Monday, December 23, 2013

Life of David - Lesson 34

A Short Reign with a Tragic End - 2 Samuel 18:1-19:8a

Prayer:  Thank You Lord for watching over our lives, for being the one who protects and defends us.  As we make mistakes you come along side and help us through, and as we face heartbreak you're there to pick up the pieces.  Please keep us from letting our human emotions rule our lives and cause us grief, help us instead to seek your wisdom and guidance.

Quickly Form Groups:
1. In what circumstances have you known people to be blinded by emotion?  What are the potential dangers?

In today's study we're going to see that David was not immune from being blinded by emotion.  David is up against his adversary Absalom, but this adversary is also his son, and he loves his son... this sets David & his men up for all kinds of potential problems.

2 Samuel 18:1-3 - David gets the troops in order, organizing them under 3 trusted men.  Two of the men are his nephews & have served loyally with him for an extended period -  Joab & Abishai (brothers), the third is Ittai - the leader of the Gittite forces who was in exile from his homeland & only a recent immigrant to Israel (2 Samuel 15:18-22), but had proven his loyalty to David as well.  David expresses his intent to join the battle, but his leaders convinced him it was too big a risk, and that he was needed to support their efforts from the city (Mahanaim).  David was a brave & valiant warrior, but was getting older - he may not have physically been able to handle the battle anymore, but he was certainly still a master strategist.

2 Samuel 18:4-5 - David makes a point of publicly commanding his three leaders to be "gentle with" Absalom, he's asking them to protect his son - but in doing so is also asking them to protect their enemy.  David loved his son, but his love for his son was looking like it might be his undoing.  I don't know if you noticed, but there's no indication that David sought out God's advice regarding dealing with Absalom.

2 Samuel 18:6-8 - This is a strange description of a battle, it started in a field but ended up all over the countryside & in a forest.  David's troops were victorious, they defeated the army of Israel which was not as well organized, trained, or prepared force - but certainly a much larger force.  There were great casualties, and this civil war has cost the lives of 20,000 men of Israel - David's own people.  Apparently the forest was a dangerous place to be in battle, and a place where it was easy to get lost & perhaps ambushed.

2 Samuel 18:9 - Absalom had been going through the forest, but was left dangling in a tree by his mule in the thick of the forest.  How ironic that his head, known for its beautiful abundant hair, is caught in the branches.  Absalom was literally left hanging, and couldn't get himself down.

2 Samuel 18:10-11 - One of the men reports to Joab that Absalom is caught in a tree.  Joab must have put a price on Absalom's head, this certainly wasn't part of David's agreement with his men, but apparently whoever killed Absalom had been promised ten shekels of silver ( valued <$80 today) and a warrior's belt.  I'm guessing that this price had been set before David's instructions to his leaders, instructions spoken in the hearing of the troops.  Joab is Absalom's cousin & David's nephew, Joab had been fighting alongside David & serving David for a long time - he was a loyal and trusted general of David's army - so what gives?  Perhaps Joab realized that David was acting foolishly & would endanger the kingdom if he allowed Absalom to live - we don't know his motivation, but we do know Joab was loyal to David's throne.

2 Samuel 18:12-13 - The soldier makes an interesting statement, he says he wouldn't kill Absalom if he were given a thousand sheckles of silver (worth about $7,280 in todays market - and of higher relative value then).  He'd heard what David had said, he wasn't going to raise a hand against the king's son - doing so would be considered treasonous & he didn't believe Joab would defend him if he were identified as Absalom's killer.

2 Samuel 18:14-15 - Joab takes matters into his own hands, he impales Absalom with 3 javelins through the chest, and 10 of his trusted soldiers join him in making sure Absalom was good & dead.  I don't know about you, but I sense anger & frustration on the part of Joab & his men because this seems to be overkill, they despise this prince who had been the cause of a great deal of trouble for David & his people.

