|Series Theme: Reaching into Redemption|
PART ONE: Introducing the Theme
PART TW0: Lessons through People
PART THREE: Redeeming Israel
PART FOUR: Lessons through People (2)
PART FIVE: Nuts & Bolts of Redemption
PART SIX: Thinking about Practicalities for Today
PART SEVEN: In Defence of the Faith
PART ONE: Introducing the Theme
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
1. Considering Redemption
Ex 15:13 In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed . In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.
Approaches: There are times when I come to the end of a series of studies and wonder where I should go next. How does God want to feed me or challenge me next? And then there are other times – and this is one of them – when as I pray early in the morning I find the Lord filling my mind with a completely new train of thinking that challenges and stirs and demands to be written down.
Significance: For the last week or so, while I have been writing another series, I have found the Lord challenging my thinking into an area that I have never been before, and I have found it mind blowing. So it is time to start writing it. These will not be short meditations because the content is too important and too significant to be dealt with casually. If you want quick and easy and effortless daily readings, this will not be for you. However, if you will journey with me along the path I believe we will travel, I think I can promise you that you will be blessed and maybe even your whole outlook on yourself and others transformed. Yes, that is where I believe this is going.
Old Testament basics: Let's take this word ‘redeem' which has been imposing itself on me. My Bible dictionary says: “1. To buy back. 2. To get back, recover, by paying a fee. 3. To pay off a debt.” In our verse above, Moses and Miriam sing this song of triumph after the Exodus and they look at what God has done, delivering them from slavery and they speak of themselves as “the people you have redeemed ”. Perhaps they take their language from the language the Lord used earlier: “ ‘I am the Lord , and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6)
New Testament Parallel: Today, in respect of our own salvation, the New Testament speaks of, “Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) Also, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law ….. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:13,14) It is the same sort of picture in the New Testament in respect of our salvation as in the Old Testament in respect of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The two sets of verses above speak of us being delivered FROM something (the old godless life of wrongdoing) and delivering us TO something (all the blessings that now flow through the work of the Cross – justification, adoption, glorification etc.)
Questions: So where are we going here? Well let me ask a simple question. How extensive is the redeeming work of Christ? Who will it cover? Does it cover a murderer? Does it cover an adulterer? Does it cover a denier? If you say no to these, you are running contrary to what the Bible tells us about the ‘heroes of faith' who we will consider in this series as a preliminary to looking at how we live our church lives. Oh yes, that is where this is going. How do you feel about Christians who have killed, Christians who have committed adultery, Christians who have denied Christ, Christians who have been caught with their hands in the till, Christians who have been found to be frauds?
No Jumping to Conclusions: Be careful here. I hope we are going to look into this in sufficient depth that we will avoid the two extremes of judgmentalism that writes off people and the opposite that simply shrugs and says, “It doesn't matter, we're all human.” God has given us case study after case study in the Bible and what we will see is a God who is both a Judge who declares guilt and a Redeemer who pays for our punishment. This means that on one hand we cannot be casual about sin – and we need to call it for what it is – and on the other we cannot withhold grace from the sinner. The thing about redemption is that God looks to deliver the person under the sentence of death and restore and elevate them to a position of sonship. It can be a painful process but a wonderful one.
Basic Truths: In case you might think I am going soft on you, let's remind ourselves of some New Testament teaching from the apostle John. First, “ My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin , we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2). Next, “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) These two sets of verses lay out three very important truths for the Christian:
1. Sin is an exception: “so that you will not sin”. The apostle doesn't expect the believer to sin. The standard is to aim for perfection (Mt 5:48 – “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, perfect meaning complete in Christ.)
2. Yet we can fail: “ But if anybody does sin.” It is a possibility. These are hopefully just one-off failures, one-off sins, things where, to use my phrase, ‘we trip over our feet and it goes pear-shaped'.
3. Confession is the way back: “If we confess our sins.” Acknowledgement of sin, of a failure, of our guilt, is a pre-requisite to restoration. Often, we struggle with this because we are not in a secure place and we fear the people around us will condemn is. We will deal with this as we go along. That must change.
