May 12, 2015.
Daily Reading: II Samuel 10-13.
Background: II Samuel 5-9.
Concepts and Connections.
Think twice before you shame someone: In this chapter, we read about an interesting story in which an act of kindness spirals into all out war. The king of the Ammonites has died and David sent messengers to comfort his son who reigned in his place since the king of the Ammonites had shown loyalty to David in the past. However, when the messengers come to Hanun the king of the Ammonites, the princes come to their king and convince him that David is just up to trouble and wants to spy out the land. Hanun listens to the princes and in a rather bold move, he shames the messengers of David by shaving off half their beard, which would ultimately lead to a war between Israel and Ammon, a war in which Ammon would loose. The Ammonites tried to ally with Syria, but the Lord was with Israel. The Ammonites saw that they had been defeated before Joab, the commander of David’s army, and surrendered to them, becoming their servants. Thus the Syrians were afraid to ally with the Ammonites after they were defeated. This can be a lesson for what can happen to us if we act in arrogance when presented with the opportunity to accept help from other people. Sometimes we shame those who are trying to help for various coping reasons, but in the end we should remember that this counsel is not wise. Our decisions can indeed come back to haunt us.
The slow progression of sin: Chapter 11 lays out the scene of one of the most well known sins in the bible: David and Bathsheba. There are many lessons that we can learn from this story, most of which will be discussed in the next chapter, but one of the most important things to understand from this story is that sin is so often a slow progression, not a major red flag that happens all of the sudden. Often the path to sin doesn’t even start with things that are sinful in an of themselves. Notice the beginning of this story; it was the time for kings to go out to war, but David stayed home. This was not sinful in an of itself, but it does raise some questions and concerns. Why did David not go out? Was there another motive? Did he not know that idleness can lead to sin? Not doing the things that we should do gives us a lot of free time on our hands to get into trouble. However, what David did was not sin just yet. Then we see David going for a walk on his roof; again, this is not sin, but it does beg the question of what he was doing. He likely had been on his roof before, which would me he would know the view of the surrounding houses it had. He sees Bathsheba bathing, at which point he could have turned aside and stopped the temptation there. Yet he doesn’t (though it’s hard to say any man would have done so at this point), and he inquires who she is (though he likely already knew the answer to that question as she lived right beside him and Uriah was one of his choice mighty men) and then brings her into his house and commits adultery with her.
When she sends word to David that she is pregnant, David then tries to cover up his sin by bringing Uriah her husband back from war in hopes that he would go home and lay with his wife. Uriah, however, is very loyal to David and his fellow soldiers and is unwilling to go home while they are still at war. Though purely speculation, the wording of his reasoning of why he didn’t go home (and “lay with [his] wife) might imply he might have known what had happened, or at least suspected it, and wanted to be sure that people knew that he didn’t go home. David then tries on the second night to get him drunk so that he would go home any lay with his wife. Though he is drunk, his resolve to not go home is still very strong, and again he sleeps on the steps. Seeing that his plan has failed twice, David decides the best thing to do is have Uriah killed in battle. Thus he sends Uriah back to the battle with his own death letter in his hand. Joab, who really doesn’t have the best character to begin with, reads the letter and follows through, making sure Uriah is killed in battle. It even seems that Joab suspects something is going on, for he tells the messenger to give the update about the battle and how they had been defeated in one battle because they went too close (assuming David would get mad because of the poor war strategy) without telling him that Uriah was killed, and then telling him if he got mad. The messenger, however, just tells the whole story and you can almost read the relief in David’s response. He feels as though he is in the clear, for he immediately takes Bathsheba to be his wife, presumably so no one would suspect anything (though it would seem that David’s sins were much more public than he would have liked to think they were). David’s path to these great sins started out small, but it slowly progressed to the point where he had done some awful deeds; and it would seem that he didn’t really realize how far off track that he had gotten. This is how sin so often works, eating at us little by little until we are somewhere we never expected to be. May we ever be conscious and cautious of the sin that so easily besets us.
Lessons from one man’s sin: As discussed in the previous chapter, there are multiple lessons we can learn from the story of David’s great sin with Bathsheba. The first of these lessons comes with the beginning of Nathan’s rebuke. Notice how God had to send Nathan to David to make him see what he had done. Nathan tells the story of the young ewe lamb that is taken from a poor man, and immediately David recognizes this as evil and demands justice for the man. What David didn’t know, however, was that he was the man. The slow progression of sin that is discussed in the previous chapter had blinded David to how far off the path of godliness he had come. Beyond this, we see that all David had to do if he wanted more was just ask God. Part of the problem here was that David took it upon himself to take something that he wanted, rather than asking God to bless him. He had chosen the wrong path. Forbidden fruit always taste sweeter, so they say.
