David Mourns for his Son / The Stoning of Stephen: June 12th 2021

2 Samuel 18:19-19:43

Ahiamaaz, son of Zadok, was keen to take the news of Absalom’s death to King David. However, Joab, the commander of David’s army, who had organised the killing of David’s son knew this would not be well received. He asked a dispensable Cushite to deliver the news instead. Joab knew that David had executed bearers of similar news on previous occasions and so it wasn’t a desirable task (2 Sam.18:22).

Ahiamaaz outran the Cushite but didn’t plainly tell David about Absalom’s death. The Cushite caught up and told David about his son’s fate. As Joab had predicted. David did not take the news well but at least he didn’t kill the messengers (2 Sam.18:33).

David wept and mourned for his son – the same son who had betrayed him and wanted him dead. Even though they had won a great victory, his army felt ashamed of their actions. Joab was furious and told David that he had humiliated his men: ‘You love those who hate you and hate those who love you’ (2 Sam.19:6-7). He told David to go and encourage his loyal men or there would be terrible consequences for his rule. To his credit, David accepted this valid criticism and realised his ingratitude. His men had loyally risked their lives for him and he sat down in front of his men (2 Sam.19:8).

It had been a very strange attempted coup. Both sides had been quite civil to each other. King David was generally liked as a monarch and there wasn’t an urgent need to replace him apart from his son having better hair and being slightly more popular. King David didn’t want his son harmed even though he had almost lost his throne to him. The whole affair had left the citizens of Israel and Judah very confused and in conflict with each other.

King David won the hearts of all the men of Judah again and they asked him and his men to return. They met him at the ford over the Jordan to welcome him home. Even Shimei, who had previously shouted curses at David, came to apologise. One of David’s retinue, Abishai, wanted to put Shimei to death for his sins but David rebuked him (2 Sam:19:22) in a similar way to Jesus rebuking James and John for wanting to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-55). David graciously pardoned Shimei.

Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, also came to meet David. He explained that he had wanted to travel with David but had been betrayed by Ziba, his servant. David had earlier given Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s fields but on hearing this version of events ordered that they should be split equally. Mephibosheth said he didn’t want any land. He was just happy to see David home safely.

David wanted to repay his ally, Barzillai, for his support but he wouldn’t allow this. David blessed him instead and allowed him to return home. When David crossed over the Jordan, he was accompanied by all the men of Judah but just half the troops of Israel. This caused a large argument between Judah and Israel over who had more of a claim on David.

David was back in charge over a divided kingdom with the two major divisions bickering with each other. David had shown love for those who cursed and attacked him (Absalom and Shimei), he had demonstrated forgiveness of his enemies (the troops of Israel) and taken on board valid criticism (Joab). David had patiently listened to people’s apologies and excuses (Mephibosheth and Shimei) and he had blessed his friends (Barzillai and Kimham). However, he had punished those who had not followed his instructions. He had appointed the leader of the rebel army, Amasa, as commander of his army in place of Job (2 Sam.19:13). Job had stopped the civil war by killing David’s son but this was in defiance of David’s explicit instructions.

Just as God had punished Saul for not quite following his instructions, David was prepared to remove people who did not show complete obedience. David was a master politician and had managed to negotiate a return to his kingdom but he still had much work to do to reunite the nation.

Acts 7:44-8:3

Stephen finished his history of the Jewish nation with the devastating conclusion: ‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men’ (Acts 7:48). God was not confined just to the Jewish temple, with just the religious elite allowed to communicate with him once a year. Ezekiel had demonstrated in earlier scripture that when the Israelites had been exiled by the Babylonians, God had travelled with them. God is everywhere and in everything (Acts 7:50) and now, through the Holy Spirit, he is powerfully active within every individual Christian.

Stephen suddenly launched a verbal assault on the Sanhedrin. He even disowned them, calling their ancestors ‘your fathers’ rather than ‘our forefathers’ as he had done earlier. Their ancestors had persecuted all the prophets and had now betrayed and murdered the Righteous One (Acts 7:52). They had not obeyed the law and so, according to their own laws, should die. They would do so if they carried on being stiff-necked, resisting the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ invitation to eternal life through baptism and belief in him.

