David and the Sons of Saul

How do you view and react to what's happening in the world? Through what lens do you view the world? Through the BBC or the Bible? A world where injustice, violence and opposition to God's laws are rife. Do you panic and ask where is God? Or do you, by his grace, humbly trust and obey the sovereign Lord? How do you view and react to what's happening in your own life, perhaps especially when you're facing adversity - such as exams, exam results or far worse, or when the waiting and the frustrations seem to be going on forever? Do you panic, attempt to deal with things all by yourself or even take matters into your own hands seeking to take advantage of the situation for your own ends as Baanah and Rechab do in this chapter or do you humbly trust and obey God in his strength who is sovereign and just, seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness?

You see 2 Samuel teaches us that God is sovereign. That he's in control even when life and the world at times seem out of control and when the frustrations and the waiting in our lives seem to go on and on. That his purposes, plans and promises are working out even in the face of and even through adversity. God overrules even in wicked human deeds. The assassinations of the two leading men of the northern kingdom of Israel, Abner and Ish-bosheth, which we read about in 2 Samuel 4 could have caused a permanent breach between that northern kingdom and the southern kingdom of Judah preventing David, the king of Judah, from becoming king of all Israel. But in fact the assassinations clear the way for David to become king of all Israel. And David's greater Son, Jesus Christ, would come ushering in a greater kingdom and would triumph over sin, death and the devil even through wicked men putting him to death on a cross, cursed and hanging on a tree. God overrules even in wicked human deeds. He redeems his people out of every adversity (v9). His plans, purposes and promises will prevail. And Jesus will return as Judge and King to finally and fully establish his rule. He will judge justly. So we don't need to panic, though at times we may need support and help from others, but neither are we to be passive, rather we're to trust and obey God as David does in this chapter. So let's now look at 2 Samuel 4 in more detail.

I don't know if you've ever been taken to see a film you don't know much about but hope you'll enjoy only to discover it's not what you expected at all. In fact you have to leave after 20 minutes shocked and appalled. Well this evening some of you've come to church, perhaps especially those of you in the middle of exams right now, hoping for some nice Bible words of comfort, to de-stress you and help you escape from the terror and tediousness of revision only to discover we're in 2 Samuel 4. There's blood and gore and everything's looking pretty shaky at the start. Is this the Bible or a gothic horror story? You're now on the edge of your seat. Perhaps not de-stressed but at least your minds are now off those exams or whatever was troubling you! But as I've just been saying there's much of relevance here. Romans 15:4 says that this OT passage was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. So there's definitely more to learn from this biblical account than don't behead innocent people although ISIS do seriously need to heed that and the judgment which follows.

So v1. When news came of military leader Abner's death, the king of the northern kingdom, Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, lost heart, 'his courage failed', literally, 'his hands dropped' and 'all Israel was dismayed'. Was Abner only the beginning? Would David's henchmen (as they saw it) work their way north in a programme of systematic butchery? The plan for reconciliation and reunion of the northern and southern kingdoms has dissolved in Abner's blood. Who knew what to do now?

Well Baanah and Rechab thought they did. These two brothers in thuggery who led Ish-bosheth's raiders decided they must seize the hour, and chapter 4 is the account of their attempt. So what happens and what do we learn? First

1. SARCASM PROVIDES AN EXCELLENT VEHICLE FOR TRUTH (v1-7)

Yes there is such a thing as righteous sarcasm. Look at v2-4. Baanah and Rechab, are wrapped between pictures of a powerless puppet king (Ish-bosheth) and a helpless Mephibosheth. We're being presented with the total weakness of Saul's house - Saul's son lacks the courage to continue resistance (v1) and the other heir, Jonathan's son, Saul's grandson has been crippled since the age of 5. Whatever Baanah and Rechab do will hardly therefore be heroic. Some subtle sarcasm is already seeping out of the text. And there's another dig at Rechab and Baanah in v5-7.

