choose Jesse because he was great, but because he was not great. When our text says that David was “the son of Jesse,” it reminds us that David came from undistinguished stock. Not that Jesse and David would remain undistinguished! Not at all! But Jesse and David became great because God chose them—not because they were inherently great. God exalted David, anointed him, and made him his favorite. As a result, David enjoyed great success as Israel’s king. Now David shows that he realizes that his success was God’s gift. It was God who chose him. It was God who gave him the victory over Goliath. It was God who gave him victory over his enemies. It was God who gave the city of Jerusalem into his hands.

When we look back at our lives and all the stuff that we did prior to accepting Christ as our Savior, it makes us look as though we are unlikely candidates to be the favored ones of God. In my own life, I know, like David, there is so much that I am ashamed of. There is so much in my past that I wish that I could change. There is so much back there that curdles my stomach to know now that I did those things with impunity back then. It was either outright rebellious sin (the “I don’t care if this is a sin” attitude) or sins committed under the influence of others or sins that I committed because I thought of me and God having a deal to suspend His laws in this one area for me alone (because of all I had been through). It sickens me to think of those things. I am sure that David felt the same way about his past as he draws near to the end of his life.

However, true repentance in Jesus Christ washes away our sins and makes us clean and whole and as bright as the noonday sun. Our salvation in Jesus Christ changes us from the inside out such that we become more and more like Him each day until we are made perfect on that day that we meet Jesus in heaven. We still sin along the way but those sins revolt us in our gut as we mature in Christ such that the Holy Spirit moves us away from one sin type after another through the sanctification process. We are made fresh and new like the dew on newly cut grass on a summer morning. Our house is made clean. Our house is made clean through the gift of grace that is an everlasting covenant between us and God. He doesn’t need to give us this gift. We are dead to rights in our sins. But He loves us so much that He gave us Jesus Christ.

So, at the end of his life, David was able to speak with a clear conscience. Though there had been many consequences to his sins over the years that made his reign seem like a couple years in the storyline of your favorite soap opera, he has sought repentance and was granted forgiveness. Just as David was made clean through repentance and forgiveness, so too can we find forgiveness in Jesus Christ through repentance over our sins. That does not change the past and the horrible things that we did and we should feel revulsion and shame each and every time we reflect on our sins but through Jesus Christ we can be made clean and whole again in the presence of God.

May we come to tears when we think of this fact. May we stay humble because of it. May we be brought to the point of tears when someone calls us a Christ follower. What greater compliment can be paid to us knowing what Jesus reclaimed us from than for someone to note that we are a Christ follower.

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 22:1-51
David’s Song of Praise

Wow! What an amazing passage this is! It is a psalm hidden in 2 Samuel! David enumerates just some of the qualities of God in this passage and it takes up a whole chapter! It is funny how God teaches us things through multiple sources at the same time. Through seemingly unrelated sources, we often get the same message from God! And when you realize it, you go “OK, God, I get the message/lesson you are sending/teaching me!” I call it, for the lack of a better term, “God’s synchronicity”. That’s when you the same word from God through different people’s conversations with you and/or through the things you read either in the Bible or through another book.

Last night as I was reading the beginning parts of the book, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Timothy Tennant. In my readings last night, I learned a new term, aseity. Asiety is a category of theology focusing on God as He is in and of Himself, apart from His actions. Asiety is a way of stepping back and acknowledging that God was still God in all His fullness before He created the universe, before He created Man, or before we needed to be redeemed. Not only was God free NOT to create, but God did not NEED to create to fulfill something lacking in Himself. We have been guilty at times of presenting God as good, not simply because He is good in and of Himself but because of what He can do for us. When we view God from the perspective of Him being full and complete in and of Himself and that He chose to create universe and all that is in it including Man, it makes His grace offered to us through Jesus Christ all the more astounding and awe inspiring.

