1 Samuel 9-10; Proverbs 6: 23-25
CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY FOR
When we last were in the book of Samuel a week ago, we heard that Israel had asked God for a King. God had intended to be the only ruler they needed, yet the Israelites were somewhat jealous of the other peoples and nations that had an earthly king. They missed the fact that this made them even more distinct than any other people… they forgot that God had called them, fought for them, provided for them. They ignored the warnings that Samuel uttered to them about the drawbacks of having an earthly king and “the people refuse to listen… we will have a king over us.” (1 Samuel 8:19) The last thing we heard before our Messianic checkpoint was the Lord telling Samuel “make them a king.”
Which is where we pick up today… and we hear once again of donkey’s! This backstory of Saul searching for his father’s lost donkey’s for three days sets the back story for them to meet and encounter Samuel. It’s then that Samuel basically tells him don’t worry about donkey’s – you’ve got bigger things to worry about as he says “and for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father’s house?” In other words – the thing all that Israel has been clamoring for, a King. Saul points to that he’s from the small tribe of Benjamin and that he is from a family that has the least influence of them all. But he checks off all the qualities that the people were looking for – handsome, tall… they probably missed the fact that pride doesn’t have to just be a personal sin
An interesting side note is that Saul’s name literally means “asked.” In this case that’s telling – he’s not “called” or “appointed” by God – he was “asked of God” by the people who wanted an earthly king. Despite God’s warnings, His disappointment in His people’s wishes, we see that the Lord isn’t setting Saul up for failure. In fact, He actively is trying to prepare Him with supernatural gifts, blessings and favor: “God gave him another heart” we read. But just because you’re gifted doesn’t innoculate one from giving into human brokenness and sinfulness. Saul will have to confront that daily temptation whether to continue to humble himself and put himself and his gifts to God’s service for His people or turn in on himself and let pride, ego, arrogance to reign over his heart and mind. As does each and every one of us.
DAY 107: 1 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 55
A GOOD START, A PARTING WARNING
So King Saul has a pretty good first day on his way to his coronation. Leading the people of Israel against an enemy that was preparing to attack them… being humble and fair in dealing with people who had leveled criticisms over his being chosen as King… and even more importantly, for acknowledging that it was the Lord who had led their victory. It would seem Israel has a good king for themselves.
Which is why Samuel seems to be the downer at the Coronation party. First he asks publicly for anyone to air any grievances they may have from him from his life of service to the Lord and His people. As much as I desire and strive to be a priest of integrity, I doubt I’d ever make that sort of open call, knowing my own sinfulness. So it’s pretty striking to have Samuel putting himself out in such a vulnerable position for criticism
As the people voice their affirmation to Samuel’s integrity, he points that out to them as a sign of their own sinfulness. They didn’t ask for a king because Samuel was lacking, but as the Lord had revealed to Samuel earlier, because they had judged God to be somewhat lacking in their eyes. (It hurts even typing that sentence) Unlike Samuel, they have not kept God first place in their hearts, their souls, their lives
He reminds them of their history. How they had been delivered and fallen for false gods after their deliverance, begged for relief, which the Lord supplied. Yet, here we are again. They have an earthly king judging God to have somehow been lacking
So now the words of covenant almost carry a warning as they enter this new era: “IF you will fear the Lord and serve Him and listen to His voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and IF both you and the the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well…” (1 Samel 12: 13) If not… not so much.
God’s law, His reign has not been forgotten on God’s part. In His relenting to this demand for a King, there’s obvious pitfalls that the people are blind to that the Lord is trying to prepare His people for… for them, the people and their new King, to take responsibility of honoring the covenant in all they do as a people
The people have set up a situation for themselves where their deliverance from enemies in the past was clearly understood to have been the Lord God. Will they continue to see Him as their deliverer? As their ultimate King? Which is also a good point of reflection for us – to whom do we serve and follow with greater obedience earthly leaders or the Lord God?
