Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lend Me Your Ears

Today's passage:  II Samuel 22:1-7
     "When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid;  The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me; In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God:  and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears."
     Men are often accused of having selective hearing.  They heard "football game on TV" but not "Please ask son's teacher about such and such".  But I'm sorry to throw us under the bus ladies, I know I have it too.  Especially when I'm in the middle of doing something.  When my husband says to turn off the coffee pot warmer before I leave the house so the coffee doesn't burn, I heard what he said.  But apparently I didn't process it and really let it sink in.  Because what did I do the other day, right after he said it?  I left the house for numerous hours with the coffee pot warmer still on.  I'm fortunate to be married to a very laid-back, easygoing husband who never gives me criticism.  And I deserve a lot, I'm afraid.
   The end of verse 7 says David's cry entered into God's ears.  God always hears our prayers.  I could be wrong, but the verse that says God doesn't hear our prayer if I regard iniquity in my heart, doesn't mean He doesn't actually hear us.  He just isn't paying attention and will not answer.  Does that mean God has selective hearing too?  I guess when we refuse to relent of some sin in our life that He has pointed out to us time and time again, it does.  I suppose when we ask for something, and we are too stubborn or proud to say "I'm sorry", God ignores us.  But in the above verses, God didn't just hear David.  His prayer went into God's ears.  And unless sin is blocking our way, God always intently hears our prayers.  Have you ever been in a conversation, and had the sense that the person you were talking to was distracted, or that you didn't have their full attention?  I know sometimes I have been that person.  And I hate that because I really want to hear what the person is saying, but if my two year old is about to poke himself in the eye with a sharp object or my four year old is climbing yet again on some non-sturdy structure, my attention is going to be a little divided.  God has a whole world to listen to, but He is not once distracted by his children who are involved in some ungodly activity while another who needs His help is pouring out prayers over her little one.  He can equally hear the prayers going up at a church service and the prayers going up at the hospital.  And He doesn't just hear one and listen to the other.  They both enter into His ears.
Hear My Prayer--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book One
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1925

     This is great assurance because like David, I'm living in a "flood of ungodly men".  This sinful world gets worse every day.  News stories are evidence of that. It isn't going to improve. Things might improve for individuals if they give their lives to Christ, but as a nation, as a planet, conditions will grow steadily worse.  It is a good thing that a prayer of salvation enters into God's ears and He can deliver a person from the "sorrows of hell" and the "snares of death".  It is a comfort that when I feel surrounded by sin and darkness, when evil is prevalent and engulfs me, God doesn't just hear me, my prayer enters into His ears and He will answer.
    "I will call on the LORD, who is worthy to be praised:  so shall I be saved from mine enemies."  II Samuel 22:4

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tall Tale Two

Today's passage:  II Samuel 21:15-22
     David is not a young man anymore.  I have to respect that he still goes out to battle with his men.  Maybe after the incident with Bathsheba, he determined that he would never stay home for a battle again.  Only nowadays, David's age is starting to show.  His sword feels heavier, difficult to wield.  His steps more uncertain, wobbly even.  He is not agile as he was in his youth.  He has to sit down to rest more.  But when do you have a chance to rest during a battle?  As much as his men probably appreciate having their king willing to lay down his own life in these attempts, he's slowing them down.  He has become more of a hindrance than an asset.
     In this passage, the Philistines continue to harass the Israelites.  They will never believe that Israel has a right to all that land.  They will never believe that Israel has a more powerful God.  He may have been more powerful on the day Goliath was killed, but that was only one day.  Goliath's brother and I assume a few of his sons (they are referred to as the sons of the giant) have a personal vendetta against David.  Goliath's brother would not forget that day.  I don't know how old Goliath's sons may have been at the time, but if they were not old enough to see their father fall, they had heard their uncle's version numerous times.  Here, they had the opportunity to personally see their dreams of destroying David realized.  And Ishbi-benob, the one son, nearly accomplishes it.  It says he was "girded with a new sword" and I'm not sure if that means this is his first arena of battle or if he had his weapon freshened for this occasion. Venom is flowing from this man.  He blames David for the years without his father.  He had no more learned the lesson than Goliath had.  The problems the Philistines had were not Israel's fault (See A Truly Tall Tale).  Now it would have made a great movie reel if David destroyed all these enemies.  But I think his fighting days are over.  He has mighty men to do that job for him.  And they do an excellent job.
David faces Goliath with his sling--Taken from Standard Bible Story Reader, Book Three
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1926 

     But it makes me wonder.  How must David have felt?  There he is, back against the rocks, unable to really defend himself anymore.  He braces himself for the blow of the sword when the giant topples over.  One of David's mighty men has rescued him.  In his younger days, David would have been the rescuer.  He had been Israel's hero.  Being king seemed infinitely more significant, but people did not always love kings.  They always loved heroes.  Perhaps knowing Goliath's kin would be in this fight is all the more reason David decided to show up.  Maybe he thought he could recapture the glory days when he had first become a national figure.  When the country was singing about his killing Saul's ten thousands.  Now somebody was killing David's ten thousands.  Did it make him sympathize with Saul a little bit?  Did he understand Saul's jealousy of a younger warrior?
     David was beginning to understand that God had already used his past, he would not get that back.  His present was a little messed up.  Failures had caused complications for him.  But there was still his future.  Could an old man do anything for God?  Any man (or woman) no matter the age can do something for God, if they are yielded to Him.  I started to realize I was getting older as a counselor in the youth group when I was grumpy after overnight lock-ins.  I used to love that kind of thing (when I was younger).  I know I'm getting older when make-up doesn't hide the laugh lines anymore, when plucking gray hairs now takes longer than if I would just cover them up, when amusement park rides give me more vertigo than butterflies.
     David's future is a question mark.  It doesn't mean he is finished.  It doesn't mean his best years are behind him, it just means his youngest years are.  Realizing youth is past is not a pleasant discovery.  I'm still reconciling myself to the fact that I'm middle-aged.  I feel younger than I look.  But I wouldn't trade the maturity and wisdom I have gained as I have gotten older.  And though David has had a lot of regret, I'm guessing he has learned a lot and wouldn't trade those experiences either.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Prayer and Purpose

