Thoughts from Doug Knox.
The Life of David, Part 9
2 Samuel 7:8-17
Fulfillment At Last
Why so Long?
When I was in the fourth grade, our Sunday school teacher taught the life of David. All of the life of David. Sunday after Sunday, we plowed through episodes about David’s fight to stay ahead of Saul’s pursuit. Eventually we managed to finish the material on David’s fugitive period. In the last chapter of 1 Samuel, Saul dies in battle, and David becomes a free man. Shortly after that, the people recognize David’s integrity and welcome him as their leader. Still, I wondered why the story of David had to be so long. Part of the answer lies in the fact that Saul hounded David for about twenty years. The biblical account reflects David’s history. There is a deeper reason, however. Once we see the end of the matter, we will be able to close the loop and understand why the Lord took so much time to fulfill his word.
God’s Protection over David
For that, we must jump to 2 Samuel. David occupies the throne. A kingdom torn by dual loyalties has welcomed him, and he reigns in peace. In 2 Samuel 7, he wants to fulfill his longstanding dream to build a permanent temple for God, but he hears a different word from Nathan the prophet. The beginning of God’s word to David recounts David’s history:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts. I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.”
--2 Samuel 7:8-9a
In two sentences, God distills twenty years of David’s life down to three points. One, God has taken him from his job as a shepherd and elevated him to the place of a prince over God’s people. Two, God has been with David wherever he went. And three, God has cut off his enemies. The summary reminds David (and us) the other side of the issue. Yes, twenty years is a long time, but God has accomplished great things during that time.
God’s Oath Fulfilled
Nathan’s prophecy goes on. God has even greater plans for David. Here is part of what he tells him:
“And I will make you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth….Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever….And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
--2 Samuel 7:9b, 11b-13, 16
God speaks in both an immediate sense and an eternal one. In the immediate sense, one of David’s sons would build a temple for Israel’s worship. We know this was Solomon.
Closing the Loop
However, the part of the message that closes the loop speaks of an eternal sense. In order to close the loop, we need to look back to an earlier time in Israel’s history. At the beginning of this series, I talked about God’s instruction to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 17. The people were welcome to call for a king. If their king took care to follow the LORD’s commands, God said, “He will continue long in his kingdom, he and his children in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:20b). Look at the difference in wording between Deuteronomy and 1 Samuel. God told Moses that the future king who took care to follow God’s commands would “continue long.” Now he tells David that his kingdom will last “forever.” The dynasty that will emerge from David’s line will never end. From our New Testament perspective, we now know that God fulfilled this word in Jesus, who was born as a descendant of David and who now reigns from heaven over all creation.
I want to move beyond the obvious applications, though, to a more practical application. If we read the accounts regarding Jesus’ work carefully, we begin to realize that he did not just walk into his position as Lord. He had to be proven every step of the way. Writing about Jesus, the author of Hebrews states the case this way:
In the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…
--Hebrews 5:7-9, emphasis added
When Hebrews says that Jesus was “made perfect,” it does not mean that he was defective to begin with. After all, he is God. The word perfect in this context means complete. His mission, while he was on earth, involved nothing less than becoming the substitute for his people. He had to prove his character, and the only way he could do that was to endure hardship. If we move back to the Old Testament, we see the same dynamic guiding David. Can we expect less from the one whose dynasty Jesus inherits? The bar that David had to clear was a high one because it pointed to an even greater King. In the same way that Jesus had to prove his character, David had to prove his. From a practical standpoint, David learned to be a compassionate king through the difficulties he had to endure. No other way existed for him to stand as Jesus’ forerunner. Likewise, we men sometimes endure dark times that appear to be endless. We become tempted to compare our failures to those who know only victory, and we wonder what we are doing wrong.
Not necessarily as much as we might assume. By themselves, challenges are not a sign of wrongdoing. Sometimes, God takes us through difficult times in order to produce character that can only be forged through suffering.
The Life of David, Part 10
2 Samuel 11:1-3
When Good Men Fall
When Chance becomes a Willful Act
If we were to take a poll among Christians about the best-known stories in the Bible, David’s exploitation of Bathsheba would be near the top of the list. The account begins simply.
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”--2 Samuel 11:1-3
The opening verses record three events with only a minimum of explanation. First, David sends his troops to battle. The army is very successful in its fight against the Ammonites and the city of Rabbah. And by the way, David remains at Jerusalem. Not only a first event, but also a first chance occurrence weaves its way into the narrative. The story leads directly to the next chance occurrence.
Second, late one afternoon, he happens to see a woman from his rooftop. This is no ordinary woman, however. The text finishes the thought with the words, “and the woman was very beautiful.”
Finally, David inquires about the woman and learns that she is the wife of one of his respected commanders.
In six sentences, the narrative sinks its teeth into us like a pit bull. It will not let us go. The passage describes our universal craving, the longing to take what does not belong to us and run with it.
We could argue that David crossed a moral line with the inquiry, but even this was an opportunity for him to come to his senses. The woman was another man’s wife.
We know what happens. David summons her, violates her, and sends her home. Then he gets the terrifying news that she is pregnant. A series of foiled attempts to cover up the sin ultimately leads to murder. David tries to maintain what he thinks is a secret until Nathan the prophet confronts him with the truth.
Most of us know the incident well enough that we do not have to punish ourselves with the details. Therefore, if you will indulge me, let me draw four conclusions from this passage.
First, such a temptation not only happens to the best of us, but it also dogs all of us. We are wired to appreciate beauty, and the desire to indulge is only a step away. If we believe we are immune, we fool ourselves.