DAY 108: 1 Samuel 13-14; Psalm 58
Very quickly as we delve into the reign of the first King of Israel (or rather the first earthly, human King) we see problems. Saul does what is right in his own mind, which in the normal course of affairs of human institutions you would want, expect. “The buck stops here” was a mantra we used to admire about those in authority taking responsibility for their actions and those who worked for them. But in this instance, as we’ve discussed, as King of Israel, Saul needs to be sure that his heart, his mind are aligned with God… that he is listening to His voice, being obedient to Him
What we see early on is Saul making up his own doctrines and attributing them to God… A king who appears to honor the Law that God had clearly established, but ultimately trusts his own instincts and impulses. His relationship to the Lord is one that pays lip service to what He has heard and said… which brings Samuel to prophesize “the Lord has sought out a man adter His own heart and the Lord has appointed Him to be prince over His people…” (1 Samuel 13: 14)
Even that doesn’t bring about a sense of humility – a moment of reflection for the king. There is no apology on his part for offering a sacrifice which was not his to offer (only a priest could do that). There is no acknowledgment of any wrong doing on Saul’s part. He’s decided that this was a personal beef between him and Samuel. Not that He hasn’t taken seriously the Lord’s directions, appointments, and commands.
As Fr. Mike has pointed out, Saul’s a complex man – not entirely a bad guy… but a very flawed human being, as are the rest of humanity for sure. But what makes the difference where a flawed, broken individual is able to rise and be “great” is when they notice their limitations and rely on the Lord in all that they need to accomplish, when they put their faith and trust in Him. Not by simply paying lip service to doing so.
DAY 109: 1 samuel 15-16; Psalm 61
A MATTER OF THE HEART
Who exactly is Saul fooling, or rather trying to fool here? Himself? Samuel? God? Reading clearly the directions he was given… hearing how quickly he made revisions, changes to those directions and then with an obliviousness or an arrogance says to Samuel “Blessed be you to the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord
Uh, no Saul, you didn’t. Saul did some of what He said, but then made some decisions of his own which were in opposition to what the Lord had told him. It’s kind of jarring to see it so clearly in black and white how Saul just does not get it – I HAVE OBEYED THE LORD! He argues, as he admits to the liberties he took in saving some of the “spoils” for himself and his kingdom. It’s then that Samuel says those words of judgment:
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold to obey is better than sacrifice
and to listen than the fat of rams.
In short, there’s no partial credit in the tests of God. And His tests aren’t tricky or outside of anyone’s ability or potential. They are “aced” when one brings an open, receptive and responsive heart. Whether that’s for kings ruling his people or the people themselves
Which perfectly sets up the beautiful “selection” of David as the next King of Israel. Samuel is driven by God to Bethlehem to Jesse to search among his sons for the next king to be anointed. And seeing the older, the wiser, the stronger of the lot, he is thinking its this one or tha one – to which the Lord says to Samuel those beautiful words “…the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7
That can sound intimidating. Frightening even. Yet, it doesn’t have to be – and that is a decision each of us has to make for ourselves. How we view God, and whether we truly believe He loves us and wants what’s best for us. Understandably, even if we do believe that, it can be intimidating to imagine that. We know our sinfulness and brokenness all too well. But it’s precisely in that moment that we need to let Him enter, knowing He wants to not to condemn or judge, but heal and bring to fulfillment
This reminds me of the great quote from C.S. Lewis – I’ve loved this and used it in homilies: Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself
DAY 110: 1 Samuel 17; Psalm 12
FAMILIAR YET NEW
David and Goliath… if you’re of a similar age to me, (late 40’s) those two names not only bring to mind this probably favorite “Children’s Bible Stories” from the Old Testament – but those bizarro not cartoon, not claymation, certainly not computer animated series “Davey and Goliath” that was on Saturday Morning kids TV show telling the tales of this Lutheran kid Davey and his dog Goliath. (Sorry, A.D.D. moment 🙂 Focus Father Jim…)
This is one of those Bible stories that specifics are probably well known even by those who aren’t Jewish or Christian. The improbable triumph of this young man against this giant was a cultural meme before that was even a thing. Anytime an athlete or team has an unexpected victory against some great opponent; or a customer is victorious in some suit against a large corporation – whenever it appears the odds are lopsided against the one side and there’s an incredible victory for that “little guy” it’s often labeled a “David vs Goliath” story.
