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.

Day 133: Because of the Lord (2 Samuel 11-12; 1 Chronicles 20)

“And the Lord loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:24-25 ESV

The name Jedidiah means “beloved by the Lord,” and this is the only time Solomon is called this. This was where I saw God’s character on display in this whole mess of a story.

David sinned horribly. He got Bathsheba pregnant, then killed her husband to cover his sin. Bathsheba was taken from her home, widowed from her husband, and made a part of David’s harem. The child born of rape and murder dies without even being named.

So David; called out by God and judged for his sin, goes to Bathsheba; stuck in a marriage she didn’t ask for, and they do their best to pick up the pieces and move forward. They have a son they name Solomon. Solomon, which means “peaceable” (I had never picked up on this before, but in the Hebrew his name is SHALOM-oh).

What a picture of two messed up human beings, trying to find a way to repair, restore, or at least douse the flames of the dumpster fire David has made of his life. Desperate for some measure of peace, they name their son “peaceable.”

And then—God.

Verse 24: “And the Lord loved him.”

Regardless of how this child came into the world, the Lord loved him. No matter the sin of the father and the brokenness of the mother, the Lord loved him. Despite how far every human attempt at finding peace falls short, the Lord loved him.

God sends a message by Nathan the prophet—yes, Nathan! The same prophet who delivered the “You are the man” message to David, and warned him that because of his sin the life he’d built was about to go up in flames. God sends a message through Nathan the prophet that says, “I love this kid. You can call him Solomon if you want, but I’m gonna call him Jedidiah.”

Beloved by the Lord.

And verse 25 ends with a gloriously vague, ambiguous phrase, “because of the Lord.”

Peace isn’t going to come for a couple because they have another child. Or they reinstate date night. Or they go on a dream vacation. Or they agree to never bring up whatever shipwrecked them. We can name the child peace, but without the Lord, that’s just wishful thinking.

But when God says, “this child is beloved by the Lord,” that’s when true peace can be found. Not peace that we manufacture from the shards we sweep up, but peace we receive from the hand of a kind God. From a good, good Father.

Oh, and one more bit of glorious ambiguity: Verse 24 says, “And the Lord loved him.” “Him” who? “Him” David, who had fallen so far yet never fell out from under God’s love? Or “him” the child, who would not be held responsible for the sin of the father? Him whose parents named him Solomon in a desperate bid for peace, but from whose line would one day come the eternal Prince of Peace? Which him did the Lord love?

Both.

Because of the Lord.

Day 132: Where Every Part Reflects the Whole (Psalm 67)

Through the Bible Reading Plan: Psalm 65-67, 69-70

67 May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
    your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you!

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you!

6 The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, shall bless us.
7 God shall bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth fear him!

In 1975, a mathematician named Benoit Mandelbrot begin paying attention to fractal patterns in nature. Fractals are objects in which the same pattern occurs again and again at every scale and size of the larger whole. We see repeated patterns in snowflakes, quartz crystals, forks of lightning, the branches of trees, and even the tributaries of rivers. Each smaller component reflects the geometry of the whole.

God’s heart for the nations of the world is a fractal pattern in God’s Word. From the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 11:3 to the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations in Revelation 22:2, God demonstrates over and over and over again that His desire is for all the peoples of the earth to fear His name.

The pattern is simple: start with a focus on one people, the Jews, and then expand the focus to all peoples:

  • Abraham would be blessed, and then all nations would be blessed through Him (Genesis 22:18)
  • The gospel is the power of God for salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
  • The disciples were to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea (Jews first); then to Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

In the seven verses of Psalm 67 we see the nations referred to over and over again. But notice how it starts and ends with the Psalmist focused on what God has done for Israel:

  • May God be gracious to us and bless us (v1)
  • God shall bless us (v. 7)

In between are no less than TEN reminders of God’s heart for the nations:

  1. God’s way is to be known on earth (v. 2)
  2. God’s saving power is to be known among all nations (v. 2)
  3. Let the peoples praise God (v. 3)
  4. Let all the peoples praise God (v. 3)
  5. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy (v. 4)
  6. God judges the peoples with equity (v. 4)
  7. God guides the nations (v. 4)
  8. Let the peoples praise God (v. 5)
  9. Let all the peoples praise God (v. 5)
  10. Let all the ends of the earth fear God (v. 7)

I can only think of one time where the pattern was reversed. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said that He would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for God’s people Israel” (Luke 2:32). If you find others, please let me know in the comments.

Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, provided revelation for the Gentiles. Because of Jesus, one day there will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

But guess what? John had this vision after the vision of the 144,000 sealed from the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8). Why? Because God’s Word is perfect. It is consistent. It is reliable. And in God’s Word, it is the Jew first, and then the Greek.

