11. The Downfalls of David (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 11. The Downfalls of David (3)

2 Sam 24:1   Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

1 Chron 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

 A Complex Story: We come to a strange ‘failure’ in David’s life, one that bears some consideration in this whole subject of redemption. It is a difficult and complex story for there are a number of unclear points within it and we will consider each of them. Each time we must seek to see what is happening and why and, in the midst of it, also note how David responds in it all.

God’s Anger: The first difficulty is that “Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel,” Again? We are not told a) what previous causes there had been for the Lord to be angry and b) we are not told what the present cause is.  There is clearly something that is very wrong in Israel – yes, even under David. The people did not necessarily have the same heart as their king, and this is seen a number of times in the Old Testament period.  At such times, where we are ignorant of the background, we have to remind ourselves that God is a just judge and also a loving one and so when we find judgments involving death, what I call ‘judgments of the last resort’ (meaning they are the last thing the Lord resorts to, to save the nation and the world) we need to see them through that filter.

David or Israel? We then come to the second difficulty which is the question, is this to do with Israel’s wrong doing or David’s wrong doing?  Well, in both versions of this story – seen in both 2 Sam 24 and 1 Chron 21 – we see it is expressly against Israel, the people. However we might suggest that, seeing the way David responded, the Lord also saw in David an attitude that needed confronting and so this incident deals with both Israel and David.

And Us? Now as an aside to the story, we need to consider this under the umbrella of redemption and consider how it applies as a principle today. I have observed over the years, in both myself and other leaders that I have known, the Lord provoking situations that apparently cause our downfall, specifically to deal with wrong attitudes that have sprung up and prevailed. This has, in my own experience, been specifically to do with leaders but I believe it applies generally. Where the Lord sees harmful attitudes prevailing that are not being dealt with by us, it is, to use a modern phrase, as if He pulls the rug out from under our complacency. A crisis arises, which is often caused by our lack of grace and wisdom which, in turn, results when He lifts off His hand of provision and we find ourselves saying or doing things in line with the wrong attitude that previously we would not have said or done. (Yes, those two sentences do take some reading, but make sure you take them in). Now this is so significant in this whole subject of redemption, that we will return to it later in the series, but we do need to understand it and take it in if we are to catch the full import of what is going on.  For David it is an issue of pride and it is that which initially means he insists on getting his way contrary to the counsel of his advisors (see 2 Sam 24:3,4 & 1 Chron 21:3,4)

God or Satan? The third difficulty is that 2 Sam 24:1 says God incited David while 1 Chron 21:1 says Satan incited David. So what is the truth? Well, another word for ‘incited’ here might be ‘tempted’ because David is tempted into an action that is wrong, that we shall shortly consider. The apostle James teaches us, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (Jas 1:13,14) The ‘evil desire’ in this case is pride. We see a similar thing in the case of Cain who we have previously considered: So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:5-7) Cain had a wrong attitude (self-centred jealousy and possibly pride) and that ‘evil desire’, to use James’ words, was just waiting to ‘entice’ him into further bad actions, which he gave way to. So we see a two-sided coin here. On one side we see the wrong attitude that we tolerate, perhaps because it ‘feels good’, while on the other side that same attitude becomes the cause of our downfall.

But God or Satan? Yes, we haven’t fully answered the questions above have we. We’ve turned the focus on David or us, and seen that a wrong prevailing attitude provides the opportunity for temptation to come and cause downfall, but who brought it, God or Satan? Well, James said that God doesn’t tempt anyone so what is the truth here?  To see the truth we have to go to what is thought to be one of the oldest books in the Bible, that of Job. In chapters 2 & 3 we see the Lord wanting to test Job and so He draws Satan’s attention to him and allows Satan to provoke others into action against him. The teaching of the Bible is that God uses Satan for a variety of purposes.

God’s Use of Satan: As a quick summary we may suggest the following. God uses Satan:

  1. a) To reveal men’s hearts (here in 1 Chron 21:1, David’s heart is revealed),
  2. b) To bring judgement on unbelievers (Rev 9:11 as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name means “Destroyer”),
  3. c) To bring discipline to believers (1 Cor 5:5 enabling Satan to come humble and bring repentance)
  4. d) To subjugate unbelievers (1 Jn 5:19b The whole unbelieving world is under the control of the evil one)
  5. e) To maintain humility in our lives (2 Cor 12:7 to keep Paul from getting proud),
  6. f) To develop faith & righteousness in our lives (1 Pet 1:7 Trials are testings and testings reveal our faith, 1 Pet 5:8,9 – we learn to resist),
  7. g) To bring about trials whereby we can be rewarded, blessed & changed (Jas 1:12  we patiently endure testing – testing develops us and God blesses through it),
  8. h) To teach us how to fight (Judges 3:2 to teach warfare),
  9. i) To demonstrate God’s power over the enemy (Eph 3:10 wisdom of God should be made  known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms).