Today's passage:  II Samuel 21:1-14
    In college I worked at a highly popular fast food restaurant. Because of my school schedule, I worked many different shifts.  One year I worked early mornings from open until mid-afternoon.  The next year, I worked mostly evenings from late-afternoon until closing.  Since I was one of the few workers that had actually worked both shifts, I was privy to hearing the blame game.  When I worked mornings and something was undone, it was a tendency of my co-workers to say, "Oh, that didn't get done because of the closing crew."  When something was left unfinished in the evenings, those on that shift would often say,  "The morning crew never completes that."  Sure, there was the occasional time when you would see somebody doing nothing, but since we were the only golden arches that served many of the small towns in the area, and we were a lunch stop on the way to Branson, Missouri we kept pretty busy.  I was always the type of person that thought, instead of complaining about the undone job, just do it.  I know its more work, but so what?  Work is never evenly divided.
      I don't see David complaining a lot. Unlike the king before him, he takes responsibility for the way he has failed God.   After all he has been through so far, now God sends a famine in the land.  After three years, David decides to ask God about it.  Perhaps, in the beginning, David just attributed the famine to lack of rain or a weather cycle that would pass.  Some summers are particularly dry, some years a lot less precipitation.  Another year goes by and David is probably figuring out that this much time without rain is a little unusual.  By the third year, David recognizes something supernatural is going on here.  When David asks God why He is sending this famine, God tells him it is because of a sin Saul committed against the Gibeonites.  David could have told God this was not fair.  After all, he was not the one to break the treaty (one Joshua had established) with the Gibeonites, that was the last king.  Why should he be held responsible for the failures of his predecessor?  It's called leadership.  And guess what?  Every leader has to deal with the failings of the last presidency, er, leader.  David could have whined and complained about this for another couple years while his people continued to starve and while the rain still did not come.  Instead, he decides to solve the problem.  He offers a solution to the Gibeonites (an unfortunate one I am afraid) to appease their wrath, and guess what?  God sends rain.  Leaders find solutions.  Incompetent leaders complain about the problems handed to them.  It irks me when presidents or prime ministers complain about past problems mostly because they chose to run for that office knowing full well the problems facing them.  David had not asked to be king.  David did not campaign his way onto the throne.  God selected him which means he would have even more reason to murmur about this new situation.  But he doesn't.  He leads.  And that is something I've not seen a lot lately in our own country.
     I know this is a little more political than my usual post, but David's leadership style challenges me to think more positively when God allows difficulties in my life, especially ones not of my own making.  How does God want me to handle it?  Moan and groan like Saul, or pray and purpose like David?  Looking throughout history, I would say that most leaders fall into one of these two categories, and judging from the past, I think we can deduce which style has been most productive.  Complaining about things does not solve anything.  Blaming others does not resolve issues.  David witnessed that in the man who came before him, and he determined to be different.  He accepted the challenges put in his path and forged new ones.  With all his failings, David led his people, right or wrong.  With all his faults, David accepted the problems given to him and found solutions.  He didn't always do it the right way, but at least he did something, and he didn't place the blame on anyone else. I think we all could stand a little help in that department.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Opposed and Oppressed

Today's passage: II Samuel 20
     I'm not going to deny it.  I have put off writing about this chapter.  I seriously have been stuck.  It is excessively violent.  I'm not sure movies I've watched are as violent as what I'm reading here.  I shudder, I cringe, I wish I could just skip this chapter completely.  And I could.  I don't think anyone pays that close attention that they would notice I decided not to post what I learned here.  But I know, and I feel like when I don't write about a passage, maybe I am saying God couldn't teach me anything through it.  And He always teaches me something.
    For instance, the man mentioned in the first verse of the chapter, Sheba, a Benjamite, which would have meant he was a relative of Saul absolutely denounces David's leadership.  He encourages the rest of his tribe to do the same.  The Bible calls him a "man of Belial".  Now, God commanded Israel very particularly how to handle children of Belial.  And I'm not certain if Sheba was deemed this because he was rebelling against God's anointed, King David, or if he was involved in occultist behavior to be labeled a son of Satan.  In either case, Deuteronomy 13:12-18 gives specific charge as to how to handle these types of people.  The Israelites were to make certain that people accused of this behavior were authentic (unlike the Salem witch trials of old) and if so, they were to slay them with the sword, destroy all their livestock and belongings, make a bonfire with any of their possessions in the midst of the village and see to it that any trace of them was consumed.  Does this seem a little extreme?  For someone who has never dealt with Satanic power, it may.  I have heard on more than one occasion that when Satan has a foothold in someone's home, especially someone who had been dealing with him directly, every item they possessed was a portal to allow his demonic powers to have reign.  God always knows what He is doing.  If He said to destroy everything that person had dealings with, I think I would obey that command, because God created Satan, and He knows what He is capable of.  This also makes me wonder about Saul's whole family.  He had trouble with evil spirits, he visited the witch at En-dor, it makes me wonder if the Benjamites had a history with the occult. If they did, it could explain Saul's constant struggle with those powers. If he couldn't be free of them, it could mean that he still had something in his possession, something that was a doorway for those dark, evil, oppressions he had been experiencing.  I've heard a lot about this kind of stuff lately.  Satan has no power over us, but don't think he can't mess with us a little bit.  He certainly can.  His power is real, and though not more powerful than God, he has dominion over this world, and therefore, can manipulate the things of this earth by his choosing.  If the Benjamites were often involved in these types of activities, it might be why David commmanded his generals to go after Sheba.  He concludes that "Now shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom".

