Day 146: Nap Time (Psalm 131)

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.

2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 131:1-3

Through the Bible reading: Psalm 131, 138, 139, 143, 144, 145

God’s Word overwhelmingly chooses masculine imagery and pronouns for God. But every once in awhile, it surprises you with a tender, nurturing, feminine metaphor for the Almighty. When it does, take note, because there’s something God wants to teach you in the tenderness.

David describes the ultimate rest and quiet for his soul like nap time with his mother. Today, I am especially thankful for this. I’m still reflecting on my mom’s passing, a year ago yesterday. Yesterday, I wrote about nap time with my mom, and all I learned from her on those precious afternoons.

And, God, in God’s tenderness, orchestrated our chronological reading plan so that this Psalm would be the first Psalm I read on this day. Like a mother, God always knows what we need to hear at exactly the right time.

So, I wonder when David wrote this. We are probably more familiar with the arc of David’s life than any other figure in Scripture. There was David the shepherd boy. David the Giant Killer. David the King. David the Fugitive. So at what point did David write this description of his soul as quiet as a weaned child in his mother’s lap?

Was it when he was young, and wrestling with life’s big questions? Who will I marry? What will I do with my life? Does God have a plan for me?

When there are so many questions your brain hurts, remember nap time with your mother.

Was it in midlife? Was this giant killer; this slayer of tens of thousands; this leader of thirty mighty men beginning to get full of himself?

When your eyes become proud and your heart becomes haughty, remember nap time with your mother.

Was it late in life, when he was perhaps consumed by his mistakes? Was this adulterer and murderer, who became a refugee from his own capital city when his son turned against him; and who was so overcome with grief that the army he led nearly turned against him, longing for the time before it all went wrong?

When it feels like your world is beyond fixing, remember nap time with your mother.

In my mother’s lap, I never had to worry. The world’s problems were both far away and fixable. I could rest knowing that my input wasn’t required. And oh, how often I long for that kind of rest today.

A Mom Who Taught Me to Love God’s Word

Today May 25, 2022, marks the one year anniversary of my mother’s homegoing. As I’ve thought about her today, I’ve gone through my files and found Facebook posts, text messages, and voicemails where I talked to my mom and about my mom. I also found my notes for the eulogy I gave at her funeral. Here’s what I said.

I was born in 1966, and there are two things that happened around that time that radically shaped the person I am today. First, Sesame Street debuted in 1969, so it was finding its footing at about the same time I was learning to read. Some of my earliest memories are watching Sesame Street with my mom. Watching her laugh at “The Count” (I think he was her favorite character) made me delight in learning.

Then, in 1971, the Living Bible was published. They published the adult version, the teen version (“The Way”) and The Children’s Living Bible at the same time. My mom bought the Living Bible for herself and Dad; “The Way” for each of my siblings, and The Children’s Living Bible for me. All three versions shared the same, avocado-green art direction. It was the Seventies.

I had no idea that before that the Bible was seen as stuffy and hard to understand. I never knew that most people thought the Bible was just a book full of thee’s and thou’s and sayests and doests and verily verily’s. When my mom read to me, it made sense.

I know people are critical of the Living Bible because of some of the liberties it took with its paraphrase. But when my mom read it to me, I thought it was beautiful. My mom and I would read The Children’s Living Bible every day.

So there was Sesame Street, Dr. Seuss, and crossword puzzles every day before nap time. Mom would ask for my “help” with clues even when she knew the answer. Through this, I developed a love for reading, language, and word games. But there was also the Children’s Living Bible. I truly believe it was the one-two punch of Sesame Street and God’s Word that has fundamentally shaped who I became: an English major who studied children’s ministry in seminary; who became a pastor; who has at least one bad pun in almost every sermon.

This year, I’m on my 25th read through of the Bible. And it started with my mom reading to me.

Moms, I can’t say it enough: your love for God’s Word will shape your children. And I am so grateful to my mom, for every book, every verse, every episode of Sesame Street, and every crossword puzzle clue. 