God’s Sovereign Control: Whether through Satan or through His own direct words, the Lord is seen throughout Scripture as the One who provokes or stands against and reveals unrighteousness, i.e. it is part of His redeeming activity. You see it in a variety of ways in the following references: Ex 4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1,20,27, 11:10, 14:4, Josh 11:20, 1 Kings 22:22,23, Job 1:12, 2:10, Ezek 3:20, 14:9, Acts 4:28. Again and again these things lead on to His bringing judgment, either corrective and disciplinary, or terminal and final. These are the things behind our present accounts but as you will guess, we have only just started this study of this particular incident, so we will continue it tomorrow.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, deliver us from the evil one this day. Convict me by your Spirit is that is what is needed.


10. The Downfalls of David (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 10. The Downfalls of David (2)

1 Chron 22:7-10   David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.

 Recap: We are considering aspects of the life of David, the shepherd boy who became possibly the most famous king of Israel.  We have seen something of his greatness and yesterday we saw his failure in respect of Bathsheba, although the Lord focused more on the death of Uriah, and there we considered consequences that follow such acts, even though God is still redeeming the individual.

Two further investigations: We have yet two further areas to investigate in respect of David before we move on. The first is in respect of the nature of David’s life as a warrior and the second, which we’ll consider in the next study, is in respect of his numbering the people. But first, David as a warrior.

David’s progress as a Warrior: David’s career as a warrior is extensive:

  • He started his role as a warrior even when he was a shepherd boy, having to kill a lion or bear to protect his sheep (1 Sam 17:34-36).
  • He then found himself in the position of killing the giant, Goliath, (1 Sam 17:48,49) following which he was drafted into Saul’s army (1 Sam 18:1-5) where he was very successful (1 Sam 18:5,30).
  • It was this success that caused Saul to seek to kill him and he ended up on the run and sought shelter with the Philistines, to whom he had to lie (1 Sam 21:10-15).
  • After leaving the Philistines, he found himself gathering a guerrilla army at Adullam (1 Sam 22:1,2) and found himself attacking the Philistines to defend the people of Keilah (1 Sam 23:1-5) which was clearly with the Lord’s guidance (see v.2,4).
  • After Saul pursued him three times David again took refuge with the Philistines (1 Sam 27:1-4) and eventually settled in Ziklag (1 Sam 27:5-7) from which he went up and destroyed various ex-Canaanite groups, completely wiping them out (1 Sam 27:8,9) but had to lie to the Philistine king (1 Sam 27:10-12).
  • Fortunately for David some of the Philistine commanders objected to his presence and he was sent back to Ziklag thus avoiding having to fight against Israel (1 Sam 29). When they get there they found that the Amalekites had raided, so had to pursue them to retrieve families and property (1 Sam 30). Meanwhile the Philistines are fighting Israel and Saul and Jonathan are killed. (1 Sam 31)
  • He then became King of Judah (2 Sam 2:4) and then king of all Israel (2 Sam 5:1-3).
  • As their king he captured Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:6,7), and with the Lord’s help defeated the Philistines (2 Sam 5:17-25).

A Divine Decree: There are further times when he led his army, but it is at this point we come to a crucial revelation. David has wanted to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem, but the Lord stops him, but promises to bless his family for the future. It is interesting in the various accounts, that Solomon simply declared the basics of the decree (1 Kings 8:17-19) but it is David himself who spells out the Lord’s thinking: “David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.” (1 Chron 22:7-10) He goes on to speak about Solomon.

Questions: Now how did that work? Why was the Lord saying that? Hadn’t David legitimately been a warrior throughout, even receiving the Lord’s guidance a number of times, and fighting to do His bidding? Admittedly it was often wholesale slaughter but that was the name of the game in those days – wipe out or be wiped out. (Our history of the 20th century does not give us leeway to criticize in this respect).  Yes, he had also not been strictly honest with his dealings with the Philistines, but it was a matter of pure survival in somewhat primitive circumstances. So what does this all say?