But in those caricatures, if we focus on the one solitary familiar part of the story, we miss the real message and point. Which especially for all of us journeying now for well over 100 days are much more attentive to as we hear this story anew. Which is quite simply – David’s victory shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. It’s not some improbable thing or unexpected at all. Not for believers. Not for those who have recounted plagues confounding mighty emperors; seas parting to make a way of exodus; food, water being made readily available in the most dire of conditions; majestic walls of mighty fortresses being leveled by Israelites walking around them for 7 days.
David’s victory isn’t a surprise, because it’s not his victory – but God’s. “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand” – that wasn’t some utterance of arrogance on the part of someone trying to use God’s name to bolster themselves or the righteousness of their cause. What we see throughout this chapter is David being a man of obedience, of humility. The simple shepherd boy, who even after he’s already been anointed King, is still out with the sheep, obeying his father, bringing food to his hungry brothers. (Remind you of anyone else who will come from Bethlehem?)
The beauty of this familiar story is that it is new every day. When we recognize how God wants to use our “littleness” in our being humble and obedient to Him and His word to bring down “giants” that threaten His people today.
DAY 111: 1 Samuel 18-19; Psalm 59
FROM WHERE THE EVIL SPIRIT COMES
It’s sad, if not entirely unpredictable that we see Saul’s state of heart and mind to change rather quickly. He goes from celebrating and embracing David as part of his household (he would not let him return to his father’s house) to what 4 verses later, after a successful battle in which Saul defeated thousands and David defeated ten thousands having a 180 degree turn. Saul hears those accolades and instead of rejoicing in their joint victory, in the blessing that David was bringing to the kingdom, bitterness, anger, jealousy and envy rear their ugly head. Saul has a violent and remarkably outrageous desire to kill David, to have him killed, to set him up that others might kill him so he could avoid any blame.
We’re seeing the unraveling of whatever remained of the frayed moral fiber Saul possessed. Why it’s not surprising is we could have seen this coming. All those times where we saw him “cutting corners” and acting fast and loose with God’s desires, His commands… they have all brought him to this pivotal moment where he allows that darkness to envelop his heart and soul and turn him.
Curiously, we hear scripture attribute this to God – “and the next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul.” It makes it seem as if God was setting Saul up, that there was no choice at this point. It also sounds similar to our discussion back in Exodus about “God hardening Pharaohs heart.” Similarly to then, this is the Ancient author’s way of expressing that God allowing Saul’s free will and choice to be made. It’s not God tempting him to do evil (since that would go against God’s nature, which is an impossibility). It’s God allowing Saul to in short, reject Him. The “darkness” had appeared previously, and at that point, the young David playing a harp was able to provide comfort for him. You can sense that moral tug of war that was still at play back then. There’s even hints of it as Jonathan, Saul’s son intercedes on Davids behalf and momentarily Saul seems to relent. Only to then have murderous intent.
It’s such a sad turn of events. Saul – at the beginning had some very admirable qualities that seemed to indicate he would be a good and effective leader. Perhaps pride entered in thinking that now that he was the King, he was “good.” He didn’t have to worry about pleasing God, since in his mind he already had, which is why he was King. It’s a powerful reminder of the reality of Spiritual warfare that is always at work throughout our lives – and the importance of recognizing our need for ongoing conversion. We’re never going to (on this side of heaven) get to a point where we’ve completely obliterated temptations and committing sins
Which, Man oh man, is why we need to continue to pray for one another 🙂 (h/t and prayers for Fr. Mike)
DAY 112: 1 Samuel 20; Psalm 142
Reading this chapter, the thing that stands out to me is quite simply the moral character and virtue of Jonathan. If we can put aside Sauls irrationality and murderous intent solely out of envy, bitterness, a bruised and distorted ego – the other motivating factor for Saul wanting David dead is to secure his legacy in his son being the next King.
