Three ‘P’s today: ‘Persecution’, ‘Prayer’, and ‘Possessions’. The religious authorities deeply resented Peter’s miracle for several reasons: (1) They couldn’t do any, so they were very jealous; (2) Peter and John were uneducated country folk, who had followed up their miracle with some of the most persuasive bible teaching ever heard in the temple courts; (3) The miracle was effective in drawing many thousands into the ‘net’ of the new Christian faith. So it was down to the Rulers and High Priests to put a stop to it.
Whatever question was asked of Peter and John, the answer seemed to be ‘Jesus’, and they did not shrink from pointing the finger at the role the authorities played in executing Jesus in the first place. Peter then declared Jesus as the only means to finding favour with God: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (v12). Peter must have been reminded of Jesus himself, who declared: “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life; no-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When you have the only cure in life, you are not going to put it away easily! Peter and John refused point-blank to obey the authorities, since they could only obey The Authority!
After the Apostles’ release, the whole church gathered and lifted their voices together in prayer (it must have sounded awesome!). They praised, they prayed scripture, they prayed for boldness rather than safety, and they prayed for more miracles on their streets. God answered, and how the buildings shook!
The grace of God’s Spirit in them did, arguably, an even greater miracle – it opened their wallets! God achieved in his church what the world’s future Communists could only dream about: total community living with no grasping of possessions or property. No-one was poor among them because everyone was generous. Money was literally, no object. Having eradicated poverty in their midst, they continued to give generously, placing their gifts at the disposal of their apostolic leaders, and entrusting their distribution to them. Unlike Communism, this flood of generosity and redistribution was voluntary and empowered by an inner change of heart in every individual. Light years distant from centralised taxation!
2 SAMUEL 11 and 12
Question: “Why did God reject Saul after one or two relatively minor acts of weakness, and yet forgive David, who committed adultery and murder?” That’s a tricky one, isn’t it! 2 Samuel chapters 8, 9, and 10 were David’s high point as king; after that we come to the Bathsheba incident, when the king abused his position of power, stole a loyal and brave subject’s wife, and covered up his sin and embarrassment by murdering the person likely to uncover Bathsheba’s illicit pregnancy. Both adultery and murder were, of course, punishable by death under Mosaic Law and only God’s mercy effectively kept David alive.
The other interesting question is: “Are forgiveness and punishment mutual opposites?”. David was clearly forgiven by the Lord and yet Lord inflicted severe punishments upon David and his family as a result of his crimes. Doesn’t forgiveness mean that the punishment has been waived?
The path of temptation is a slippery one, and yet there are always firm foot holds along the way if you want to see them. David’s first and biggest mistake was to stay at home when his army went to war. Kings were supposed to lead their troops on campaigns – if not actually into battle – to pray for their commanders and generally raise morale. David was at home doing… nothing very much. There was no evidence that he was ill or otherwise occupied, but there was plenty of indication that he was bored, in that he awoke from his bed in the evening and wandered around the roof of his house. “The Devil finds work for idle hands” is a very true observation, as is Paul’s comments about ‘busybodies’ who are idle and disruptive. Laziness generally hunts in packs with other sins!
So David caught a glimpse of a stunningly beautiful naked woman, bathing on the roof of her own house, probably unaware that she was in the direct gaze of the king. No sin so far. You cannot help what catches your eye. But you can help what you continually look at, which is what David clearly did for the next half-hour or so. For men, most sexual temptations begin with the ‘visual’ and this then triggers the imagination and alerts the other senses, stirring up lust. If David had left it at a few illicit glances and thoughts, then Chapters 11 and 12 would not have existed (although we might have wondered why 2 Samuel jumped straight from 10 to 13!). But he then abused his position of authority and had his servants make discreet enquiries, discovering that Bathsheba was the wife of a trusted soldier and servant.
There was still time to avoid further sin, but David by now was too full of lust and he slept with her. The Bible comments that she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness – which meant her monthly period. This tells us two things: firstly that she was not already pregnant, and secondly that she was at peak fertility, given that the time of ritual uncleanness ended a week after the monthly flow had ended. The almost inevitable pregnancy happened.
This was a problem, since her husband had not been near her for a while and would have known that she wasn’t pregnant before he went off to war. The only way that David could keep ‘the lid’ on their sinful affair was to persuade Uriah to sleep with his wife a.s.a.p.! On a pretext, he was ordered back from the battle front and given every opportunity to do just that but refused on grounds of loyalty to his comrades in arms; such loyalty was to be the death of him! The only way to hide the identity of the father of Bathsheba’s child was to kill Uriah – which David effectively did by subterfuge. At the end of Chapter 11, there is the ominous statement that “the thing David had done displeased the Lord”.
It’s not easy to criticise the most powerful person in the land, and I imagine that Nathan must have had several sleepless nights before confronting the king. So he spun him a story to get David emotionally on his side – and David swallowed it whole! “You’re the man!” said Nathan and made David realise how far he’d fallen. His punishment was to see four of his sons die (the fourfold retribution/restitution demanded by the Law) and his own wives/concubines raped in public a little later on. And yet God said: “I forgive you”. And God made sure that David didn’t die.
God struck down the child with a fatal sickness and ignored David’s fasting and self-abasement. The child died and then David said a very interesting thing: “I will go to him, but he will not return to me”. David was very prophetic and was almost certainly looking beyond the grave to a redeemed afterlife; he seems to be affirming that this young infant was being carried to the same eternal kingdom as he later expected to enter.
Life moved on; another baby was born, named Solomon, and “…the Lord loved him”. David was forgiven and was resigned to living through the punishments prophesied by the Lord through Nathan. But his life was never quite at the same level of joy and purity as it had been before these sordid events; his kingdom was also much less secure as a result too.