2 Samuel 18:16-18 - Joab sounds the trumpet stopping the battle, indicating to all within hearing distance the the battle has been won, causing all of Absalom's forces to flee home.  The treatment of Absalom's body shows their disdain for the man, they threw him in a pit in the forest & covered him with rocks - this is not the burial normally given a prince, and it may have been a way of making certain his grave wasn't marked. 

Verse 18 mentions a monument that Absalom had set up in the King's valley.  Absalom's burial is ironic in that it seems to mock the monument he'd erected for himself, he'd set up a pillar of stone for his name's sake & now he's buried under a pile of rocks.  Absalom's reason for creating the monument was to be remembered, because he had no son to carry on his name.  Absalom is remembered, but as a painful footnote rather than as an honored king.  It is interesting that he had no sons, this would have been considered at the time to indicate that God's hand was against him since many sons were considered a blessing.

2 Samuel 18:19-23 - Ahimaaz wants to take the good news to David that the battle has been won, but Joab doesn't want him bringing the news to David - instead he chooses a foreigner, a Cushite, to do the job.  Joab knew that though news that the battle had been won was good, news of Absalom's death would upset king David.  David's reaction to the bearer of the bad news might be harmful, and I think Joab knew that Ahimaaz had been a faithful friend of David's & didn't want to risk his life.  Also there seems to be an indication (further along in verse 27) that a friend wouldn't be sent with bad news.  The Cushite takes off with the news, but Ahimaaz is insistent that he wants to go as well, so Joab allows him to run as well - and Ahimaaz knows his way & gets to David first - outrunning the Cushite. 

2 Samuel 18:24-29 - King David is sitting at the gates, still in Mahanaim, when the watchman sees the runners coming.  Because the runners are coming alone rather than together, and because the first runner is Ahimaaz, David assumes he's getting good news.  Ahimaaz delivers the news, at least the good part of the news, that God has been on David's side & that they have been delivered from their enemies.  That news is not enough for David, he's anxious for news about his son, and when asked directly about Absalom Ahimaaz avoids giving David a direct answer.

2 Samuel 18:30-33 - The Cushite also delivers the good news, but when asked directly about Absalom gives an answer that David dreads - telling him that his son, his enemy but still his son, is dead.  David is shaken, he retreats & mourns, wishing that he could take his son's place.  David is a father, yes this was his enemy, yes this was the enemy of his people, yes this was the man that was self-centered and would have been a terrible king, but this is his son...

2 Samuel 19:1-4 - Joab & the troops hear about David's reaction to the news & instead of enjoying their victory they begin to mourn for the sake of their king.  The troops don't enter the city victoriously, instead they come in quietly, like men ashamed, because David is loudly grieving his son.  This has to be disheartening for David's men, here they went to battle & risked their lives, and their king is not happy at their victory... this is a recipe for disaster.

2 Samuel 19:5-8a - Joab has had enough, he loves David & is loyal to David but he realizes that David is undermining himself - he is harming his own position as king by causing his troops to be humiliated.  Joab obviously was someone who could hold David to account, because he goes boldly up to him & confronts him.  David has a right to grieve, but not at the expense of the men who have risked their own lives for the sake of the lives of David & his family & his throne.  Joab is able to get David's attention, and David gets himself back into his seat at the gate where he should be as their king. I don't think David knew that it was Joab & his men who had killed Absalom, at least not at this point in the narrative, but there is an indication in the next section that he may have eventually found out.  Joab was faithful to David, and Joab was making certain that David remained firmly established as the king of Israel - even if it meant going against David's orders & even if it meant getting in David's face.

Closing Prayer:  Lord I thank you for the Joab's in my life, the ones that are loyal to me but don't coddle me, the ones that call me to account, the ones that help me see the truth in my circumstances.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups Again:
2.  Joab was in a tough spot when he went against the order of his king.  When is it right to go against authorities?

