Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 459 – David & Bathsheba

04/30/16 – 459 – David & Bathsheba

As a human being, a pastor who is taught to deal in relationships, I can’t help but try to see the true roles of all parties involved when things get rocky. I believe that it’s the only way to get people to take responsibility for their actions, and in doing so, allow for change.

We’ve been studying David for a while now, and we know he wasn’t perfect – nor should we expect him to be. Even the ‘man after God’s own heart’ was still a man. And we have been taught in a way that suggests that the responsibility for the affair with Bathsheba and all that followed was on David’s shoulders. The way the story is written is slanted in that direction, with Bathsheba playing a more passive role.

It’s not that I want to bash Bathsheba (I can’t even pronounce that out loud!). I guess I just want us to understand that we always have a choice – even if the king is calling us. How many sins have been ‘justified’ by the words “I was just following orders.” It was used so often by Nazi war criminals after WWII it came to be called the ‘Nuremburg Defense”.

Anyway, in that light, I have to think that Bathsheba did in fact have a choice. Whether or not she deliberately bathed where David could see her, no one can say. I did find some interesting things in my reading about that, though.

In the Midrash (Jewish teachings), Bathsheba is completely innocent of any wrongdoing. However, the story is never read in public (it is considered inappropriate). According to the Midrash, Bathsheba was to be with David from the week of creation – so the mistake (implied) was that she prematurely married Uriah.

The Midrash says that she was washing her hair in a bucket. David saw a bird (which was really Satan) on his terrace and shot an arrow at it but missed. The arrow somehow hit Bathsheba’s bucket and shattered it, exposing her. The arrow signifies his falling in love to the point where he couldn’t control himself. It goes on to say that he was punished in the deaths of his first 4 children, a 6-month bout of leprosy and a temporary separation from God.

There’s another point of view in Jewish teaching (the Talmud) that says there was never any wrongdoing in the first place. It’s an interesting concept I never would have thought myself, so we’ll take a look at it tomorrow and see what you all think.

As with many Biblical characters, I wish we knew more about Bathsheba. She certainly ended up being a woman of great influence both during David’s reign and in Solomon’s. Sometimes she seems very naïve and innocent, at others almost ruthless. I wonder if these are accurate portrayals, or is her role only minimized in order to focus the story on David?

David does end up taking responsibility, of course, and we’ll look more deeply into that as well. There’s another interesting note I found in my study that relates. David’s writing of 2 Psalms, the first being Ps 32 about the time he tried to hide his sin from God (and everyone else). Have you ever felt like this – maybe during a similar time?

Ps 32:1-5

Blessed is he

whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sins are covered.

2 Blessed is the man

whose sin the Lord does not count against him

and in whose spirit is no deceit.

3 When I kept silent,

my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night

your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was sapped

as in the heat of summer.

Selah

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you

and did not cover up my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess

my transgressions to the Lord” —

and you forgave

the guilt of my sin.

Today, let’s pray one of 2 prayers – either a prayer of confession or one of gratitude for Christ’s redeeming love.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 458 – David & Bathsheba

04/29/16 – 458 – David & Bathsheba

2 Sam 11:26-27 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

This might sound a little ‘snarky’, but does anyone really think that it was a secret around the palace that David was the bio dad? – the true father of Bathsheba’s child? Think about it. When David first spotted her on the roof, he called a servant to ask about her and sent a servant to get her. She sent him a ‘private’ message (using a servant) oh, probably some 6 to 8 weeks later. When Uriah came home for his enforced weekend leave, he was very clear that he would not sleep with his wife while his men slept on the ground in the field, and slept with (guess who!) the servants while he was there.

People being people, I have a feeling that the only ones being fooled by the whole show were David and Bathsheba (assuming they thought they were pulling the wool over everyone else’s eyes). Raise your hand if you think there was a servant there who did not roll his/her eyes at the mention of ‘Uriah’s’ child.

We’re all like that, you know – at least if we aren’t careful. We don’t like to think badly of ourselves, and we don’t like others to either. So, when we know we’ve done something wrong and we can’t go back, we often convince ourselves that no one knows. Or that we can fix it and keep it secret. Sort of like stealing money from the cash drawer, feeling guilty and putting it back the next day – even though it was all done on camera!

What’s that? At last you tried to make it right? Maybe. But try to convince a judge that you were doing anything other than trying to stay out of jail. You’ve lost all credibility and compounded your wrongdoing. And, that’s what David and Bathsheba did. Maybe they didn’t intend to sleep together. But if so, they certainly put themselves in a situation where temptation would be at its highest, and the opportunity would be there also.

The ‘cover-up’ then? That certainly was intentional. It had to be planned and carried out. When it didn’t work, it was the same with the murder of Uriah. Now, we don’t know whether Bathsheba knew what David was going to do to him, that’s true. But, she did marry the man who had her husband killed as soon as possible rather than live as a widow with a child.

Bathsheba is another of the biblical characters that I always thought were great godly people. But I have to say that the more I learn about her, the more I think it was probably a good thing for her that she was really good looking. That sounds pretty ‘snarky’ too, doesn’t it?

I’ll tell you what. Let’s take a day and summarize what we’ve learned about Bathsheba in our study of Solomon and here. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m way out of line. Maybe I’m just trying to get you to think outside the box. Let’s pray today that God would help us to do just that – to remove the blinders and assumptions that have formed over our lives, and see His Word from a fresh perspective.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 457 – David & Bathsheba

04/28/16 – 457 – David & Bathsheba

When David saw Bathsheba, the first thing he did was to call one of his servants to find out about her. He didn’t have to wait too long for a response.

2 Sam 11:2-6 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

In other words, David knew immediately that she was married to another man. In fact, she was married to one of his own soldiers, one who must have been pretty high ranking and loyal to David judging by the fact that he was living in the palace. Still, David sent for her. In the middle of the night, while her husband was away at war.

For her own part, Bathsheba must have felt some pressure being that David was the king and all, yet still, she also must have known that she was at a risky time for becoming pregnant, as the line about purifying herself means that she had just finished her menses. Did she actually want this to happen? Could she have known that David would be watching her bath on the terrace? These things we don’t know. But we do know this.

It took two people to agree to make this sin happen. Even though David was the king, I have a feeling that if Bathsheba had evoked the name of God and refused his invitation, he would have backed off. Just my guess, of course. Sometimes all we need is that little reminder that God is watching.

Anyway, David’s ‘little’ sin of voyeurism and lust led to the bigger sin of adultery. But of course it didn’t stop there. It wouldn’t do at all to have Bathsheba’s husband return home to find himself the father of a child who was conceived while he was away at war! So David invented an excuse to call him home. The idea was to entice him to sleep with Bathsheba quickly enough that he wouldn’t know the baby wasn’t his. Unfortunately for David, Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) had a greater sense of conscience than did David at the time.

He refused to sleep with his wife, enjoying the comfort of their bed while his men were still camped in the open on the battleground. David even tried getting him drunk, but that didn’t work either. Finally David gave up, and sent him back to the siege with a letter. That letter was Uriah’s own death warrant.

It instructed Joab to send Uriah close enough to the city walls that the Philistine’s strongest defenders would come out and attack, then withdraw so that he would be killed. Joab, always faithful to David, did as he was ordered.

This is a point that we often miss, I think, when we read this story. It was bad enough that David was willing to become a murderer to cover up his sin. But how much worse that he was willing to drag others (Joab) into his guilt also.

Even more, Uriah wasn’t the only Israelite that fell that day. We don’t have an exact number, but Joab’s report to David said that when they got close to the wall, the archers shot arrows at them and ‘some’ of the king’s men died – Uriah among them. In other words, to make it look good, Uriah couldn’t be the only casualty – others had to be killed as well.

