This 14 part study on King David from 1 and 2 Samuel was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1993. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
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We all like compliments. I think it was Mark Twain who said that he could live for a whole month on a good compliment. As a Christian I can think of no higher compliment than to be described as a man or woman with a heart after God’s heart. When that compliment comes from God Himself, we had better sit up and take notice! Here is a person whose life we can all profit by studying. Such was God’s description of David: “This is a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam. 13:14). Why would God put such a high affirmation on this man? How can I have a heart after God’s heart, like David had?
I trust that the study of David’s life in the next few weeks will be profitable to us all, but I hope it will be especially profitable to those who are teenagers and young adults. David was anointed as king by the prophet Samuel while he was still a teenager (although he did not assume the throne until he was 30). He was probably in his late teens when he slew the giant Goliath. Probably he wrote Psalm 23 and perhaps other psalms while he was still a teenager, watching his father’s sheep. The trials David went through at the hand of Saul occurred while David was in his twenties. So his life contains much instruction for those on the young side of life.
That’s especially important in our day when there is a common belief that teenagers are supposed to rebel. We expect it and it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s not a biblical norm. In Scripture, there are many examples, David being foremost, of young people with a heart for God. Sure, David lacked the wisdom of experience. He needed trials to refine and mature him. There were “sins of his youth” that he later would regret (Ps. 25:7). But God began to use David in a significant way while he was still in his teens. He can still do that. It is my prayer that God would use this series of messages to lay hold of many of our young people as well as adults, to help us all to develop a heart after God’s heart.
Today I’d like to focus on four qualities that marked David as a young man with a heart after God’s heart, which we must develop if we want to be men and women after God’s heart:
To have a heart after God’s heart, we must be converted, be Spirit-filled, spend time alone with God, and be obedient in small things.
It is most crucial at the outset to establish the fact that David was not by nature a man after God’s heart. He did not possess some inherent goodness which made God choose him. In Psalm 51:5 David declares, “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” Every person who is converted recognizes that there is nothing in himself which commended him to God. By nature we all are sinners, in rebellion against God. We all are self-willed and self-seeking rather than seeking after God (Rom. 3:9-12, 23). No one deserves anything but judgment from God.
And David was not made right before God by his own good deeds. In Psalm 32:1-2, David wrote, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” The Apostle Paul quotes these verses in Romans 4:7-8 in the context of arguing that no one is made right with God by their own good works. Rather, it is by faith in God’s provision. So we would be off on the wrong track from the start if we assumed that David, by his own will power and effort was a man after God’s heart and that God chose him on that basis.
Rather, conversion is God’s work, and He had performed that work in David’s heart. David didn’t choose God; God chose David and took him from the sheepfolds to shepherd His people (Ps. 78:70-71). While 1 Samuel 16 has reference to David’s anointing as king, not to his conversion, the clear point of the incident applies to God’s ways in salvation, namely, that God chooses those whom the world often overlooks or rejects. Samuel would have picked David’s older brothers, not David. David’s father didn’t consider his youngest son enough of a candidate even to bring him in from the fields. But David was God’s choice. Even so, God chooses for salvation those whom the world would reject, so that none can boast before God (1 Cor. 1:27-31).
It’s enlightening to compare David and Saul on the matter of conversion. Whether Saul was genuinely converted or not is subject to debate, and perhaps we can never know for sure. He strikes me as an example of the seed sown on the thorny ground, which got choked out and did not bear fruit unto eternal life. But even so, Saul had some sort of dramatic spiritual experience in which “God changed his heart,” the Spirit of God came on him mightily, and he prophesied (1 Sam. 10:9-10). If David had a similar dramatic experience, it is not recorded in Scripture. Perhaps, like many who are converted in childhood, David could not put his finger on a date or describe a dramatic change.
But the subsequent lives of the two men lead in opposite directions. David followed the Lord; Saul’s course was marked by self-seeking and partial obedience under a veneer of spirituality (1 Sam. 13:8-14; 15:10-35). Although David had his share of sins, he always confessed and turned from them, whereas Saul compromised and made excuses. David was honored by God, but Saul ended his life in disgrace.
Genuine conversion may or may not be accompanied by some dramatic or emotional experience. Sometimes a person comes to Christ in a dramatic encounter, such as Paul on the Damascus Road. But at other times, a person cannot put his finger on the moment at which he was converted. Rather, he comes to a gradual awareness that God has done a work in his heart. But in every case, genuine conversion is a work of God in the human heart in which He imparts new life and a right standing before Him based on the work of Christ on the cross. It is not based upon human will power, but on the sovereign, unmerited favor and choice of God (John 1:13; Rom. 9:10-18; Eph. 1:4-5; 2:8-9; James 1:18).
I ask each of you to examine yourself in light of Scripture on this most crucial point. Hear me carefully: Growing up in a Christian home, being baptized, or joining a church does not mean that you’re converted. Praying to “invite Jesus into your heart,” making a decision for Christ, or having an emotional spiritual experience does not necessarily mean that you’re converted. Satan would want nothing more than for some of you who attend this church regularly to think that you’re converted when you’re really not!
So how do you know if you’re truly converted? Paul exhorts, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5). Peter tells us, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:10).
Scripture gives a number of tests of whether faith is genuine or spurious (e.g., the whole book of 1 John): A truly converted person will have a growing sensitivity to and turning from sin (1 John 1:5-10). He will be growing in obedience to Christ and in love for His people (1 John 2:1-11). He will have a growing knowledge of and love for God’s truth as revealed in His Word (1 John 2:21-27). In short, he will be learning to turn from self-seeking and instead to seek the things of God (Luke 9:23-24).
One further thing: A converted person will not be apathetic about the things of God. Those who are complacent do not see their great need for God. But God says that such people do not know their true condition, that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, and that He will spew them out of His mouth unless they repent (Rev. 3:15-19).
My former church history professor likes to ask people, “What evidence do you have that God has been merciful to your soul?” It’s a probing question! Don’t give rest to your soul until you can answer it. David was a young man after God’s heart because he had been truly converted by God. Everything else is built on this.
Note 1 Samuel 16:13. Before Pentecost, the Spirit of God did not permanently indwell all believers as He does in the present age of grace. Rather, He came upon certain ones to enable them to perform certain roles or tasks. He also could and did leave those who did not walk uprightly (1 Sam. 16:14; Ps. 51:11). When Samuel anointed David for the throne, the Holy Spirit came upon him mightily from that day forward. David was a markedly different young man because of the Holy Spirit.
If you are truly converted, you have the Holy Spirit indwelling you (Rom. 8:9). But if you’re tolerating sin in your life or are living to please yourself rather than God, you are quenching or grieving the Spirit. You must confess all known sin and yield consciously and continually to the Holy Spirit so that He will produce His fruit in your life (Gal. 5:16-23).
A good question to ask is, “If the Holy Spirit were to withdraw from my life, how long would it take me to miss Him?” Am I so routine, so self-dependent, that I could go on for weeks and never realize that the Spirit had departed? Also, we need to be careful to realize that the prime mark of a Spirit-filled life is not miraculous signs and wonders, but rather the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and joyful endurance in times of trial (Col. 1:11-12). To be a man or woman after God’s heart, we must be truly converted and we must walk daily in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
David was out in the field with his father’s sheep when a messenger, out of breath, came running up and said, “The prophet Samuel is with your family and he wants you to come!” So David went and to everyone’s bewilderment, Samuel anointed David (1 Sam. 16:1-13). I doubt if anyone except Samuel understood at that time the full significance of that act. But they knew it meant something. Then Samuel went back to Ramah (16:13). And where did David, the newly anointed king, go? Back to his sheep (16:19)! And what did he do out in the fields with those sheep? Fortunately, he didn’t have a Walkman or Watchman, or we wouldn’t have the Psalms! David used that time alone to develop his relationship with God.
Psalm 23 probably flowed out of those quiet times with God. Psalm 19 may also have been written while sitting out in the fields, meditating on God’s revelation through creation and through His written Word. David probably had a scroll of Moses’s writings which he read and thought about as he was in the fields. He also used that time to develop his skill as a musician (16:18), expressing his feelings of adoration toward God through psalms.
If you’re married with children at home, you probably will have to fight to make time to spend alone with the Lord. If you’re single, you’ll have to fight to use the time you have alone for spiritual growth rather than to yield to temptation. For most of my twenties, I was alone. I spent three months living and working in Chicago and another three months with the Coast Guard in the Oakland area. I had a lot of alone time in wicked cities where I knew almost no one else. I easily could have fallen into sin and nobody would have known.
I had to commit myself to use that time to seek the Lord. During my Coast Guard days, on my evenings off I used to take a Christian book and my Bible, drive over to a Denny’s near the base, drink coffee and read until about 10 p.m. On the way back to the base, there was a deserted section of road along the waterfront where I’d pull off and pray for a while. It was a lonely time, but I look back on it favorably because it was a time of growth in the Lord.
If we want to be men and women after God’s heart, we must spend consistent time alone with Him. Some people can’t stand to be alone. They fill every moment with noise from the radio or TV. They feel a need to be around people constantly. But you won’t grow in the things of God unless you spend time alone with Him. Let me make four practical suggestions in this regard:
Learn to read. I haven’t always been a reader. God used a friend to challenge me to start reading books to strengthen my spiritual life, and now I can’t find enough time to read. Remember, reading is a learned skill. Even if you aren’t good at it now, you can learn. Perhaps you should begin by taking a reading course at the library or by reading a book on how to read better. But once you learn to read, it opens up treasures from the greatest Christians of all time. Nothing has helped my spiritual life more than reading.
What should you read? First and foremost, read your Bible! Read it over and over again, cover to cover. The godly George Muller read his Bible over 200 times. He read through his Hebrew Old Testament seven times! As you read, don’t do it to check it off your list of things to do. Read prayerfully, asking God to reveal Himself and to show you your own heart, with a view to obedience. If you’ve never done it, 1993 would be a good time to read the entire Bible in a year.
Also, read Christian classics. Don’t waste your time on a lot of the modern junk being written. Go to authors who are solid theologically, who have a heart of devotion for God. Read Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Read some of Spurgeon’s sermons or the writings of J. C. Ryle. Read J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness, which will open you up to the writings of the Puritans. Become a reader and your heart after God will grow! (I have a reading list available if you’re interested.)
Learn to pray. Use alone time to commune with God. Read and pray the Psalms, which reflect David’s communion with God. Study the Lord’s prayer and Paul’s prayers as models. I keep a prayer list, but I figure that God can read my list. I try to learn to commune with Him in prayer.
Learn to worship. Our public worship on Sundays should be an overflow of our private worship. Learn to adore God and marvel at His love in your time alone with Him. Express yourself by singing (you might have to be really alone to do this!). We forget sometimes that the Psalms were not just poems, they were put to music. God seeks those who worship Him.
Learn to think. You can’t think if you’re never alone with God. Learn to evaluate life in light of His Word. Think through current events, things you read, things others say, your current circumstances, your goals, and your family needs in light of God’s truth.
To have a heart after God’s heart, we must be converted; be Spirit-filled; spend time alone with God. Finally,
When we first encounter David, he is tending his father’s sheep, a job his older brothers looked down on (1 Sam. 17:28). David’s father didn’t even consider David important enough to be included at the big event with Samuel (16:11). But God saw David’s faithfulness in this seemingly unimportant task. It was part of his apprenticeship for leading the nation (Ps. 78:70-72). He took his job seriously. When a predator attacked one of the sheep, David didn’t shrug his shoulders and say, “Oh, well, I’m not going to risk my neck for that dumb sheep!” He went after it and rescued it (17:34-35).
Later, Saul heard of David’s skill as a musician and summoned him to the palace. I’m sure that as David played his harp out in the fields, he never dreamed that it would someday open the door for him to play before King Saul. But, when it did, David served well in this more important task (1 Sam. 16:14-23).
Then came war with the Philistines. David’s older brothers joined Saul on the battlefield. But where was David? Back tending his father’s sheep again, and serving as errand boy for his father (17:14-15). When Jesse wanted David to go find out about his brothers’ welfare, he carefully made provision for his shepherding responsibilities and obeyed his father without complaint (17:20).
When David got to the battlefront and heard of Goliath’s blasphemous challenge, he began asking some questions (17:26). This threatened David’s oldest brother, who put David down with a sarcastic question (17:28). David easily could have returned insult for insult: “Some battle, you coward! Why don’t you go out after Goliath?” But instead, David held his tongue (17:29-30). He was learning obedience in his speech (16:18).
None of these things represent any big deal. But they all combine to show that as a teenager David was learning to be obedient to God in the insignificant situations where God placed him. He was already anointed by the great prophet Samuel. He could have said, “I’m not going back to those silly sheep. Get a servant to do it!” Or, “I’m not your errand boy! I’m the future king!”
Obedience in small things may not seem like much, but it’s like the small strands that are woven together to make a rope. We all tend to sit around wishing that God would use us for some important task, like slaying Goliath, not realizing that it’s obedience in the small, everyday tasks God sets before us that weave together to make the rope that enables us to bring down Goliath. The moral fiber which enables us to attack and defeat the huge problems in life is made up of the strands of obedience in the little moral choices that confront us daily: integrity, controlling wrong thoughts, guarding our speech, controlling anger, submitting to authority.
I once heard a pastor tell of an opportunity he had to speak to the national directors of a large mission organization. He was scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. A friend from the mission picked him up and as they drove to the conference center, the pastor asked how the morning had gone. It turned out that the directors had been divided and had some heated debates over some policy matters--not an ideal setting to minister!
The pastor began by asking the men to bow their heads and to raise their hands if they had spent time alone with God that morning. Remember, these were top mission officials! But only a few hands out of many went up. So the pastor took some time for them to spend quietly before God before he spoke. Then he insisted that they spend three hours the next morning in the Word and prayer before he came to speak at 1 p.m. At first they balked, protesting that they had too much work to do. But he stuck to his guns. He said that they were a different group of men the next day when he got up to speak!
Do you want God’s supreme compliment applied to you--that you are a person after God’s heart? Make sure you’re truly converted. Depend consciously each day on the Holy Spirit. Spend time alone with God often. And, practice obedience in the small things He gives you to do. That’s how God developed David from a shepherd boy to a great king. Every person who has a heart after God’s heart must walk the same way.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Have you ever met a giant? It makes you feel kind of small and weak. When I was a teenager, I once went to a basketball clinic put on by the Los Angeles Lakers. We sat in the stands at first and watched these oversized men run through some drills. Next to each other, they didn’t seem all that big. But then we went down on the court to meet the players. The shortest was Jerry West, a midget at 6’2”; most were well over 6’6”! At 5’10” I felt like a five-year-old, especially when I shook hands with some of them!
Of course, these were friendly giants. No way would I have gone anywhere near them if they had been out to get me! But some of you live with hostile giants. I’m not referring to your mate or your teenager (or, if you’re a teenager, to your parents), although you may view them as hostile giants! I’m referring to a sin problem that dominates your life. It comes out daily in full battle array and dares you to try to stand against it. It’s an impressive foe. You feel powerless against this mighty monster. It taunts you and holds you captive like a cat with a mouse.
For some it may be the giant of lust or pornography. Perhaps some have gone further and are enslaved by the giant of sexual immorality. It would not surprise me to learn that some here fight the giant called homosexuality. The giants alcohol and drug abuse dominate some who name Christ as Savior. Another giant named greed keeps many others enslaved to their work and their things. The giant self-centeredness keeps many others in tow, dressing in the different outfits of self-pity, jealousy, anger, and pride.
But whatever the giant’s name, like Bunyan’s Giant Despair, which held Christian and Hopeful captive in his Doubting Castle and beat them and made them miserable, so these giants hinder the progress of God’s people in the purpose for which He called them. They rob them of joy in the Lord.
How can we fell these giants so that we can live in freedom and victory and joy in the Lord’s service? The well-known story of David and Goliath gives us some clues. It is a story filled with instructive contrasts--Saul and the armies of Israel viewing the situation from a human perspective (“Have you seen this man?” [17:25]), while David views things from God’s perspective (“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” [17:26]). Saul had confidence in his armor (as long as David was the guy wearing it! [17:38]); David had confidence in his God (17:45). Saul was concerned about his own image (18:7-8); David was concerned with the honor of God (17:26, 45-47). So from David we learn that ...
To fell the giants in life, we need a spiritual perspective, a practical faith, and a deliberate focus on God’s glory.
From a human perspective, Goliath was quite a man! He stood over nine feet tall, his armor weighed 125 pounds, and the tip of his spear alone weighed 15 pounds. He challenged Israel to a representative battle--their champion against him. The loser’s people would become the slaves of the winner’s people. Goliath was a single problem, but he threatened to undo the entire nation of Israel. This illustrates a biblical principle: Our private sins are never really private. If we don’t conquer them, they will not only destroy us, but also wreak havoc on our families and even on the whole church. Sin, even private sin, always has harmful consequences far beyond the individual.
From a human perspective, Goliath was a formidable enemy. But that was precisely the problem--Saul and his soldiers were viewing the situation with Goliath from a human perspective: “Have you seen this man?” (17:25). They were allowing the worldly viewpoint of Goliath to go unchallenged: “Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul?” (17:8). Was that right? Yes, from a human perspective. But David saw things from God’s perspective, and he challenged what Goliath said: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (17:26, 36).
Did you catch the different perspective? He isn’t just “the Philistine.” He is the uncircumcised Philistine!” And the Israelites are not “the servants of Saul.” They are “the armies of the living God!” There is David’s spiritual perspective! Saul and the armies of Israel were afraid because they saw it as a conflict of their puny muscle against Goliath’s mighty muscle, of their little weapons against Goliath’s impressive weapons, of their experience in warfare against Goliath’s experience (17:33). But David saw it as a conflict between God and the forces of evil. Saul and his men saw Goliath and thought, “He’s so big we can never kill him!” David saw the same man and thought, “He’s so big, I can’t miss!”
We must understand that when David called Goliath an “uncircumcised Philistine,” he wasn’t calling him a dirty name. To be uncircumcised was to be outside of the Abrahamic covenant and the promised blessings of God. When God instituted the sign of circumcision with Abraham, he was living in the land of Canaan. The people of that land were morally corrupt. Sodom and Gomorrah were at the zenith of their immoral ways. Every variety of sexual sin was rampant. But God wanted His covenant people to be morally pure and holy--set apart unto Him. And so He directed Abraham to remove the foreskin of every male as the sign of His covenant with them.
I’ve never heard a preacher speak about it, but have you ever wondered why God chose the male foreskin as the place where the sign of the covenant should be enacted? Why not have them wear pierced earrings or get a tatoo on their right arm?
The reason is that God wanted His people to be morally pure. If a Jewish man was going to get involved in sexual immorality, it would involve the use of his male organ which was different from the pagan’s. The Jew thus had a practical and graphic reminder in the most obvious place that he was to be sexually pure because he was in a covenant relationship with the Holy God. And if he ever got so far as to be unclothed in the presence of a pagan prostitute or homosexual, the pagan would notice the difference and the Jew would find himself in a most awkward witnessing situation!
Thus when David called Goliath an uncircumcised Philistine, he was saying, “Hey you guys! This guy is an immoral pagan who is outside of the covenant promises of God. And he has taunted the armies of the living God.” David had the spiritual perspective on the problem.
If you want to fell some Goliath in your life you must begin by calling it what God calls it. You will not conquer it if you do not see things from God’s perspective. For any problem you want to name the world has a euphemistic label that makes it sound O.K. The world makes sin sound like it’s not so bad and like everybody does it and it won’t hurt you. But God hates sin and says that it will destroy you. You start fighting it by calling it what God calls it.
Take the problem of anger. The world calls it “having a short fuse” and even tells us that it is emotionally healthy to vent our hostilities. God’s Word says that being wrongfully angry toward another person is to murder them and that we can and must control it.
Or, take adultery. The world calls it “having a fling” or an “affair” and makes it sound adventurous and exciting. The Bible calls it sin and shows that it will ruin lives and have devastating effects on families. It is the way of death (Prov. 7:26-27).
Take homosexuality. The world calls it being “gay” or refers to it as an “alternate lifestyle.” The Bible calls it perversion and an abomination to God. It is not sexual preference, but sin.
Take abortion. The world covers the atrocity by calling it “pregnancy termination” or being “pro-choice.” The Bible calls it murder or shedding innocent blood.
Take alcohol addiction. The world calls it a disease from which you must recover. The Bible calls it drunkenness, a deed of the flesh from which you must repent (Gal. 5:21), and attributes it to a lack of self-control.
Whatever the problem, if you want to conquer it, the first step is always to do what David did here, namely to call it what God calls it and to call yourself what God calls you. This problem is not a Philistine champion; it is an uncircumcised Philistine; it is sin, it is offensive to the living God. And I’m not just a servant of Saul; I’m a member of the army of the living God; I’ve been redeemed by the blood of Christ and the battle is His! That’s the starting point for victory.
David didn’t just have a generic, “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows” kind of faith. He didn’t have faith in faith itself. He didn’t buy into the common notion, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, just so you believe.” David believed in the living God who was in a covenant relationship with His people. David not only had faith in the Lord; he also had faith in the Lord in him in this difficult and challenging situation. As Paul expressed it, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). David didn’t say, “Well, trust the Lord, Saul, and good luck to you.” He said, “Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (17:32). That’s faith in shoe leather! Such faith is always active and aggressive; it goes out after the problem and takes it on (17:35, 48). Note 2 things about David’s faith, the kind of faith we need:
This wasn’t David’s first outing in the school of faith. Even though he was a teenager, he had proved God in his own experience. When the lion and the bear had taken one of the sheep, David didn’t say, “Oh, well, that’s the way it goes. I’m not going to risk my neck for that dumb lamb.” He went after the beast, grabbed it by the beard and slew it (17:35)! Wow! And then afterward, he didn’t attribute it to good luck nor did he go around boasting about his bravado. Rather, he only spoke of the incident here to convince Saul that he could beat Goliath, and he was careful to attribute the victory to the Lord in whom he was consciously trusting (17:3-7).
Saul should have had that kind of faith. He had seen God provide victory in battle before. But Saul had a track record of partial obedience (= “disobedience”), and had drifted far from the reality of the personal faith which David knew. Saul was a “cultural believer.”
Cultural believers go to church and believe in God. They know all the right religious cliches. Outwardly they seem to be believers. But their faith is not personal and practical because they don’t want to confront and deal with their sin (often, like Saul, it’s the sin of pride). Whenever they face a problem, they mouth religious cliches (“May the Lord be with you” [17:3-7]), but they know nothing of personal, practical faith in the living God. If Saul knew the reality of the Lord’s presence, then he could have gone out and taken off Goliath’s head. As it was, he had a form of religion, but he did not know its power. He might just as well have said, “Good luck!”
Do you have the kind of personal, practical faith in the living God which David had? It means that when the lion or bear or giant comes into your life, instead of tolerating it, you recognize that you can’t allow it to have its way. You can’t live in peaceful coexistence with sin (15:18-33). You must confront it and cut it off. Either you destroy sin or sin will destroy you. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). As you learn to confront the so-called little sins in your life, you gain an experiential, practical, personal faith that enables you to fell the “giant” sins.
