SOAP Journal – 12 December 2017 (2 Samuel 19:8-43)

“For all my father’s household was nothing but dead men before my lord the king; yet you set your servant among those who ate at your own table. What right do I have yet that I should cry out anymore to the king?”

2 Samuel 19:28

With Absalom defeated, David is brought back into Jerusalem as Israel’s king. It is not as simple as David saddling up a donkey and heading home, but it is far less complicated than it might have been. As David returns home, he interacts with a couple people.

Shimei, the man who cursed David and threw rocks at him as he left, now shows up with a thousand men of Benjamin to bring David’s household across the Jordan (vv 16-23). The man is penitent, asking David’s forgiveness and receiving it.

Next, David meets Mephibosheth (vv 24-30) whom David was grieved not to see leave with him. Mephibosheth claims that his servant — Ziba, who showed up with Shimei to help bring David’s household across the Jordan (v 17) — had deceived him and taken off before Mephibosheth could get ready to go with David. Mephibosheth has on him all the marks of a man who has mourned the departure of his king since the day of hat departure (v 24). The interaction includes something of the flavor of Solomon’s future dealings with people seeking justice, as if the boy observed this moment in his father’s life and marked it as worthy of emulation.

There are others and this summary would wax as long as the chapter itself if all of the interactions were brought forward.

What strikes me about this event is the similarity I feel it has with the return of Christ. Both kings return to their throne after the defeat of a usurper and pretender. Both kings come with a retinue. Both kings are taking back a throne that is rightfully theirs. Both kings dispense mercy after the judgment has been meted out. The events feel similar, but not the precisely the same.

This tells me that I should be like Shimei and Mephibosheth. Like Shimei, I should repent of the things I have done to offend my King and should be looking for ways to serve. Like Mephibosheth, I should mourn the absence of my King and long for His return. Let me long for my King’s return and be ready and able to serve Him when He does.

Father, thank You for this account that reminds me that Jesus — Your Son and my King — will return. Let me be numbered among the loyalists and those who have repented of their old ways to be ready to serve the King and be a part of His Kingdom.

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SOAP Journal – 11 December 2017 (2 Samuel 18:19-19:7)

5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.”

2 Samuel 19:5-6

After Absalom’s defeat and death at the hands of Joab, David receives the news of God’s deliverance from two messengers — a Cushite and Ahimaaz the son of Zadok the priest. Ahimaaz is the one who left later, but arrives first and brings news only of the defeat of Absalom’s forces. The Cushite arrives second and tells David that Absalom is dead. David hears the news of his son’s death and responds as a father who has lost a son: he is grief-stricken. Joab hears about it and rebukes David, expecting him to respond as a king who has heard that his enemy has been put down and that the kingdom can be at peace again.

Something that I found curious in reading this is that David asked Ahimaaz directly about Absalom’s well being and Ahimaaz deflected the question — The king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, and your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what [it was].” (18:29). This is curious to me, because Joab told Ahimaaz in no uncertain terms that Absalom was dead — But Joab said to him, “You are not the man to carry news this day, but you shall carry news another day; however, you shall carry no news today because the king’s son is dead.” (18:20). There is in this an element of what I perceive to be Joab’s complete inability to understand people. Rather than send someone who perceives that David is both a king and a father, Joab wants to send someone who sees only the king. If the Cushite kingdom was anything like many of the ancient kingdoms for which there are records, then their kings may very well have been ready and willing to kill any upstart son who thought to take the throne from his father. Many kings in history have had just such an attitude. That was not David’s heart. David was not a good father, if the behavior of his children is taken as a litmus. But he loved his children. Ahimaaz appears to have been aware of this and wanted to let David celebrate the victory of his soldiers before having to mourn the death of his son. The Cushite had no such comprehension of the king — whether due to cultural differences or distance from the king (Ahimaaz was the son of the high priest and saw David in moments when he did not have to be a king or general) or some other factor, the understanding was not there.

Joab was right to rebuke David for mourning openly for his son in the sight of those who had just won victory on his behalf. These are the same people who had told David before the battle that he was worth ten thousand of them (18:3). The people had valued David greatly and he should have reciprocated. Instead, he appeared to place a higher value on their enemy than on those who had secured victory and returned the kingdom to David’s rule.

How to apply this?