Consequences: Now it would be foolish to pretend that there are no consequences to our acts of failure (Sin!) and part of our journey ahead must be to face those consequences and consider how grace may abound. However, let's keep in mind throughout (and the scriptures will help us see this) that God's intention is always to help us come to a place of restoration. When we look into the Bible with ‘redemption focused eyes', we will see people who didn't get there, and we'll see why they didn't, but we'll also see some surprising cases where people who seriously blew it and got it very badly wrong, still ended up in God's good books – and that is really encouraging for each of us as we live out each day with the Lord. Oh yes, it is all there, so will you be prepared to join me in this mind-blowing experience and be prepared to have your mind changed (not by heresy but simply by what the Bible shows us) and your outlook transformed?
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I may have question marks over my life but today I rest secure in the knowledge that you are working for good in it, and whenever I see failure, I will rejoice that you want to take me to a new level of restoration as you work to redeem my life on a daily basis. Thank you so much.
Gen 3:22-24 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
The First Judgment: In this two-study first Part of this series, I am seeking to lay out the gist of where it is going and nowhere is it better seen than in the Fall and God's judgment on Adam and Eve. It is something that I believe most Christians rarely think about and I suspect I would not have done until I started writing a book about “The Judgments of a Loving God”, and of course, this is the first judgment in the Bible. But what are the elements of this story.
God's Framework: The Fall doesn't happen in a vacuum, it happens within the framework of God's design for Adam and Eve which clearly and simply said, “ You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:16,17) There were His parameters for their lives: a) an amazing provision – lots of fruit trees, b) one restriction – one tree not to touch, and c) a consequence if they did – death to their relationship with God (for that is what it was). The consequences are significant in that they all flow out of the absence of God's presence.
Questions & Answers: Well, you might ask, why should that have to be? Why would child-bearing become harder, why would working the ground be harder, why should they have to be put out of the garden? The answer has to be in the actions of Eve and then Adam. Basically they both said, we will disregard God's framework so yes, a) we will enjoy that wide provision, but b) we will not be limited and so be able to eat that forbidden tree, because c) we see that knowledge is good and we cannot see how it can be destructive, so we'll do what we want.
Consequences: They were, when you think about it, effectively saying, God we don't want you in our lives laying down rules. We'll do what we want. Now it may not have been spelled out as blatantly as that, but that was the reality of the Fall. If you think about human lives – and theirs in particular – you can't live on the basis of, “I'll choose which bits of God's design I'll conform to, rejecting some, going along with some,” because ultimately that is still self-centred godlessness, my definition of Sin. You either accept fully that God knows best and seek to live in accordance with His design (which is what Christians do), or you question His wisdom and are the ultimate arbiter of the life you live, and without God's presence that is often hard and things go wrong.
The Effect: The story of Genesis 2 and 3 that we have been considering shows God making Adam and Eve accountable for their actions and so when we read our verses above where He excludes them from the Garden, i.e. from His presence and thus His resources, it is simply Him saying, “Well, you want to run your own lives; that is sad but I love you so I will help you do that, there is the whole world out there for you, but this bit where I am will no longer be accessible. If that's what you want, go for it!”
More Questions: So far, all very familiar, but suppose you were an onlooker back then, what might you have been thinking? Without any knowledge of the future you might think that this God is the God that some think of who, having set the world up and sees it going wrong, abandons it and goes and lives down the other end of the universe, if we may put it like that. Isn't that what appears to have happened? Hasn't God acted as a Judge and condemned them to live on their own, with limited resources? Isn't life condemned to just get worse and worse, as William Golding so aptly showed in his book, ‘Lord of the Flies' or George Orwell portrayed in his book, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four'? You might have thought that if you didn't know the future and have a Bible as we do. There are two things that shout to us that that wasn't the whole picture.
Relationships: The first is the fact of what we go on to see in the following nine chapters of Genesis in outline but is then seen in detail, God having relationships with individuals. He doesn't “disappear off to the other end of the universe”, He is still there and although His presence is not there in the same intimate way, we see He is there communicating with Cain, with Enoch, with Noah, and with Abram. When it gets as far as Abram, later to become Abraham, there is a deepening ongoing relationship revealed, and that is echoed in all the main players who follow – Isaac (in a small measure), Jacob (in a greater measure), Joseph (in similar measure) and then Moses, who reveals perhaps the deepest level of relationship with God in the Old testament period. But what is God doing in all these relationships? He is showing His desire to interact with those who will respond to Him and learn from Him and go with Him in His plans and purposes for the world. That is brought into sharp relief in the coming into being of the nation of Israel.