David’s faith was in the living God, not in human methods. After Saul says, “May the Lord be with you,” he shows where his trust really lies when he tries to outfit David in his own armor (17:38-39). That’s the way of the cultural believer: You fight the enemy with all of the latest worldly techniques and methods, with some religious cliches tacked on to make it sound spiritual. Many Christians today face giants in their lives--sins which the Bible tells how to deal with. But instead of turning to the Bible which shows us how to trust in the living God, they turn to the wisdom of the world with some Bible verses thrown in to make it sound spiritual.
But--picture the humor here--David gets all this armor on, and he can’t move! He’s like a little kid dressed up in a snowsuit put on over 14 layers of clothes. He’s as stiff as a zombie! And so he takes it off. And then, please notice (17:40), he does use a method--five smooth stones (five in case he missed?) and his shepherd’s sling plus a stick (I don’t know what he planned to do with that). But the method David used was consistent with his faith in the living God and with the glory and power of God (17:45-47). David didn’t magnify his sling or his own expertise, but rather he magnified the Lord (17:45). I can picture him nodding his head back toward the faithless cowards of Israel as he says (17:47), “That this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or spear...”
There is nothing wrong with methods, as long as your trust is truly in the living God and not in your slick method, and as long as the method does not detract from the Lord’s glory and power. The way to fell that giant sin in your life is not by some latest method, but by genuine trust in the living God. Faith always honors God, not methods, and God always honors faith, not methods (Ps. 33:13-22).
Thus to fell the giants in our lives, we need a spiritual perspective and a practical faith in the living God. But also,
When David heard Goliath’s taunt, he didn’t think to himself, “Hey, here’s the opportunity I’ve been waiting for! Here’s my chance to become a national hero!” Rather, he was concerned about God’s glory. God’s name was bound up with His people, and as long as this uncircumcised Philistine taunted God’s people, God Himself was being taunted (17:45-47). So David was moved with righteous indignation because God’s honor was being dragged through the mud.
Saul was more concerned for his own glory than for the Lord’s glory. After he won a victory, he set up a monument for himself (15:12). Outwardly, he practiced religion for the sake of a good appearance, but his real motive was his own honor, not the honor of God who is called, “the Glory of Israel” (15:24-30). One sure mark of a cultural believer who is out for his own glory is that he gets jealous over the success of other Christians. When David became popular after his victory over Goliath, Saul should have rejoiced that God’s name had been vindicated and God’s people had been delivered from this oppressive enemy. But instead, he sulked and tried to bring David down, because he was motivated by promoting himself, not the Lord (18:6-16).
That brings us to an important question: Why do you want to fell the giant in your life? Do you want to overcome your problems so that you’ll be successful and happy? Wrong motive! Do you want to overcome your problems so that people will look up to you and think of you as a good Christian? Wrong motive! Do you want to overcome your problems so that you can build a large ministry and become known as a great Christian leader? Wrong motive!
David publicly states why he wanted to defeat Goliath (17:46-47): First, so that all the earth (pagans) may know that there is a God in Israel. He wanted unbelievers to see that God is real and that He is mighty to save those who trust in Him. Second, David wanted all the professing believers who weren’t really trusting in God (“this assembly”) to know that the Lord does not deliver by the latest methods (“sword or spear”), but rather, “the battle is the Lord’s.”
The reason we ought to desire to fell the Goliaths of sin in our lives is that sin drags God’s honor through the mud and that we truly want God’s name to be lifted up and honored through us. We should want lost people to see how God helped us conquer overwhelming problems through trusting in Him so that they, too, will put their trust in Him. We should want other believers who are locked into a human perspective, who aren’t really trusting in God, and who are living to promote themselves rather than God, to see by our lives how God Himself will work on behalf of those who trust Him and seek His glory. Then they, too, will trust in the Lord and He will be all the more glorified through them. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your loving kindness, because of Your truth” (Ps. 115:1).
A number of years ago, a 14-year-old boy spent a Saturday night until the wee hours of Sunday morning playing cards and drinking with some friends. The next morning he dutifully went to confirmation classes and returned home to find his father waiting to tell him that his mother had died the night before and to take him to her funeral. Neither her death nor the confirmation classes made any impression on him. Three or four days before he was confirmed, he was guilty of gross immorality. The day before he was confirmed, when he went to confession, he defrauded the clergyman by only giving him a twelfth part of the money which his father had sent for that purpose. At 16 he was thrown in jail because he ran up bills at a couple of nice hotels and skipped out without paying. His father paid the bills and then severely beat his son. But the boy continued his profligate, deceptive lifestyle.
At age 20, he went with a friend to a home gathering where he saw simple Christians who had a genuine faith in the living God. He felt strangely compelled to return and he did so until, constrained by the love of Jesus who died for all his sins on the cross, he was converted. He began to grow in faith and obedience until, about ten years later, he was moved by reading the biography of another Christian, to found an orphanage to meet the needs of the many homeless children in his city. He determined that he would give away all his earthly possessions and not ask anybody for money to support this orphanage. Rather, he would live by faith in God alone so that God would be glorified. He wanted unbelievers and believers alike to know the reality of trusting in the living God who is faithful and hears the prayers of His people.
That man was George Muller. His life shows that God is still in the business of felling the giants of sin if we will view those giants from God’s perspective, if we will trust in the living God and deliberately focus on His glory, not our own. The God of David and of George Muller wants you to fell the Goliaths of sin in your life, to His glory!
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
I have a recurring bad dream which I’ve heard is common to those who have studied in college. I dream that it is the end of the semester and I realize that I am enrolled in a class that I haven’t attended all semester. I haven’t studied and it’s time for the final exam. I’m panicked, wondering what I’m going to do. I usually wake up about this point and am relieved to discover that it was only a bad dream. College must be traumatic for those dreams to recur years later! But whether you’re in high school, college, or graduate school, you endure by realizing that it’s only temporary. Your hope is to get through the course.
Every Christian is enrolled in a school--“God’s Training School.” Hebrews 12:8 tells us, “If you are without training [discipline], of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” So every true child of God is enrolled in the program. There is some good news and some bad news about God’s training school. The good news is, nobody fails the course: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). If God has begun a work in you, He will see you through! The bad news is, you don’t graduate until you die and you can’t drop out before then! If you try to drop out, the course gets even more difficult!
Some of you may be protesting because you signed up for the course without knowing what you were getting into! You were told that if you would trust Christ as Savior, all your problems would be solved (instantly was implied) and you would enjoy a trouble free life. Or perhaps you were told that if you would walk in the victory Christ offers, you would live on a higher plane where problems just glance off you. That sounds good, but it’s not biblical. The Bible clearly teaches that God uses trials to train us to become more like Jesus, who learned obedience through the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8). The process takes time and is often very painful, but the final product makes it worthwhile (Heb. 12:11).
Others of you are enrolled in the program, but you may not be aware of the course of instruction or the objectives of the training. You aren’t familiar with the catalog. So you don’t understand why certain things are happening to you. You’re wondering why you’re going through certain tests and why you never seem to graduate. Sometimes you think you passed the test, but the next thing you know you’re going through the same course all over again. It’s easier to endure the program if you know what to expect. So I’d like to explain, from the life of David, the program, the courses, and the objectives of God’s training school.
As we’ve already seen, David was an unusually gifted and advanced young man. While he was still a teenager he had been anointed as king to replace the disobedient King Saul. He also killed Goliath while he was a teenager. That victory pushed David into instant national fame and popularity. He was brought into the palace and set over the men of war (1 Sam. 18:5). Imagine how it must have felt to be not yet 20 years old and to be where David was at!
And yet God did not see fit to remove the corrupt Saul and install the upright David as king until David was 30 (2 Sam. 5:4). What was happening during the 10-12 years between David’s victory over Goliath and his ascension to the throne? He was in God’s training school. Let’s look at the program, courses, and objectives of that school:
Note several features of the program of God’s school:
Note how the program began for David (1 Sam. 18:6-12, 14-15, 28-29). God did not, as far as Scripture records, sit down with David and say, “Now listen, David! Here’s what’s going to happen. You need some training and maturity before you’re able to handle being king. So I’m going to allow Saul to try to kill you and to chase you all over the Judean desert for the next ten years so that you will learn to depend more upon Me.” There is no record that David knew up front what was going to happen to him. It just started happening. Welcome to God’s training program!
That’s how God enrolls all His students. If He told us in advance what He planned to take us through to conform us to the image of Christ, we would make a mad dash for the nearest exit. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t allow you to know the future in advance? He reveals the program a step at a time.
But even though God does not explain the training in advance, we need to recognize it for what it is when it comes. Hebrews 12:5 instructs us, “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.” In other words, when you encounter difficult situations as a child of God, don’t chalk it up to bad luck. Don’t shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s life!” Bring God into the picture and recognize that this is His means of training you to share His holiness.
David was a sharp young man and was used mightily of God as a teenager. But God did not see fit to entrust him with the responsibility of the kingdom until he was 30. Joseph spent his 20’s in a dungeon in Egypt and was not elevated to the number two spot in the land until he was 30. John the Baptist was about 30 when he began his ministry. Even the Lord Jesus waited until He was about 30 to begin His public ministry. The Apostle Paul was probably about 30 when he was saved. He knew his Hebrew Bible well. He was exceptionally gifted. But God sent him to Arabia for three years of private training and then he spent 5-10 years in Tarsus before his ministry in Antioch began.
We cannot be hard and fast about it, because there are many notable exceptions (like Spurgeon!). But as a general rule, it might be wise to view our teens and twenties as a time of preparation and training for the ministry to which God has called us. And, of course, the training doesn’t stop at 30. It continues all our lives. Whenever we begin the process, we need to recognize that God does not have a cram course. His program involves years of training. There’s no such thing as instant fruit of the Spirit.
In the schools of this world, a passing grade means that you move on to a new course. But in God’s school, quite often a course must be repeated even if you pass. As we’ve seen, God called David a man after His heart while he was still a teenager. He was not rebellious or disobedient. He had strong personal faith in God.
And yet God enrolled David in course after course where He put David in extreme difficulty so that he had to trust in the Lord again and again. (See 1 Sam. 19:8-10, 11-12; 21:10; 22:1, 5; 23:12-14, 24-29; 24:1-2; 26:1-2.) It was during this time that David penned Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
In other words, God’s training or discipline is not just for those who are wayward to bring them back into line. It’s also for those who are faithful and obedient, to make them even more like Christ. Thus, you may pass a course in God’s school with flying colors, only to find yourself enrolled all over again in the same course.
I am not in the Social Security program, so I have to set aside some funds toward our old age. A few years ago, both investments that we had for that purpose went bankrupt, one due to fraud. I had to examine my heart to make sure I wasn’t being greedy and that my trust was in the Lord, not in my retirement fund. Then, this year we lost over $40,000 on our house, due to fraud. I told Marla, “We passed the first course, so the Lord enrolled us in the graduate program!”
As we have seen, David was catapulted into fame and popularity as a result of his victory over Goliath (1 Sam. 18:7, 12-16, 30). Often that is the most dangerous thing that can happen to a young person. The Scottish historian Carlyle said, “Affliction is bad; but for every person that can handle prosperity, there are a hundred that can handle adversity.” God often uses adversity to humble a person so he can handle success.
The Apostle Paul, after he was caught up into Paradise and “heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Cor. 12:4), was given a thorn in the flesh--most likely some sort of physical ailment--to keep him from exalting himself. If you are going to experience any sort of success in serving Christ, then you can be assured that you will be enrolled in His training school of adversity, so that you learn to handle the success properly. That’s a description of God’s program. Let’s look at ...
We can’t cover all of them, because they are many and varied. But we’ll glance at a few.
In this course, the student will be promised something by someone, but the person will break the promise. This course may be repeated often for many credits.
Note 1 Sam. 17:25; 18:17-19. To get Saul’s second daughter, Michal, for a wife (she must have been a real winner--18:21a), David had to do more than Saul had promised (18:25, 27). (Note also Saul’s broken promise in 19:6, 10-11.)
In this course, the student will do something good for someone, only to have that person do something evil toward him in return. To pass, the student must not become bitter. This course may be repeated often for many credits.
David had saved Saul’s kingdom from being overrun by the Philistines by defeating Goliath. Note the result (18:11). This course was repeated for extra credit in 19:8-10. Note also 23:1-5, 8-12. David delivered this city from the Philistines, and they would have turned David over to Saul. See also 25:4-11. This must have been David’s favorite course, he repeated it so often!
In this intriguing course, the student will be given an opportunity to take revenge on an enemy who has been attempting to ruin the student. The student will be tested for his response to this enticing temptation. This course may be repeated for extra credit.
Note 1 Sam. 24:1-7. David could have taken off Saul’s head; instead he cut off a small corner of his robe, and even that bothered his conscience. David repeated this course again in 26:4-12.
That’s only a sampling of the courses God uses in His school. There are many others. Paul lists his curriculum in several places (2 Cor. 6:4-10; 11:23-2-8).
What is God trying to accomplish with His curriculum? Why does He require His servants to go through such a difficult barrage of courses?
Many things could be mentioned. I will limit myself to four course objectives which can be seen in what David was learning during these years on the run from Saul.
In a word, he learned to trust God even when it seemed like God did not care. Note Psalm 59 which David wrote after his escape described in 1 Sam. 19:11-17. Note 59:9b-10a, 16-17. David’s emphasis is on God as his refuge and strength and on God’s lovingkindness. Remember, David had just been forced to escape for his life from his own house when he wrote this. And here he is, singing about God’s strength and love! What would you be singing about in those circumstances? Would you even be singing?
C. H. Mackintosh wrote, “Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances; but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” (Miscellaneous Writings [Loizeaux Brothers], VI, “Bethany,” p. 18.) But how do you do that? Maybe an illustration would help.
When a parent takes a small child to the doctor, the child is frightened and doesn’t understand why. The nurse with the needle scares the child even more. During this time, the child will hug close to the parent all the more, even though he doesn’t understand why his parent brought him to the doctor.
By way of contrast, if you’ve ever tried to help a trapped bird, the frightened creature doesn’t trust you. If it would just relax, you could free it easily. But its attempts to free itself and get away from you make it all the more difficult to help without hurting it. In times of suffering, we should be like the trusting child, and not like the scared bird. Cling tightly to God and don’t doubt His love. One of His objectives in His training school is to get you to take refuge in Him and to see His love even in a time of adversity.
In a word, he learned submission. So many of us act first and think later. But David was learning to take the situation to the Lord before doing anything else, and then to submit to the Lord’s direction. We have already seen how David carefully sought the Lord’s mind regarding the city of Keilah (23:2-4, 9-12). In the matter of Nabal (chap. 25), David flunked the course. He reacted in anger and rode off to wipe out Nabal and his men before he stopped to ask the Lord about it. The Lord sent Abigail to stop David in his tracks.
We have also seen how on two occasions David could easily have killed Saul on the spot, but he obeyed the Lord. In later narratives there are other examples of David very carefully pausing to seek the Lord’s mind on a situation before proceeding, and then acting in obedience to the Lord (30:1-8).
How do you react when adversity strikes? Do you push the panic button and try to eject yourself out of the situation by any means possible? Or do you stop to say, “Lord, how do You want me to respond in this situation? What do You want me to do?” And then do you do it? Are you learning to submit to God in the courses in which He enrolls you?
In a word, he learned endurance. Note 1 Sam. 26:10-11. David said this after this thing had been going on for years! He was running for his life and living in caves, while Saul lived in the luxury of the palace. Perhaps it was during this time that David wrote Ps. 62:5, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.” David was learning to persevere.
Anyone who serves the Lord must learn to wait upon the Lord--to endure. The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash. It’s a marathon. A marathon is never judged by how fast the runners spring from the starting blocks. It is always determined by the long haul.
It’s exciting to be anointed as king when you’re a teenager. It’s thrilling to defeat Goliath and to be famous and popular as a young man. But excitement and thrills are not enough to sustain a man who must face the pressures of running the government and defending the kingdom day in and day out for 40 years. That takes a man who knows endurance through waiting upon the Lord.
It’s exciting and fresh to begin to serve the Lord in some new ministry. It’s thrilling to see God using you and to hear the acclaim of people. But excitement and thrills are not enough to sustain you in the pressures of ministry for Christ over a lifetime. To be running strong at the finish line, you’ve got to learn to wait upon the Lord. It’s a required basic course in God’s training school.
In a word, he developed a tender conscience. At one point during his running from Saul, David came to Ahimelech the priest. David lied by telling the priest that he was on a mission from Saul (21:2). As a result of that lie, the priest helped David. Saul heard of it and executed the priest and the whole village of priests where he lived. But one son, Abiathar, escaped and fled to David.
Put yourself in David’s sandals. By your lie you have caused the death of this young man’s father and every person in his household. The man comes to you. What would you say? It seems to me that there would be a strong temptation to blame Saul. But David accepted the blame and confessed it openly to this man (22:22). As we’ve also seen, David’s conscience was stricken after he cut off the edge of Saul’s robe (24:5). And when Abigail confronted David with the wrongfulness of taking revenge upon her husband, he immediately, before his men and before a woman (very humbling in that culture!), acknowledged his sin and thanked the Lord for sending her (25:32-33).
The difference between David and Saul was not that Saul sinned and David did not sin. The difference was that when Saul sinned, he would not confess his sin, but when David sinned and was confronted with it, he was quick to confess it to the Lord and to those he had wronged.
One of the objectives of God’s training school is that we learn to acknowledge our sin quickly to the Lord and to those we have wronged. He wants us to develop a tender conscience before Him and to keep a clear conscience. As Paul testified, “I ... do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16).
Those whom God uses must go through His training school to develop trust, submission, endurance, and a tender conscience.
If you’re a Christian, you’re in the school! I hope that realizing that doesn’t give you recurring bad dreams! Be assured that God has your best interests at heart. Though it is difficult and not always fun, He is training you to share His holiness (Heb. 12:10).
If you’re not enrolled in the school, you may be thinking, “Why would I want to get into that kind of program?” The answer of God’s Word is that the school may be difficult, but the alternative is devastating. If you “do not know God and obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus,” you “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Christ bore that awful penalty for you and offers eternal life to you as a free gift.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
I want to talk about one of the most important subjects for you to understand if you want to walk with God, namely, “How Sin Snags Us.” Although I have been walking with God for about 28 years, and I’ve been a pastor who has studied the Word of God many hours a week for the past 16 years, last year I became aware that my understanding of the power and deceptiveness of indwelling sin was woefully inadequate.
I came to this awareness by reading volume 6 of The Works of John Owen, “Temptation and Sin” (Banner of Truth). I then discovered that a modern, abridged edition was available, so I read it, too (Sin and Temptation, abridged and edited by James M. Houston [Multnomah Press]). I highly commend it to you. Owen makes the point that we have a constant enemy of the soul that, unlike Samson’s enemy, is not only upon us, but also is in us. You come away from reading Owen alarmed with the knowledge that the power of indwelling sin is far greater than you ever realized and, as he points out (p. 5, abridged edition), when this law of sin is least felt, it is most powerful! Sin always works by deception, which makes it all the more powerful. Thus we must be aware of how it works so that we can be on guard against it.
It should be of tremendous comfort to us that when God paints a portrait of a man after God’s heart, He paints it warts and all. I want to examine a time in David’s life when he got snagged by sin. It happened very subtly. It lasted a year and four months (1 Sam. 27:7), at the end of which we find David at one of the lowest points of his life (30:6). At that point, David took the path back to the Lord (we’ll study this next week). David’s experience teaches us that
Sin snags us by making life more enjoyable at first, but the consequences always catch up to us.
Sin never comes to us and says, “Would you like to ruin your life and the lives of those you love? Then follow me!” Rather, it comes to us especially when we’re in a difficult situation and offers an attractive alternative. Eve yielded to temptation because she saw that the forbidden fruit “was good for food, ... a delight to the eyes, and ... desirable to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). Sin always snags us by deceiving us into thinking that it will get us what we want.
In David’s case, he had been running from Saul for about eight years. Think about that: For eight years you have been pursued by a madman and his army, intent on killing you! Saul was relentless in pursuing David (19:11-12; 21:10; 22:1, 5; 23:12-14, 24-29; 24:1-2; 26:1-2). Finally we read (27:1), “Then David said to himself, ‘Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.’”
What’s wrong with David’s thinking here? It’s contrary to God’s Word! God had promised that David would succeed Saul on the throne of Israel (15:28-29; 16:12). David himself had recently affirmed his trust in God’s promise (26:10). But here there is no mention of God in David’s decision! He did not seek the Lord on this major change of direction in his life. In fact, there is no mention of the Lord in the narrative concerning David from 27:1 through 30:5, except on the lips of Achish, king of Gath (29:6, 9)! Rather, David got tired of the extended trial he was under, he thought of a human solution that would get him out of the pressure, he took it, and (take note!), it seemed to work: “Now it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, so he no longer searched for him” (27:4). Let’s observe several things:
Saul had been seeking for David every day for about eight years now! David had just spared Saul’s life for the second time. He probably began to think, “What’s the use? I spared his life before and he still sought to kill me. It won’t be any different this time.” Also, remember that David had the pressure of providing for his own family plus 600 men and their families! It’s tough for a fugitive to make a living. Anyone who helped David and his men fell under the wrath of Saul. And so the extended pressures caused David to lose hope.
Satan always hits when you’re down! It’s in the context of trials that Peter writes, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith ...” (1 Pet. 5:8, 9a). The flesh is weak, so Satan preys on us during extended times of trial to get us to doubt the promises and love of God.
Hebrews 3:12-13 warns us to take care, “Lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Satan used deceit to entice Eve (1 Tim. 2:14). Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the fallen human heart is more deceitful than all else. Deceit, by its very nature, fakes you out. If you’ve ever been taken by a con man, he fooled you into thinking that he was trustworthy and he was long gone with your money before you realized what had happened. Before they are enlightened to the truth, deceived people will protest that they aren’t deceived. Since we are so prone to deception, we need to be constantly vigilant, lest we get taken in. Note the sequence of how David got entangled in the deceit of sin:
(1) Wrong thinking (1 Sam. 27:1). As I mentioned, David’s thinking was contrary to the word and promise of God! God had anointed David as the successor to Saul and had promised David that he would occupy the throne of Israel. Just previously David had affirmed that God would someday act on his behalf in removing Saul from the throne (26:10). David’s comment in 27:1 is contrary to faith.
(2) Wrong feelings. Unchecked wrong thinking leads to wrong feelings. David began to feel sorry for himself. Note the preponderance of “I” and “me” in 27:1. He was self-focused rather than focused on God and His word. Maybe you’re thinking, “But I’ve heard that feelings aren’t right or wrong; feelings just are.” But the Bible teaches that many feelings are wrong and need to be confronted and changed.
In a time of trial, you must guard against self-pity and thoughts which are contrary to the Word of God. If you slip into wrong feelings, you need to check yourself and work your way out. Satan always hits you first in your thinking. Wrong thinking leads to wrong feelings. This led to ...
(3) Wrong actions (27:2). David did not seek the Lord’s mind on this decision. God is no where in the picture: “David said to himself ... (27:1). So David arose and crossed over ...” (27:2). On numerous occasions God had forbidden His people to form alliances with the pagan nations around them, because He knew that they would eventually be influenced by their immorality and embrace their false gods. And yet David here goes to live with Achish, king of Gath, without consulting the Lord.