Sometimes, in our daily journey of life, we forget about God being who He is. We try to make Him our buddy and pal. We try to make ourselves on par with Him. We try to make Him smaller or ourselves larger. We see Him as a personal servant sometimes. We get pissed at Him when He doesn’t do what we want Him to do. We ask Him for something as if we have earned the right to speak to him as if we are equals. We demand things from God and we don’t get them we act as if God has disappointed us, his best buddy. We have tried to make ourselves so equal with Him that in a lot of writings you read these days that we no longer even capitalize personal pronouns when they are used in connection with God. It used to be the standard in writing of God that when we used a personal pronoun such as Him, He, You, Thou, and so on you would capitalize it. It’s just a little thing but it shows how we have lost some awe when it comes to God.

I am guilty of this behavior toward God as much as anyone. Here, lately, I have been struggling with this new calling on me life and why things are happening so slowly (considering that I am 56 years old as of last Saturday). And what I have had to come to realize is that I am Mark and He is God. I must trust Him with my career, my life, my soul. I must realize my weaknesses that have to be developed into strengths. I must realize too that there are just some gifts that God in His providence did not give to me and that I must live with that. I must realize that He has made me for specific roles in specific places at specific times and those roles will call upon what He gifted me with and either steer me away from areas where I am not gifted or put me through a process of chiseling to develop those gifts. I have been learning that God is not my equal. He is God and I am a mere human. It is in Him that I must trust. I should not trust my own savviness as to how to proceed in my new career as a full-time pastor. I just need to trust the Creator of the Universe and be excellent in the avenues and the places to which He has me assigned.

That is what I thought of this morning is how David firmly expresses this idea of just some of the mighty qualities of the Creator of the Universe, God. Let’s read now what David has to say in 2 Samuel 22:1-51:

Chapter 22
1 David sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul. 2 He sang:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
3
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
the one who saves me from violence.
4
I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and he saved me from my enemies.

5
“The waves of death overwhelmed me;
floods of destruction swept over me.
6
The grave[a] wrapped its ropes around me;
death laid a trap in my path.
7
But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
yes, I cried to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
my cry reached his ears.

8
“Then the earth quaked and trembled.
The foundations of the heavens shook;
they quaked because of his anger.
9
Smoke poured from his nostrils;
fierce flames leaped from his mouth.
Glowing coals blazed forth from him.
10
He opened the heavens and came down;
dark storm clouds were beneath his feet.
11
Mounted on a mighty angelic being,[b] he flew,
soaring[c] on the wings of the wind.
12
He shrouded himself in darkness,
veiling his approach with dense rain clouds.
13
A great brightness shone around him,
and burning coals[d] blazed forth.
14
The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
15
He shot arrows and scattered his enemies;
his lightning flashed, and they were confused.
16
Then at the command of the Lord,
at the blast of his breath,
the bottom of the sea could be seen,
and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.

17
“He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
18
He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
19
They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress,
but the Lord supported me.
20
He led me to a place of safety;
he rescued me because he delights in me.
21
The Lord rewarded me for doing right;
he restored me because of my innocence.
22
For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
I have not turned from my God to follow evil.
23
I have followed all his regulations;
I have never abandoned his decrees.
24
I am blameless before God;
I have kept myself from sin.
25
The Lord rewarded me for doing right.
He has seen my innocence.

26
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful;
to those with integrity you show integrity.
27
To the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
28
You rescue the humble,
but your eyes watch the proud and humiliate them.
29
O Lord, you are my lamp.
The Lord lights up my darkness.
30
In your strength I can crush an army;
with my God I can scale any wall.

31
“God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
32
For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
33
God is my strong fortress,
and he makes my way perfect.
34
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
35
He trains my hands for battle;
he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
36
You have given me your shield of victory;
your help[e] has made me great.
37
You have made a wide path for my feet
to keep them from slipping.

38
“I chased my enemies and destroyed them;
I did not stop until they were conquered.
39
I consumed them;
I struck them down so they did not get up;
they fell beneath my feet.
40
You have armed me with strength for the battle;
you have subdued my enemies under my feet.
41
You placed my foot on their necks.
I have destroyed all who hated me.
42
They looked for help, but no one came to their rescue.
They even cried to the Lord, but he refused to answer.
43
I ground them as fine as the dust of the earth;
I trampled them[f] in the gutter like dirt.