     So David dispenses his men to go after this son of Belial.  In the midst of this is a vengeful Joab.  Amasa is the one David chooses to lead up this expedition against Sheba.  I'm guessing his relationship with Joab has never been the same since Absalom's death.  David choosing Amasa , who aided Absalom, was an even greater insult to his former general.  Joab never forgets an enemy.  He had not forgotten that Amasa chose to work with those against the king.  He would not allow this to stand.  David may have forgiven Amasa, but Joab certainly would not.  And in true Joab style, he kills Amasa.  But this is not just a soldier against soldier killing.  This is a vengeful, make the enemy suffer type of death.  I would rather not describe it.  The Bible does a fine job on its own.  Let's just say Amasa's death is so horrific that others going by can not help but stare in disbelief.  His body actually becomes a distraction to the rest of the regiment pursuing Sheba.  Someone was finally wise enough to move and cover this distraction.
     Joab takes charge of the campaign and comes to the city that is harboring Sheba.  The inhabitants do not want war, especially not with Joab.  His name has become a name to be feared. The passage says "a wise woman out of the the city" confers with Joab about why he wants to destroy their fine city.  Joab assures her that is not his desire, but they will accomplish their mission and that is to fetch Sheba.  The woman determines that the city will handle Sheba.  Again, another description of his demise by the citizens of the city.  The objective was achieved.
     There is really no excuse for Joab's behavior towards Amasa.  He viewed him as a threat and an enemy.  I think it was more that he viewed him as a rival as the king's adviser.  Joab may think that eliminating other counselors or generals will heal the relationship with David.  But he is wrong.  That can only heal with the miracle of forgiveness.  I'm not saying it would be a miracle for David to forgive.  I'm saying that forgiveness is a miracle in itself when it can mend a broken relationship between a king who has lost his rebellious son, and the general who has taken the rebellious son's life and who has continuously disobeyed his king.  I don't see how this relationship can be mended.  But forgiveness is powerful when we choose to use it. Do I think Joab deserves forgiveness?  From a human perspective, no.  He has been given many, many chances.  But so have I.  I don't deserve any of the forgiveness I have been granted either.  May I ever be mindful of God's great forgiveness to me every day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Mary Heart

