Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life of David - Lesson 31

Brother against Brother - 2 Samuel 13:23-39

Prayer: Lord as we study your word today we thank you that your scripture teaches us practical lessons for our lives.  We pray that we would learn from both the good and the bad examples given in scripture, and that we would seek your help and wisdom for living in this fallen world among fallen people.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups:
1.  With which family member do you tend to have the most strife & why?  How might God want you to change in order to glorify Him in this relationship?

There is strife in David's family, David's oldest son (Amnon) has raped one of David's daughters (Tamar, his half-sister), and another of David's sons (Absalom, Tamar's full-brother) is hopping mad about the whole thing... but daddy David, though furious, apparently doesn't do anything about it.  This is a recipe for disaster... 

2 Samuel 13:23-25 - It's two years later & the time for sheep-shearing has come!!  Ok, maybe that's not exciting to you, but to an Israelite of that day it was a festive occasion - perhaps we could compare it to something like our Thanksgiving holiday that's coming up soon.  Either Absalom was in charge of the King's sheep, or had sizable flocks of his own, and the time had come to shear the sheep and celebrate.  Absalom invites all the men in the family to join him, all the king's sons as well as the King and the King's officials.  To invite family to join was not unusual, but to invite this huge family to all come is a very large gathering, so King David declines since it would be a burdensome for all the men to join.  Was David thinking that he & his officials were too old for all this?  Perhaps... This is hard labor followed by partying, something more appealing to a younger group of men.  Despite Absalom's urging David didn't change his mind, but did give his blessing.

Let's look a moment at the possibility of the the flocks being the King's sheep, since that makes the most sense with all the men in the family being invited. 2 Samuel 8:2 - the Moabites are subdued & bring tribute, but what is the tribute they must bring?  2 Kings 3:4 - The annual tribute Moab was to make as a vassal state was 100,000 lambs & the wool of 100,000 rams.

2 Samuel 13:26-27 - Absalom hasn't given up yet, in fact I think things are working according to plan.  What he really wants is to get Amnon to go with him, and the fact that he has to bring all the kings sons along is no problem.  The request may seem suspicious to us, but remember it's two years after Tamar was raped.  Amnon was the oldest of the sons & perhaps the strongest & most experienced of the bunch, he's also the "crown prince", the heir apparent, and as such he could join the celebration as the king's representative - this again makes a lot of sense if this is the King's flocks being sheared.  More hands would make the work go more quickly, and the more the merrier at the after-party.  David agrees & off his sons go to work & to celebrate.

2 Samuel 13:28 - But wait, there's a plot afoot!!  Absalom hasn't forgiven Amnon, and he's certainly not forgotten what Amnon did to his sister.  Absalom tells his men that he will watch for when Amnon is drunk from wine (at the celebration), and then give them the order to strike Amnon down.  He encourages his men to be brave & reassures them that he will take the blame since it is on his order that they are acting.  I'm guessing Amnon was a seasoned fighting man since they would wait for him to be somewhat incapacitated before he was killed.

2 Samuel 13:29 - Absalom gives the order & Amnon is killed.  The rest of David's sons may have thought that Absalom was trying to secure his succession to the throne by killing Amnon.  In any case they got on their mules, the normal mount for royalty in David's kingdom, and fled toward home.

2 Samuel 13:30-31 - In ancient Israel bad news spread faster than Princes fleeing on mules, because an errant report comes to David that all his sons are dead. Apparently others that had been at the sheep-shearing celebration also fled, perhaps they exited before David's sons left, and perhaps by horse (they were available in the area).  David & all his servants tear their robes & openly grieve, David is face down on the ground, utterly devastated!

2 Samuel 13:32-33 - Jonadab, David's nephew, the one who had helped Amnon trap Tamar, he is the one who clears up the matter.  Apparently Jonadab wasn't too happy about how Amnon had acted toward Tamar, since he seems to be in-the-know regarding Absalom's feelings.  He tells David that Absalom has been expressing his intention to kill Amnon ever since Tamar was raped.  Jonadab reassures David that his other sons still live, that only Amnon is dead.