44
“You gave me victory over my accusers.
You preserved me as the ruler over nations;
people I don’t even know now serve me.
45
Foreign nations cringe before me;
as soon as they hear of me, they submit.
46
They all lose their courage
and come trembling[g] from their strongholds.

47
“The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!
May God, the Rock of my salvation, be exalted!
48
He is the God who pays back those who harm me;
he brings down the nations under me
49
and delivers me from my enemies.
You hold me safe beyond the reach of my enemies;
you save me from violent opponents.
50
For this, O Lord, I will praise you among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name.
51
You give great victories to your king;
you show unfailing love to your anointed,
to David and all his descendants forever.”

In this psalm-like passage, we see that David praises God wholeheartedly. Praise is not just a song about God. It is a song TO God. In this song, David uses many word pictures, such as rock, light, and shield to portray God’s marvelous attributes. Praising God has several aspects to it. We praise God when we:

(1) Say thank you to Him for each attribute of His divine nature. As you read the Bible, look for characteristics of God for which to thank Him.
(2) Focus on our hearts on God. Take one attribute of God, say for example, his mercy, then concentrate on it for an entire week in your bible study and prayer.
(3) Thank God for His many gracious gifts to us. Make a list of ways in which you have experienced or are experiencing blessings from God (i.e., count your blessings). It is amazing how this can change your perspective.
(4) Thank God for our relationship with Him. Through Christ we have been given the greatest gift of all, salvation. Take time to tell God anew how much your salvation through Jesus Christ means to you.

As stated earlier, God’s synchronicity is when you hear or read the same message from Him from multiple different sources. Message received Lord! I have drifted away from being in awe of my Creator as if He owed me something. He owes me nothing. He does not need me. He created the entire universe and everything in it! He is complete in and of Himself. He has no needs. He has no equals. He is the King and I am the subject. He is limitless and I am just a mere and limited mortal. He is Creator and I am the created. We are not equal. He is not my push-button vending machine. I do not demand things because I am not on equal footing with Him. He is God. I am just Mark.

However, though God does not need me and He is Almighty and Powerful and I am limited and weak, He chooses, get that – chooses, to care about me. The Mighty One chooses to call me His child. He created me and knows me like an earthly father knows his child. He knows my gifts and talents that He gave me. He knows my weak spots. He knows my blind spots. He cares for me. He loves me. Though I am not equal in any way to Him, He cares for me even when I do not realize it – because I am His created child. Because He is almighty and all powerful combined with the fact that He loves me more than I will ever know, I just need to trust my Abba Father with my life – my work, my play, my everything.

David’s song is a reminder to us all to use some aseity when it comes to God. Sometimes, we need to step back and realize just who we are praying to, who we are singing to, who God is. There is an old traditional church hymn that I still get chills on those rare occasions that I get to hear it that explains it best. It is called How Great Thou Art. Let’s revisit those lyrics as we close out:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

 

Nuff said. Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:15-22
Battles Against Philistine Giants

Have you ever had to come to some harsh realizations about yourself? Realizing where you are not as talented as you have made yourself out to be in your mind? Even though I am making about 40% of what I used to make in my previous job, I am learning things as a staff pastor and department head (business services) that I thought I already knew. It makes me realize that I have lived in a leadership nirvana of sorts for the past decade.

In my previous job (in the secular world), by the time I left that job in February 2018, I had been in that job for 10 years. Certainly, the job and my responsibilities accumulated grew over time as I became the financial and administrative expert in our organization. However, from a leadership perspective, I had the same work force for the last 7 ½ years that I was there. Sure, there was coaching to be done over the years but in those last few years, my department had become a well-oiled machine. Everybody knew their jobs very well. Everyone was compensated well and was happy working for the company. All of us had the intent of being long-termers. I had three women, each very professional working for me, so my management style over the past decade had become more suggestive than directive as each one had a desire for excellence that reflected my own. Basically, it was had become a pretty easy job and I would still be there had God not called me into full-time ministry.