Today's passage:  Luke 2:16-17
     We were given an advent calendar a couple of years ago.  In years past, I have filled it with sweets and treats.  This year I decided to do something a little different.  Behind each door I put in a slip of paper that  I've typed up a verse of the Christmas story.  And then I have included a task or a treat that would connect to that part of the story.  For example, for the verses about Mary and Joseph having to go to Bethlehem to be taxed, I gave them each a dollar explaining that whatever they bought with it, they would need to consider the tax that would be included. If they chose to use it on a vending machine, they would have to pay Mommy and Daddy the tax amount on the item.  When I typed up the verse about the shepherds telling everyone they knew, I put a gospel tract inside the doors and asked them to hand it to somebody that needed to hear about Jesus this week.  Of course there has been a little bit of grumbling that there has not been a treat behind each door, but I have explained to them that Christmas is about Christ.  All this other stuff is fun and exciting, but Christ's birth is the reason for the celebration.
Mary Kept These Things in Her Heart--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book One
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O. A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1925
     As I have been reading and typing up the passage in Luke 2, something occurred to me.  After the shepherds went and told everyone they could find about the Christ child, it stands to reason that at least a few of those people might want to check out their story.  Either they didn't believe when they were told this news and continued on with their business, or they said, "I've got to go see what these guys are talking about."  This could mean only one thing.  Mary and Joseph would not have gotten any sleep that night.  They had journeyed all that day, Mary had just given birth, and from that moment on they had visitors all the night.  They didn't need a room in the inn, because they weren't going to enjoy a cozy bed anyhow.  Now, if I were Mary I would have grumbled and complained about this.  At some point in the night I would have pleaded with Joseph to turn any other visitors away because I was exhausted.  If I had been Mary, I would have been thinking, if we hadn't been stuck in this barn, I could be sleeping right now.  Instead, I have to make small talk with strangers when all I really want to do is sleep.  Maybe Mary had those thoughts, but was too gracious to utter them.  Maybe every visitor that came by, she secretly wished was the last so she could get some rest.  Somehow, I don't think so because she "pondered them in her heart".  Mary understood what it was really all about.  This was not any ordinary baby.  This was not any ordinary birth.  This was the arrival of God Himself. If Mary had any of those selfish thoughts, she was able to fling them aside because it was far more important to allow the world to see who had just made His debut on this earth.
     Physically, she would have been completely depleted.  Of course, it was God coming into the world, maybe she had the easiest labor on record.  If it was, she would be in for a real surprise when she gave birth to her future children.  Just another way for those brothers and sisters to be compared to their perfect big brother.  God knew Mary's heart.  He knew how she would handle the pressure of being ridiculed through the whole pregnancy.  He knew that she would not be thinking about herself when the time came for the baby to be born.  He knew that she had a servant's heart, that she was willing to do what was necessary to see God's plan carried out.  Many faiths give too much credence to Mary.  Some faiths don't give her enough.  This was a remarkable woman.  She really exemplifies selflessness.  The trials of scorn and scoffing when people first learned she was pregnant.  The fear of losing the man she loved, because how was he supposed to understand this?  Traveling on a donkey while probably having contractions, but being willing to finish the journey because God had a particular place in mind when His Son would be born.  She had no idea that particular place would be in a stable.  And now a sleepless night, smiling and chatting with countless people.  Maybe she yawned here and there, it could hardly be helped, but sharing her Child with the world, remembering that this was the One so many had been waiting for their entire lives.  Mary's story started long before an angel's visit.  God was working in this young lady for years before that, and she must have displayed a surrendered heart time and time again for God to select her for this special privilege.  She had no idea the full extent of what she was surrendering to, when she agreed to God's plan.  But she bore it all with such grace and example.  If we could have a smidgen of the fortitude and willingness that was in that young lady's heart, we would get so much more accomplished for the Kingdom.
     It's hard to give ourselves to everything God wants us to do.  It is emotionally and physically exhausting sometimes.  Just yesterday, our pastor reiterated that the ministry is not about us.  Mary really got that.  Was it inconvenient to give birth in a stable?  Absolutely.  Was it a nuisance to have people coming by throughout the night?  I think it must have been.  But the whole reason she said yes to God was for this moment.  And maybe this moment wasn't exactly what she had envisioned, but she knew it was not about her.  It was about this new life she had just brought into the world.  Could God have selected me if I were living during that time?  Highly unlikely.  Mary did not have any supernatural powers that allowed her to have a more willing heart than mine.  She just understood that some of the most important things in life, are the hardest.  And she was willing to put up with some inconvenience to see God's plan through.  If I gripe about not getting a good night's rest, I obviously still don't get it.  And when I see Mary's attitude, I see I still have a lot of work to do on my own.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Today's passage:  II Samuel 19:9-43
   It is that awkward time of year again.  How is it awkward?  Inevitably, I receive an unexpected present.  A present I had not anticipated and from someone for whom I did not buy a present.  For me, that is always awkward.  I always appreciate the sentiment, but tinged with guilt.  Why did I not think to get that person a present?  It is humbling, because I have received gifts from people that would have not been on my gift list radar.  I have received gifts from people who I deemed mere acquaintances and wonder if I rank significantly higher on their friends list.  I know that in most cases, they are not expecting something in return.  It is really the joy of giving that motivates them.  This is also the time of year that the TV and radio reiterate the "tip" list.  You know, the list of people in service jobs who deserve a bonus this time of year.  Your postal carrier, your dog walker, your hairdresser, your doorman, your handyman, your financial manager, etc., etc., etc.  Has anybody noticed that this list seems to expand every year?  Now, I'm not knocking this.  I have benefited from such kindness.  As a teacher, as a clinic receptionist, as a house cleaner, my employers were more than generous at Christmas time.  But I never felt entitled to those bonuses.  I never expected it.   If I had the money to get every person who has performed a service for me this year a present, I would have nothing left to get the people who are really dear to me anything.  Am I the only one that thinks this list is a little exaggerated?  I mean, should I give every single person who works in a service capacity a gift for doing their job?  Sorry, I don't feel obligated to do that.  In the past several years, our newspaper delivery person and our postman have left Christmas cards with names and addresses in our mailbox.  Hint, hint, so we know where to send a Christmas bonus.  After Christmas had passed, and we did not tip these people, it seemed like a big coincidence that our newspaper, placed neatly on our porch previously, always ended up in a snow pile at the bottom of the steps.  I'm not saying these people don't deserve something extra special at Christmas, but don't expect it.  We are one of those families that simply cannot afford to give a gift to every person we meet.  Maybe there are some that can, and that's fine.  I think its great that service employees receive something extra special from some of their clientele, just don't begrudge those of us that can't.
     So I kind of veered on a rabbit trail there, but the gift giving does tie into this passage today.  King David is returning to Jerusalem, resuming his rightful place on the throne.  As he journeys back, he encounters friends who stuck by him through this horrible mess, and foes who opposed him.  The foes are particularly nervous because they are certain that David will execute judgement.  But he doesn't.  What?  He is merciful.  He ignores his advisers counsel to make examples of these traitors.  However, he does not forget his friends.  He is prepared to handsomely reward them.  So nothing happens to the enemies, but great things happen to the loyalists.  I'm wondering if David thought the best punishment for these folks, was to see the blessings they would miss for not serving him.
Shimei Throws Stones at David--Taken from Treasures of the Bible (United Kingdom)
By Henry Davenport Northrop D.D.
International Publishing Company, 1894
     That makes me think of our King's return.  He is coming back someday.  Many apologies will be made to Him then.  Not just by people who rejected Him, but by people who claim to know Him but never lived for Him.  They will have all kinds of excuses as to why they didn't serve Him.  Some of those apologies will be genuine, but some of them will be out of fear of the judgement to come.  I believe God chastens us for wrongdoing if we are His children.  But what if He comes today?  Some of those people who have not been living for Him, who have accepted Him as Savior, but have never bothered to give back a little part of their lives to Him, may still be involved in living in sin.  If Christ came back today, where is the chastening, where is the punishment?  They will get to go to Heaven.  Ah, but here is where the chastening comes in.  When those of us who have lived for Him stand before Him in Heaven, we will have crowns to throw at His feet.  Those who wasted their lives serving the god of this world will stand empty-handed, shame-faced before the King of kings.  Where is the chastisement?  When they have no gift to give the One who died for them.  When the One that should have been at the top of their gift list does not receive a present, when He gave the greatest gift of all--our salvation.  I so do not want to be one of those people.  I really want to live in a way that is pleasing to my God, so that I can give it all back to Him.  He has given me so much.  His mercy may be to spare judgement, but it can not spare us any shame we feel for not living our whole lives for Him.  I pray I will not be embarrassed to always give back to Him.  I pray I do not forget to give Him something at Christmas time and every day of the year.  Because that would be really awkward.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Grief Postponed

