Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Here comes David!

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’
Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” (I Samuel 16:1 – 3)

King Saul, favored by the people. A man’s man (I assume) but not God’s man. And God is not sitting idle while King Saul is proving that he is not the type of follower that God desires. I like that the Divine says “I have provided for myself.” This tells me that the man (young boy right now) is being prepared for the role to come. It reminds me of all the prophecies about Jesus, which in a way is a sort of preparation as well. In Jesus God has provided for a Savior. He comes also from Bethlehem.

It also tells me that God is ever preparing and foreseeing what needs to happen. We do not always see or understand the movements of God. But what happens because of free will and what happens by God’ preparations and provisions come together in marvelous ways.

Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the LORD.” (Verses 4 – 6)

What does “Godly” look like? What does faithful and righteous look like? Saul looked “good” if my memory of his coming to kingship is accurate. As I remember the priests who served in the Lord’s house were to be without physical flaw. But good looks do not always mean good inside.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (Verse 7)

Remember too that God and Samuel warned the people that a conventional human king like the other nations have is no guarantee of good leadership.

Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Now notice the change, that Samuel tells Jesse that the Lord is choosing someone to be in the Lord’s direct service – or at least I assume that Samuel has not told Jesse the full reason. May be he has.

“Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Ah! Looks do mean something. David was healthy, with dark eyes. While not a presence like his brothers, He was pleasing to the eye. And, he was in front of his brothers set apart by Samuel’s anointing.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.” (Verse 13)

With the writer of I Samuel saying that “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David” I have to wonder, when is one prepared to serve the Lord? Before? While there was something about David when he was anointed, it seems like after that anointing he was prepared in earnest by the Lord. And that actually gives me hope; if I feel the Lord taping me on my shoulder to say “I have something in mind for you” I should not be concerned that I am not ready. The Lord will make me ready, in ways I may not ever understand.

We continue our journey through Lent – least you forget. We prepare ourselves as the Lord makes preparations concerning us. May we follow the Lord’s path and trust in the Lord’s providence and provision. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Peering in to the mind and life of King David (and me)

Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God,
for to you I pray.” (Psalm 5:1-2)

When I first sat down to write on these verses, I knew I was not ready too. I was feeling very impatient and stressed. I find that happens a lot with the psalm; if the psalm is one of lament, I can not put up with “hearing” another person wail and complain. And if the psalm is one of joy and thanksgiving, I do not want to “hear” it because I am too deep in the depths of my own sorrow to hear another’s joy. This is an important consideration when writing about and commenting on any passage of scripture. You must be able to approach it responding only to what is there, and not the “baggage” that you bring to it. Not, mind you, one’s own and unique perspective but one’s passing prejudices and biases. Today, beloved reader, I am able to approach this psalm as it ought to be. And thankful that the Lord did hear MY words and sighing when I was in the depths of my own stuff.

O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.
The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.” (Verses 3 – 6)

David, that is King David, is an interesting case study. He gets himself into these situations and then pleas to God for help and deliverance. I wonder if it ever occurred to him (because it has occurred to me) that if he resisted temptation a little more carefully and thought through things a little more clearly, he might not get himself into these types of problems. I think, further, when they say David was God’s man or a man after God’s own heart, it is meant that he came to the Lord with all his problems and challenges. And was not shy or embarrassed about letting others know that he had gotten himself into another difficult situation. I have to assume this because he gave these psalms to people to put them to music and have them sung publicly. And I admire that, and applaud his regularly going to and depending on God. (See, that is the value in waiting until I feel better – I can see the good and the positive.)

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house,
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.” (Verses 7- 8)

I wondered about these last few verses, wanting to make sure I had straight in my own mind – before I wrote to/for you beloved reader – what they meant. King David is accordingly, in a round-about way, that he can be a doof; and rather than giving his enemies MORE proof of his doofiness, he wanted to be sure that he had the Lord’s guidance and direction straight in his own mind. That I admire too.

May you, beloved reader, come to the Lord with all that is in your head and your world. May you ask for the Lord’s direction before you proceed. And may the Lord guide you in all things. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Of Nights, Mornings, and King David

“I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”
(Psalms 30:1 – 3)

My NRSV tells me this is a song of David on the recovery from a grave illness. I am glad for David. I have felt the same way many times when I have been ill and have recovered the health I felt was lost. I tend to believe that once I get ill that I will NEVER feel better again. But I do. At least in terms of the passing illness. But I also have a chronic illness that I will never get better from, so in a way what David is talking about is slightly foreign to me. In one respect, I am still in “the Pit.”

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Weeping – I have done that a lot for various reasons. Sometimes physical, and sometimes emotional. My soul and spirit grieves at times, and I seek relief. The “night” sometimes does not just last for one night but goes on and on. So I look for “morning” – yearning for it and needing. I know that each “night” is followed by a “morning”, but the nights are long. However, I am not alone for God’s Spirit is with me.

“As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Verse 6)

As for me, in MY prosperity (whenever that might have been) I was always fearful that it would not last. Prosperity can have many meanings, and I take it to mean (and bible commentators tend to agree with me on this one) times when there is no worry and the things one needs are readily available and in abundance. I guess it is good to be the king. However, the psalmist David has more to say on this.