First, the right person for the right job. Joab thought that Ahimaaz was the wrong person for carrying the news of the victory, when it appears that he would have more deftly handled the situation and allowed the victors to celebrate and the king to mourn all in their proper time.

Second, love rightly. Jesus says that anyone who loves parents or child more than they love Him is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37). I need to love the right people and in the right proportion. David was right to love his son, but not to prefer his son over those who had put their lives on the line to protect David and the rest of his family and his kingdom.

Father in Heaven, thank You for this reminder that love is right and proper and has its right and proper application and proportion. Too often, I am told that love is not wrong and You tell me that it can be if it is for the wrong thing or person or in the wrong proportion. Please teach me the right way to love, that I might be worthy of You.

SOAP Journal – 07 December 2017 (2 Samuel 18:1-18)

6 Then the people went out into the field against Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. The people of Israel were smitten there before the servants of David, and the slaughter there that day was great, 20,000 men. 8 For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

2 Samuel 18:6-8

When Absalom catches up with his father, David has divided his company in three. Those three companies go out and defeat those who have sided with Absalom. In fact, 20,000 die on the battlefield that day. Absalom’s long hair got tangled in some low-hanging tree branches as he rode underneath and left him dangling. He could have been taken prisoner — and would have been, if David had been on the battlefield — but Joab knew that David would extend mercy and there would be even more war. So Joab grabbed a few spears and stabbed Absalom to death. Without their upstart king, those who had been backing the coup scatter.

Where my attention was drawn is the statement that the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. This is a piece of mercy on the part of God, Who spared the loyalists — those who had remained faithful to the king that God had chosen — from having to kill many of their kith and kin. The forest itself seemed to become a weapon of war and those who opposed God’s anointed were in bad shape.

The episode reminds me of Jesus’ statement that the rocks would cry out if His disciples stopped praising Him. The created world is often given anthropomorphic characteristics in this way. Paul writes of creation groaning for redemption and the psalmist writes of the trees of the fields clapping their hands in God’s praise. I am not one to put much stock in the idea of the Earth being alive in the same sense that I am alive, but I admit that there is more between Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in my philosophies. And I have read, more than once, of God using creation as a weapon against those who oppose Him and His. The ground swallowed those who tried to set themselves up in opposition to Moses as God’s chosen representative. A bear came out of the woods and mauled young men who mocked a prophet. The lions in the den sat quietly and left Daniel alone until morning, then tore his accusers to pieces before they touched the ground.

If God can so use the rest of His creation, how much more could He do through me if I would be completely yielded to Him?

Father, thank You for this quiet reminded, tucked away in the midst of a battle between men, that You use anything and everything to accomplish Your goals. Please fill me with Your Spirit of submission that I might yield more fully to You and be of greater use in showing the world what You can do in and through a yielded life.

SOAP Journal – 06 December (2 Samuel 17:15-29)

Then Hushai said to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, “Thus and thus Ahithophel counseled Absalom and the elders of Israel, and thus and thus I have counseled.”

2 Samuel 17:15

Several things happen after Ahithophel and Hushai each give their counsel to Absalom and the elders of Israel.

First, Absalom decides to follow Hushai’s counsel. This means that Absalom delays going after David and those who are with him, which gives Hushai time to send a warning through Zadok and Abiathar who relay the message via their sons (vv 15-20).

Second, David gets the message and acts on it. David does not waste any time wringing his hands or thinking things over, he moves his little company over the river before the next sunrise (vv 21-22).

Third, Ahithophel sees that his counsel was not listened to. This sends him into a spiral that ends with him putting his affairs in order and strangling himself (v 23).

Fourth, David and his little company get to Mahanaim. Absalom pursues them to that place, but so does assistance. Friends of David — men who were not even Israelites — came with things to make the stay away from home more bearable (vv 24-29).

There is much that can be unpacked in this section of 2 Samuel. The loyalists and their cunning that leads to David getting a warning could occupy a morning devotion. The bravery of the priests’ sons and how they risked their lives for their king is well worth consideration. But this season of the year and the number of people who find themselves in a spiral makes Ahithophel hit me a little harder.

