Sunday, March 14, 2010

2 Samuel 22-24: David's Last Days

We're coming to the end of another book, and at the same time we're coming to the end of David's reign.  He's just returned to Jerusalem after Absalom chased him out and after the other guy revolted against him, so he sings a psalm praising God for delivering him from all his enemies, from Saul onward.  The song is also found in Psalm 18, by the way.  The heading in my Bible calls it "David's Psalm of Deliverance," and it's all about the faithfulness of God, the greatness of God, and all the ways that God has saved David.  It talks about how God delivered David because David was righteous and kept God's commands.  This kind of runs contrary to what we're generally told about how God deals with people, that it's not about how good we are.  And when it comes to our eternal salvation, that's true, because nobody is beyond needing to be saved.  But with life's problems, the truth is that it pays to do the right thing.  God does reward obedience - he rewarded the Israelites, he rewarded David, and He rewards us too, although we don't always know when or how it'll happen.

Next, David sings a song declaring the greatness of God and rejoicing in God's covenant with him.  Things are good.

Then the story shifts to talking about David's "mighty men."  These are the heroes of David's army, the bravest of the brave and the strongest of the strong.  It lists all the names of the Thirty (there are 37 of them), but it talks in greater detail about the Three, who are the bravest of the bravest of the brave and the strongest of the strongest of the strong, and it briefly mentions each of their military exploits.  But then it tells about another adventure they had that was of a different nature - one time when they were at war, David said something about wishing for water from the well at his hometown, and his three mighty men sneak through the Philistine ranks and risk their necks to get David some of the water.  When they come back and present him with the water, he is too overwhelmed with their sacrifice to drink the water, and he pours it out as an offering to God.  This might sound like a really ungrateful thing to do, but I think offering it to God was really a way of honoring the men for what they did - kind of like, just saying thank you would not have been enough.  One time in college, I wasn't feeling too well.  I tend to crave apples when I'm not feeling well, but our college cafeteria only had icky mushy apples.  My favorite apples in the world are Galas.  I said something at dinner about wishing I had a Gala apple.  A few moments later Justin left the table without a word.  He returned an hour later with a giant bag of Gala apples.  I was so grateful that I think I was speechless for a minute.  Unlike David, though, I ate the apples.

Then something weird happens: David takes a census of Israel.  What's weird is, I don't understand this first sentence of chapter 24.  It says, "Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, 'Go, number Israel and Judah."  What did Israel do to make God mad, and why did David's anger give him the idea to take a census?  Was that such a miserable experience that he thought it would teach them a lesson or something?  I have no idea.  But David tells Joab to do it, and Joab warns David that it's not a good idea, but David wants to do it anyway so they do.  For some reason God doesn't like this, and David feels guilty about it.  I'm not sure why - maybe God doesn't want David to know the size of his army, kind of like the Gideon situation where he wanted the people to know God was the one who won their victories.  Whatever the reason, God gives David a choice of 3 punishments for his actions.  The choices are basically between natural disasters or or being chased by enemies.  David says he'd rather fall into the hands of God than men, so God sends a plague.  Then David feels guilty because a bunch of people are sick and dying for his stupid mistake, so he prays and builds an altar, and God hears him and ends the plague.  And that's how this book ends.  Kind of a sudden ending, huh?

I think the idea with this last passage is the faithfulness of God in spite of the faithfulness of man.  That is to say, David acted righteously, and God was faithful.  Then David acted unrighteously, and God was still faithful.  It's like that verse that says that when we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

So it pays to do the right thing, but the truth is that we don't always do the right thing.  Even when we mess up, though, we can turn to God and rely on His mercy.

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