Another lesson we can take from this story is that a man after God’s own heart repents when he is confronted about sin. Nathan was living somewhat dangerously when he went before the king, who had the power to kill him on the spot if he didn’t like what he had to say (compare with II Samuel 1). However, when David hears Nathan’s rebuke and understands that he has sinned, instead of getting defensive, he acknowledges his sin immediately and repents (see Psalm 51). The Lord then acts in His steadfast mercy and forgiveness and takes away David’s sin. This can be very comforting to us to know that the Lord forgives our sin, even if the sin seem huge in the eyes of men (see I Timothy 1:15).
Finally, there are a few lessons that we can learn from the tragic ending to this story. First, sin, even when forgiven, still has it’s consequences. The Lord had told David that the child that Bathsheba had as a result of their adultery would die, and this is exactly what happened. It was not the child’s sin that made this happen, but rather David’s. Sin almost always has a consequence, and sometimes we have to live with this consequence. Secondly, it is good to pray at all times (David humbled himself before God even when God had told him the child would die), but we will not always receive the answer we want in prayer. David prayed fervently, but the mind of the Lord wasn’t changed. Third, there is a life beyond. Not often in the Old Testament do we get a picture of an after life, but this is one of the few places that it seems to be implied. After David learns that the child is dead, he says says that he cannot bring the child back, but rather he can go to him. This would seem to imply that David understood that there was a place beyond this life that he could go after he was done here to be with the child. Fourth, there is no need to cry over spilled milk. We see that while the child was still alive, David payed and fasted and did all that he could to beg the Lord for the life of the child. But when the child died, David got up and washed himself, to the surprise of his servants. David understood that what was done, was done. Sometimes we just have to let things go. And finally, sin does not define relationships. This is an important lesson, as it could shed some light on a controversial topic. It is clear that David was in an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba when David took her. It is clear that the Lord did not approve of what David did. Yet after all was said and done, David remained married to Bathsheba, and their next child together was Solomon, who would go on to be appointed by God to reign after David. Notice that the text makes a point to say that the Lord loved Solomon. David had repented and been forgiven of his sin, but this did not mean he had to put away Bathsheba. His sin had been forgiven. Sometimes we miss the definition of forgiveness. David would then go on to be granted success in war, another indicator that the Lord was indeed still with him.
Lessons from an instance of rape: It may not be evident what we can learn from a story about rape, but when we read deeper into it, we can find several good life lessons. Though these are probably not the only lessons we can learn from this story, we will discuss six lessons here.
Drives are strong; we must be aware of this. There is one sin in the bible that we are told repeatedly to flee: sexual immorality. In the wake of other sins we might read that we are to be steadfast, or we are to resist, but with sexual immorality we are told to just run. Get away. Remove yourself from the situation. This is what Joseph had to do when Potipher’s wife tried to get him to lay with her. He fled the scene when she pressed hard (see Genesis 39). We are told to do likewise. But why?
At least for men (though women struggle with this too), the sex drive is almost an overwhelming thing. Men’s lust and desire are such strong motivators, and once something is set in a man’s mind, it is very hard to fight against that drive. Amnon’s lust for his half-sister was so intense that he made himself physically ill over it. The sex drive is so powerful. This is why we are told to flee. One of the best ways to fight against sexual temptation is to simply get away from the temptation and hope the harm hasn’t already been done. Run away. Distract yourself. Do not try to stay in the situation and “be strong.” You are very likely to fail. Amnon failed, and failed hard. We need to recognize that this drive is so powerful if we are to take the correct precautions to overcome it. If we pretend like it’s not a big deal, then we will not be adequately prepared. We would be playing with fire.
We should be conscious of unwise counsel and avoid it. It’s pretty obvious in retrospect that a bad counsel is not a good thing and in this case led Amnon to a horrible decision. But during the moment of temptation we often fail to recognize what bad counsel is. Even in times of no temptation and we are just making a decision, we can fail to recognize bad counsel. To be clear, if you want to do something (especially something you know you probably shouldn’t), you can likely find someone who will tell you it is a good idea. Anon had a cousin that told him that raping his half-sister was a good idea since he was the King’s son. Can you imagine? How could someone give such bad counsel? And who would it take to listing to such bad counsel? But Amnon wanted to do the deed, thus he was more than willing to listen. We do not need to seek out counsel that is only going to tell us what we want to hear. We need to seek out wise counsel.
It is hard to own up to our actions. When we do something sinful and guilt starts to set in, what is one of the first reactions we have? We tend to project our guilt in other ways or on to the object of our sin as a way to pass the blame. This is exactly what Amnon did. After he had violated Tamar, a sin that was completely his own, he hated her. He couldn’t stand to look at her and sent her away. He could see all the evil he had done by looking at her, and I just don’t think he could stand it. Yet, instead of owning up to what he had done, he projected his guilt onto her and would not look at her anymore. We often do the same thing. It is very hard for us to own up to sin. This is, at least in part, due to our pride. If we admit that we have sinned, we are admitting that we have failed. We are admitting that we have made a bad decision. We are admitting that we are indeed flawed. It’s much easier to pass the blame and just try and forget about what we did, hiding from the consequences. This is what Amnon tried to do. His plan would ultimately prove to be futile.