Day 145: Follow Your Bliss, or Fulfill Your Calling? (1 Chronicles 23-25)

“For their duty was to assist the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God. Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening, and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the Lord. Thus they were to keep charge of the tent of meeting and the sanctuary, and to attend the sons of Aaron, their brothers, for the service of the house of the Lord.” 1 Chronicles‬ ‭23:28-32‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Today’s reading challenges our modern understanding of calling and vocation. It’s all about the divisions of the Levites and priests for service in the Temple, once it was built. It continues the theme that was introduced way back in Exodus, when the Lord set aside one tribe out of the twelve and said, “You guys are going to be my priests throughout all generations.”

So today, I started thinking, what if there was a descendant of Aaron who said, “But I don’t wanna be a priest”? What if there was a son of Asaph who said, “I don’t like music. Can’t I be—I dunno—a stone mason instead?” I’m sure there were some teenaged Levites in every generation that said, “How come our family doesn’t have land, like Isaachar’s kids do?” Or looked at 1 Chronicles 23:30 and said, “How come we have to ‘stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord’? Just once, can’t we sleep in, like the Reubenites?”

And I can imagine a father gently saying, “No, my son. We are Levites. It’s who we are. It’s not what we have to do; it’s what we get to do.”

It reminded me of the conversation I had with a rabbi I shared an elevator with when I was in Israel. When I asked him how old he was when he felt called to be a rabbi, it was almost like he didn’t understand the question. He was a fourth generation rabbi. It was just what his family did. (See Day 055: “My Father Was a Rabbi, and His Father Before Him…” (Numbers 3-4))

A lot of English surnames are based on the family trade. Carters made carts. Chandlers made candles. Boatwrights repaired boats. You get the idea. But these days, there aren’t too many occupations that get passed down from father to son. We are much more about teaching our kids to follow their passion. We tell them they can be whatever they want to be. Even a member of the British monarchy can say “You know what, I don’t really want to be a royal. It’s too much responsibility.”

In our generation, following your bliss and living out your truth is more important than fulfilling your destiny.

But the Levitical priesthood reminds me that as a believer, I have a calling and a consecration that was picked out for me before I was born. Matthew 25:34 says that I am going to inherit a kingdom that was prepared for me from the foundation of the world. And the apostle Peter went on to describe believers as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for His own possession,” with a very specific task: “that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

So we are a lot like the Levites. And yes, there are days that I wonder what it would be like to not have serving Jesus be the primary occupation and preoccupation of my life. There are days when I think it would be nice to pursue the things of the world without stopping to consider any spiritual obligations. As a pastor, there’s days when I think I’d rather be a plumber.

But then I feel the hand of my Father gently rest on my shoulder, and I hear His voice, full of love, saying, “No, my son. I chose you to follow Jesus. It’s who you are. It’s not what you have to do; it’s what you get to do.”

Day 143: Dealing With the Discrepancies (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21-22; Psalm 30)

13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three[f] years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” (2 Samuel 24:13-14)

Tara-Leigh says that this is one of her favorite days of the Bible reading plan. If I am being completely honest, I have to confess that it is one of my least favorites. I’m bothered by the apparent contradictions between the 2 Samuel account and the 1 Chronicles account.

My faith tradition holds to the doctrine that the Bible is God’s infallible, inerrant, inspired word of God. That within its pages is truth without any mixture of error. And we don’t entertain the possibility that there are contradictions in the Bible.

So I will be honest. Days like this are a challenge for someone who holds to that doctrine. I almost didn’t write this post, for fear that someone will think it’s inappropriate for a pastor to express this kind of doubt. But I know that people outside the church are asking these questions. And if we pretend that they don’t even bother us, then I think we disrespect the honest skeptic. So I’d rather acknowledge the discrepancies, admit that I don’t know how to reconcile them, and trust that what I don’t understand is because of my own limitations, and not any limitations of God’s Word.

First, there’s the major discrepancy we get to right off the bat about who incited David to order the census in the first place: God or Satan?

