Good Grief

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Well, a Happy New Year to you all! I hope you had a good Christmas too. Could you please grab a Bible and turn to page 254. What we most need this evening is to hear God speak to us from his word, so it's good to have his word open in front of us… Aand it's also good to pray that God will help us as we seek to get to grips with it. So let's pray…

Father God, Your word is truth, so we pray that you would speak truth into our lives tonight helping us to understand and apply what you say. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.

Well, I wonder what you got for Christmas. Don't worry we're not going to do a "show and tell"! But I wonder if you've noticed that the presents you are given are often hints as to what other people think you need. So if you open a present and its aftershave or deodorant – you get the message. A while ago a good friend of mine gave me a joke book – maybe those of you who know me well agree with that sentiment. And a good number of years back I was given the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". It was a present from my boss at the time, who said that I was good at starting things, but not finishing them and that this book would help me with that. Unfortunately I'll never know, because of course… I never finished it!

Which just goes to show that there is often a disconnect between what we think we need and what we really do need! BUT at the start of a New Year I'd like to ask you what you think you need? What do you need to make 2015 a great year? AND is it what God says you need? Or is there a disconnect between the two?

Well we're starting a new series in the book of 2 Samuel tonight – AND to be honest, we're actually diving back into a series we've been doing over the last few years. As the books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel were originally one volume, not two. So as we open up 2 Samuel 1 tonight, we're really picking up where we left off in 1 Samuel last time. AND both of these books of the Bible are all about there being a disconnect between what people thought they needed and what God wanted to give them.

As the people of Israel, God's people thought they needed a King. Which was a good think to ask for – As they needed a form of godly leadership that would mirror God's will and his ways. BUT that wasn't why they wanted a King. No, the people wanted a King to make them like the other nations. They wanted a figure head, a showy king, who would win battles and build palaces and ride around in motorcades.

So what they got was King Saul. Who seemed impressive at first glance and he starts off well – BUT he is proud and insecure and rebellious. So God rejects Saul and chooses David, who the Bible tells us elsewhere was "a man after God's own heart". BUT first David has to wait for next 10 years as Saul refuses to give up his throne. And in that time Saul chases and hunts David like an early version of Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner – As David slips through his net time and time again. Until finally at the end of the book of 1 Samuel, we see Saul die, in shame and despair fighting a losing battle.

At which point you might be saying: "Well what's all that got to do with me?" Actually I'm sure you wouldn't – you're far too polite for that. BUT it would be good to let the apostle Paul guide us in approaching texts like this, as he writes of another difficult part of the Old Testament in 1 Corinthians 10:

Now these things happened to them as an example for others. These things were written down as a warning for us who are living in the closing days of history.

There are warnings and examples for us to find here. And I've got one of each for you tonight. So firstly, let's dive in and find the warning. And here it is:

(1.) The Warning: Beware The Ethics of Advantage

Check out verse 1 with me please:

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. And on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul's camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage.

So David and his gang of merry men have just returned from defeating the Amalakite army. When in rushes a guy with news from a different battle. He enters stage left in a dishevelled state – AND his bad hair day is deliberate as they were a sign not only of his long journey, but of the tragedy that had occurred. For as David pumps the man for information this story spills out in verse 3:

David said to him, "Where do you come from?" And he said to him, "I have escaped from the camp of Israel." And David said to him, "How did it go? Tell me." And he answered, "The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead." Then David said to the young man who told him, "How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?" And the young man who told him said, "By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, 'Here I am.' And he said to me, 'Who are you?' I answered him, 'I am an Amalekite.' And he said to me 'Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.' So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.

What a story! BUT hold on a minute! Haven't we already been told how Saul's died in 1 Samuel 31? Let's flick back a page and play a little game of Spot the Difference! Here's what really happened:

The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armour bearer, "Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me." But his armour bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armour bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armour bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.

Did you spot the difference? The Amalakite didn't kill Saul - Saul fell on his own sword. This bad news boy is lying! In the face of this terrible tragedy – In the face of the slaughter of the Israelite army and the death of the King and his son – he sees an opportunity to gain an advantage! He must have travelled for days to be the first to bring David this news and claimed to have killed Saul himself, hoping to ingratiate himself to the new King. Maybe even looking for a top job in David's new administration. What a wicked and evil thing to do.

And we could call it: The Ethics Of Advantage. It's looking for an edge, it's looking for an opportunity to gain power, to move forward in life. To gain respect somehow, some way – By bending the truth… to bring another person into our debt.