Today's passage:  II Samuel 19:1-8
     "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:...A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;"  Ecclesiastes 3:1,4
     It has been seven years since my father's passing.  At the time, I had to put my grief on hold temporarily because there were things to be done.  As the oldest of my mother and father's children (I have an older half-sister from my father's first marriage) my brothers and sisters looked to me to handle the details of arrangements.  I had to write my father's obituary.  Can I tell you how wrenching that is? ( My mother is going to read this today and I have no doubt that she is going to cry.  I'm sorry, Mom, but it perfectly illustrates today's passage.  And I think it is probably a little therapeutic for me. ) Writing about my father's life, not so hard, writing about his death, significantly harder.  Adjusting and editing so the word length fit the required space, frustrating.  How can you encapsulate a person's life in a paragraph?  Especially a parent who deserves an entire book?  We were giving my father a military burial which meant coordinating the pastor's schedule, the funeral home's schedule, the veteran's cemetery schedule.  There were people to call, some I had not talked to for years, to notify of Dad's death.  (By the way, I would not have you to believe that my siblings did nothing--  I took the lead for the major details  They especially helped with notifications.  My sister-in-law specifically aided me in this part of the process. ) For a while there, I'm not sure I had cried one tear.  I didn't really have time.  I shed ample tears at the actual service.
     The week following, I was able to stay with my Mom and go through paperwork.  Oh my goodness, what an amount of paperwork there was to sort!  It was surprising since my father's job involved office managerial tasks almost his entire working life.  But it was evidence of his failing health in the prior few years.  I threw myself into setting up a filing system my mother could manage.  I called credit card companies, tax people, insurance groups.   And I was glad to do it.  In a funny way, it was a sort of tribute to my Dad.  He had taught me these very skills that I was using to be able to help Mom.  This little piece of himself he had left behind in me, almost as if he knew I would need to do this someday.  I had never thought about that before today, and I'm not saying my brothers or sisters do not possess some of those same skills, but at that time, I was the one who was able to do it.
     The passage today takes me back there.  Why? Because there were moments (and really only moments, because I am the type of person who wants a short grief and then back to action) when I would have loved to put the obituary writing to the side and just reminisce.  Visitors came in and out of the house all day long for that week, for which I am extremely grateful, because it was a needful thing for all of our family.  Friends would pop into the office and say hi, and as much as I wanted to sit and visit, I really couldn't.  I had only a limited time to get these tasks completed.  I had to make sure Mom had her financial house in order.  It is kind of like that for David, here.  I mean, Absalom's death has just happened.  David has barely had time to mourn this son.  The people see his grief, and begin to wonder if they made the wrong choice to fight for him.    They come back from battle rejoicing that the enemy has been defeated, but then they hear the wailing of the king and begin to think maybe they had made some kind of mistake.  Weren't they supposed to quell this rebellion?  Wasn't it a good thing the usurper was not able to wreak any more havoc?  Joab arrives from battle, quickly assesses the situation, and in true Joab style, gives King David his presentation of the cold hard facts.  And here they are.  Yes, King, your son is dead, but you better gather yourself and let these people know you appreciate how hard they fought for you, or you will not have a kingdom left, because they will go fight for someone else to replace you.
David Mourning the Death of Absalom
By Gustav Dore
Courtesy of
     There is never enough time to mourn the passing of someone we love.  There is never a timetable for grief.  Life does not stand still while we are anguished.  I can't say that I don't think Joab was a little heartless here.  His mission mentality sometimes disregarded people and only saw tasks.  It is often the case in leaders.  I'm sure if Joab could have allowed David to grieve, he would have, but the country needed a leader at this moment, and David had to be that man.  Oddly, it reminds me of our country shortly after September 11, 2001.  When our country was in crisis, we looked to our leaders to console us, to tell us what to do next.  Joab knew his uncle well enough to know that David might have grieved for weeks before uttering a word to his countrymen.  They did not have that kind of time.  The throne was still at stake.  David followed Joab's advice.  But I'm sure he did not want to.  I'm certain he would have wept on the roof of that house for much longer, and it would have been understandable.  Joab may have seemed unusually cruel here, but he was also unusually perceptive.  He doesn't seem to be a man of great feeling, and I'm guessing he would prefer to confront an enemy than confront his own emotions, or the emotions of the king.  He is a let's-keep-moving sort of guy.  So we have this bump in the road, let's figure out how to get past it and onto the next thing.  David needed that kind of man as his trusted adviser, because David felt everything, and he felt it intensely.  He relished relationships.  He saw people, not just production.  Now his vision blurred with a relationship lost, he needed his task-oriented general to jolt him into the day's realities.  Moving forward would be arduous, it would be demanding, it would be taxing.  There would be another time to wallow in his sorrow, but for this moment, his grief would need to be delayed.
     I would not change anything about how things happened after Dad's death.  I would not have asked for a reprieve from the tasks before me that week.  To be honest, I have a little of Joab in me.  Give me a problem to solve, I would rather deal with that, than my own emotions.  I felt useful, and I was glad to be of use.  Mom, I would not have wanted it any other way, I do not write any of this out of regret, only reflection.  Knowing you, you will want to make things up to me somehow around the Christmas table, invite our friends and give me a chance to really reminisce about Dad.  I've done plenty of that in the passing years.  I don't feel gypped.  I don't feel cheated.  I feel like Dad instilled a little something in all of us, and I was doing what Dad would have done, had it been you going before us.  I feel like it was my gift to you, to be able to be your sounding board, your manager.  I pray that you won't see any complaint in this post, only contemplation.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

