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?

  • I’m good.
  • I’m fine.
  • I’m okay.
  • I’m busy.
  • I’m stressed.
  • I’m tired.
  • I’m worried.

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:

  • For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall (v. 30)
  • He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze (v. 35)
  • For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me (v. 40).

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:

  • God alone is my rock and my salvation (v2, v6)
  • He is my hope (v5).
  • He is My fortress,
  • My salvation,
  • My glory;
  • My mighty rock.
  • My refuge (vs 5-7).

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.

Day 137: My Father is Peace (2 Samuel 16-18)

David mourning Absalom. Illustration for The Lives and Lessons of the Patriarchs by John Cumming (John F Shaw, 1865).
33 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

I received a text yesterday afternoon that the husband of a dear friend here in town passed away very suddenly. They had had lunch together that day. She went to the doctor. She came home and found him on the floor of the kitchen. Her pastor texted me because Shannon was asking for my wife to be there. So I called Trish, and she had heard and was already on the way to her house. I met her there.

The street was already lined with cars. I parked on the other side of the street. And as soon as I got out of my car, I could hear the wailing from Shannon’s back yard. I let myself in through the backyard gate and joined the dozen or so friends, pastors, and neighbors that were surrounding Shannon. Some were holding her, helping her breathe. Some were on her phone, tracking down contacts and people who needed to know. Some were taking turns holding Shannon’s little dog, who was desperate to get to her.

Some were strategically blocking the glass door leading into the kitchen, where her husband was still on the floor, while the county coroner did his work.

Our friend was inconsolable. She wasn’t rational. She pounded her fists into her thighs, insisting to those around her that he was asleep, he was asleep, he was asleep. She needed to make dinner. They were signed up to bring a meal to a friend whose wife had been sick, and she and Rob needed to get started on the meal.

So I sat across from her on the patio, silently praying. Not knowing anything else to do. I took my turn holding the dog.

Then, when one of her pastors invited me to take his place next to Shannon, I sat next to her. I put my arm around her and just spoke Scripture to her. I tried to think of every Scripture in my memory bank that mentioned peace:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22)

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving (Psalm 62:11-12)

I have no idea if any of it even registered with our friend. Her eyes never focused on me. I’m not even sure she knew who I was in that moment. Maybe her breathing slowed a little. Maybe her clenched fists loosened just a little. Or maybe I’m just imagining it.

Eventually, I went back to holding the dog.

Death is so mean. You are in situations like that, and you are reminded that it’s not supposed to be this way. Death is an interruptor. A disruptor. A thief. Death is a terrorist, causing us to fear our future without the one death takes from us. And when someone is hit with the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, sometimes all they can do is beat their fists on their thighs and breathe into a paper bag and insist that it can’t be real.

I think that was David in the passage today. He had done everything he could to make sure his son Absalom wouldn’t be harmed in the battle (2 Samuel 18:5) But Absalom died anyway. Death has no respect for the plans we make to prevent it. And the wail of David’s cry shook the palace:

“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

Even though I’ve read this story many times before, I was struck by something in today’s reading that I had never seen before. You probably know enough Hebrew to translate the name Absalom:

Absalom: Ab + Salom

Ab: Father. Think Abba, Abraham (Father of Nations), etc.

Salom: Shalom. Peace.

Absalom: Father of peace. Or My Father is Peace.

David’s wailing over his son could be read as a prayer to the God of peace. I’m not saying that was what it was for David in the moment. I think he was really wailing for his son. But perhaps there was a moment in the midst of his wailing that God the Father gently reminded David of the meaning of his sons name. And mingled among the wailing was this reminder of who God is:

O my son!

Father of Peace

My son, my son!

My Father is peace!

Would I had died instead of you, O…

Father of Peace…

My son! My son!

Grief is mean, but God is real. Death is the serpent in the Garden. But the God of peace will soon crush Satan underneath His feet (Romans 16:20). And one day, all our cries of mourning will turn to dances of praise. When the Disruptor is disrupted and the Interruptor interrupted. Death will be no more, and there will only be the Absalom, the Absalom.

The Father of Peace.

Day 135: The High Cost of Passivity (2 Samuel 13-15)

When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar. After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king's sons. (2  Samuel 13:21-23)

So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years.  And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead. (2 Samuel 13:38-39)

So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king's presence. Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come. (2 Samuel 14:28-29)

And at the end of four years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron. (2 Samuel 15:7)

An old saying tells us that revenge is a dish best served cold. And the story of Absalom’s revenge on his brother for the rape of his sister certainly seems to bear that out. But while that advice may be popular, it is by no means biblical.

Sadly, the whole tragic story of 2 Samuel 13-15 has more to teach us about the dangers of passivity than it does about how and when to take revenge. Let’s look at the events that take place, and the time it took to deal with them.