Here, at Calvary, with a different mix of people and talents, I have learned that my management style needs growing and also more shockingly to myself is that I am not the best and most talented among the department heads at my church. I am not THAT guy. I have learned that my public speaking skills need so much work. I feel like that new kid just out of college in their first job and having that realization that nothing that you learned in school is going to help you in the practical day to day of your first job. I am learning that I need help to grow into the leader that I need to be within our church. I am having to learn that I am not the most charismatic guy on staff. I am having to learn that I am not as talented as I thought I was. I am having to learn that I must submit myself to the ways things are developing at church where I am not that guy that’s “all-that”. Recognizing that you are not as talented and not as good a leader as someone else and recognizing that they are simply more talented in every possible way than you is a tough realization. What I am learning is that, I am always going to be a learner. I am learning that it’s OK not to be the most talented ballplayer on the court. Even though that’s a tough realization, it’s a good one to learn. There is humility in that. There humility in saying that I have so much more to learn to be a good pastor. There’s humility in simply doing what’s in front of me and leaving the rest to God. There’s humility in recognizing that you need assistance from others to grow into what God has for you – even at age 56 (as of this past Saturday).

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage for today, 2 Samuel 21:15-22. David had to recognize here that he is “not all that and a bag of chips”. David had to recognize his limitations and that he needed help. Let’s read this passage now:

15 Once again the Philistines were at war with Israel. And when David and his men were in the thick of battle, David became weak and exhausted. 16 Ishbi-benob was a descendant of the giants[a]; his bronze spearhead weighed more than seven pounds,[b] and he was armed with a new sword. He had cornered David and was about to kill him. 17 But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue and killed the Philistine. Then David’s men declared, “You are not going out to battle with us again! Why risk snuffing out the light of Israel?”

18 After this, there was another battle against the Philistines at Gob. As they fought, Sibbecai from Hushah killed Saph, another descendant of the giants.

19 During another battle at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair[c] from Bethlehem killed the brother of Goliath of Gath.[d] The handle of his spear was as thick as a weaver’s beam!

20 In another battle with the Philistines at Gath, they encountered a huge man[e] with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in all, who was also a descendant of the giants. 21 But when he defied and taunted Israel, he was killed by Jonathan, the son of David’s brother Shimea.[f]

22 These four Philistines were descendants of the giants of Gath, but David and his warriors killed them.

In this passage, we see that David needed help. David is getting older in this scene. He is not a young buck anymore. He can’t go full-bore, all-out in battle for extended periods of time as he could when he was a younger man. Here, he got tired and weak and made mistakes that allowed him to get cornered. He needed help to survive. He got the help he needed. He took their advice too about changing his role when it comes to future battles. Even when we are older, we must be capable of recognizing our limitations and I am not just talking about physical ones.

We must be able to admit that maybe there is some young dude that can do what you want to do better than you can do it. We must be able to admit that we still have things to learn. We must be able to say hey you know what, I need help in this area where I am weak. For me, that means seeking mentoring relationships with my fellow staff pastors and my senior pastor. For me, it is saying to them this is where I am weak, I admit it, and can you help me? For me, that means having the humility like David to realize that I need a helping hand. For me, that means having the humility to realize that not all of my talents are superstar status. For me, it is part of God’s chiseling process for me to make me more and more into Christ’s likeness. When we think we got it all covered, God finds it harder to teach us anything. When we come to those humble realizations that hey maybe we are not the superstar we think we are, then, then, God’s got some clay to work with, to mold us into the man of God that He wants us to be. It’s starts with that humble statement of saying, “I just don’t have what it takes for this Lord! I need you to show me the way. I need you to help me do this thing that you have called me to do. I feel so inadequate so it’s gotta be you working through me to make this happen because I cannot do it without you.” There is a freedom in that humble statement. There is peace in letting it go and depending on God.