At A Loss

Today's passage:  II Samuel 18: 18-33
     "And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept:  and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!  would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"  I am moved to tears reading this verse.  The angst and anguish in David's voice reaches me even now.  I have three sons, and I would die for any one of them, even if the consequences of sin had justified their passing.
David weeping over the death of Absalom--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Six
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1929
     That's when I think that God knew exactly how David felt.  I know He had to send his son Jesus Christ, to reconcile my sin. His death had to happen because of me.  My failings brought Him to that Golgotha hill over two thousand years ago.  When Christ was on the cross, how badly God the Father would have rather taken God the Son's place. Was God in Heaven uttering those same words about His Son that day?  "O my son Jesus, my son, my son Jesus!  would I had died for thee, O Jesus, my son, my son!"  How can we ever think God doesn't understand?  He understands all too well.  He understands again and again when the people He created live a whole life never acknowledging Him and what He sent His Son to do for them.  How would any one of us feel if our children claimed we didn't exist, if they lived their whole lives pretending we weren't there, if they spent years running away from us and denying us?  Everyday God deals with that.  And not by just one or two of his children, by thousands, by millions.  Up to this point, David has lost at least three children.  His grown sons Amnon and Absalom, and the first child (which David refers to as "he" and "him") with Bathsheba.  To lose one child is heartbreaking.  To lose more than one, devastation.  And to lose them all at once, as Job did, seemingly unbearable.  Yet God loses His children every day.  Millions never recognize Him.  Millions never look up or reach up.  God's heart breaks every day.  He is anguished by this.  One of my favorite hymns is "Does Jesus Care?" by Joseph Lincoln Hall and Frank E. Graeff.  Whenever I think that possibly God can't understand anything I am going through, I sing or hum this song to myself.  Maybe someone today could benefit from reading the lyrics.  I've included verses one and four here.

Does Jesus care?  When my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,
I know my Savior cares. 

Does Jesus care when I've said "goodbye"
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches,
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him?  Does He see?
O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief,
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
And He does.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Generally Speaking