“By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: ”What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”(Verses 7 – 10)

In other words, “How can I praise you if you don’t rescue me God!” Spoken like one who has come out the other side of sadness and despair. But in the midst of grave illness or other misfortunes it is easy to get caught up in one’s own spiraling down thoughts. We need others to remind us that things can get better – if better is taken as a relative term.

Maybe you have guessed, beloved reader, I am going through something on the day I am writing this; trying to remain positive but feeling more of the “night” than the “morning. It is good for me to remember though that morning will come. As the psalmist David says,

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Selah!

Season After Pentecost – The Last Words of King David (The Old Testament Passage)

Again, it took the The Message translation to help me understand what these last words by King David were meant to convey. I have them cited as the NRSV but I hope with my explanations you can see and understand the intent. If not, feel free to look up The Message translation for yourself. My passage by passage explanation is just as much for my own benefit and thought process as yours.

Now these are the last words of David:
The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:” (II Samuel 23:1)

You might think, as I first did, that this is King David’s boast about himself; and it is, in a sense. But it is also his rationale for making such a final statement – that he is a man who was called by God and answered that call. Judge him as you may, but in all things he says, he was called and strove to follow God. He builds on this when he says,

The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” (Verses 2-4)

Here is where I resist thinking, and reminding the writer of II Samuel, of all the missteps that King David made. But really, when you compare David to modern politicians, he did not do so badly. Or, no worse than other rulers. And under David’s rule, the people always knew that David tried to be true to God’s message and intent. Who of us has not taken missteps with trying to follow God?

Is not my house like this with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? (Verse 5)

Okay, so David was the king. And it was good to be the king, receiving and enjoying all the kingly things. God promised that if David would be the type of king that God wanted , David would received all that he desired. So, God keeps the Divine’s promises. We can rest in and be assured of that. The Message adds an additional sense that David also wanted above all things salvation.

Interesting, some translation allow some doubt to creep in that perhaps David’s rule and household were not always the way God wanted them to be. That gives an interesting interpretation to the verses that follow.

“But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.” (Verses 6-7)

However one may look upon David’s rule and his household, it is true what David says, that the godless are difficult to be with and handle. And if not literally, will in the fullness of time figuratively by consumed by fire.

The kings and rulers that followed King David were a mixed collection; some took the Godly path that David sought to follow. Others took the worst of David’s examples and built on and embellished that. We make choices every day, beloved reader, of what we will and will not do, whether we will or will not follow God. May our choices bring us ever closer to God. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Living as a Christian in the turmoil of your world (The Old Testament Passage)

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.” (II Samuel 18:5)

Things had not been going in David’s kingdom – not at all! Absalom, David’s son, had moved and maneuvered himself in position to try to take over David’s kingship. And since David was not ready to “throw in the crown”, a battle ensued. Part of the kingdom backed David and part of the kingdom backed Absalom. Armies were gathered together and sent out. As they left David hoped and said aloud that that he wanted Absalom to survive.

So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.” (Verses 6 – 8)

And as in all battles, there were winners and losers. David’s army was victories over Absalom’s forces. King David had to wait back at his home (the palace in the city) for news of the battle. Absalom, however, was out in the thick of things.

Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.” (Verse 9)

The RCL skips over some of the details of when Absalom was found by David’s army hanging from the tree. He was found by a common foot soldier who reported this to Joab, but this foot soldier took no action, remembering King David’s wish that Absalom be dealt with gently. Joab (yes, the same Joab who allowed the death of Uriah the Hittite) was not inclined to be gentle however, and struck Absalom in the heart and . . .

And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.” (Verse 15)

The news was then carried to King David, in the typical fashion of good news from the battle field.

Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” (Verses 31 & 32)

Well, what did King David expect? The people of Israel had told God and Samuel that wanted a king like the other nations. And Samuel had tried to warn them of what a king was like. David saw what happened to King Saul and all of his family (well, most all). David himself was quite ruthless on some occasions. Absalom also made his choice, raising up against his father, David.

I do not mean to be harsh and cruel, beloved reader. But tragedy comes to those who place themselves in the ways of aggression and war.

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (Verse 33)

However, another truth is that tragedy comes to those who resist and turn aside from aggression and war too. There is no safe harbor when violence and war goes marching out. I am sure David never thought when he was just a shepherd boy defending his flock that such misery and loss would come into his life.

This is the last installment that the RCL has from King’s David’s life. As I am sure you know, this was not the last tragic event in David’s life. He remained, as much as he was able, a man of God. And is honored as such. But his life also teaches us important lessons.

There are many ways of following God; or more correctly stated, people have attempted to follow God in many ways. We can see and read the choices they have made, and the outcomes. May you, beloved reader, chose carefully how you will follow God. Test your intentions against the Holy Spirit, and against the word of God as it is interpreted to you. Shalom and selah!