Have you ever had a ‘little’ sin snowball until it was out of control? There really are only 2 ways to handle it, you know. The first is prevention – don’t do it in the first place. Much less painful. The second, if it’s too late for ‘Plan A’, is simply to stop – at whatever point you are, take responsibility and say ‘this is as far as it goes!’

Embarrassing, maybe. Painful, maybe. But not nearly as bad as the alternative. Pray today that the Holy Spirit would help you see and stop those little snowballs, before they turn into avalanches

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 455 – David & Bathsheba

04/27/16 – 456 – David & Bathsheba

2 Sam 11:1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

Since we’ve skipped ahead some, we need to reset the stage a bit. David is now about 50 years old. There has been some time of peace under his rule, but that has ended with attacks from the Ammonites. The Israelites have chased the Ammonites to their home city of Rabbah, where they have them under siege.

David, at the advice of his staff, has stayed in Jerusalem to do king stuff rather than fight in the battle. We can make a reasonable guess that this didn’t sit well with him. After all, he’s a man of action, a warrior. He’s not comfortable sitting back where it’s safe while his troops are in the thick of battle. Maybe that’s why he was having trouble sleeping.

David’s palace, which we know as the ‘City of David’, looks from the outside like a big hillside cut with terraces. Life on the inside was like a beehive, where many people lived and worked. The living quarters opened onto these large patios, which were also the roofs of the living quarters below. People would actually spend a lot of their time outdoors because of the heat inside. Many lived most of their lives out there, cooking, eating, sleeping – yes, even bathing.

A person’s social status determined at what level they would be living – if they were fortunate enough to be a part of the royal household. The higher one’s status, the more people you could ‘look down on’ – literally! Naturally, the king would be at the top of the heap. This is where David stood on one very fateful night.

2 Sam 11:2-5 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her.

I’ve heard it said many times that David fell in a moment of passion, that’s when he let that temptation get the best of him. But I’m sorry – I have to disagree. I love our guy David (after all, he’s Jesus’ great-great-grandpa and gave us so much of the Bible and all that), but this was no ‘moment’. This took some work, some planning. It was deliberate.

Maybe that first glimpse of her was accidental. It’s like accidently clicking on a website and seeing something totally unexpected. But then you have a choice. You can close the page (David could have turned and walked away), or you can linger – just for a few minutes. What’s a little peek going to hurt, right?

We’ll find out tomorrow. For today, let’s pray that Jesus’ Spirit would always be so tangibly present in us that the temptation to linger when something tantalizes us would never be a problem.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 455 – King David & the Ark of the Covenant

04/26/16 – 455 – David & the Ark of the Covenant

2 Sam 6:8-11 Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.

9 David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.

I guess we have to afford David a certain level of understanding. He was, after all, a very passionate guy! A person only has to read some of his songs (psalms) to see that. Think about the things he did – the way he lived! He was a warrior, a musician, a writer and poet, and so much more. I’m just saying it’s easy to see why such a person could get caught up In the excitement of his desire to bring the ark home to the point where he forgets the most important part – asking the Owner! It’s this same passion that would get him into more trouble later, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Levites finally convinced David that it was safe to bring the ark, if they did it the way the Lord had prescribed in the Law. David held off celebrating as long as he could (until the Levites carrying the ark had gone 6 steps), then started the party!

There were sacrifices, music, food and gifts for everyone. David held back nothing:

2 Sam 6:14-16 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

When David finally came home to give a blessing to his household, Michal let him know how she felt. It’s funny, I used to have the impression that she actually liked him, considering how she had helped him escape from her father Saul. Then again, maybe David thought so too, as he wanted her back after she had been given to someone else.

David made it clear that he was singing, dancing and laughing for God, who had chosen him for this special service, and that he refused to hold back. What do you suppose our churches would be like if we had more ‘David’s and fewer “Michal’s? Do you think we’d be driving people out the door? Or would that passionate love for God draw them in?

The bottom line is there have been many different worship models and styles in the history of the Christian church. For the most part, I believe that’s OK – there are different kinds of people too. The problem is when the worship itself (or maybe a better word is the ‘image’) becomes more important than the God we worship.

We don’t raise our hands and yell – people might think we’re weird.

We don’t sing because we don’t care for that kind of music.

We should do it the way we did it when I was a kid.

We should have tables & chairs in the sanctuary for our coffee & donuts!

Maybe the question for today for you and I is this – am I more a David or a Michal? Am I so focused on God and worshipping with my whole heart that I don’t much care what others are doing? Or, am I just watching everything, looking for reasons to refuse to participate?

Before we leave today, I have to add one more thing I couldn’t help but notice about Michal. When everyone else was outside taking part in this great celebration and worship, she was on the inside, looking out through a window. Separated from the body, separated from the worship. Separated from God.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 454 – King David & the Ark of the Covenant

04/25/16 – 454 – David & the Ark of the Covenant

I guess the Philistines decided to leave David and the Israelites alone for a while at least after twice getting sent home with their tails between their legs; finally David had time to focus on putting the kingdom of Israel back together. He began by gathering his army (now grown from 600 to 30,000 chosen men).

He called all the tribal leaders together and made plans for a great festival to celebrate the bringing of the ark to the capital city of Jerusalem. Why was this so important? After all, the ark had been in Kiriath Jearim for 20 years and wasn’t going anywhere. Well, I’m glad you asked.

The ark was built during the exodus from Egypt when the tabernacle was built. It held the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been written. Its proper place was in the Holy of Holies, where God was physically present. The presence of the ark represented the presence of the Lord in His proper place at the heart and on the throne of His people Israel. David planned the party of the century – musical instruments from all over, a huge parade (obviously) – everything. He had a brand new oxcart made for the occasion. It wasn’t one of those cheap little red and yellow souvenir carts you get in Tijuana, either. This was the real deal! There was only one problem.

King David, the man who so faithfully asked God for guidance – did not. He knew that it was God’s desire to live among His people. I think he just got so carried away in his fervor to be the one to make it happen that he forgot a few little details.

First, when God gave Moses instructions on the building of the ark, He also gave very specific instructions on how it was to be transported from place to place – carried on the shoulders of Levite priests ONLY! (Check out Numbers 4:9-20.) Second, the idea of using a new oxcart was actually taken from the Philistines – this was the way they carried their idols around (1 Sam 6). Then again, these things were written in the same passage of scripture where we found the admonition for Israel’s kings about not marrying too many wives, etc. a few days ago. So you can see why he might have missed it.

Anyway, I guess the lesson here is twofold:

  1. When God gives instructions on what to do and how to do it – do it, and do it His way!
  2. If you want to please God, it’s probably not a good idea to do it by imitating what people are doing in their worship of other ‘gods’.

So, how do we know God wasn’t happy about all this?

2 Sam 6:6-7 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.

(Uzzah was a son of Abinadab, the man at whose house the Ark had been stored.) And how do you suppose David reacted, when all this took him by surprise, and everyone was standing with their mouths wide open, waiting for Uzzah to jump up an yell ‘April Fool’s’ or something?

Sadly, he didn’t do much of anything, except get mad. Yes, he got angry with God. He had the ark (with cart and presumably with oxen also) taken to the nearby home of Obed-Edom, a Gittite. There it would stay for 3 months.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 453

04/24/16 – 453

Ex 20:1-3 And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Welcome to Sunday! As you probably already know, Sunday is the day we usually take a break from our current story and look at something to do with worship, or church. Today, I felt led to start off with a little reminder.

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Seems plain enough, doesn’t it? Yet, to someone standing on the outside looking in this week, it may not have seemed so clear just who we were worshipping.

