18. Consequences through People

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 18. Consequences through People 

2 Sam 12:9,10   You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  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.’

Recap: We are considering the consequences of our wrongs and have two more examples to consider, the first being that of King David in the Old Testament. In some ways David epitomizes the human race, capable of achieving such great things and yet also capable of falling so low.

David’s Guilt: The story of David and Bathsheba tends to be well known. Davis is in his palace and looks out and sees Bathsheba bathing in the sun on the roof of her nearby house. He sends for her, lies with her, and makes her pregnant. But she is married and so he arranges for her husband to be killed in battle and then she becomes one of his wives. That is the short potted version of what you can read in 2 Sam 11.

Accountability: Powerful people have a tendency to thinking they can get away with sin but God sees all and holds all to account, whether here in this lifetime or at the Final Judgement. David has been God’s man, a man after God’s own heart, and yet he gave way to a temptation that set off a train of sin: adultery, cover-up, murder. In the same way his judgment is going to follow along a train of events, but we are seeking to see how they work.

Step 1: God’s Activity: David is God’s representative and he needs to know that God will “by no means clear the guilty”. David is a very public person and what he has done is going to get out and the office of king of God’s people will be demeaned. God will not let that happen here. He sends Nathan who confronts him with his sin (2 Sam 12:1-7) but then declares God’s judgment on him: the sword will never depart from your house,” (v.10) and then, “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.11,12) He isn’t going to kill David, He is going to discipline him so that the nation will see and learn.  But before all this, because David is a heart man, the Lord is going to cut him to the heart and so the child Bathsheba is carrying dies (v.14-23). Now what is yet remarkable is that afterwards they have another child named Solomon who becomes the richest man in the world and bears the greatest testimony to the Lord, before he too falls to sin. The Lord uses both of these men mightily even though they both fail him. When challenged, David repents (v.13) but still there are consequences to follow.

Step 2: Human Activity: Sometimes it seems the Lord steps back and lets the natural foolish inclinations of men and women just flow out in a chain of events. The Lord doesn’t need to make these things happen, He just steps back and lets the folly of mankind proceed. There is a chain of events here that really starts with David’s polygamy (see 1 Chron 3), not forbidden but unwise. Thus the chain appears:

– the son of one wife, Amnon, desires the daughter of another wife, Tamar, and contrives to rape her (2 Sam 13:1-6). David appears obtuse and sees nothing strange about what goes on and so Tamar is raped by Amnon. (v.14)

– Tamar’s brother, Absalom, protects her. David hears about it, is angry (v.21) but takes no further action.

– Absalom sets up a feast and although David is suspicious, he does nothing (v.23-27).

– at the feast he kills Amnon (v.27,28) and flees living in isolation for three years (v.37,38)

– Absalom uses Joab to get reinstated in Jerusalem (2 Sam 14:1-24)

– Absalom eventually contrives to become king (2 Sam 15) and David has to flee Jerusalem while Absalom takes over and this continues until Absalom is killed (2 Sam 18:14). David eventually returns to Jerusalem and to his concubines who he now puts in isolation (2 Sam 20:3)

– Meanwhile there is a rebellion, led by Sheba, and many turn from David (2 Sam 20:1,2)

– and so the violence continues and throughout all this David’s heart is wrecked by anguish again and again.

Terrible Consequences: David’s is possibly the classic instance of a family head who didn’t control his warring family and reaped the consequences of it, but we cannot help feeling that none of this would have happened if David had remained true and not fallen for Bathsheba. In some ways we might have wanted the Lord to bring David to the point of death by way of discipline but the Lord works on our hearts in His work of redemption of individuals and His nation. The lesson seems to be that letting go in one instance possibly reveals a heart that is vulnerable and which will also fail to pick up on various aspects of life, i.e. one sin reveals the potential for others. Avoid sin at all cost, but if we do succumb, repent and commit yourself to do a total cleanup of your heart and life, else other sins and other consequences will follow. The Lord allows the ongoing consequences, coming through other people to discipline and change us. That is what redemption is about, changing us. If we are willful – actively or passively – and that points us away from the Lord, expect His disciplinary activity to bring us back and so often, the discipline follows the nature of the fall. A serious lesson.

11. To David (3)

“God turned up” Meditations: 11 :  To David (3)

2 Sam 7:3-5 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.” That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David, `This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?