So how does this pattern challenge you this morning? Let it remind you that God first desires to bless you. He seeks a relationship with you as He sought out Abram.

Then, God desires to use you to bless those around you. Your spouse. Your family. Your church family. You are blessed to be a blessing. Just as God’s blessing to Abram also blessed Lot (Genesis 13:6), Hagar and Ishmael, and Sarah and Isaac, we are blessed to be a blessing around us.

But finally, remember that God seeks to bless the nations through you! The gospel came to you on its way to the nations! You can break apart any passage and teaching of Scripture and see this beautiful pattern reflected and repeated. The nations matter to God.

Here are some more passages from Psalms to reflect on today.

“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Psalm‬ ‭2:8‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” Psalm‬ ‭22:27‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

“Clap your hands all peoples!” Psalm 47:1

“God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” Psalm‬ ‭47:8‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

‭“O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, Selah”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Psalm 68:32
‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Day 131: Why The Pharisees Missed It, and Why We Sometimes do Too (Psalm 20)

Through the Bible: 2 Samuel 10; 1 Chronicles 19; Psalm 20

“Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.” (Psalm 20:6)

When I read Psalm 20:6, it’s a little easier for me to understand why the Pharisees didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. Remember that Messiah literally means “the anointed one.”

Look at Matthew 27:41-43, and notice how targeted their taunts were at the foot of the cross:

  • “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”
  • “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”
  • “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.” (This last one is word for word from Psalm 22:8).

As if to say, “Two can play at that game,” Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (See Day 125: The Rabbi on the Cross (Psalm 22)

If you were steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures as the Pharisees were, then you would have expected this to be the moment. If Jesus was the Messiah, then this would be when the Lord would answer from His holy heaven and save His anointed with His mighty right hand.

Instead, the Lord’s anointed bowed His head and yielded His spirit. For the Pharisees, that was all the proof they needed that Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be.

So they missed it, not because they didn’t know the Scriptures, but because they didn’t understand them. They were so sure they had the correct interpretation that they could not imagine God fulfilling them in any other way (which He did, by the way— three days later, God raised Jesus from the dead.)

Sometimes, I am so sure God is going to do something in a certain way that when He chooses to do it differently, I think He hasn’t done anything at all. I’ll ask God to help me love my wife the way He loves her, and instead we wind up having an argument. I’ll ask the Lord to help me walk more closely with Him, and instead I find myself facing a health scare or a financial hardship.

But here is what I am learning: These aren’t really insteads. They are answers. God doesn’t ignore my prayer for peace with Him by allowing me to experience hardship; He answers it by allowing me to experience hardship.

God, I want to know your Word better. But Father, I beg that you help me know You through Your word. Don’t let me be a Pharisee who misses the new thing you are doing because it may not conform to my preconceived ideas of how You work. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, open my mind to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).

Day 129: Living in Lo-Debar (2 Samuel 9)

Through the Bible: 2 Samuel 8-9, 1 Chronicles 18

3 And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” 4 The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. (2 Samuel 9:3-5)

The story of Mephibosheth is just awesome. It shows David’s faithfulness–honoring his devotion to his best friend Jonathan by seeking someone left alive from his house to whom he can show kindness.

It points to the gospel–how God invites all of us who are crippled and helpless without Him to dine at His table for all our days.

Others have written about these points, and I don’t want to repeat what they have said. However, there’s one detail of the story that jumped out to me this morning. Ironically, it was while I was working on the post for the Day 130 reading, which is all about what to do when we feel like God is silent. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain the connection.

When David first inquires about Mephibosheth (and just so autocorrect will leave me alone, I’m going to refer to him as “Bo” from here on out), Bo is living in a town called Lo-Debar. Debar is a Hebrew word that means either word or thing. And in Hebrew, Lo is a negating prefix, placed in front of a noun to indicate the absence of something. So Lo-Debar means either “No Word” or “No Thing.”

And this is Bo’s address. Without a word, at the dead end of Skid Row, in the town of Nothing. As far as he is concerned, Bo will die there.

We don’t hear much about Lo-Debar after this in Scripture. It’s mentioned briefly in 2 Samuel 17:27, but then doesn’t show up again until the book of Amos. Through the prophet Amos, God delivers a sharp rebuke to those who are “at ease in Zion, and feel secure in the mountains of Samaria” (Amos 6:1):

13 you who rejoice in Lo-debar,
    who say, “Have we not by our own strength
    captured Karnaim for ourselves?”