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1)

 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.  (1 Chronicles 21:1)

Then, there’s the discrepancy between how many people there were:

9 And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000. (2 Samuel 24:9)

5 And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. 6 But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. (1 Chronicles 21:5-6)

David builds an altar to the Lord on someone’s threshing floor. Whose threshing floor was it?

18 And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” (2 Samuel 24:18)

18 Now the angel of the Lord had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (1 Chronicles 21:18)

How much did David pay for the threshing floor?

 So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels[g] of silver.  (2 Samuel 24:24)

25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels[a] of gold by weight for the site.  (1 Chronicles 21:25)

I am thankful that none of these discrepancies affect the point of the account. And the point is this: When God got to Jerusalem, He stayed His hand.

16 And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.”  (2 Samuel 24:16)

14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” (1 Chronicles 21:14-16)

This story is not about who owned the threshing floor, or how much David paid for it, or how many people lived in Israel, or even why David felt the need to count them. The point of the story is that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor does he keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sin, nor repay us according to our iniquity (Psalm 103).

B.H. Carroll, the founder of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, put it this way:

When I was a boy I thought I had found a thousand contradictions in the Bible… I do not see them now; they are not there. There are perhaps a half dozen in the Bible that I cannot explain satisfactorily to myself. … Since I have seen nine hundred and ninety-four out of the thousand coalesce and harmonize like two streams mingling, I am disposed to think that if I had more sense I could harmonize the other six.

B.H. Carroll (1843-1914), The Inspiration of the Bible

Whatever else I don’t understand or doesn’t add up, the two accounts are in absolute agreement about the mercy of God. And I praise Him for His longsuffering and compassion.

Day 144: I am Prayer (Psalm 109:4)

Through the Bible Reading: Psalm 108-110


109 Be not silent, O God of my praise!
2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
    speaking against me with lying tongues.
3 They encircle me with words of hate,
    and attack me without cause.
4 In return for my love they accuse me,
    but I give myself to prayer.

Psalm 109:1-4

In Psalm 109:4, David writes “I give myself to prayer.” The ESV points out that in Hebrew, it says, “But I am prayer.” Wow.

People ask you all the time, “How are you?” What is your answer?

And the list goes on. On any given day, we are happy, stressed, anxious, exhausted, confident, quiet, sad, lonely, depressed, discouraged, hopeful, excited, optimistic, pessimistic, half-empty, half-full. And it changes throughout the day. Our answer is the mercury in the thermometer.

Of course, most people don’t say any of those. The standard answer is the superficial one: How are you? Fine. Everything is fine.

How many people would you freak out today if, when they asked you, “How are you?” you had the same answer the Psalmist had:

I am prayer.

It sounds weird, doesn’t it? That someone asks you for an emotion, or an attitude, or a state of mind, and you respond with an action. But the truth is, we define ourselves by what we do all the time: I’m a parent. I’m a teacher. I’m an accountant. I’m a pastor.

So why not, “I am prayer”? God, how I’d love to be defined by that one thing!

Imagine that each day was a blank page with “I am _____________” at the top of the page, and “I was ______________.”  What if, at the beginning of the day, I filled in the blank with what I hoped to be defined by for that day?

I am prayer.

And what If, at the end of each day, I filled in the blank with one action that defined me for that day? I’m afraid “prayer” wouldn’t  complete the sentence very often. “I was pride” would be there pretty often.  So would “I was anxiety.”

Lord, I begin today with a desire to be defined by prayer. Please reduce me to only those actions that bring glory to you. And if, at the end of today, the blank gets filled in by something else, thank you that tomorrow is a new journal page.

Day 142: Light is Sown, and Light Dawns (Psalm 97:11)

Read the Bible Through: Psalm 95, 97-99

Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart. Psalm 97:11, ESV

Light dawns for the righteous,
gladness for the upright in heart. Psalm 97:11, CSB

The majority of English translations render the Hebrew verb zarah in Psalm 97:11 as sown, and they make it passive– Light is sown.

זָרַע

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is the lone outlier, translating “Light dawns for the righteous.” The Hebrew word here is zarach.