David hadn't dealt with Amnon, and he hadn't dealt with Absalom's anger toward Amnon, the rift hadn't been healed, and so the price of inaction must be paid.  The "crown prince" is now dead.

2 Samuel 13:34-36 - Absalom flees, he knows the penalty for murder & that he is now family enemy #1.  The watchman sees men coming from a distance, Jonadab points out to David that this is his sons returning.  Indeed it is the kings sons, they come in wailing loudly, and they and King David & the servants bitterly grieve.  The sword would not depart from David's house (prophesied in 2 Samuel 2:10), and it is cutting David's family deep in the heart.

2 Samuel 13:37 - Absalom fled to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur.  As soon as I read this I was wondering "why kind of king is this?" & "why did Absalom flee to this particular king & country?"  2 Samuel 3:3 - Absalom flees for protection to his Maternal Grandfather.  Grandpa would have been likely to be sympathetic, this is his grandson who was avenging his granddaughter, and avenging her against someone (Amnon) that wasn't one of his own family.

2 Samuel 13:38-39 - Absalom stays in Geshur for three years.  David longs for his son Absalom, perhaps he realizes that Absalom had worked out the justice for Tamar that he himself had failed to do.  David was consoled regarding Amnon, his grief had dissipated.  Sometimes we judge David because of his inaction, after all he's the king & should be upholding justice not only in the land but in his family.  But David is also a Dad, and you never stop loving your kids even if they make big mistakes or are scoundrels.  David seems to have come to terms with Amnon's death and forgiven Absalom.

Closing Prayer:  Lord God, help us to forgive those who hurt us, help us to forgive those who hurt the ones we love.  Lord please keep us from letting anger eat us up within until it lashes out with dire consequences.  Amen!

Read through 2 Samuel 14 as a preparation for the next lesson.

Quickly Form Groups Again:
2.  Anger is not sinful in itself, but can lead to sinful actions.  When is anger not sinful?  What is God's purpose in the emotion we call anger?  Discuss the dangers of "stuffing" your anger.  Discuss the dangers of readily lashing out in anger.
3.  Pray for each other.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Life of David - Lesson 30

Trouble with David's Children - 2 Samuel 13:1-22

Prayer: Lord sometimes your Word contains things that are difficult for us to process, painful things, but it reminds us that this life is painful & that your Word is truth.  Help us to work through this painful passage, and help us to be compassionate to those who have suffered deep hurt at the hands of others.  We may not be able to understand the pain another has faced, but we must be ready with listening ears & loving ways.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups:
1.  I want you to think of a time when you or someone close to you was deeply hurt at the hands of another (don't share, just think back). When dealing with deep hurts what helps & what doesn't help?

In our last lesson David was given 3 levels of prophetic consequences for his sin with Bathsheba, one of which occurred almost immediately.  In this lesson we begin to see the other consequences begin to play out.  Many commentators maintain that the reason these things happen are due to David's many wives & concubines, something that puts him in a position of compromise to God's pure ways.  Add to this his own failings concerning Bathsheba, and the result is that David has undermined his own authority within his family to hold his children accountable for their sins.

A bit about David's family at this point, at this point he has at least 8 wives & an unknown number of concubines.  David eventually has at least 17 sons, though there are probably many more than that, and an unknown number of daughters.  Presumably the children were each raised by their own mothers, and dear old dad David probably had little time to interact with all his children.