Amos 6:13

The always-reliable folks at GotQuestions.org have a fascinating insight about this verse. They write,

Amos may also have been making a rhetorical point through a play on words. The men of Israel were boasting that they conquered “Nothing” or “Nothing Town.” Amos may have highlighted this town specifically because of the town’s name, in order to stress the emptiness of their boasting before God. “You are so proud of your conquest,” says the prophet in so many words, “but really you have conquered Nothing!”

Two chapters later, in Amos 8:11-12, God says this through the prophet:

11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
    “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
    and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord,
    but they shall not find it.

Sounds like there were a whole lot of people in Amos’ day who were living in Lo-Debar. There was a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. They wandered to and fro, seeking God’s word, but didn’t find it.

So back to Bo. When we find ourselves in Nothingville, crippled in both feet, and with No Word from the Lord, we can’t get out of it ourselves. Like Bo, who needed King David to bring him out of Lo-Debar, we need Jesus, the Son of David, to BE the Word when we have no word. To BE our everything when we have nothing.

Mephibosheth went from nothing to everything when the king came and got him. Praise God, we can do the same.

Day 130: Our God is Not Silent! (Psalm 50)

Through the Bible in a Year: Psalm 50, 53, 60, 75

1The Mighty One, God the Lord,
    speaks and summons the earth...

3 Our God comes; he does not keep silence;
    before him is a devouring fire,
    around him a mighty tempest.

19“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
    and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your brother;
    you slander your own mother's son.
21 These things you have done, and I have been silent;
    you thought that I was one like yourself.

Psalm 50:1, 3, 19-21

The topic of God’s silence comes up pretty frequently in Bible study. A few weeks ago in our Bible reading plan, we read that when Samuel was first called, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1).

Several Psalms beg God to not be silent: In Psalm 28, David implores God, “be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.” We see similar pleas in Psalm 35:22, 83:1, and 109:1.

We often call the period between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New the “four hundred years of silence,” because there were no writing prophets during this time in Israel’s history.

But in Psalm 50, Asaph makes it clear that God is not silent!

He speaks and summons the earth in verse 1.

He is a devouring fire and a mighty tempest in verse 3.

So why does God seem to go quiet so often? If God does not keep silent, why do there seem to be so many long stretches where it doesn’t seem like He is saying anything? Why, for example, when Saul inquired of the Lord in 1 Samuel 28, “the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets” (verse 6)?

Asaph gives us the answer in verses 16-21 of Psalm 50:

16 But to the wicked God says:
    “What right have you to recite my statutes
    or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline,
    and you cast my words behind you.
18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
    and you keep company with adulterers.

19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil,
    and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your brother;
    you slander your own mother's son.
21 These things you have done, and I have been silent;
    you thought that I was one like yourself.

When we come to God expecting Him to look the other way or wink indulgently at our sin, He doesn’t respond (verses 17-19).

When we come to Him expecting Him to agree with us when we speak against our brother or slander someone else made in His image, God will steadfastly keep His mouth shut (verse 20).

When we approach Him as though He is “altogether like us,” God has no obligation to speak (verse 21).

God won’t let us make Him in our image. He is interested in transforming us into His image (see Romans 8:29, 12:2).

Beloved, this may be a dry, desert season for you. You may be going through the motions of attending church, bringing your tithes, reading the Bible, and prayer, but it seems mechanical. You don’t feel like you are really hearing from God.

Let Psalm 50 call you to reflection and repentance. Our God speaks. He does not keep silence. But remember that while He is personal and intimate, He is also holy and transcendent. So don’t approach Him with your gossip or your petty grievances. Don’t expect Him to speak truth if your own tongue is framing deceit. And don’t approach Him as though He is one like yourself. Because He is not.

Thanks be to God, He is not!

Day 127: Gimme Six Steps (2 Samuel 6)

Read Through the Bible Plan: 2 Samuel 6-7; 1 Chronicles 17

James J. Tissot, ‘David Dances before the Ark’ (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
12 ...So David went and had the ark of God brought up from Obed-edom’s house to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 When those carrying the ark of the Lord advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened calf. (2 Samuel 6:12-13)

Today was another rabbit chasing day. I noticed for the first time that when David brought the ark back to Jerusalem, he stopped after six steps and made a sacrifice. And I wondered why.

The text does not give a reason, so as Tara-Leigh often says, we hold this with an open hand. But there’s at least two possibilities.

One is that David was acting out of fear. Remember that this was right after Uzzah got struck dead on the spot for reaching out and touching the ark (see Day 124: Wazzup With Uzzah?). And the text explicitly says that David was afraid, and wan’t willing to move the ark any further for three months after that (see verses 9-11). So when David finally did muster up the courage to move the ark, maybe these first six steps were tentative, waiting to see if anything would happen.

Another possibility is that David was acting out of reverence for the Sabbath. Remember the creation account. After six days, God rested. So if the ark was the visible representation of God’s Presence, then it is possible that David stopped after six steps to give the ark a Sabbath.