As we saw in the previous meditation, having good intentions is not always sufficient. In fact the world is full of good intentions. At the beginning of the year we have lots of good intentions – we call them New Year resolutions. We may not keep them for very long, but at least we have good intentions, we had wanted there to be good changes. Jane Austin’s heroine, Emma, was full of good intentions, to get various people coupled off until she eventually realised her intentions had all been wrong. Sometimes we look at people or circumstances and we just have a nice feeling and from that we formulate ‘what seems right’ and there it is, we have a good intention!

That’s really what is at the heart of this little episode that we are now going to examine.  David has brought the ark up to Jerusalem and everything is going well: After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him.” (v.1) David is well and truly settled as king in his palace and he has dealt with all his enemies and so he is at peace. In fact now he hasn’t got those worries on his mind, he now has time to think. His mind wanders to the ark that he’s recently brought to Jerusalem and he feels bad about it: “he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” (v.2) Yes, I’m living in luxury and God is having to put up with a tent! So he mentions it to Nathan his prophet. Nathan reflects on it. Well, yes, that’s right. The Lord seems to be with you and has blessed you with peace. OK, do whatever you feel is right.

And so the two of them part for the night. And then the Lord turns up! Suddenly Nathan is aware of the Lord speaking to him. It’s a big long prophecy. First of all comes a gentle challenge, have I told David I’m not happy with the situation? (v.5-7). Reassure David that I am with him and will bless his house and his future (v.8-16). So Nathan goes back to David and tells him all this and David is blessed.

Now there seem to be two things that particularly stand out in all this. First there is the thing we’ve already spoken about, about not going with what just seems a good intention. In a small way David blew it here, for he hadn’t thought to enquire of the Lord to see if this was what God wanted. Well yes, it was only a very small way because after all he had consulted Nathan who was God’s mouthpiece but both of them had been satisfied with ‘what seems right’.  What seems right isn’t always God’s will. God may have other plans, as became obvious here. Nathan was a bit slow as well. He could have said, “Yes, it seems a good idea but I’ll go away and check it with the Lord,” but that didn’t seem to happen. So it was up to the Lord to just step up and tap Nathan on the shoulder, so to speak, and correct him. It wasn’t a big issue, but it’s one worth noting.

The second thing seems to be David’s motivation which only becomes clearer in the light of what the Lord said to him through Nathan. From what we saw in verse 2 David was making a simple comparison between his palace and where God’s ark was staying. He somehow felt that God’s abode was not worthy of Him and that somehow he was selling God short. When the Lord speaks through Nathan He points out that He’s been quite happy having His ark travel around in the Tabernacle and that He’d never asked for a building of cedar. So far, so good. But then the instructions from the Lord turn to David, his family and his future. It’s as if the Lord says, “David, I see your heart and I see your concerns. You don’t have to do anything to get me on your side. You don’t have to do me any favours like building me a house. Look, I’m going to bless your ongoing family. It’s all right.

See how the Lord concludes this prophecy about his son ruling in the future: “But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (v.15,16)  That is major reassurance!  But surely the Lord will only say such a thing when He sees that we need to hear that sort of thing?

So, two lessons: first, don’t work on good intentions; check it out with the Lord. Second, you don’t have to impress the Lord. He is for you already! Rest in that; no, rejoice in that!

54. Confession

Meditations in James: 54: The Place of Confession

Jas 5:15,16 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Confession, in some parts of the church, has sometimes been turned into a ritual. If you “go along to confession” it becomes a ritual, something that is done because it is expected of you and it makes you feel better for a minute of two.  True confession comes out of a broken and contrite heart. In Scripture, probably the greatest example of confession comes in Psalm 51, where the heading tells us that David wrote this after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin over Bathsheba. It starts out, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (v.1,2) Confession comes to God with an awareness of needing God’s mercy, for having offended God. There is an awareness of needing to be cleansed and forgiven.

Look how he continues:For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight(v.3,4). David realized that all sin is against God and that it is evil! When the Holy Spirit convicts, this is what follows. Later he goes on, Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (v.10,11) Real confession is concerned to be cleansed from the sin and reinstated in right relationship with the Lord (where the sin will not be repeated!)

Having heard a number of people on counseling situations, confessing to the Lord their sins, I have to say that rarely is there whole-hearted, unrestrained pouring out of sorrow to God for those sins. Mostly we have a great deal of difficulty in genuinely facing what we’ve done and genuinely saying, “That was wrong, that was evil, and it affronted God.” but that is real confession!