Three days ago the singer/songwriter/musician known as Prince was found dead in his home. I wish I could say that watching the reaction since then has been a surprise, but I’ve seen it too many times. Here’s a short excerpt from one Star Tribune news article:

“Landmarks from the Eiffel Tower to the Chicago skyline to San Francisco City Hall to the Interstate 35W bridge were awash in his signature hue. His songs blared from speakers and cellphones. The Broadway smash hit “Hamilton” concluded with a Prince-themed dance-off while the cast of “The Color Purple” performed a rousing rendition of “Purple Rain.” His distinctive image — guyliner-rimmed eyes, outfits trimmed with jewels, ruffles or lace — was splashed across the Internet, newspapers and magazines. NASA even tinted a nebula purple, taking the tributes interstellar.

But the Twin Cities, where Prince grew up and made his home even after he became a megastar, was ground zero. Thousands filled the streets around First Avenue, the downtown Minneapolis club where Prince got his start, and thronged Paisley Park, the Chanhassen complex where he recorded, performed, lived and ultimately died Thursday morning.

Instead of beginning to fade, the emotions that erupted at the news morphed into new outpourings of sentiment and celebration here and abroad.

“The love for Prince and his purple strands are just woven into the fabric of our lives,” said Jeff Hnilicka, director of events and performance programming for the Current, which organized a massive block party outside First Avenue, where all-night dance parties in Prince’s honor will continue Saturday.”

You can read the entire article here if you like. But I think you get my drift.

Sadly, celebrity worship is just one of the ways that first and greatest commandment is so often broken. Yes, I’m calling it worship. Please don’t get me wrong. I know his work had a great impact on many people. I guess I just wish I would see God get that kind of attention for a few days.

It gets even worse. Did you know the ‘National Church of Bey’ is getting ready to build their first temple. Not familiar? They call themselves ‘Beyists’, and their religion ‘Beyism’, worshipping the goddess Beyonce. Yep, that’s the one.

Ex 20:1-3 And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Just sayin’

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 452 – King David and the Covenant

04/23/16 – 452 – David & the Ark of the Covenan

Well, David was now living in Jerusalem, and established as king of all Israel.

That was good, but do you remember where he was living just a few short years earlier? That’s right, in Philistine territory with his army of 600 men.

And what was he doing there? Right again! Posing as a defector/traitor to the Israelites!

Did you really think that the Philistines would never figure it out?

2 Sam 5:17-25 When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 19 so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” 

The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you.”

20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim. 21 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off.

22 Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 23 so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees. 24 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” 25 So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.

 

I guess you have to give the Philistines credit for persistence. Twice they tried to attack David, twice they were trounced. But there are 2 things you need to catch from this passage. The first is that as he had done earlier, before each battle, David sought God’s guidance and followed it. The second is that God (David’s covenant partner) made it clear that he wasn’t fighting by himself – or did verse 24 slip past you? What kind of army marches in the tops of trees? I can only think of one that could possibly do it, and that is God’s army. What I really wonder is whether the Philistines heard it too. I’ll bet they did.

Finally the Philistines learned their lesson and went home. David decided it was time to work on this fixer-upper called Jerusalem. He would start by retrieving the Ark of the Covenant containing the stone tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments. After all, it had been separated from the people and the tabernacle for almost 100 years.

Although by this time David must have had an army quite a bit larger than 600, many of his alliances were still new, and many of those under his command may not have had the experience or confidence in him as those who were with him for a long time. It takes a while for an officer to get to know his troops, and vice versa.

Maybe the Philistines had greater numbers. We know they usually had better weapons. Whatever the reason, the fact that God gave them such a powerful, clear sign that He was fighting with them was a great gift. I wonder though, how often God sends us signs like that, and we miss them. Or ignore them. Or rationalize them away as being our imagination or last night’s chili that we ate.

That’s another reason we need to be as close to God as possible – to know Him as well as possible, so that we can recognize His voice no matter what form He chooses to use to speak to us. How important is it? I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I sat that your very salvation depends on it.

John 10:25-28 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Let’s pray today that we would always know His voice when He speaks to us, and follow.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 451 – King David and the Covenant

04/22/16 – 451 – King David and the Covenant

Once Ish-bosheth and Abner were dead, the leaders of the rest of the northern tribes of Israel came to David and placed themselves under his rule. I think it’s important to mention here that David didn’t just accept that at face value. He was a man of the covenant, right? He made covenants, and lived according to the covenants he made. So, he made a covenant with those leaders before God, the text says.

An interesting side note is that as far as I know, he was the only king that ever did that. I realize that our Presidents and other elected officials take an oath of office, which is a small part of a covenant. But somehow it’s just not the same. Imagine how different our government might be if all of our leaders lived as people of the covenant with us, and with God!

Finally, David was king over all Israel and Judah. Remember he was still living in Hebron at the time, but it was time to go – finally. One small problem. There were a people called the Jebusites living in Jerusalem at the time, and they didn’t seem to want to share. In fact, the general rule is, anyone with an ‘ite’ on the end of their name was probably an enemy of the Hebrews, and this was no exception.

 

Now Jerusalem, and the palace in particular were pretty well fortified. So well in fact, that the Jebusites weren’t worried at all. Instead, they were taunting David and his men:

2 Sam 5:6-8 The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David.

8 On that day, David said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”

(I can’t help it – I just get tickled when I read this. I have this picture of a bunch of cocky Jebusite soldiers leaning over the wall making fun of David’s men, yelling ‘You can’t get us!’ and David saying something like, ‘No, not unless we go in through the back door!’)

 9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

Isn’t it funny how that covenant thing just keeps popping up in scripture? It’s almost as though God is trying to tell us something. I almost want to say that if anyone wanted to break his covenant and get away with it, it would be the king. Except that we know he did (we’ll get to that part of the story very soon) – and he definitely did not ‘get away with it’. There were deathly repercussions.

When we studied Solomon, we saw the same. He failed to keep his covenant, and his life fell apart. The difference between someone in such a position of power and influence breaking their covenant as opposed to the common ‘Joe the Plumber’ type person is not that they can do it with impunity, but that when they break their covenant with other rulers or with God, the damage they do is far greater.

Economies collapse, wars are fought, countless lives are thrown away simply because they decide to break the covenant they made. This is something you might want to think about in this election year. Why do we want someone whose word we can trust? Because they are making a number of covenants. One with us, of course, but others with other world leaders, and hopefully, one with God. Do you want a President that doesn’t understand what it means to make a covenant, or to break one?

Let’s take some time this morning to get outside of ourselves and pray for our nation, that God would send us candidates who are people of the covenant, people of integrity, people whose word we can trust.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 450 – King David & Mephibosheth

04/21/16 – 450 – King David & Mephibosheth (Say that 10x fast!)

Yesterday we said that the reason Ish-bosheth’s killers made their fatal mistake was that they didn’t really know King David. They thought he would be happy that they had done what they did, and reward them rather than treat them as leaders of the rebel army (which they were, in fact). They didn’t know one thing, well, maybe 2 – but that was enough to mean the difference between life and death for them.

First, they didn’t know that David was a man with a level of integrity well above that of most men of that day or this. Yes, I know about Bathsheba. I’m not saying he wasn’t human. I am saying he didn’t do things that he knew were wrong just because society said that it was okay (like wiping out the family of your potential rivals to the throne). Second, they didn’t know that David had made a covenant with Jonathon, one of Saul’s 3 sons who died with him in the battle at Mount Gilboa.

Both David & Jonathon knew that David had been anointed by Samuel, so they knew that this day would come. On the night they made plans for Jonathon to signal David if Saul was really out to get him, Jonathon asked:

1 Sam 20:14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.”

Notice verse 15? The word ‘family’ would have included extended family as well as immediate. Well, it was almost too late for that, thanks to all these ‘helpful’ people. But unknown to David, there was still one left.