The Sanhedrin were furious. Truth is often unpopular. Stephen wasn’t bothered. He was full of the Holy Spirit. God was actually now living in him but his persecutors did not recognise God right in front of their furious faces. Stephen was consoled by a wonderful vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was soon to join Jesus in heaven as he was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr. Stephen prayed that their sin should not be held against them (Acts 7:60) just as Jesus prayed ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).

A young man, Saul, approved of Stephen’s death. He wanted to persecute and murder all Christians. He would shortly undergo one of the most dramatic transformations in the history of Christianity.

Persecution broke out and all, except the apostles, were scattered (Acts 8:1). Wherever the disciples fled, they preached the gospel and converted many.

God frustrates the plans of evil people. They had hoped to eliminate the church through persecution but their efforts forced the disciples to travel and evangelise; this made the church grow much faster than if they had been left in peace. It must have been distressing for the early Christians to flee from their homes but the miracles, signs, wonders and fruitfulness that the Holy Spirit worked through them brought consolation. ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Psalm 73:1-14

If we are not careful, we can start to ask ourselves why we bother to be Christians. Why do we suffer the abuse, hassle and pain of being ignored? Is it all in vain?

Non-believers can appear to be more prosperous, more confident, carefree and proud about their healthy and strong bodies.

However, envy is a major sin. We need to count the priceless blessings that God has given us throughout our lives. Our treasure is an everlasting treasure in heaven (Matt.6:19-20).

We should not become like the wicked who scoff and speak with malice (Ps.73:8). ‘From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits’ (Ps.73:7).

Our destinies will be completely different. The wicked are on slippery ground and will suddenly be destroyed (Ps.73:18-19). In contrast, we will enter the sanctuary of God.

No matter how poorly we seem to be faring relative to the secular values of the consumerist world, when the Holy Spirit lives within us we have eternal joy in our hearts which can never be shaken: (Galatians 5:22). We should share with the world our testimony of his glorious deeds.

God will eternally be our refuge and our strength.

Image: ChristianeB, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom’s death / Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin: June 11th 2021

2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

David had sent his friend, Hushai, to give poor advice to Absalom (David’s treacherous son who was intent on taking over the country). Absalom suspected Hushai’s motives as he knew he was a good friend of David’s (2 Sam.16:17).

Absalom first of all asked the renowned wise man Ahithophel how to progress his coup. Ahithophel told him to publicly lie with all of David’s ten concubines. This would declare to the whole of Israel that he had formerly set himself against his father. Absalom did this because Ahithophel had a great reputation for giving wise advice (2 Sam.16:23).

Ahithophel then wisely recommended that Absalom should assassinate his father David and bring all the other Israelites back to him. Absalom would have gained the throne if he had done this but God had made him resistant to good advice.

This gave Hushai the chance to propose an alternative strategy. Hushai recommended gathering an enormous army and killing not only David but also all his supporters. He managed to get Absalom to sign up to this plan (2 Sam.17:14). Hushai then sent David a secret message telling him to cross the river Jordan to get away from Absalom’s army.

Aphithophel was so upset that his wise advice had been ignored that he went and hanged himself (2 Sam.17:23). It would have been better for him to stay loyal to King David and to have left Jerusalem with him.

David had travelled to Mahanaim and was treated hospitably by people in the region. They brought him and his army bedding and food.

David mustered his men for battle and wanted to fight with them but they would not allow it. He was too valuable. He stood at the gate of the city in support but begged his soldiers to be gentle with his disloyal son (2 Sam.18:5). It is incredible that David should still want to protect someone who had disrespected his reign and was leading a massive army to kill him.

