SOAP Journal – 23 October 2017 (2 Samuel 3:22-30)

When Joab came out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David did not know. So when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the middle of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother. 

2 Samuel 3:26-27

As I pick up the history this morning, Abner has made peace with David and things are in motion to reunify Israel. But this whole exchange had gone on while Joab was out raiding some place. When Joab gets back, he tells David that Abner was spying; trying to see where David’s weak points are. But I know, as the reader of this account, that Abner truly meant to make peace with David and to reunify the kingdom of Israel. In point of fact, everything I have seen Abner do has been done in integrity. He has never, that I have noted, been false in his dealings or untrue to himself. I also see, as the reader, that Joab was not quite so concerned with whether or not Abner was spying on David or not, but Joab was interested in avenging the death of his brother, Asahel.

I recall that Abner killing Asahel was an unwilling thing. Abner kept trying to dissuade Asahel from pursuing him but Asahel was having none of it and Abner eventually killed Asahel just to put an end to the pursuit (2 Samuel 2:18-23). What is more, Asahel’s death came in a battle. It is not a surprise that people die in battle. It is expected. This, apparently, meant nothing to Joab, who deceived Abner into returning to Hebron and killed him.

 

In this account, I am presented with two men held in contrast to one another. Joab, who is vengeful and deceitful and dangerously unsubmissive to his king. And Abner, who is an honest and loyal man.

Abner’s life and death serve as a reminder that integrity and uprightness are no guarantors of a long life or wealth. Those things — integrity and uprightness — can only guarantee that I will please God in my doings. It is possible to become blind to the fact that others do not live uprightly or walk in integrity and to forget that I must be cautious.

Jesus warned His disciples to be wise as serpents. Snakes are not interested in biting people, as a general rule. Snakes much prefer to be left alone. But, to accomplish that goal, the snake must be wise about the behavior of other creatures around it. The snake must be aware that larger animals may come trundling by and not be cautious about whether or not they harm others as they go.

Let me live a life like Abner: consistent and loyal and honest and walking in integrity. But let me be mindful, as he was not, that others may not want to live such a life.

Father, thank You for Abner’s character as an example and his death as a warning that I should live upright and not allow myself to lose sight of the fact that others will not. Please strengthen me to live rightly before You and to walk in integrity.

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SOAP Journal – 20 October 2017 (2 Samuel 3:6-21)

Abner said to David, “Let me arise and go and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may be king over all that your soul desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.

2 Samuel 3:21

This section of the book opens with reminding me that there was war between the houses of Saul and David and that Abner was the driving force behind the house of Saul. The very next thing mentioned is a controversy around one of Saul’s concubines. Ish-Bosheth accuses Abner of sleeping with the woman and Abner is so offended by the accusation that he vows to bring all of Israel under David’s reign. So Abner gets the ball rolling and David demands that Michal — definitely the first woman to whom he was engaged and maybe his first wife — be brought to him. Abner and Ish-Bosheth make that happen and Abner and David have a peaceful conference about transitioning the rule of Israel completely over to David. This section ends with Abner leaving David’s presence peacefully.

Ish-Bosheth serves as a reminder that accusations against loyal friends need to come with some serious credentials. The Bible does not comment on whether or not the accusation against Abner was true, it only tells me that Abner was so offended by the accusation that he switched sides in the conflict.

Let me learn from the error of a worthless man (Ish-Bosheth) and be certain that any accusation I entertain against those who have been loyal to me have a firm foundation.

Father, thank You for this reminder and the story of how dire the consequences can be. Please give me a mind and heart that believe the best of those who have been loyal to me and skeptical of accusations against them.

SOAP Journal – 18 October 2017 (2 Samuel 2:12-3:5)

Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew steadily stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker continually.

2 Samuel 3:1

Abner and Saul’s remaining loyalists tried to keep Saul’s kingdom; his chance at a dynasty intact. But the effort was futile. Saul’s loyalists continually grew weaker while David’s men grew stronger. An illustration is given in the form of the first conflict between David’s men and Saul’s remaining loyalists. 20 of David’s men die in that battle, but the total death toll for the battle is 360, meaning that 340 of Saul’s loyalists died in that battle. This ratio, if consistent, would have meant that the long war mentioned would have had losses of 18 to 1. That would not have been a sustainable rate of loss if the war was going to continue for an extended time. While it was called a long war, the term long is not a quantitative word. In one place (Jeremiah 29:28), the term is used to describe the time spent in Babylonian exile (70 years). In another place (Job 11:9), the term describes the depths and limits of God (we cannot reach those depths and there is no limit to God). So this word seems to be qualitative more than quantitative.