2 Sam 4:4 (Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.)

 It was about 10 or 11 years later that David found out about Mephibosheth, and summoned him. I can only imagine what was going through that poor guy’s mind! Here he was, family wiped out, lame in both feet, minding his own business and not threatening anybody – and the king sends for him! I think it’s a safe bet he didn’t expect what happened, though.

David told him about his covenant with Jonathon. First, he moved Mephibosheth into the city of Jerusalem, which may mean that he actually lived in the palace since from then on he always ate at the king’s table as one of his sons. He restored all of the lands that had been Saul’s to him, and assigned one of his servants named Ziba, along with his entire family to do nothing but work the land, provide for and care for Mephibosheth. At the time Ziba had 15 sons and 20 servants of his own, so this was no small household staff!

The rest of the story of Mephibosheth is the fairly brief chapter of 2 Samuel 9 – well worth the read. What we need to take away for today is that even after so many years, David has shown us once more – this is how you keep a covenant!

It doesn’t matter what the other person does. It doesn’t even matter if they die (unless that’s a stipulation, as in marriage).

Mephibosheth most likely didn’t know about David’s obligation to Jonathon until David told him – and even if he had, there would have been nothing he could have done about it. He probably felt pretty good about the fact that David hadn’t come looking for him to kill him.

Today’s devotions also show us one more thing. When we keep our covenants, what a difference it makes in the lives of those around us – and in ours as well.

Let’s pray about that today. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind us of our covenant promises to God, our spouses, others if applicable. If we have broken them – go and ask forgiveness. Then renew them if you can. Don’t break your word a second time. You may not get another chance to make amends.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 449 – King David – Finally!

04/20/16 – 449 – King David – Finally!

When David found out that Joab had murdered Abner, his response was probably not quite what Joab expected. Instead of treating Joab as a general who was protecting him from a treacherous threat, David cursed Joab and his household for murdering an innocent man. He retrieved Abner’s body and gave him a hero’s funeral, even walking behind the body personally! He recognized Abner as a prince, and because he did that, something changed in Israel as well as Judah that day.

It was like the lights came on and people could finally see David as their true king. But that wasn’t good news for everyone. Remember what usually happened to anyone with any potential claim to the throne? Yep! It was ‘house-cleaning’ time, which usually meant that the families (and extended families) of the old rulers would be killed. Just in case.

Also, there are always those who are ‘loyal’ only as long as they see a personal benefit, but who are ready to stab someone in the back as soon as they think there’s a greater advantage in doing so. It turns out this was the case with 2 of Ish-bosheth’s officers – quite literally…

2 Sam 4:1-2 When Ish-Bosheth son of Saul heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel became alarmed. 2 Now Saul’s son had two men who were leaders of raiding bands. One was named Baanah and the other Recab; 


2 Sam 4:5-8 Now Recab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. 6 They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Recab and his brother Baanah slipped away.

7 They had gone into the house while he was lying on the bed in his bedroom. After they stabbed and killed him, they cut off his head. Taking it with them, they traveled all night by way of the Arabah. 8 They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to take your life. This day the Lord has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.”

Here is yet another case of someone who thought they were going to reap some kind of great reward by doing some evil deed for the king; thereby saving him the trouble, I guess. By the way, I know the taking of the head thing sounds gruesome (and it is) but that was actually a pretty common way to prove that you had actually killed someone. After all, cell phone cameras were in their early days, so ‘selfies’ with the bodies were pretty low-resolution and hard to verify.

Anyway, their day didn’t go as expected either. Even though they had done what would have been considered good in the eyes of any other king, they forgot one thing. David was not like ‘any other king’. Instead of rewarding them, he had them executed for being the cowardly murderers that they were.

So where does this leave us today? Really, it leaves us with this question to ask ourselves – how much of what we do (or have done) is based on our own idea of what we think will please the King? In other words, what am I doing that I think God will accept, even though in my heart I know that I’ve either a) never asked Him or b) known that He wants me to do something else.

Joab made his mistake because he let his hatred, his thirst for vengeance override his duty to obey and support David’s authority. Recab & Baanah made their mistake because they really didn’t know David. They just figured He would be like any other king.

Don’t make the same mistakes. Getting to know your King well only comes one way, through relationship with Him. As we pray today, let’s ask Him to examine us in these areas, and if we are found wanting, to convict us and lead us back to Himself.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 448 – King David & Abner

04/19/16 – 448 – King David & Abner

Yesterday we learned that Abner had approached David with an offer to help him recover Israel under his rule. The 2 had begun to make some calls to leaders they knew would be willing to ally themselves with the new king. Things seemed to be going well for a while. But then, as it often does, something in Abner’s past finally caught up with him.

Maybe he just forgot about it. Maybe he was just so busy keeping himself on the ‘top-o-the-heap’ that he just wasn’t watchful enough. Maybe he had just made so many ‘deals’ that he built himself up to a false sense of security, thinking that no one could ever get to him. I don’t know. But I do know this – someone did.

Just a few short years before, when Abner made the decision to align himself with Ish-bosheth against David, He had attempted to take control of the entire kingdom using Saul’s son as his puppet ruler. A wrestling match turned into a knife fight, and that turned into a battle in which Abner was forced to kill Asahel, younger brother of Joab. Joab was not only Abner’s cousin, but the commander of David’s forces as well. He did not take revenge for his brother’s death only because he wanted the bloodshed to stop, and he thought Abner did too.

Now, after several years of civil war, he knew he’d been tricked. And he wasn’t about to trust Abner again!

2 Sam 3:21-27 Then Abner said to David, “Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a compact with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.

22 Just then David’s men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder. But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. 23 When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace.

24 So Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! 25 You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.”

26 Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah. But David did not know it. 27 Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the gateway, as though to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.

Talk about bad timing! Just when the 12 tribes were about to be reunited again! Now what? Would the 12 ever get back together as one nation? Stay tuned 😉

Abner was like many of us, wasn’t he? I feel like I see him in a hundred TV commercials every day, now that we’re in an election year. He was a politician – a good one. He took care of himself, that’s for sure, but he did have a conscience also. He wanted power, but he didn’t necessarily want to be the one on the hot seat. Power without all that pesky responsibility – that’s what I’m talking about!

Trouble is, it doesn’t work like that. That’s not what God calls us to do, or to be. He has given us power – His power, through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. He gives us special resources, We call them gifts.

But this power is not to be used to build up our selves. It is to be used to serve and to help others. It isn’t so that we can perform magic tricks, but so that we can facilitate His work, i.e. His healing process through anointing, prayer, and the laying on of hands.

Look at it this way. If you are His child, and your inheritance is, well, everything – what more could you possibly want or need? The only thing left is to be Him – and look where that got Lucifer.

Let’s pray today that the Holy Spirit would help us to see the gifts that God has given us, to put them in the right perspective, and use them for the right purposes in the right situations so that He would be glorified – not us. It’s really not as difficult as it sounds; except for that last part – we like to get credit for what ‘we’ do. Don’t we?

A little something extra…

If you read Pastor John’s ‘Bible Stories For Grownups’ devotionals, you know that I always put a suggestion prayer starter at the end of the day’s installment. But what you may not know is that I pray for you and with you all every day as well. If you listen to the audio version that’s attached to the post, or subscribe to the audio RSS feed, you can listen and join me in those prayers each and every day.

Why don’t I write the prayers in the devotions, you ask? First, I don’t think that God wants us to read prayers to Him as a general rule – I think He wants to hear from us – personally. I think that it’s much too easy to slip into a cursory reading of a printed prayer without really thinking about what you’re saying. Second, prayers that come directly from the heart –  unedited and uncut – are in my opinion so much more meaningful than any prayer someone else could have written for you.

Remember, God’s not looking for eloquence, He’s looking for openness.

Have a blessed day.