Season After Pentecost – Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon . . . . A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. (The Psalm Passage)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

Mercy is not just for when we sin. Mercy can be for anything that we are up against and seems to large for us to manage; and so we ask for mercy so that what threatens to overwhelm is, will not. But setting aside that idea – for the issue of things that overwhelm is stronger in my mind than the issue of sin . . .

. . . according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1b)

That is not to say I do not have “transgressions” but at this particular moment they are not heavy in my thinking. So I can be objective, and not lapse into revealing of personal issues that would be uncomfortable for all.
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.” (Verses 2-3)

Can you imagine the utter feeling of sin if it literally was ever before you?! I do not know what David might have thought represented his sin that was ever before him. I hope it was not Bathsheba, the sight of her being pregnant with the child that caused Uriah the Hittite’s death. Did Bathsheba feel that “sin” literally and figuratively pressing on her day and night? It would be interesting to know what her reflections and thoughts were during this time. I do not know if feminist or womanist thinking could or would appropriate this psalm as Bathsheba. It would certainly be more complex that anything King David could have penned.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, . . . “ (Verse 4a)

Oh really?! Had King David already tried to atone and make right what he did to Uriah, Bathsheba, and the pain to the prophet Nathan? I would hope so, that King David said penance in words and actions to those close to him, as well as to God. If not, then any confession to God is not a full and complete one. God demands as much care and attention of the relationship to those around you as to the Divine. Remember that, beloved reader.

. . . so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” (Verse 4b)

In our relationships to others, there needs to be mutual accountability. But with God, we function under the command of God, and God’s command . . . . is probably more thorough and complex than I want to get into here.

“Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Verse 5)

This is a theological point that I cannot totally agree with. Humans are born with the innate trait to become sinners. But a child newly born is with out sin, but is born into a world that is riff with sin. And shame to those who first lead an innocent child into sin!

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” (Verses 6-8)

It may be strange to think that one should be joyful that one is purged, washed (well, maybe not that) and crushed. But I am reminded of a song I have been hearing and listening to lately. The theme of the song is that the cross has washed away all our sins and made us “Flawless” (the song’s title) having received God’s grace. If grace purges us (which hyssop can do if taken internally or can be used as a soap) and makes up clean; and overwhelms to the point of being helpless, then there will be “joy and gladness” and we may just be wiser from the experience.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Verses 9-12)

Let us not forget though that this is King David’s psalm. Not that we should not or cannot use it as a template for us. But David was asking God for a great deal, in comparison to what he did. He deprived Bathsheba of her husband and brought shame upon her. He abused his position as king, both in taking and shaming Bathsheba, killing her husband, making Joab complicit in his sin, and grieving the prophet Nathan. Do not forget the prophet Nathan in this; do not think it did not take a great deal of courage and inner strength for Nathan to confront King David. Do not think prophets, ministers, faith leaders and spiritual directors do not grieve when they have to provide redirection and God’s words of correction.

If David can ask for, with confidence, God’s mercy, forgiveness, and restoration – so can we! Selah beloved reader!

Season After Pentecost – Let the punishment fit the crime, or not (The Old Testament Passage)

“When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.” (II Samuel 11:26-27a)

In any modern day story – especially certain genre of novels and soap operas – this would be the end of the story, and we would move on to the next story. But this is the bible, and this is King David who is supposed to be a man of God, so . . .

“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David.” (II Samuel 11:27b – 12:1a)

What follows is a wonderful allegory about privilege and poverty, and what says should strike home in a many a heart where an abundance of riches have isulated and harden the human heart.

“He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” (Verses 1b-6)

David does not perceive the wrong he had done until Nathan points it out to him. But David is enough of a king and has a compassionate heart that he saw immediately what the rich man had done was wrong. And would have sought to make things right for the poor man. But David did not look into his own heart, but only into the heart and attitude of the rich man in the story. How often, beloved reader, has someone of power and privilege criticized others but do not consider what they do, how they act, and how they live out their attitudes as being needful of scrutiny and correction.

It also says much about Uriah the Hittite. If David with all his wealth and privilege is the “rich man” then does this mean the Uriah had so little of his own? Did he not have recognition as a soldier in David’s army? If Uriah was a “small man” in the large army of the king, one could understand why he declined any favors the king might give. Or maybe it is just that in contrast to King David Uriah was that much lesser that Nathan, for the purpose of the story, easily “cloaked” Uriah under the guise of a “poor man.”

“Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” (Verses 7-12)

Last week I entitled the post for the Old Testament Passage as “When Good and Strong Christians Go Astray”. David’s response to the prophet Nathan’s story shows that he did retain a measure of compassion and goodness. But this is also the beginning of the end of the “golden age” of King David. And it shows there are consequence for going astray.

“David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.“ (Verse 13)

David does not die. But neither does he end his kingship in peace and harmony. It is a rough road ahead for the household of King David.

And what of us, beloved reader? Must we also suffer when we go astray? It is the distinction of the Old and New Testament that sin goes along with suffering. And one has to wonder if those of the Old Testament were more deserving of punishment and suffering than us? As we continue to read the story of King David, we might want to ask ourselves that.