James’ references to confession flow in the context of healing and after the words we considered yesterday he says,If he has sinned, he will be forgiven”. Suddenly forgiveness and healing are linked. Not every sickness is linked to sin, but some is. Sometimes our sin has caused or made us vulnerable to the sickness, and so for the healing to flow, the sin has to be dealt with first. There is a very strong principle here which accounts, we suspect, for why there is so much illness in the world today. Having said this, James realizes that this needs further explanation.

He continues, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. There can be no other explanation for what he says other that what we have said in the above paragraph. There is a divine order here: sin – sickness – confession – prayer – healing. It is interesting to note that TWO things are needed: confession AND prayer, confession by the sick person and prayer for healing by the elder. An Old Testament example of this is,Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again,” (Gen 20:17) after Abimelech had had dealings with God. He confessed but God required His representative, Abram, to pray for him. The prayer of the elder adds significance to what is happening and he acts as God’s representative to declare forgiveness and healing.

In the New Testament the classic example of this is Jesus and the man let down through the roof. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said,Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Lk 5:20). The man’s willingness to come to Jesus was equivalent to his confession but before he is healed, Jesus pronounces forgiveness. Jesus knew there was a sin and forgiveness issue here and so dealt with it. He subsequently brings the healing: He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (v.24). There is a clear link between the sickness and the need for forgiveness followed by healing.

We should note, however, that this is not always the case as John shows us in his Gospel. As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.(Jn 9:1-3) Sin was not the issue behind this man’s blindness. He was just part of the Fallen World, and so Jesus simply brought healing without the need of confession and forgiveness.

James concludes,The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. The righteous elder praying for a sick member of his flock, is in the position of God’s representative and, as long as he is a righteous man, he is therefore in the position to bring prayer to bear that has a powerful impact – to bring healing.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions to ask, that arises out of these verses, is do we have an open and submissive and humble heart that is willing to seek out its spiritual leadership and confess, when we become aware of our sin? Such confession is an indication of a heart that is indeed open, submissive and humble, and that is the challenge, because that is the sort of heart we are all supposed to have.

Walk of Grief

WALKING WITH GOD. No.26

2 Sam 18:33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!”

There is so much that could be said about this episode in history but we will limit ourselves here to the expression of grief that we observe in this verse, and what caused it. Grief is that emotional response when we have lost a loved one. What is strange about it here, is that the grief David is expressing, is for the loss of his son who has been hunting him and trying to kill him! Let’s get the bigger picture.

Yesterday we saw Nathan rebuke David for his activity with Bathsheba. Part of that rebuke declared, “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….: `Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you” (2 Sam 12:10,11). In other words discipline will come upon David because of what he has done, discipline in the form of a similar thing happening to him. In chapter 13 we see Amnon taking Tamar and subsequently being killed by Absalom – and they are all David’s children. Absalom was exiled but eventually allowed back, but David refused to see him (Chapter 14). Absalom then conspired for the crown and David and his closest men had to flee Jerusalem (Chapter 15) when Absalom turned the nation against David. David eventually fled across the Jordan and settled in the town of Mahanaim (2 Sam 17:27) to the east. Absalom and his troops eventually follow and Absalom is killed in a battle with some of David’s men. When the news is brought to David in Mahanaim, he weeps. He leaves the messenger and, weeping, he walks up to his room over the gateway to the city. It is a walk of grief.

Of course his people don’t know how to cope with this. They are overjoyed that Absalom is dead and the threat to David has been removed, but the word gets out that David is weeping about it. The troops returned in silence (19:2) instead of victory shouts and their general, Joab, is livid with anger and confronts David (19:5-7). David returns and takes his place where he should be, accessible to his men, but why did David respond like that?

To answer that we have to go even further back. David you may remember was described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) and we find in Scripture, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.(Ezek 18:32). God does not rejoice when sinners die. Yes, it is right that they die if they refuse His grace and mercy, but it is not a thing for rejoicing. To see this more fully, look earlier in David’s experiences as a leader when Saul had been pursuing him and was killed in battle. When the news of Saul’s death is brought to David we find this same grieving (2 Sam 1:11,12). In his lament that followed, David only remembered the good about them: “How the mighty have fallen!(2 Sam 1:19,25,27). David anguished over what could have been. In this Fallen World there is always that anguish – if only… what could have been!