But David was not alone (27:2-3). He had fled to Achish on a previous occasion when he was alone (21:10-15). On that occasion David was recognized and had to feign insanity in order to escape. But this time there was David, his wives, his 600 men and their households. He wasn’t planning to hide!
Wrong actions never occur in a vacuum. They always have an effect on others. David’s sin, as we shall see in a moment, had some severe effects on these men and their families. Always remember: You never sin privately! Your sin will have consequences for your family members and for others. David’s wrong actions led him into ...
(4) Wrong company (27:2-3). Do you know what nationality Achish was? He was a Philistine, a committed enemy of Israel! And do you know what city Gath was? It was the home town of Goliath! David had killed the hometown hero! Yet here he is moving to Gath! Incredible!
When believers take the path away from the Lord, sooner or later they will fall in with the wrong crowd. And Satan will use the wrong crowd to steer you further from the Lord, as we’ll see in a moment. The Apostle Paul wrote (1 Cor. 15:33), “Do not be deceived! ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” If you want to be a man or woman after God’s heart, then you cannot foster close friendships with those who are opposed to God and to God’s people.
David undoubtedly shared his tale of woe with Achish and assured Achish that the two of them had a common enemy: Saul. Eventually, after David had established some rapport with Achish, he asked a favor, for a city to live in. So Achish gave David Ziklag (27:5-6). David is getting more deeply entrenched. That led to ...
(5) More wrong actions (27:8-12). David had a lot of mouths to feed, and there weren’t a lot of job openings in Ziklag. So they began making guerrilla raids on the pagan villages. There were times in Israel’s history when God had ordered them to wipe out certain pagan groups as judgment for their sin. But God didn’t command David to do that here. David was acting on his own. These villagers were apparently allies with Achish. David didn’t want them talking. So he slaughtered everyone and then lied to Achish so that he thought David was attacking Jewish villages. He’s playing a dangerous con game.
When wrong thinking leads you into wrong actions and wrong company, then you feel constrained to engage in more wrong actions to cover your tracks and to maintain your lifestyle. Whenever a person gets snared by sin, there is always deception, both the sinner’s deceiving others and his deceiving himself by rationalizing his sin: “I didn’t have any other choice! Besides, the end result is good.” But you are just digging yourself in deeper! As Sir Walter Scott wrote (Marmion, Canto 6, Stz. 17.):
“O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”
Thus the situation for sin is often a time of trial; the sequence of sin is deceptively entangling.
Please notice something very important: To this point, David’s wrong thinking, wrong feelings, wrong action, wrong company, and further wrong actions had resulted in what seemed to David to be very good consequences. Note four initially good results of David’s wrongs to this point:
(1) Relief from pressure. This felt good! For the first time in years David was out from under the daily pressure of Saul’s pursuing him (27:4). That’s often how you’ll feel when you decide to solve your problems apart from the Lord. Perhaps you’re enduring the pressure of a difficult marriage and you finally decide, “I’m bailing out!” You’ll feel relief at first to be free from the pressure.
Or maybe you’re single and longing for a Christian mate. You’ve waited on the Lord for years, but you’re still spending every weekend alone. Then you say to yourself, “I’m going to die lonely and single. There is nothing better for me than to start dating non-Christians.” You will initially feel relief from your loneliness.
(2) Acceptance from the world (27:5-6). In spite of the kind things he had done for Saul, David had been rejected by Saul for years. But now, here was a leader who accepted David and sympathized with his problems. The minute you turn from the Lord to the world, the world will welcome you with open arms. “Finally, you’ve seen the light! Those Fundamentalists you used to hang around with were abusive! But we love you! Welcome to our camp!”
(3) The comforts of life (27:6, 9). After years of living in caves and hiding out in the wilderness, David finally had a place to call home. He could unpack his duffel bag and his wives could set up housekeeping. It was a great feeling! And, he was in the money. David’s raids were netting him a lot of spoil. Finally David and his men didn’t have to worry about where the next meal was coming from. Often when a Christian turns from the Lord to the world, Satan throws in a few material benefits as a welcome package.
(4) Growing popularity (1 Chron. 12:1-22). Men of valor were defecting to David at Ziklag from Saul’s army, until eventually there was a great army. It all felt so good. How could it be wrong when it felt so right? Often when you begin running with the world, you receive the popularity you never had when you were walking with God.
David’s experience was not uncommon. When you take the path away from the Lord, at first everything seems great. “By-path Meadow” looks like a nice place to be, until you get caught by the Giant Despair. Getting snagged by sin is like living on credit cards. At first, you can have a grand time. You can travel, stay in the best hotels, eat at the best restaurants, and have the time of your life. But the bills are going to come due! Sin snags us by making life more enjoyable at first.
Note how the bills came due for David:
David, the man who slew the giant from Gath who taunted the armies of the living God, the man who could not lift his own hand against Saul, the Lord’s anointed, now finds himself in league with the king of Gath going out to fight the armies of Israel, which included his dear friend, Jonathan! Incredible! David has been playing a con game, and now he’s trapped. He must have been having some serious hesitations, but he couldn’t refuse Achish or he would have jeopardized his and his men’s lives.
At this point, God graciously intervened through the Philistine warlords who asked a very pertinent question (29:3): “What are these Hebrews doing here?” Good question! What were they doing there? When a Christian runs with the world, those in the world often are aware of the inconsistency of the situation. They will often ask, “If you are a Christian, then what are you doing here?” The question is from God to bring us to repentance. Because these Philistine commanders didn’t trust David and his men, Achish was forced to send David home from the battle. This is where the bills really come due.
David and his men had left Ziklag to the sounds of children playing in the streets and women chatting as they went about their chores. There was the smell of bread baking in the ovens of their homes. But they came back to silence, except for the whistling of the desert wind. The only smell was the ashes of their homes. The place was deserted and destroyed.
And they don’t know about 30:2 or the rest of the story yet. For all they know, these raiders have hauled off all the women and children to enslave them or torture them to death. And so David’s men even talk about stoning David (30:6). Wow! David had never been so low in his life! At this point, as far as David was concerned, God and His promise to put David on the throne of Israel probably seemed a million miles away.
God’s grace does not mean that He protects us from the consequences of our sin. It is in the book written to defend the gospel of grace that Paul writes, “Do not be deceived [there’s that word again!], God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8).
Please note how short-lived and easily lost are this world’s pleasures. When David moved into Ziklag, he probably thought, “This is great! Our own town, a place to call home. What more could I want?” But like all the world has to offer, it can be taken from you in a minute. Only with the Lord are there “solid joys and lasting pleasure,” as the hymn puts it. If David could have looked forward a few years to see what God had in store for him in Jerusalem, he would have been appalled at Ziklag!
In His grace God allows us to reap the consequences of our sin, so that we learn not to sin. His grace also strips us of the things of this world to prepare us for better things ahead: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9). So while the consequences of sin are painful, even in the pain we can know the tender mercies of our God.
Some who read this are walking uprightly with the Lord, dealing with sin and seeking to obey His Word. For you this message is saying, “Be vigilant!” “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Some may have just started on the path away from the Lord. Maybe it’s just wrong thinking. Perhaps the wrong thinking has led to wrong feelings or wrong actions. The Lord allows U-turns. Come back to Him, confess your sin, and do what you need to do to please Him.
Others may be reaping awful consequences from past sins. Though it hurts, you need to know that God’s grace and love for you are there, even in the pain. Draw near to Him and submit to His hand of discipline which is for your good.
Still others may never have turned from sin to trust in Christ as the One who took your penalty on Himself on the cross. He offers to deliver you from the ultimate consequence of sin, which is eternal punishment in hell. Will you come to Him?
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
A familiar legend tells how the devil had put his tools up for sale, each marked with the appropriate price. Hatred, lust, jealousy, deceit, lying and pride were all there. Apart from these and marked with a ridiculously high price was a harmless looking but well-worn tool. A buyer asked, “What tool is this?” “Discouragement,” replied the devil. “And why is it priced so high?” asked the man. “Because it is more useful to me than the others. I can pry open a man’s heart with that when I can’t get near to him with anything else. It’s so badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since few people know it belongs to me.”
We’ve all known discouragement to varying degrees. Even the giants in the faith, such as the Apostle Paul, knew times of deep despair. He wrote, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). But perhaps the worst form of despair is when you realize that you’re reaping the consequences of your sin; that you’re responsible for the mess you’re in. Add to that the accusations of those you thought were your friends, who now are blaming you for problems they’re having because of your failure. You feel alone, rejected, and as if everything you’ve been working toward has gone up in smoke.
That’s where we find David in 1 Samuel 30:6. But it’s at this moment of utter despair and gloom that we read one of the most encouraging sentences in all the Bible. It breaks through the storm clouds like a ray of sunshine: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” It teaches us that
No matter how low you go, the way back to the Lord is always open.
Failure is not final. Even failure due to our sin is not the final chapter for a Christian. Even though, like the prodigal son, you find yourself in the muck of a pigsty, polluted by the corruption of the world, and even though those circumstances are the direct result of your own rebellion against the heavenly Father, His grace can still break through the gloom and find you there. Even in the pigsty you can say, “I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned ....’” (see Luke 15:18). And you can be assured that the gracious Father will see you from afar, will feel compassion for you and will run to you and welcome you back into His presence! Note first,
Remember the old Chubby Checkers song, “Limbo Rock,” with the line, “How low can you go?” The answer, even for believers, is, “Pretty low!” David was in the lowest place he had ever been in his life.
As we saw last week, his problems started when he lost hope and thought (1 Sam. 27:1), “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape to the land of the Philistines. Saul will then despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.” As we saw, at first things got much better for David. Saul did stop pursuing him. He was given a city and he was gaining wealth and power. Things were looking up. Sin is always that way: It snags us by making us think that it will get us where we want to go. At first, it seems like it’s delivering on its promise. But then, like buying on credit, the bills come due, and life gets very unpleasant.
As we saw, David’s sin had gotten him into a tight spot: The Philistine king wanted David and his men to go into battle with him against Israel. David seemed to have no choice. To refuse would have blown his cover on the con game he was playing. God graciously intervened through the Philistine commanders who distrusted David, so Achish was forced to send David and his men home.
It was a three day trip and as they approached Ziklag David and his men no doubt talked excitedly about how good it would feel to get home to their families, to enjoy the embrace of their wives and children, to eat a home cooked meal and to sleep in their own beds. But as they came over the hill and looked down on what they expected to be a peaceful domestic scene, they were horrified to see nothing but a pile of smoldering ashes! Their town was burned to the ground, their families were no where in sight, and everything they owned was gone. These tough warriors fell apart and wept until they had no more strength to weep (30:4).
To add to David’s despair, his own men--those who had pledged their allegiance to him, those who had gone into battle with him before--now spoke of stoning him, they were so bitter (30:6)! So in addition to David’s grieving for his wives, he felt rejected, totally alone in this world. And he realized that he was in this mess because he had acted apart from the Lord.
I want us to feel David’s utter despair and gloom because when we feel down, we all have a tendency to think that no one else has ever been in as bad a situation as we’re in. And if the enemy can make us think that our situation is uniquely bad, then we will despair of thinking that there is any way back.
But there’s always a way back! You can never go so low but that the grace of God is sufficient to bring you back. There is always hope in the Lord! The only reason He allows His children to despair, even of life itself, is so that they learn not to trust in themselves, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9).
Perhaps some here feel overwhelmed with discouragement. It may be due to a health problem or a family problem. Maybe you can’t find work or you’re in debt so deeply that you can’t see your way out. Maybe you’re lonely, without family or friends who seem to care about you. Perhaps you’ve sinned and you feel like God has cast you off. But to you especially God put David’s terrible situation in the Bible to say, “There is a way back! In times of deepest despair, there is hope in the Lord!”
David’s experience teaches us a number of things about the way back to the Lord from our deep despair:
“But David ...” This is one of the many great “buts” in the Bible. Everything around David was gloom and doom. His property was either destroyed or stolen. His wives were gone and he didn’t know at this point if he would ever see them again. His men were talking of killing him. “But David!” He intentionally, deliberately rejected the faithless gloom and doom of his men. He intentionally looked beyond the smoldering ruins of Ziklag to the greatness of his God.
David’s strong intention is also seen in the Hebrew verb, “strengthened himself.” It implies persistent and continuous effort. There is nothing passive about coming back to the Lord at a time of despair. It doesn’t happen accidentally. Sometimes, like the psalmist, you have to grab yourself by the lapels and talk to yourself: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God” (43:5; see 42:5, 11). Like the prodigal son, you have to determine, “I will get up out of this pigsty and go back to my father!” The way back is always intentional.
“David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” David knew God in a personal way. God was not just the God of David’s country, though he lived in the covenant nation of Israel. God was not just the God of David’s father, though he was raised in a God-fearing home. God was David’s personal God. David had enjoyed personal fellowship with God as he watched his father’s sheep out in the fields as a boy. David had composed and sang many psalms, such as Psalm 23, which show that he knew the Lord as his personal shepherd who cared for his every need.
You do not know God if you do not know Him personally. You can know about God, but not know God. You can use a lot of religious language and attend worship services and even say eloquent prayers, but not know God personally. We come to know God in a personal way through personal faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins. Jesus said, “For this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
To repent means to turn around or change direction. As we saw last week, David hadn’t sought God’s direction in his decision to go over to Achish, king of Gath. In fact, this move violated God’s explicit prohibitions for His people not to form alliances with the pagans in the land. But now David is very careful to seek God’s direction and to obey it.
In David’s day, a person could seek God’s will through the Urim and Thummim which were contained in the ephod, a vest-like garment in the possession of the high priest. Though scholars differ in their understanding of exactly what this was, it seems to have been some sort of God-ordained system of drawing lots. David now sought God’s direction in this way. The point is, this was a change from David’s earlier self-willed decision. He repented.
The way back to the Lord always involves acknowledging that I was wrong, turning from that wrong, and doing what God wants. Just as David now called for the ephod in front of all his men, so that they could see that David was not calling the shots, but rather that he was seeking and submitting to the Lord, so repentance often needs to be acknowledged in front of others, so that those who saw us going our own way realize that now there is a change.
Note 30:8: “Shall I pursue this band?” Many would not have bothered to ask the question: “These guys stole our families and our possessions. Let’s go get ‘em!” But David deliberately stopped to ask the Lord if he should pursue this band to try to recover what they had taken.
What if God had said, “No, David, your wives and your possessions are gone”? It would have been hard, but I think David would have submitted. You can’t write your own terms when you come to the Lord. You can’t say, “Lord, I’ll come back if You will do what I want.” He is the Lord, which means that He does what He wants, which doesn’t always fit with what I want. Submission means that I let Him call the shots. Whether He says, “It’s all gone,” or whether He graciously gives it back, I submit.
God told David that he would recover everything and David took God at His word. He believed God and acted upon that belief in pursuing this band and fighting to take back what had been lost. It would not have done for David to sit around the ruins of Ziklag saying, “I’m just trusting the Lord.” He had to go and fight to recover what had been stolen.
Genuine faith is always active and obedient. Faith doesn’t passively sit around saying, “I believe.” Faith is taking God at His Word, often in the face of overwhelming circumstances to the contrary, and then obediently acting upon that Word until what is promised is reality. If you are recovering from a situation caused by your sin, you often have to believe what God says concerning your sins (that they are charged to Christ’s account, not to yours) and act upon it in spite of your feelings.
On the way to pursue this enemy, 200 of David’s men were too exhausted to continue, so they stayed behind with the baggage (30:9-10). After they had defeated the enemy and recovered more than they had lost, some of the 400 men who had fought didn’t want to share the spoils with those who had stayed behind (30:22). But David would not let them act in this greedy way. He gave the men who stayed behind an equal share and he sent generous gifts to his countrymen in the surrounding towns (30:23-31).
The point is, the Lord doesn’t restore you to Himself so that you can live a comfortable, happy, self-centered life, hoarding all the blessings He has graciously given. The problem with David’s greedy men was that they thought they had recovered the spoil (30:22). But David’s reply makes it clear that he knew it was the Lord who had given them what they had recovered (30:23). If the Lord has given, then we must give an account to Him as stewards for how we dispense His gifts. The Lord never gives us His blessings just to make us happy. He gives us His blessings so that we can share them with others so that He is glorified.
So believers can go pretty low when they take the path away from the Lord. But, praise God, the way back is always open, even in our deepest despair! It is an intentional, personal, repentant, submissive, trusting, and generous way. Finally, let’s look at ...
The Amalekite raid on Ziklag while David and his men were gone was not an accident. God wasn’t in heaven saying, “Rats! While I was worried about Saul and the armies of Israel, those dirty Amalekites sneaked in there and got one over on Me!” The God who works all things after the counsel of His will used this seeming tragedy in the lives of David and his men to teach them to seek Him and trust him when everything seems hopeless. At the moment of despair, I’m sure that David could not imagine how God could allow such a tragedy nor how He could use it.
But as he strengthened himself in the Lord his God, David saw this great disaster as a great opportunity for God to show Himself mighty. So David didn’t do what we’re being told by many Christian counselors in our day: He didn’t express his rage toward God. He didn’t shriek, “God, if You really loved me you wouldn’t have allowed this to happen!” He didn’t blame God. Rather, he submitted to the sovereign God and obeyed what God told him to do.
God’s sovereignty is also seen in a small incident in the story. They “happen” upon an Egyptian in a field who turns out to be the discarded slave of one of the Amalekites (30:11). The Egyptian had gotten sick and couldn’t keep up with the raiding party and the Amalekite probably thought, “I’ve just gotten a bunch of new slaves; who needs this kid?” So he tossed him aside like an empty Coke can.
But as so often is true, God uses the world’s discards in His sovereign plan. This slave proved to be the key in recovering what the Amalekites had taken. Note, too, that if David had not been kind and generous to this hurting man, he would have missed God’s provision! It’s of great comfort to know that however bleak our situation, our sovereign God is still on His throne and that He has ordained all things, even little details, to display His might on behalf of those who trust in Him.
The Amalekites had stolen David’s goods, but they could not steal David’s God. As Alexander Maclaren points out (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], p. 387), “Whatever else we lose, as long as we have Him we are rich; and whatever else we possess, we are poor as long as we have not Him. God is enough; whatever else may go.” Often the Lord graciously strips us of the earthly things we so readily trust to teach us that He is the all-sufficient One. He is our all in all!
The great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon was prone to depression. One day he was riding home feeling weary and down when suddenly God burst through with the verse, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Spurgeon replied, “I should think it is, Lord,” and burst out laughing. His unbelief seemed so absurd. He said, “It was as if a little fish, being very thirsty, was troubled about drinking the river dry and the river said, “My stream is sufficient for you.”
Or, it was as if a little mouse in the granaries of Egypt after seven years of plenty feared it might die of famine and Joseph said, “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for you.” Or again he imagined a man fearing that he would exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere, but the earth saying, “Breathe away, O man, and fill your lungs forever. My atmosphere is sufficient for you.” What need do you have, no matter how desperate your situation, that the God who spoke the universe into existence is not sufficient to meet?
God’s grace means that He does not deal with us according to our sins, but according to His great mercy shown to us in Christ, who bore our sins. God’s grace is inexhaustible toward His children. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Do you suppose that when David and his men saw Ziklag burned to the ground and their families and possessions gone that anyone asked the familiar question, “Where is God in all this?” Where was God? Had He abandoned David because David had gotten snagged by sin? Don’t miss this, because it’s the beautiful part of the story.
While David was reaping the consequences of his sin and at the lowest point of his entire life, God was graciously acting on David’s behalf to give David the throne of Israel. We’ve already seen how God graciously used the Philistine commanders to get David out of a compromising situation. And at the very moment that David and his men were lamenting the destruction of Ziklag, God was using the Philistines to remove Saul so that David could be king.
Even the loss of Ziklag was God’s gracious provision, because it destroyed David’s roots in Philistia and opened the way for him to move to Hebron where he began his rule over Israel. Often God must destroy our links with the world so that He can give us His best. Sometimes it may be “a severe mercy,” but God always acts in grace toward His children.
On one occasion, the great reformer, Martin Luther, was overwhelmed with depression. It didn’t seem to lift in spite of the appeals of family and friends. Finally, his wife, Katie, put on the black garments of a widow in mourning. When Luther noticed, he asked her who had died. She replied that God in heaven must have died, judging from Luther’s demeanor. His depression lifted instantly as he laughed and kissed his wise wife.
You may be low this morning--perhaps due to your sin, as David experienced, or perhaps due to some other hard circumstances. Just remember, no matter how low you go, the way back to our sovereign, sufficient, gracious Lord is always open. He bids you to come back to Him. Like David, you can strengthen yourself in the Lord your God!
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
I read a story (Reader’s Digest [7-82]) about a church in which the choir loft sits below the eye level of the congregation. Running across the entire front of the church is a low, velvet-draped railing. Several of the more creative choir members discovered that after finishing the anthem they could crawl on hands and knees behind the railing and exit through a side door. They could then buy fresh donuts around the corner and return to the worship service undetected.
One Sunday, an elderly, distinguished-looking man made a successful exit. But on his return trip he realized that in order to reach his seat, he would have to crawl back carrying the bag of donuts between his teeth. It wasn’t until he was halfway across that he noticed the laughter spreading through the congregation. He was on the wrong side of the railing!
While that story is funny at first, the longer you think about it, the more tragic it becomes. It’s a sad commentary on the condition of worship to think that it is okay to sing an anthem to the Almighty God, who sits enthroned above the cherubim in unapproachable glory, and then to sneak out behind a railing for a bag of donuts to munch on during the remainder of the service. I remind you that the God we worship is able to see on both sides of the railing!
We need to recover today in our evangelical, Bible-believing churches the sense of reverence that ought to characterize those who gather in the holy presence of the living God. In many churches the fellowship is warm and the Bible teaching is faithful. But each week the people file in and out of what is labeled a “worship service” without ever coming close to sensing the holy presence of God. It’s easy to fall into the disease of “playing church,” of going through the motions of worship without encountering God. But,
Worship should be a reverent response to God’s holy presence.
This is a main lesson from David’s bringing the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). David had been king now for over seven years. The kingdom, which at first was divided, was now consolidated under David’s rule. He desired to make the worship of God central in the national life. To do this, he proposed to bring the ark of the covenant, the central piece of the Mosaic Tabernacle, to Jerusalem. We learn from this story that ...
God is omnipresent--present everywhere at the same time. But His presence is not realized everywhere. When I talk about the presence of God, I mean His realized presence. When God’s people come together for worship, they ought to focus on His holy presence among them.
The ark was a rectangular box about 3 3/4 feet long by 2 1/4 feet wide by 2 1/4 feet high. It contained the 10 Commandments and, in earlier days, at least, Aaron’s rod which budded and a pot of manna. It was made of wood overlaid with gold. On top of the ark was the mercy seat, a solid slab of gold on which the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial lamb once a year on the Day of Atonement. The ark was kept in the Holy of Holies and was always kept covered when being moved on a journey.