The lesson that we should take from this is that when we sin, we should own up to our sin. We should be ready to take the consequences. We should also know that we are not alone, as everyone on earth sins. We all mess up, make mistakes and bad decisions. We are a flawed people. But Christ came to give His life as a ransom, to cleanse us from these sins, so long as we own up to them (see I John 1:5-10).
4. Hatred will lead us to bad things. Absalom acts very cold and calculating in this story. When he found out that his sister had been raped by Amnon, he hated him thoroughly, so much so that he wouldn’t even express his hatred, probably already planning his revenge. Absalom waited two full years. The hatred that he harbored likely corrupted soul irreversibly during those years, and the rest of his life seems to be an indication of how evil it made him. Hatred is a strong, strong motivator, which can lead us to doing things that seem inconceivable when we are not in this emotional time. For two years, Absalom plotted his revenge, and then he cunningly carried it out, striking down Amnon in cold blood, without warning.
Hatred is a bad thing, and it will eat away at your soul. When we harbor hatred, our own future gets destroyed, not necessarily the future of the one we hate. It only serves to degrade us. This is not a hidden concept. Many books and movies convey this very well, as a character that is good in the beginning starts to harbor hatred and is slowly turned into a very evil person who doesn’t think he or she could ever get back to where they were in the beginning. Absalom went on to undermine his father, displace him as King and sleep with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.What’s our lesson? No matter how evil of a action that has been taken against us or our family, we should avoid hatred at all cost. Nothing good will come to our soul if we start harboring hatred.
5. Lack of spiritual leadership is detrimental to a family. When David heard about what Amnon had done, he was very angry. That is all that is said about the actions that David took when he found out about Amnon’s actions. He just got angry. As far as we know, no disciplinary action was taken. There were no written repercussions. We can infer that Amnon soon came back into good graces with the King, as nothing evil is said about him two years later. Though this is speculation, but it seems we can see a pattern in David’s life after his sin with Bathsheba.
It would seem that many godly men in the Old Testament raised horrible children. This is certainly true. David did not seem to provide the right kind of spiritual leadership that he needed to with his children. Amnon raped his half-sister. Absalom grew up to be a thoroughly wicked man. And Solomon was led away to foreign gods via his love for foreign women towards the end of his life. Why did David’s children not turn out to be all that godly even though David was a man after God’s own heart?
The answer may be able to be implied from stories like this. When he found out about Tamar, he really didn’t do anything. When he found out about Absalom killing Amnon, he really didn’t do anything. When Absalom came to take over his throne, David just left without standing up to him. David’s spiritual leadership may have been severely dampened after his great sin with Bathsheba. It almost seems like he gave up. He thought he was no longer good enough. Yes, he still incorporates God into his life and it seems he maintained part of his spirituality, if not most of it. But you don’t read any more stories like his courageous encounter with Goliath, or his loyalty to God through not killing King Saul when he was given the chance or his humility when taking the throne. “Man after God’s own heart” stories, so to speak, kind of slack off after his sin with Bathsheba. Spiritual leadership in a family is key to a successful raising of children. We need to heed this warning and be sure that our house is well equipped.
6. We must learn about the culture to understand the bible. Though this is not implicit in the story, one thing that we can learn from this is our need to understand the culture in which the words of the bible were written in before we can understand what’s really going on. When you read the passage above, does not not sound strange? Why would Tamar say sending her away would be a worse evil than the rape he had just committed? To us, this sounds like nonsense. But with a better understanding of culture and Mosaic law, we can make much better sense of it. In the law, if a man raped a woman, he was to pay fifty shekels of silver and take her as his wife, an never divorce her (see Deuteronomy 22:28-29). This may sound awful to us in our own time and culture, but you must understand the culture of the Israelites here. First of all, before this it was written that if the woman that was raped was married, then the rapist would be put to death. This is a key point. So, if she wasn’t married, why would he only have to pay 50 shekels of silver and then take her as his wife? In Jewish culture, an unmarried woman who was not a virgin had little to no hope of real survival. If she was not married, she would not be able to function well in society. Thus, this marriage was actually a protection to the woman. Notice that the point is clearly made that the rapist could never divorce her for any reason. This was to ensure that she would live a protected life and be sustained throughout it. This why if the woman was married, then the rapist would simply be put to death. She didn’t need to be sustained, because she had a husband. This is why Tamar said that Amnon did a worse evil by putting her away. He was basically banishing her to a life of poverty and hardship. Fortunately, or as fortunate as can be, Absalom took her in to his house. This shows our need to understand culture to understand the bible. If this was taken outside of its cultural context, it would not make any sense to us whatsoever. Let us study His word with great passion.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 54-56.
Study the word of God.