Long-term Plan: Now I have written this many times in past studies so forgive me if I repeat this again, but when we have the revelation that is brought through the apostles of the New Testament period, we find a number of references to the fact of the coming of the Son of God to redeem us, that all point back to this having been decided before the creation of the world and thus before the Fall and all its consequences: Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. All these seven references clearly speak of this plan having been devised by the Godhead long before the Fall actually took place, i.e. they knew that it would take place and saw that the plan of salvation, that we have in the New Testament, was the only way to deal with the sins of the sinner, satisfy justice, and make it possible for each of us to come back into a loving and real relationship with God.
And So? This is mind-blowing stuff. It shows us a God who is both a Judge and a Redeemer. As Judge He makes us face the truth about ourselves and recognise our plight, our need out of our helpless and hopeless situation. As Redeemer He comes to us with a way out of the courtroom, out of the execution yard, and back into the courts of heaven to receive all the wonder of being part of God's family. Right back there, just after the Fall in that confrontation in the Garden, it looked like a godless and hopeless and painful future but seeds for the salvation of mankind had already been sown in God's words to the deceiver: “ I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel,” (Gen 3:15), an enigmatic message that would come down the centuries for those with ears to hear and understand. Redemption is the plan! It's all been pla nned!! Hallelujah!
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, thank you that although you always hold us accountable for our failures, you are still there with us and working for our good, working to bless us, so that we enter more and more into the wonder of the salvation you have prepared for us, which so often seems so unclear to us. But thank you for what I have seen so far and thank you that you have so much more for me yet to come.
PART TW0: Lessons through People
Gen 4:11,12 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
A Strange Story: I think I often say that I am sure we frequently just scan our Bible reading and fail to think about what we have just read. The story about Cain is strange on a number of levels and perhaps not easy to understand in its outcome. The story is often taught so we may be familiar with the basics of it. Two sons of Eve, Cain and Abel. Although God has shut them out of the Garden they nevertheless bring offerings to Him, presumably on the teaching of their parents. Abel's offering appears whole-hearted, Cain's half-hearted, and as a result God was blessed with Abel's but not Cain's. This upsets Cain, but God challenges him over it and warns him against giving way to a bad attitude that might take him into doing something bad. Cain pays little attention to this warning and kills Abel. We have the Bible's first murder.
Integrity of the Record: If we may pause for a moment, this is one of those instances that gives me confidence that the Bible is inspired by God. If you think about this, if this was merely of human origin, the writer would have given a different outcome but instead we have an outcome that raises questions, certainly at first sight anyway, questions about God as a Judge. Why do I say that? Well, later on in the Law, the application is ‘an eye for an eye' etc. and murderers forfeit their lives. But what do we have here?
The Judgment on Cain: All we have, as we see in our verses above is a ‘curse', that means that Cain will no longer be able to farm the land and all he can do is wander the world, presumably looking to work for others. This upsets him: “ Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (v.14) He sees being sent away as being sent away from God's presence, which is interesting in that mankind has been excluded from the most intimate encounter with God in the Garden as we saw previously. The follow on from that, he feels, is that he will be vulnerable, and others could kill him.
God's Protection: But it is not going to work like that: “But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord 's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (v.15,16) Now this is the outcome I find strange.
The depth of Cain's Guilt: Not only have we seen Cain kill his brother, but it clearly is seen as premeditated: “ Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let's go out to the field.” (v.8) i.e. he had in mind what he intended to do, which makes it murder and not manslaughter (an accident). Moreover when God banishes him, he shows no remorse but simply complains, as we saw above. In my eyes, he should be put to death, so what am I missing? I find I empathise with the idea that the Lord spoke out: “Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. ” (v.10) i.e. justice cries out against you. It is the cry of the martyrs in Rev 6:10, “ How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Justice demands wrong-doers be confronted and dealt with. We hear it in the child appealing against his brother or sister to their mother, “It's not fair!” and we feel it when one close to us his harmed by a criminal.