In the ensuing battle, David’s army killed twenty thousand Israelite soldiers. They probably had far more motivation in that they were fighting for their lives whereas the Israelites were just trying to swap one satisfactory king with another. There is the intriguing statement: ‘the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword’ (2 Sam.18:8), which implies that God was fighting for David in unusual ways. Perhaps the enemy troops ran into the forest in panic and fell into concealed ravines / large pits. They might have been attacked by wild animals or God may even have mobilised the trees to entangle the troops and drop branches on them. I suspect this verse was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Fangorn forest in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Absalom himself fell victim to one of the trees in the forest. His head got caught in the branches of a large oak as he was trying to ride under it and he was left swinging there. One of David’s soldiers saw his predicament but did nothing because of David’s command to be gentle with him. Joab, David’s army commander, thought this was nonsense and he and his men went and executed Absalom as if he were a piñata. Joab buried him in a large pit in the forest.

Absalom had earlier vainly set up a stone pillar as a monument to himself in the King’s Valley (see photo). It is difficult what to make of Absalom’s life. He had stood up for justice by avenging the rape of his sister Tamar but he had been extremely disrespectful and disloyal to his father, King David – possibly out of frustration that David hadn’t disciplined his rapist son, Amnon. David had welcomed Absalom back from exile and still wanted to protect him even after he had slept with his women and assembled a massive army to hunt him down. Absalom was a victim of his own good looks, charisma and vanity, lusting for power and thinking that he could do better than his father, who was loved by God. Absalom would have done better to emulate David’s patience, tolerance, love and humility.

Acts 7:20-43

Stephen continued to give the seventy one members of the Sanhedrin a potted history of the Jewish nation. At first glance, this would appear to be like me narrating the Nativity story to the Pope. I am sure they intimately knew the Old Testament storylines already but they had missed the vital point. All the Jewish Old Testament scriptures pointed to Jesus. Even today, many Jews aren’t taught the whole of Isaiah as it so obviously prophesies all about the life of Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-5).

However, Stephen would skilfully be building his later statements on the firm foundations of the Old Testament. Our faith in Jesus Christ is rooted upon the prophesies of the Old Testament. Jesus is referred to throughout the Old Testament and he often personally appeared and interacted with key characters, this is known as a Christophany,

Stephen reminded the Jewish elders that Moses had told the Israelites: ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people’ (Acts 7:37). This ‘prophet’ was Jesus, whom they had just killed. In fact, the Jews had killed virtually all of God’s messengers that had been sent to them. Jesus’ life had multiple similarities to that of Moses but Jesus was far greater. Moses delivered his people from oppression and slavery and led them to freedom. Jesus rescued the whole world from the oppression of the devil and the slavery of sin and death.

Stephen repeatedly demonstrated that God throughout history did not just dwell in the Jewish temple. God met people wherever they travelled from the burning bush in the desert, in Gentile territory, to the wonders he performed in Egypt. The Jewish religious elite did not accept that God had become incarnate in the form of Jesus and had performed miracles outside the temple. Many Christians these days tick off their religious obligations by monotonously attending a fixed-format service in a certain church each Sunday as if Jesus is confined to the four walls of that building. However, we carry God inside each one of us. He is fully portable. He is God of the whole world, there is nowhere we can hide from him, and we should be taking him with us each day to meet the needs of suffering people throughout the secular world.

Stephen would became the first Christian martyr and his evangelistic speech is a powerful example for all of us to follow. Stephen’s name mean ‘victor’s crown’ and, even though he was stoned to death, he delivered a timeless ‘victory speech’.

This event would be the official Jewish rejection of the renewed offer of the kingdom, paving the way for salvation to be eventually offered to all the Gentiles.

It would have intimidated an average person to give witness in front of 71 members of the Sanhedrin but Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was meant to be defending himself but he went on the attack and prosecuted the Jewish elders. Stephen was innocent, yet he would be punished. The Sanhedrin were guilty yet would escape punishment until God meted out his eternal justice.

Religious leaders have a history of rejecting God’s truth and his messengers. The Israelites had rejected God in the desert and so God turned away from them (Acts 7:42). The Jewish leaders were now rejecting God again with their beloved temple now becoming a worthless idol following the death of Christ.