Several years ago, I heard a conference speaker who wrote his dissertation on ministers who lost their wives to affairs. He said, “I did more than a hundred thirty interviews, and every single man said, ‘I didn’t think it could happen to me.’ ”
It can happen to any of us.
Second, consequences are real. David lost his moral authority over his family after this incident, and the Bible draws a straight line from his sin against Bathsheba to his son Absalom’s attempt seize the kingdom by coup (see 2 Samuel 13-18). Absalom capitalized on his father’s inaction and ran with it.
Consequences can be very bitter.
Third, even though consequences are real, forgiveness is equally real. In fact, God’s forgiving grace is just as great as his saving grace. We see this in David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51, and in his hymn of forgiveness in Psalm 32.
In the midst of the brokenness and the fallout, somehow God makes us clean. I do not know how he does it, but I am glad he does.
Finally, we need to set up moral boundaries for our safety. Defensively, we must be honest about our limitations (we all have them) and commit to staying away from them as much as possible. Know where your limits lie, mark your territory, and commit to listening to the voice of the Spirit.
Offensively, recognize the freedom that God has given us to take satisfaction in our wives. Sexual urges are a gift from God to be used in the marriage relationship. Proverbs tells us,
Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice in the wife of your youth,a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;be intoxicated always in her love.
The sexual act of marriage exists not only for our fulfillment and our protection, but also as a symbol of Jesus’ relationship with us. The church is his bride. When we love our wives physically, we imitate God’s love for us.
The Life of David, Part 11
2 Chronicles 21:28-22:1
The Danger of Starting the Victory Lap Too Soon
When I was younger, I craved glory. I dreamed of being able to exert a global influence in my field, whatever the Lord was going to cause that field to be. I dreamed of relishing my triumphal, stadium-filled victory lap toward the end of my life. Reality turned out to be much more humble. My sphere of influence has remained small. To be honest, I have made a lot of mistakes. My biggest hope is that the Lord shows mercy toward my many botched opportunities.
David’s Premature Victory Lap
As life goes, I am far from alone in a lust for glory. For reasons that remain concealed except to God, one of David’s last acts is a premature victory lap. The incident occurs in 2 Samuel 24. For this lesson, I want to go to 1 Chronicles, a later account. This is because 1 Chronicles 21 includes an epilogue that is absent from 2 Samuel. Here is how Chronicles describes the beginning of the event:
Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan and bring me a report, that I may know their number.”
--1 Chronicles 21:1
In ancient times, the census held one primary purpose, and that was to determine the strength of the standing army during wartime. David’s census comes when the nation enters a time of peace. His curiosity apparently is motivated by pride. Whatever the exact reason for the census, God brings David under severe justice. He tells him,
“Choose what you will: Either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.”
--1 Chronicles 21;11-12
The three choices fall into two broad classes. The first class involves mediated punishment, in which the LORD uses natural or human agents to carry out his wrath. Famine, the first choice, is mediated because it stands between God and the people with whom he is angry. It would be slow to work, but it likely would produce the least costly results of the three.
Three months of persecution under the enemies also represents mediated punishment, even though God drives the enemies’ fury. The judgment would be quicker than the famine and probably would be deadlier, but it is still far preferable to God’s direct hand. David chooses the third and most terrifying alternative, which is to take away any buffer between himself and God. He tells Gad, the seer who has delivered God’s message to him, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (1 Chronicles 21:13). David’s choice looks to God’s mercy, but it also involves God’s unchecked wrath on the land. Seventy thousand die (1 Chronicles 21:14).
The end of Wrath
David pleads with the LORD,
“Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O LORD my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be upon your people.”
--1 Chronicles 21:17
God hears his prayer and directs David to go to the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (Jebus is the older name for Jerusalem). There David sees the angel of the LORD standing over the threshing floor, with his sword drawn. David buys the threshing floor from Ornan for 600 shekels of gold and erects an altar to offer sacrifices (1 Chronicles 21:18-25).
A Greater Work of Grace
God hears David’s prayer and directs the angel of the LORD to put the sword back in his sheath (1 Chronicles 21:27). The narrative in 1 Samuel closes at this point, almost in anticlimax. Chronicles records what happens next.
At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there. For the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon, but David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.
--1 Chronicles 21:28-30
This passage reflects David’s passionate relationship with his God. He was not afraid to be afraid, and in this event, he is terrified.
Where Wrath Ends and Mercy Begins
Fear is exactly what the LORD wants, because it erases dishonesty. David cannot be a poser. Once dishonesty is eliminated, David can see the truth. It blazes in like a lightning bolt. “Then David said, ‘Here shall be the house of the LORD God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel’” (1 Chronicles 22:1). To understand the significance of these words, we need to back up to Israel’s ancient history. Generations before, Moses spoke to the people of Israel with these words. “You shall seek the place that the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation.” (Deuteronomy 12:5). Deuteronomy 12 is dedicated to that theme. In the middle of judgment, the LORD brought a striking revelation to David. The floor that he had bought from Ornan was to be the place where God would establish his dwelling.
A Different Victory Lap
David began what he thought would be his own victory lap. Instead, it became God’s. From this point on, David focuses his energy on gathering materials for the temple. Here are some points that have come from an examination of my own life:
- One, while we are in the world, the race is still on. Victory laps do not occur in this age.
- Two, very few know how long they have left on the earth. For that reason, we have no cause to plan the lap.
- Three, given the right circumstances, anyone can fall to pride. We must guard against it.
- Four, the need for purpose is critical throughout our lives. We may slow with age, but as long as we are able, we must push for the long goal.