So why? So why does God NOT condemn Cain to death? We are not told, so we must speculate along with all other commentators. First , we may suggest that, as this is the first death after the expulsion from the Garden, it may be that God is making a point for the rest of history, not that we can get away with sin, but that He looks for a way out for us that is a way of grace, a way for redemption to deliver us into something better. Second , the way for Cain gave him space to come to his senses and to repentance, as he wandered the earth. We aren't told that he ever did, but the opportunity was there. Third , he travelled with an awareness of the grace of God over him for the rest of his life, reminding him of the possibilities open to him that were there because God had declared protection for him; he only lived because of that protection.
And more? In verses 13 and 14 where Cain protests, “ My punishment is more than I can bear,” commentators note that the Hebrew could be construed as in the Septuagint, “my sin is too great for forgiveness,” but reject that as not being supported by the text. Have our translators opted for the easy path? Did, in fact, Cain realise something of the awfulness of what he had done, making the judgment of God here even more amazing? If they had opted for that rendering, they would have steered us more clearly towards thinking about this incredible act of grace, which to the legalistic mind makes little sense.
Jesus Parable: We find this same struggling with God's grace (that looks for redemption – and the rest of this series is about how God takes sinners and makes something more of them!) in Jesus parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20). There the owner (God) employed men at intervals throughout the day, but when accounting came, paid them all the same. Those who were employed at the beginning of the day complained but the point was that the owner didn't have to employ any of them, and so when he did it was an act of grace.
God's End Goal: You can't measure grace and so wherever we come across God's redemption – and we will see it with many people and in many different forms – it is always a free gift. We dare not demand justice for our lives for that would be too painful, the condemnation would be too great; instead we gratefully accept the mercy of God that comes in the form of His grace – forgiveness AND blessing.
Transformation is the end goal and in the Christian life we are being changed, one degree at a time, into the likeness of Jesus: “And we all, …. are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) He doesn't just forgive on the basis of the Cross, He blesses us with a new life, a new identity and new power.
The story of Cain in Genesis ends in a surprising way: “So Cain went out from the Lord 's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.” (Gen 4:16,17) Wow! Cain settled, he had a wife and children and builds a community (a city). If that isn't a turn up for the book, what is? Cain had the opportunity to change and he clearly took it. We, too, have the opportunity to change as we live out the years the Lord gives to us. May we not squander them.
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I understand that you deal with each one of us uniquely but whatever you do in respect of us it is for good, to redeem us from what is not good in our lives to something better. Help me value my days and look for your good in them.
Gen 12:10-13 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated
Our goals: We are, may I repeat, considering the lives of a variety of people in the Bible as we explore God's intentions to ‘redeem' us. Inevitably, but I hope not surprisingly, they are episodes that reveal the poor side of humanity but also the grace and mercy of God. Redemption, we have said, is all about God working to bring us back from a bad place into a good place, and when we see this in operation and consider how it might work today, I believe it will possibly change how we think about one another in the church, especially those who don't live up to our high expectations.
Abram: We move on to consider something of the life of this man who the Jews consider the father of their nation, a man we consider as the father of faith. In many ways he is a most remarkable man, somehow hearing God back in his home, Ur, leaving there and travelling roughly a thousand miles to Canaan, purely on God's say-so. Yet there are three episodes in his life that might leave an intelligent person to cry out, “God, how could you let him do that,” or “I thought he was supposed to be the chief example of faith. Where is it here?” Now we are not out to do character assassination, but it is important that we face these things in our heroes.
Situation 1: He hasn't been in Canaan very long when a famine hits the land and so hearing it is not in the south, he travels down to Egypt. Next, we read, “ As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Gen 12:11-13) What he is about to do is well thought out, but I like how the notes in one modern Bible describe what is about to happen as his “morally dubious actions”. The result is that he obviously goes too near the seat of power for Pharaoh's officials see her and “ she was taken into his palace,” (v.15) and you may guess what happened to her there. Now if such a similar thing happened today there would rightly be an uproar. This is sexual abuse of the worst kind. It took the Lord to intervene for the situation to be sorted. Not a good start for this ‘man of faith', we might say!