Psalm 71:1-20

We should pray for our rulers to be people of justice and righteousness.

Queen Elizabeth II has had a spectacularly long reign because we all pray for her when we sing the National Anthem: ‘God save our gracious Queen. Long live our noble Queen’. Prayers really do work.

Our politicians should deliver the needy who cry out and the afflicted who have no-one to help, particularly our most vulnerable citizens, unborn children (Psalm 72:12). They should take pity on the weak and the needy, to save them from death.

We lose over 200,000 unborn children a year in the UK because we no not rescue them from oppression and violence. Their blood is precious in God’s sights (Psalm 72:14).

God alone does marvellous needs and we should praise his glorious name for ever.

Jesus created the world and he will be with us until the end of time. He will endure for ever and his words will feed us and water us so that we flourish (Psalm 72:5-7).

Image: Absalom’s monument: Alien is, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom Returns / Peter Heals with his Shadow: June 9th 2021

2 Samuel 14:1-15:12

King David’s heart longed for his estranged son, Absalom, just as God hopes and contrives for banished people to come back to him from exile (2 Sam.14:14).

Joab hired a wise woman to persuade King David to invite Absalom back from exile. David wisely saw he was being manipulated by Joab but gave in to the suggestion (2 Sam.14:21).

Joab brought Absalom back to Jerusalem but he was not allowed to see his father King David.

Absalom was very good looking, with not a single blemish, with thick luxuriant hair. He had three sons and a daughter and named his daughter Tamar after his sister.

Absalom did not see the king for two years. Joab refused to come to him until Absalom took the drastic step of setting Joab’s field on fire. Absalom demanded to see the king as he was living in limbo. He wanted to face up to any punishment. Then the king summoned his son, who bowed down before him, and the king welcomed him with a kiss (2 Sam. 14:33). We can live in a similar king of non-living limbo when we have not confessed our sins to God and received forgiveness. We might think our sins are too severe to forgive but God is always calling us to him and he will forgive us with a warm embrace.

Even though Absalom had been welcomed home, he started to conspire against his father the king. He woke up early and stood by the road leading to the city gate. He would intercept people travelling to consult the king, tell him that no-one would be available to listen and boast that he would do much better and give them justice if only he were to be appointed judge. He was very charming and approachable. If someone came to bow down before him, Absalom would take hold of him and kiss him. He disloyally stole the hearts of the Israelites through slander and flattery. He did this for years.

He asked permission from his father, the king, to go to worship in Hebron and David blessed him. He invited two hundred guests to accompany him, to make it look like he was assembling an army and he sent messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say: ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’. He started to steal David’s officials away from him starting with David’s counsellor. Day by day, Absalom gradually weakened David’s grip on power as his following kept increasing.

David was showing himself to be a complacent ruler. He hadn’t dealt with his son Amnon’s crime and now he was letting the kingdom slip away from him.

Acts 5:12-42

The apostles carried on performing miracles (Acts 5:12). More and more people believed in the Lord and joined them. All the believers used to meet together. We need to meet as the body of Christ to praise and worship God and to teach and encourage each other.

Sick people we laid in the street so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:15). We need to pray for this level of faith, so that just our presence or our shadow can heal the sick and deliver people from evil spirits. Crowds gathered and everyone was healed (Acts 5:16). Jesus had predicted that the apostles would do even greater things than he. Jesus prayed for healing on an individual basis. Peter was now healing people on an industrial scale.

The religious professionals were filled with jealousy and threw the apostles into jail. An angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail in the night and brought them out. He told them to stand in the temple courts and ‘tell the people the full message of this new life’ (Acts 5:20). Everyday, we should publicly tell people that they can lead a wonderful new life in Jesus Christ.

The full assembly of the elders of Israel (the Sanhedrin) gathered to interrogate the apostles but they were not be found in the jail. Eventually, they found them freely teaching in the temple courts and went to collect them. They didn’t use force against them as the crowds would have defended them.

