Today we are over 1/3 of the way through this long season of Pentecost, and we have just completed all of the Old Testament stories provided the past nine weeks about King David. You might have been here a few weeks ago when I talked about David coming to Jerusalem as the king, and how that story had mixed messages for Israel and its relationship to God, and its parallels to events in our world today.
Two questions you might ask about the sermon today are: Is Jim finished bashing King David yet, or what have we learned these past weeks from these stories about King David?
To begin, let’s look at today’s story from 2 Samuel Chapter 18.
The long, violent conflict between David and Absalom is finally over. Absalom is dead. David's kingdom is again secure. And David pours forth his grief: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" How bizarre was this, as Absalom was an eldest son of one of David’s wives and the latest likely heir to his throne, yet he had rebelled against his father and ended up at war over his kingdom, and was finally killed by David’s army (against David’s orders to “deal with him gently”—whatever that was supposed to mean!).
The earlier story that led to this terrible conclusion goes like this. David had earlier served as a kind of accomplice after the fact when another of his firstborn sons Amnon had raped Absalom's sister, Tamar. After the rape David did nothing to punish Amnon. Absalom burned at this injustice, and eventually set a trap and killed Amnon. He fled, and David refused to see him until Joab and a wise woman from Tekoa worked out a kind of reconciliation. Shortly after this, though, Absalom started positioning himself to take over for David as king. He won the favor of the people of Israel, ascended to the brink of the throne, and then continued his war against his father, raping his father's concubines in full public view. As we read today, he was killed for his rebellious actions by the king’s forces. This is just a terrible saga of fathers, sons, and brothers jostling for dominance. As this story shows, rivalry often drives men to destroy one another, and in this case, it was within a family where the quest for power and dominance overcame anything resembling family.
We have had for the past nine weeks as our Old Testament readings stories from the books of 1 and 2 Samuel about the life of David, the favored one of God and anointed to be king of a united Israel, about 1000 years before the coming of Christ. Here are some of these events about David that we read:
1) his selection by God from all of those many brothers of Jesse, and the spirit of the Lord coming upon him as a young man
2) Israel’s battle with the Philistines, with David killing Goliath, showing his bravery
3) the anointing of David as king of a united Israel at Hebron
4) David taking back the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines and bringing it triumphantly to Jerusalem and setting up his united kingdom there
5) God’s covenant with David to establish his kingdom for all time through David’s offspring
6) David’s adultery with Bathsheba and then setting up the killing of her husband Uriah
7) God’s calling out of David thru the prophet Nathan, and God’s sentence of major judgment, trouble and turmoil for David and Israel due to his disobedience, and
8) the killing of Absalom, David’s son, by David’s own army, after Absalom had tried to overthrow David
These stories are just a small sampling of one of the greatest epic dramas of all time. You could rate this up there with any great historical novel or soap opera; it has it all—love, war, sexual sins, family struggles, religion, politics--everything you’d want. Researching for this sermon, I read this, “Virtually all scholars agree that this is one of the finest examples of history writing from the ancient Near Eastern world. It is at the same time a masterpiece of biography and storytelling what with its ingenious interweaving of plots and subplots, its brilliant character sketches, and its attention to artistic touches such as climax and denouement." Sounds like a two thumbs up movie review! If you can take the time, please read the last part of 1st Samuel, starting in the 15th chapter, and then read the full book of 2ndSamuel. It might take a couple of hours reading slowly but would be well worth the time.
I’d like to suggest that 3000 years ago things like real morality and treating other people well was not a standard in the cultures of people in at least the Middle East where David and the Jews lived. God, though, had earlier chosen the Jews as his people, starting with Abraham, and He expected them to live their lives as examples to others and to follow his laws and the covenant. Let’s just say that things didn’t go as planned and the Jews did not live up to their end of the covenant. Regardless, as bad a life as it might seem that David led as the king of Israel, he actually did better than many of the leaders of Israel did before him.
David did many things in his life to show his obedience to God and further the cause of the people of Israel. By the end of David's reign, Israel stood united as a nation behind a king who represented God's will faithfully. Israel had a revived priesthood that enjoyed support from David at the throne, and the prospect for a permanent temple located in the capital city was bright. Israel was militarily strong, and controlled her environment politically and geographically. Israel enjoyed an influence in the world that was already powerful and growing. Furthermore, its economy was strong.