Pastor John

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 447 – King David & Abner

04/18/16 – 447 – King David & Abner

You might recall that last Saturday Abner had talked Joab into calling off his pursuit of Abner and what was left of his army, even though Abner had just killed Joab’s brother Asahel. Joab’s hope was that in so doing a civil war would be averted. But, unfortunately, it was not. Saul continued to gather men to fight for him, but it was a rough go.

2 Sam 3:1 The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.

Considering that Ish-bosheth (Saul’s last surviving son) and Abner were basically taking control of the greatest portion of Israel – the 10 tribes – why do you suppose they were having such a hard time? Well, here’s a hint. Who was it that God had chosen to be the king of all Israel? That’s right, David. And whom were they following? Right again – Saul.

From the very beginning of their efforts to take control of the kingdom, they were working to satisfy their own wills – not God’s! Eventually (over the course of about 5 years) they managed to get the rest of those 10 tribes to join them – sort of.

They were unified in name, not in spirit. They were there because each one thought it would bring them power and/or riches. Instead, it brought them to a place where they lost everything, including their relationship with God and their identities as individual tribes and peoples.

In the meantime, David focused on what he could – Judah. His strength and power became more and more obvious even to his enemy Abner. You can say what you want about that guy, but he didn’t miss much, and he was shrewd!

Fast-forward to the ‘other’ palace. When you’re living in a situation like Ish-bosheth’s, things at home tend to get a little tense. One day, for whatever reason, he accused Abner of sleeping with a woman named Ritzpah, who had been one of Saul’s concubines. This was not only an allegation of sexual sin, but of treason. You may recall the story of David and Bathsheba in which we discussed why a deceased king’s former concubine was so important. Had this charge against Abner been true, it would basically have been an attempt to take the throne.

Well, Abner hadn’t just been sitting around all this time. He had been working behind the scenes to strengthen his own position in the palace. So when Ish-Bosheth called him out, he found out the hard way who was wielding the real power in that castle. It wasn’t him.
Abner decided it was time to do something, so he sent an envoy to David, offering to make a deal with him to deliver the rest of the kingdom to him. David accepted, with one condition. Remember his first wife, Michal, daughter of Saul, who he bought for 100 Philistine foreskins? Well, so did he – and he wanted her back.

Well, Abner made it happen – and immediately David and he began visiting key people to set up the new alliances. It was going well, until ……. (How do you spell ‘dunt-dunt-dunhhhhhhh!’?

You know what the really sad part is? Abner may have had a chance had he just done it right from the beginning, and I believe that’s what God wants all of us to know. There’s no reason to go through life disobedient and distanced from God, hoping to rejoin Him when your end time draws near. At the risk of repeating myself, I have seen many people die. Very few of them had the gift of knowing in advance. Even knowing, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to take action on anything, So what do you do?

Easy. Say yes to God right now. Keep doing it. Every day, it will be easier. Every day, the time you have to fight temptations will be shorter. Every day, your fight will get a little bit easier. Every day, Jesus will be a little bit closer.

And every day – right from the first day – He will be there, helping you. You might have a hard time feeling his presence at first. That’s part of the fight. But I promise, it will get better.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 447

04/16/16 – 446 – Change & Worship

Isaiah 43:19 “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

As I began to write this Sunday installment (which is our weekly break from whatever story we’re currently working on), a thought popped into my head. Good thing, too, or this would have been a really boring devotional! (Or really short.)

Worship is going to feel quite different for me this morning. First off, last week I was lying in a hospital bed, so worship was watching David Jeremiah preach on television. My ‘normal’ Sunday morning is pretty full, as I play guitar in the praise band, attend a Sunday school class and intercessory prayer group, and video record the message. So that was different.

But what will really make it different today is that there will be a new drummer playing with us, and we will be introducing a new song as well. I have a feeling this person’s style will be quite different than the one we’ve been used to. I may even have to play a bit differently to blend in properly on the new song! New person, new style, new song. Hmmmm. May evoke a comment or two? But the real question is this: is different bad – or good?

I’d have to say the answer to that is – yes! And no!

At the risk of being branded a heretic, what I mean to say is that change is neither inherently good or bad – just different. Yes, even in the church. Yes, even if our toes get stepped on once in a while.

To me, the saddest thing is when people immediately shut down, determined that the change will be bad no matter what. They end up missing out on a lot of joy that God had planned for them. They also take away a lot of joy from others, at times even ruining any chance that someone else may have had at any kind of meaningful worship because it’s not enough to admit that you don’t like something. That would be taking the responsibility (aka blame) on your own shoulders.

Instead it’s the fault of the song itself. Or the worship leader, or pastor, or drummer, or whoever. And, since worship is already impossible (Head tilted up, looking askance and heavenward, back of 1 hand on forehead, the other holding the now useless hymnal against your heart. Huge sigh.), it doesn’t matter what you do. So you go right ahead and do whatever you can to ruin it for everyone around you.

When everyone is asks to stand, you sit with your arms crossed (even though physically, you could).

When you see one of those ‘new people’ who are causing all this looking your way, make sure you don’t send a smile back at them even if they’re wearing a red nose!

If they look your way during a song, make extra effort to set your jaw closed and glare icily at them, so they know you are NOT pleased!

When the pastor asks for the congregation’s help in doing anything (like, I don’t know, shaking hands with someone you don’t know, or moving to a different pew to make room for visitors), I find it helpful to pretend my feet are set in a big bucket of concrete, like the gangsters used to do to their victims in the old days. Make them come to me! Hey, they’re in my house, remember?

The trouble is, they’re not. And neither are you. It’s our Father’s house. Not ours. This week, someone got upset with me when I said that there was a place for many different styles of churches and worship because there were so many different kinds of people. That would include the ‘traditional’ sanctuary stocked with hymnals and piano (I put ‘traditional’ in quotes because guess what – travel a few miles in any direction and the word takes on a whole new meaning!), to the newer coffee house churches with tables, chairs, coffee & donuts.

I was told that this was “disrespectful” (having tables/drinks etc). Why? Because “I was brought up that way.”

Me: “So was I. I’m not saying that kind of church is for you. What I’m saying is that people are coming to Christ and growing spiritually in those places, and all kinds of others.”

They: “It doesn’t matter. It’s still disrespectful. It shouldn’t be allowed.”

Me: “Even if people are being saved and discipled?”

They: “Yeah.”

Me: “Even if the choice was that they would never come to Christ in the way you and I did?”

They: “Yeah.”

Me: “You realize that what you’re saying – quite literally – is that if someone doesn’t want to worship the way we do, they can go to hell.”

They: “What?!”

The pastor, a little while later: “What was all the yelling about? I heard you guys in my office!”

As we go to prayer today, let’s take our prayer right out of scripture, shall we?

Luke 18:11 “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else.

OOPS! That’s not the one! Just a couple of verses farther. Did you ever notice that Jesus felt sorry even for the Romans who tortured and killed Him, but the only people He was ever angry at were the Pharisees who claimed to know God yet thought they were better than everyone

Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 446 – King David & Abner

04/15/16 – 446 – King David & Abner

After Abner killed Joab’s little brother Asahel, Joab and the rest of David’s men began chasing them down to finish the battle.

2 Sam 2:24-29 But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and as the sun was setting, they came to the hill of Ammah, near Giah on the way to the wasteland of Gibeon. 25 Then the men of Benjamin rallied behind Abner. They formed themselves into a group and took their stand on top of a hill.  

26 Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their brothers?”  

27 Joab answered, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the men would have continued the pursuit of their brothers until morning.”

28 So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men came to a halt; they no longer pursued Israel, nor did they fight anymore.

That was the end of the battle, but sadly, the war dragged on for about 2 years. Ish-Bosheth’s side grew weaker as David’s grew stronger. David’s family was growing during that time also. He added at least 4 more wives while living in Hebron, and had a son by each of his (now 6) wives. This was pretty much like any other king, and many other Israelites would have done, so it should have been OK for David as well, right? Well, you would think!