The Sanhedrin reminded the apostles they had been ordered not to teach in Jesus’ name. Peter reminded them that the apostles must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). They, and the Holy Spirit, were witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had exalted Jesus to his right hand as Prince and Saviour ‘that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel’ (Acts 5:31).

It is wonderful to pray in tongues as it confirms the Holy Spirit is living in us because we obey God. The Holy Spirit lives in people who believe and obey God (Acts 5:32).

The Sanhedrin became infuriated and wanted to put all the apostles to death but a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a brilliant teacher of the law who educated Saint Paul, wisely told them to leave the men alone. If they were working for God, they could not be stopped and the Sanhedrin would find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).

The Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to be flogged and not to speak in the name of Jesus and then let them go. The apostles left rejoicing because ‘they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name’ (Acts 5:41-42). In public and going from house to house, they never stopped ‘teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ’ (Acts 5:42). In this county, it is only the Jehovah’s Witnesses who bother going door-to-door telling people about Jesus. Maybe, we should all be inspired by the early church and start with all the houses in our own roads. Knock on their doors, tell them about Jesus and ask if anyone needs to be healed or delivered so we can pray for them. If people won’t go to church, the church will have to go to them.

Proverbs 14:15-24

We should not believe everything we are told and assess it in light of Biblical teaching. However, we do not want to become so distrusting that we give a Spirit of Unbelief a right to attach to us. I believe most things in news reports unless they are completely against the Word of God. We have to be careful in this country because our foremost channel has such an evil, woke, liberal agenda. They even infect their drama programmes with unchristian influences including pro-abortion propaganda. Once we have our eyes opened to how biased a media channel is, it can be quite entertaining to watch just to spot the recurrent toxic anti-Christians themes but we should try to shun such evil (Prov.14:16).

However, when the news has scientists on it who tell me that it a good idea to have a Covid vaccine to stop the deadly pandemic that has devastated the global economy, I believe them. There is clear clinical evidence that it helps and, as we should love our neighbour as ourselves, we should be vaccinated to protect other people. I have lost respect for the leaders of several smaller Christian denominations who haven’t given clear leadership on this matter and put their congregations at risk. The leaders of the mainstream denominations, the Anglicans and the Catholics, have clearly told Christians that they should be vaccinated and, as we are meant to be people of obedience, this should be good enough for us. If we don’t have a vaccine we are putting God to the test, which Jesus reiterated to the devil that we should not do (Matt. 4:7).

We should wisely weigh up the evidence not entertaining all the crazy conspiracy theories that a simple person might believe (Prov.14:15). The prudent are crowned with knowledge and wisdom. Foolishly rejecting a lifesaving vaccine is folly and will yield foolish deaths. God works through people these days. He will have inspired the scientists to make the vaccine in order to save our society.

It isn’t a holy blessing to be poor and to be shunned by people (Prov.14:20). God likes us to prosper through our hard work and his guidance. If we prosper, we can be even kinder to the needy and God will bless us even more.

Image: Masaccio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Amnon and Tamar / Ananias and Sapphira: June 8th 2021

2 Samuel 13:1-39

Amnon, the eldest son of King David, fell in love with one of his half-sisters: Tamar. They both had different mothers.

Amnon desired Tamar even though sexual relations between half-siblings was strictly banned under Jewish law (Lev.18:9).

Following the advice of his cunning uncle / friend, Jonadab, Amnon pretended to be sick and asked King David if Tamar could make him some food and feed it to him. David instructed her to do this. Tamar made Amnon bread but he did not eat it, he forcibly raped her. Once this had happened, Amnon’s love changed to hate and he kicked Tamar out. She put ashes on her head and tore her ornamental robe (2 Sam.13:19). She went to live with her brother Absalom as ‘a desolate woman’. King David was furious but did not discipline Amnon. Absalom said nothing but hated Amnon because of what he had done to his sister. Yesterday, we read about David’s adulterous affair that resulted in murder. Sexual sin and violence were running in the family.

