How are we to respond to the troubles of life? How are we to deal with difficult people? How are we to react to opposition and injustice against ourselves?
I am thinking about people facing the following situations
– A colleague is trying to undermine you at work, to blame you for things going wrong or take credit for something you have done.
– You constantly come up against the crushing injustice of bureaucracy in the immigration or benefits system
– Life is simply hard because of health, work, housing, financial worries.
1. Don’t Second Guess
There are two wrong ways to respond
– First, we can simply see all of these things as the work of the enemy and we must fight against them and against the people causing them as hard as we can
– Secondly, we can superstitiously see these things as signs that we are cursed because of something we or our ancestors did. We can them believe that some-how it is down to us to make atonement.
These are both wrong because we are second guessing what is happening. We don’t have direct, immediate revelation on what is going on. So, what do we do?
With that in mind, the whole next section of 2 Samuel is fascinating because we have this rich and complex narrative with different actors and the ups and downs of life. It is not always clear whether we are dealing with comedy or tragedy. In these 10 chapters it is quite rare for us to be told directly “This is God’s verdict on the matter.” We risk second guessing
- Seek God’s Will -what is he saying and doing in this situation?
However, we have been given God’s verdict all the way back in chapter 12. What is going on? This is the backstory.
– David had been promised by God that his dynasty would be established and a descendent of his would reign forever. At the same time, God who loved David’s family would discipline the king’s descendent in love
– David had sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba. His sin was about lust and power. He controlled someone else for his own benefit. He was deceitful. He murdered. His actions show a lack of gratitude, dependence and trust in God.
– David’s sin is exposed by Nathan the prophet. David repents, there is forgiveness but there are still consequences. Nathan says that conflict, betrayal and death will afflict David’s family
– We have begun to see this. David’s son by Bathsheba dies, his daughter, Tamar is raped by her half brother Amnon. His other son, Absalom has Amnon killed in revenge. Absalom flees into exile.
What is God doing? Well Chapter 12 tells us that God is disciplining David, correcting him, teaching him to trust God and be humble. Meanwhile at the end of all this is chapter 22, David will sing a Psalm of praise because God has been delivering him from his enemies. These enemies saw David’s troubles as an opportunity to mock him and try to seize power but they were wrong. God was not with them. God still loved David.
This is important for believers. We are not to see our circumstances as curse or punishment. Jesus died on the Cross in your place. However, don’t duck this point. God uses our circumstances to discipline us just like a loving parent disciplines their child. It is to enable you to grow to love and depend on Jesus more and more. So, don’t run away from your circumstances.
- Know your place in the story
We are learning how to understand and obey Scripture. I find it helpful to ask “who am I in the story?”
There are three main characters here
He is David’s loyal henchman. He hatches a plan to reconcile the son to his father. He gets a wise woman to go and tell David a story. This is an act of deception. It leaves ambiguity. Is Joab acting rightly. His motives may be good but there is a big question mark about how he does things
The woman tells her story about how her husband is dead. One of her sons has killed his brother. The clan now want to execute him too. This will put the family line at risk, her heir will die. She will be left as a vulnerable childless widow.
You will recognise echoes of Nathan the prophet’s story telling from chapter 12 here in the way she tells a parable in order to expose David as the one who has failed to how mercy to his son.
She appeals to the fleetingness of life. We are like water poured out. Death comes quickly and is irreversible. Don’t waste time David and don’t be careless in your judgement. Don’t hold a grudge that one day you will be unable to retract.
She appeals to God’s character as the one who seeks out the banished and brings them home.
Some of us will recognise a little bit of “Joab” in our own lives. We are intensely loyal. We see friends in trouble and we desperately want to help. People need loyal friends but be careful that your own actions are godly and wise.
He is hesitant. He tries to avoid giving judgement However, when he is challenged, he eventually acts, he tries to do what is right. He seeks to bring Absalom home. This however is only a partial reconciliation.
I want you to spot two things here. First of all, David is often presented as a type, or one who points to Christ. He acts as God’s King. We are reminded throughout this episode that God is the one who truly seeks our and restores the banished and exiled, reconciling himself to them through Jesus. Jesus is the good shepherd who brings home his lost sheep. David is flawed and human and reconciliation is incomplete. God fully restores.
David is also the typical believer. Flawed and sinful but repentant and forgiven. Throughout these next few weeks we are going to learn from him how to live in this messy world, submitting to God’s correction, facing oppression but faithfully trusting.
Was David right to seek to be reconciled with Absalom. On one level, future events suggest no, because it goes badly for David. However, whether it was politically foolish, it was morally and lovingly the right thing to do. David acts in love. He trusts God to be sovereign in the situation even with plotters and trouble causers.
This helps me to know how to face my circumstances. How do I work with the vindictive boss or the manipulative colleague? I love them, I show integrity. I seek their welfare even when they don’t care about mine.
Absalom is stunningly handsome, this is particularly reflected in the hyperbolic language about his hair. His hair will be his pulling power and his downfall. Absalom is every bit your charismatic leader. However, 1 and 2 Samuel have taught us not to trust in outward appearance.
We are beginning to see something of his character as well. Absalom is petulant, arrogant and manipulative. He thinks he can click his fingers and Joab will come running. When he doesn’t, he gets his own henchmen to act destructively to get Joab’s attention. He appears to be seeking justice and reconciliation but in the next chapter we will see that his aim is power for himself.
Watch out for Absaloms, smooth tongued people who are purely in it for what they can gain.
At the same time, I need to remember again and again that I am an Absalom. My status was as a rebel. Sin means that I have so often pursued my own agenda, I struggle with pride. I look out for what will benefit me. Absalom thought that he could manipulate or force his own way in but he couldn’t. He was dependent on his dad, the true king to act to reconcile him.
I was dependent on God to act. He is the one who has not left me banished. In Jesus, God acted to reconcile me a proud, manipulative sinner to himself.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to see how people plot and rebel against David, he will endure shame, mockery and exile.
We will see that David points us to Christ as the one who has borne our sin, shame and guilt on himself.
We will see that David provides an example to us of how to live through the trials, turmoil and uncertainty of life as God uses the things that are happening to us for his glory and to grow us to be more like him.
For some of us, those who identify most immediately with Absalom this morning, now is the opportunity to be reconciled, to know that God loves you, that in Christ he offers forgiveness, life, peace. Will you respond to that?
For those of us who already know Jesus, I want to encourage you to look differently at your circumstances. How is God teaching you to be humble, to flee sin and to trust in him more and more today.
Here is one practical next step. Think of that person who has wronged you, that person who has been unkind, said mean things, been hurtful. How can you show kindness to them this week? Now for some of us that will be obvious. It may simple mean that you smile at someone, open the door for them, praise them, help them with their work. It will mean that when someone is rude and officious with you that you respond with gentleness and respect even as you really want to lash out.
For some of you, I know that this is more complicated. There is someone out there who may still be dangerous to you or distant. I am not asking you to put yourself in danger and when someone has broken the law, it is right and good that they face the consequences of the law. So, if it is complicated like that, don’t rush off to do something rash. Please talk to one us first. However, the good and right thing now might simply be to pray for that person that they would know God’s love and forgiveness. Or it may be that now is not the time to focus on that person but on others that God is encouraging you to show his love to.
This is something that each of us can do. We can love others by praying for them by seeking opportunities to share the Gospel. Their greatest need is to be reconciled to God.