David's children in this passage are the following:
  • Amnon, a son of Ahinoam (wife #2) & David's oldest son
  • Tamar, a daughter of Maacah (wife #4) - 1/2 sister to Amnon
  • Absalom, a son of Maacah - Tamar's full brother

2 Samuel 13:1 - When we read just this one verse we run into a couple possible misunderstandings:
  • First, there would have been no problem with a romance & marriage between these two in those days - they were not full siblings, probably raised in two different households by two different mothers & this sort of thing was not uncommon.  Some commentators say that this was "wrong" because it was incestuous, but the scripture does not support that view, so we need to make sure not to rush to judgement.  After all Abraham "the friend of God" & first of the patriarchs was married to Sarah, his half-sister.
  • Second, we need to be careful with the word "love".  This particular Hebrew word for "love" has a few possible meanings, and we shouldn't assume this was any sort of pure innocent care or devotion, as we read the following verses I think this will become clear.

2 Samuel 13:2 - Amnon's feelings for Tamar seem to be a combination of desire & obsession, and apparently all his efforts to seduce her had gone unfulfilled.  The passage tells us Tamar is a virgin, and this is important for a variety of reasons we'll discuss as we continue.  We were told in verse 1 that she was beautiful, and knowing she's a virgin we can assume she is young - perhaps a teenager. From the tone of the passage I'm certain Amnon is not a virgin, in fact he may be as old as in his 30s & is probably a seasoned warrior since he was born in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2), born when David was ruling over Judah & before he was ruling over all Israel.  At this point Amnon may already have had concubines or wives, but we don't know - at the very least we'll see later that he has his own house & servants & doesn't live in the palace.

2 Samuel 13:3-5 - Amnon is close with his cousin Jonadab, and Jonadab is described as "shrewd".  I'm guessing that these two have gotten into lots of mischief together - not surprising for cousins who are close friends.  Jonadab finds out what is causing Amnon to look "haggard" in the mornings, and comes up with a plan to help Amnon seduce Tamar.

2 Samuel 13:6-7 - Amnon sets the plan in motion, he pretends to be ill & asks his dad (King David) to send his half-sister Tamar to come make him some bread & feed him.  Ok, David isn't dumb, I'm sure he knew that Amnon was attracted to Tamar, and I think he probably was happy to encourage this budding romance - after all, a marriage between the two was not out of the question & Tamar was eligible to be married.  David sends word for Tamar (still living in the palace) to go to Amnon's house & make him some food.  Keep in mind that this is not a strange request, the wives & daughters of the king had special privileges but they were women living in a day when women answered to the men in their lives.  I think it's interesting also that women in these positions at this time in Israel weren't catered to hand & foot, they were expected to contribute their domestic skills for the good of the family.

2 Samuel 13:8-10 - Tamar has obediently gone to Amnon's house, and made some bread while he watched.  She's not stupid, she knows Amnon is interested because verse 2 indicates he's made advances previously.  I'm wondering if she was feeling honored & excited, was Amnon going to ask for her hand?  Marriage to Amnon was probably what she hoped for, it would have kept her close to home, near her family & not married off for political gain; additionally, marriage to Amnon would mean that she might be in line to be Israel's queen (Amnon was David's oldest son).

Tamar takes the bread & serves it (perhaps on a table), but he won't eat, and instead sends everyone else away.  She's not afraid of him, when he asks she takes the bread to him at his bedside.   What is Tamar thinking at this point?  Perhaps she thinks he is not wanting his physical weakness to be seen by all (she believe's he is sick).  Is she hoping he's going to state his intentions & declare his love for her?

2 Samuel 13:11 - Can you imagine how startled Tamar must have been?  She probably had all these romantic imaginations, and Amnon just wants to fulfill his lust.  She's not safe here and she knows it, something in his actions or in his voice or his expression are telling her he's not interested in waiting, he wants her & he wants her right now!  This isn't love, this is lust.  Love thinks of the other person & doesn't put their own desires first, but Tamar is still hoping for love - I think that because of what she tries to get Amnon to do next.  This convinces me she must have been young, because she was still idealistic.

2 Samuel 13:12-13 - Tamar pleads with Amnon, she tries to reason with him - what he would do is wicked & shouldn't be done in Israel, perhaps this should read "shouldn't occur among God's people".  She's the daughter of the king, she wants to be married & not just a concubine.  She begs him to ask David for her hand, she knows her father would let them marry.

