Today we begin a new series, returning to the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel. Over the last three years during this term we've been working our way through this brilliant book and this year we cover Chapters 16 to 24. All the previous talks are on our website to read or listen to and you can also watch them on clayton.tv – well worth doing to catch up on what you've missed or as a reminder as we get back into this part of God's word.
We begin with the first 14 verses of chapter 16 and what we see in that passage is that despite human evil, God is at work! This is one of the big themes in the book – so we've seen it before and will see it again. But that truth shines brightly through the details of the, frankly, humiliating meetings that King David has with two men on one of the worst days of his life. It was true for him then – 3,000 years ago in the Middle East. And it's still true today. God is not old or irrelevant and he has not changed. It begs the questions: whose side am I on? And will I continue to trust God when all around me is falling apart?
It's been a while since we last looked at this book so let me give you a brief introduction of the book to bring you up to speed. 2 Samuel tells the story of David as Israel's king. If you want dates, this happened around 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. Before David had come King Saul (covered by 1 Samuel). Saul was the first King of Israel and from the tribe of Benjamin. He started out well but ended badly with him rejected by God and obsessed with trying to kill David, who was from the tribe of Judah and God's choice to succeed him as King. 2 Samuel opens with David hearing of the death of King Saul and Jonathan his son - who was David's best friend. Remember 'best friend Jonathan' – we'll come back to him in a bit. That wasn't his doing, but it marked the beginnings of his rise as King of Israel. The story of his reign is in two halves.
Chapters 1-10 cover a period of blessing and military success. David expands the territory of Israel and united the previously divided tribes, setting up his Jerusalem as the political and spiritual capitals of the nation. He builds himself a house there and then plans to build a house for God's use but God responds with the most crucial promise in the whole book – that from David's family will come a King who will rule a kingdom that will never end. 2 Samuel 7.11-16:
"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 for ever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me. Your throne shall be established for ever.'""
Then we see things go horribly wrong in chapters 11-20 with David's huge moral failure and its sad consequences. The book ends with a reflection on the reigns of Kings Saul and David and points us forward to a future King that God will raise up to rule over an eternal kingdom. So, in chapter 16 we're right in the thick of that second section of the book. David's son Absalom is leading a conspiracy to assassinate King David, and set himself up as the next King of Israel. 2 Samuel 15.13-15:
"And a messenger came to David, saying, "The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom." Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, "Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword." And the king's servants said to the king, "Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.""
So David decides to flee. He's not yet strong enough to fight, and he doesn't want innocent people to be killed. So he leaves Jerusalem, travelling East – running from his son who wants him dead. On the way, while on the Mount of Olives, he hears that he's also been betrayed, by one of his closest friends. It's certainly one of the worst days of David's life. We're told exactly what route he takes, and it's significant because it's exactly the same route Jesus and his disciples take, years later on the day he left Jerusalem to die, when he too was betrayed by a friend on the Mount of Olives, abused, mocked and condemned to death. 2 Samuel 15.23:
"And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on towards the wilderness."
2 Samuel 15.30:
"But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went."
On his way he meets various people. First come those (in chapter 15) who are on his side: Ittai the Gittite, Abiathar and Zadok the priests, and Hushai the Archite. We looked at those at the end of our series last time, and we'll meet them again as we continue through 2 Samuel. They will prove themselves to be firm and trustworthy allies. But now, in Chapter 16, we come to two people David meets as he flees east from Jerusalem.The first of those is Ziba. 2 Samuel 16.1-4:
"When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of donkeys saddled, bearing two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine."
To understand what's going on here we need some background. David and Ziba have already met! Remember David's best friend Jonathan – son of King Saul who had tried to kill David? Well he and almost all his family were killed, but one member survived: his son 'Mephibosheth'. And David found him and then looked after him, in honour of his old friend Jonathan. Instead of killing off everyone left who might have a claim to the throne, Mephibosheth was adopted by David as if he had been one his own children. It's a wonderful picture of underserved grace and love and how God has treated us. Look with me at 2 Samuel 9.1-3:
"And David said, "Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "I am your servant." And the king said, "Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?" Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.""
And 2 Samuel 9.9-11:
"Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table." Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table, like one of the king's sons."
Back to 2 Samuel 16. We've seen that Ziba used to serve King Saul. Last time they met Ziba had not bowed to King David, and had ended up as a servant in charge of farming Saul's land, now given to Mephibosheth. And now, here he arrives, at just the right moment with essential supplies for David and all those fleeing with him. Verses 1-4 again:
"When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of donkeys saddled, bearing two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, "Why have you brought these?" Ziba answered, "The donkeys are for the king's household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who faint in the wilderness to drink." And the king said, "And where is your master's son?" Ziba said to the king, "Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, 'Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.'" Then the king said to Ziba, "Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours." And Ziba said, "I pay homage; let me ever find favour in your sight, my lord the king.""
Can you see what's going on here? David thinks Mephibosheth has betrayed him too. How deep that must have hurt. He's grateful though, for Ziba's support, and food! All those things were needed. No supermarkets in the wilderness! David accepts the gifts and takes away everything Mephibosheth owns and gives it to Ziba as a reward, who finally bows down before David.