The ark was the symbol of God’s meeting with His people on the basis of atonement. The Lord told Moses, “And there I will meet with you ...” (Exod. 25:22). It was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. The materials of the ark, gold and wood, typified the person of Christ as both God and man. The function of the ark as the mercy-seat typified the work of Christ as the sacrificial lamb of God.
When we gather as God’s people, we gather unto the Lord Jesus who is in our midst. It is because of His Person, God in human flesh, and His work as the satisfaction of the divine penalty for our sins, that we can draw near unto God.
The ark is described here (6:2) as “the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim.” The cherubim are angels who dwell in the presence of God. They are awesome in their appearance, being associated with fire and lightning and the blinding brightness of the glory of the Lord (Ezek. 1:4-14; 10:3-22). Two golden cherubim with their wings touching overshadowed the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. The only human eyes that could view that sight were those of the high priest, and that only once a year in strict accordance with the procedures God had ordained.
As David and the people worshiped before this ark, it’s clear that they were worshiping “before the Lord” (the phrase occurs six times in this chapter: verses 5, 14, 16, 17, 21 [twice]). As we’ll see, even though they had this sense of God’s presence, they were too careless about it at first, with tragic consequences. But God made it explicitly clear that to worship in His presence is an awesome thing, not to be taken lightly.
We live in a day of flippant Christianity that has brought God down to the “good buddy in the sky” level, where we’ve lost the proper sense of awe and fear in His holy presence. John MacArthur tells about a pastor friend of his who told John that Jesus often appears to him and talks with him in the mornings as he is shaving. John’s incredulous response was, “And you keep shaving?” In his excellent book, The Ultimate Priority ([Moody Press], pp. 79-80), he writes, “I am certain that if the people today who claim to have seen God really saw Him, they wouldn’t be lining up to get on the latest Christian talk show; they’d be lying prostrate on the ground, grieving over their sin.”
As we gather to worship, it would transform us and our worship if we would focus on the truth that we are gathering in God’s holy presence. We should not come primarily to meet with our friends, although fellowship is an important function of the church. We should come primarily to meet with God. True corporate worship involves focusing on the fact that the Holy God is here. That means that ...
Since the ark was the visible symbol of the presence of God in the midst of His people, you would think that there would have been a uniform response of reverence on the part of all who were in the presence of the ark. But if you go back about 75 years and trace the history of the ark, you find quite different and instructive responses to its presence.
The Israelites: “A good luck charm” (1 Sam. 4): The worship of God was a dead ritual for most of Israel at this time. The two priestly sons of Eli were corrupt, committing immorality with women at the doorway of the Tabernacle (2:22). When they encountered difficulties with the Philistines, someone got the idea, “Let’s get the ark and carry it into battle” (4:3, 5-11). They were using it as a good luck charm. God allowed them to be defeated, and the ark was captured by the Philistines.
There are churchgoers in our day who attempt to use the church as a good luck charm. They’re having problems in their lives, so they think, “I’ll go to church and try to rub God the right way and maybe He will solve my problems.” But for them, worship is nothing more than a good luck charm to try to get God on their side. They know nothing of God’s holy presence.
The Philistines: “A plague” (1 Sam. 5): The Philistines set up the ark next to their god, Dagon, but the Lord caused their idol to fall down and break into pieces. Next, God struck them all with tumors of some sort (some scholars have suggested hemorrhoids) and with mice (5:6; 6:4-5). As you can imagine, the Philistines wanted to get rid of the ark as quickly as possible. They were quite uncomfortable (literally) with the presence of God.
Even so, there are some who feel a plague of guilt when they come near a church where God’s presence is known. They are uncomfortable around those who manifest the presence of the Lord.
Abinadab: “Ho hum!” (1 Sam. 7:1-2; 2 Sam. 6:3): The Philistines sent the ark back to Israel on a cart, and it wound up in the house of Abinadab. It had been there for almost 70 years by David’s time. It is significant that we do not read of any results in Abinadab’s household for having the ark there all those years. We’ll see in a moment that it was in Obed-edom’s house for just three months and resulted in great blessing. But it was 70 years in Abinadab’s house, and nothing happened.
Some churchgoers are like that. They can come for years into a church where God is present, but it has no appreciable effect on their lives. “Huh? What’s that gold box up there on the mantle? Oh, it’s the ark of the covenant. Interesting piece of furniture, isn’t it? Ho hum.” You can be in the very presence of God and have it glance right off, if your heart isn’t seeking after Him.
Uzzah: “Don’t have a cow, man!” (2 Sam. 6:6-7): That’s what Uzzah might have said if he had lived in our day and if he had lived to say anything! As David and company moved the ark toward Jerusalem on an oxcart, the oxen stumbled and the ark almost fell to the dirt. Uzzah reached out his hand to steady it and God struck him dead on the spot.
Some folks think that God was a bit touchy and harsh for doing this. Even David got angry at God, as we shall see. What was so bad about what Uzzah did? After all, he was just trying to help, wasn’t he? Any wagon driver would have done the same with any valuable piece of furniture under his care, wouldn’t he?
Yes, and that was precisely Uzzah’s problem. He saw no difference between the ark and any other valuable article. He was overly familiar with that which was utterly sacred. Uzzah was the son (or grandson) of Abinadab. He had grown up with the ark in his home. It was commonplace to him: “What’s the big deal?” But he should have known that even the Levitical priests who carried the ark were not permitted to touch it, but carried it on poles inserted through rings attached to it.
Some in our day--often they are people who have grown up in the church--trifle with the things of God. God is commonplace to them. I once worked with a young man who was studying for the ministry at a liberal seminary. At work one day he joked about how he had been drunk Saturday night and had spent the night in immorality with his girl friend, but had to get up and conduct a communion service for some young people the next day. I was horrified at his flippancy toward God! He wasn’t struck dead on the spot, but he was in grave danger spiritually.
Those who have a problem with what God did to Uzzah need to gain the Bible’s perspective on God’s absolute holiness and man’s utter sinfulness. As R. C. Sproul points out (The Holiness of God [Tyndale, p. 141), what Uzzah did was an act of arrogance. He “assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would desecrate the ark; it was the touch of man.” We need to take God seriously!
David: “Angry at God” (1 Sam. 6:8-10): David got angry at God and then he grew afraid--not a healthy fear of the Lord, but an unhealthy fear that caused him to draw back and ask, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” There was some pride behind David’s anger. He was embarrassed in front of the crowd. God had not done things David’s way. God had rained on David’s parade.
But the problem wasn’t that God hadn’t done things David’s way, but that David hadn’t done things God’s way. God’s Word is clear that the ark had to be carried by the Levites in a prescribed way, on their shoulders without touching it, not on an oxcart (Num. 4:15; 7:6-9). Where had they gotten the idea of an oxcart? From the Philistines (1 Sam. 6:7)! It worked in the world; why not bring it into the church?
Any time the church starts imitating the world in its worship, they can’t expect the Lord to give His blessing. And, they dare not get mad at God when He doesn’t! There are folks in the church who think that they want God’s presence, but they don’t understand God’s holiness. Or they play loose with God’s truth. When things don’t go the way they wanted, they get angry and blame God. What they ought to do is get on their faces and figure out why God’s blessing is not on their lives or on their church.
Michal: “Don’t get fanatical!” (6:16, 20). She was David’s wife, but here she is called the daughter of Saul to show where she’s coming from. Notice her relationship to the worship celebration: She was a spectator (6:16). Why wasn’t she a participant? She should have been down in the streets, rejoicing in the celebration. But instead she peeked out the window and got embarrassed by what she saw as David’s fanaticism. Michal loved David the warrior but she could not sympathize with David the worshiper. That embarrassed her. Her problem, like that of her father, was pride. David had dealt with his earlier pride and now he humbled himself to worship the Lord without caring what others thought (6:22). Michal was not willing to humble herself, and so the Lord humbled her with the ultimate disgrace in that society, barrenness (6:23).
The critics of true worshipers are always proud spectators, not humble participants. They’re concerned about what others may think. It doesn’t occur to them to be concerned about what God thinks.
Obed-edom: “Delighted in God” (6:10-11). We’re not sure who Obed-edom was. He was probably a Levite who lived nearby. But he had no problem bringing the ark to his house right after Uzzah was stuck dead for touching it! Isn’t that amazing! Can’t you hear him: “Hey, this is great! Put it over there on the coffee table, guys!” Here was a man whose heart was right before the Lord. The presence of God was not a threat to him. It was a delight! He was totally comfortable living with God in the midst of his home. So the Lord blessed the man and his household (6:11). David heard about it, got his heart right with the Lord and joined Obed-edom in desiring the presence of God again. But Obed-edom had something to teach David (and us) in that he wanted the ark of the holy presence of God with him immediately after Uzzah had been struck dead for touching it.
How would you feel if, as happened in the early church with Ananias and Sapphira, someone here was struck dead for trifling with God and then Jesus appeared bodily and said, “I’d like to come live in your home for three months”? Would you welcome Him or would you be a bit nervous? He is there, you know! If you revere God in your personal devotions and in your corporate worship, you’d be delighted at the prospect, as Obed-edom was.
How could it be that the same ark could be one man’s delight and another man’s death? How could the same ark be one man’s pleasure and another man’s plague? How could the same ark result in seven different responses?
The difference must not lie with the ark of God’s presence, but with the hearts of the people who were in contact with the ark. If that is so, where is your heart? Do you come on Sundays expecting to meet with God? One way to answer that question is to ask another question: How carefully do you prepare your heart for that meeting?
If you were granted an audience with the president, would you prepare yourself before you went, or would you just go into his office in your work clothes? If you’re going to meet with the holy God, should you not at least spend a few minutes beforehand preparing your heart? The Hebrews didn’t have a bad idea in beginning their Sabbath at sundown the night before. That way, they were ready for worship the following day. I find it helpful to spend a portion of Saturday night getting my heart ready for meeting with the Lord corporately on Sunday morning.
Another way to answer the question of whether or not you come expecting to meet with God on Sundays is to ask, “Would you worship any differently if Christ were watching you?” One night something happened to Pastor A. J. Gordon that transformed his ministry. He dreamed he was in his pulpit ready to deliver his Sunday morning message when a stranger with a regal yet loving look attracted his attention. As he preached, his eyes kept returning to that unique guest. While the closing hymn was being sung, he decided to speak with him. But before he could get to the back door, the unknown man was gone. As the dream continued, this same person came back again at the evening service. Once more he slipped out before the minister could shake his hand.
Turning to one of his deacons, the pastor inquired, “Who was that man?” “Oh, didn’t you recognize Him? That was Jesus of Nazareth!” “You mean Christ Himself was listening to me? What did He say?” exclaimed the preacher. Before the deacon could reply, Gordon awoke with a start. It had all been so real that he could hardly believe he had been dreaming. For the first time he fully appreciated the reality that the Lord Jesus is present in a special way when His people gather for worship. This thought changed his ministry. (From “Our Daily Bread” [6/77].)
What about it? Would you sing any differently if Christ were listening? Would you worship any differently if Christ were watching? Would you listen to His Word being preached more attentively if He were in the chair next to you? He is present, of course. The question is, Are you aware of His presence? Do you come expecting Him to be present, expecting to meet with Him as we gather in His name?
Go through the list of various responses to God’s presence in the ark again. Which one fits you the closest?
Could you, like the Israelites of old, be hoping that God’s presence will be a good luck charm, that if you’ll go to church, maybe God will bless your plans for your life?
Or, like the Philistines, could it be that God’s presence makes you uncomfortable? Could there be guilt in your life because you have never come to the cross of Christ for pardon and cleaning?
Or, like Abinadab, is God’s presence in the church something which doesn’t affect you in the least? Ho-hum! Another church service.
Or, like Uzzah, are you too familiar with God? Do you treat as commonplace that which is sacred? Have you, through over-familiarity, lost a sense of awe toward the things of God?
Or, perhaps like David on this occasion, you wanted God’s presence, but when you got a glimpse of His absolute holiness, you drew back and weren’t so sure you wanted to be that close to God.
Or, like Michal, could you be a spectator who doesn’t believe in getting too fanatical about worship?
Or, like Obed-edom, do you welcome the presence of the living God into your home and life, resulting in great blessing to you and to all your household? Do you come to the gatherings of the church expecting to meet with God and to experience His presence? True corporate worship should be a reverent response God’s presence.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
That wise theologian, Erma Bombeck, reported an experience she had in church. A row or two in front of her sat a mother with a normal five-year-old boy, which means, he couldn’t sit still. As he squirmed and looked over the pew at those behind him, he was smiling. Then Erma heard the mother sternly whisper, “Stop smiling! Don’t you know that we’re in church?”
Is God pleased or saddened when His people are stern, stiff, and untouched in their emotions when they worship Him? Would anyone visiting our church be able to figure out by watching us that one of the fruits which our God produces in us is great joy?
As we saw last week in 2 Samuel 6, worship should be a reverent response to God’s holy presence. We dare not be flippant or treat God as commonplace. But we would err to conclude that reverence doesn’t mix with a joyful celebration. Granted, we don’t normally link celebration with reverence. A celebration evokes images of a wild, raucous, noisy event, whereas reverence brings to mind soberness and silence. While there is a place for silence and soberness in public worship, a second look at 2 Samuel 6 shows that true corporate worship can be both reverent and joyful:
Worship should be a joyful celebration before the Lord in accordance with His truth.
The Hebrew word for celebrate (6:5, 21) comes from a root word meaning to laugh. Our God wants His people to be filled with a holy joy in His presence. Note three things about this joyful celebration as David brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem:
Note 6:14, “dancing ... with all his might”; 6:15, “with shouting and the sound of trumpet.” David really got into worship! He wasn’t sitting there looking out the window or reading the bulletin. He wasn’t mumbling through some hymn while he thought about what he had to do that week. He was excited about God and he put all of his faculties--mental, emotional, and physical--into the act of worship. Corporate worship should be done with intensity. Apathy in worship is sin. We’re gathering in God’s holy presence. The risen Savior is here. That’s worth getting excited about!
I find that I’ve got to fight my sinful tendency toward apathy when I worship. It’s easy to slide into a routine, “ho hum” form of worship where I am not giving the Lord the full intensity of my being that He rightly deserves. Remember the Lord’s warning to the church in Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16). I pray that God would not say such a thing of this church!
What was Laodicea’s problem? For one thing, they didn’t see themselves as God saw them. They thought they were doing fine. They didn’t see their great need for God. Their view was, “We’re rich, we’ve become wealthy, and we don’t need anything”; but God’s view was: “You’re wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). One of the things that helps me be more intense in my worship is to see how much I need the Lord. With David (Ps. 63:1) I need to cry to God, “I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Love, whether with the Lord or in marriage, is like a fire in your hearth--it needs to be tended or it will die out. As with the church in Ephesus, it’s easy to lose that first love for the Lord (Rev. 2:4). You don’t recover by trying to work up the feelings. Feelings must always be a response to God’s truth. So when my heart is cold and the feelings of love for God are not there, I need to remember what He has done for me in Christ, seek Him in His Word, and turn from any sin in my own life.
The Lord is pleased when we are intense in worship. Love needs to be expressed. I heard of a couple who went to a marriage counselor. The wife complained that her husband never told her that he loved her. He snarled, “I told you that 20 years ago and I haven’t taken it back.” That’s not good enough! Love has to be expressed often and with feeling.
A lot of couples fall into a perfunctory relationship. They go through the motions of a good-bye kiss- each morning, but there’s no passion. I fear that there are too many Christians who are like that toward the Lord. They aren’t expressive with their love. They go to church and go through the motions, but there’s no passion. It’s like a peck on the cheek toward the Lord. Our worship needs passion!
I also find that the act of worship is a lot like studying: You need to work on concentration. You must mentally set your goal before you: “I am here to meet with God and to express my love to Him.” Then you focus your thoughts along those lines. When distractions interrupt, you deal with them and then return your thoughts to the Lord. May I encourage you, when you come to worship God, do it with intensity! Don’t mess around with worship. The Lord deserves your all.
Look at the description of this worship service: There were all kinds of musical instruments (6:5; some churches think that the piano and organ are ordained of God!); offerings and sacrifices (6:13, 17); dancing (6:14, 16; of all things!); shouting and trumpets (6:15; this is getting out of hand!); and even eating (6:19)! There was something for everyone! It sounds more like a Disneyland Parade than like our staid idea of a worship service!
Before you panic, Relax! My point is not that we must include all of these elements in our worship. We won’t be offering any animal sacrifices here, although we should offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, of doing good and sharing (Heb. 13:15-16). And, while some churches have dancing in their worship, there is no New Testament example of this. In my opinion, it may be taking the Hebrew forms of worship a bit far to transport dancing into the church. But the point is that we should be open to some variety and new things in worship. Traditions have their place, but they can sometimes kill the spontaneity of celebration.
Even if you couldn’t understand Hebrew, you could tell just by watching David and company bringing the ark into Jerusalem that they were happy about something. You can’t hide genuine joy--it’s got to be expressed. I agree with the late David Watson, an English Anglican pastor, who wrote,
What is clear from the Scriptures is that worship should be a delight, not a duty. The great Jewish feasts were times of exuberant joy and heartfelt celebration. Some of them contained an element of sorrow and repentance for sin; but this led to the joy of knowing God’s forgiveness and mercy. They were always intended to be great and glorious festivals....
Infectious joyful delight in God’s presence needs urgently to be recaptured by the church of today. If emerging from our inhibitions and stiff formality is not easy for some of us, we need to remember that true worship demands sacrifice (I Believe in the Church [Eerdmans], pp. 196, 197).
I know what some of you are thinking: “Steve, I’m just not an expressive person. I always stay calm and don’t show my emotions like you’re talking about.” Nonsense! Two Sundays ago some of you were literally jumping up and down and screaming at the top of your lungs, you were so excited about the Super Bowl. Or if you were to get an unexpected pay raise, you wouldn’t walk into the house and calmly say, “Honey, you’ll be pleased to hear that my pay has been substantially increased.” You’d burst into the house, grab your wife into your arms, and with a smile on your face you’d exclaim, “Guess what? I got a great pay raise!” And you’d dance with joy around the room.
Our problem is not that we’re not expressive people. Our problem is that we’re not excited enough about the Lord. If we’d focus on the greatness of our God and on the blessings He has graciously heaped on us in Christ, our worship would be a lot more joyous. As we saw last week, worship must be reverent; but also, it should be a joyous celebration.
The phrase, “before the Lord” occurs six times in this chapter: 6:5, 14, 16, 17, 21 (twice). The point is, we’re not to be caught up with the celebration, but with the Lord. We’re not to be worship-centered, but God-centered. We don’t want to go away just thinking, “That was great worship,” but rather, “We have a great God!” To be caught up with worship for worship’s sake would be like a young man who is in love with love. Any girl will do, so long as he feels love, because he is more interested in the feeling of love than in the one loved. We want to avoid that trap in worship. We worship before the Lord. It should be a celebration, but our focus is not on the celebration, but on the Lord. There are two implications of this truth:
Worship focuses the congregation on the Lord. Entertainment focuses people on the performance or on the entertainer. Worship leaders need great skill so that the people aren’t distracted by mistakes or other things that call attention away from the Lord. But the worship leader (as opposed to the entertainer) leads people into the Lord’s presence.
Robert Rayburn (O Come, Let Us Worship [Baker], pp. 40-41) tells of an experience he had in a church:
Not long ago in a morning service I listened to a group of attractive young singers whose voices blended admirably and who were undoubtedly splendid Christians. Their music, however, was presented in a very theatrical way. When the young men sang of their love for Jesus, each young woman turned to gaze with almost adoring eyes upon the young man nearest to her, as though he were singing a tender love song especially for her. It was impossible for me to watch this performance and offer worship to God while the music was being sung. The music was sentimental and entertaining, but it did nothing to stir the hearts of the listener beyond sheer pleasure in the appeal of the young singers. To have exclaimed to them following the service, “I really enjoyed your music,” would have been possible. To have said that they enabled me to worship God meaningfully as they sang would have been impossible.
I realize that sometimes it’s a fine line, and I don’t mean to press it too far. But what we want is not to be entertained, but to be led into the Lord’s presence. Worship must be done “before the Lord.”
How could a man who was king get so carried away that he lost his sense of propriety and danced in the streets wearing a linen ephod? We need not conclude that David was indecent, but his enthusiasm embarrassed his wife, Michal (6:20). She was concerned about what people would think. It didn’t fit the image of a warrior-king.
But David was concerned about what the Lord thought. He states it twice (6:21), so we don’t miss it: He was celebrating “before the Lord,” not before the people. That’s the key! We need to be concerned about what the Lord thinks, not what those around us think. We need to be considerate of others, so that we don’t cause distractions. It’s kind of like showing affection to your mate in public: You need to be appropriate, but you can still be expressive.
If you love the Lord, then you need to express it. Sing with all your might! Clap! Lift your hands! Stand to honor Him! Get on your knees before Him! Who cares what anyone else thinks? I used to be afraid to lift my hands in worship. I finally had to say, “I don’t care. I’m not doing it for people. I’m doing it for the Lord. I care what You think, Lord. I want to tell You that I love You.”
So worship should be a joyful celebration before the Lord. Finally,
David got into trouble the first time because he tried to bring the ark to Jerusalem, but he didn’t follow the instructions in God’s Word. God specifically told Moses how the ark was to be carried: by the Levites with poles slipped through rings on the side. But they put it on a cart, and when the oxen nearly upset it and Uzzah touched it, God struck him dead. As I noted last week, they got the idea of putting the ark on a cart from the Philistines (1 Sam. 6:7 ff.)! From the world! After that didn’t work, David went home, read his “Bible” and discovered that the ark of God wasn’t supposed to be on a cart. So he changed his worship. Three implications:
Like David’s ark on an oxcart, all too often the church gets its ideas about worship from the world, not from God’s Word. We live in a day in which the church has become like the local shopping mall, trying to provide whatever the customers want. Chuck Colson, in his recent book, The Body (excerpted in Christianity Today [11/23/92]) attacks this cater-to-the-consumer mentality on the part of American churches and churchgoers. He points out how if the customer is king, then the church has to set aside truth and instead develop the right marketing strategy. You fall into the trap of trying to make people happy instead of what God has called us to, helping people become holy. But the preaching of God’s truth with a view to obedience must be central to our worship.
Think of how humiliating it was for David when Uzzah was struck dead and the first celebration came grinding to a halt. The ark went to Obed-edom’s house and 30,000 people went home under a cloud of gloom. Most of us would have stopped right there. We wouldn’t have dared to try something like that again. “Oh, no! I tried it once and it was an embarrassing failure!” But not David. He found out where he was wrong and he was willing to change.
That takes humility. Pride keeps us from admitting that we were wrong. We won’t change because we lose face. But like David, we need to be open to God’s correction and willing to change in obedience to Him when we’re wrong.
There is a difference between David’s unsuccessful attempt to bring up the ark and his successful attempt. The first time there was no mention of blood sacrifice; the second time, there was a sacrifice at the beginning (6:13) and at the end (6:17). On the first attempt with no sacrifice, a man died who dared to approach the ark of God’s presence. But on the second attempt the ark was brought to its resting place with sacrifice.
This illustrates what the rest of Scripture explicitly tells us, that the only way into the presence of God is through the acceptable blood sacrifice of a substitute. The only way that we who are sinners dare to draw near to the holy God in worship is through the sacrifice of His Son.