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 3 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

Oh a mother’s love! It is a love without end. It is an enduring love. It is a steadfast love. My mom will have been dead for 8 years this coming November 17th. I hate to admit that I do not think of her as often as I should. My life is pretty busy right now with church and school so I barely have time to reminisce about the past with the present so occupying my limited mental faculties. However, when I do think of my mom, I think of how she loved me.

My mom loved me no matter what. She was my biggest fan. Just by the nature of personalities, I guess, my brother was and is more close to my dad than I. Conversely, I was closer to my mom than my brother was. My brother and my mom just always seemed to be at odds. She loved him no less than she did me. She was no less proud of him than me. She would take a bullet for him no less than me. However, to say they were close would be a matter of degree in comparison to my closeness with her. My mom, as we grew into middle aged men, would just grate on my brother’s nerves.

My brother is no walk in the park, mind you. He is opinionated. He is brilliant. He has an eidetic memory. He can remember obscure facts with ease on a multiplicity of subjects. All of those things are great but he must dominate conversations to the nth degree and must always demonstrate just how brilliant he is. I love my brother immensely. Some people just don’t get him. But because he is my brother for eternity, I get him. I understand him. And I love him anyway! LOL! So, when his personality and my mom’s all-up-in-your-business personality meet, there was always a tenseness and sometimes even conflict.

My relationship with mom was different. I am more of a subtle personality than my brother. I may not be as smart as my brother but I am pretty intelligent. I can match my brother in academics but I just have to work a lot harder at than he does. Because of my more low-key, come-what-may personality, my mom and I were very close. The thing I love about my mom still to this day is the fact that she just loved me. There was a comfort in that. No matter how bad things got in my life – even the messes that I created for myself – she loved me. I miss having her around. She was my biggest fan. Sure, she would tell me when I did something wrong but it was never condemning. I always felt safe in my mother’s love. She just thought I was the cat’s meow. She would be oh so proud now that I have finally followed God’s call on my life into full-time ministry. She had begun to love Elena before she got sick and passed away. I am sure they would have been as thick as thieves now if she had been living these past 7 ¾ years. She was lukewarm about the other women in my life over the years but Elena was the one in her eyes. The one that she thought was best for me. I miss having my mom around for those unanticipated 40 minute phone calls that you would have to be somewhat rude to end. I wish for my mother’s presence in my life now. I miss her being all-up-in-my-business.

That idea of a mother’s love and how it is symbolic of God’s love for us is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage for the third and final time before we move on. Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now, and what Rizpah’s love and devotion to her sons even in their death:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we see that Rizpah’s actions here are symbolic of our relationship with God. For those that the Spirit is drawing near, God is our defender. In our state of death in our sin, we are not aware of God’s protection of us from the ravages of sin. Like Rizpah fending off the vultures and wild animals from her dead sons’ bodies (they in their death do not know of her actions), God is fending off Satan’s vultures from us until we recognize His presence in our lives. He is faithful to us even when we are dead in our sins and do not recognize His actions in our lives. For those who are already one of His children, He is still our defender in the spiritual realm. We are often unaware of the demonic forces that are trying to attack us daily. He defends us with His wrath against Satan and his minions. He also defends us through the Word of God. In our human temporal state, we must have God’s Word as a defense against our own fleshly, sinful nature. We sometimes do not even recognize our sins until we are convicted by His Word. Rizpah is therefore symbolic of God’s defense of us against evil and sin.
A mother’s love is unconditional in good times and bad, happy or sad. They just love their kids no matter what. They gave birth to us and nursed us. There is just something about that whole process that sears a child into a mother’s heart. God loves us the same way. Never forget that. He is not sitting around waiting to see how He can crush you. Rather, He loves you so dearly that He sacrificed His Son on the cross so that you could come into His presence without blemish. In this, we see the qualities of a mother’s love for her son – always waiting, always defending, always hoping, and waiting with open arms.
Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 2 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

In this second blog on this passage, the thing that is the play within the play here is the woman and mother, Rizpah. There is so much richness to this character from the Bible. From her, we can learn much.