Today's passage:  II Samuel 18: 1-17
     There is no easy explanation for Joab.  He is a warrior with a military mindset.  Often he goes into a situation with a "kill or be killed" attitude.  And why shouldn't he since he has practically led every battle since David has been king? He is King David's nephew and has been his trusted friend and go-to guy.  He doesn't always carry out David's orders as precisely as he should.  Since he was family, he sometimes disregarded David's commands if he thought the ends would justify the means.  Since David was his uncle, he sometimes disobeyed David's orders because it was bad strategy.  As the general, he was in the midst of the conflict and he could see what would be best for the kingdom.  And being related to the king, meant that the king would more than likely show leniency with him as long as the battle turned out in their favor.  Joab hasn't always gone along with the program, but I have no doubts that his motives were pure, that his intentions were sincere.  His ambition was to serve his king, and if that meant defying him sometimes to keep him protected, than he had no qualms about doing that.  He respects David, but he doesn't fear him.  He knows that David values loyalty.  And like his methods or not, Joab is loyal.
     Absalom has decided to take Hushai's advice and go after his father himself.  This leaves David with no other option than to have his men try to subdue him.  This breaks David's heart.  We can see how anguished he is when in verse 5 he says, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom."  Doesn't sound like a lot of wiggle room in that statement.  It is not a wanted-dead-or-alive command by any means.  So I know Joab does not misinterpret this, he just chooses to forget he heard it.  From Joab's perspective, his cousin Absalom has caused nothing but grief for David for a few years now.  Joab may feel partially responsible for this, since it was at his own bidding that Absalom was invited back to the palace.  Joab thought David and Absalom could mend their relationship, but instead it had become more strained.  And then Absalom decides to rebel against his father in the most despicable way.  I'm sure Joab was not only infuriated by Absalom's actions, but humiliated.  Joab was probably muttering to himself, if he had just stayed out of this family affair, if he had only kept his thoughts to himself, if he had never encouraged David to reach out to Absalom then they would not be in this mess.  Had his heart not been touched by his cousin's despair at being isolated from his father, he might not have to contend with this family war.
Absalom is caught in a tree--Taken from The Boys of the Bible
By Hartwell James
Henry Altemus Company, 1905, 1916
     There is no disputing what David said as Joab departs to fight this battle.  Every one of the soldiers understood this clear order to spare Absalom if it could at all be helped.  When Absalom's abundance of hair (maybe he should have had it cut before riding into the woods) gets caught in some tree branches, donkey surging on ahead without him, he is a pitiful sight.  He must have been really stuck, because I'm sure he must have been flailing about trying to free himself to no avail.  He can not harm any one in this vulnerable position.  Even if he had bow and arrow on him, he is not likely to get off a good shot.  One of David's soldiers reports this situation to Joab.  Joab rebukes the soldier for sparing him.  The soldier is not apologetic for following the king's orders.  He even argues that had he decided upon this action, Joab would have not backed him, but would have left him out to dry.  This soldier does not have the advantage of a familial relationship with the king.  He reminds Joab clearly of David's plea to not kill Absalom.  Joab really has no excuse here, and feels he doesn't need one.  This cousin of his, had more than aggravated his father, he had aggravated him.  This was an embarrassing situation-- to be fighting in the woods trying to regain the throne from the one he had tried to help.  Joab felt that if they were to spare Absalom, this would be a sign of weakness to any other usurper.  If, however, the king's own son were duly punished for his treasonous act, wouldn't it cause future rebels to tread more cautiously?  Joab does not spare Absalom.  And it is not pretty.  He shoots three arrows directly into him, and has ten armorbearers finish him off.  Then they dig a hole and bury the body in the woods, covering it with stones.
     I'm not sure how Joab is going to explain this disobedience because I chose not to finish reading the chapter at this point, but I know there are enough witnesses to make Joab look really bad.  Joab doesn't seem too concerned.  He did what he felt needed to be done.  He knows what the king said, but just as he has done in the past, he also knows that he is trying to keep his king on the throne as long as possible, and he will take any action necessary to achieve that.  Is Joab happy about this deed?  I doubt it.  He just killed his cousin.  That can't be a euphoric feeling, but Joab keeps his feelings on the sidelines when it comes to battle.  He has an almost robotic response when he has a military decision to make.  Disregard feelings, disregard orders, disregard relationships.  What is going to achieve the objective?  Joab was a man of action.  He was decisive.  This is why David keeps him as one of his generals.
     I'm not saying Joab was right or wrong here.  If he allowed Absalom to live, Joab knew David would have forgiven him and he knew Absalom would have probably attempted this same thing again, and possibly succeed the next time.  Do I think Joab should have disregarded David's orders?  Not really.  But I also know, that God was meting out judgement on Absalom and it is unfortunate that this is how it came to pass.  Absalom wasn't exactly merciful towards his brother (not saying he should have been).  And his lack of mercy on Amnon brought about a lack of mercy from Joab.  But I won't be surprised if Joab's lack of mercy is revisited upon himself.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Today's passage:  II Samuel 17
     A great amount of military strategy is trying to get into the enemy's head and predict his next move.  This is probably why I never enjoyed the game Risk.  I have never been a very strategic person.  Most men love that game.  In college, a few people tried to teach me how to play, but gave up after the first five minutes.  I was hopelessly clueless.  My logic and reasoning skills have only kicked in since being an adult--at least I would like to think I have some now.
     This whole passage is Absalom's determining what his father might do next.  Everyone understands that Absalom is staking his claim as king.  He made it quite clear at the end of the last chapter when before all of Israel, he treats King David's concubines as his own.  So what next?  Absalom knows he needs to secure his kingdom.  He knows that there will always be those loyal to his father unless his father is dead.  He needs to know how best to achieve that objective.  The advice from Ahithophel is to take some troops out to pursue David.  He will kill David himself, and all of David's followers will somehow come following him back to the palace, Pied-Piper-of-Hamlin style.  That is not exactly the picture Ahithophel paints, but pretty close.  Of course, the hero in this little narrative would be Ahithophel.  Absalom would have sat around the palace waiting for his return, cheering his general's wise military genius.  This is the cartoon dream bubble I see above Ahithophel's head.
     Surprisingly, although Absalom thinks it is a brilliant plan, he wants to hear another choice.  He summons Hushai, who he doesn't realize is working as a double agent for David.  This is because Hushai understood that the way to Absalom's heart was to appeal to his pride.  He does this at the end of the last chapter, when asked wasn't he one of David's men, by saying, "Nay; but whom the LORD, and this people, and all the men of Israel, choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide."  He uses the same technique in this passage.  When asked how they should go after David, Hushai shoots down Ahithophel's idea.  He reminds Absalom that his father is a valiant warrior, and that his men are too.  Wouldn't it be better if brawny, strapping, mighty Absalom should go after his father himself?  In one respect, Hushai is taunting Absalom by touting his father's military abilities, and in the other respect is suggesting that Absalom is the only one who could defeat him.  Hushai has a real understanding of his enemy, and uses the wisest method to gain the upper hand.  The rest of Absalom's counselors agree, and don't they kind of have to, because otherwise they are telling Absalom that Ahithophel would be far better suited to battle the enemy, that he would be a much better match for David.  These guys are not dummies.  They know that you don't tell your new king he is not strong enough to take down his father.

Young Knight, the Armor of God--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Four
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
Standard Publishing Company, 1927
Now here is something that I have to wonder about, because the Bible does not use quotations marks the way we do today.  Verse 14 says,

"And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.  For the LORD had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom."  