King David should have ensured that justice was served. Rulers cannot afford to let serious crimes go unpunished.

Two years later, Absalom invited King David and his officials to a party. David blessed him and sent all of his sons instead. Absalom ordered his men to kill the rapist, Amnon. All of the other king’s sons fled. David received a false news report that all of his sons had been murdered by Absalom, not just Amnon. David did not take this news well (2 Sam.13:31).

Absalom fled and stayed in Geshur for three years. King David mourned for Amnon everyday but still missed Absalom (2 Sam.13:37). If David had acted justly at the time of Amnon’s crime he might not have lost two sons. Rulers cannot neglect discipline even when the guilty person is their own child.

God had disciplined David for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. David had not disciplined his own son for a different sexual crime and was now suffering for his weak leadership.

Acts 4:23-5:11

Peter and John went back to their fellow disciples and reported how they had been treated by the chief priests and elders. The disciples raised their voices in prayer, praising God for his creation. Many people get their minds tangled up by the theory of evolution thinking that creatures made themselves over billions of years, yet the disciples stated the evident truth: ‘Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them’ (Acts 4:24).

It amazed the disciples as to why people try to combat God. Why do people rage / plot in vain and gather together against God? Why bother. He is all powerful, loves us and has our best interests at heart. Why not worship him and be happy? It’s because people have self-will and a rebellious, selfish streak inside them. It is still amazing that people today still worship and work for demons – an evil, totally defeated army that can only ultimately offer eternal death to their followers (Acts 4:25-26).

The disciples prayed that miraculous healing, signs and wonders would be carried out through the name of Jesus. The place where their meeting was held was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to speak the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

‘All the believers were one in heart and mind’ (Acts 4:32). This is God’s vision for the church. That we all act in total unity, not fracture into different denominations. We should always mix with as many different congregations as we can to promote unity, friendship and peace. The disciples shared all their belongings and sold land or houses, bringing the money to the apostles so that it could be distributed for people’s needs (Acts 4:35). Modern economists preach that there is a shortage of resources in the world resulting in haves and have-nots. However, there is just a lack of fair distribution due to selfish greed. It is engrained in us to hand down property and finances to our own family, rather than share with our church family, trusting God that when we need things, they will be provided.

A couple called Ananias and Sapphira were inspired to sell their property by other believers such as Barnabas (the Son of Encouragement) to donate money to the fledgling church. However, they were only lukewarm about it. They kept back some of the money. Compared to many modern Christians – who may only give a bare minimum donation – they were extremely generous but they must have boasted and lied about giving all the money from the sale of their to the church. Peter, through a supernatural word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit, told Ananias that he had kept back some of the money. Ananias heard this, fell down and died. Later, his wife also lied to the disciples that they had given all the money from selling the land to the church and she fell down dead too. Then, ‘great fear seized the whole church’ (Acts 5:11).

If we promise our Pastor a certain sum of money or the proceeds from a certain transaction we should never be dishonest about it. God doesn’t want us to be lukewarm towards the church (Revelation 3:15-16). We should never swindle the church due to our love of money. The best way to cure ourselves from a love of money is to be generous. We should start by tithing at least ten percent of our income to the church. That is the bare minimum, after that will come gifts to charities. How else will we build a thriving community for worship and evangelisation if no-one provides adequate financial resources? We shouldn’t ask ourselves what we can get from the church, we should consider what we can give in terms of time, talent and resources.

Psalm 71:9-18

We should always have hope in God no matter how old and grey we are (Psalm 71:18).

As we look back on a long life, we will be able to proclaim God’s righteousness and the marvellous, mighty deeds he has done in our lives.

God will always come quickly to help us particularly when our enemies think we are past it and our strength is gone. He will renew our strength like that of an eagle.

God will always be our rock and our salvation. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit inside us, we are never away from his awesome presence.

Image: By Raphael – Victoria and Albert Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1718099

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