Now some argue there are two confused accounts in v5-7. But no this is normal Hebrew narrative which often gives a fact or depicts a situation and then repeats it but with added detail. In v7 the writer not only adds the detail about slicing off Ish-bosheth's head but repeats the item from v5 that he was resting in his bedroom. The repetition is deliberate. One can almost hear the writer sneering: Rechab and Baanah are so macho they can kill a man in his sleep. They came; he slept; they stabbed. David's judgment of their deed will be reported in v 9-11, but the writer has already given us his own. He tells us about Rechab & Baanah and mocks them at the same time.

Biblical writers are quite adept at using sarcasm to shock God's people into having a true perspective on things. In 2 Samuel 4 the writer laces his account with sarcastic innuendo. Yes, he implies, Rechab and Baanah may appear bold and daring. But take another look. They're not strong but weak, not courageous but cowardly, not manly but mercenary. In fact they're weaker than Ish-bosheth and Mephibosheth.

And the whole matter underscores something about ourselves: how urgently we need discernment and wisdom and how prone we are to lack it; how we must see the real beneath the veneer of the apparent.

2. THEOLOGY PROVIDES AN EXCELLENT CLOAK FOR EVIL V8

I remember a testimony from my student days here. The person alluded to his driving habits back home as you can be prone to do in a testimony. There was a junction where he rarely stopped, though either prudence counselled or law required that he should. However, in all his non-stopping days God never allowed him to crash. It's wonderful indeed to have God! We can find theology useful; it can explain almost anything by devilish impulse or divine blessing.

Rechab and Baanah were given to theologizing as well. Their trek to Hebron must have taken at least two days, but, on arrival, they display their trophy to David saying:

Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life. The LORD has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.

But was this the Lord's vengeance upon Saul and his family? Were Rechab and Baanah the servants of the Lord in executing his justice by eliminating David's rival and solidifying David's position? And were they therefore to be rewarded as they hoped? Did David owe them the debt of posh government jobs? They come with blood on their hands but theology on their lips, expecting the latter to magically bleach the former. Murder always seems more pleasant when wrapped in theology.

Baanahs and Rechabs are still around today; some are in our churches. Their methodology is unchanged: use theology to cover sin and folly. For them theology is not truth that leads us to worship God but technique that enables us to justify ourselves. We may recognize them or even ourselves in being the self-appointed defender of 'doctrinal precision', who is eager to explain, correct and inform but sadly with all harshness and severity. If challenged about their stringent style (even on lesser matters), they argue theologically: O, they say, they're only concerned that we hold to the 'whole counsel' or perhaps what might become their own counsel of God - for we're not to add to or subtract from Scripture. And, 'but don't you know the slightest indifference on doctrinal matters may begin the plunge to unbelief'. Not that right doctrine or knowing the Bible isn't very important but they show no humility, no genuine care, no willingness to listen and teach patiently.

Or suppose the church leadership begins informal or formal discipline against a church member or even another leader. What will the leadership often hear? Theology. About how all of us are sinners, but God is compassionate - certainly more so than church leaders; and who gave you the right to assess my life anyway?

Have we done or thought the same sometimes? We must beware. When we explain things theologically we may simply be using God, using him as an argument, manipulating him for our convenience to keep from submitting to his grace or to his law.

3. GRATITUDE PROVIDES AN EXCELLENT ANTIDOTE FOR IDOLATRY (V9)

When you're faced with the temptation to think in an idolatrous way what do you do? David here faces the temptation to think in an idolatrous way. So what does he do? Now Rechab and Baanah are not claiming to be God; they're only saying that by beheading Ishbosheth they've decisively dealt with the whole threat against David from Saul's house. But they want to put a certain spin on their treachery to suggest that David is indebted to them for this making his person and kingdom secure. And therein lies the temptation. You see subtly, they're pretending to be David's redeemers to whom he owes something. But as these pseudo-redeemers show up out of nowhere on some Thursday morning David is able to recognize them for what they are and repudiate their claim and because he remembers his true and only Redeemer. V9

'As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity.'

What gratitude breathes in those words! What itemizing of benefits received and favours granted! (Psalm 103). And because he remembers how the Lord rescued him from every one of his tumbles he's not duped into crediting evil men with the deliverance of a gracious God.

