My title this evening is 'David's Wisdom', and after a fortnight's pause for our Giving Review, we're back in 2 Samuel, looking at 2 Samuel 19.8-43. Please have that open in front of you, beginning with the section headed 'David returns to Jerusalem'.
What's going on here? We're in the reign of King David, about 1000 years before the birth of Jesus. And this section is drawing to a conclusion the long narrative that begins back in chapter 11 where David commits adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his military commanders, and then arranges for Uriah to be killed. God confronts David through the prophet Nathan. David repents with a true and Godly repentance. God forgives him for eternity. But forgiven sin still carries consequences in our temporal lives and does damage to those around us. And the Lord says to David (this is 2 Samuel 12.10-11):
"Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me… I will raise up evil against you out of your own house."
God is never the author of evil, remember. But thankfully he is ultimately sovereign over it– we'd be lost otherwise. And he even weaves evil deeds into his plans and uses it for his purposes. That's so clear, above all, from the killing of Jesus. And over the last few weeks we've seen the bitter and brutal unfolding of that prophetic word as Absalom, David's son, whom he loved, turns against him, turns the people against him, starts an armed rebellion to seize his father's kingdom, succeeds for a while, but then is defeated in battle against the remnant of forces loyal to David. Absalom is killed, and three weeks ago we heard David's grief-stricken cry when he found out:
"O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
That cry is an example of something very important we need to understand about king David. He is God's chosen and anointed king over God's people. And as such, he points forward to God's chosen and anointed King over all people, the Messiah Jesus, the King of kings.
David points forward to Jesus in two ways. He foreshadows Jesus. He is, God says, "a man after my own heart." He is a faithful, Godly, wise and conquering king. And in various ways, the events of his life point forward to our crucified and risen Lord. But then also David points forward to Jesus precisely through his sinfulness and multiple failures. Because no-one could be under any illusion that this man, who brought disaster on his family and his kingdom, could possibly be the Messiah God had promised and for whom God's people wait.
Both positively and negatively, then, David makes us look for the Messiah Jesus. So that cry of grief for his dead son is both a cry of guilt for the sin that lead his family to catastrophe, and at the very same time it is a prophetic hint of the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus who did die to set God's children free from death: "Would that I had died instead of you."
Like all the rest of this psychologically subtle and unsearchably profound narrative, this section that we come on to now is full of the outworking of mixed motives and self-serving decisions. But at the same, David is pointing us to Jesus.
We haven't got time to tease out all the detail. But let me give you some pointers as to how these events direct us to Jesus and how we need to relate to him today. Those pointers are the sub-headings that you can see on my outline on the back of the service sheet. You can see there that I have five headings, because there are five pairs of characters that feature alongside king David here. What we've got going on here is the tying up of loose ends as this terrible sequence of adultery, murder, rebellion and death draws to a close and David is restored to his throne.
The other day I went with my daughter to see Rogue One, the Star Wars spin-off film. Very entertaining it was for one who was 16 when the original Star Wars film hit the world's screens. As the film draws to an end, a variety of loose ends are tied up. And yet at the same time it's clear that the story continues. Rogue One, with all its conflict and sacrifice, only really makes sense (if Star Wars can ever be said to make sense) if you know what happens next. So in fact the events of Rogue One take place just before those of the first Star Wars film from 30 years ago, which was in fact Episode 4 in the sequence. Some of you will know what I mean. The rest of you, don't worry about it.
So, think of this section of 2 Samuel as five lots of very significant loose ends being tied up.
1. Israel and Judah (v 8b-12, 14-15, 41-43)
What's the pointer to Jesus here and the lesson for us? The unity of God's people requires faithfulness to Jesus.
You need to know that Israel is the northern half of the kingdom, and Judah the southern half. David comes from the south, from Judah. The north had been the first to back Absalom's now defeated rebellion. David has not yet returned over the River Jordan to his capital Jerusalem. He wants to motivate as much of the population, north and south, to escort him back with renewed loyalty. But the tension between north and south is palpable. From verses 8-12:
"Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. And all the people were arguing throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, "The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, and now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. But Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why do you say nothing about bringing the king back?" And King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar the priests: "Say to the elders of Judah, 'Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his house, when the word of all Israel has come to the king? You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?'…"
Then skip verse 13 and on to verses 14-15:
"…And [David] swayed the heart of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, "Return, both you and all your servants." So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan…"
Now turn over to verses 41-43 where this is picked up again:
"…Then all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, "Why have our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David's men with him?" All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, "Because the king is our close relative. Why then are you angry over this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king's expense? Or has he given us any gift?" And the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, "We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us? Were we not the first to speak of bringing back our king?" But the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel."
Israel and Judah, north and south, will be one when they share a common loyalty to their God-given king. But Judah's loyalty is considerably more secure than Israel's in the north, so the national unity is fragile and tense.
In New Testament terms, the unity of God's people can only be secured when all of us, wherever we come from and whatever our backgrounds, owe our primary loyalty to Jesus above all others, and above all the competing loyalties and pressures. When loyalty to Jesus is doubtful, then division in the church in some form is inevitable.
2. Joab and Amasa (v 13)
What's the pointer to Jesus and the lesson for us? Jesus turns his enemies into his servants.