Answers: Well note, first of all, there is no censure in the Lord’s words about David’s history in this respect. He is not saying you were wrong to be a fighter. He is saying very simply, that it is not appropriate that history records the builder of the temple is a man who has had to spend his life killing people. We have here a different aspect of the subject of ‘consequences’. There is not blame linked to these consequences (not being allowed to build the temple), simply an acknowledgment that sometimes certain consequences (being allowed to build) are not appropriate. There is a distinction to be made between what is morally wrong and what is inappropriate. Being a fighter was almost a prerequisite for a king in those days but that perhaps was the reason why it was wrong to cross the boundary between royalty and priesthood. In the kingdom of God, certain things may not be appropriate but that does not mean that where it involves people, it excludes those people from God’s redemption.

Applications? Let’s take the subject of church leaders. The apostle Paul lays down a variety of criteria for such leaders, but the biggest and most important issue is, are they called of God? It is not whether a community of God’s people votes someone into a position, but whether God has already gifted them for that role. Merely wanting it does not make it so. First fruit, then recognition. In this subject of redemption, we might also consider the case of where there has been a specific moral failure. An unfaithful spouse, who repents of their unfaithfulness and seeks reconciliation, has to work on the whole area of trust. Later in this series we will eyeball some specific failures and suggest the Lord is always looking to redeem, but whether that is to restore someone to their former role in the church, or even left them rise to a certain role, is another question altogether.

Having a right heart: Read David’s response in prayer when Nathan makes this declaration of the Lord, and you find a whole-hearted humble submission to the will and goodness of God (2 Sam 7:18-29). I have sometimes prayed for a certain ministry gifting and the Lord has withheld it and I have pondered on this. Is it something to do with my lifestyle of which I am not aware, is it that the Lord knows I would not be able to handle it without pride rising up and overcoming me? I don’t know, so I ask but rest in His will without rancor. David was limited in what we’ve seen, not by moral failure but by general lifestyle. There is no shame in that. Rest in God’s calling, and indeed maybe its limitation, but don’t ever see yourself as a second-class citizen in the kingdom. Just know that God knows best for you and it is an expression of His love towards you. But tomorrow could be a new day! Who knows.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, help me recognize in my calling both the extent and limitation of it, that I may reach out for it but also rest in it.

9. The Downfalls of David (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 9. The Downfalls of David (1)

2 Sam 11:1-3   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. 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, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

 Facing a Difficulty: Yesterday we started catching an overview of David’s life, recognizing that there was so much good that he became a measuring stick for those kings who followed him. We noted that his heart, a heart after God, was the crucial issue. At one point we reminded ourselves that the Cross covers sins, past, present and future, and when it comes to the practical outworking there are usually some consequences to be faced. Now this is where it becomes complex for sometimes it is unclear whether it is God specifically bringing a form of disciplinary judgment or it is the natural working out of human events.

Major Failure:  Our verses above are the start of the most notorious episode in David’s life, where he, the king, stole another man’s wife and then had her husband put a place of certain death. We often say that from those to whom much is given, much is demanded or, to put it another way, those in places of great responsibility have a higher level of accountability. There is nothing about what follows that excuses David and, indeed, yesterday we noted the verse that said David, had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.”  (1 Kings 15:5) i.e. this nailed it for what it was – sin. Redemption can only start working when we face the reality of our lives, so watch for David’s responses along the way.

Responses: The deed is done; Bathsheba has been taken, and Uriah has been killed, Bathsheba gets pregnant and bears David a son. Now watch what takes place; we need to understand the significance of the various responses that follow in this terrible story.

Response of God (1): Then comes Nathan the prophet. Don’t sin when prophets are around! He tells David a parable and David responds with righteous anger to the sin within the parable and then come those terrible and historic words: “You are the man.” (2 Sam 12:7) He then confronts David with the reality of the situation: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” (v.9) and concludes, Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” (v.10-12).

Response of David: Look at David’s response: “Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (v.13) We need to pause and note this. As I have been having these thoughts about redemption and how it runs contrary to so much of what I see in the church today, sensing I believe the Lord’s heart yearning to redeem so many of His fallen people, there is this pillar, it seems, standing in the midst of it, and it is the pillar that declares, ‘Face the sin, be honest about it, make it possible for repentance to come, for guilt to be acknowledged so that redemption can follow.’ This is nothing about being judgmental, for we are to be there to pick up the broken brothers and sisters, but it is about truth, reality, consequences and the wonderful love, grace and mercy of God. In facing his guilt David is responding well – and yet there will still be consequences. We may be cleansed of our sin, but the act of our sin often leaves a changed world, where people are affected, where circumstances are changed.