3.  Pray for each other.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Life of David - Lesson 33

Faithful Friends - 2 Samuel 16:15-17:29

Prayer:  Lord I thank you for faithful friends, especially for those who support behind the scenes and may not get acknowledged.  Bless them in a special way this day.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups:
1.  Think of one faithful friend who does things behind the scenes that show love & support for you, and does so without asking or expecting to be recognized.  Share a bit about that friend.  What can you do to express your love and gratitude for their friendship?

I hope you were able to think of at least one faithful friend.  I am in the unenviable position of living in a region in which I didn't grow up, and in which I did not attend school.  I moved here in my mid-30s, leaving all of my friends & family (except my son) behind.  As a result I can honestly say I don't have a person at this point in my life that I can call my best friend - I have in the past, but I don't now.  This sometimes leaves me sad & feeling all alone, but then I stop and ponder & realize I have some wonderful faithful friends - I'm not their best friend & likely never will be, but I am loved & supported by these friends.  I'm going to tell you about my faithful friend Phyllis, and she'd probably be embarrassed knowing I'm telling about her, but she really stands out lately.  When the Tuesday morning ladies class this fall needed a new administrator I asked Phyllis (she has the right skills) & she said yes - helping all the teachers (not just me).  When I needed hostesses for an event at my home last week & asked Phyllis she again said yes.  And if she's in town & I need to be away for more than a few days guess who always comes through as a cat sitter for me... that's right, Phyllis.  Phyllis retired this last Summer, and having gone through that myself I've made a point of trying to be supportive of Phyllis as she finds her way in this new era of her life, my prayer is that I would be a faithful friend for her as well.

In todays lesson we're going to see how David's faithful friends show him love and support in this time of great need, many go unnamed but not forgotten - God knows who they are & how they blessed David.

2 Samuel 16:15-19 - Absalom is able to come in and take over Jerusalem without a fight, bringing Ahithophel with him.  Ahithophel had been one of David's trusted advisors, now he is betraying David by siding with Absalom.  But fear not, one of David's faithful friends, Hushai, is here to greet Absalom as he takes over as king - Hushai is also one of David's trusted advisors & is part of an espionage team David has set in place while he's in exile.  Absalom is a little suspicious of Hushai, but Hushai manages to convince him that he's there to serve Absalom now.

2 Samuel 16:20-23 - Absalom is trying to establish his position as king, and Ahithophel advises him to do so by sleeping with the concubines King David left behind to care for the palace.  Though this was sound strategic & political advice, this is not something God would approve of.  Sometimes we too may get advice that is sound for the purposes of finance, position, business or the like - no matter how sound the advice, we need to always ensure that taking that advice doesn't go against God's ways.  No profit in this world is worth a loss in eternity.  Apparently Absalom thought this was good advice & did as Ahithophel advised - Ahithophel had a reputation of providing sound advice.  In doing this one of Nathan's prophecies against David was fulfilled (2 Samuel 12:11b) that "...I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight".

2 Samuel 17:1-17:4 - Ahithophel continues to give Absalom sound strategic advice, this time about how to best defeat David & return the people who had gone with him.  Ahithophel basically says take a sizable group, 12 thousand men, but don't bother trying to defeat all of David's army, simply target David himself - if you strike David down the people will flee & you won't need to engage David's army.  This is shrewd advice, it's not a contest to see who's army is stronger - this is their own people! 

2 Samuel 17:5-6 - Absalom decides to take advantage of Hushai's service & get a second opinion.  Can you see God at work yet?  Absalom is unwittingly exposing Ahithophel's strategy & allowing himself to be re-directed by someone who has David's best interests at heart.

2 Samuel 17:7-14 - As a reminder from last week, though both Hushai & Ahithophel had been David's advisors, Hushai had been David's most trusted advisor - Absalom knows this.  Hushai undermines Ahithophel's advice, he reminds Absalom that daddy David & his men are experienced successful fighting men, and raises doubts about the ability of this force of 12 thousand in going and killing David.  But Hushai doesn't stop there, after undermining Ahithophel's advice he gives a completely new strategy for Absalom to consider, one that involves a much larger force - he is advising Absalom to go "all in", to use all force at his disposal, and in this way to guarantee success by sheer numbers.