זָרַח

As you can see, there is only one letter difference between the two words. The text footnote in the ESV tells us that just one Hebrew manuscript has zarach, along with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and Jerome’s translation into Latin.

It’s possible that Jerome mistranslated the similar word. It’s also possible that he had Psalm 112:4 in mind, which is very similar:

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (Psalm 112:4)

Here, the word is zarach– light dawns.

I’m thankful to have both, because they are both true.

I love the image that light and joy are things that are sown by God–the sower–into our lives. I love that it doesn’t say “The righteous sow light and joy,” or that light and joy is sown by the righteous. We can’t make ourselves be joyful. We can try, but the results will be superficial and fake. Like a ficus tree. No, joy has to be sown into our lives. And the promise of Psalm 97 is that it is. God is constantly sowing joy into our lives. Planting seeds isn’t something that is done once for most plants. Seeds are sown consistently and seasonally.

Seeds are also sown extravagantly. Remember Jesus’ parable of the seeds in Matthew 13? Every seed of light and joy God sows brings a harvest 30, 60, or a hundredfold.

Now, you know that a gardener has to be patient. Not all light and joy will be seen in this season. If you are in a time of darkness or sadness, it could be that the light and joy just hasn’t bloomed yet. Springtime is coming. The winter doesn’t last forever.

And that’s why I love the translation choice of the CSB. “Light dawns” instead of “light is sown.” You see, I’m not a great gardener. For me, if I plant something, it’s a coin toss as to whether I will ever see anything grow from the seeds I sow. On the other hand, I am 100% sure that the sun will come up tomorrow. Lamentations 3:21-23 is one of the great promises of Scripture:

21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Beloved, trust that God is a much better gardener than you and I could ever be. Trust that what He sows, He also reaps. And consistently, seasonally, extravagantly, and patiently, He is sowing light and joy in your life.

But if you need a little extra boost of faith today, or if your own experiences with gardening make the whole “sowing seeds” image a little harder to accept, then you have the CSB to lean on: Light and joy will dawn in your life.

As sure as the sun rises.

Day 141: Gentleness that Makes Me Great (2 Samuel 22:36)

My Dad, Richard Aaron Jackson
35 He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your gentleness made me great.
2 Samuel 22:35-36, Psalm 18:35

Last night I went to a wedding reception for my nephew and his bride. They actually got married during the Covid shutdown, but couldn’t do a reception until now. It was a sweet time with my siblings; the first time we had all been in the same room since our mom’s funeral last year.

And as we were talking around the table, I learned for the first time, I think, that my dad was a Marine Corps drill instructor. If I had ever been told that, I had forgotten it.

I was frankly shocked, because while my dad was a firm disciplinarian, I never thought of him as the drill instructor type. If you’ve seen any military movie, you know the stereotype I’m talking about. Hard, demanding, frightening. Think Full Metal Jacket, An Officer and a Gentlemen, or Forrest Gump.

In HBO’s Band of Brothers, there is a scene near the end of the series in which two officers in Easy Company are reflecting back on their journey from boot camp to the end of the war. Their drill instructor, played by David Schwimmer, was cruel, almost sadistic. He was despised by his men. But the officers realize that their hatred of Captain Sobel made them stronger as a unit. I couldn’t find the exact quote, but one says something along the lines of, “We hated him, but we hated him together, and that’s what made us great.”

David Schwimmer as Captain Sobel in HBO’s Band of Brothers

Much of the language of 2 Samuel 22 (which is repeated for the most part in Psalm 18) describes what a boot camp drill instructor wold do:

But unlike a human drill intructor who gets results by intimidation and breaking down the individual, God gets results through gentleness. He delights in us (verse 20); shows mercy to us (v. 26); and hears us when we cry to Him in distress (v. 7).

This doesn’t mean God is a pushover. There is also plenty in David’s Psalm that is terrifying. When God gets angry, the earth quakes (v. 8). Smoke goes up from His nostrils and devouring fire from His mouth (v. 9). The foundations of the world are laid bare at the rebuke of the Lord (v. 16).