David feels as God feels and thus he shines out of the pages of Scripture on occasion (there are bad times as well!) as an example. Yes, he has every reason to rejoice over the death of one who was hunting him down, trying to kill him, but that one was his son. It was a tragedy the way it had all happened, and David would remember Nathan’s words to him – it was because of his own sin that this all occurred. Did God make it happen? No He simply stepped back and let the unrestrained desire of Amnon have its way while David was so little involved with his children that he knew nothing of what was going on. Then the Lord stepped back and let the unrestrained anger of Absalom bring judgement on Amnon, and so it went on, unrestrained, undisciplined desires, just like David’s had been with Bathsheba, all working to bring this discipline to David. At the end of it he weeps. He knows he has contributed to this outcome. He grieves.

When such similar circumstances, effects of the Fall, are encountered by us, do we understand the tragedy of them, do we weep? Do we walk the walk of grief as we share in the Lord’s anguish as we observe the effects of sin, and ponder what could have been instead? How deep is our understanding of this terrible thing called Sin?

Walk of Rebuke

WALKING WITH GOD. No.25

2 Sam 12:7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

Our verse above shows us the importance of not taking verses out of context. Standing on its own it could have a number of meanings. It could be very positive: you are the man of God’s choice to be king and deliver Israel. But it wasn’t. Let’s see what had been happening. Again if we purely took chapter twelve it would not be sufficient. In that chapter we find the prophet, Nathan, walking over to David’s palace and telling him a story of a rich man and a poor man. The poor man had nothing except a little ewe while the rich man had lots of sheep and cattle. When a traveller visited the rich man instead of killing one of his own animals for a feast, he took and killed the poor man’s ewe. The natural injustice of this act made David angry, and as he expresses his anger over the rich man, it is then that Nathan says, “You are the man!It is in fact a word of rebuke.

But if you didn’t know your Bible you would now be wondering what this was all about because the actions behind this have not been revealed so far. For that we have to go back into chapter 11. There we find the account of how David saw Bathsheba bathing and took her to himself and had her husband murdered. He had used his position of power to commit adultery and do away with the husband and we find in the closing words of chapter 11, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD” (11:27). Thus He sends Nathan on this walk of rebuke (12:1)

Now a rebuke is not a pleasant thing but in the kingdom of God it is a necessary thing. The reality is that we go astray and get things wrong, even if we are Christians. On a bad day the only difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that the Christian knows that they have done wrong! But because of the old sinful nature that still lingers there, and which will never be completely gone this side of heaven, we are often hesitant to acknowledge and confess the wrong. Adam and Eve gave us the clearest examples of what happens. They did wrong (Gen 3:1-6), they realized their state (v.7), became fearful and hid when God came (v.8-10) and then justified their actions (v.12,13) by blaming others. No, we’re not always very good at facing up to the truth about ourselves and our misdemeanours. The truth is that if we can, we will get away with it, and that’s why we need someone to face us up with the truth.

We find rebukes coming at various times in Jesus ministry and in the life of the early church. In the storm on the lake, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith (Mt 8:26). When a man came to be healed, he rebuked the teachers of the Law for their hard hearts (Mt 9:4). He also rebuked the cities that did not respond to him (Mt 11:20 -). He chided Peter for wavering in faith when he walked on the lake (Mt 14:31), he chided him for being of slow to understand (Mt 15:16) and he rebuked him for his response to his teaching about his death (Mt 16:23). The classic rebuke in the Acts is that of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3-5,9,10). Indeed we find Jesus teaching, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” (Lk 17:3) and “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” (Rev 3:19). Thus rebuking is an expression of God’s love for us. He sees us in error and doesn’t want us to go on in a place where His blessing is hindered by our failure. He wants us back in a place of goodness and rightness of relationship with Him. As some of the above examples show, He wants us to become strong in our faith and go on and mature.

How does He rebuke? Well perhaps a common way is through His word which Paul described as, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). He instructed Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2). Rebuking is thus confronting failures with the truth. Another way the Lord does this is through our conscience: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” (2 Cor 5:11). Allied to that, the Holy Spirit also convicts (Jn 16:8) us of our wrong doing. Sometimes, as with today’s example, He will rebuke us through another person, a prophet or simply a friend or someone close to us who sees our wrong and loves us enough to confront us with it. Indeed “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) will be one of the key ways we will grow into maturity. If someone walks the walk of rebuke to us, are we open to receive it?