Before we proceed into Rizpah’s part in today’s passage, we need to understand the background of her story line. The Old Testament is often rich in continued storylines. Rizpah is one of those. The Bible is not just a collection of disjointed passages and books that have nothing to do with each other. In this case, 2 Samuel 21:1-14 is not the first time we have heard Rizpah’s name. Remember the last time she was mentioned in 2 Samuel?

Sometimes in life we get dealt a raw deal. That is certainly the case with Rizpah. it’s important that you realize that this incident in 2 Samuel 21 was not the first time Rizpah had become an innocent victim in a bigger battle that was out of her hands. I wonder do you ever feel like that? Something is going on in your life, and you’ve no control over it, and as far as you’re concerned it’s not your fault, and you class yourself a victim. Well Rizpah was in 2 Samuel 21, but if you turn with me now to 2 Samuel chapter 3, you will see the first time (as far as we know from the biblical record) that Rizpah suffered victimization from the selfish hands of others. In 2 Samuel 3:7, Ishobesheth accuses Abner, the general of Saul’s armies of having sexual relations with Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines. There’s her name! It’s the same woman!

If anyone was to have sexual relations with one of the king’s women, whether it was the king’s wife or the king’s harem, such an act was understood in the customs of the ancient Middle Eastern cultures as an attempt to take the throne. So by taking his bride or by taking one of his concubines, you were saying that you were in authority and you wanted, or were taking the kingdom. Now what’s going on here in 2 Samuel 3 is that Saul has died, and Ishbosheth Saul’s son has now accused Abner of relations with Rizpah. He suspects that Abner’s toward the house of Saul is dissolving.

Now, Abner denies vigorously that he even laid a hand on Rizpah. If Abner’s loyalty was waning before, this incident causes pushes Abner over the edge. He immediately transfers his allegiance to David and brings the eleven tribes over with him. Now we don’t know from the Bible whether Abner was guilty of sleeping with Rizpah – but either way, it doesn’t really matter whether he did or whether he didn’t, who is the victim in this whole scenario? Rizpah. Regardless of whether the accusation was true or not, her reputation in the royal court of the house of Saul was now in tatters, and all at the expense of someone else’s squabble.

Before we even get to today’s scene in 2 Samuel 21, the biblical author gives us glimpse of Rizpah as a woman who was beset by tragedy that was out of her control. Her reputation ruined by an accusation that may or may not have been true. To make matters worse, Abner leaves her in the dust to go over to David’s side. She is left behind as a woman that is now considered a tainted woman by the royal court. Many feel like that in life. Now Rizpah suffers a second cruelty, for her two sons to King Saul are now hanging on a tree – Armoni is the name of one, and Mephibosheth the name of the other (and that is not Mephibosheth that was Jonathan’s son) – and they are both dead.

To add insult to injury, the fact of the gruesome death is not enough, they are not granted a proper burial – there they are left to hang in the open air, exposed to the elements. Did Rizpah’s deserve this? Had she done anything to warrant such treatment? She is suffering for the selfish sins of another. We see what those sins are, turn back with me to 2 Samuel 21 and verse 2 and we see that the cause of this bloodshed is because of the bloodthirsty house of Saul. The biblical author paints a portrait for us of Rizpah as one who was beset by tragedies that were not of her own making. The only other biblical character that I can think that had similar multiple tragedies that befell him or her that were out of their own control was Job.

Man, Rizpah is a hard luck woman. She has been given a raw deal in life. We probably know somebody like Rizpah in our own lives in the 21st century. If you pick up on this character in the biblical play that is 1 and 2 Samuel, she is a person that we can identify with, some can sympathize with and even some who can empathize with. We all know people like Rizpah. Maybe, we are a Rizpah. Maybe, you have gotten a raw deal in life. Many of us can blame our mistakes and bad decisions for our lot in life, but there are those who seem to be beset by tragedies (notice the plural of tragedy). Some of us seem to have tragedy befall us one after another.