But it is God’s gentleness that makes us great. God’s steadfast love, more than any other attribute, is God’s defining characteristic. He leads us with cords of kindness and ropes of love (Hosea 11:4). His kindness leads us to repentance (Romans2:4). And the same kindness that leads us to repentance led His Son to the Cross so that we could repent.

Learning that my father was a drill instructor helps me understand this chapter better. My dad could get angry. I saw that at times. And I can imagine him as a demanding drill instructor with high expectations for the men under his command. ButI can never imagine him as cruel.

It’s gentleness that makes us great.

Day 140: The Sweet Spot of Prayer Time: Deep Calls to Deep (Psalm 42)

Through the Bible Reading: Psalm 5, 38, 41, 42

Hank Aaron in 1974, Getty Images

7 Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:7-8

In baseball, there’s the idea of hitting the sweet spot. It’s when the player makes contact with the dead center of the ball with the fattest part of the bat over the middle of the plate at the at the maximum peak of his swing. When all those factors come together, it’s goodbye, Mr. Spalding. Sportscasters often refer to it as “going deep.”

In Psalm 42, David describes going deep with God. He finds the sweet spot. Now, It isn’t necessarily a place he wants to be. He is probably in exile, no longer able to go”with the throng to the house of God” (v. 4). He is writing from the other side of the Jordan River, “from the land of Jordan and of Hermon” (v. 6). Scholars connect this Psalm to the period of David’s life in which he fled Jerusalem after Absalom’s coup. His soul is cast down and in turmoil. His tears have become his food day and night (v. 3). His enemies are attacking him and his foes are taunting him. He wonders if God has forgotten him.

And this is when he finds the sweet spot.

Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.

The Hebrew word for “deep” here refers to the deepest known depths of the sea. It’s the same word Jonah used in his prayer from the belly of the fish.

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Jonah 2:3

By the way, did you notice how Jonah used almost the exact same language of Psalm 42? This isn’t a coincidence. Jonah knew Scripture, and he quoted this prayer, from the belly of a fish! Talk about having God’s Word in your heart!

So deep calling out to deep is when someone’s deepest need is met by God’s deepest grace. When the profound depth of our distress is answered by the unfathomable depth of God’s love for us. This is the sweet spot.

I love this quote from the GotQuestions article on Psalm 42:7:

“The deep of man’s need calleth unto the deep of God’s fulness; and the deep of God’s fulness calleth unto the deep of man’s need. Between our emptiness and His all-sufficiency there is a great gulf. . . . Deep calleth unto deep. The deep mercy of God needs our emptiness, into which it might pour itself. . . . Nothing can fully meet the depth of our need but the depth of His Almighty fulness”

James Smith and Robert Lee, Handfuls of Purpose for Christian Workers and Bible Students, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971. Vol. 8, p. 11

The picture I put at the top of this blog is of when my childhood hero Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record. Hammerin’ Hank went deep 755 times in his career. And he did it without performance enhancing drugs. Which is why he’s in the Hall of Fame, while other players with more home runs are not. There are no short cuts to finding the sweet spot. It comes from discipline, longevity, and hours and hours of batting practice.

Hitting that sweet spot with the Lord doesn’t come easy either. We rarely get to the point of “deep calling out to deep” when things are going great in our lives. Maybe it takes being estranged from your family. Maybe it takes facing the consequences of your sin. This is what it took for David. Maybe it takes getting swallowed by a fish, like it did for Jonah.

But when you get to the end of yourself, when you’ve run as far as you can, sunk as low as you can, and hit the bottom of rock bottom, that’s when deep really calls out to deep.

And paradoxically, that’s the sweet spot.

Day 139: Recycled Revenge, and the Better Way of Jesus (2 Samuel 19-21)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 
Matthew 5:43-45

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I didn’t much like David, even though he is called the “man after God’s own heart” (see Day 111: Not Really Loving David Today, and Why I’m Not Supposed To). Today’s reading gives me more reasons not to like David. The whole thing seems to be all about revenge, and it leaves me feeling a little gross.

David replaces Joab because he’s mad about getting called out (19:13). Later, Joab stabs Amasa because he’s bitter about losing his job (20:9-10).