There was this one little thing, though. Sometimes, especially when God places people in positions of special responsibility or authority, or He gives them very special gifts or purpose, He also places special constraints on them. This was exactly the case for the kings of Israel. Written more than 400 years before Saul was made the first king of Israel, Moses gave this prediction and law:

Deut 17:14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

(Emphasis mine) Sounds like David missed the memo on this one – or maybe he just had a different idea of what the word ‘many’ meant. Or maybe he just didn’t think it was fair. I don’t know.

I do know that the kings never seemed to obey this particular law. I also know that many of David’s main problems would come as a result of breaking it. And, I know that this is an area of disobedience we rarely discuss. Why is that?

Maybe because we want to yell ‘That’s not fair!’ sometimes ourselves – then we remember who we’re accusing of being unfair? Or are we suddenly remembering what ‘fairness’ is – and feeling ashamed because if we truly got what was fair, you know where we’d all be right now.

Maybe you’re one of those people that God is holding to a higher standard than others. A leader of any sort, a teacher, pastor – a Christian? Why do you suppose that is? Ask Him about that today as you pray, and tomorrow we’ll thank Him for it as we worship.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 445 – King David & Abner

04/15/16 – 445 – King David & Abner

Abner was a funny guy. Not funny ‘ha-ha’, but funny ‘peculiar’. He was funny because he was way too much like us in way too many ways. In a world where most people were really pretty simple, he was a rather complex guy. He was always looking out for his own interests first, that’s true. He was always looking for an edge, a way to get ahead of the other guy. Like I said, he was a lot like us.

Admittedly, I’ve read ahead a few chapters. I’ve checked out a half dozen commentaries to see what they say about Abner. I know he’s the bad guy in this part of David’s story. Yet, try as I might, I just can’t find it in me to really hate the guy. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I see some good in him, for a few reasons. First, remember David’s second visit to Saul’s camp while he was asleep, when he took Saul’s spear & water jug (1 Sam 26:13-16)? It was Abner who David and Abishai humiliated, yet he was not out for revenge.

Even in his attempt to put his ‘puppet ruler’ on the throne, he tried to do it with minimal bloodshed. It seems to have been Abner’s idea that the first 12 men have some sort of wrestling match, when & how it became a lethal knife fight we don’t know.

That’s when he lost control. You’d have thought you were at a hockey game! The bleachers cleared, everyone was fighting until Abner and the men he had left were hightailing it for home. The total losses that day were 20 of David’s men, 360 of Abner’s. Still, David’s men weren’t ready to quit – at least not all of them. David had a sister named Zeruiah, who had 3 sons. Joab was the eldest and commander of Uncle David’s army. All 3 were there that day.

2 Samuel 2:18 – 23 Now Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. 19 He chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him. 20 Abner looked behind him and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?”

“It is,” he answered.

21 Then Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.

22 Again Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?”

23 But Asahel refused to give up the pursuit; so Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot. And every man stopped when he came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died.

You know, I really wanted Abner to be totally bad – someone that I could clearly hate. But I can’t. Especially after reading this passage. Over and over. I know he started the fight and all that. But I also see someone who repeatedly tried to get his pursuer to turn away – to do anything he could to avoid having to kill Asahel. When Asahel made it clear that it was kill or be killed, Abner did what any soldier in battle must do – he killed his attacker.

By the way, the butt end of the spear was often sharpened so it could be put into the ground when resting or camping, and what Abner probably did was put the point into the ground or something solid and let Asahel run into it, using his great speed and momentum against him. There’s more to this we need to look at, but we’re out of space and you have to get to work! So till tomorrow, let’s pray that Jesus’ Holy Spirit will always give us that gentle reminder when we begin to make those too-quick judgments about others. There’s always more to the story. Let’s see if they’ll share theirs.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 444 – King David

04/14/16 – 444 – King David

Yesterday we read that it took about 5 years for Abner and Ish-Bosheth to win the 9½ tribes of Israel over to the extant that they recognized Ish-Bosheth as their king. Once he did, he found the confidence he needed to issue a challenge to David. Here’s an aside: a few of you might recall something I said about bullies a while back. I figured out in high school that unless the ratio was 6:1, I never had to worry. At only 5 of them to 1 of me they walked away when they saw me coming – very time. Abner was close at 9½ Israelite tribes to David’s 2½ – 1 of which was the smallest of the 12.

Abner was pretty much like most bullies. He hid behind others (like Saul’s last surviving son Ish-Bosheth) to do as he liked. It doesn’t take much of a historian to see who was really pulling the strings in that arrangement! Finally, when he thought it was a sure thing, he decided to go for it! Sort of like another big bully (and I do mean ‘big’ – Goliath), Abner issued a challenge to David. ‘Bring your 12 toughest guys and meet me on the playground after school’, Pastor John paraphrased, ‘ I’ll bring 12 of mine and we’ll see who’s king once and for all!’

Hey, I think that was close, but here’s how it really went…

2 Sam 2:12-16 Abner son of Ner, together with the men of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. 13 Joab son of Zeruiah and David’s men went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group sat down on one side of the pool and one group on the other side.

14 Then Abner said to Joab, “Let’s have some of the young men get up and fight hand to hand in front of us.”

“All right, let them do it,” Joab said.

15 So they stood up and were counted off — twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, and twelve for David. 16 Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together. So that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim.

The new name of that place means “field of daggers” – and we can see why! What is not so obvious is how this fight came to be in the first place. It was not a ‘normal’ way to wage a war or fight a battle. Maybe it had to do with the fact that in doing what he was doing, Abner was actually declaring a rebellion – starting a civil war – against David. Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan. After the first 24 men all killed each other, the first major battle of a long, bloody civil war began:

Verse 17 The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the men of Israel were defeated by David’s men.

One thing we must remember is that in reality, the battle/war here was not between 2 men, or even 2 armies. In rebelling against David (God’s anointed ruler), Abner was really rebelling against God Himself!

How often are we guilty of the same thing? We may even outwardly recognize God’s will in placing people in positions of authority over us both within the church and in our culture (i.e. government), yet be openly rebellious if we don’t like the pastor or something he said last Sunday (or something someone told us he said, because we weren’t there, actually – but hey, you get the idea).

Some of you may know this about me – I’m a ‘child of the 60’s’. I have participated in and even helped lead (peaceful) rebellions against authorities or policies that I felt were wrong or unjust. I do the same today. But I don’t rebel against the person(s) that my church board has agreed after earnest prayer is the one who is to come and be our spiritual leader. I especially don’t try to undermine his/her authority for selfish reasons (i.e. my family was here first – we should get to pick the new carpet).

We may not always agree with these people God has placed in authority over us, but that’s okay. We can disagree. We can discuss things. They are still human, and can make mistakes, as David will teach us very soon. Still, remember this lesson. Remember that when they come to a Spirit-led decision, we should stand with them, rather than against them.

There’s a reason we now have about 41,000 ‘Christian’ denominations worldwide, instead of the ‘one’ that Jesus prayed for in John 17. My question is this: how can we rebel against God’s authority (whether in human form or His Written Word), then still believe that we have the full measure of His blessing to do things our way instead of His?

Which brings us to another ‘self-check moment’. As we go to prayer today, think about those times when you disagreed with the authorities God placed in your life? Keep it simple – start with your pastor(s). How did you handle it? How did it work out? Is it too late to make right any wrongs left that way? Ask the Holy Spirit for His help in this one today. And get comfy – sometimes these things take a while – but they are oh so worth it!