Which leads to another question. Did David stop and make a sacrifice every six steps, or only after the first six steps? Again, the text is not clear one way or the other. Scholars have interpreted the Hebrew both ways. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament suggests that “repeated sacrifices in relation to processions accompanying the transfer and installation of gods” are common in non-bliblical ancient near East literature.  

However, others argue that stopping every six steps to make a sacrifice would not have been practical for the distance between Obed-Edom’s house and Jerusalem. One blogger notes that it was about 12-15 kilometers to Mt. Zion from Obed-Edom’s house. That would be about 30,000 steps. Would David have really stopped to make 5,000 sacrifices? And if it was an ox and a fattened calf each time, that would be 10,000 sacrifices!

No pun intended, but holy cow.

This sounded extreme to me, until I looked ahead and saw that a generation later when Solomon dedicated the Temple, he sacrificed 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats (see 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chron. 7:5)! So perhaps 10,000 oxen and calves isn’t so extreme after all.

A blogger named Gareth Lowe offers this amazing insight on his blog The Diamond Tree:

Imagine how David felt as he went through this bloody routine over, and over, and over again. As Rick Joyner says, “From Obed-edom’s house to Mount Zion, the procession left in its wake a trail of blood and guts as far as the eye could see. It was not a pretty picture. No wonder David was dancing with all his might when they finally made it through the gates!”

Gareth Lowe, Sacrificing Every Six Steps

If David really did stop every six steps to make a sacrifice, then this provides an unbelievable contrast to the finished work of Christ on the cross. You see, our sins have required a sacrifice from the moment God made skins from animals to cover the shame of Adam and Eve in the Garden. In Lowe’s words, the history of humankind has been one long trail of blood and guts, as far as the eye can see, stretching from Eden to Zion. Because the blood of bulls and goats could never freely, fully, and finally atone for our sins (Hebrews 10:4-6).

But then came Jesus as the final sacrifice. On Calvary, Jesus shed His blood once and for all. At Calvary, the bloody trail came to an end. Hebrews 10:12-14 puts it this way:

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Oh, my God. In the face of such a sacrifice, how can we not dance like David?

Day 126: Working on the Wiring (Psalm 89)

Through the Bible in a Year: Psalm 89, 96, 100-101, 105, 132

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
    in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
Psalm 89:1-2

Several years ago, we bought a house before it was built. For the next several months, we watched our house being built. Every morning I would leave the apartment a few minutes early, just so I could drive by the construction site and see the progress on the house.

Some days were really exciting, because you could see the progress from the road. And I would call my wife and say, “Trish! They got the shingles on today!” Or I would send pictures from where they started the bricks.

But there were other days–even long stretches of days–where it didn’t look like anything was happening. From the street, it appeared that work had come to a standstill.

There was still work being done. Workers were inside the house. They might be laying down carpeting, or hanging drywall, or working on the wiring. I might not see progress from the street, but I knew that the house was being built.

A chronological reading plan is like that. There are days when there is a lot of progress in the storyline. Moses parts the Red Sea, David kills Goliath, Jesus is born.

But there are other days, like today, where we are skipping through the Psalms, seemingly at random. We get to a Psalm such as Psalm 89, by Ethan the Ezrahite. Who in the world is Ethan the Ezrahite, and what does he have to do with the God’s redemptive story?

Answers: Don’t know, and not much. As always, the folks at gotquestions.org do a great job of telling us everything they can about Ethan the Ezrahite. I learned, for example, that he’s mentioned in 1 Kings 4:31. When Solomon’s wisdom is being extolled, Solomon is described as being “wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite.” But that’s pretty much all we know about him. He was wise, but not as wise as Solomon.

Um, okay. The main thing we know about him is that Solomon is smarter than he is.

And yet, Ethan the Wise-But-Not-As-Wise-As-Solomon gets a Psalm. And a relatively long Psalm at that. And in Ethan’s Psalm, you get some of the highest expressions of praise to God:

 I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. 
(Psalm 89:1)

But you also get some of the most honest, heartfelt questions:

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
    which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked,
    and how I bear in my heart the insults[f] of all the many nations, 
(Psalm 89:49-50)

So back to my analogy about having a house built. Ethan the Ezrahite is a sub-contractor. He’s an electrician, working on the wiring. He helps me understand that even when the switch is turned off, there is still power in the line. That I may not be able to see what is going on behind the walls, but that doesn’t mean God is not at work.

So don’t lose heart on Psalms days. They are the “leg days” of our reading plan. The Lord is working on the wiring of your soul. He is showing you how His people walked with Him, more than He’s showing you what happened when they did.

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