In 19:10-23, David seems to be magnanimous in extending forgiveness to Shimei, but if you fast forward to his deathbed conversation with Solomon in 1 Kings 2, you see that literally David’s last words were airing his grievances over Shimei cursing him decades before (1 Kings 2:8-9). For an outstanding scholarly article on this, check out “King David’s Troubling Deathbed Instructions” at thetorah.com.

Finally, in 2 Samuel 21:5-6, David seems to think that God will bring a famine in the land  to an end if the Gibeonites are allowed to execute seven sons of Saul. Tara Leigh astutely notes that this was not an explicit command from God.  This may have been David acting on his own. God responding to the plea for the land (v. 14) seems to be connected more to the bones of Saul and Jonathan being interred than it does to the deaths of the seven sons.

So God, what do you have to teach me in these dark passages?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed us a better way. Rather than revenge, Jesus preached reconciliation. Instead of brooding over past slights, whether real or perceived, Jesus invited us to turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled to your brother.  Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be called children of your father who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:45).

So it seems we have a choice. We can follow David, or we can follow the Son of David. One perpetuates a cycle. The other breaks a cycle.

The band Coldplay has this lyric in their song “Death and all His Friends,” one of the songs on Viva la Vida:

No, I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end;
I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge;
I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.

The cycle of recycled revenge is the surest way to follow Death and all his friends. The way of Jesus, the way of loving your enemies, is the way of life and peace.

God, you remind me today that constantly mulling over old grievances, seeking to settle scores, and looking to get even is to follow death and all his friends. Help me not to keep cycling recycled revenge. Today, let me be a person of peace who breaks the cycle instead of perpetuating it. Today, I want to follow Jesus, and not David.

Day 138: A Tottering Fence (Psalm 62)


62 For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

3 How long will all of you attack a man
    to batter him,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

Psalm 62:1-3

Through the Bible reading plan: Psalm 26, 40, 58, 61, 62, 64

Yesterday, we read about how, when David fled Jerusalem at the start of Absalom’s coup, a random Benjamite named Shimei threw stones at him and cursed him. 2 Samuel 16:6-7 reads,

“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!”

In today’s reading, Psalm 62 seems to be about this part of David’s life. If it is, I have to chuckle a little at the double meaning of verse 2: David writes that “God alone is my rock… I shall not be greatly shaken.” In other words, these little rocks Shimei threw at David weren’t going to shake him, because when God is your one and only rock, the rocks thrown by others don’t faze you.

Except when they do. No matter how solid your faith in God your rock might be, the little petty criticisms from others inevitably get to you. Maybe that’s why David goes on to write,

“How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?” Psalm 62:3 ESV

There is a lot of variation among English translations of this verse, because it isn’t clear who David is saying is like a “leaning wall or a tottering fence.”  Was it David himself or his enemies? King James took it to mean David’s enemies: “How long will you attack a man? You shall be slain, all of you, Like a leaning wall and a tottering fence.”

The NIV, though, makes it sound as though David is describing himself: “How long will you assault me? Would all of you throw me down– this leaning wall, this tottering fence?”

Other translations acknowledge that the Hebrew is ambiguous, so they make it a generic third person:  “How long will you assail a man, That you may murder him, all of you, Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?” (ESV, NASB, CSB all go this route).

Knowing what we know about where David is at this point, I think David is describing himself. David is dealing with all the consequences of that sin. He’s battered and broken down like an old wall or rickety fence. He’s being attacked from all sides: his son, Absalom, his most trusted advisor Ahithophel, even random passers-by like Shimei.

But what I love about the Psalm in context is that there’s a bigger reality that trumps how David feels. He might feel like a leaning wall and tottering fence. His enemies might even believe that themselves— “Let’s attack when he is at his most vulnerable.”

But David also expresses the truth:

Beloved, when we feel most defenseless, know that the Lord has never been more secure. Hide behind your own flimsy fence, and you are vulnerable. Take shelter in God as your fortress, and you will never be shaken.

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