Situation 2: A while later (ten years) we find, “Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. ” (Gen 16:1-4) So here we have this man who has been told a number of times by God (Gen 12:2,7, 15:4,5,13-16) that He will make him into a nation, now listening to the wisdom of his wife which, in any other context, might have been wisdom but here was unbelief. The result was Ishmael and the Arab nations that have been a thorn in the side of Israel ever since. No so good, man of faith!
Situation 3: Time passes, a lot happens and then we find, “ Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.” (Gen 20:21,2) What???? There is a sense of deja-vu about this. This is a repeat of the first situation. Now what makes this doubly difficult is that this is the third time a difficulty has arisen and you might have thought Abraham might have learnt by now that he could trust the Lord's protection. Even more Abraham is a rich and therefore powerful man. The result of the first debacle was amazingly, by the hand of Pharaoh, “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels,” (Gen 12:16) and we later read, “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” (Gen 13:2)
More blessing: The Lord intervenes yet again and so, “ Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.” To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” (Gen 20:14-16) Oh my goodness! Abraham can't go wrong – even when he gets it wrong!!!!
Questions & Answers: No wonder that the modern Bible version I referred to before, in its notes at the beginning of the first situation, states “The events described in this section raise many questions that go unanswered.” Do these episodes teach us that we can get away with any misdemeanour and God will just smile on it and bless us? How does faith interact with unbelief in all this? Why does God let him get away with this? Some tentative answers.
Answer 1 – Long Term Plan: Hold in the back of your mind that God works on the long-term plan; He looks to what He can achieve with his man by the end of his life. This is about redeeming us from being messed up faithless pagans (Abram and us) and changing us into faith-filled, mature believers who are a light to the world. Very quickly let's note, Abraham excelled in faith in the episode of apparently sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22), he becomes a man who treats with kings and army commanders (Gen 21:22-32, 23:3-20), and he appreciates his birth right and makes careful preparation to get the right wife for his son, not from among the local pagans (Gen 24). An amazing man.
Answer 2 – Faith in the midst of unbelief: You may not have been able to accept it yet, but we are ultimately, even after our faith commitment that saved us, so often people who struggle with unbelief (watch the disciples with Jesus) and faith breaks through as flashes of light, occasionally! God understands that spiritual growth takes time. He doesn't want you and me to keep on tripping over our feet, but He doesn't give up on us when we do. He is constantly working to change our feet of clay into feet of flesh and spirit.
And so? a) remember you are still “a work in progress”, and b) those around you are the same! Be there for one another, despite the stumbles, because God is!
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I take this on board: I am indeed “a work in progress” and thank you that you love me like this and are working with me in the long-term to make me something more than I am at present. Help me to see those around me in the same light.
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, “ J acob 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.
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 cupbearer'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 realised 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 realise 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.
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.
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 life — except 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.
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, recognising 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.
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 20 th century does not give us leeway to criticise 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 rancour. 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 recognise in my calling both the extent and limitation of it, that I may reach out for it but also rest in it.
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:
a) To reveal men's hearts (here in 1 Chron 21:1, David's heart is revealed),
b) To bring judgement on unbelievers (Rev 9:11 as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name means “Destroyer”),
c) To bring discipline to believers (1 Cor 5:5 enabling Satan to come humble and bring repentance)
d) To subjugate unbelievers (1 Jn 5:19b The whole unbelieving world is under the control of the evil one)
e) To maintain humility in our lives (2 Cor 12:7 to keep Paul from getting proud),
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),
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),
h) To teach us how to fight (Judges 3:2 to teach warfare),
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.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
12. The Downfalls of David (4)
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.
Recap: We are considering the good and the not so good aspects of David's life, particularly now looking at the incident where he numbered his army. Yesterday we considered God's anger, was it against David or Israel, how it applies to us, whether it was God or Satan, how God uses Satan and God's sovereign control. These are all deep and complex subjects and yet all very pertinent to the subject of redemption. In the story so far, David has been incited to number his army, an act of pride.
David's Reaction: Now what is interesting is that David seems to come to his senses and repent of what he has done even before he is censured by the Lord, yet it is not clear: “This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel. Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (1 Chron 21:7,8) The other account records, “ David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord , “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord , I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing,” (2 Sam 24:10) Whatever else is going on, David acknowledges he has done a wrong thing which was, in reality, an act of pride that seeks glory for self rather than for God.