Response of God (2): “Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.” (v.13,14) The child dies. It is a heart-rending story, but David will never forget it and the lesson: God will hold you accountable. But history moves on and there is much more to come. David loses his throne and then one of his favourite sons, until he is eventually restored to the throne. It is a long story found in 2 Sam 13 to 19. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Heb 12:6) With our shallow thinking we make pitiful cries, such as ‘How could God bring about the death of the baby? What had the baby done?’ Nothing, but you miss the incredible significance that is here: David’s life is being spared and he is being disciplined because a) he will respond, and b) he is yet still to be the measuring stick for all who follow him, and c) he has yet to preserve and continue the kingdom that is Israel.

Consider Responders: One terrible thing I have had in the back of my mind in this series is the truth that not everyone responds well to the Lord’s discipline and so not everyone enters into His redemption.  Pharaoh opposing Moses is a classic case of someone whose hardness of heart meant that he refused to respond well to God’s disciplining and failed to be redeemed. The fact was that David responded well: he has sinned and now he acknowledges that.

Consider the Effects: The only trouble is that everyone else knows what he has done and the fact that he continues to live and rule might suggest to everyone else that you can sin and get away with it, and that God is impotent.  By the end of this particular story no one could possibly think that. God WILL redeem wherever He can, but the reality is that there is a nation, a world, a church, who are watching and for the sake of all our futures, we must not live with that deception that, as Satan implied to Eve (Gen 3:4,5), “it will be all right.”  In the West in the twenty-first century we are living with this deception, both outside the church and in it. I realise we are touching on a massive area of biblical thinking that is complex and difficult, so how can we summarise it?

Summary so far: 1. God seeks to redeem whoever will respond to Him.  2. There will be some who will not respond and not be redeemed. 3. Even in redemption there are consequences to be faced and dealt with, but God’s grace is always there. Those ‘consequences’ are often used by the Lord to discipline and change His people further. When Israel failed to fully clear Canaan, we read, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did.”  i.e. I will use the consequences of your failure, to test and check you in the years to come. There is more to come so we will continue with David tomorrow.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, please help me never to be casual about sin, and help me face the consequences of the times when I have been less than faithful to you and your calling on my life.

8. The Glory of David

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 8. The Glory of David

1 Sam 13:14 the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people

1 Kings 3:6   Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart.

1 Kings 9:4,5 if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father

1 Kings 11:6 Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

1 Kings 11:34 But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon’s hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees.

1 Kings 14:8 I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes.

1 Kings 15:5 For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.

Acts 13:22 God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

 Wonderings: You may, seeing all these references above, first wonder how we will have any space left to cover our subject. You may also wonder why, when we are considering the whole subject of the Lord’s redeeming works, we should focus on the good side of a king who featured so much in both Israel’s history and their perception of their past in Jesus’ day (remembering that Jesus was often referred to as the ‘son of David’, e.g. Mt 9:27, 15:22, 20:30 etc)

Reality Focus: The answer to these ‘wonderings’ is that, as I have often said in the past, the reality of every one of us is that so often there appears so much good and yet I don’t know of a single human being except Jesus, who didn’t suffer from what I refer to as ‘feet of clay’. This phrase, a dictionary tells us means, “a fundamental flaw or weakness in a person otherwise revered.” And even Wikipedia reminds us that this comes originally from Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, interpreted by Daniel (Dan 2:31-33).

The Danger: Our great danger, when we look at great people – and Moses and David both fit that description – is to wonder what all the fuss about the Cross is for. After all, says Satan, you are actually quite a good person, and didn’t God say you are made in His image, so you must be good. It is at this point that the atheists, similarly prompted by the enemy, join in and declare, “There you are, these Christians are a bunch of kill-joys, always condemning us and trying to load guilt onto us all.” No, we’re actually trying to be real, and so if we have to point out the awful failings of mankind in the twentieth century, killing off one another by the million, so be it.  But actually we don’t have to go that far, we just need to look at every person (excepting Jesus) in the Bible who reveals their ‘feet of clay’.