2 Samuel 13:14-15 - Amnon overpowers & rapes Tamar.  Tamar may have been in love with Amnon, but this is not an act of love on his part.  This is an act of selfishness & an act of hate.  At one time I thought Spousal Rape was something blown out of proportion, but now I personally know a woman who was raped by her husband.  In this woman's case the husband was drunk & abusing narcotic pain killers, but the act she describes was nothing short of selfish and hateful.  Despite counseling their marriage didn't last, mostly because he was hard-hearted toward her.  No means No, even if you're "in love", even if you're drunk, even if you're married... there are no excuses.  Amnon now hates Tamar, and he is blinded by his hatred & is vicious toward her.

2 Samuel 13:16-17 - Tamar is desperate, she's trying to make the best of a terrible situation, she's willing to stay on with him despite his hateful actions because she knows what this will do to her personally if he doesn't take her in.  No longer a virgin she cannot be offered by her father in marriage to anyone.  But Amnon is continuing his vicious behavior, he treats her as less than a concubine & he calls his personal servant to kick her out & lock the door.

2 Samuel 13:18-19 - Tamar is still wearing one of the special robes given to the virgin daughters of the king, these garments indicate that she is a special young lady, one that the king alone could give away in marriage.  She tears the robe, indicating that she has been violated & indicating her heartbreak.  She also places ashes on her head & put her hand on her head and wept aloud - these are actions marking one who is grieving.

2 Samuel 13:20-22 - Absalom attempted to care for his sister, he dealt gently with her & took her into his home to care for her.  Because Amnon rejected Tamar outright Tamar became "desolate", unable to marry & perhaps unable to be taken as a concubine as well (though that may have been out of the question for a daughter of the king).  David is furious, but that's all it says - it doesn't say he dealt with Amnon, it doesn't say he reached out to comfort Tamar.  It's possible that David just didn't know what to do, after all these are both his children, they are children of two different wives, what a mess!!Absalom hates Amnon & won't speak to him, this is a major family rift.
Next time we'll see what happens between these two half-brothers.

Closing Prayer:  Lord, sometimes when we hear about terrible things like this we want to ask "Why?", we want to make sense of it, we want justice, we want to know why you didn't step in and stop it.  Please help us when we ask "Why?", help us to see things through your eyes, and help us to see you at work even when exposed to the evil in the world.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups Again:
2.  Share things that you find troubling that happen in this world.  Discuss how God might use them for his purposes.

3.  Pray for each other.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Life of David - Lesson 29

Truth, Consequences, Forgiveness, & Restoration - 2 Samuel 12

Prayer: Lord we are thankful for your hand in our lives.  We thank you that you don't let us go our own way but instead take action in our lives.  I pray that we will learn from David this week, last time we saw the importance of resisting temptation, this time we need to learn the importance of repentance - of coming clean & staying clean with you.  Lord, for whatever areas of our lives that we've failed & fallen we ask for your hand to be on us in order to restore us.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups:
1. What is your favorite Bible parable?  What is the main lesson of that parable?

Last time we met we saw David fall deeper & deeper into the trap of sin.  He started out by being a little too self indulgent, fell into adultery, tried several times to cover up his sin & eventually ended up ordering a man's death in order to cover up what he had done.   If we didn't have the passage recorded in the Bible we might think he got away with it, but he didn't.  

God knew what David had done & God was not pleased, now God is sending Nathan to David to expose his sin.  Why would the sin need to be exposed?  So it could be repented of & David could be clean & forgiven once again.