Maintain Perspective: As we move further into this, remember what we said in the previous study about the guilt of Israel. There is obviously something seriously going wrong in the nation – presumably idolatry, a falling away from the Lord – for it to incur what I have referred to as a judgment of the last resort.
Judgment in David's Hands: What follows is a unique and incredible incident. It is like the Lord says to David, “Very well, the situation in respect of the nation warrants my severe action to bring change. You are the king and you are responsible for them and have allowed to situation to develop. Not only that, you have taken in pride the glory of the nation and that needs attending to as well, because if you and the nation are to continue – and I want both to continue - then I must bring change to both the nation and to you. So here is what we will do. Judgment is coming on the nation, but you will decide the form of it.”
A Redemptive Act? Can we see the power and wisdom in this? Judgment IS going to come anyway because of the state of the nation (which the scribes do not describe) and so the Lord is going to use this approach to chastise His son in such a way that he will never be the same again. Again, can we see the steps in this. The Lord sees the nation needs severe correction and sees a weakness in His son, David – pride, just lurking there on the side-lines, as it is with all of us!
A discipline of the heart : Think back to matters we have not covered in these studies but are there in Scripture. First , there was the way David mourned over the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:17-27) “How the mighty have fallen!” (v.27) It had been a compassionate heart cry. Second , there had been his response to the murder of Abner (2 Sam 3:28-39). Another heart cry: “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me.” (v.38,39) Then third , there had been his (almost over the top) response to the death of his rebellious son Absalom (2 Sam 18:33). Yet another heart cry: “My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” Now consider, if David had reacted like that to the death of individuals, how is he going to feel about having to be the one who opens the way for thousands to die?
David's Choice, David's Reaction: Many of us might have rebelled against this order to choose but David, this man after God's own heart, did not shirk the responsibility or the guilt. When Gad presents him with the three choices he responds, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord , for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (2 Sam 24:14) and when the plague begins to take lives, “ When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord , “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.” (2 Sam 24:17) He is a broken man.
Sacrificial Cleansing: Immediately David comes to this point, Gad shows him the right path, according to the Law to deal with their sin: repentance, and sacrifice on the altar. Somewhere in the somewhat confused order of things here, the Lord had declared, “Enough!” and stopped the plague. Now we must assume that He has already decided how far the plague would go but seeing the effect of it impacted Him and, in pure mercy, He calls a stop to it. See the combination of actions: sin that justice requires punishing, God who complies with justice but in mercy limits it, David who intercedes by the prescribed method of offering a sacrifice, and God who accepts the sacrifice. Here there is guilt with consequences yet a) the consequences are limited and b) the consequences are used to bring major change within David, the king.
Understanding the ‘big picture': I am grateful to the theologian-teacher who pointed out to me the basic facts of sin and salvation, and if you have question marks about the deaths here, realise the following: 1. Sin involves guilt. 2. Guilt demands punishment. 3. That punishment is death. 4. Every single human being deserves death. 5. God has provided a means of salvation that is pure mercy (He didn't have to do it!). This is not the place to work through each of those five items but if you have never done it before, ask the Lord to open your understanding to see why they are true.
The current situation: Nation and king are all guilty in a greater or lesser measure. We are all guilty of being sinners, but David was guilty of not correcting his people; his people were obviously guilty of apostasy, of going away from the Lord, in such a measure that drastic measures need to be taken to save the nation, save the plan of salvation that would come to the world through Israel. That is what is ultimately behind all this. To enable that plan to continue, the Lord had to take action to redeem David from his casual state in respect of the nation and from his own pride. He also had to take action to redeem Israel from their apostasy to enable them to continue on to be a “light to the Gentiles” (Isa 42:6) It started when he allowed Satan to provoke and incite David at his weakest point. The rest became history: a redeemed king, a redeemed people. (Just out of interest, where David built the altar was the place where the Temple was eventually built.)
And Us? Where we fall, and God's hand comes on us, understand that although there may be disciplinary elements or consequences in all that follow, His goal is our redemption, not just for eternity but also the present. There is yet a life to be lived with Him. Hallelujah!