What I find interesting about Hushai's advice is that it sounds humanly sound, and so Absalom & his men take it and consider it better than Ahithophel's.  What Absalom & his men fail to realize is that God is also in the equation, and that no amount of sheer number of human forces is going to win against God.  Absalom is risking much more by taking Hushai's advice, more of his men could be harmed & thus his reputation & strength could be more greatly undermined.  God used David's faithful friend to undermine David's betrayer & to defeat Absalom.

2 Samuel 17:15-16 - Faithful Friends #2 & 3 - Zadok & Abiathar the priests were also left behind by David as part of his espionage network, and Hushai goes to them to get a message sent to David.  Basically he's giving David a heads-up that Absalom is on his way, and advises him to get his entire entourage across the Jordan.  The Jordan river could be crossed, but only with time & effort - if David and his entourage didn't cross the Jordan they'd be trapped up against it as Absalom and his troops arrived.

2 Samuel 17:17-20 - Faithful Friends #4 & 5 - Jonathan & Ahimaaz the sons of the priests, as well as an unnamed faithful servant girl (Faithful Friend #6), are set up to get and pass the message along to David.  At some point in the process this little part of the espionage team gets exposed and a second betrayer, this time an unnamed young man, tells Absalom that something is amiss with Jonathan & Ahimaaz (J&A).  Realizing they are in danger, J&A exit quickly and take refuge at the home of Faithful Friends #7 & 8 - an unnamed man of Bahurim & his unnamed wife.

The couple in Bahurim had a well, and had wisely built their home around the well, forming a courtyard that provided it protection.  I'm guessing that it wasn't common knowledge beyond their circle of family & friends that they had a well, but J&A knew about it and were able to hide there.  The wife pulled the cover over the well, they frequently had covers for wells since they were typically a hole in the ground (no little wall around it like you see in picture books) & you wouldn't want a person or animal to fall in accidentally.  To hide the well the woman simply spread out some grain, making it look as if she were getting ready to work the grain in her courtyard & providing ideal camouflage for the well.

An interesting side note: Shimei, the one who was cursing David & his entourage in Chapter 16, was from Bahurim.  I wonder if this was God's purpose in Shimei's actions - if Shimei were home, rather than following & cursing David, would he have told Absalom's men about the well?

Absalom's men inquire of the woman where J&A have gone, and she tells them they went off toward the brook - she sends them in the wrong direction, this results in Absalom's men going back to Jerusalem empty-handed.

2 Samuel 17:21-23 - J&A make it to David, they pass along the message, and David gets his entire entourage safely across the Jordan.  Meanwhile, Ahithophel sees that Absalom isn't taking his advice & assumes Absalom will be defeated.  Instead of waiting around to be condemned as a traitor Ahithophel heads home, puts his affairs in order, and hangs himself.

2 Samuel 17:24-26 - David moves his entourage on to Mahanaim, they will wait there for Absalom's forces to cross the Jordan & come after them.  Absalom appoints Amasa as his general, Amasa is cousin to both Absalom & Joab (David's general); he is also David's nephew from his older half-sister Abigail (same mother, who probably had been widowed & then remarried to Jesse, David's father). 

2 Samuel 17:27-29 - Faithful Friends #9, 10 & 11 - If you're like me sometimes these names can just seem confusing, but these are significant people and they come alongside David at this point to provide him and his entourage with much needed supplies.  Here's a bit more about these three:

Shobi - an Ammonite, the brother of Hanun whom David had defeated.  Apparently David's treatment of the Ammonite people had been good or we wouldn't be seeing the support of the brother of a defeated warrior.  David was a kindly king to the peoples he conquered.