Give Honour where honour is due: That is what this particular study is all about. In the next studies we will see the ways that David got it wrong and what God did about it (and the latter is as important as the former). But go back and reread those verses above and let’s note several things. First, David is described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22). God’s assessment of us starts and finishes with our heart. Second, note that little assessment in 1 King 15:5, “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his lifeexcept in the case of Uriah the Hittite.”   Now that is an amazing assessment – and yes, we will look at that tomorrow. Third, look at how David becomes the plumb line for assessment again and again and again in the pages that follow. I suspect we should have filled this study three times over with all of the references that follow that acclaim David.

Wow!  Some of those verses are absolutely amazing and we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight them. For instance, “I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes.  (1 Kings 14:8) This is God’s own assessment of David, so when we come tomorrow to look at some of the downsides of David’s life – that did need redeeming – let’s not forget the wonder of these verses about David.

But? But how could God say that about David when we know that David got it seriously wrong on at least one occasion?  Well, in terms of dealing with those sins, we need to remind ourselves time and time again that, as far as justice is concerned, the Cross covers sins, past, present and future, but when it comes to the practical outworking there are usually some consequences to be faced, and yet I wonder if there is even something more here to be thought about.

For instance, two verses come to mind: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins,” (Jas 5:20) which suggest the possibility of sins being covered over – i.e. repentance does the stuff!  – and, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8) possibly echoing “but love covers over all wrongs,” (Prov 10:12)

How it works? It is not us who cover the sins, but God’s forgiveness on the basis of the Cross: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered,” (Psa 32:1) and, “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins.” (Psa 85:2). Note the Hebrew parallelism in both verses, the later part clarifying or echoing the former part. If we take the James verse and the Peter verse, grace suggests that God redeems the individual, the work of the Cross applied, and the past sins are hidden, as the love of God expressed before the foundation of the world still operates and applies His forgiveness and cleansing in our lives. Remember, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) That ‘purify’ means, cleanse and remove. This is why it is so important for us to forgive someone when they have repented because only then do we bring ourselves in line with what God is doing. So when we come to the next study, let’s make sure we remember all these things.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, thank you that you both cover my sins as I confess and acknowledge them, but you go on to continue your work of the ongoing redemption of my life.

7. A Murdering Deliverer

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 7. A Murdering Deliverer

Ex 2:11,12   after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand

 Moses’ Fame: Moses’ name features quite often in the Gospels, often by Jesus and sometimes by the Jews: “Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from,” (Jn 9:28, 29) and as the one who brought the Law, he was held in high esteem, and yet when we look at the big picture, yes, he did do staggeringly well as the Shepherd of Israel, but he also had blots on his name that puts him well and truly in our human courtyard. A failure redeemed by God.

Moses Rise & Downfall: His story starts as a baby rescued by the wisdom of his mother and raised in the court of Pharaoh (Ex 2:1-10) He lived as a prince of Egypt for forty years with all that royal privilege, but at forty he visited his people who were slaves living in the northern part of Egypt and there he killed (murdered) an Egyptian slave-guard (Ex 2:11,12). This became known and so he had to flee from Egypt and went north into the Arabian Peninsula and kept going, past areas controlled by the Egyptians, until he came to the area of Sinai and then Midian where he was accepted in and became a shepherd – for forty years! (Ex 2:13-22)

Chosen: Now they were forty years of silence until the Lord broke into that silence with an interview on Mount Sinai at the famous burning bush. (Ex 3,4) So here we have this failure, this discredited Prince of Egypt who has now been looking after sheep in the desert for forty years and what do we find the Lord saying? “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt,” (Ex 3:10) and the whole incredible story of the Exodus rolls out.

Questions? Hold on, doesn’t the Bible teach us that God is holy, that God judges unrighteousness and isn’t murder (or was it manslaughter?) unrighteous, so if God wants Israel delivered out of Egypt isn’t there a more fitting candidate?  Does time obliterate our failures?  No, we are still failures, but time and circumstances certainly can have a purifying effect.  As a prince of Egypt Moses would have had complete self-confidence for, after all, he was royalty, adopted maybe but still royalty. But when we come to Ex 3 & 4 and his conversation with the Lord, self-confidence is the last thing he has. In fact we find most of the two chapters are him trying to explain why God has got it wrong and he’s not up to the job!  But isn’t this the second time God seems to be turning a blind eye to murder (Cain was the first)?