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, when I have failed you, I thank you that that is not the end. You are yet working to continue to redeem me.
Isa 9:6,7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom
A Necessary Recap: Because we have taken five studies to consider something of David's life, if we are to get the most out what happened to him, I believe we need to scan back over these studies to see the key points that stand out in this study of God's redemptive activity in our lives.
The Glory of David: The starting and finishing point of any study of David must be to note that there was so much good that he became a measuring stick for those kings who followed him – despite all the negative things we went on to consider about him. It was his heart, a heart after God, that was the crucial issue.
Facing Failures: The whole thing about redemption is the need to accept the starting place – our failures. God redeems us from those places of failures and takes us to a more glorious place. For David, our starting place was his fall in respect of Bathsheba and Uriah. However, amazingly we were able to note the Bible's assessment 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) Now I have a feeling I did not make sufficiently clear in our studies something quite significant here. The word ‘sin' was not used here, although we may imply it, but the assessment in this verse implies the measuring stick for righteousness, for that period, is keeping the commands of the Lord – the Law.
A Limiting Factor: However in the course of the ongoing studies we observed that there were two other things that put limitations, if we may put is as gently as that, on David. The first was that he had been a warrior for most of his life and that debarred him from being the one who would build the Temple. That did not detract from his heart after God because, in reality, a number of times he sought the Lord's guidance (and got it!) for his warfare strategies, yet it did mean that it limited his role in life before God. We should understand that even in the process of redemption, although there may not be moral failures, there can be other limiting factors that inhibit the direction the Lord allows us to go.
Another form of failure: When we went on to consider David numbering his army, we found a failure that was NOT a failure to keep the Law, for there was no law that said, “Thou shalt not count your army numbers,” or “you shall not countenance pride”. Nevertheless pride detracts from the “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deut 6:5) and is certainly an expression or act of self-glorification that detracts from the Lord being glorified. Giving way to that pride meant a whole other area requiring correction was revealed.
Process for Change: We noted that often it is as if the Lord pulls the rug away from under us to allow our folly to be brought to an end, so the work of redemption can be continued. If we see it as a path that involves sanctification (our being changed, cleansed in practical ways, and being more formed in the likeness of Jesus) it makes it easier to see some of these things as obstacles that hinder progress, things therefore that need dealing with if the process is to continue. It is not so much that our ultimate redemption is at risk (but it is if we give way to sin and eventually drift right away from God) so much as seeing something that needs addressing if we are to receive all that God has for us in His redemption package. The process that is so often used by God is one of discipline that brings change, if not transformation.
Change by Long- term Strategy : With the case of Bathsheba and Uriah, the Lord allowed (or set in motion) a series of events that can be seen either as Him lifting off His hand of protection from David and his circumstances, or of Him releasing Satan to stir up individuals in rebellion. The temporary loss of the throne and all that went with those events, would certainly have a disciplining effect on David. At the start he responded openly and truly, “I have sinned against the Lord ,” (2 Sam 12:13), amazingly he names his second child with Bathsheba, “loved by the Lord,” (2 Sam 12:25) and he retook his responsibility as army commander (2 Sam 12:29-31). Although he failed to control Absalom, as he flees from Jerusalem and is cursed along the way, we find, “ David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.” (2 Sam 16:11,12) Again and again, although having failed and being under discipline his heart is inclined in God's direction.
Change by short, sharp shock : In the matter of being disciplined for his pride and counting his army the correction that comes is immediate and heart-breaking. He will never be the same again.
Ongoing : In subsequent years we see, when confronted by a famine (2 Sam 21:1), he seeks the Lord and puts right past wrongs. When his life was threatened in battle, his men thought so much of him they forbade him fighting any more (2 Sam 21:17). He continued writing songs of praise to God (2 Sam 22) and prophesied about his blessing (2 Sam 23:1-7). After his failure in counting his men he faced the truth: “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.” (2 Sam 24:17) and went on to sacrifice, following the Law.