AND we can't just sit here tonight and say: "Oh, well I would never do that!"
• As we all know fine well that we have told stories that make us more the hero than we actually are. In fact some of us suffer from the fact that our stories get better with repetition.
• AND there are times when we are tempted to do something for another person for the sole reason of placing them in our debt.
• There may be ways that we can think of in which we twist the truth, exaggerate, tell white lies - however we would put it - to get an edge, to look for an opportunity for self-advancement. I think perhaps there is a bit of this Amalekite in us all.

So, I need to ask you as I've asked myself this week: Is there any evidence in your life that you live by the ethics of advantage? Is there somebody that you want to impress because you think that their respect is of a particular advantage to you? Is there somebody in your life who would tell a joke and you would laugh harder with that person than with someone else? Is there something you're constantly covering up from those nearest and dearest to you for fear of what trouble might befall you if they found out? Is there a place where maybe you've even turned ministry into an occasion to get power, influence and control? Beware of falling for the temptation of deceit to get ahead… or even to stay ahead. Beware The Ethics Of Advantage.

For the Christian ethic is very different to that. It can be characterised by two words. I'm sure you've heard them before - here they are: Trust and Obey.

I'm not to bend, twist or even downright ignore God's Word to seek an advantage, or power, or control. Because I believe that my world is ruled by one who has awesome power and complete control, and he is good and wise and loving and gracious, and I can rest in all of my circumstances in His care.

And I can understand my job description. It can be said in two words: Trust and Obey. No matter where. No matter who I'm with. No matter what the situation. No matter how much temptation and sin is surrounding me. No matter how others are getting on. No matter how good the opportunity. My moral system does not change with my circumstances. It is rooted in rest in God – as a disciplined commitment to obey His Word. I am called to: Trust and Obey.

Well the Amalakite doesn't get that. And neither does he get the response that he was expecting. He assumed David was driven by the same passion for power that he was and would be cock-a-hoop with the news that he brought. BUT David was a very different kind of man to the Amalekite. A man of a very different heart. And he's our example here as we:

(2.) The Example: Learn What It Looks Like To Live For The Glory of God

In 1945 when Adolf Hitler killed himself in his bunker and the news was spreading throughout the world – The reaction in most of the world was one of rejoicing. No surprises there. But I learnt recently that in the Republic of Ireland, the Irish President – Éamon de Valera went to the German embassy in Dublin and offered his condolences to the German people. The Republic was of course neutral in the Second World War, and he may merely have been following protocol – BUT it's not what we'd expect. The aggressor has fallen, the war is almost won – surely it's time for a party, not expressions of sorrow?

Yet as David finds himself in a similar situation – we find a similarly surprising reaction. Saul's death was a break for David. David's could not help but know that the throne is now open to him. BUT what happens next is just amazing. Look back at verse 11 with me:

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

Remember what David's life has been like. Although he has been anointed by God to be King – He has been an exile. He has been on the run because of the petty jealousy of Saul. You would think this would be a moment of celebration. A moment of vindication. A moment to pull out your very best "told you so" dance. Which, incidentally, my wife tells me I have a very good "told you so dance", but I think I use it a little too often for her liking.

BUT this is not time to dance! This is not the time for a party. This is the moment in the movies when the surgeon emerges into the hospital corridor to give the waiting family the bad news. It's the moment the mum opens the door to find the soldier in full military uniform standing on her doorstep with the dreaded letter in his hand. It is a desperate moment of overwhelming, spontaneous grief.

So David tears his clothes as a sign of his great distress, and he leads his followers in a time of weeping and mourning for the fallen King. For Jonathan the son of the king. And for God's own people – the nation of Israel.

Maybe you've experienced such grief. Then again maybe most of your grief is still ahead of you. Either way there is much cause for grief in this fallen world. AND even though such grief fades – it leaves a shadow. As I guess many of us sat at Christmas dinner tables just over a week ago where we were all too aware of the empty chair and the missing presence of a loved one. It's moments like that where your heart aches, as the old wounds open up again.

Which I think is why in the second half of this chapter David, after his initial expression of grief sits down to compose a lengthy lament and calls for it to be taught to the people and put in a book. As we too need to be taught how to grieve. As a Biblical lament is an expression of thoughtful grief – a vehicle for grief which engages the mind as well as the emotions.

AND I wonder if there is a principle here for those of us who suffer loss. Along with our emotional grief should we not also express our reflective grief? Why not write down our grief in careful, thoughtful lament form and offer it up to God as such? And do so again and again? There is sometimes a great impatience with grief. BUT the Bible is much more realistic and sympathetic. As the lament-form of the Bible assumes that our grief is deep and ongoing, and it invites us to enter the discipline of expressing our grief in written prayers which give voice to our anguish.

BUT it's not just the purpose of the lament that is striking here in 2 Samuel 1, but it's also the content. For in it we find David painting an unbelievably positive picture of Saul and his son Jonathan.