A Conclusion: Now here is a staggering conclusion and it is staggering because it challenges everything of all of our preconceived and incomplete ideas. It is that our behaviour – our bad behaviour – isn’t the big issue with God, as bad as that behaviour may be. For the sake of running the country and maintaining an orderly community, yes, the death penalty came in the Law (e.g. Ex 21:12,14) and yet the principle had been laid down a lot earlier: from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” (Gen 9:6) So how did Moses ‘get away with it’? We only produce a tentative answer. As we have noted above, murder within society, to maintain order, received supreme censure but Moses killing a slaver was not in the same category. Yes, guilty, without doubt, but on an ethical sliding scale is there any one sin worse than another, except in terms of the effect it has in the individual and in society. We now know that all sins – murder included are covered by Jesus’ work on the Cross.

Consequences: So God may hold back the death penalty but that does not mean there will not be other consequences as other stories in the Bible will show us. The consequence of Moses’ action was that he was banished, we might say, to forty years of isolation in the desert. It was a penalty that would completely change him. The passing of time does not excuse the sin, but it may certainly bring transformation and that, clearly in some situations, is what God knows can happen and is looking for.

The next forty years: As it turns out, the time confronting Pharaoh was possibly not the worst time in Moses’ life. The story runs that Moses ends up having to look after Israel for forty years in the wilderness while they live out their judgment from God for their disobedience in refusing to enter the Promised Land, with everyone over the age of twenty eventually dying off. I cannot imagine the thoughts that went through Moses sanctified mind throughout that period. Have I failed in getting these people into the Land? Should I have gone about it in another way? Who is the next one to die this week, this month, this year? How long will it be before they are all gone?  Why me? In this, perhaps, a punishment that today we might call, ‘community service’, working for the community to satisfy justice.

And yet the account seems to suggest that Moses often met with the Lord at the Tent of Meeting set up outside the camp or in the Tabernacle set up in the centre of the camp, and no doubt that continual, amazing experience overrode regrets about the past and present. Some suggest that the Pentateuch was compiled by Moses and if that is right, it would have been in this time, as he put together the stories passed down through their ancestors, illuminated by revelation in the Lord’s presence throughout that forty-year time. It was clearly a life-changing time for this man of God.

Further failure: But then there was the time when the burden of Israel seemed to be too much for him when, yet again, they grumbled for lack of water. Once before the Lord had miraculously provided water (Ex 17:1-6). Now Moses, this man who is to represent God faithfully to this people, blows it: Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Num 20:10) True but not a right spirit, and for that, “the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Num 20:12) Both Aaron and Moses die before the people enter the land. A severe judgment? No, there was a lesson that Israel would remember, and Moses was 120 after all; it was time to go home.

So, lessons? God knows everything, and especially what He can achieve through those He calls. Does every sin call for punishment? Yes it does, and Jesus has taken it. Is that the end? No, there are consequences but even in those the Lord works to change us more and more to be like Jesus.  While our hearts are inclined towards Him, as weak as they may be, He never gives up on us. An unfinished work today? Yes. But what about tomorrow? That’s a new day, new challenges, new circumstances, new opportunities, and new changes (in me). Wow!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, thank you that Jesus died for my sins, my failures, my shortcomings so that the way is still open for you to continue to work in my life to bring to fruition the plans you have on your heart for me.

6. An Arrogant Prophet?

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 6. An Arrogant Prophet?

Gen 37:3,4   Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 Focus: Please do not confuse these studies as merely character studies. The whole thrust is on the redemptive acts of God in the lives of us human beings and we are starting by observing them in the lives of the people who are so familiar to us in the Bible. But the whole thing is about how God acts to redeem us and take us out of what we were, to become something completely different, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the life of Joseph in the Old Testament.

The situation: To catch the full thrust of what is going to happen we need to focus on the family setup in which Joseph found himself. He has ten older brothers, but he is the apple of his father’s eye and as such, is spoilt. As so happens in such situations he becomes the object of their jealousy and even hatred. Now that is how it starts. It is an inflammatory situation from the outset. Also, as we shall see, spoiled children are not also the wisest of children. OK scene set. Not a very good situation to say the least and certainly not one that you would expect the gain the attention of God. But then this family has already been chosen by God, right back with Abraham and are part of the outworking of His promise to that patriarch, but they aren’t just going to drift on through history, they are going to seriously impact it – more than they have a clue at present.