Scene 1: Amnon rapes Tamar, his half sister (2 Samuel 13:1-14). In verse 21, we read that David is “very angry” about this. But crucially, the king does nothing. He doesn’t punish Amnon. He doesn’t warn Absalom not to take matters into his own hands. And after two years, Absalom takes his revenge and has his brother killed. Time since Amnon raped Tamar: Two years

Scene 2: Absalom flees to Geshur (2 Samuel 13:34-39). Geshur, in modern day Syria, was across the Jordan, about 50 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Absalom stays there for three years as a fugitive. Verse 39 is curious. It says that the spirit of King David “longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead.” Does this mean that David saw the killing of Amnon as just, so he was prepared to forgive Absalom? If so, why didn’t he go to him to restore him? Maybe he was waiting for the public furor to die down. Or maybe he just didn’t want to deal with hit. Whatever the reason, once again David does nothing. For three years. Time since Amnon raped Tamar: Five years

Scene Three: Absalom returns to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:1-28). After much drama, Joab gets the king to allow Absalom to come back to Jerusalem, with the stipulation that Absalom was not permitted to see King David (verse 24). So he was kinda-sorta restored, but not really. Even though David allowed him back in town, for two full years, David does nothing to even acknowledge his son is back home. Time since Amnon raped Tamar: Seven years

Scene Four: Absalom burns Joab’s crops (2 Samuel 14:29-33). Frustrated that his father won’t see him, and believing that Joab is the bouncer denying him access, Absalom sets Joab’s field on fire. This gets Joab’s attention, David finally grants Absalom an audience, and David seems to restore his son. Problem solved, right? Not so fast. There is no confronting. There’s no discussion about mistakes made. There’s superficial reconciliation, but no one is dealing with the issues. This leads us to…

Scene Five: Absalom Attempts a Coup (2 Samuel 15:1-12) For the next four years, Absalom stations himself at the city gate, and whenever someone comes into town for an audience with the king, Absalom convinces him that if Absalom were king, he would get justice, but that he shouldn’t expect much from old, weak, King David. And after four years, Absalom makes his move. Believing that he has fully “stolen the hearts of the men of Israel” (verse 6), he launches his rebellion against his father. Total time since Amnon raped Tamar: Eleven Years.

Eleven years of inaction and passivity. Eleven years of failure to address a problem. Eleven years of a leader kicking a can down the road and hoping a family crisis would blow over.

How might the history of Israel have been different if David had dealt with the issue quickly? If he had punished Amnon, perhaps Absalom would not have taken matters into his own hands. We will never know. What we do know is that strong leadership is not passive. Strong leadership resolves conflict quickly. David’s inaction brought ruin to his house, and it was only God’s faithfulness to His own promise that kept a son of David on the throne in Jerusalem for the next four hundred years.

What about you? How often do you hope conflict will blow over? How willing are you to sweep things under the rug, hoping that offended parties will patch things up on their own? If you are a leader on any level, you can’t afford to be passive in confronting conflict. If a confrontation is inevitable, then you need to work to make it immediate. Do it with all the grace and prudence and discernment God gives you, but don’t delay doing it.

Because while revenge might be best served cold, nobody likes warmed-over resolution.

Day 134: The Lexicon of Restoration (Psalm 51)

Library copy of Webster’s 1937 dictionary

Through the Bible Reading: Psalm 32, 51, 86, 122

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:7-12

You may have heard that the Inuit people of Alaska have dozens of different words for snow. That’s not exactly true (this article explains why that urban legend is misleading), but it’s a useful idea nonetheless. It suggests that the more familiar someone is with a given thing, the more specialized vocabulary he or she develops to describe it. Thus, if you hang around a skateboarder, you’ll hear about kickflips, McTwists, nollies, ollies, and mongo-foots. Its the same with every other hobbyist and specialist, whether it’s golf, quilting, or nuclear physics. When you’re familiar with something, you have lots of ways of describing it.

Psalm 51 is the psalm David wrote after his adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder he committed to cover it up. It is a sad, sordid story, and if you are not familiar with it, you can read it for yourself in 2 Samuel 11-12.

In Psalm 51, David is a sin specialist. Throughout the Psalm, he uses three different words for sin, each of which has a different shade of meaning:

Transgression (verses 1,3,13): Transgression is the Hebrew word pesa. It implies a rebellion against God’s authority and law.

Iniquity (verses 2,5,9): Hebrew aon; means a distortion of what should be. It has a lot in common with our English word inequity–the state of things not being balanced or equal.

Sin (verses 2,3,4,5,9,13) Simply put, sin (chata) is to miss. It’s an archer failing to hit the target. It’s a hiker missing a turn and going the wrong way. It’s getting lost.

David has an expert’s vocabulary on sin. All of us do.

But if we are experts on sin, then praise God that He is an expert in forgiveness. David uses three words for sin, but he uses eleven phrases to describe how God deals with our sin!

  • Have mercy on me (v. 1)
  • Blot Out (v. 1)
  • Wash me (v. 2)
  • Cleanse me (v. 2)
  • Purge me (v. 7)
  • Hide Your face from my sin (v. 9)
  • Create in me a clean heart (v. 10)
  • Renew a right spirit (v. 10)
  • Restore me (v. 12)
  • Uphold me (v. 12)
  • Deliver me (v. 14)

Oh, beloved, take comfort in the fact that God has more ways to forgive our sin than we have to sin in the first place. God is so much more creative in His forgiveness than we are in our transgression! The dictionary of restoration is a multi-volume work that would spill out of the largest library. Compared to it, our glossary of sin would fit on a post-it note.

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