This means that Christ and His death on the cross must be central to our worship. That’s why the frequent observance of the Lord’s Supper is so important: It keeps us focused on the sacrifice which God provided so that we can draw near. It reminds us that our worship must be reverent, because it required the death of God’s Son. But it can also be a joyous celebration, because through Christ’s death we have access to God’s presence!
A little boy sitting in church saw a large flag bearing a number of gold stars. Turning to his father, he whispered, “Daddy, why does that flag have all those stars on it?” “To remind us of those who died in the service,” his dad replied. A puzzled look came over the boy’s face. After thinking for a few moments, he asked, “Daddy, did they die in the morning or evening service?”
I hope no one dies, either from boredom or from irreverence, in our worship services. Rather, I ask you to come to express your love to the Lord in a joyful celebration before Him in accordance with His truth. Join David in determining, “I will celebrate before the Lord!”
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
I want to talk about one of the most commonly tolerated sins among those professing to know God. It is a most serious sin, and yet I encounter it often and I find that it’s often excused or shrugged off as no big deal. In fact, many Christians aren’t even aware that it’s sin! I struggle with it myself. It rears its head in different forms: self-pity, grumbling, complaining, depression, anger, defiance. Often at the root of all these symptoms is the sin of ingratitude toward our gracious, sovereign God.
Ingratitude is a characteristic of those in rebellion against God. It was because of grumbling and ingratitude toward God that Israel was laid low in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10; Ps. 95:8-11). In Paul’s treatment of human depravity, ingratitude is one of the sins which plunged the race further into sin: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; ... Therefore God gave them over ...” (Rom. 1:21, 24).
On the other hand, believers are commanded to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). As those delivered from Satan’s domain of darkness, we are to be “joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). A spirit of joyous, continual thankfulness ought to characterize us as Christians.
It’s not surprising to discover that the man whom God called “a man after My own heart” was a thankful man. I want to examine “the roots and fruit of a thankful heart” from David’s experience in 2 Samuel 7: How to sink down roots that will produce thankfulness in us at all times; and the fruit which thankfulness produces.
Background: David has consolidated his kingdom. He has brought up the ark and placed it in a tent in Jerusalem. He has built a palace for himself. And while David’s battles with Israel’s enemies are not over (as the following chapters reveal), at the moment God has given David a breather (27:1). During this period of calm, David’s thoughts turn to the fact that while he lives in a nice palace, the ark of God dwells in a tent (27:2). David wants to build a house for God. His friend, Nathan the prophet, at first says, “Go ahead.” But that night God speaks to Nathan and prohibits David from building the Temple. But God also tells Nathan to tell David that God will build a house for David and that David’s house and kingdom will endure forever (7:16). In what is called the “Davidic Covenant,” God promises that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants. David’s response was to be overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s goodness toward him.
You may be thinking, “Sure, who wouldn’t be grateful if God made that kind of promise to them?” But to grasp the significance of David’s response, we must recognize that God had just said “No” to David’s dream. It was a very tangible dream. In his own mind, David could picture the beautiful building, with worshipers thronging the courtyard. He wanted to do this visible thing for the Lord. But God said “No.” Instead He promised something that David would not see in his own lifetime: that Messiah would come from his lineage. That promise was not fulfilled until 1,000 years later when Jesus was born, and it will not be fulfilled completely until the future millennial reign of Christ.
That puts David’s thankfulness in a different light, doesn’t it? He easily could have been disappointed and even angry about God’s denial of his dream. But he was overwhelmed with gratitude. Maybe David does have something to teach us about thankfulness, especially when God says no to our plans!
David’s focus was upon God, His purpose, and His sovereign grace. A study of these verses reveals three characteristic roots of a thankful heart:
Think of where David was at: He was king of Israel after years of hardship. He had defeated many enemy nations. He was established comfortably in his capital city in a nice palace. He was a famous, powerful man, with many serving him. He easily could have become self-focused. He could have got caught up with enjoying the good life and had no concern for the things of God. But he didn’t.
Instead, his thoughts turned toward the Lord and His purpose. He had a burden for God to be central in the nation, for God to be worshiped by His people. He wanted to build a temple which elevated the Lord to His proper place. David could not rest content while God’s house was not a reality. David’s heart was focused on God, not on himself. So even when God said no to David’s dream, David was overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s sovereign grace toward him.
One of the main reasons we wrestle with ungratefulness is that we’re self-focused. We tend to pursue our own fulfillment, comfort, and happiness. The dominant theology in American Christianity puts man and his happiness at the center instead of God and His glory. It teaches that God exists to meet our needs. We’re even being told that Christ died for us because we’re worthy! So we have people who by nature are self-centered coming to Christ to get an “abundant life” which they think is their right, which they assume will fulfill all their needs. But they’ve never repented of their self-centeredness. Then they become disappointed when God doesn’t do what they think He promised to do.
We have churches filled with people who are there to get God to solve their problems and make them happy. Do they want their problems solved so that they can more effectively glorify and serve God? No, they want their problems solved so that they can enjoy a happy life. Unlike David, they have no burden for God and His purpose. Instead of being focused on God, they’re focused on trying to get God to meet their own needs for their own gratification. They’re focused on self.
Let me shoot real straight, since Jesus did. He didn’t say, “If anyone wants to follow Me, I’ll meet his every need so that he can live a happy, comfortable life.” He said, “If anyone wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:34-35). If you want to be a thankful person, get your focus off yourself and your happiness and put your focus on God and His great purpose in the gospel. If we focus on God and His purpose, He graciously meets our needs. If we focus on self, we come up empty.
David wanted to build the temple; God said, “No.” That answer would have been especially difficult to accept because David’s desire was right. He didn’t want something for himself. He didn’t want a new addition on the palace or a higher salary. He wanted to build a house for God. His motives were pure. But God said no. True, God wrapped His denial in some other wonderful promises. But nevertheless, it was a denial.
What did David do in response? First, let’s think about what he could have done but did not do. He could have allowed his disappointment to grow into depression. He could have sulked and felt sorry for himself. He could have angrily thought, “See if I ever try to do anything again for the Lord!” He could have turned to self-indulgence to soothe his hurt feelings.
Instead, he worshiped God. He was overwhelmed with gratitude for all that God had done. He submitted to God’s sovereign purpose, and was willing to be used however God wanted to use him.
The key to David’s response is seen in the way David viewed God and how he viewed himself in God’s sight. Eight times (27:18, 19 [twice], 20, 22, 25, 28, 29) in this short prayer David calls God, “O Lord God” (NIV = “Sovereign Lord”; Hebrew = Adonai Yahweh). In addition, David repeatedly extols God’s greatness (27:22, 26, 27) and His sovereign choice of Israel as His people (27:23, 24). And ten times David refers to himself, not as “the King,” but as “Your servant” (27:19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27 [twice], 28, & 29 [twice]). Because he saw God as the Sovereign of the universe and himself simply as God’s servant, he could submit and be thankful when God’s plans were contrary to David’s plans.
How about you? What do you do when God’s plans run counter to your plans? The test of thankfulness is not when God does what you want Him to do. That’s easy! The test of being thankful is when God says no to your plans, even when they are plans to further His purpose. To be thankful then you’ve got to see God as the Sovereign and yourself as His servant so that you submit to Him.
Thus, a thankful heart is focused on God, not self. A thankful heart submits to God’s sovereign purpose.
When Nathan outlines God’s covenant promises to David, David is overwhelmed. In today’s slang, he is “blown away.” He goes into the tabernacle and sits before the Lord (27:18). As far as I know, it’s the only time in the Bible when a person sits down to pray. I think he was stunned, like when a lawyer calls you and says, “You had better sit down. A rich uncle has left you a million dollars.” David had wanted to build a house for God; but God says, “No, I want to build a house for David” (27:11). David’s response was, “Who am I?”
Grace means God’s unmerited favor. Don’t let anybody tell you anything else! Grace has two sides:
First, Grace is unmerited, which means, I do not deserve it. “Who am I ...?” (27:18). I am totally unworthy to receive it. If I get it because I’m worthy, it’s not grace. If I can do anything to earn it or deserve it, it’s not grace. Grace is a sovereign act of God, totally apart from human effort or human will. Grace is hard for us to grasp, because it is not the custom or manner of man (27:19). In life, we are conditioned to a system of work and wage, of effort and reward. But grace is not a wage or reward. It stems from the nature of God, not at all from the efforts of man.
You cannot understand or appreciate God’s grace until you are overwhelmed with a sense of your own unworthiness to approach God in any way. Your good works cannot commend you to God. If God dealt with you according to your merit, He would justly send you to hell. Grace is totally unmerited. When that thought grips you, it fills you with thankfulness toward God!
Second, Grace is favor. That is, grace reflects God’s abundant goodness. God, who is infinitely wealthy, has opened the treasures of heaven and poured out heaps of blessings upon us. Like Scrooge McDuck swimming in his money pile, so believers are awash in God’s blessing. David here considers:
* God’s favor in the past (27:8-9, 18). Brothers and sisters, stop for a moment and consider God’s grace toward you in the past. For some of you, it may be the very recent past; for others of us, that past goes back a number of years. But for all of us, whether we were raised in Sunday School or in a tavern, as we look at the past we must say, “God has been gracious. He rescued me from a miry pit.” We were dead in trespasses and sins, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),... (Eph. 2:4-5).
* God’s favor in the present (27:8b). David was now the ruler over God’s people Israel. Think of God’s present grace toward you. Perhaps you’re thinking, “King! I’m not even the boss! I’m low man on the totem pole.” But as Paul continues in Ephesians 2:6, “[God] raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, ...” That is our present! We are called to exercise the authority of our risen Head here on earth over the spiritual forces of darkness!
* God’s favor in the future (27:10-16, 19). God makes the astounding promise to establish David’s kingdom forever. This promise was only partially fulfilled in Solomon and the other kings of David’s lineage. It was and will be yet completely fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, born of the lineage of David, who will rule on the throne of David in His millennial kingdom.
And what of our future? Paul continues Eph. 2:7, “in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” We cannot even fathom the good things that God has stored up for us in the future!
It’s all of grace! We’re surrounded by it: Grace rescued us from a sinful past; grace sustains us in an exalted calling in the present; and grace will preserve us for a glorious future!
God’s grace ought to knock us over at times. Do you ever spend time sitting before the Lord, overwhelmed by His tremendous grace? There ought to be frequent times (the Lord’s Supper [“Eucharist,” giving of thanks] ought to be one such time) when we sit before the Lord and turn over and over in our minds every facet of God’s unmerited favor as if we were examining a rare cut jewel. A thankful heart is overwhelmed by God’s sovereign grace.
Thus a thankful heart is rooted in focusing on the sovereign grace of God. The thankful heart focuses on God, submits to His sovereign purpose, and revels in His sovereign grace.
The thankful heart will pray for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Note that although God had promised to do all of these great things for David, David did not take the promises for granted. David took God’s promise and turned it into prayer for fulfillment (27:25-27, 29).
You ask, “Why do we need to pray if God has promised to do it? If He is sovereign and will accomplish His purpose, then why do we have to ask Him to do it?” I don’t understand all I know. But I know that part of the way God brings about His sovereign purpose is through the prayers of His people. God expects His servants who are recipients of His grace to take His promises and turn them into thankful prayer for His glory. God has spoken, but He delights in His servants who say, “Do as You have said, Lord, that Your name may be magnified” (27:25, 26).
Do you know what the Son of David has promised concerning His house, His church? “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). That is His promise. He expects His people, whose hearts are filled with thankfulness as they contemplate His sovereign grace, to take that promise and turn it into believing prayer: “Lord, build Your church, erect Your temple out of the lives of this community in order that Your name may be magnified forever!”
We need a bunch of warriors like David, whose hearts are filled with gratitude to God because of His sovereign grace, who will unite together to entreat the Lord to fulfill His promise by building the church in this community. God hasn’t shown us His grace so that we can live comfortably in our homes while His house needs to be built. He wants servants who will take His promise to build a house through the Son of David and turn it into petition that it may be done. We need to catch a bigger vision of what God has promised and of what He will do concerning His church in response to our prayers.
I realize that many of you are so mired in personal problems that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for you to lift your eyes to the sovereign purpose which God is doing in history. Maybe like David when he was running from Saul, you’re in survival mode. You can’t think about building God’s house until you have a measure of rest from the enemies of your soul. But remember that even when he was in survival mode, David was learning to trust the promises of God. He was learning to trust in God as his sufficiency. He was learning to give thanks through singing, even from the cave where he hid from Saul’s army (see Ps. 57)!
These things apply to you. There is a promise of God for every need in your life! What is your need this morning? Do you need freedom from guilt? He promises to forgive if you confess your sins (1 John 1:9). Do you feel lonely? “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Do you need assurance? “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28). Are you troubled? “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).
Are you worried about financial pressures? “Do not be anxious then, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:31-33). Do you struggle with powerful temptations? “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Whatever our need, it is covered by a promise of God! No matter how overwhelming our circumstances, we can have hope and be filled with thanksgiving because our God is the sovereign God who always acts in grace toward us. We can take His promises and turn them into prayer for His glory.
You may be thinking, “That’s great! But why don’t I see those promises fulfilled?” I don’t know. But you may want to ask yourself, “Why do I want to see these problems solved? Why do I want to see these needs met? Is it so that I will be comfortable and happy? Or is it so that God will be glorified and His name magnified through me?” The Lord isn’t interested in meeting all of our needs so that we can live happy, self-centered lives. He wants us to seek first His kingdom. He wants us to be burdened for His house. He wants us to be focused on Him, not on ourselves. He wants us to submit to His sovereign purpose. He wants us to revel in His grace. Then, from a thankful heart, He wants us to pray into reality His abundant promises so that He will be magnified.
A thankful heart stems from focusing on the sovereign grace of God and results in petition for the promises of God.
May we all deal with the sin of ingratitude and become a thankful people to the praise of the glory of His grace!
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
I want to talk about the most important concept in the whole Bible. That’s quite a claim, isn’t it? But without grasping this concept, you cannot be right with God, because it is the basis of all God’s dealings with us. Without understanding this concept you can’t have consistent victory over sin. You will struggle with guilt, you will lack joy, you will lack motivation to serve God, if you do not understand and apply this concept to your walk with God. I am referring to the glorious truth of the grace of God.
God’s grace is not some stuffy theological doctrine to be filed away in your set of notes. It is the most practical, beautiful truth in all of God’s Word. It ought to be at the core of your daily experience with God. We cannot begin even to scratch the surface of the subject today, but I want to motivate you to begin a lifelong pursuit of understanding and applying God’s grace. You will be richly rewarded.
I need to warn you that Satan works overtime to confuse people on this essential truth. Some turn the grace of God into licentiousness (Jude 4). If you speak of the need for obedience, they cry, “Legalism!” But they don’t understand the true grace of God that instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires” (Titus 2:11-12). Others give lip service to grace but live under the strangle hold of legalism. Their lives deny the joy that comes from knowing God’s grace.
The doctrine of God’s grace is expounded at length in such New Testament epistles as Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. But who would expect to find it shining forth from the pages of 2 Samuel 9? David, the man after God’s heart, knew and applied God’s grace in his life. Because David was a type of Christ, his showing God’s kindness (9:3) to the crippled Mephibosheth serves as an illustration of God’s grace to fallen sinners as spelled out clearly in the New Testament.
This incident occurs about half way through David’s reign. The story is tucked between two accounts of battles which David fought, and so it sparkles all the more by way of contrast. David was reflecting on his dear friend Jonathan, who had been killed in battle along with his father Saul about 20 years previously. “Then David said, ‘Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’” (9:1).
The word “kindness” (9:1, 3, 7) is the key to this chapter. It is the Hebrew word chesed, often translated “lovingkindness.” It points to God’s loyal, unfailing love for His people. It’s related to chasidah, the Hebrew word for “stork.” Perhaps you’ve wondered why we associate storks and babies. It comes from the Hebrews, who observed the exceptional love and care which the stork demonstrated toward its young. It would make its nest in the tallest fir trees, safe from its enemies. It would nurture and care for those ugly, gawking baby storks with an unfailing, loyal love. The Hebrews said, “That’s how God loves us!” There is nothing in us to merit or deserve it. Grace stems from God’s nature.
You will notice that David said, “Is there not yet anyone?” Not, “anyone qualified”; not, “anyone worthy?”; just, “anyone?” When Ziba informed David, perhaps with a twinge of warning in his voice, “(he) is crippled in both feet,” David didn’t ask, “How badly is he crippled?” David didn’t think, “He would be useless to have around here.” Instead, he asked, “Where is he?” and he sent for him. Grace doesn’t depend on the recipient. Grace is God’s unmerited favor.
There are three things about God’s grace that are illustrated in the story of Mephibosheth:
Grace seeks us where we’re at, brings us to the King’s presence, and keeps us for the King’s return.
God’s grace initiates the relationship. He does not wait around for us to come to Him. In fact, we cannot and do not come to God in and of ourselves. God seeks us out and finds us where we’re at. As C. S. Lewis put it,
I never had the experience of looking for God. It was the other way round: He was the hunter (or so it seemed to me) and I was the deer. He stalked me ... took unerring aim, and fired. And I am very thankful that this is how the first (conscious) meeting occurred. It forearms one against subsequent fears that the whole thing was only wish fulfillment. Something one didn’t wish for can hardly be that. (Christian Reflections, p. 169.)
David sought out Mephibosheth. This cripple deserved nothing and was not seeking David’s favor. He hadn’t turned in an application to be considered for a position in the palace. In fact, he was in hiding when the king found him. Notice three things about where God found us, as illustrated in this story:
Twice we are told that Mephibosheth was lame in both feet (9:3, 13). When Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan, and grandfather, Saul, were killed in battle, his nurse realized that five-year-old Mephibosheth was the heir to the throne and his life was in danger. The common custom of eastern monarchs in that day was to eliminate all rivals to the throne. So she grabbed the boy in her arms and ran in panic. He fell and, I would surmise, broke both of his ankles. Without modern medicine to set the bones properly, he was left a cripple for life.
The spiritual parallel is obvious. Just as Mephibosheth once walked with his father, so man originally walked with God. But sin came and man suffered a fall which left him as a permanent spiritual cripple, alienated from God. We are born with a nature that separates us from God and prevents us from coming to God (“dead in your trespasses and sins,” Eph. 2:1). That is the condition in which we were when God sought us out with His great love: fallen in sin, permanently damaged by that fall.
By the way, notice that Mephibosheth was not super-naturally healed of his lameness even though he lived in David’s presence in the palace. Every time he clonked along on his crutches in the splendor of the palace, Mephibosheth must have thought, “Grace, grace, grace!” Even though God has saved us and seated us in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, He has not eradicated our old sin nature. Every time we struggle against the lusts of the flesh, we ought to be reminded, “Grace, grace! It was God’s grace that sought me when I was fallen in sin. Right now I am just a spiritual cripple, but I’m living in the palace of the king, thanks to His grace.”
David asks, “Where is he?” (9:4). Ziba says, “He is in Lo-debar.” We could paraphrase, “He is out in the tules.” Lo-debar was an obscure village quite a ways north of Jerusalem and on the other side of the Jordan River. Mephibosheth knew that by virtue of his lineage, he could be put to death by King David, and so he was living in quiet obscurity out in Lo-debar.
That’s where we were when God found us. Due to our lineage from our father, Adam, we were deserving of God’s condemnation and judgment. And so we just quietly blocked God out of our lives and moved as far away from His presence as we could get, hoping that He would not come looking. But He did!
And that leads to the third aspect of our condition when God sought us out: We were fallen in sin; we were far from God.
Can you imagine what Mephibosheth must have thought when the king’s messengers knocked on his door and said, “Come with us. King David wants to see you at the palace!” Verses 6 & 7 show us what he thought: he was afraid! He thought he would be executed.
Fear is the response of any sinner who is aware of his sin and who knows anything of God’s holiness. In our day we are in danger of portraying God as so syrupy sweet that we remove all fear of judgment from the hearts of sinners. If you do not know Christ as Savior, you have much to fear in the presence of God. You should be afraid of death. I once heard Norman Vincent Peale tell his radio audience, “You do not need to fear death. Death is peaceful, like going to sleep.” That is a lie straight from hell! If you are outside of Christ, you face the “terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27)! You rightly ought to be afraid, until you understand what God’s grace is all about.
God’s grace seeks us where we’re at: Fallen in sin, far from God, and fearful of God. Then what does grace do? Does God seek us out to condemn us? No!
Mephibosheth’s affliction was a blessing in disguise. If he had not been crippled, he might have tried to challenge David for the throne or to escape from the king’s messengers. But being crippled, there wasn’t much he could do except go along with them. It is those who recognize their needy spiritual condition who respond to God’s grace. Those who think that they are spiritually well often rebel or resist. But Mephibosheth came. And did he find judgment? No! He found the A, B, C’s of grace--Acceptance, Blessing, and Communion.
Note 9:7: “Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, ...” David and Jonathan had made a covenant with one another (1 Sam. 20:13-17). Mephibosheth found that he was accepted by David because of David’s beloved friend, Jonathan.
Even so, God the Father made a covenant with His beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ. For His sake, He shows us kindness. Paul wrote that God “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5-6). God accepts us, crippled feet and all, because of His beloved Son.
Before I met Marla, I’m sure that if my parents had met her, they would have thought that she was a nice girl, but they wouldn’t have had any reason to accept her as a daughter. But when she became the bride of their son, they immediately accepted her as their own daughter. Even so, because of our relationship with His Son, God accepts us into His family. Someone has pointed out that when Mephibosheth sat at David’s table, the tablecloth covered his feet. That may be reading a 20th century western custom into Bible times. But it still makes the point, doesn’t it! As we sit at the Lord’s Table, the blood of Christ covers our crippled feet! That’s the “A” of grace: Acceptance in the Beloved. Now the “B”:
Note 9:7, “I ... will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul ...” (see also, 9:9-10). Why does it mention (9:10) how many sons and servants Ziba had? The answer is in 9:12: They all were servants to Mephibosheth! Grace upon grace, super-abundant and overflowing!
The English preacher Rowland Hill once received 100 pounds from a generous man to pass on to a poor minister. Thinking it might be too much to send all at once, Mr. Hill forwarded five pounds along with a note that said, “More to follow.” In a few days, he sent another five pounds with the same note, “More to follow.” Later a third, fourth, fifth, and more gifts were sent with the same message: “More to follow.” The overjoyed preacher soon became familiar with those encouraging words and his heart was filled with gratitude to God each time he read them.
God’s grace toward us is like that--more to follow:
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:32).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness ...” (2 Pet. 2, 3).
God’s grace does not withhold any blessing that would be for our benefit. “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11).
“A” = acceptance; “B” = blessing; “C”:
Mephibosheth ate regularly at the king’s table. In case you missed it, it’s stated four times: 9:7, 10, 11, 13. Can you imagine what that must have been like for Mephibosheth? He was a cripple living in obscurity at Lo-debar, where the most exciting thing to do was to sit around watching tumbleweeds blow. He is brought to the capital city of Jerusalem where he ate all of his meals at the same table as the most powerful monarch in the world, sharing life with the royal family.