God’s intervention: Most of the time we don’t expect God to intervene in our affairs and when He does we frequently don’t realise what is happening for it can come in such a variety of ways. This time it comes in a really mundane way: “Joseph had a dream.” (v.5) If only it had been about it going to rain the next day, or something equally usual, but it wasn’t, it was all about how he was going to lord it over the brothers! Whoops. But it gets worse; he has another one of the same sort, but this time it includes his parents bowing before him.  A match to tinder. It doesn’t say it was God, but it clearly turns out to be prophetic, so it has to be Him.

Explosion: So often family explosions have just been waiting to happen and they come about because of our thoughtlessness or our failure as parents to do stuff we should do. This situation goes bang when old man Israel thoughtlessly sends Joseph out to take provisions to the rest of the boys out looking after their flocks some distance away (you went wherever there was still grass). It is there they sell Joseph off to slave traders – sounds so simple when you put it like that!  (see Gen 37:12-28).

Long story shortened: Joseph is sold as a slave in Egypt (Gen 39:1), prospers with God’s help (39:2-6), rebuffed his owner’s wife trying to get him in bed (39:7-12), is falsely accused and put in prison (39:13-20) where he again prospers with God’s help (39:21-23). Shortening the story even more, he gets known as a prophetic dreamer (40:1-23) and is eventually taken before the pharaoh to interpret his dreams (41:1-24) and tells of seven coming years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine (41:25-36) and so is put in charge of working into these coming fourteen years (41:37-57). In the days that follow his brothers and eventually his father come and settle in Egypt.

A long story but they are all saved by the revelation and wisdom of God shown through this young man who was just thirty when he started as the king’s right-hand man (41:46) and so possibly coming up to forty when his brothers arrive. The most amazing thing of the story is his response to his brothers at the end of the story (well it goes on and on), which was, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen 50:19-21) He is a transformed man, a man who acknowledges the lordship of God and is gracious and merciful because of it.

The tools of change: Now how do we interpret all this? There are two sides to this particular coin: the first is the side of God’s activity to bless. First, there is God’s foreknowledge, God knew all what would happen. But second, God gifted Joseph with prophetic dreams. Third, He also gifted him with wisdom and twice we are told He blessed Joseph and was “with Joseph so that he prospered” (39:2) and had “success in whatever he did”. (39:21-23) But the other side of the coin is the sinfulness of mankind. We see it in this story in a) Israel’s folly in having a favourite, being insensitive to the other sons and thoughtless sending Joseph out, b) Joseph’s initial pride and insensitivity towards his family, c) the brothers jealousy, hatred and eventual act of selling him to slavers, d) Potiphar’s harshness, e) his wife’s amorous infidelity and then spite, and finally f) the cup-bearer’s lack of care, forgetting him in prison. All of these things work to change this spoilt young brat into a wise, merciful and gracious ruler. It may not be a ‘rags to riches’ story materially, but it is one spiritually!

God who tolerates sin?  Have you never realized that when God called you, you were distinctly imperfect with lots of edges to be rubbed down and rough bits to be chipped off? We’ve said it before, but do you not realize that God loves us even while we are ‘works in progress’? When we come to Christ, we tend to think we have arrived, but the truth is that the journey of change has only just begun, and it will continue until we leave this earth. As we’ve seen before, God doesn’t want us to sin, but He still loves us with our imperfections and all He wants is our loving willingness to let Him have His way in carrying out this lifelong process. How can He tolerate us? But the fact is that Jesus died, for all our sins – past, present and future.

God who uses sin? That is what is beneath all this, that God will make use of the sinfulness of mankind. We see it in the way He let Satan stir up ungodly enemies (Job 1:15,17) and in the way the Lord, knowing what would happen given the circumstances, allowed His Son to die in our place (read Acts 2:23)

And Today? Yesterday I concluded with thoughts about our prodigals. Today’s study builds on that. You may have a spoilt brat child and, if they have left home, you make think it is too late, but it is never too late to pray, to ask for change and also to add, “Lord, show me if there is a part you want me to play to bring this prodigal into a good place.” We may have contributed to the ‘spoilt-brat syndrome’ but it is never too late to seek the Lord’s grace to bring change. He is in the business of redemption – mine, yours and your prodigals. Can we be available, can we pray and act with hope, can we truly believe that He has a project (my life, your life and their lives) and it is to redeem, to change and deliver from the messed up and missed-opportunities times of the past, into a gracious and glorious future?  May it be so.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, again I affirm I am a work in progress and there is still some way to go. Thank you that you see me and those I love and know, and wherever you see even a glimmer of faith, you will be there, working to redeem. Thank you so much.