Kings, of course, have no corner on this principle - that gratitude nurtures fidelity. It has always proven the safeguard for all of Jesus' flock. And you and I need to remember that today in a country where Christians are increasingly facing opposition and being labelled extremists. This past week we've been reminded that it's no longer good enough for the state in the form of OFSTED and the DofE that a school performs well academically with sound values - no - it has also to conform to the spirit of the age and to the state's definition and dictation of 'British values'. Even purely from a historical perspective that is very worrying. We are in danger of no longer living in a truly liberal democracy where people are free to believe, think and live according to God's law. But as Christians we have to stand firm in the Lord and put Christ first, whatever the cost, remembering what he's done for us and, pray and work wisely for change trusting in God's sovereignty and justice. In AD 155 Polycarp, a leader in the early church, was brought before the authorities and required to call Caesar 'Lord' and burn the requisite pinch of incense. Polycarp refused. The consul assured him that he had wild beasts and would feed Polycarp to them if he refused. 'Send for them,' Polycarp replied. 'If you despise the wild beasts,' threatened the consul, I will send you to the fire; swear and I will release you: curse the Christ.' This stirred Polycarp to say: 'Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?' The words are different; the principle is the same; the result is the same. Gratitude provides an excellent antidote for idolatry.

4. JUSTICE PROVIDES AN EXCELLENT ENCOURAGEMENT FOR GOD'S PEOPLE v10-12

With that perspective how does David react to these two muderers? With justice. He looks them in the eye and alludes to the one in chapter 1, who was sure David would relish his good news about Saul's death. 'I executed him,' David tells Baanah and Rechab. They no doubt begin a cold sweat as David continues: 'How much more when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his house upon his bed!' David couldn't have known this detail unless Rechab and Baanah had told him. They must have rehearsed the whole scheme in detail. They probably thought of it as a slick move; David called it dirty. He gives the order and Baanah and Rechab are killed, their extremities are hacked off, and their handless, feetless forms hung for public contemplation by Hebron's pool. They'd never sneak nor stab again; Hebron was a kingdom with dissection and justice for all.

David probably felt compelled to give Baanah and Rechab's corpses advertising status. He must show clearly that he had nothing to do with the murder of Ish-bosheth. For, as with Abner's death, there'd be those in the northern tribes, especially Saul's tribe of Benjamin, who'd say the whole thing smelled to high heaven. That it was too 'convenient' for David, and that he'd masterminded it. Even the execution wouldn't quieten the skeptics. They'd only respond that that is the way politicians work to make themselves look clean. The fact that David had no need of Baanah's and Rechab's deed since Saul's regime was already at its last gasp would carry no weight at all, for such people don't stop to reason when their blood is boiling.

But for us today this sample of justice in Hebron should be encouraging. God's chosen king justly redressed wrong. Admittedly, it's only a single instance; it has only occurred within the postage-stamp kingdom of Judah; and some will think it's only a publicity gimmick. But it's the sign of something greater. Every bit of micro-justice enacted under David's regime should be taken as a foregleam of the macro-justice that David's promised Descendant - Jesus - will enforce throughout the earth when he returns. God's people desperately need to hold on to this hope for the Bible knows what pressure and temptation the prevalence of injustice brings on the church. If Christ's flock are continually wronged and crushed they may be tempted to join the other ranks (see Psalm 125). It may be the Iraqi or Syrian believer who's been forced to leave his land and separated from his family; it may be the Christian wife whose husband has abandoned her and left her with nothing. Whatever the particulars, God's people must be assured that the time will come when the Davidic King, Jesus, will institute Hebron justice throughout the earth. David will soon assume the kingdom the Lord promised, but what an array of hindrances and frustrations there have been on the way to it. Yet we find great encouragement today looking back over 2 Samuel 2-4, for it clearly teaches:

No power can overcome the kingdom. No folly can thwart the kingdom. No injustice can establish the kingdom. God is in control. He is just. His plans, purposes and promises will prevail. God overrules even in wicked human deeds. We are to trust and obey him.

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