What can we learn from Rizpah that we can use in our 21st century lives then? Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now, and see how Rizpah handles this situation:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we see Rizpah’s deep love for her sons caused her to take sackcloth (symbol of sorrow), spread it on a rock and she kept a vigil day and night over the bodies of her sons, keeping the birds and animals from devouring their bodies. This watch could have lasted anywhere from three to six months. Could you imagine how she felt? Not only had her life been in tatters since the Abner incident but now she was forced to live with the sacrificial deaths of her sons because of the sinful actions of Saul. Their deaths though sacrificial were still the deaths of her sons. Her actions show us true devotion to God even in the face of a world that has come crashing down on her. Her love for her sons was unaffected by the tragedy. Her belief in their honor led to a proper burial. Her perseverance brought David to reconcile himself to the legacy of Saul. Her endurance shows that we sometimes cannot see what our faith in God will produce – we just trust Him regardless of circumstance. Even in this situation where there is no sense to her as to why this happened to her sons, she continues to have faith as demonstrated by her endurance in this effort.

Sure, you know this woman is heartbroken (if you have ever lost a child to premature death you can identify with her). Her two sons were dead way too soon. Our sons and daughters are supposed to bury us not the other way around. Others may think her way of dealing with her obvious grief was pretty wacko even for the time period involved here (the wackiness of her act by human standards is why the author of 2 Samuel chose to include this information). Sometimes, in grief, we must put one foot in front of the other day by day. Nothing else and nothing more. We deal with a sudden death in different ways. However, Rizpah in doing what she was doing was defending the honor of her sons. So, she was actually productively handling her grief.

She was there as an act of love and devotion. She was not permitted to move the bodies of her dead sons, but she could keep the buzzards and coyotes away! What a testimony to abiding love! It reaches past the boundaries of this life and extends beyond the grave. Death could not diminish her love. Though her boys were grown and dead, though their bodies were left hanging as a sign of contempt and condemnation, she still loved them.

The news of this reached David and he was so moved by Rizpah’s actions that he went personally and retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathon and buried them, along with these seven men in the tomb of Saul’s father. Because of Rizpah, the saga of King Saul ends with an honorable burial, an act that perhaps symbolized David’s own reconciliation with the man who had persecuted him. Not only this, her actions also won, for her sons, an honorable burial, instead of their bodies hanging in disgrace and being devoured by wild animals. Here is a woman who was grieving deeply, yet she allowed her grief and love to motivate her to action, and her actions brought peace and reconciliation. After this, God is entreated for the land of Israel and the drought was lifted. Her actions were a catalyst for closure. They brought closure to the famine, closure to the feud between the house of Saul and the house of David and closure in her own life and loss. Rizpah was a healer, a reconciler. This is a mark of true love. Love always seeks peace, healing, and reconciliation.

I could go on and on about this woman in this passage. Her act here in this passage teaches us much. She is a woman dealing with something that we often have to deal with in life – a tragedy befalling us that is not of our own making and we are left to figure out how to deal with it. She shows us a productive handling of her grief. She shows us love and devotion. She shows us enduring faith that we sometimes have to have when dealing with loss. We just simply trust God that there is some purpose in our suffering – it may take a long time or a lifetime to figure it out, but we still trust. We keep going. We don’t give up. We keep moving. We keep trusting in the Lord as a conscience decision.

Just read and re-read this passage and soak in what Rizpah does and means here. Tomorrow we will look at the symbolic nature of what she is doing in this passage. For now, we close with…

Amen and Amen.