2 Samuel 12:1-4 - Nathan is using a form we're familiar with from the New Testament, he is using a parable.  He tells of a rich man & the awful thing he has done to his poor neighbor.  The rich man who had many sheep & cattle of his own stole a young lamb, the only lamb & beloved family pet of his impoverished neighbor, and used it to throw a feast.  A modern-day equivalent might be: Governor Dayton came into your house, walked off with your cat or dog, and then used it to feed a visiting dignitary.  It is a viciously unkind & unnecessary action, there is no justification for this, this is nothing short of cruel hard-heartedness

2 Samuel 12:5-6 - David's response shows us that he's not aware that what Nathan has told him is a parable.  David is indignant, he wants the man brought to justice at once, he wants not only the debt to be repaid - 4 times was the prescribed amount - he wants the man put to death.

2 Samuel 12:7-9 - About a year had passed, and apparently David had been contentedly living a lie, apparently he hadn't told anyone & apparently he hadn't confessed his sin before God. Perhaps he had justified himself in his own eyes, after all he is the king & has rule over all the people, in any case it's been a year and he's gotten away with his sin... or so he thinks.  So can you imagine how David's heart must have been crushed when Nathan proclaims "You are the man!".  Nathan interprets the parable, God has given David much & would have gladly given him more, but David instead has taken what belonged to someone else.  David is accused of despising the word of the Lord, of doing evil in God's sight.  Nathan doesn't cushion the blow, he proclaims David's guilt in Uriah's death, it may have been an Ammonite sword that struck the blow but David is guilty of murder.

Consequences prophesied:

2 Samuel 12:10-12 - David's sentence involves 3 prophesied consequences:
  • A prophecy about the sword not departing from his "house" - from Biblical history we know that 3 of David's sons died violent deaths, and this seems to be a long-term prophecy that would go down through the generations of his family tree.
  • A prophecy about a specific calamity that would come upon David & his wives - we will see this play out in chapter 15 when Absalom (David's son) seizes the throne from his father & takes his father's wives.  This is a mid-term prophecy, one that would play out within David's lifetime.
  • A short-term prophecy that has immediate consequences, but we'll get to that one in a moment, because suddenly David has a realization!


2 Samuel 12:13 - David confesses his sin, notice what he says "I sinned against the Lord".  This isn't between David & Uriah, or between David & any other person, this sin is against God.  David's actions have separated him from God, and David appears to be saying "may God do with me as He pleases, I have sinned against him".  Nathan declared that David is forgiven, he has received God's mercy, he will not be given the death sentence normally required for either adultery or murder (according to God's laws).  Mercy - not getting the punishment you deserve (as opposed to Grace which is getting a gift you can't earn & don't deserve).  Mercy comes when we confess our sins before God, and that mercy is God's forgiveness.

Consequences Begin:

2 Samuel 12:14-15 - Despite forgiveness there are still consequences for sin, the sentence already given remains, and the third consequence is prophesied:
  • The child conceived in sin will die.  This is the short-term prophecy, one with immediate consequences.

God didn't take it easy on David, God dealt a hard blow in 3 tough consequences, any one of which would have been a severe punishment.  There is a long-term prophecy against his family line, a mid-term prophecy against himself & his wives, and a short-term prophecy which will take his baby boy.  God was hard on David because God loved David, sometimes God deals tenderly with His people when they fall & sometimes God is tough.  From my recent studies in the life of Elijah I've seen that God deals tenderly with those who fall when they are broken, and here we see that God is tough with those who fall when they are in defiance.

The child is struck ill.  There is a part of me that wants to say "but this baby didn't do anything wrong!"  I need to remember that this is God at work, and God is always loving & always just.  For anyone else that is struggling with this I'd ask that you hold off on thinking God is being cruel, because there is a verse later in today's passage that gives us deeper insight.

2 Samuel 12:16-17 - David pleads with God for his baby boy to be spared.  David fasted, he spent his nights on the ground (fasting from comfort as well as from food).  The elders were quite concerned, they couldn't get him to get up off the ground or to eat with them.