• Verse 22 celebrates their victories.
• Verse 23 celebrates their unity and their warrior skills.
• Verse 24 celebrates the great riches and provision Saul won for Israel.

AND nowhere is there a negative word about either. You could understand David taking that approach with Jonathan, who was his best friend – BUT not Saul! This was his arch-enemy! His nemesis! Why does he write like this? Is it like a FIFA anti-corruption report? I mean it looks like a bit of a whitewash doesn't it?! Where is the vengeance? Where is the anger? Where is the bitterness? Where are the memories of all the evil that Saul did to David?

Well, hear this: David is not interested in writing a kiss-and-tell account of how Saul mistreated him. He left the full evaluation of Saul's life to the Lord. The death of Saul for David, was not so much about what had been done to David – But what had been done to the message of the Glory of God. And since the Kingship of Israel was meant to point to a greater King – That's what matters to David. It's not all about him, it's all about his Lord.

So David is not just mourning of the loss of 2 men, but
the loss to God's reputation, and the shame and loss brought to the people of God. Which is why he starts his lament in verse 19 with: "Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!" – And finishes it with verse 27: "How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!"

Israel as the people of God were meant to reflect the glory of God. The victories of Israel were meant to picture the power and the might of the Lord almighty, the Lord of hosts. What a shocking thing it is then to see the slaughter of Israel. Bodies strewn across the mountainside. Weapons of warfare abandoned as Israelite men ran from the Philistines. This was never supposed to happen!

Saul in his rebellion had literally brought God's nation to the point of destruction. And there is actually a word picture here – this word "glory" in verse 19, actually has an alternative translation… "Gazelle". And there are those who think David uses this word on purpose so that his readers will imagine this big deer with impressive antlers striding around up on the mountainside where everyone could see it's majesty... AND now it lies dead. It's glory slain.

It has been said that you know all you need to know about a man's heart by what he celebrates, and what he mourns.

Let me ask you: What rules your heart? What forms the things that you say and the things that you do? What do you celebrate and what do you mourn? Is it the glory of God and his people? Or do you care more about your own success or wellbeing?

In terms of church – Do we ever earnestly grieve over the desperate condition of the church in this nation? Or is church just for what I can get out of it?

OR in evangelism – when a friend brings three people to the Christianity Explored Taster session – Are you jealous and frustrated it's not you? Or do you pray and work to support their witness?

OR in the office or at school – when people do badly and fail are you secretly pleased, because it makes you look better?

OR on the sports field do you regret your honesty that led to the opposition scoring a last minute goal? Or are you content that you upheld the glory of God? That's pretty much a situation one of our Sports teams encountered recently – and as one of the team muttered "There's a time to be honest" another of them supported their teammate's sportsmanship by saying: "Yes, and it's called 'all the time'!" I love that! That shows a heart concerned with the glory of God.

How do we react when other people fall or rise? AND more than that – how do we react when Christian leaders fall? As part of what David is teaching us here is how to respond when church leaders fall – whether we are in agreement with them or not – We much watch our words and be careful not to lambast them, but lament them. For if ever there was a time to mourn for the opportunities being lost, for what could have been, for the Glory of God being eroded – and to pray that God would raise up a David like figures to lead the church – It is when one of the leader's of God's people has fallen by the wayside through doctrinal weakness, moral lapse or even death.

David didn't gloat over his rival's death. He mourned that God's chosen king was dead and that Israel's – and therefore God's
glory was in tatters.

Other than Jesus on the cross, I can't think of a better historical example of what it means to love your enemies than this one. BUT you will only love your enemy in this way, if what really truly rules your heart is love for God and for his glory.

AND as I finish, I can't consider the death of this King, without reflecting on another King who willingly died. He did not die in rebellion and disobedience. It was the picture of obedience. Jesus willingly submitted to the plan and purpose of his Father - willing to be obedient to death, even death on an ugly, brutal cross. AND that death was not a sad despair and defeat - that death was a victory!

That death is our hope. You don't need to live to take an advantage – Because that King who died rules over all things for the sake of his people.

And we can give yourself to the glory of God, living that trust and obey lifestyle – Knowing that our Saviour King is sovereign and good and wise and faithful. He is our only hope.

Lord Jesus, we want to thank and praise you for everything we can learn from your word. Thank you for the warning of the Amalakite and the example of David. But more than that thank you for the way these men point us to our great need of you. Lord, help us to put our trust in you and rest in you and you alone. To accept our job description and to be glad to obey. To forsake our glory for the sake of yours. That we would rest in the grace and the wisdom of the King of Kings. Amen.

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