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Part 1 of 3)
David Avenges the Gibeonites

It would be easy for the United States to abandon Israel. That would be the politically expedient thing to do. The region of the Middle East is full of oil rich nations that fuel the American economy to the tune of about 25% of our petroleum use each year. It would be economically smarter for us to wash our hands of Israel. However, they have been a key ally in the region since the nation was established via conquest in 1948. Prior to and during World War II, millions of Jews fled Nazi-occupied Europe for America (to escape detention in death camps). After the war, millions more came to America to restart their lives in a new land – those that did not participate in the establishment of the Jewish state in what was once their Promised Land. Further, Israel is the lone democracy in a region ruled by wealthy oil-rich despots in most of the Arab countries surrounding Israel. Militarily, Israel is a key ally that helps us keep tabs on Islamic radical groups. Further, there is the innate, almost unspoken need of the American culture to support an Israeli state because of our diminishing but latent Judeo-Christian influence in our society. In that perspective, Israel represents God’s still-chosen people. Thus, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, we must support Israel.

Keeping promises is often a difficult thing to do. The United States has often since the rise of Arab nationalism in the early 1970s paid the price for our friendship with Israel. All of the hate of the United States can latently be tied back to our friendship with Israel. In the American press, Israel is often made out to be the villain that creates refugees of Palestinians and the killers of hundreds and thousands more. So, it certainly would be easier for us to say to Israel that you guys are on your own. It would be easier to break all of our previous promises to Israel and just walk away. It would be cheaper too. According to most of the sources I have read, our military and diplomatic support of Israel costs this country about $4 Billion annually and rising each year. That’s a significant investment. It’s a significant investment that often has a backlash for us. The Arab world has favor in the world of public opinion when it comes to Israel. Most Westerners feel guilt for having been complicit in the wresting of Palestine from the regional facts of what was left of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, in the world of public opinion, Israel is the Donald Trump of their region. No matter what they do, it is soundly condemned. Most European countries join in the condemnation of Israeli actions because of their proximity to Arab nations, the large influx of Arabs to Europe, and their fear of Arab retaliation. Keeping promises to Israel by the United States is a hard thing to do. It is inherited by each President and they must make the unpopular decisions each and every year to support Israel in one way or another.

The promise-keeper relationship that we have with Israel in the 20th and 21st centuries was what I thought about this morning as we see what David does about the promise-keeper relationship his kingdom has with the Gibeonites. Let’s read the passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, now:

Chapter 21
1 There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”

4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”

“What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.[a]”

“All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth,[b] who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[c] the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.

In this passage, we find that the main action of 2 Samuel concluded with 2 Samuel 20. The remainder of the book. As you can see from the opening words of 21:1, the episode is described with a very generic time stamp: “in the days of David”. Chronology is not that important here. These last four chapters of 2 Samuel are a kind of composite conclusion, that is, different kinds of David-centered material stitched together by the writer in order to give us a final assessment of David.

Here, in this passage, we see David as the mediator for his people. He seeks the Lord on behalf of his people. In this, he is similar to the high priest who goes into the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (and later, the Temple). He intercedes on behalf of his people to find out why there is famine in the land. David probably didn’t see a spiritual reason in every problem, but he did not shut his eyes to the hand of God in circumstances. The first and second year he might look upon it as a punishment laid upon them for the common sins of the land: but when he saw it continuing a third year also, he thought there was something in it more than ordinary, and therefore, although he well knew the natural cause to be drought, yet he inquired after the supernatural, as wise men should do.

When David heard it was because of an attack against the Gibeonites, a chill probably ran up his back. He knew they were a people especially wrong for Saul to attack and kill. In the days of Joshua – more than 400 years before David’s time – Israel swore not to harm the Gibeonites, a neighboring tribe (Joshua 9). God expected Israel to keep its promise, even though the Gibeonites tricked Israel into making the agreement. Saul’s crime was not only in killing the Gibeonites but also in breaking this ancient and important oath. God expects us to keep our promises. God expects nations to keep their promises. Time does not diminish our obligation to promises.

So, what can we take away from this today? We must keep our promises that we have made before God and men. We must keep them even when it is politically a disadvantage to us. God has kept His promises always to us. He promised us that He would bless us if we would be obedient to Him. Through Jesus, He has fulfilled His promise to us to make us righteous. God keeps all His promises. We should too.

Amen and Amen.