Makir - this was the wealthy benefactor who had taken in Mephibosheth when he was in exile, before David had called the crippled son of Jonathan to join him in Jerusalem.  So yet another of those who had cared for Mephibosheth was siding with David (also Ziba in Chapter 16).

Barzillai - an elderly but very wealthy man, with family ties to the priesthood, and who supported David all through this period of exile.

David had a way with people, despite being a warrior.  Perhaps it was the poet side of him, the sensitive side, that allowed him to garner such faithful friends.

Closing Prayer:  Lord, we thank you for the gift of friends and for the love & support they give.  Lord help us to be a people who come alongside our friends, to love & support them, even if we're not acknowledged & even if our loyalty is not reciprocated.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups Again:
2.  When was the last time you were a "friend in need" to someone?  What was your motivation?  How did helping this person make you feel?

3.  Pray for each other.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Life of David - Lesson 32

Disobedient Sons & Loyal Friends - 2 Samuel 15:1-16:14

Prayer: Lord as we study your word today we thank you that you promise wisdom to those who seek it, help us to be a people who seek your wisdom.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups:
1. What kinds of problems are caused by lies - yes, even "little white lies"?

Absalom is back in David's good graces, but I'm guessing its been made known that he is no longer heir to David's throne, so he's going to take matters into his own hands.  2 Samuel Chapter 14 told us that Absalom was handsome, with an amazing head of hair, and appealed to the people of Israel - he was the A-List celebrity of his day.  So lets see what Absalom does with his popularity...

2 Samuel 15:1 - Two interesting things are happening here: First Absalom has provided himself with an entourage of bodyguards, making a display of royal pomp - this is not something normally done in Israel so perhaps he learned this while in exile with his Grandfather, the king of Geshur.  Second Absalom chooses to utilize horses, it is believed that he was the first Israelite leader to utilize a chariot & horses - there are a couple reasons for this: (Deuteronomy 17:16) God had decreed that the king of Israel was not to acquire a great number of horses, a king riding a horse was considered a king of war where a king riding on a donkey (Jesus) was considered a king of peace.

2 Samuel 15:2-6 - Absalom is handsome, he's got horses & an entourage, he's going out of his way to convince the people that he would be available when they needed him, he's campaigning to be a judge for the people.  He's a hybrid of a con-man and a politician, he's even doing the middle-eastern equivalent of shaking hands & kissing babies.  He "stole" the hearts of the people.  He is a liar & a thief, just like his father the devil.  If you think I'm over-exaggerating just wait and see what he does next.

2 Samuel 15:7-12 - Four Years!!  Absalom has been up to his shenanigans at the gate of the city, telling people what they wanted to hear & drawing them over to himself.  How in the world did David not have a clue?  Was David living in blissful ignorance thinking all was well with the kingdom because people weren't bringing as many problems to him?  How is it David's government hadn't gotten wind of what Absalom was up to?

So now he goes up to daddy the king and lies to his face, he tells David that he wants to fulfill a vow to the Lord when in truth he is hatching a plot against David.  He even claims he's going to worship the Lord, which is far from true.  I'm guessing that Abaslom is fulfilling a vow, but a vow of vengeance, perhaps made when he was under grand-daddy the king of Geshur - a vow to take the throne of Israel by force if necessary (but that is just my guess).

David sends Absalom away in peace, but Absalom isn't interested in peace, he's got everything planned out, and he gathers people in to his conspiracy against the king.  One person he draws to himself is Ahithophel, a wise man & counselor to David - this is a betrayal by a trusted advisor.  Ahithophel was Bathsheba's grandfather, perhaps he didn't like what David had done to Uriah, or perhaps he didn't like Bathsheba being one of many women in David's household, we really don't know.