The Bible does not tell me what went through Ahithophel’s mind as he sees his counsel being ignored and decides to kill himself. Was he worried that David was going to win out and be vindictive when he returned to Jerusalem? Did he think that he no longer had the ear of a king and the Hushai had taken the place formerly occupied by him (Ahithophel)? The Bible is also silent on how his family took this. A little digging revealed that Ahithophel is thought to have been Bathsheba’s grandfather. If so, what impact must that have had on Bathsheba when she learned of it?

Had Ahithophel remained to see David’s return to Jerusalem, he would have seen the king pardoning a man who had cursed him as he fled and leaving alive many of those who had taken Absalom’s side in the coup. He might even have lived to see Solomon, Bathsheba’s son, made king in David’s place.

Our shortsightedness is our trouble. Ahithophel saw something in that moment that he could not see a way past. But God is able to get us through anything. I have walked through an engagement crumbling and taking friendships with it, but God remained my steadfast Friend through it all. I have received a phone call telling me that my younger sister died, but God reminded me that He is the Life and that she is His more fully now than ever before. I have had no job and looked out on a landscape that seemed to hold no promise of a job for me, but God was my Supply. God has walked with me through all of these and more. God promised that He would walk through the trials of life with me. And He has done so. And He will continue to do so.

Let me focus my short-sighted vision on God, Who is well pleased to draw near enough that my spiritual myopia can see Him clearly. As I focus on Him, I will begin to understand that this moment — any difficulty that I may be experiencing — is less than the blink of an eye held up in comparison with eternity. Any problem I face dwindles into insignificance next to the God Who loves me and offers to be my all in all.

Thank You, Father, that You condescend to meet me where I am. I cannot reach where You are unless You lift me up, so it is well that You meet me here. Please fill my vision with You. Let me not be as Ahithophel who realized that his counsel had been ignored and saw no reason to go on. Instead, let me train my gaze on You and know that You have made me for a purpose and will take me to Yourself when that purpose is fulfilled.

SOAP Journal – 04 December 2017 (2 Samuel 17:1-14)

Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.

2 Samuel 17:14

After Absalom has sex with the women that David left behind in Jerusalem to take care of the house, he (Absalom) is approached by Ahithophel. Ahithophel wants a company of about 12,000 to go with him after David and those who are traveling with him. Absalom and the elders of Israel like the plan, but decide to consult Hushai. Hushai does what David left him in Jerusalem to do: he gives bad advice. His advise sounds good and draws on the facts to back it up, but it is not the best advice that could be given. Hushai’s counsel has something that Ahithophel’s does not: a sop to Absalom’s ego. Ahithophel’s counsel is that he (Ahithophel) be allowed to take care of the issue quickly. Hushai’s counsel is that Absalom himself take care of the problem.

The Bible tells me that the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom. Ahithophel was still giving good counsel, but God was nudging Absalom’s heart in the direction it already wanted to go. Absalom wanted to be the hero. Absalom wanted to have the victory so that he could say that he had put down his opposition with his own hands. In short, Absalom believed his own press and God nudged him along in that direction so as to move the story in the direction that God has in mind for it. I later read that God chose Solomon to be David’s successor and this would not have gone well with Absalom.

What would have happened if Absalom had listened to Ahithophel’s counsel? I suspect that Ahithophel and every man with him would have been killed by David and company. Hushai is not lying when he points out that David and his men are mighty and men of war. These are veterans of several military campaigns. War is familiar to them. And they would fight all the more fiercely with the women and children behind them. What is more, I already know that God had not chosen Absalom as king, so his eventual defeat was assured before he even stepped on the battlefield.

I need to keep a close eye on where I am and whose counsel I take. Absalom was on the wrong side of God’s will and that made all the difference in the world. Had Absalom been repentant, God would certainly have received him and this whole ordeal might never have happened. But Absalom did not repent. He just went from bad to worse. And I need to be mindful of where I am that I not be unrepentant and stand against God.

I also need to watch the counsel I take. Hushai’s counsel was not inherently bad, but it did play heavily to Absalom’s ego. If the advice I am receiving from someone strokes my ego, then I ought to take a closer look at the counsel.

Father, thank You for the reminder that everything is in Your control and that even an event as terrible as a coup only happens with Your permission. Thank You for this illustration of the proverb telling me that the heart of the king is in Your hand. Truly, You nudge our hearts according to their inclination and are able to install as leaders those whose inclinations best suit Your plans and purposes. Please keep me mindful of where I am in relation to You and to the counsel I follow. May my first Counselor be You and all others follow after.