During this long war, David fathers several sons with several women. Based on what a couple of these boys get up to when they are older, it would seem that David was absent as a father. And this is hardly surprising, as he was fighting a civil war through at least some of their childhood.

As a father, I find myself challenged with the fact that David had children during a chaotic and difficult time in his life and that I know what becomes of those children. If I let circumstance get in the way of being present and raising my children, then my children will not be raised well. Amnon, one of the sons named, grows up to be an incestuous rapist. Absalom grows to be a murderer and insurrectionist. In the end, David feels responsible for what those boys become and rightly so. Had David been more present and more involved in their upbringing, it is possible that neither would have become what he did. When my children are grown, I will be responsible for what I have poured into their lives. If I have poured in love and discipline and Godly instruction, then I have done all that a man can do. If I have neglected to love and discipline and instruct them in God’s ways, then I have failed them as their father. This is not to say that they do not make their own choices, only that I am responsible for instructing my children in God’s ways and loving them and disciplining them. All else is out of my hands. This is also not to say that God cannot make good things happen in spite of me, but I would rather cooperate with Him than work against Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder that difficult circumstances will come and that life is going to continue to happen regardless of whether or not I take the time to notice and act appropriately. Please keep me mindful of the present and careful to pour into the people and moments You bless me with the things that will make for Godliness in both me and them.

SOAP Journal – 17 October 2017 (2 Samuel 2:1-11)

The number of days that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.

2 Samuel 2:11

Saul is dead and has been buried and mourned. David then asks God if he (David) should go back to Israel and where he should go if the answer is yes. God tells him to go back to Israel and specifies Hebron (vv 1-3). When he arrives and settles in, the men of Judah come and anoint him as their king (v 4), essentially confirming God’s choice. The men of Judah also tell David who buried Saul’s body and David sends messengers to praise their good deed and let them know that he has been made king of Judah (vv 5-7).

I read also that Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, somehow escaped the battle that claimed Saul’s life and that he (Abner) set up Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth king of the rest of Israel. And this sets the stage for a brief civil war between Saul’s people and David’s people. It seems odd to me, since 1 Samuel 31:6 tells me that Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together. This account is some time later and Abner is still alive. This causes me some confusion and leaves me to wonder if Abner was counted among Saul’s men or not. Though I am flummoxed as to how to commander of one’s army would not be counted among one’s men. Maybe it is akin to David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8-39) versus Joab being the commander of his army. Or maybe it was just the men specifically under Saul’s command. Who knows.

I think it interesting that David mourns the man who had been trying to kill him. I also note that David does not simply march his men back into Israel after mourning Saul, but takes time to ask God about the correct course of action. I wonder if I would have been so patient. Saul was dead. David no longer had any reason to fear for his life. Would I have taken the time to ask God what to do or would I have simply trotted back home thinking that everything was going to be awesome? I honestly do not know.

David had every reason to waltz back into Israel and attempt to take the throne that was his by right. Samuel had anointed him king of Israel and the previous king had died in battle. There was a job vacancy and the candidate selected to fill the position was ready to go. But David waited. David asked God whether or not he should go back to Israel. God might have told him to wait and David seems to have been prepared to do that. When God tells him it is clear to go back, David gets specific. Going back home sounds great. David wants to know where he should go back to. And God answers him specifically.

And that is my application this morning. It does not matter that God has made clear to me the general outline of what He wants me to do, I need to seek specifics. Is it the right time to do that thing and is this the right place? Knowing my general marching orders is good, but I should look for specifics when it is time to execute to those orders, lest I muck things up.

Father, thank You for David’s example in patience and seeking specifics in Your will. Please make my heart and will ready to wait on You until You have given specifics about how and when and where to do the things that I know You have called me to generally.

SOAP Journal – 16 October 2017 (2 Samuel 1)

Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he told [them] to teach the sons of Judah [the song of] the bow; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar. “Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How have the mighty fallen!”

2 Samuel 1:17-19

1 Samuel ended with the end of Saul. A fitting place to end the book, since Saul’s demise and the passing of kingship to David were the last prophecies of Samuel left unfulfilled. 2 Samuel opens with David hearing about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. What he does when he hears about the death of Saul provides a glimpse into David’s character.

Saul had been the anointed king of Israel and, as such, worthy of a certain amount of honor. It was Saul’s status as the LORD’s anointed that more than once stopped David from killing Saul.

Saul had also often been trying to kill David. For a good portion of David’s time knowing Saul, the king had been trying to kill him. David did what any sensible person would do: he ran.

Despite the fact that Saul’s death makes David the king and the fact that Saul’s death also means that he (Saul) will no longer be trying to kill David, David mourns. He tears his clothes and fasts. He weeps. He sings a lament for the fallen king of Israel and for his (David’s) friend.