What is that all about? On the surface it looks like Ziba is just the next in the string of friends David has already met along this journey, a generous man sent by God to meet his needs. But his story doesn't quite ring true. While Absalom was against David, he wasn't about to restore the throne to Saul's family, so Ziba's claim that Mephibosheth had sided with him and betrayed King David doesn't make sense. He also isn't offering to come with David as those before him have; he just offers him help as David passes his farm. Ziba does seem to have done very well out of the conversation, he's certainly been paid back far more than he gave away!
Here's a bit of spoiler alert. It turns out that Ziba was lying through his teeth. We'll see in chapter 19 that this was just an audacious scam – Mephibosheth had wanted to follow David but Ziba had spotted an opportunity to turn the situation to his advantage and use King David to get what he wanted. What do we learn from Ziba?
- That under pressure, it's easy to jump to conclusions and make rash and foolish decisions, as David did here. He would come to regret giving Ziba what did not belong to him.
- That our worship of the King can simply be about what we can get out of it, as was the case with Ziba.
- But most of all we learn that despite human evil, God is at work. Ziba's actions and motives were evil and hurtful. Yet God was at work. King David's needs were met and God's purposes were not altered. Evil never frustrates God's good purposes. Neither is evil justified because it is used by God for good. But the Lord is able to take evil and with it to achieve good. On those 'worst days of my life' moments, we need to hold on to that simple principle. What God has promised to do, he will do. Nothing, no matter how evil, and no-one can stand in the way of his purposes.
We see this most clearly in the death of Jesus. Acts 4.27-28:
"for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."
Together Herod, and Pontius Pilate, the Jews and the Gentiles thought they had won when they killed Jesus on the cross. But God has not taken by surprise. God took their opposition and weaved it into his great plan of salvation. If he could turn what was apparently a defeat into a victory, then no opposition could possibly stop his purposes from being carried out. Read on and we'll come to the next person David meets as he flees east. 2 Samuel 16.5-8:
"When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.""
Ziba looked like a friend, but was really an enemy. Shimei looks, sounds, swears and throws like an enemy. There is no doubt about what he thought of King David! He accuses David of murdering Saul and his family so he could become king (which was not true). He also thinks that Absalom's plot will be successful, that David will lose his place as King and that he will receive what he deserves for his evil actions. Is that true?
Back in chapter 11, David had done what was evil. He slept with Bathsheba who was married to someone else and then murdered her husband so he could marry her. God then sent a prophet, Nathan, with God's verdict on what he had done. David was sorry and was forgiven. But he still needed to face the consequences of his actions. 2 Samuel 12: 9-10 are crucial verses in understanding everything that happened in chapters 10-20. This is what they say:
"Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.'"
The chaos and evil in David's family that culminated in Absalom's takeover bid, was a consequence of David's sin. So was Shimei right? What do those with David think? What does David think? What does the author of 2 Samuel think? What does God think? Let's read on. 2 Samuel 12.9-14:
"Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head." But the king said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, 'Curse David', who then shall say, 'Why have you done so?'" And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, "Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today." So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself."
Abishai was the son of David's sister. He was David's nephew, and the brother of Joab who commanded David's army. We've seen these brothers in action before in both 1 and 2 Samuel, and they have a definite violent streak. His suggestion is to chop of the man's head so he can't swear at them anymore. He didn't think Shimei was right. Nor does the author. He emphasises over and over – look how many times in chapter 16 he uses the word 'King' to describe David. That is because he is still God's chosen king. And like Ziba, we will meet Shimei again in chapter 19 and – here's another spoiler - he himself will acknowledge that he did wrong by cursing the Lord's anointed (verses 19-20).
"David is not just anybody; he is God's chosen King… to rebel against David as king is to rebel against God and his kingdom… This is not to deny David's sinfulness or the judgement he now suffers (even via Absalom)… to despise, oppose, and betray him is to despise, oppose and betray the God who appointed him."
- Dale Ralph Davies, Out of Every Adversary, Focus on the Bible commentary on 2 Samuel, p200.
So Abishai is right – Shimei should not have cursed God's chosen King. Shimei was wrong – David was not being replaced by God for shedding the blood of the house of Saul. The same principle applies to the Lord Jesus. John 5.23-24 says:
"Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.""
Do you accept Jesus as the Son, sent from the Father – the true King? Only by believing in his words will you have eternal life, so if you've not made that decision yet then why not come to Christianity Explored? By far and away the most surprising thing in this whole account is David's response. He won't let them kill Shimei. When your son wants to kill you, it puts the actions of an angry man in context. David then says, "let him curse, for the Lord has told him to" (2 Samuel 16.18). What does David mean? He is acutely aware that the Lord's hand was behind the troubles that had come on his kingdom for his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah her husband. Which reminds him of God's grace to him in forgiving him his sin, and promising that David's kingdom would be established forever. Shimei has completely missed the Lord's grace, but David knows how gracious God is and so he decides to let God deal with Shimei as he sees fit. As for himself he puts his trust in God's goodness. In verse 12 David says:
"It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.'"
The footnote shows that can be translated as:
"It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done BY me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.'" [emphasis added]
Despite human evil, God is at work. The King will come and make it possible for our wrong to be repaid with good. That's grace. I have done wrong, I deserve judgement, but I receive blessing and forgiveness. Jesus came to make this possible by his death on the cross. We remember that together tonight as we eat bread, and drink wine.