Is the second sentence something the counselors said?  Or is it what God wrote to explain why Hushai's advice was taken over Ahithophel's?  Was it the counselors saying that they thought God preferred Hushai's advice over Ahithophel's because the latter would bring harm to Absalom?  Or is God telling us He persuaded these counselors so that He could bring evil upon Absalom?  It might seem like a small detail,  but if you read it all together, it just sounds like the counselors are reasoning this together.  When I take a second look, it almost seems this is not a quotation, but God explaining that the reason those counselors took hold of Hushai's plan was His exact design.  If this is the case, and I am persuaded that it is, Absalom is doomed.  No military strategy he develops is going to win him this war.  God is working behind the scenes.  He is giving Hushai the wisdom to sway Absalom, he is putting foolish words into Ahithophel's mouth (which is exactly what David prayed for in Chapter 15).  It really doesn't matter what Absalom decides, because if God is against him, he will not succeed.
     Things do start to fall apart.  Hushai has already sent word to David about Absalom's plans,  the surrounding countries are supplying David and his men with food, and Ahithophel commits suicide after his humiliating rejection.  Absalom can not yet see that his time on the throne will be very short-lived.
     I think that if I ever got to the place in my life where God had to bring evil upon me, I would be devastated.  And it could happen so easily.  If I start by taking little steps away from Him, maybe skipping my Bible reading a day or two, perhaps forgetting to pray here or there, finding excuses to not be in His House (or grabbing hold of excuses the devil hands me) I can drift farther and farther away from God.  If I were to let down my guard with things I watch, what I listen to, places I go, I could slip out of His service and onto His watchlist.  I don't ever want to be aiding the Enemy.  I don't ever want to cultivate negative things in my life that might cause Him to eliminate me.  Oh, I'm not worried about my Home in Heaven.  That was secured long ago, and had nothing to do with me, but my fellowship with God could be easily compromised if I slowly start to aid the other side. This is why I need to be a strategist, myself.  I always need to anticipate Satan's next move to bring me down.  He is always trying.  He would like nothing better than to recruit someone to work for his team.  And as tempting as he tries to make his recruitment package sound, that is a move that is way too risky.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Look at the Bright Side

Today's passage:  II Samuel 16
     Children have to be taught gratitude.  It doesn't come naturally.  I've met some children who seem to have been born gracious.  But I have been around children for a long time, and I know better. It is a trait that has been carefully instilled by parents, or learned individually through unfortunate experience.  As adults, gratitude either thrives or shrivels, depending on how much we use it.  If we become negative, bitter, critical people, we neglect to see the blessings.  When we praise God for every breath we take, every morsel of food we lift to our lips, every dry, warm night we spend out of the elements, thankfulness grows and envelops us.  Which brings me to today's passage about Ziba.  Do you remember Ziba?  I gave him high praise several posts ago (A Servant's Choice).  Tsk, tsk, tsk.  Alas, Ziba has somehow allowed ingratitude to creep into his heart.
Rainbow on a Cloudy Day--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book One
By Lillie A. Faris,  Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1925
     David has resumed to living in the hills, now that Absalom is acting king.  Every person who approaches David is either friend or foe, and I'm sure that he can't tell who is who anymore.  Ziba arrives over the hill bearing nourishment for the deposed king.  Naturally, David wants to know where Mephibosheth stands in all of this rebellion.  Ziba tells him that Mephibosheth is looking forward to recapturing the glory days of his father, Saul.  In other words, he is aiding Absalom in this thing.  As we will see a few chapters later, Ziba is lying.  Now why would this man, who had been living in poor conditions before David found them, who had probably been Mephibosheth's feet, who had been rewarded by this king with all of Saul's former lands, make up this story?  It has to start with ingratitude.  Some people can not handle good things.  The more good they have, the more they want.  I have to think this is what happened in Ziba's life.  When he was living among the ruins, he forgot what it was like to serve in Saul's palace.  He got used to the gruel and broth for meals, he became accustomed to unmended clothes, leaky roofs, chopping his own wood for the fire.  When he was far from the high life, he forgot how low he had been plunged.  Now that he was a little closer, now that he could see the fanfare at the castle while working the field, he began to savor the taste of ambition.  The lands and home he tended in service to Mephibosheth became menial.  He was the man, after all, who had reunited Jonathan's son and King David.  Why should he be planting vineyards and plowing fields?  Why should he be figuring expenses and directing servants when he could be using his skills to advise a king?  I imagine that when Mephibosheth becomes a resident of the palace, he would need servants to attend to his needs. As Ziba saw some of his former household drafted into these positions, I wonder if Ziba was offended that none of those positions went to him.  Perhaps Ziba viewed his groundskeeper/lands manager position as a curse instead of a blessing.  Ziba needed a good dose of gratitude.  He needed to remember where he had been living prior to David's calling for them.  He needed to remember that any other king would have had the household of the previous king killed, with no mercy spared.  He needed to remember that living in the palace at the beck and call of someone else was tiring.
     Our former pastor often used the illustration of the older lady who always saw the positive side of everything.  It drove people crazy, because no matter what subject was brought up, she could always see the bright side. Determined to get her to say something negative, one man asked her if she could find anything good to say about Satan.  She just gave a little chuckle, shook her head and said, "Well, that devil, he never gives up!"  What a spectacular way to look at things!  I'm not saying we should smile when we are facing sorrow.  I'm not suggesting that we plaster a smile on our face everywhere we go.  But some people never smile or never look happy.  It makes me think they have forgotten their blessings.  It makes me think they didn't know they had any to begin with.
     When we are tempted to be somewhere other than where we are, when we yearn for things we don't have, we are preparing our hearts to go the way of Ziba.  We are acting out of ingratitude.  God has a way of dealing with that.  He is expert in stripping away all we held as dear, and showing us what is really important.  It is not always easy to magnify the good, when the bad seems so much greater.  I know that.  But shouldn't we try?  When my humdrum life seems too hum or drum, I need to look to God for giving me simple things to enjoy.  When life seems hard and steep, I need to thank God He sustains me, pushes me, keeps me going.  Ziba forgot what a blessing it was to be the loyal friend of Mephibosheth.  He failed to see that not just anyone would have been given such a position of trust.  Instead of wishing for more, he should have seen that not just anyone could do his job.  When we do what God calls us to do with gratitude, it may be that He will give us more.  Then we have to choose to be thankful for the more.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...