The question with which I am faced is this: How do I respond when undesirable things happen to those who wrong me and mistreat me? There is a tendency to be glad and to be pleased when something bad happens to those who have wronged me, but David’s heart is the right one in this instance. He is not glad for the death of Saul. He is relieved that Saul will not be trying to kill him any more, but Saul being killed in battle is no reason to rejoice. If Saul had died in his sleep, I expect that David would have been somewhat less broken up about it.

Father, thank You for David’s example of Your heart. Please give me a similar heart.

SOAP Journal – 12 October 2017 (1 Samuel 31)

Thus Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together.

1 Samuel 31:6

This chapter is Saul’s last battle. He had gone out to war against the Philistines and others many times before, but he had always come back. Jonathan had been a part of miraculous deliverance effected by God — outnumbered and ill-equipped, he and his armor-bearer had killed a Philistine garrison, but there was no miraculous deliverance in this battle. In the end, human heroes — even those who, like Jonathan, love God and look for Him to do miraculous things — are still human. No hero of any variety is immune to the vagaries of time and chance. As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

This battle was a changing of the guard in a very literal way. Changing the guard happens metaphorically rather frequently when one group in power is supplanted by a different group. Sometimes the change is pleasant and civil, sometimes not. In this battle, God removed all of Saul’s soldiers from Israel. There were still valiant men in the nation — some such ventured into enemy-held territory to retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons (vv 11-13) — but none that were loyal particularly to Saul. And this defeat; this changing of the guard was the fulfillment of Samuel’s last prophecy, issued from the afterlife the day before (1 Samuel 28:15-19).

There are two takeaways that I see. One, everyone can fall. Jonathan had done nothing wrong and had come through worse odds by God’s grace, but this battle was his last. No one is immune to time and chance and the company we keep — in Jonathan’s case, his father — will impact us. Two, when God decides to wipe the slate clean, He can be very thorough.

The question is application. I am no great hero of faith; no one noteworthy in the annals of believers through the ages. And that brings me around to what Paul writes later: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12). I am no hero of the faith, so let me be even more attentive to God and careful of where I place my spiritual feet so that it is not my works and my influence that God needs to wipe from the slate.

Father, thank You for this reminder that no one is immune to falling; no hero so great that they cannot be defeated. Please keep me mindful of my steps and my ears attentive to Your voice.

SOAP Journal – 11 October 2017 (1 Samuel 30)

Then David said, “You must not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us, who has kept us and delivered into our hand the band that came against us. And who will listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.”

1 Samuel 30:23-24

After David and his men are sent away by Achish, they arrive home to find their city has been burned to the ground. What is more, there are no bodies, because those who attacked carried away all the people as captives. Some of David’s men start talking about stoning him to death. David calls for the priest to ask God for instructions. God tells him to chase the attackers down and that he (David) and his men will be victorious. So all 600 men with David strap on their packs and chase after the raiders who took their wives and children. They reach a point in the pursuit where about 200 are too worn out to keep going. The remaining 400 continue the pursuit. They find a servant of one of the raiders who had been left behind. This abandoned servant leads them to the camp of the raiders, who turn out to be Amalekites. David and his men kill all of the Amalekites except those who flee the battle. In addition to their wives and children and all their livestock, David and his men are now in possession of everything the Amalekites had raided from every other place. There is a division of the spoils and gifts are sent to the towns in Israel where David and his men were wont to camp near.

David being victorious in battle is not unusual. But the division of the spoil is an interesting part of this account. Those who stayed behind with the bags received an equal share of the spoil. This led me to wonder whether or not this sort of sharing was common in the ancient world. It seems, at a glance, that there is evidence that many ancient cultures had some practice with regard to sharing the spoil with those who stayed behind, whether at home or with the baggage. One piece of writing on the subject seems to assert that the dividing of spoil communalized the actions of those who fought, putting the warfare and the responsibility for it into the context of the society as a whole. Be that as it may, David determines that everyone shares equally in the spoils

A similar idea is communicated by Jesus in one of His parables. A landowner goes out and gets laborers to work in his fields and all of them, regardless of how long or short a time they worked, are paid the same wage. This is often understood as everyone receiving salvation equally and being equally saved.

But there might be something in this for me with regard to those who serve in various ministries. It is easy to celebrate the service of those who are front and center such as pastors and worship leaders and even Sunday School teachers. But there are church office workers and (in the case of where my wife and I currently fellowship) people who set up and tear down the equipment every week. These people are just as necessary to the function of the fellowship and are often overlooked.

Father, I am not sure how best to approach this prayer. I would ask for Your heart in the matter, that I might notice the service of those who might often go unnoticed and respond as You would have me respond. We all share in carrying out Your work, how best can we share in the joy that comes from that work?