5. A Scheming Patriarch

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 5. A Scheming Patriarch

Gen 25:25,26   The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob

 Recap: We are observing God’s redemptive plans and actions as we see them being worked out in the lives of people in the Bible. We saw how He related to Cain and despite Cain committing murder, set him on a redemptive course where he had opportunity after opportunity to be changed while under the Lord’s protection. Then we saw Abraham called to follow, but initially getting it wrong; yet in the long-term a transformed believer. Amazing. But that is redemption.

Jacob the crook: Yes, that is what Jacob was at heart. At the moment of birth he was clutching at his older brother’s heel as if to say, “I’m not letting you get ahead of me,” and thus he was named Jacob. (A note in your Bible probably says, “Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he deceives.”) Thus he was branded, ‘deceiver’. He lived up to his name by first of all by playing on his brother’s weakness and stealing his birth right (see Gen 25:29-34) and then conniving to steal his brother’s blessing (see Gen 27). Later, when he was living with his uncle Laban, we see him scheming to get more flocks from his uncle (Gen 30:30-43).

Jacob and God: Now if those were the ways Jacob sought to overcome people, how about his attitude towards God? Well on his travelling to his uncle he has a dream after which we find, Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.” (Gen 28:20-22) There is almost a bartering aspect to this; note the words in bold. Later at the end of his time with Laban we find, “Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Gen 31:3) As he explains to his two wives, the daughters of Laban, he reveals how he had had a dream from God that enabled him to be prosperous (see Gen 31:4-9). He is beginning to speak ‘God-talk’. (see also 31:42) On his journey home he hears Esau is coming and in fear he prays (see Gen 32:9-12). He is slowly becoming godly but there is still a heart to be fully changed, and so we come to the crisis point of his life when he wrestles with God through the night and the Lord eventually makes him submit (see Gen 32:24-32). He is a changed man.

The Big Picture: Now here is the big question: how could God possibly go with a crook, a schemer, a deceiver? Well it’s all to do with the big picture, the long-term plan of God who looks upon us and sees what He can achieve with us. Dare we go with Jeremiah to whom the Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;” (Jer 1:5). Dare we take hold of the apostle Paul’s words, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will,” (Eph 1:4,5) and, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11,12) These are all words about God who knows before it happens in time-space history how it will all work out. He knows what you can become. He knew there would come a point of time when you would surrender to Him. He knew how you would fit into His plans to bless the world.

And Jacob? Right from the outset the Lord knew how it would all work out when He said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”  (Gen 25:23) He knew Esau would be casual about his birth right and He knew Jacob would rise up and become prosperous and He knew that Jacob, the twister, would become Jacob the man of God. How can I say that? We have already seen some of the signs that Jacob was changing and turning towards God as the Lord drew him and then wrestled with him but see Jacob the Patriarch prophesying over his sons near the end of his life; this is a man of God! (see Gen 49)

More ‘big picture’: Malachi caught something of this when the Lord declared through him, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” (Mal 1:2,3) Isn’t that incredible. God loved the way the twister changed – and He knew he would change – and He hated the way Esau was so self-centred that he despised his birth right, despised his place in the family chosen by God. The apostle Paul also picked up on this, “in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:  not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom 9:10-13) God’s ‘election’ comes from God’s foreknowledge. He knows who will respond to Him, He knows who today will respond to Christ, even before we do, and as such we are part of the redeemed family of God. It’s not because of any good things we do, it is because God called, and we responded and believed. We have seen it in Jacob and it is how it happened with us as we responded to the good news of Christ.

Lessons? I think the key one – next to rejoicing in our own wonderful salvation – is in respect of how we view other people. I always remember a teacher laughingly say, “Be careful how you look down on that young person, next year he may be an apostle!” The truth is we don’t know how we are each going to work out with God. You may look at a child of yours – possibly a prodigal – and despair. Don’t despair, pray. Who knows what God has in store for them. They may appear a Jacob at the moment but keep on praying and you may be one of God’s keys to them becoming a man or woman of God before the end, just like Jacob. Let his story impact you and change how you think about the years to come.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, lift my eyes above the mundane present, to catch something of the wonder of your divine working, that looks and sees and plans and works, with whoever you see will respond (today or next month) to redeem them from the mundane present, to perhaps become a man or woman of God – my family, those at church, those around me in life.