Friends can become enemies too, and that's what's happening with Joab, who has been David's senior army commander. Amasa commanded Abasalom's rebel forces, but has now come back over to David's side. David wants the fighting to stop. He wants to signal his magnanimity in victory to the country. Verse 13:
"And say to Amasa, 'Are you not my bone and my flesh? God do so to me and more also, if you are not commander of my army from now on in place of Joab.'"
The one-time rebel commander becomes David's new army chief. By grace, you might say, his enemy becomes his servant. So it is with Jesus. By grace, through repentance and faith, he transforms us who were his enemies into his servants and friends.
3. Abishai and Shimei (v 16-17a, 18b-23)
What's the pointer to Jesus and the lesson for us? Jesus is patient but the day of judgement will come.
Shimei, you might remember, showed outright hostility to king David when David was on the run, fleeing from the forces of his own son. Shimei cursed and insulted David to his face, which he felt free to do because he was confident David was finished. Now Shimei changes his tune – but is this just self-serving hypocrisy? Verses 16-17:
"And Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, from Bahurim, hurried to come down with the men of Judah to meet King David. And with him were a thousand men from Benjamin…"
Then, verses 18-23:
"… And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, "Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem. Do not let the king take it to heart. For your servant knows that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king." Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, "Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord's anointed?" But David said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?" And the king said to Shimei, "You shall not die." And the king gave him his oath."
And David patiently kept that oath of protection throughout his lifetime. Only in the reign of Solomon is Shimei tested again. He fails the test, and judgement falls.
Jesus does not want anyone to perish. He is patient. He waits. He holds out the offer of mercy. But there must be true repentance – a real turning away from sin and self to trust and obey Jesus. Because there is a Day of Judgement up ahead of all of us. Jesus will return as judge. And what is really in our hearts will be revealed.
4. Ziba and Mephibosheth (v 17b-18a, 24-30)
What's the pointer to Jesus and the lesson for us? Jesus is merciful to those who submit to his rule.
Mephibosheth – he of the terrific name – is the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, the previous king who had striven to kill David, as had Saul's family after Saul's death. But David had shown mercy to Mephibosheth. During the rebellion Mephibosheth, who was disabled, had been stuck in Jerusalem. Ziba, Mephiboseth's top servant, had schemed his way to being given all of Mephibosheth's estates. Now they both have to face the restored king. Verses 17-18:
"And Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, with his fifteen sons and his twenty servants, rushed down to the Jordan before the king, and they crossed the ford to bring over the king's household and to do his pleasure …"
Then on to verses 24-30:
"And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, "Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?" He answered, "My lord, O king, my servant deceived me… He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you … What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?" And the king said to him, "Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land." And Mephibosheth said to the king, "Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.""
Mephibosheth sincerely throws himself on the mercy of king David, knowing that really he is without excuse and he is utterly dependent on David's forgiveness. And David forgives. And in so doing, he points us to Jesus who is so full of mercy, and always ready to forgive any who come to him, admitting their guilt and crying out to him, knowing they deserve nothing from his hand but condemnation. That's when Jesus loves to forgive.
5. Barzillai and Chimham (v 31-40)
What's the pointer to Jesus and the lesson for us? Jesus rewards his faithful servants.
The wealthy man Barzillai had been steadfast in his loyalty to king David even when he was at his lowest ebb and looked to be defeated. Barzillai had supplied David and his troops when they were in dire need. And now David was in a position to reward him – or if not Barzillai, then whoever Barzillai nominated. Verses 31-34:
"Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim, and he went on with the king to the Jordan, to escort him over the Jordan. Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, "Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem." But Barzillai said to the king, "How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem?"
And Barzillai pleads his age and asks if his place at court can be taken by his servant Chimham. On to verse 38:
"And the king answered, "Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do for him whatever seems good to you, and all that you desire of me I will do for you.""
The king rewards those who serve him faithfully. So it is with Jesus. We should not be shy of that truth – it's there again and again in the New Testament. And what could be our greatest reward, on the day when how we have used our life is weighed? Hearing Jesus, our saviour and King, say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" It will be all of grace, to be sure. Without grace, we would have remained his enemies, without God and without hope. But by grace we become his servants. And what a wonderful thing it is that Jesus will reward his servants.
So there it is – the tying up of these loose ends only really makes sense when we know how all this turns out with the coming of Christ, his death for our sins, his resurrection to rule at the right hand of the Father, and his promised return to be the judge of all things and to bring in his eternal Kingdom. What can we learn?
- The unity of God's people requires faithfulness to Jesus – so in a world in flat out rebellion against him, be faithful.
- Jesus turns his enemies into his servants – so rejoice that, though you were his enemy, he loved you so much that he laid down his life to make you his friend, and put your trust in him so that you too can undergo that transformation.
- Jesus is patient but the day of judgement will come. So take the opportunity while you can to turn to Jesus in true repentance and faith, and don't imagine that hypocritical self-preservation will suffice when the Day of Judgement comes and Jesus sees right through us.
- Jesus is merciful to those who submit to his rule – so by the grace of God hold nothing back, and bow the knee now before the King of kings and Lord of lords, crying continually to him for the mercy for which he has paid and that he gladly gives.
- And Jesus rewards his faithful servants – so the lesson is obvious. Serve him willingly and joyfully, now and always.