Near the End : As he hands the throne over to Solomon before he dies, he commands Solomon, “ I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.' (1 Kings 2:2-4) Be obedient to God, keep His laws and be the blessing that God promised me. Faithful to the end. His failures had not made him jaded. He concludes his words to Solomon with wisdom as to how to deal with various people, some of whom he knows will be a problem to Solomon if he allows them to live. He himself had not been willing to execute punishment on them as they deserved, and possibly saw them as the Lord's way of disciplining and changing him, but that need not be true of Solomon. A difficult balance between grace and wisdom from a godly man whose primary concern was the glory of God.
And after : In a dream Solomon encounters the Lord and asks of Him for wisdom to rule His people. The Lord replies, “ I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honour—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did , I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:12-14) and thereafter comes this formula, “like David did.”
Later on, Isaiah would prophesy about the Messiah ruling over David's kingdom (the people of God) as our starting verse showed, and the apostle Paul would refer to David as one who “had served God's purpose in his own generation,” (Acts 13:36) and despite those failings that stand out in history, he did it to the end. If it had been us assessing his life, we might have terminated it after Uriah died, or when he counted Israel, might have let him be one of those who died by plague, but God takes no delight in bringing death (see Ezek 18:23,32) but looks for repentance so that the path of redemption can continue. In David He found that again and again. We are not to be casual about sin and should not use confession as an easy opt-out, but we can be assured that the Lord's determination to pursue the path of redemption with us will continue, even if it does involve discipline!
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
14. The Strange Story of Manasseh
2 Chron 33:10-13 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.
Manasseh in outline: We have so far been examining some of the lives of the well-known figures of the earlier part of the Old Testament, the Patriarchs, then Moses, then David. Now we consider a king who strangely reigned 55 years in the southern kingdom of Judah, Manasseh, who in a simple summary did evil and was carried off to Babylon (2 Chron 33:1-11) and there repented & was restored (2 Chron 33:12-20). The account above shows the hand of the Lord in his affairs
Manasseh's work of restoration: Subsequently Manasseh, “got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city . (v.15 ) Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel. ( v.16) The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the LORD their God. (v.17) Now what is remarkable about all this is the depth of wrong-doing that he had sunk to before all this happened.
Manasseh's sin: “ He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, "My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever." In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God's temple…. Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.” (2 Chron 33:2-7,9), i.e. he:
The Lord's Judgment: We need to see God's word of judgment, prior to the events recorded above, as we find it in 2 Kings for, in the light of the above, it is equally remarkable: “ The LORD said through his servants the prophets: "Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day." (2 Kings 21:10-15)
A Major Question: The question has to arise, in the light of this incredibly strong word of judgment on Manasseh and Jerusalem and Judah, how did it come about that these things – the destruction of Jerusalem – did NOT happen for another half century?
Answers? One can only suggest the following. Scripture is quite clear that even when the Lord has spoken judgment, when repentance comes, that repentance causes the Lord to ‘change His mind' so that He does not bring that judgment. Thus at the end of Manasseh's reign there is no indication of this destructive judgment falling on Jerusalem. So why did it eventually happen? Observe the kings who followed Manasseh.
Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent. Was assassinated by his officials within two years. Did he steer God's eyes back towards that threat of destruction?
Josiah: A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) who sought the Lord (34:1-3), cleansed the land (34:4-7), restored the temple (34:8-13), renewed the Covenant (34:14-33), celebrated the Passover (35:12-19) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27). One might assume he put Judah in a better light before God.
Jehoahaz : Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4
Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11 year reign.
Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.
Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11 year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)
Back to Manasseh: Thus, after Manasseh, of the six kings who followed before Jerusalem was destroyed, only Josiah was good. This, despite the prophetic warnings that came again and again, the kings and their subjects refused to turn back to the Lord and thus the word originally spoken against Manasseh was now fulfilled. It was only Manasseh's repentance that put it off and one cannot help feeling that of each subsequent king has similarly turned to the Lord, that destruction would never have happened.
What have we learned? We have seen murderers and adulterers in these studies and Manasseh encapsulates the summary that “however bad you are, if there is genuine repentance, salvation (redemption) will follow”. We referred to God's words through Ezekiel and perhaps we need to conclude with them here to remind ourselves of the Lord's heart: “ Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord . Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord . Repent and live!” (Ezek 19:31,32) and, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord , I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?'” (Ezek 323:11) Be quite clear, God's heart is to redeem whenever there is repentance.