SOAP Journal – 01 December 2017 (2 Samuel 16:15-23)

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your advice. What shall we do?”

2 Samuel 16:20

This section of scripture troubles me. It is especially difficult to read amidst the current rash of harassment allegations against prominent people. Absalom comes into Jerusalem after David has evacuated all of his people, minus a few moles, and is on the road. So Absalom asks Ahithophel what he (Absalom) ought to do. How does a usurper consolidate power? Ahithophel advises Absalom to sleep with David’s concubines who had been left behind to tend the house in David’s absence. And this is where the reading becomes difficult.

Absalom takes Ahithophel’s advice and the group pitches a tent on the roof of David’s house so that everyone passing by can see and presumably hear Absalom having sex with these ten women. The exhibitionism involved is difficult to read, but the openendedness of the women’s situation is more difficult. I wonder if they were willing participants or pressured by social norms or maybe even in fear for their own lives. The whole thing troubles me.

Tearing my attention away from the train wreck that is Absalom having sex with ten women who had previously been having sex with his father just to make a point — it is almost like reading a part of the script to Cruel Intentions — I find my mental gaze resting on Ahithophel. The man’s advice is solid. If Absalom wants to make it clear that there is no love between himself and his father, then sex with women who had previously had sex with his father is an effective way to communicate that. More, it is the sort of thing that would have, as Ahithophel put it, made [Absalom] odious to [his] father (v 21). The advice is effective in accomplishing its intended outcome. But is it good advice?

How do I quantify goodness or badness, particularly when dealing with advice on how to achieve outcomes that may, themselves, be intrinsically good or bad? Absalom’s intended goal is bad. Can any advice that helps him reach that goal be good? I will venture to say that any counsel — whether effective or ineffective — that would help me commit iniquity is bad; wicked counsel. I should, instead, seek counsel that will try to dissuade me from my transgression and bring me back to right relationship with my God. That is good counsel.

Father, thank You for this challenging portion of scripture. I have not sifted through all of it, but have made a beginning. Please form in me a heart and mind that turn to You for counsel before any other. Please surround me with good counselors, not merely shrewd ones.

SOAP Journal – 29 November 2017 (2 Samuel 16:1-14)

“Perhaps the LORD will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.”

2 Samuel 16:12

As David and his retinue leave Jerusalem, they have two disheartening encounters.

The first is a meeting with Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. David had been taking care of Mephibosheth as a way to fulfill his promise to Jonathan and Ziba brought out supplies with the false report that Mephibosheth was staying in Jerusalem expecting that the kingdom of Israel would be given to him. It is later (2 Samuel 19:24-30) revealed that Mephibosheth had no such thought process. But the damage was done. David was given the impression that someone he had done well by was against him.

The second is being shouted at and generally harassed by a relative of Saul named Shimei. This man throws rocks and dirt at David and those who are with him and curses David as he goes. Abishai wants to behead the man for his cheek, but David prevents it. Shimei repents of this action  and David forgives him (2 Samuel 19:16-23), but it was still a disheartening moment in an already difficult time.

These two men are a reminder that there can be people who make things worse when things are already bad. David was already fleeing his home in order to avoid being killed by his own son, but to add a feeling of being betrayed by someone you had only ever done good things for and being harassed and pelted with rocks and dirt when you are already down is adding insult to injury. When things are difficult in my life, it is possible that people I have only done good for will seem to turn on me. When things are tough, there may be people who abuse me and tell me that I brought it on myself.

These two men are also a reminder that I should let God handle things. Ziba is a liar and a traitor to his master and Mephibosheth was actually still loyal to David. The man to whom David had done only good had, in fact, been grateful the whole time. Shimei was caught in the passion of the moment and later realized that he had acted foolishly. God needed to be the One Who dealt with those situations and His dealing with them brought about the best possible outcomes.

When my life is difficult — and it will sometimes be — let me be mindful that there may be those who make things worse and that I should leave dealing with those people to God.

Thank You, Father, for this reminder that the people who make bad situations feel worse are not my fault, but have some motive of their own that I might never know. Please keep me mindful of this and ready to surrender things to You.