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 443 – King David

04/13/16 – 443 – King David

David had won his battle with the Amalekites, unfortunately Saul didn’t fare so well against the Philistines. Saul and 3 of his sons, including David’s beloved friend Jonathon were killed in that battle. Word reached David, and as usual, he consulted the Lord as to his next move.

2 Sam 2:1-4 In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord. “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.

The Lord said, “Go up.”

David asked, “Where shall I go?”

“To Hebron,” the Lord answered.

2 So David went up there with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 3 David also took the men who were with him, each with his family, and they settled in Hebron and its towns. 4 Then the men of Judah came to Hebron and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.

So David is finally recognized by the people of Judah as their king. Notice, though, that it is only the people of Judah, not the entire 12 tribes of Israel. Why not? Because as always, there were those working against God’s plans for their own selfish interests. One of Saul’s sons survived – and that was enough for his nephew Abner (who also happened to be commander of Saul’s army).

Verse 8 Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.

10 Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The length of time David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.

What’s hard to tell from these few verses is that it took about 5 years or more for these 2 to get the rest of Israel to unify and declare Ish-Bosheth king, and apparently only about 2 years for someone to assassinate him. It was just too good to last, I guess.

Seriously, division among God’s people never comes without a price. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a nation or a household. Or a church. Why? Because one side is seeking to do God’s will, the other side is not.

Here’s the thing, though. I could be wrong. Admittedly this is a guess. But here goes. My guess is this. I’d guess that there were a whole lot of people in those 10 tribes that ended up following Abner, who thought they were doing the right thing. People who either never bothered to question what they were doing, thinking that it was someone else’s responsibility; or rationalized their thinking until they had it worked out in their own consciences.

Yet there was really only 1 thing to be asked, wasn’t there? Who was God’s anointed? Who was the true king?

As you go to prayer today, here’s some food for thought. If we get rid of all the excuses and rationalizations, doesn’t the same question apply today? To you and I? Who do we follow? No matter what tribe we came from, who is the true King?

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 442 – David & His 600

04/12/16 – 442 – David & His 60

1 Sam 30:11-22 They found an Egyptian in a field and brought him to David. They gave him water to drink and food to eat— 12 part of a cake of pressed figs and two cakes of raisins. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights.  

13 David asked him, “To whom do you belong, and where do you come from?”

He said, “I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago. 14 We raided the Negev of the Kerethites and the territory belonging to Judah and the Negev of Caleb. And we burned Ziklag.”

15 David asked him, “Can you lead me down to this raiding party?”

He answered, “Swear to me before God that you will not kill me or hand me over to my master, and I will take you down to them.”

Sometimes it pays to be nice to people, right? Discarding this sick Egyptian slave proved to be the worst mistake his master ever made, and the best thing that could have happened to David and his men.

Verse16 He led David down, and there they were, scattered over the countryside, eating, drinking and reveling because of the great amount of plunder they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from Judah.

No surprise there, is there? They were so full of themselves, they weren’t even watching for possible attack or retribution. Still, if there were any doubt that God had His hand on David’s army, the outcome should remove it. The emphasis is mine…

17 David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away, except four hundred young men who rode off on camels and fled. 18 David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back.

The only thing that surprises me at all is that 400 were allowed to escape. Not only did David recover everything that was taken, but even more plunder that the Amalekites had with them, livestock and other unspecified goods. Bear in mind that this was a 24 hour battle for an already exhausted army! The obvious lesson? When God performs a restoration to His faithful, He performs a full restoration and then some!

So the happy band headed for home, stopping to pick up the 200 men who had stayed at the Besor Valley. But when they got there…

 1 Sam 30:22 But all the evil men and troublemakers among David’s followers said, “Because they did not go out with us, we will not share with them the plunder we recovered. However, each man may take his wife and children and go.”

This could have turned into trouble – big time. But David nipped it in the bud! He pointed out that everything they had was given them by the Lord, and it should all be shared equally whether a man stayed back with the supplies or fought on the front line. David also sent gifts to the elders of many of the cities of Judah, telling them it was from the plunder of the Lord’s enemies.

So I guess we should take away 3 main lessons from this part of David’s story.

  1. The Lord can sustain us far beyond what we can imagine. This is but 1 of the stories in which God has given people superhuman strength or endurance when it was needed.
  2. When we restore something, we try to make it as much like the original as possible, like a classic car. When God restores something (like us) He makes us so much better than we ever imagined we could be!
  3. God’s gifts and blessings are meant to be shared, not hoarded. Don’t make the mistake of failing to recognize the giver of your gifts.

Today as we go to prayer, consider each of these 3 lessons. Has there been a time in your life when God has done a ‘superhuman’ work through or in you? (Hint: if you were born again, that’s a ‘yes’ to #2) Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you’ve been failing to recognize His gifts, or failing to share them generously with others.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 441 – David & His 600

Hi All,

Another ‘side note’ – I did land in the hospital last Friday, but came home last night. I think I left about half my blood there in little vials. They still haven’t figured out what caused all the problems in the first place, but I’m not giving up yet. I did try to write some while there, but there were so many problems with the hospital’s wifi, plus the way I was feeling wasn’t helping that I never got it posted. When I re-read it this morning, I was glad I hadn’t. You would have thought I started drinking or something. Anyway, I am feeling much better. Thanks for al you prayers and patience. I promise we’ll get back on track, barring a recurrence of me falling ill.


 

I can’t understand for the life of me why no one has made a movie out of 1 Samuel 30. This chapter would make one of the greatest action films ever! Remember the backstory: David had been anointed to be king of Israel, but finally driven out of Israel by Saul’s relentless attempts to kill him. He and his 600 soldiers spent about 16 months living in enemy (Philistine) territory, pretending to have defected to their side! When the time came to attack Israel, the other Philistine leaders didn’t trust him or his men, so sent them home.

This would be the battle that took Saul’s life, vacating the throne for David. In the meantime, David and his men rode 3 days to get home, only to find that the Amalekites had taken everything they could, including their wives and children, and destroyed the rest. (Remember the Amalekites? They were the people that were supposed to be wiped out during the Exodus but were not because of greed. How many times has that decision to disobey God come back to haunt the Israelites?)

The men were understandably upset – who could blame them? But who did they blame? The Amalekites? Nope!

Verse 6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.

Why is it that when tragedy strikes, it seems that the first thing we want to do is place blame on someone? I could understand it as a part of solving the problem. But this wouldn’t solve anything. If they had killed David, their families would have been lost forever. Thankfully David knew he had to stay close to God. He called for the ephod and asked God for direction.

Verse 8 and David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?”

“Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”  

9 David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Ravine, where some stayed behind, 10 for two hundred men were too exhausted to cross the ravine. But David and four hundred men continued the pursuit.

It was understandable that these men were spent. They had ridden for 3 days to get home, cried and mourned until they were exhausted. Then they began the chase after an army which had several days head start on them, and by that time was probably in much better spirits, and much better fed than they were. I can’t imagine the emotions going on within this group as one-third of them decided it was time to give up on their families and just stop. Yet, the writer says nothing about any infighting or animosity. Maybe they were just too tired to waste any fight they had left on each other, rather saving it for the Amalekites. Finally, they caught a break.

Most of us will face extreme emotional situations at some point(s) in our lives. My guess is that most of those will not have to go on for days and days without a break, without rest or proper nourishment. Although, many of us will. It may be an extreme illness or trauma for you or a loved one. It may literally be a soldier’s battle in which he is cut off from his supply lines. The bottom line is this.

You do not have to go through these things alone! God has promised, time and again, that He will provide, that He will be there with you IF you are living in covenant with Him. So that’s the question. Are you? Have you made that covenant? Have you kept your end of the covenant to the best of your ability? Are you willing to accept the help that God feels you need, rather than the help you think is best? Let’s ask ourselves those questions today, and as we go to prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to examine and convict us of the answers as well.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 440 – David & Saul

04/05/16 – 440

Just a short side note and a prayer request before we continue with our story today. I told you a few days ago that I was a little under the weather. That’s true. We’re still trying to figure out what’s wrong. Right now there only seem to be a couple of possibilities, neither one looks good, and we probably won’t know anything more definitive till next week.