David's most important contribution, though, was probably uniting the political and religious life of Israel. He symbolized this by setting up both the political capital and the worship center of Israel in one place, namely, Jerusalem. This effectively united the covenant traditions of the patriarchs and Moses with the newer revelation of a human monarchy. David realized that he was not only Israel's political head but also its representative before God. He persuaded Israel about this dual role and so prepared it to function as the servant of the Lord in providing salvation for the other peoples of the world.
However, he also did several things that showed his lack of obedience to God and his covenant, and caused both himself and Israel great harm and pain. When he disobeyed God’s covenant he was judged, and since he was the king the whole nation was judged with him. David got into trouble when he stopped being humble before God and became arrogant, mostly around his sexual desires. David carried himself as a king similar to other kings of his day, and in many of their cultures it showed greatness to have many wives and offspring. God’s clear commandment from many years before to His people of Israel was to have one wife, and not to commit adultery. David flew right by this part of his covenant as he wanted to show he was truly special like these other kings, and it cost him dearly. As part of God’s judgment, David lost 4 of his firstborn offspring from these wives (all potentially heirs to his throne. For his disobedience David had to continually deal with problems with his many wives and his large family.
Given all this, how did things work differently for David than the previous king Saul or other leaders of Israel in the past, as far as the covenant with God and his judgment? Even though he was anointed by God, David had abused the great blessings that God had given him. God spared David's life by pure grace; normally David would have died for his sins (as per Jewish law in Leviticus). His pardon came as a special revelation from God through the prophet Nathan. This was because David's confessions of his sins, especially after his dealings with Bathsheba and Uriah, were genuine, and God knew his heart. When confronted by Nathan, he called his sin what it was rather than trying to cover it up or explain it away, which was Saul's and the others typical responses. And, he stated that his sin was primarily against God, not just against Bathsheba and Uriah. This was the turning-point in the life of David, and the clearest indication that he was different from the others in the most essential relationship of all, that of submission to the Lord God. For that reason he found forgiveness.
Even though the Lord removed the guilt of David's sin (through forgiveness) he did not remove the consequences of it (discipline). In this case David's immediate signs of remorse allowed immediate forgiveness; but the deed itself could not be undone, and some consequences were inevitable. David lost those sons, he struggled in dealing with his family, his country received judgment with plagues due to his disobedience, and he was not allowed to build the great temple for God. He died rather quietly for such a great king, too.
For all his problems, David still received the ultimate prize; God kept his covenant to provide him with an heir who would be great and continue the line eventually to Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The birth of David and Bathsheba's second son, Solomon (whose name comes from the Hebrew word shalom, peace), was a blessing from the Lord. He had another name, Jedidiah (lit. beloved of Yahweh). The former name was perhaps a throne name that David gave him to anticipate his reigning as king. It may indicate that David felt that God was now at peace with him. Solomon was born about 991 B.C. The fact that God allowed him to live and even made him David's successor on the throne is testimony to God's great grace to David. The statement, "Now the Lord loved him," is the Hebrew way of saying the Lord chose him.
The broad Old Testament theology of 1 and 2 Samuel is that God rules justly in the
affairs of men. Furthermore, He requires that men live justly under His rule. The leader (whether judge or king) must represent God's justice in the rule of God's people. Failure to follow the patterns of righteousness established by God led to judgment of the ruler and the people he ruled.
Three thousand years later, where are we now in a much different and developed society? As each proceeding generation becomes more sophisticated and complex, imposed rule, order and discipline (or simply the fear of God’s judgment) has been replaced with freer will and the opportunity to explore what God’s grace really means to us. With the benefit of reading about both King David from God’s original covenant, and knowing about the coming of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world for us all (the new covenant), we as a society should all know better how to live our lives today. Simply modeling our overall lives like that of King David is not sufficient for true Christians to follow today; there are no so-called “God anointed or self proclaimed leaders” out there who are called to do God’s work and then do whatever else they want because they are “somehow special” Christians. Our leaders and all of us can do much better. Knowing that our God, because of His sending Jesus Christ to live and die for us, to bring us the message of love and hope and Christian service to others, is both faithful to us and wants the best for us, we are now all called to accept that free gift of grace and go out into the world to be His light as servants for others. AMEN.