Granted God had not intended that, but that didn’t seem to bother Saul before. Not only is Saul ticked off that David is more celebrated then himself – he’s heard Samuel’s prophecy that God is displeased with him, that his familial reign will end with him. And most likely he’s already figured out who the next king is going to be
The distorted heart of Saul is also in a sense trying to secure what he believes is his son’s right. When we think of how many characters that we’ve encountered in the bible so far who would’ve conspired with their father in this pursuit for themselves. Heck, Joseph’s 11 brothers basically went from trying to kill him to deciding to sell him into slavery thinking they could make money off of the guy – and that wasn’t even to become “king” – it was more over familial jealousy
Which is what makes this chapter so impressive and inspirational on so many levels. Especially, the breathtaking faith God has for us, in trusting, hoping that His will can be accomplished through authentic human freedom. Jonathan’s selfless love for his friend not only sees that righteousness, virtue surpass family loyalty. But the selflessness involved that protects his own heart from being corrupted by the rants of his father and the temptation to pursue power and authority
That’s quite a good friend to have. It’s a reminder of the importance of this community Fr. Mike keeps talking about. The fact that we’re surrounded by a growing number of people who have grown cold and indifferent if not outright hostile to the Word of God… The fact that many of our own family members don’t understand “why you’re listening to that podcast or reading these reflections…” are just two examples of how “Saul” still can be found in our day and age
Thankfully, we have one another to be Jonathan’s that strive to listen and respond to all that the Lord is putting on our hearts… As challenging, as difficult as that may be…
DAY 113: 1 Samuel 21-22; Psalm 52
Our readings continues with King Saul on his mission to kill David and we have almost a thriller narrative with David as a man on the run, eluding capture… It’s interesting that we see David lying to the priests (Oh King Saul? Yeah, he sent me on a mission that’s all) lying to the King of Gath (panicking on being recognized as the man who was triumphant in war, he decides to act like a mad man… I guess that’s the best you can do when your on the run and have no chance to come up with a disguise?) And then eating the bread that was prohibited to be eaten by anyone but the priests. Is this another Saul in the making?
Fortunately, I don’t have to explain. Jesus does this explicitly for us in Matthew 12: 1-8 when the Pharisees criticize Jesus’ disicples for picking heads of grain on the Sabbath (violating the Sabbath rule). Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who wre with him: how he entered the hous of God and ate the showbread which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only the priests….” Jesus uses this example to say that protecting life is more important than the laws surrounding the holy bread. As are the other two “lies.” Whereas Saul’s behavior is solely focused on his selfish desires, we read David’s care for others. He establishes a safe place for his parents to live (1 Samuel 21: 3-4) and even takes responsibility for the massacre of the priests of Nob saying to the one son of Ahimelech who escaped, Abiathar to stay with him and that he would make sure he was protected
That struck me how in the midst of David’s own trials and difficulties, where he goes from fearing for his own life that he’s on the run to almost forgetting about that in the face of the horrors that just took place… putting care for Abiathar ahead of himself. Maybe this has stirred a righteous anger within David’s own heart against the tyrannical king? Or is he remembering that God used him to topple a Giant and foreign enemies – surely God would use him to take on a King who was acting in His name with blatant disregard to His will? Or, Maybe it’s just David’s generous heart where his concern for others is the foundation for his acts of bravery (since every instance we’ve read of his “warrior” is as protector – for the sheep, for the people and now for this orphaned son)
Whichever of those reasons, one of the points we’re seeing is a shift in the understanding of the Law. As we covered previously, often times it seemed like the rules being passed down by Moses were awkward or troublesome to our 2021 ears. And often times we explained how God was taming and training a somewhat wild people to be His people. In David, we’re seeing a step further where the heart of the law is about selflessness… where Love of God and your neighbor as yourself is the “greatest” of all the commandments.