Even so, God has called us into fellowship with Himself and with His Son. He has made us members of His family where we share together the bounty of His table. His grace has brought us into sweet, daily communion with the King of Kings and His children.
Thus, Grace seeks us where we’re at; Grace brings us to the King’s presence.
To see this point, we must turn to the sequel (19:24-30). At this point, David’s son Absalom has rebelled, and David was forced to flee Jerusalem. Mephibosheth had planned to go along, but Ziba deceived him and left without him. He then lied by telling David that Mephibosheth was hoping for the kingdom to be restored to him (16:1-4). David hastily gave Mephibosheth’s land to Ziba. Now David has returned and Mephibosheth goes to meet him (read 19:24-30).
This part of the story illustrates the believer, who has received God’s grace, waiting faithfully for the return of the King. Mephibosheth’s appearance and his words demonstrate his response to David’s kindness and reveal how God’s grace keeps us for the return of Christ.
Mephibosheth adopted the appearance of a mourner. A usurper was on the throne, and Mephibosheth could not enter into the frivolity of Absalom’s court while David was in rejection. Mephibosheth’s heart was loyal to David, and his lifestyle reflected it.
Right now, our King is absent from this earth. A usurper, the ruler of this world, is temporarily on the throne. But the day is coming when the usurper will be put down and Christ will return to rule. In His absence, the fact that we have received His grace should cause us to live apart from the things of this world. It must grieve our Lord when those upon whom He has poured out His grace live for worldly pleasures as if the King were not returning.
When David realized his mistake in giving Ziba the land, he says, “You and Ziba shall divide the land” (19:29). Scholars are not sure whether this means that David restored the original agreement, with Mephibosheth owning and Ziba working the land; or, whether David wasn’t sure who was right and divided things evenly. Or, David may have been testing Mephibosheth, even as King Solomon later tested the two women claiming the same baby. The important thing is to note Mephibosheth’s response (19:30): He “said to the king, ‘Let him even take it all, since my lord the king has come safely to his own house.’” He didn’t want the land; he wanted the person of the one who had shown him such kindness.
Many years ago, Shah Abbis reigned in Persia. He deeply loved his people. To understand them and their needs, he would mingle with them in various disguises. One day he went as a poor man to the public baths where he sat with the common man who tended the furnace. He talked with him and shared his common food. In the weeks that followed he returned often, so that the man grew to love him as a dear friend.
Then one day the Shah revealed his true identity. The Shah waited, expecting the poor man to ask for some expensive gift. But the man just sat there, gazing in awe. Finally, he spoke: “You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this humble place, to partake of my common food, to care about me. On others you may bestow great riches; but to me you have given a much greater gift--yourself. Please, your majesty, never withdraw the priceless gift of your friendship.”
Are you after God for His gifts or for the joy of knowing God Himself? God’s grace should make us long for Christ’s return, when we will see Him face to face. The King himself is our delight.
In 1981, California police staged an intensive search for a stolen car and its driver. They even placed announcements on radio stations in their attempt to contact the thief. On the front seat of the car sat a box of crackers that, unknown to the thief, were laced with poison. The car owner had intended to use them as rat killer. But now the police and car owner were more interested in apprehending the thief to save his life than to recover the car.
Like that thief, many people run from God, thinking that He is after them to punish them for the wrongs they’ve done. But God is after you so that He can show you His grace and kindness. His Son, Jesus Christ, bore the penalty for your sins. If you do not receive His grace now, you will face His judgment in the future. But today is the day of salvation.
Perhaps you have trusted Christ as Savior, but you have forgotten His grace. You have been trying to earn His favor instead of realizing that His grace has provided all. Perhaps you have forgotten His grace and have drifted into the world. His grace is seeking you, to bring you back to His presence and to keep you for His return.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
No chapter in the Bible strikes more fear into my heart than 2 Samuel 11. When I read of how David, the man after God’s heart, the courageous man of faith, the sweet psalmist of Israel, fell into the sins of adultery, deception, murder, and hypocrisy, I am horrified. The scary thing is, this did not happen when David was in his teens or early twenties. He was about 50; he had walked with God for years.
I would like to think that walking with God builds up an immunity against sin, so that after 15 or 20 years, I would be almost invulnerable. Satan would want us to believe that lie, because if we aren’t painfully aware of our own propensity to sin, we won’t be on guard against it. Thinking that we’re beyond such temptation is the first step toward falling (1 Cor. 10:12). If it happened to David, it could happen to me or you. None of us--young believer or old, male or female--is exempt from the lessons of 2 Samuel 11.
Whenever somebody, especially a godly man like David, falls into gross sin, we tend to think that it happens suddenly, without warning. But it does not work that way. Nobody falls into serious moral failure in one sudden, impulsive outburst of passion. Evangelist Luis Palau is on target when he writes (Heart After God [Multnomah Press], p. 68):
... nobody gets fat overnight. It’s one pizza after another, one ice cream cone after another. And you hardly notice it until one of your children comes up, pokes you in the stomach and says, “Dad, you’ve got a big belly.”
Immorality begins with tiny things sown in your youth. Little things, little attitudes, little habits. Maybe some casual petting on a date, maybe some pornography that fell into your hands, maybe a fascination with sensual novels and stories. Little things. Yet if you don’t crucify them--if you don’t bring them to judgment--if you don’t face up to them for what they are--SIN--they can destroy you. They can blur your moral judgment at a critical, irreversible juncture in life.
He goes on to tell how, on June 5, 1976, the massive earthen Teton Dam in Idaho collapsed without warning, sending millions of gallons of water surging into the Snake River basin, causing much destruction. Everyone was shocked. How could it happen so quickly?
But did it happen suddenly? No, beneath the waterline, a hidden fault had been gradually weakening the entire dam. It started small enough--just a tiny bit of erosion. But by the time it was detected, it was too late. The workers on the dam barely had time to run for their lives to escape being swept away. No one saw the little flaw, and no one got hurt by it. But everyone saw the big collapse, and many were hurt. Moral failure is like that.
I want to examine the cracks below the surface in David’s life and then look at the actual break. I pray that each of us would deal with any moral erosion in our lives before it goes any further.
As we have seen, David was a man who trusted in, obeyed, and worshiped the Lord. He saw God accomplish great things through him. He expressed his love for God in beautiful songs of praise. We often find David seeking and submitting to God’s direction in his life.
But there was one area where David failed to confront his life with Scripture: his relationship with the opposite sex. David never dealt with his sexual lust. Satan found that crack in David’s life and moved in to widen it until David collapsed. Note 2 Samuel 3:2-5; 5:13; 15:16. David had at least eight wives and who knows how many concubines (at least 10, probably more)!
You may be thinking, “Well, after all, polygamy was the custom of the day. What’s the big problem?” But in Deuteronomy 17:17-20, God specifically prohibited the king from multiplying wives and told him to read these commands frequently. Polygamy was never God’s plan for marriage. In some cases, God tolerated it, but He never endorsed it. But with kings, God specifically forbade it. But David went along with the customs of his day instead of confronting himself with and obeying the Word of God. He never checked his lust; he just added the beautiful women he lusted after to his harem. God’s Word is the only moral standard. We must judge our lives by the Word, not by our cultural customs, not by what others claiming to be Christians are doing.
The solution when we are tempted to sin is never indulgence, but always self-control and obedience. You would think that David’s passion for women would have been reduced by the fact that he had many beautiful wives and concubines. Instead of calling Bathsheba, David could have called in any one of over a dozen gorgeous women from his harem to satisfy his lust. But feeding sexual passion does not cure the problem. Sexual passion is not like hunger, so that when you feed it, it goes away. It’s like a fire: the more you feed it, the more it rages. The solution, therefore, is not indulgence, but rather, learning to obey God.
Thus the first crack, and certainly the major one, beneath the surface in David’s life was sin which he never confronted and brought under control. Second:
David was at the zenith of his success. He had solidified the kingdom. He had won battle after battle. He was the most powerful monarch in the Near East. He was the greatest leader Israel had known since Joshua, 300 years earlier. Spiritually, the nation was in the best shape it had ever been in, thanks to David’s leadership.
But success makes you vulnerable. When you haven’t made it to the top, you’re struggling and you’re on guard. But when you’ve made it, you’re inclined to let your guard down. You start believing in yourself, rather than distrusting yourself and trusting in the Lord. Satan is waiting to hit you when you lower your guard. Success often carries with it another danger:
David was a powerful man. As we read later on, even Bathsheba, after being his wife for almost 20 years, bowed down when she came into David’s presence (1 Kings 1:15-16)! Who was there to confront David? Joab, the commander of the army, stood up to him on occasion, but he wasn’t a godly man. Nathan the prophet later had the risky job of confronting David, but obviously it wasn’t an easy task. None of David’s servants dared to challenge his behavior when he sent for Bathsheba, although they knew what was happening.
But it was almost too late at that point. What David needed was somebody years before who could have spotted his disobedience and said, “David, I love you too much not to tell you that you are disobeying God’s Word. You need to deal with your lust.” But David didn’t have anyone on the same level as him to hold him accountable before God. The fourth crack is also related to success:
Spring had arrived, and David should have gone out with his troops into battle. But he thought, “Joab can handle it, and besides, I deserve a rest. I’ll sit out this one” (2 Sam. 11:1). Successful people often rationalize that they have sacrificed and worked hard to get where they’re at, and so they have a right to enjoy themselves. They’re in the habit of getting what they want when they want it. It’s a crack in the dam.
Whenever you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, be careful, because you’re vulnerable. If you’re not in your regular routine it’s easy to get out of the discipline of Bible reading and prayer. You’re especially vulnerable if you are alone. We all need a certain amount of leisure and rest, but we must be on guard against self-indulgence.
Thus as we encounter David in 2 Samuel 11, he is a sitting duck for temptation. He has a long history of unchecked sexual lust. He is at the pinnacle of success and is not accountable to anyone. And he has decided to indulge himself by withdrawing from the place of duty. Those were the cracks below the surface.
James 1:14-15 states, “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” This is the exact progression of David’s fall into sin.
Hebrew homes were commonly constructed with a flat roof that served as an upstairs patio where a person could sit and catch the cool breezes. David got up from his siesta and was strolling around on his patio roof. His eyes looked down at a nearby house where a woman was bathing herself. She was “very beautiful in appearance” (11:2). She was naked. David got aroused. Three observations:
It is normal for a man to see an attractive woman who is seductively dressed or naked and to be tempted to desire her sexually. Such desire stems from the fall, but it is not sin to recognize the temptation and turn from it. If David had immediately said, “Lord, my thoughts are not pleasing to You. I ask You to cleanse me,” he would not have sinned and the matter would have ended there.
But when the glance turns to a gaze and sexual fantasies begin, you’ve crossed the line into sin. You may not be able to avoid the temptation, but you can avoid the sin. You’ve got to deal with temptation before God on the thought level!
There are some fundamental differences physiologically between men and women when it comes to sexual arousal. Men are aroused primarily by sight and very rapidly. Women are aroused more by touch and feelings of emotional intimacy, and it takes longer than with men. There are two very practical ramifications of these facts:
First, sisters, you must be aware of this and dress modestly. If you wear seductive clothing, you are making it extremely difficult for your brothers in Christ to keep a pure thought life. You may think, “Well they shouldn’t have such dirty minds.” But if you say that, you are being naive to a basic fact of the way God has created the sexes. I don’t care how spiritual a man is, he’s got hormones. Bathsheba was partially at fault for bathing in a place where David could see her.
Second, brothers, you must guard what you look at. Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; How then could I gaze at a virgin?” (31:1). If you want to obey God and win the war against lust, you must make a prior commitment to guard what you look at. That means that certain magazines, TV shows, and movies must be off limits. It means that when you come across seductive pictures of women, you must turn the page quickly without scrutinizing the details. It means that you must break the habit of checking out the nice looking women. I’m not saying you don’t notice them (that is impossible); I am saying you don’t gaze at their finer points.
Thus, there is a difference between temptation and lust. Men are aroused primarily by sight.
If you do not flee, you will fall. If you linger, you will lust. The Bible never says that you should stand and fight sexual passion. It never says to stay and pray about it. David would not have fallen if he had turned away and not taken a second look. Neither will you. But you must commit yourself to obey God in advance, because once you are aroused, your reasoning powers are greatly reduced. “Flee immorality!” (1 Cor. 6:18). “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22).
Thus David’s first step in moral failure was that he saw Bathsheba bathing, but he did not flee nor judge his lust. He was enticed by his own lust. Next,
David is opening the crack a bit wider. He has not judged his mental lust. He is going for the bait: “I’m interested; tell me more.” And like a pesky salesman, Satan moves in a bit closer.
The word comes back, “Is this not Bathsheba the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Perhaps the servant who reported back was offering a subtle warning: “David, she is married, and not just to anybody, but to Uriah.” Uriah was one of David’s mighty men (2 Sam. 23:39), one of his most loyal, dedicated, soldiers.
That should have settled the matter. But it didn’t. Please observe that Satan did not hit David with the temptation of another man’s wife until this point. He bided his time for 20 years and watched David take into his harem one beautiful wife and concubine after another. Only then did he dangle a married woman in front of him. David fell.
David had already sinned in his heart. But now, two are involved. Bathsheba sinned too--she should have resisted or screamed. And because the sin moved from thought to deed, David is in deeper. I have heard licentious guys say, “Well, I’ve already committed adultery in my heart, so I might as well carry it out.” Not so! While it is sin to lust in your heart, at least only you are involved, and you have not yet involved your body. To get involved physically with the other person multiplies the sin and digs you in deeper. There are degrees of sin!
We need to understand that up to this point, this felt great for David and for Bathsheba. It was all so new and fascinating. It was like being in love all over again. Satan is like a salesman trying to sell you something on credit without telling you the cost. He’s there up front telling you how wonderful the product is. But he never seems to be around when the bills come due.
Even the secular world recognizes this about adultery. A Reader’s Digest article (10/82), “Six Myths About Extramarital Affairs” listed Myth #4 as, “Affairs are fun.” It pointed out that at first it’s very exciting and pleasurable. But it quickly fades. In about three to six months the glow wears off and the real world starts to intrude. For David, the real world intruded about a month later when a messenger handed him a sealed note. He opened it and read, “I am pregnant. Yours truly, Bathsheba.”
At first David had no intention of murdering Uriah. He would just call him home for a little rest and recreation, and the baby would appear to be his. But it didn’t work. Uriah the Hittite was too upright (11:11). So David feels his only option was to get rid of Uriah. Joab complied; Uriah was killed in battle; Bathsheba mourns, then marries David; cover-up successful...
Well, not quite! Three factors make every attempt to cover-up sin ultimately fail:
First, Sexual sin always drags you into other sins that you hadn’t planned on doing. David was a man of integrity. But here he is trying to deceive, being a hypocrite. And when his initial attempt to deceive Uriah fails, he goes further and murders him. Sexual sin always drags you in deeper than you intended to go!
Second, Sexual sin always hurts others. Uriah was not the only one killed (11:17). Many families in Israel grieved the loss of their husbands and fathers because David did not control his lust. Sexual sin is never a private matter between two consenting adults. Innocent people get hurt. As we will see, David’s family suffered terrible consequences because of his night of passion with Bathsheba. You never sin without hurting others.
Third, Sexual sin is evil in the sight of God who sees all (11:27b). Cover-up attempts never succeed, because God’s vision extends into every bedroom. And God is the one we must ultimately face. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). You may cover your tracks in the sight of men; but you still must contend with the sight of the Lord. You may salve your guilty conscience by saying, “Don’t let this be evil to you” (literal rendering of 11:25); but the fact is, It is evil to the Lord (11:27)! Isn’t it ironic that David tried to hide his sin, but it’s become one of the most well-known incidents in the Bible! Be sure your sin will find you out (Num. 32:23)!
If you don’t get anything else out of this message, please hear this:
Deal with sin in your life!
If you are aware of moral cracks beneath the surface, repair them! If you are playing games with God by indulging in secret lust, judge it as sin and turn from it. If the Holy Spirit has put His finger on something in your life through this message, don’t brush Him aside. Face it now! In the context of speaking about mental lust, Jesus said,
And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell (Matt. 5:29-30).
He meant that we need to get radical with sin! If we tolerate it, like gangrene it will spread and destroy us. Like the cracks in the dam, it will lead to total ruin. God gives us the opportunity to judge sin in ourselves so that He doesn’t have to discipline us. We are to do this at the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:31-32).
There was once a man who was seeking an opportunity to assassinate Martin Luther. But Luther got a portrait of the would-be murderer, so that, wherever he went, he was on his guard. Using this incident as an illustration, Luther said, “God knows that there are sins that would destroy us, and He has therefore given us portraits of them in His Word, so that, wherever we see them, we may say, ‘That is a sin that would stab me; I must beware of that evil thing, and keep out of its way.’” Our text paints a portrait of a close encounter of the wrong kind. Hang it in a prominent place in your mind and be on guard. It is out to destroy you!
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
After a tough exam, two college roommates headed to the campus tavern to have a few beers and relax. When they parked the car, the rider pointed out a sign that prohibited parking in that area. Since he usually lent the money to pay off his roommate’s large collection of parking fines, he was annoyed. “Don’t worry,” the driver assured him. “I won’t be getting any more tickets ever again.”
“How do you figure that?” the other retorted sarcastically.
“Well, I looked at the problem scientifically, collected the variables, studied the data and came up with the solution that will eliminate any further encounters with the law.” As he walked away, he added, “I took the windshield wipers off the car.” (Reader’s Digest, “Campus Comedy,” 1982.)
That’s a classic example of how we wrongly attempt to deal with our sin! Quite often we go right on sinning, but we try to skirt around the consequences of the sin. Instead of dealing with the real problem, we work overtime at inventing ways to get away with it.
While that may work in some cases with the law of our land, it never works when we violate the law of God. As we saw in our last study, David tried to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. But he encountered one inescapable flaw: “... the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27). David had not reckoned on the fact that “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
God let David go for about nine months to a year. The child conceived by David and Bathsheba’s illicit union had been born (11:27). Then, when God, who knows the hearts, knew that David was miserable in his guilt and ready to repent He sent Nathan the prophet (12:1). Nathan wisely told David a story about a rich man with many sheep who mercilessly took the only pet lamb of a poor man and slaughtered it for his dinner guests. When David’s anger flared at the rich man in the story, Nathan sprung the trap by pointing his finger in David’s face and saying boldly, “You are the man!” David had condemned himself.
While we could study this episode as a classic example of how to confront someone who has fallen into sin, I am not going to approach it that way. Instead, I want to look at how we can get right with God when we’ve done wrong. God has made provision for us to experience consistent victory over sin. But in spite of this, we all do sin. It is therefore important that we learn how to deal with our sin God’s way so that we can be restored in our relationship with Him and go on growing in His grace. David’s response to Nathan’s rebuke shows us that
We get right with God when we’ve sinned by confession and by submission to God’s dealings with us.
David confessed his sin openly (12:13; Psalms 32, 51) and he submitted to God’s discipline (the death of the child and the ongoing painful consequences in David’s family [12:10-23]).
I realize that the ideas of confession and submission probably strike some of you as basic, perhaps even as boring. But before you tune out, I would point out that most spiritual failure involves a violation of some basic spiritual principle. In my years of pastoral experience, I have often mistakenly assumed that a person was applying the basics of Christian living. But quite often that is not the case, even with people who have been Christians for years. Thus we all can profit by studying this portion of God’s Word which shows how David got right with God after he had done wrong.
To understand confession, we must first look at ...
Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, there has been the innate tendency in the human heart to attempt to cover our sin. Sin results in guilt and estrangement from God and from our fellow man. Our sin embarrasses us and so we try, as Adam and Eve did, to put our fig leaves in place to cover our sin. There are various types of “fig leaves” that we use in our attempts to hide our sin from God and from one another:
(1) Deception and lying. David tried this first. He brought Bathsheba’s husband Uriah home from the battle and tried to get him to have relations with his wife so that the child would appear to be his. The human heart “is more deceitful than all else” (Jer. 17:9). So almost invariably when there is major sin, there is also deceit and lying.
(2) Being judgmental of others. The person who covers instead of confesses his sin is often judgmental of the same or even lesser sins in others. Note David’s harsh reaction to the rich man in Nathan’s parable (12:5-6). The law of Moses did prescribe four-fold restitution for the sheep (Exod. 22:1), but not the death of the one who took it. Certainly taking the man’s pet lamb was a crime, but it was nothing compared to David’s crime of taking a man’s wife. David’s harsh condemnation was a fig leaf to cover up his own wrong. If Nathan had not known better, he would have thought, “My, how zealous David is against evil!”
Some guys put limburger cheese very gently on a fraternity brother’s moustache while he slept. He woke about an hour later and said, “This room stinks!” He walked into the hall and said, “This hall stinks!” He walked into the living room and said, “This living room stinks!” Then, still perplexed as to where the smell was coming from, he walked outside and exclaimed, “This whole world stinks!” The real problem wasn’t the house or the world; the real problem was right under his own nose--just like sin in our lives! When you excuse sin in your own life, you often become very critical and judgmental of others. A third “fig leaf”:
(3) Attacking the one who confronts us. David did not do this with Nathan, probably because Nathan was so shrewd in the way he got David to condemn himself. But if Nathan had been more direct, who knows but what David would have said, “Who are you to condemn me? You’re just a legalist, Nathan!”
Even though David didn’t yet realize it, the rich man in Nathan’s parable confronted David. David’s angry response was to attack the man: “He deserves to die.” We sometimes attack our confronter by applying the law to him but not to ourselves. If a man who stole a lamb deserves to die, what about an adulterer and murderer? “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:5).
We’re often like the college student who was filling out a questionnaire to help determine roommate compatibility. By the questions, “Do you make your bed regularly?” and “Do you consider yourself a neat person?” he checked the box marked “Yes.”
His mother read his answers and, knowing they were far from the truth, asked why he had lied. “What?” he replied. “And have them stick me with some slob!” (Reader’s Digest, [12/85], p. 109.)
As someone put it, “Most of us are umpires at heart; we like to call balls and strikes on somebody else.” We’re all adept at applying God’s standard to others, but dodging its application for us.
So, the one being confronted often attacks the confronter, rather than facing his own sin. Two brief applications:
(a) If you find yourself getting angry and attacking the person who confronts you with your sin, it should serve as a warning that there may be some truth to the charges.
(b) If you go to confront someone in their sin, be prepared to bear the brunt of their anger. Recognize it for what it is--a fig leaf--and don’t take it personally. A fourth fig leaf:
(4) Rationalizing our sin. David did this when he sent word to Joab, “... the sword devours one as well as another” (11:25). In other words, “That’s the way it goes! We’re not responsible for such mishaps.” We rationalize when we make up excuses to absolve us of responsibility for our sin. Our whole criminal justice system has bought heavily into this mentality. Everyone is a victim, but no one seems to be responsible for his actions: “It’s just the way I am!” “I had a tough childhood!” “If you had been through what I’ve been through, you’d understand why I behave like I do!” A fifth fig leaf:
(5) Blaming others or God. David did not use this one, as far as the text reveals, but I include it because it’s so common. Adam blamed Eve and the Lord who gave Eve to him; Eve blamed the serpent. And we’ve all been in the blame game ever since. David could have blamed Bathsheba for bathing in a visible location. He could have blamed God for giving him such a strong sex drive. But if you’re blaming, you’re not confessing. Whatever fig leaf we use, covering our sin is not confessing it.