2 Samuel 12:18-19 - God says no.  Ouch!!  David has been God's man up to this point & will be again, but this time God said no, and the child died.  David's servants aren't sure what to do, David has been beside himself up until now & they fear for how he will react once he knows his child has died.  If you've ever known anyone who has lost a child you know how devastating that can be, there is something in our guts that tells us it's unnatural for a child to die, and it is a crushing blow.


2 Samuel 12:20-23 - David's reaction to the news of the death of his son puzzles his servants, they expect him to grieve even more.  David's reaction may seem strange, but after 7 days of fasting & prayer David has God's perspective on the situation.  

I lost my Dad to cancer, watching my Dad die & knowing he was dying was extremely painful - it was a period of extended grief for my family prior to his death.  This wonderful sweet man of God was put through a living hell on this earth, it seemed so unfair.  When my Dad finally died the family experienced an unexpected surge of joy, my Dad was no longer suffering & we knew with confidence that he was walking with the Lord - and in fact most of us experienced a jealousy of sorts, that he was able to go before us & we'd been left behind.  People didn't understand what my family experienced, even believers didn't & usually don't understand still, but God gave us a glimpse of things from a heavenly perspective.

David gets up, washes up, puts on some lotion, and puts on some clean clothes.  This marks the end of his period of fasting & prayer.  The very next thing he does is goes to the house of the Lord (the tabernacle) and worships God.  After he has worshipped God he goes home & eats a meal.  David has been Spiritually & Physically restored.

The servants don't understand, they are like the people I said didn't understand my family, so they ask & David attempts to answer, but I'm guessing they still might not have understood.

God is not cruel, verse 23 makes it clear that David knows that his baby is now being nurtured in the hands of his loving God - the child will not be returned to David, but David will some day be reunited with his child in heaven.  Was it cruel for God to take the child?  Absolutely not!  That child was in a much better place than he would have been living out a mortal life on earth, he was in the loving arms of God.

2 Samuel 12:24-25 - David is doing much better but poor Bathsheba has probably been trying to nurse the baby back to health & likely feels like a failure.  David goes & comforts Bathsheba, the love of a husband can do wonders for a hurting wife, and David is a loving husband to Bathsheba.  In time another son comes along for David & Bathsheba, that son we know would eventually become King Solomon, a man loved by God, and God assigns him a name that means "loved by the Lord".  David is emotionally restored, and his family with Bathsheba has been restored.

2 Samuel 12:26-31 - During this period Joab has been out leading a portion of the army, still swatting at those annoying Ammonites, and he's laid siege to the royal citadel (fortress).  Joab sends word that he's cut off the water supply & it's time to bring the rest of the army & take care of the Ammonites for good.  Joab says something odd, he basically says "get out here & help me finish this or this kingdom I've defeated is going to be mine", that's some pretty strong words from the General to his King, but they are words that get David back to doing the job he should have been doing to start with (instead of lazing around the palace seducing the neighbor girl).  This in effect brings about David's positional restoration, that of being the active king.

Rabbah is captured, and the crown is taken - symbol of the authority of their king - and it is symbolically place on David's head to signify him as the new authority over the Ammonite people.  From the passage we read that the crown contained a talent of gold (about 75 pounds) and was set with precious stones.  Apparently the Ammonites had a great deal of wealth in valuable items in Rabbah, and David took the wealth of the city as plunder.  David also took the people and put them to work as laborers to the benefit of Israel (common practice of the day).  From there they went out and conquered all the rest of the Ammonite towns, bringing the entire peoples of the Ammonites under David's rule.  Finally these pesky Ammonites have been taken care of, and the army returns to Jerusalem.

Closing Prayer:  God we thank you that you show us that there are consequences for our sins, but we thank you even more that these consequences are designed for our sanctification & restoration.  Help us to have soft hearts so that you can deal with us tenderly, keep us from being hard hearted & having to face such dire consequences, but in either case Lord keep us close to you.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups Again:

2.  Read Psalm 51, this was the Psalm written after David was confronted by Nathan.  What in this Psalm could you point to as evidence of true repentance on David's part?