1 CHRONICLES 19, 20, 21 and 22
What started as a kindness ended in a full-scale war. Such is the power of misunderstanding! David simply wanted to express his sympathy to the new king of the Ammonites, over the death of the previous king – all this is almost identically in 2 Samuel 10 and 1 Chronicles 19. David, just like the Lord, was a person of great kindness and generosity and these characteristics are liable to be misunderstood or misconstrued by cynical people who are unused to being shown love and concern. Jesus himself described the Father as in this way (Luke 6:35): “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked”.
David’s envoys were treated very shamefully (half a beard is much worse than no beard!) and then the Ammonites came to their senses; anticipating swift revenge by Israel, they decided that attack was the best form of defence, and advanced upon David’s forces. The question of whether David would have taken revenge for the initial insult is therefore academic. Splitting his army into two forces, in order to match the enemy’s battle lines, David did indeed take revenge, destroying first the Aramean mercenary army, paid to fight on the Ammonite’s side, and then the Ammonites themselves. They were all forced to make peace with Israel and become Israel’s slaves.
One of the lessons from today’s reading is that you must count the cost before engaging in risky warfare; in the same way, we must count the cost of following Christ as a disciple. Salvation is certainly a free gift, but – fully adopted – it should also cost you your entire life!
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 most 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 footholds 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 – and 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 must have done 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, who was not at home at the time!
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 period. This tells us two things: firstly that she was not already pregnant, and secondly that she was at peak fertility since 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; that 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 criticize 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 (which was only slightly more discreet than ‘gotcha!’) and made David realize 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 expected to enter later.
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.
What was wrong with David counting the number of fighting men in Israel? Why did God get so angry when David took a census of his warriors? It is certainly interesting that this all happens in the context of God being angry, not with David, but with Israel – reason unknown. Perhaps it was for taking sides with Absalom against God’s anointed king. 1 Chronicles states that Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census; in 2 Samuel, God incited David. Is there a contradiction? No. We do not believe in a dualist kind of divine setup (good god verses bad god). We believe in the supreme God, the Creator of everything – even of Satan before he fell – who is in complete and sovereign control of our universe, physical and non-physical. Satan, therefore, is merely a created being who is very powerful, but no match for the Lord himself; Satan can only do anything with God’s express permission and has a restricted authority for a time on this earth. Therefore if Satan incited David, it was because the Lord allowed it and used it for his own purposes.
The reason God himself was offended was probably because it was occasioned by David’s pride and a tendency to put his trust in human military numbers, rather than in God himself. the Lord was the true King of Israel and David was anointed to rule under his authority; for David to take that particular census must have been offensive to God and an attempt to usurp God’s rule and position. Even the power-hungry, scheming Joab had the sense to question David’s judgment on this one and to realize that it would bring guilt upon the nation. The census took more than nine months!
No sooner was David’s conscience pricked than the prophet, Gad, brought a word of judgment from the Lord – giving David a choice of punishments for Israel (not for David). David chooses a completely divine punishment, reasoning that a punishment delivered by evil men would not possess the mercy that God would later show. So a great plague begins, delivered by and angel, who finally stands against Jerusalem itself awaiting God’s command to completely destroy it. God tells Gad to tell David to offer a sacrifice quickly.
Looking around for a suitable venue, David spots the piece of land that the Lord has indicated and purchases it from its owner; it is the land on Mount Moriah where much earlier Abraham offered his son Isaac, and nearby the place that, much later, God offered his Son Jesus. A precious place! David will not offer a sacrifice that cost him nothing – or else it wouldn’t be a sacrifice, would it! – and so he buys the threshing floor and everything on it and the land around it. The sacrifice is accepted, the punishment is over, and the plague is stopped.
1 Chronicles 22:1 is the ‘light bulb’ moment; it is the reason for everything that went on in the previous chapter: the newly purchased threshing floor is to become the site of the Temple of the Lord, planned by David and built by Solomon. David, the warrior, had shed too much blood, and it is highly significant that the Lord’s Temple, his earthly footstool, would be built by a man of peace. Nevertheless, David provided large amounts of the raw material for that edifice, which mirrored spiritually the foundational work that he did to prepare for the ‘golden age’ of Solomon’s reign.
The main lesson of today, I believe, is that we must learn to trust in the Lord, and not in our own resources. It is not wrong to monitor your bank account or to know how much food you have in the larder; what is wrong is to rely on these things and to store up wealth and provisions as though they will rescue you in the day of disaster. That is what God is for!