David confesses his sin in 12:13: “I have sinned against the Lord.” In Psalm 32:5 (written after David’s confession, to extol the blessings of God’s forgiveness), David wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’” The word “confess” used in that verse means to make known or declare. God’s method is not to hide sin, but to expose it. Thus to confess our sin means to admit and expose it openly before God and usually to those we have wronged.
For confession of sin to be genuine, three elements must be present:
(1) Accepting full responsibility for my sin. “I have sinned.” David didn’t say, “We all mess up once in a while,” or “What do you expect when a red-blooded man sees a gorgeous, willing woman?” David admitted his own responsibility for it and he called it what it was--sin. As long as we shrug off sin or see ourselves as a victim of circumstances, we are not accepting responsibility for our sin.
(2) Agreeing with God concerning my sin. This means that I see my sin as God sees it. It is primarily “against the Lord.” Sin is despising God and His Word (12:9, 10). God sees sin as serious enough to separate us from His holy presence. That’s why He took the drastic solution of sending His Son to die for our sin. I need to see how my sin has wronged the holy God above all others. Just as God sees it as evil (11:27), so must I. Agreeing with God means that I must turn from it.
But if we stopped there, we would all be afraid to confess our sins. We would want to run from God rather than run to Him.
(3) Applying the blood to my sin. “The Lord also has taken away your sin” (12:13). Only God can forgive our sin, and that only on the basis of the shed blood of Christ: “Without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Living under the Old Covenant, David’s forgiveness was based on what the sacrificial system pointed forward to. Living under the New Covenant, our forgiveness is based on the finished work of Christ on the cross, where He paid the penalty for all our sins.
All of your sin is forgiven at the moment you put your trust in Christ as Savior. God has once and for all reconciled you to Himself through the cross. But when you sin subsequent to salvation, in order to experience God’s forgiveness and to enjoy fellowship with Him, you must apply the blood of Christ by confessing your sin. It’s best to keep short accounts with God. The instant you’re aware of sin, whether in thought, word, or deed, turn from it and confess it to Him and you will enjoy renewed cleansing and communion with our holy and gracious Father.
But confession is only part of the matter. Many people don’t understand God’s holy opposition to all sin. So they expect there to be no consequences once they’ve confessed their sin. But if our confession is genuine, we will submit to God and His dealings with us:
The fact is, even though God forgives our sin, He does not erase all the consequences. He often deals severely with us after we’ve sinned in order to vindicate His own righteousness and to impress upon us the seriousness of what we did. God dealt very severely with David in the immediate death of his newborn son and long-range through multiple family problems. The genuineness of David’s confession is seen in the fact that he submitted to God’s dealings with him and never shook his fist in God’s face. If we’re defiant, thinking that God has no right to treat us so severely, we haven’t truly confessed. There were two broad areas in which David submitted and where we must submit in the aftermath of our sin:
From our human perspective, we would think that God would have tried to cover David’s sin from public view. After all, this was the man after God’s own heart. This was God’s anointed king over His chosen people. It makes God look bad if the word leaks out that God’s man had done such a thing.
But God’s way is not to cover sin, but to expose it. C. H. Mackintosh writes, “He will prove to every spectator that He has no fellowship with evil, by the judgment which He executes in the midst of His people” (Miscellaneous Writings [Loizeaux Brothers], VI, 169). God must vindicate His holiness. That means that when we sin, God will make it clear to the angels and principalities, to the world and the church, that He has no part in our sin and that He is not involved in our iniquity.
It would be erroneous to conclude that all affliction is the immediate result of our sin; but it would be equally erroneous to assume that none of it is. God uses affliction to vindicate His righteousness, and we must submit to Him in the matter. In Psalm 51:4 David writes, “Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” David wasn’t angry with God for His righteous dealings with him after his sin.
Just as God must vindicate His righteousness, so He must impress upon us and upon the world the gravity of sin. He does this through the law of sowing and reaping, stated in Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
I remind you that the law of sowing and reaping occurs in Galatians, the epistle written to defend God’s grace, and thus it is consistent with God’s grace and applies to those under grace. It is God’s gracious, although sometimes severe, means of impressing upon us and others the serious nature of our sin. It is seen when a loving parent, whose teenager irresponsibly crashes the family car, forgives the boy and fellowship is restored. But to teach him the serious responsibility of driving a car, the parent restricts the boy’s driving privilege and requires him to work off the repair bill. There is forgiveness and fellowship, but there are consequences to teach an important lesson.
The crucial question is: How do you respond when God deals with you in the aftermath of your sin? Do you shake your fist in God’s face and exclaim, “It’s not fair!”? Do you pout and say, “See if I ever serve God again”? Note David’s response (12:19-23). His infant son had died. But instead of maligning God, David worshiped Him! He submitted to God’s dealings with him. He said in effect, “You are God; Your ways are right. If my affliction can vindicate Your holiness and can be used to impress upon others the serious nature of sin, so be it! I submit to Your dealings with me.”
A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He had great fun playing with it in the woods. He would take aim and let the stone fly, but he never hit a thing. Then, on his way home for lunch, he cut through the backyard and saw Grandmother’s pet duck. He took aim and let the stone fly. It went straight to the mark and, to his horror, the duck fell dead. The boy panicked. In desperation, he took the dead duck and hid it in the woodpile.
Then he saw his sister Sally standing by the corner of the house. She had seen the whole thing. They went into lunch. Sally said nothing. After lunch Grandmother said, “Okay Sally, let’s clear the table and wash the dishes.” Sally said, “Oh, Grandmother, Johnny said he wanted to help you in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny!” And then she whispered to him, “Remember the duck.” So Johnny did the dishes. Later in the day Grandfather called the children to go fishing. Grandmother said, “I’m sorry, but Sally can’t go. She has to stay here and help me clean the house and get supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all been taken care of. Johnny said he wanted to help today, didn’t you, Johnny?” And then she whispered, “Remember the duck.”
This went on for several days. Johnny did all the chores, his and those assigned to Sally. Finally, he could stand it no longer, so he went to his grandmother and confessed all. She took him in her arms and said, “I know, Johnny. I was standing at the kitchen window and I saw the whole thing. And because I love you, I forgave you. And knowing that I loved you and would always forgive you, I wondered just how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”
If we don’t confess our sin, we become slaves to our guilt. But there’s no need to do that. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, ready to forgive our sin. In His righteousness, He may deal with us severely even after He has forgiven us. But we can trust that He always has our ultimate good in mind (Rom. 8:28). So we can submit to Him and worship Him, even when He sends affliction into our lives.
Don’t deal with your sin by removing the windshield wipers, by continuing in sin and trying to dodge the consequences! Don’t try to cover it, because you will be miserably enslaved to guilt! Deal with it by confessing it to the Lord and to those you’ve wronged; and by submitting to God’s dealings with you.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” He was right, but we tend to disbelieve him. We live in a day when many Christians, even Christian leaders, shrug off serious sin by saying, “We’re under grace.” If you preach against sin and for holiness, you’re labeled as an unloving, judgmental legalist. Concepts such as God being angry with sin or sinners and inflicting consequences for sin are viewed as outmoded. “It won’t reach the baby boomers,” we’re told. But R. W. Dale was on target when he said, “It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath, that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”
Scripture is clear: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). The principle applies to those under God’s grace.
In our study of David’s life, we saw this principle last week as David’s infant son, conceived through David and Bathsheba’s adultery, died. I would rather not deal with this topic any further because it seems negative and unpleasant. But the Bible does not drop the subject so quickly. Second Samuel 13-19 is an account of David’s reaping what he had sown. This sad picture of David’s grief and misery is a “severe mercy” from the Lord (to use C. S. Lewis’ term), intended to impress on us the principle of sowing and reaping, so that we will fear the Lord and hate and avoid the sin which would destroy us. The principle taught here is that
In grace, God forgives all our sin, but He does not remove all the consequences of it.
It’s crucial to understand this because it affects both our relationship with God and with one another. If we don’t understand how God deals with us, we will grow angry and withdraw from Him when He disciplines us. And if we don’t understand how God deals with us, we can’t relate properly to one another, since God’s forgiveness and love are the models for us in our relationships (Eph. 4:32-5:2).
Note 2 Sam. 12:13. In His grace, God completely forgives all the sin of those who repent and put their trust in Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death--not just physical death, but spiritual death, which means eternal separation from God. If there is even the slightest sin which remains unforgiven, then we cannot be assured of eternal life. We would still be under the just condemnation of a holy God. But God does not forgive partially; He forgives completely. All sin, for the believer, is under the blood of Christ (Rom. 8:1). Forgiveness means (at least) 2 things:
Forgiveness is an instantaneous judicial action on the part of God. God knows that we are guilty and condemned, sitting on death row. But He signs His name on the pardon and we are freed from condemnation and guilt. But there are two crucial differences between God’s pardon of our sins and what often happens in a governor’s pardon of a guilty criminal on death row:
(1) God’s pardon is based upon the satisfaction of His justice. God never compromises His justice in showing mercy. He never sacrifices His righteousness on the altar of His love. The two exist together in harmony. This is often not the case in our civil government.
The way God maintains both His love for us as guilty sinners and His righteous condemnation of sin is through the cross. On the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin--not just physical death, but also spiritual death--as he bore our sins and experienced God’s wrath: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Christ fulfilled God’s righteous demand against our transgressions so that God can maintain His holiness and yet pardon sinners (Rom. 3:26). How does He do it?
(2) God’s pardon is conditioned on our repentance and faith. This, too, is contrary to many pardons granted in our civil government, in which the criminal claims innocence or extenuating circumstances as the basis for pardon. In the world, pardons are granted to those who deserve them; with God, pardons are granted only to those who know that they do not deserve them. God does not extend His pardon to those who minimize or excuse their sin, but only to those who confess their sin and put their trust in God’s provision for that sin (1 John 1:9). Forgiveness means God’s judicial pardon. Because the guilt is removed, forgiveness also means
Guilt results in estrangement. We know this from our relationships with one another. You can’t enjoy close fellowship with a person if you have wronged him or he has wronged you unless the matter is cleared up. Since God’s forgiveness removes the guilt, it removes the source of estrangement, and fellowship is restored. Psalms 32 and 51, which David wrote in the aftermath of his confession, show the restoration of fellowship in David’s relationship with God. So God’s forgiveness which He extends to a repentant sinner means a complete judicial pardon and a restoration of fellowship between God and the pardoned sinner.
God’s forgiveness is the model and basis for our relationships with one another (Eph. 4:32-5:2). David understood God’s forgiveness toward him, but he didn’t seem to make the connection when it came to dealing with his wayward son, Absalom (2 Sam. 13 & 14). The results were tragic.
In chapter 13 we are given the sordid account of how David’s oldest son, Amnon, lusted after and forcibly raped his beautiful half-sister, Tamar (Absalom’s full sister). David’s response was to get angry (13:21), but he didn’t do anything about it! How could he? He was guilty of lust and adultery himself, so he couldn’t confront his son for his sexual sin. Absalom’s response was bitterness (13:22) and revenge. He let things simmer for two years, and then murdered Amnon (13:28). How could David confront his son for murder, when he had committed the same crime? But Absalom fled to live with his maternal grandfather (13:37-38). And David grieved over the loss of two sons, one to death and the other to exile.
Eventually David resolved his grief over Amnon, but he still grieved for Absalom (13:39). It’s often easier to get over grief from the death of a child than it is to get over grief from a wayward child. You realize that a dead child is not coming back, so you can finally come to terms with the loss. But with a wayward child, there’s always the hope that things will be restored.
Joab, who always was looking out for number one, sensed that David wanted to bring Absalom back (14:1). He also probably thought that Absalom would be the next king. If Joab could pull off a reconciliation between David and Absalom, he would be in good standing for years to come. So he enlisted a woman to come and tell David a sad story. She was a widow with two sons. One had killed the other and now the rest of the family was demanding the death of the surviving son. She asked for a merciful intervention. Setting aside justice in favor of love, David said, “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground” (14:11).
Then the woman sprung the trap and applied her story to David and Absalom. David reluctantly agreed to let Absalom come back. But for over two full years after he returned Absalom was not allowed to see David face to face (14:24, 28). David was lenient in letting Absalom return without any confession of wrongdoing. But he tried to make Absalom pay for his crime by withholding love and fellowship. So, unlike God’s forgiveness in which there is confession on the sinner’s part; and pardon, restoration of fellowship, and some sort of consequences from God, you have a kind of undefined, halfway “forgiveness” that only deepened Absalom’s rebellion and alienation from his father.
I want to apply this lesson to our relationships with one another, especially in the family. Many parents make the mistake David made. Instead of dealing with their children’s disobedience through confession on the part of the child; and pardon, restoration of fellowship, and some sort of consequences from the parents (as God deals with us), parents will extend a partial “forgiveness” without any repentance on the part of the child. They bail the kid out of the consequences of his wrongdoing. But then they angrily withhold love as the way of making the child pay for the wrong. But it doesn’t clear up the relationship. It only breeds further alienation and rebellion. We must forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32): judicial pardon and restoration of fellowship in response to confession. But forgiveness does not mean removal of all the consequences of sin.
We need to understand that this is just as much a part of God’s grace as His forgiveness is. If God forgave and also wiped out all the consequences of our sin, we would never learn the seriousness of sin and we would go right out and sin all the more. We would not learn to fear God. We would not apprehend His righteousness nor see any need to do so. Like Absalom, we would plot rebellion and know nothing of submission. So God, even though He pardons all our sin and restores fellowship, graciously imposes ongoing consequences.
I want to trace briefly the consequences which David reaped as a result of his sin. Nathan the prophet predicted them in 12:10-11, 14. I want us to feel something of the grief and anguish which came upon David as a father and as a ruler as a result of his sin, so that we will be fearful of sinning.
David had murdered Uriah. As the rich man in Nathan’s parable needed to restore four-fold the lamb which he had killed, so David would give up four sons in death, although he did not live to witness the death of the fourth. First, the baby conceived in adultery died (12:15-19). Second, Absalom murdered Amnon (13:28-29). Third, Absalom was slain in the rebellion against David (18:14-15). Finally, after David’s death, his son Adonijah was killed by Solomon for trying to usurp the throne (1 Kings 2:24-25). David barely had a rest from one period of grieving to the next.
There is hardly a more piteous scene in the Bible than David’s lament over Absalom’s death (2 Sam. 18:33): “And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you. O Absalom, my son, my son!’” Remember that scene when sin entices you!
David had never curbed his lust for women, and he finally crossed the line from polygamy to adultery. Nathan prophesied the consequences (12:11-12). The first crop to spring up was Amnon and Tamar (chap. 13). The second, which literally fulfilled Nathan’s prophecy, was Absalom (2 Sam. 16:20-22). To take over a king’s harem was to usurp his throne. Ahithophel knew that Absalom’s action would cut off the possibility of reconciliation between David and Absalom. But put yourself in David’s place--feel the humiliation of knowing that your son did such a shameful thing in full public view!
David had tried to deceive Uriah into thinking that the child conceived by Bathsheba was his own instead of David’s. When that didn’t work, he betrayed Uriah by sending his own death warrant back to the battlefield in Uriah’s own hand.
David reaped deception and betrayal in the person of Ahithophel. He was David’s trusted counselor (15:12; 16:23). It is most likely that it is Ahithophel David refers to in Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” He was David’s “Judas,” and if his counsel to Absalom had been followed (concerning pursuing David), David probably would have been killed (2 Sam. 17:14).
Why would Ahithophel defect from David to Absalom? We have a clue if we piece together two Scriptures (2 Sam. 11:3 & 23:34): Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather! After what David had done to his granddaughter and her husband, he was ready to join Absalom in rebellion against David.
Do you get the picture of how the consequences of David’s sin played out in the years afterward? David’s family was in a shambles with murder, sexual sin, alienation, and bitterness. David’s kingdom was in a shambles as Absalom forced him out of the palace and usurped the throne. A man’s family and his life’s work are probably the two most important things in his life. David saw both of these crumble in direct response to his sin. He paid on awful price for a night of pleasure!
A Jewish father took his little boy to the ritual bath for the first time. When they jumped into the cold pool, the little boy shivered and cried, “Oy, papa, oy!” His father led him out of the pool, rubbed him down with a towel, and dressed him. “Ahh, papa, ahh!” purred the little fellow, tingling with pleasant warmth. “Isaac,” said the father thoughtfully, “do you want to know the difference between a cold bath and sin? When you jump into a cold pool you first yell ‘oy!’ and then you say ‘ahh!’ But when you commit a sin you first say ‘ahh!’ and then you yell ‘oy!”
You may be thinking, “Okay, that happened to David. But God doesn’t deal so severely with everybody. He doesn’t make everyone bear the consequences of their sin. David was under law; we’re under grace!”
But what does Paul say? “Be not deceived!” He wouldn’t say that if there wasn’t the distinct possibility that we could be tricked on this matter. Deception looks one way to the eye, but in reality it is another way. On the surface, it looks as if you can get away with sin and that many righteous deeds go unrewarded. But it is not so! God is not mocked! There are three things you must understand if you would not be deceived by sin:
1. Grace is free, but not cheap. You cannot earn or merit God’s grace. It is not dispensed to those who work hard to clean up their lives. It is not given to those who promise to try harder. It is completely free to us!
But it is not cheap. It cost God the very life of His only Son to be able to provide complete pardon for us as a free gift. God cannot wink at or paper over sin. Grace is free to us, but the price to God was the cross.
The world would deceive you into thinking that you have to earn grace and that it’s cheap. Don’t be deceived! When you see that grace is free to you, but very costly to God, it will make you love Him more and hate sin more.
2. Sin is cheap, but not free. You can buy into the sin market very inexpensively. It didn’t cost David a thing to lie with Bathsheba--not that night, anyway. Young person, it won’t cost you any loneliness or hardship at first to compromise your purity before marriage. Sex is easy, readily available, and inexpensive in terms of personal sacrifice and discipline--at first! But when you buy into so-called “free sex,” you find that it turns out to be costly in the long run (especially in this day of epidemic sexually transmitted diseases!), and you end up being enslaved, not free.
Little Bobby went to visit his Aunt Mary. When he arrived, Aunt Mary asked him what he would like to eat. He said, “Well, I love your pancakes and whenever we have pancakes at home I’m allowed to eat only three. So I’d like to have as many as I can eat.”
The next morning, Aunt Mary kept piling the pancakes on little Bobby’s plate. Bobby kept on eating and eating as fast as he could. When he had polished off a dozen or so, he began to slow down. Then, with a very unhappy look on his face, he stopped completely. Aunt Mary asked, “What’s wrong, Bobby, don’t you want any more pancakes?” Bobby said, “No, I don’t want any more. I don’t even want the ones I’ve already had.”
Sin is like that: At first, it seems great. But after you gorge yourself on it for a while, you grow sick of it and begin to say, “I don’t even want the ones I’ve already had.” Sin is cheap, but it’s not free--you pay a terrible price in the long run.
There’s a third principle you must understand if you do not want to be deceived by sin:
3. Freedom is always in sowing, never in reaping. Comedian Fred Allen saw things clearly when he said, “Most of us spend six days each week sowing wild oats, then we go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure.” We like to think that we are totally free creatures. We are not. The only freedom we experience is in the realm of sowing. You are free to sow ragweed seeds in your garden this spring; but once you sow them, you are not free to pick roses in the summer. You are free to sow, but not to reap.
Some of you may be thinking over your past and thinking, “Oh no! I’m in for a rough road ahead! I’ve sown some bad seeds in my past.” That may be true. But if you will submit to God’s discipline, as David did, God will bring beauty even out of your ashes. Many of David’s psalms were written out of the crucible of his later troublesome years, and they show us a man who drew close to the Lord and trusted Him even as he experienced His discipline in reaping what he had sown. God eventually gave David and Bathsheba another son named Solomon. By God’s grace, Jesus Christ is descended from him!
You cannot undo your past. But you can do something about your present and future. You can sow to the Spirit today and tomorrow and the next day. “Walk by means of the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). If you sow to the Spirit by walking in the Spirit, you will eventually harvest a crop of the fruit of the Spirit. The truth about consequences is that, sooner or later, everybody sits down to a banquet of them. Make sure your banquet is the fruit of the Spirit, not the lusts of the flesh!
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
A church bulletin listed the sermon topic for the morning as “Gossip.” Immediately following was the hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story.” While that hymn concerns telling the story of the gospel, all too often God’s people love to tell someone else’s story. I think that, along with pride, gossip is the most widely tolerated and most destructive sin in the church.
We tolerate gossip because we’ve all been guilty of it. It’s easy to condemn people for sins you’ve never committed, but it’s not so easy to face up to sin which you have done and have encouraged others to do by listening to their gossip. So we tend to shrug it off. Or we spiritualize it: “I just wanted you to know so that you could pray.” But we need to own up to gossip as a serious sin that can destroy people.
To develop and protect proper relationships in the church, we must deal with the sin of gossip.
One of the tricky aspects of this subject is defining the term. Sometimes we fall into the sin of gossip because we’re fuzzy about what it is. Sometimes it involves a judgment call and we cross the line inadvertently. But if we would just deal with what we’re clear about, it would go a long way toward healing broken relationships and preventing further damage in the church.
Webster defines gossip as either “a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts,” or as “a rumor or report of an intimate nature.” One of the biblical words used means “a whisperer” (Rom. 1:30, 2 Cor. 12:20) which points to the intimate nature of the material shared. Another word means “busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13). Another word means to meddle in business which doesn’t pertain to you (1 Pet. 4:15). Another word comes from a verb meaning “to babble,” suggesting that gossip is empty, pointless talk, often not completely factual (1 Tim. 5:13). Another word, translated “malicious gossips” (1 Tim. 3:11, Titus 2:3) is the same word that is most often translated “devil.” It comes from a compound word meaning to throw something against someone. It ought to scare us to realize that when we gossip we enter into the very nature of the devil!
I’m going to boil all these nuances down by defining gossip as sharing information which damages another person’s reputation with those who have no need to know. It may be completely factual. More often, the one sharing it has not bothered to check out the facts, which get distorted for the sake of making it more interesting. If the one who is sharing the information knows that it is not completely true and his motive for sharing it is to damage the other person, it moves from gossip to slander. The Hebrew word most often translated “slander” means to give an evil report about someone. The Greek word means to speak against someone. James says that if we do that, we make ourselves the judge of both our brother and God’s law, usurping God’s rightful place (James 4:11, 12).
To help us understand how gossip and slander work, let’s look at a case study in 2 Samuel 13-15. Absalom was a young man who was deeply hurt by his father, King David. Absalom’s full sister, Tamar, had been raped by their half-brother, Amnon. David got angry, but he didn’t do anything about it. Absalom let his bitterness simmer for two years. Then he murdered Amnon in cold blood, and fled the country.
