Tuesday, 29 April 2014

(120) April 30: 2 Samuel 21-22 & Luke 22:1-30

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what we learn of the LORD.

To ponder:
God’s covenant warned of the sending of famine if Israel were unfaithful (Deut 28v23-24). So when this famine persisted for three years David sought to establish from God whether there was a reason. And there was. Although not recorded elsewhere, God reveals (probably through a prophet) that Saul had broken the special covenant Israel had made with the Gibeonites (Jos 9), by putting them to death. As this covenant was made on behalf of the whole nation and Israel’s king was her representative, the sin justly warranted a famine that impacted everyone even though Saul was now dead.
            David shows respect for the Gibeonites by asking their perspective on punishment. They correctly affirm they have “no right” to demand money or the death of just anyone in Israel, but only of the perpetrator’s descendents. This accords with how “the land” is polluted by murder, and atonement made only be the death of the polluter (Num 35v33-34). But with many murdered and Saul dead, this penalty could only be met by his descendents. And here the Gibeonites may even be showing restraint in the demanding this for only seven.
            David keeps his word to Jonathan by protecting Mephibosheth. But seven are killed and “exposed” on a hill “before the LORD.” This signified that they were under God’s curse and that God’s justice was being satisfied - although the bodies should probably not have been left there (Deut 21v23). God’s acceptance of the events is seen by his then answering prayer “for the land” - probably that the famine would lift.
The pain of these events is not minimised. The mother of two of those concerned, one of Saul’s concubines, protects their bodies against birds and animals as long as they are exposed. David is clearly moved, offsetting her suffering by collecting their bones and ensuring the bones of Saul and Jonathan are given an honourable burial in their family tomb. The inference is that the bones of the woman’s sons may have been included too (21v13-14).
We of course struggle here, not used to such extreme justice. But God’s clear affirmation of these events demonstrates how absolutely justice is required for wrongdoing, and even years later, no matter how distressing it might be for us or even him. This is sobering.
The description that follows of continual war with the Philistines shows David’s kingdom was never fully established in the peace and security Israel’s covenant spoke of. The Lord Jesus would be needed for this. Nevertheless, we see God fighting for David, and David’s significance affirmed as “the lamp of Israel.” 1 Chronicles 20v5 tells us Elhanan actually killed Goliath’s brother. This may be recorded as Goliath here to stress the end of his legacy (21v19), or to bracket David’s reign with 1 Samuel 17. We should remember our battle against the world, the flesh and the devil will remain until Christ comes in victory.
David’s song is close to Psalm 18 and helps conclude the book with an affirmation that God was to be honoured for David’s deliverances. He is David’s “rock”, “refuge”, “shield” and “stronghold.” It was as David “called” on God that he was saved, even from the brink of death. 22v8-16 may be just be a poetic way of affirming God’s power, but may refer to him actually using the elements in helping David. This was all because he “delighted” in David, not because he was sinless, but because his heart was for God, and so, even given his sin over Bathsheba, David’s disposition was one of “righteousness” and “blamelessness.” With God’s help David therefore “crushed” his enemies, was “preserved” as king, and found “foreigners” submit to him. He therefore praises God, and can be sure God will keep his promise that his descendents will reign forever. We too can be sure that if our general disposition is of righteousness and blamelessness (1 Thess 2v10), proving our faith, then through Christ God will deliver us.
Praying it home:
Thank God that he is for us and so none can stand against us. Pray that we would display the righteousness and blamelessness that marks strong faith.

Thinking further: Punishing children for the sins of their fathers
This event is difficult as Saul’s apparently innocent descendents are punished for his crime. This seems to contradict the fact that God detests the condemning of the innocent (Prov 16v15) and that he explicitly says sons should not be punished for their father’s crimes (Deut 24v16, Ezek 18v20). We cannot be sure, but the answer probably lies in the fact that these events were a working out of divine justice directly rather than social justice within Israel’s legal system. The above verses are concerned with the latter, ensuring Israel’s fallible exercising of justice had adequate boundaries. However, God declares that with respect to the former he will personally punish children for the sins of the fathers “to the third and fourth generation” (Ex 20v5. Deut 5v9. Ex 34v6-7). Harsh as this seems, it is testimony to how serious sin is, and is something we must trust God on. He always does what is right, and his goodness is gloriously displayed in Jesus.  
We see the principle worked out in the fact that we share in Adam’s guilt and so are born under wrath (Eph 2v1-3, Rom 5v12-21). Moreover, we have seen it in Israel’s history when Achan’s family were put to death for his sin (Jos 7), and perhaps when David’s sin with Bathsheba meant the death of his newborn son as well as the family strife that followed.
This oneness or solidarity between the heads of families and their descendents is alien to us, but was accepted in the ancient world. At one level it is rather obvious, as a parent’s sins have knock on effects for their children. But we should note that scripture affirms an element of divine justice in this within Israel, and hints that it may apply to families more broadly too. This gives us yet another reason not to turn from the Lord. Having said this, as Christians we should not live in fear that our struggles are somehow a punishment or curse for an ancestor’s evil, for “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8v1).

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