2 Samuel 15:13-18 - When David gets wind of the conspiracy he chooses to flee, I'm guessing the servant gave him an extensive account of Absalom's actions & forces & that Ahithophel had gone over to him.  By fleeing David spares the city of Jerusalem from attack, and spares his family as well - all but 10 concubines.  These concubines would end up being the cause of the fulfillment of one of Nathan's prophecies (2 Samuel 12:11), when Absalom took over the position of king the concubines became his to take as he pleased - we'll see more about this in next week's passage.  The king still had many who were loyal to him, including some groups of foreigners who had taken David as their king, and they left Jerusalem with him.

2 Samuel 15:19-22 - David addresses the Philistine contingent, he is not expecting them to be loyal to him & releases them from any obligation.  But Ittai & his men have allied themselves with David, they want him as their leader, they must have seen something in him that they'd not seen in other kings (or at least not in Absalom), so Ittai & the Philistine contingent remain with David.

2 Samuel 15:23-29 - Later, as they passed through the countryside there are still many people in Israel loyal to David, and they wept aloud as he passed by on his way to the desert.  But then the narrative backs up a bit to tell us about some things that happened along the way.  Just outside the city, the priests had brought out the Ark of the Covenant & offered sacrifices while the people were leaving Jerusalem.  David asks the priests to remain in Jerusalem, stating that if it is God's will he will be back - the Ark is God's not David's, in the mean time he asks that the priests & their sons provide him with intelligence concerning Absalom & his forces. 

2 Samuel 15:30-37 - Still near Jerusalem, at the Mount of Olives, David leads a group in a humble procession up the mount to pray.  David's prayer is simple: "turn Ahithophel's counsel into foolishness".  (1 Chronicles 27:33) Hushai was there, another trusted member of David's court, his title from Chronicles of "king's friend" is the official title for the king's most trusted advisor - I'm not sure why he would be a burden, perhaps he was quite old or infirmed (or both).  In any case David asks him to stay behind, to undermine Ahithophel & to provide intelligence to the priests to pass along to him.  David has effectively set up his espionage team, the gathering would be done by Hushai, and the transmitting would be done by the sons of the priests.

2 Samuel 16:1-4 - Just a bit further along his way to the desert, just after leaving the summit of the Mount of Olives, another loyal man comes along.  We met Ziba previously in 2 Samuel 9, he was the steward of Saul's family holdings & had kept things in order while the family was in exile.  Ziba had been instrumental in brining Jonathan's crippled (grown) son Mephibosheth into David's court, and providing for him - doing so in service to both Saul's family & the king.  Ziba brings provisions for the king, Ziba would have been old & still needed in his service in Jerusalem.  When Mephibosheth was returned Ziba & his household had to step down from enjoying Saul's holdings as if they were their own, and become Mephibosheth's servants.  Now because Mephibosheth is siding with Absalom David grants all of Saul's holdings to Ziba, this will only work if David gets back his position as king, but it is a beautiful gesture on David's part to someone who has sacrificed for David's sake.  David had not turned his back on Jonathan's son, but Jonathan's son has turned his back on David.  Perhaps he was hoping that his family will be restored as the royal family - something his father Jonathan gave up willingly to David (1 Samuel 18:1-4).

2 Samuel 16:5-14 - One more person along the way, but this is not a loyal friend.  Shimei thought that God was punishing David, and Abisahi (David's nephew & one of his commanders) want's to take off his head.  David will have none of this, David realizes that what is happening may be the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy, and that this may be part of God's plan.  David even says "the Lord has told him to", David sees God's purpose being played out in the man's cursing (Romans 8:28).  They continue on their journey & finally arrive, and thanks at least in part to Ziba's gifts they are refreshed.

Closing Prayer:  Lord, sometimes our families let us down, sometimes our friends, but Lord we know that you are a friend that remains closer than a brother.  Your Word tells us you will never leave or forsake us, for that we are thankful.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups Again:
2.  What makes a faithful friend?  Tell of a time when a friend stood by you.
3.  Pray for each other.