Three years went by and David longed for Absalom to come back, but he felt like he couldn’t do it. But Joab, David’s top general, used trickery to get the king to admit how badly he wanted to bring Absalom home. So David consented. But, to keep up the appearance of “justice,” he refused to see Absalom. Two more years went by with Absalom living in Jerusalem without seeing his father. Finally, Absalom couldn’t stand it any longer and forced the issue. The father and son met and David kissed Absalom. But by now, he was a bitter, rebellious young man.
Now watch what happens (read 2 Sam. 15:1-6). First Absalom organized a loyal following and took on a self-appointed role (15:1, “provided for himself”). Then he began to befriend those who had complaints. Gossips always look for those who have a complaint because they will readily listen to the damaging rumors. He took an interest in them by asking them where they were from. It was a superficial interest, because Absalom wasn’t concerned about them, but about furthering himself over his dad whom he was mad at. But they couldn’t discern that. They just felt like here was someone in government who cared. Gossips project that image: “You can trust me; I care for you and I understand what you’re going through in trying to deal with this impossible person.”
Absalom gave them personalized attention like they had never seen before. He put himself on their level by kissing them rather than letting them prostrate themselves. He was signaling, “I’m just a regular guy like you. I’m not royalty like the king. I know what it’s like to be a working man.” He made them feel that here was someone who cared for them and understood their problem. In the process, he subtly maligned the king (15:3) and suggested himself as the answer (15:4). He would give them the justice they now were having problems obtaining. (It makes you wonder if some modern politicians haven’t studied this text!)
That’s how it often happens in a local church. A person gets hurt over some incident. They feel like the church failed to meet their needs. They grow bitter, blaming the leadership for not caring about their problem. The hurt person intends to go talk to one of the leaders about things, but it doesn’t happen. Then, one day he runs into someone else from the church who seems caring and concerned. So he shares his complaint. The “caring” person replies, “Well, it doesn’t surprise me. You’re not the first to have this kind of problem with the leaders, you know.” “Really?” “Oh, yes, in fact I was just talking with another family who ran into the same brick wall.” [He goes on to describe that situation.] “Those pastors just don’t seem to care. We need some leaders who would care about the needs of good people like you.”
That’s gossip and slander in operation! The person who felt hurt had no business telling anyone about it except the one against whom he had the complaint. The gossip tested the waters by saying, “It doesn’t surprise me. There are others, you know,” implying that he had inside information he was willing to share. The hurt person took the bait by saying, “Really?” Then the gossip took up the offense, assumed the position of neutral judge (which the Lord had not assigned him) and shared more damaging gossip which he had no business sharing. Through it all he showed a concern for the hurt person by subtly contrasting himself with those insensitive leaders. Satan uses that scenario over and over to destroy churches and church leaders.
I want to deal with two questions: First, How can I deal with my own gossip? Second, How can I deal with gossip in others?
One of the main reasons we don’t deal with gossip is that we excuse it as no big deal. It’s not seen as a “bad” sin, like adultery or homosexuality or armed robbery (but see 1 Pet. 4:15). So we rationalize it and tolerate it. But we need to see the destructive power of our tongues and confess and forsake the sin of gossip.
Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, ...” The Japanese have a proverb which says that though the tongue is only three inches long it can slay a man six feet high. Proverbs 16:27, 28 states, “A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are as a scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.” Gossip spreads contention and contaminates those who come in touch with it: “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body” (Prov. 26:20-22).
Professional boxers need to be careful not to get into fist fights outside of the ring, because their hands are considered lethal weapons in a court of law. We need to see our tongues that way. James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” The tongue, like an unbroken horse, needs to be bridled or restrained. James also says (3:2) that “the man who can claim that he never says the wrong thing can consider himself perfect, for if he can control his tongue he can control every other part of his personality!” (Phillips paraphrase). Until we see that our tongues are capable of terrible evil and confess our loose tongue as sin, we won’t conquer gossip.
James 3:7-8 asserts, “For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” No one can tame the tongue! That shows the power of sin over fallen human nature. Jesus said that evil speech stems from our hearts, which are evil (Matt. 15:19). Until we realize the utter depravity of our hearts and cry out to God for His deliverance, we will never conquer the sin of gossip.
Paul says (Rom. 6:12-13) that rather than let sin reign in our bodies, where we go on presenting the members of our bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, we are to present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead and our members as instruments of righteousness to God. It is a choice of masters: Either we serve sin or we serve God.
Memorizing Scripture is a powerful weapon for overcoming sin. A verse that has helped me in the battle to control my tongue is Proverbs 12:18: “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” The word picture is that my tongue can either be a sword or a scalpel. I can speak rashly and wound another person like sword thrusts; or, I can consider what I say and use my tongue as a scalpel to bring healing. That leads to the next step:
Ephesians 4:29 gives us this contrast: “Let no unwholesome [lit., “rotten”] word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Have you ever bit into a rotten piece of fruit? You want to spit it out of your mouth and rinse your mouth out. That’s how we ought to feel about speech that tears others down. When you say things behind someone’s back which tear them down or ruin their reputation, it’s rotten speech. It may even be true, but the person you’re sharing it with has no need to know.
By way of contrast we are to say things which build up others according to their need, that it may give grace to those who hear. That doesn’t mean that we paper over people’s faults or make them look good when they did us harm. Paul sometimes warned his readers of individuals, whom he named, who were causing problems for the church (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 4:14, 15). He told the church in Rome, “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Rom. 16:17). So we aren’t to have a “Pollyanna Positive” view of people where we never say anything bad about anybody. But we need to make a commitment to build up others, not to tear them down, whether in our presence or not.
In 1 Timothy 5:13-14, Paul talks about younger widows who were idle and went about from house to house as “gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.” He instructs them to “get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.”
Even though men are as prone to gossip as women, most of the New Testament injunctions against it are directed to women. In Titus 2:3-5 Paul writes that, among other things, older women are not to be malicious gossips so that they can teach younger women to love their husbands and children and to be workers at home. One requirement for deaconesses is that they not be malicious gossips (1 Tim. 3:11). Whether for men or women, it takes time to spread gossip, so if you want to avoid the problem, fill your life with meaningful work and service for the Lord.
Why do I need to share this with this person? Is it to make me look good and the other person look bad? Maybe I have a gripe about the other person, and I’m trying to win people to my side by running down the other guy. Perhaps I want to share information because it feels good to be in the know. Then others will look to me as one who always has the inside scoop. Perhaps the other person threatens me and I’m trying to put him down to make myself more secure. There are a lot of fleshly reasons for sharing something about another person behind his back.
The only right reasons for sharing damaging information about a person behind his back are to seek to bring help to the person or to warn someone who could be damaged by this person. You must be very honest before the Lord in this, because it’s easy to play games! If a person is not directly involved in the problem and isn’t a part of the solution, and if they don’t need to be warned for their own protection, they don’t need to know details. If they ask questions, you can simply say, “Yes, there are some problems, but I’m not free to divulge details.”
Proverbs 20:19 states, “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” If you listen to gossip, you’ll be tempted to pass it on. If you refuse to listen to it, you won’t have fuel for that fire. A gossip will contaminate you with damaging information which may hinder you from relationships which could help you grow in the Lord.
I read of one pastoral leader who once spent a year with a certain fellowship working with their pastoral team. Before meeting them he had heard good things about one of the leaders and wanted to pursue a friendship with him. He mentioned this to one of the other leaders who responded, “Oh, you’ll find he’s no good for personal things.” The first man said, “But I’ve heard so many good things about him.” “Sure. He’s a great speaker. But he’s really rigid and aloof. Nobody here tries to talk to him much anymore.”
Unfortunately, the first man listened to this unfavorable word. But during the year he was puzzled because it didn’t seem to add up. In the last few weeks he was there, he finally got to know the man and found him to be extremely helpful and personable. By this time, the one who had given the bad report was dropping out of the group. The man’s own problems had prevented him from having a good relationship with the other man. (Told by Gerry Rauch in “Pastoral Renewal,” 9/83, p. 13.)
You ask, How do I refuse to listen to someone who wants to spread gossip? That leads to the final question:
It’s never easy because sometimes it sneaks up on you. But often a gossip will test your spirit before he gives you the information. If you seem interested, he will give you more. Sometimes he will create curiosity by dropping comments that indicate that he knows something that would interest you. If you take the bait, he tells you more.
Bill Gothard shares five questions to ask before you listen to an evil report. I find that often I can’t ask these before, but as a person starts to share something with me, I’m mulling the first one over in my mind, and I ask it as soon as I can.
You’re asking the person their motive for sharing this information with you. Is it so that you can be involved in the solution? Why you and not someone else? If it’s none of your business, then tell the person, “I am not the one to talk to about this matter. You should go directly to the person involved.”
A few years ago, an elderly lady in our church didn’t like the fact that we started using the guitar in our worship services. She started calling other women in the church, trying to win them to her side, running me down in the process. But she made the mistake of calling the wife of one of our elders, who told her, “You have no business calling me or any other person. You need to talk to Steve.” Then this elder’s wife told me what was going on. I went to visit this lady and gently tried to tell her that if she had a problem, she should go directly to the one she had the problem with. Well, that was totally foreign to her mode of operation! The next time I called on her she snapped at me, “Have you come to bawl me out again?” But, to my knowledge, she stopped spreading dissension in the church.
If a person refuses to identify the source of information, he is probably spreading an evil report. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was open about his source of information: “I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11).
Jesus was clear: If you have a problem with your brother, go directly to him and seek to clear it up (Matt. 18:15). If a person has not done this, he is not interested in helping restore an offender, but only in spreading gossip (unless he’s never been instructed in how to deal with such matters). You can say, “I can’t verify the things you’re saying. Before you talk to anyone else, you need to go directly to this person and talk to him about it. If you need help on how to do that, I’ll be glad to coach you. Then I’d like you to tell me how it went.”
Often, gossip is based on hearsay or misinformation. Or the person spreading it has listened to only one side. Proverbs 18:17 (NIV) observes, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” By the time gossip travels down the line, it gets even more distorted. We are to speak truth with one another (Eph. 4:25). If you haven’t checked the facts, it’s only a rumor, not verified truth.
A gossip doesn’t want to be quoted because he’s not sure of his facts and he doesn’t want to be involved in the solution.
A professor at Princeton University ran an experiment to test the velocity of gossip. He called six students to his office and in strict confidence informed them that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were planning to attend a certain university dance. Within a week this completely fictitious story had reached no less than 2,000 students. City officials phoned the university demanding to know why they had not been informed. Press agencies were frantically phoning for details. The professor observed, “That was a pleasant rumor--a slanderous one travels even faster.”
If we want to develop and protect loving relationships in this church, we’ve got to deal with the sin of gossip. First we need to confront it in our own lives. Then we’ve got to deal with gossip in others by refusing to listen to it and by gently correcting anyone who tries to spread gossip to us. Let’s love to tell the story of Jesus, but let’s hate to tell anyone else’s story unless it builds up the body of Christ.
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
When David Livingstone, the missionary pioneer, was working in Africa, some friends wrote: “We would like to send other men to you. Have you found a good road into your area yet?”
Livingstone wrote back: “If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.” (In Reader’s Digest [8/89], p. 143.)
By way of contrast, a cartoon in Leadership (Summer, 1988, p. 81) poked fun at the low level of commitment required in many modern churches. It pictured a church building with a sign in front which read, “The LITE CHURCH: 24% fewer commitments, home of the 7.5% tithe, 15 minute sermons, 45 minute worship services; we have only 8 commandments--your choice. We use just 3 spiritual laws and have an 800 year millennium. Everything you’ve wanted in a church ... and less!”
As one pastor put it, “Ninety per cent of our parishes across the country require less commitment than the local Kiwanis club.” (Wayne Pohl, in Leadership, Winter, 1982, p. 95.)
Down through the ages, whenever God has done a significant work, He has done it through a band of committed people. God doesn’t work through the lukewarm, but only through those who are fervent in their love for Christ and His kingdom.
This was the case when David’s kingdom was established. Through David’s reign, the name of the Lord God of Israel was published far and abroad. But great as he was, David did not stand alone. Surrounding him were a band of mighty men who accomplished great feats of valor. They were committed to David and his kingdom. We read of them in 2 Samuel 23:8‑39.
If God is going to accomplish a great work among us, then He wants to raise up a band of mighty men in our midst who can do great exploits for God. In saying “mighty men,” I am not excluding mighty women, but I am emphasizing the need for strong men of faith. While the Bible teaches the equality of the sexes in personhood and in standing before God, it also teaches that God has ordained different roles for the sexes (1 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:8-15). The New Testament makes it clear that God desires men to be in spiritual leadership in the home and church. The church today‑‑this church‑‑needs a band of mighty men like these who surrounded David.
What characterized these men? A study of this text reveals that there were two salient marks of these mighty men: They were attracted to David’s person, and they were committed to his cause. Similarly,
The church needs mighty men who are attracted to the person of Christ and committed to the cause of Christ.
These two characteristics are related. It was the attraction to David’s person which motivated these men to commit themselves to David’s cause. Even so, it will be our attraction to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ which will motivate us to commit ourselves to His cause.
David’s men were not unwilling conscripts who grimly fulfilled their duty. They were willing volunteers who served out of devotion to David. The love these men had for David can be seen in the incident described in 23:13‑17. David was hiding from Saul in the cave of Adullam. The Philistines were in Bethlehem, David’s home town. David thought back to the cool, clear water which he used to drink from the well in Bethlehem as a boy. So, perhaps without thinking, he exclaimed, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate!” (23:15).
It was certainly not a command. Probably David would not even have verbalized his desire if he had known that these men would risk their lives to fulfill it. But he mentioned his craving, and like lovers listening for a hint for a gift for their beloved, these three men slipped away and brought the precious gift to David.
David was so touched that he could not drink the water, but poured it out to the Lord (23:16‑17). He thus acknowledged the sacredness of the devotion of these men and his own deep appreciation for their love. David knew that these rugged warriors loved him enough to die for him. They undoubtedly shared a close bond of love.
Let’s see what sort of men were attracted to David:
(1) They were men of diverse backgrounds. As you skim over this list, you will find a variety of obscure places from which these men originated. Some, such as Uriah the Hittite, were foreigners. None of them seem to have anything noteworthy regarding their families or home towns. There are a lot of hick towns mentioned. (Someone has defined a hick town as a place where you can park as long as you want to, but you don’t want to.)
But there was one thing which united these men‑‑they were all attracted to David. He was their hero and rallying point. In 2 Sam. 21:15‑17, David, who was getting older by this time, grew weary in battle and was almost killed. But Abishai, one of the mighty men, slew the giant who almost killed David. David’s men then told him that he would not go out to battle with them again, “that you may not extinguish the lamp of Israel.” They were men of diverse backgrounds, but they were all drawn together because of their attraction for the lamp of Israel.
Even so, though we in the church may be from various educational, economic, geographic, family, and even racial backgrounds, we can be a unified band because we are all attracted to the Light of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has captured our hearts, and because we love Him, we love one another, no matter how different our backgrounds.
(2) They were men of difficult backgrounds. Note 1 Samuel 22:2. These were not Sunday School boys. They were men who were distressed under the reign of Saul. They were in debt. They were discontented. It was a motley crew which gathered unto David in the cave. They were men with problems, with things in their pasts to overcome. But David accepted them and trained them into his loyal, fighting troops.
In the same way, the Lord Jesus does not require that you solve all your problems before you come to Him. He accepts those in distress, debt, and discontent and molds them into a band of mighty men for His cause. In fact, those who are self‑sufficient and self‑satisfied will not be attracted to the Lord Jesus. But like these men, those who feel the pain and poverty of a life lived under the current ruler of this world will see the beauty of the anointed King in waiting, and they will gladly join themselves to Him.
These men, attracted to David, were from diverse and difficult backgrounds, but they were drawn to the person of David. What sort of person was this?
(1) A rejected person. When these men were drawn to David, he was a fugitive, running for his life from Saul. As such, David is a type of the Lord Jesus, who came unto His own people, but they did not receive Him. Following such a rejected Savior won’t make us popular with the ruler of this world and his followers. But still we must join the rejected King and share His reproach (Heb. 13:12-13).
But why follow a rejected David in the cave? Why follow a crucified, rejected Savior? He was also...
(2) An anointed person. Some men may have rejected David and followed Saul, but God had rejected Saul and anointed David. He was God’s choice. By allying themselves with David, these men became the enemies of Saul. By making David their captain, they declared themselves to be in rebellion against Saul. They were men who had exchanged masters and they now served a different kingdom, a kingdom yet to come, the kingdom of God’s anointed, David.
In the same way, we have submitted ourselves to the Lord Jesus as God’s anointed, His Messiah, His Christ. We believe that He is coming again to establish His kingdom. We willingly choose to become enemies of the domain of darkness and this present evil world system in order to further the kingdom of God’s anointed. He is our Captain!
So the first mark of a mighty man in the Lord’s church is that he is attracted to, captivated by, the person of the Lord Jesus. Men, may I ask you a very personal question? How is your love life‑‑not with your wife, but with Christ? Is your relationship with the Captain of our souls marked by duty or devotion? You’ve got to work at recovering that first love for Him as your first priority!
The attraction which these mighty men had for the person of David motivated them to commit themselves to the cause of David. Even so,...
In David’s day, there were enemies to be overthrown and kingdoms to be repulsed and conquered so that the people of God could dwell securely in the land, the worship of God could be established, and the name of God exalted among the heathen nations.
In our day, the powers of darkness must be repulsed and conquered, the people of God must learn to worship Him, and the name of God must be proclaimed to every tribe and tongue and nation. In other words, the Lord has not simply called us to sit around in a holy huddle. There is a cause‑‑the great cause of Christ‑‑the cause of world evangelization. Those who are attracted to the person of Christ must commit their lives to the cause of Christ. Consider with me...
(1) It is a great cause. It is nothing less than the cause of God’s kingdom. There is no greater cause! Surely David’s mighty men realized that David’s kingdom was the center for God’s kingdom upon earth.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom which spans the ages. God had promised Abraham that He would establish a great nation from his descendants. He promised David that his house and kingdom would endure forever (2 Sam. 7:16). The kingdom of God goes back in history and extends forward in history. And we have the privilege of advancing His kingdom in our day.
It is also a kingdom which spans the nations. God chose Israel to be a light unto the Gentiles. Today the church is to proclaim His kingdom to the uttermost parts of the earth. There is simply no greater cause then the cause of Christ!
(2) It is a team cause. David, as great as he was, anointed of God, could not have accomplished God’s purpose alone. He needed his mighty men and the rest of his faithful troops to pull it off.
Even so, the Lord Jesus has not called us to be a bunch of isolated great people for His cause. It is a team effort. We are part of the Body, and every part is essential. True, not all of us can attain to the greatness of these mighty men. But we all are on the team, and we all have important tasks given to us by our Captain.
Because the cause is a great cause and because it is a team cause, every person must commit himself wholeheartedly to the cause. Note the commitment of these mighty men.
(1) A commitment which overcomes the odds with faith in God. Note 23:8, 9‑10, 11‑12, 18, 21 (a 7 1/2 foot giant, acc. to 1 Chron. 11:23). In every case these mighty men faced insuperable odds. But note 23:10, 12: “the Lord brought about a great victory.” These men weren’t considering the odds for victory; they were looking to the God of victory.
Let’s face it: the odds are against us when we serve Christ. The world has us outnumbered. We face situations which seem overwhelmingly against us. But there are always enough people sitting on the sidelines pointing out the size of the giants in the land. We need some mighty men whose commitment to the cause overcomes the odds with faith in the living God.
(2) A commitment which endures exhaustion. See 23:10. Eleazar was so tired he couldn’t open his hand after the battle was over. I don’t know how long it took Adino the Eznite to knock off 800 men on one occasion or how he did it (23:8), but you can be sure that he was exhausted when it was over.
You can count on being tired if you commit yourself to serve Christ‑‑not tired of serving, but tired in serving. But it is a great feeling to go to bed at night exhausted from serving the cause of Christ.
(3) A commitment which spurns the attitude of the crowd. Note 23:9-12. The Israelite warriors had fled. The people of God were in retreat. If you had taken a vote, it would have been a landslide in favor of surrender. But these mighty men ignored the majority and stood alone for God. The cowards returned to gather the spoils (23:10). They benefited from the courage of these men whom they would have called fools a few hours earlier.
If the church is going to go forward and conquer for Christ, it can’t be operated as a pure democracy. The majority often capitulates to the world. But God is looking for mighty men of commitment who spurn the attitude of the crowd, who take a stand for Christ, and win great victories for Him.
(4) A commitment which takes the initiative. These mighty men were not passive. They were not just on the defensive‑‑they were on the offensive as well. Note 23:20‑21. It’s impressive enough to kill a lion in a pit‑‑but to do it on a snowy day! Wow! Most of us would have been glad to leave well enough alone if we happened upon a lion in a pit on a snowy day. But this guy Benaiah went after the lion and killed it! He also went after this 7 1/2 foot Egyptian who had a spear: “May I borrow that please? Thank you. Zip!”
Do you know what is one of the greatest blights in Christendom today? Passive men! Chuck Swindoll once asked a Christian counselor what was the number one problem he faced in counseling Christian families. Without hesitation the counselor replied, “Passive males.”
Men, why is it that with many of you, your wife must take the initiative in spiritual things? Why is it that if the children are going to receive any spiritual training in the home, your wife must be the one to do it? We need mighty men in the church who will take the initiative in spiritual leadership. That does not mean barking commands at your family! It means setting the example in love for Christ and in serving your family and others.
(5) A commitment which risks life itself, if need be. These mighty men all risked their lives because of their commitment to David and his cause. During the early years of the Africa Inland Mission, more of their missionaries died from the harsh jungle conditions than Africans became Christians. The area became known as the white man’s graveyard. But still the missionaries came. But they began arriving with their belongings packed in coffins. The Africans were amazed with this determination. They said, “Surely only a message of great importance would inspire such actions!”
As a comfortable American Christian, it’s hard to relate to that kind of dedication. I don’t know whether you or I will ever have to face the possibility of risking our lives for the cause of Christ. But I do know this: if you have been a convenience Christian‑‑one who attends church when it’s convenient, who supports the cause of Christ financially when it’s convenient, who is willing to serve Christ when it’s convenient‑‑then you won’t risk your life for the cause of Christ if it ever comes to that.
God wants to raise up a band of mighty men who are attracted to the person of Christ and who are committed to His cause. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Where do I start?” If your heart has grown cold and complacent toward Christ, then start there. The Lord directed the church at Ephesus which had lost its first love to “remember from where you have fallen and repent and do the deeds you did at first” (Rev. 2:5). Remember what the Lord has done for you. Take the time to spend alone with Him in His Word each day. Work on your love life with Jesus. It is drudgery to labor without love.
But it is laziness to love without labor. So once you rekindle that first love for Him, then get off the bench and commit yourself to His cause in this church. “Do the deeds you did at first.” We need men to work with our youth, to work on repairing and maintaining our facilities, to lead Agape Families, to build other men in Christ, to be involved in missions. Commit your time, effort and money to the great cause of Christ as we seek to make Him known in this community. Let’s not be “the Lite Church, home of fewer commitments.” Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. With the hymn writer Isaac Watts, our response must be,
“Love so amazing so divine
Demands my life, my soul, my all.”
Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.