Having said all that, I’ll try to be as consistent as possible with the devotions, but I know you’ll understand as always if I just don’t have the energy to sit up long enough to knock one out. Please pray for God’s guidance for the doctors and us, and that His will be done – no matter what. Thank you.

Pastor John

So let’s get back to it, shall we? David and his 600 men, with their families, had moved to Philistine territory and actually allied themselves with King Achish of Gath because David knew that sooner or later Saul would try again to kill him.

He also realized that living amongst the Philistines was not exactly the healthiest prospect either.

He convinced Achish that he and his men should live apart from the rest of the Philistines, so they lived in the country. They had to show their loyalty to                       Achish by conducting raids against his enemies. David made sure that the raids were against those who were really enemies of Israel, but let Achish believe that the raids were made against Israelites, and at the same time he made sure no witnesses were left alive to report otherwise.

Eventually the inevitable happened. Achish himself organized a major attack against the Israelites. He called David to him and made it very clear that he expected David to fight alongside him against his own people!

Of course David really didn’t want to do that, and began to bluff. But he needn’t have worried about it. It seems the other Philistine officers didn’t trust him anyway.

1 Sam 29:1-4 The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. 2 As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. 3 The commanders of the Philistines asked, “What about these Hebrews?”

Achish replied, “Is this not David, who was an officer of Saul king of Israel? He has already been with me for over a year, and from the day he left Saul until now, I have found no fault in him.”

They argued until Achish gave in and sent David home, David still acting as though he was very upset about it.

1 Sam 29:7-10 Turn back and go in peace; do nothing to displease the Philistine rulers.”

8 “But what have I done?” asked David. “What have you found against your servant from the day I came to you until now? Why can’t I go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”

9 Achish answered, “I know that you have been as pleasing in my eyes as an angel of God; nevertheless, the Philistine commanders have said, ‘He must not go up with us into battle.’

This turn of events sure looks like another one of those times when ‘God showed up’, considering that there were 2 major repercussions. First, the battle that Achish was leading his men into would turn out to be the battle in which Saul and his sons were killed. Just think of the implications if David had ridden into that one on the wrong side! Second, when David and his men got home they were in for a pretty unpleasant surprise – and a major battle of their own!

1 Sam 30:3-4 When David and his men came to Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive.

Not too long ago we talked about those times in our own lives when God showed up – and we didn’t even realize the implications until later. Sometimes we never do, I think, because I believe that often He shows up without fanfare. It may be a traffic delay or flat tire that saves us from a major accident or a ‘chance’ encounter that lands us a new job.

Think back to those ‘linchpin’ moments in your life – the moments that changed everything. Surprising how small they seemed at the time? Do you recognize God’s hand in them? Maybe now’s a good time to say ‘thank you’ (again, or for the first time), and use those memories to help you recognize His help when He steps into your life in the future. You might be surprised again at what a difference it will make.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 439 – David & Saul

I want to preface this with an apology for being this late. I’m a little under the weather and may in fact have to be hospitalized on Monday. For now please just keep me in your prayers. Thank you.

Pastor John

04/02/16 – 439

Mental illness is a terrible thing. Whether we call Saul’s affliction mental illness or something else like demon possession or an evil spirit, the results are the same. It takes over everything in one’s life. It also has a significant effect on pretty much everyone around. Saul’s jealous, murderous fixation on David was just not going to go away. He settled down for a while, but eventually began to chase David again with the intent of killing him.

David had the foresight to send out people to watch his back, so he knew when Saul (and the 3000 men he took with him) were camped nearby. Once again, I really wonder that no one in Saul’s army suggested that they post sentries, as once again David and one of his men, Abishai, were able to sneak into the camp and get right to where Saul lay sleeping. To be fair, though, scripture does tell us later that God had put them all into a deep sleep. Abishai wanted to finish things right there.

1 Sam 26:7-10 So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him.

8 Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice.”  

9 But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? 10 As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish.

Notice that David still recognized Saul’s anointing? He also trusted that God would protect him, seeing as he had been anointed as the next king, and that God would take Saul’s life when He wanted to – it was not up to David to do it for his personal convenience.

The 2 men took Saul’s spear and water jug, and went to a hilltop a safe distance away. There they yelled to Abner, the commander of Saul’s army and asked why he hadn’t protected his king. They told him they had the spear and jug. Then Saul recognized David’s voice, and once again, David asked what he had done that Saul was pursuing him to kill him. He again pointed out that he could have killed Saul but did not.

Saul again admitted he was wrong and asked David’s forgiveness, and went back home. David, however, did not go along. He knew it wasn’t over.

1 Sam 27:1-2 But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

2 So David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maoch king of Gath.

This was a BIG deal! Remember who Achish was? And Gath? Philistines! The ancestral home of Goliath. David had already visited there once and had to pretend he was crazy to escape. Now he went there with his 600 men, and all their families, seemingly to settle and fight for Achish – the enemy! The one good thing that did happen was that Saul heard about it, and he finally did stop the chase.

Sometimes we get caught in situations where it seems a problem or a person is relentless. We are ready to do just about anything to make it stop. But is that always the best decision? We’ll see how things worked out for David next week. In the meantime, let’s pray that in those situations, God would always give us the wisdom to find a way through Him – not through the enemy.

Pastor John’s Bible Stories For Grownups – 438 – David & Abigail

04/01/16 – 438

Yesterday we left David having been intercepted by Abigail, the wife of Nabal, who had badly mistreated David’s servants instead of giving them. In fact, the phrase we read yesterday in 1 Sam 25:14 that was translated in the NIV as the servant telling Abigail that Nabal “hurled insults at them” is translated in other versions as “railed at them” or “screamed insults”. The original Hebrew word has the connotation of a sound like that of a bird of prey shrieking as it makes its fatal swoop at its victim.

Why is this important? Jesus answered that in Matt 12:34 “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”. Nabal’s words as well as his actions revealed his true nature. On the other hand, so did Abigail’s. Reading her words, it becomes obvious that she not only knew who David was, she believed in his destiny, and in the God Who had willed it. After she brought the gifts, she continued to bless him. We’ll just eavesdrop on a little bit of it – but it’s worth the time to read the whole story.

1 Sam 25:28-29 Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the Lord will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the Lord’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God.

David was quite impressed with her, I think. He thanked God and asked Him to bless her for stopping a massacre, and told her to go home in peace. When she got home she found a very drunk Nabal, no doubt celebrating how he had bravely chased away those people who thought they could take advantage of his good nature. So, she said nothing to him until the next day when he was awake and sober. Then she told him all that had happened. Let’s just say he didn’t take the news well.

1 Sam 25:37-38 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

When David heard about this, he basically said ‘what goes around, comes around’ (but in a very kingly fashion), then asked Abigail to marry him. She accepted. He also married another woman Ahinoam from Jezreel. At the same time, however, Saul gave his first wife, Saul’s daughter Michal, to another man. That was probably not a good idea, considering what happened when Samson’s father-in-law did the same thing.

So, you may have noticed that we’ve talked as much (or more) about what people said as about what they did in this story. What do you suppose is more important? HA! Trick question! The answer is…both! Consider the earlier quote from Jesus. We can hide an evil heart from others with nice speech – for a while. But sooner or later our true selves will come out.

The only way to really never have to worry about hiding your true self is to be the person God created you to be. If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember the lies. If you speak kindly you don’t have to worry about making others angry. And so on. Let Christ’s love live in you, and that is what will flow out of your mouth.