DAY 114: 1 Samuel 23; Psalm 54
And Saul said “God has given him into my hand!” (1 Samuel 23: 7)
Just because David finds himself in a precarious position, Saul thinks that obviously is a sign of God’s favor on him. Saul has to be kidding, right? Yeah Saul – God wants you to 1 – commit murder (which is directly against one of his Commandments) 2 – defeat David (who it’s been shown time and again is indeed blessed and favored).
It reminds me of a student who was so excited that they didn’t get charged for something that they had ordered. Surprisingly since it was all online, some how whatever processes had the thing shipped, but never showed up on the credit card. “How cool, God must have wanted me to have this for free…” When I asked if the company had incorrectly double charged them for this product, would they say “God thinks I need to pay double for this” or “God wants the business owners to have a great day…” I was met with silence and an eye roll
How often we too can fall into the trap of deluding ourselves because something on the surface seems to be going my way that this is something that God intended? Saul is falling into the same temptation so many do in their perception and treating God as a “genie in a lamp” seemingly at a whim fulfilling certain “wishes” we are carrying within ourselves.
Fortunately in this chapter, we have a contrast with David who doesn’t simply reflect on circumstances as evidence but goes to God in prayer, and asks for His guidance and direction – asking God the meaning and next steps when encountering a challenge
In short, it’s a good reminder for each of us that when reflecting on things going in our lives of asking an essential question so as to be sure we’re not deluding ourselves: how much focus is on what we want, rather than what God wants for us?
DAY 115: 1 Samuel 24; Psalm 57
Chapter 24 of First Samuel, kind of builds on the point made a couple days ago. For us travelling through the Bible (mostly the Old Testament these first 115 days) there’s been more than a few times where things seemed strange and off putting to us to read in the laws and regulations throughout the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament
The future King David, the one after God’s own heart teaches the failed King Saul who squandered so many opportunities and warnings how God intends to deal with humanity – and how we’re supposed to deal with one another – with merciful love. By all rights, probably across the board among those marching with both Saul and David, had David killed Saul, it would have been accepted as justified. It would have been judged as a legitimate response to the man who was hunting down God’s anointed
Yet, David doesn’t. And even more interestingly, David who we just saw yesterday consulting the Lord with each step and move he was making to elude being killed himself didn’t in this case. It’s like David already knew what the Lord God wanted… the type of response he expected.
While it’s beautiful to see Saul finally humbled. The arrogance finally drops as he is the beneficiary of undeserved grace and mercy – what’s sad is that Saul’s still doesn’t get it completely. After professing his gratitude for this gift, he follows up with two requests. First that his family would not incur punishment for Saul’s sins. That is curious in itself – that the beneficiary of such compassion would think that one who just gave that to him would turn on innocent family members (including Jonathan who Saul already knew had a “covenantal love” a friendship that was stronger than family loyalties). And the second is somewhat more sad “that you will not destroy my name.” In the end, Saul is still worried about his pride, his ego, his name, his legacy. It’s almost as if being “erased” was worse than death to Saul.
Which is why the idea of being “partially blind” came from. Perhaps it’s a majority. I’m no eye doctor 🙂 The reality is even after experiencing mercy, while Saul is humbled, it still hasn’t registered deep to his core – or caused a true repentance and conversion
This story of God’s mercy through his “anointed one,” is another foreshadowing of the true anointed one – Jesus Christ. Where the outpouring of His love from the cross for all humanity will be, as St. Faustina reveals from her revelations “an ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world…” May we who have been such beneficiaries of that gift not be blind as Saul was, but rather be more attentive, receptive and generous in sharing it to the world around us.
DAY 116: 1 Samuel 25 Psalm 63
Up until now, we’ve heard how David has been saved from the unprovoked, murderous threats of King Saul. Today we recount David being saved, but this time from himself. After being treated rudely and unjustly by Nabal (what did David expect, the guy’s name, literally means fool 🙂 ) David enlists a small army to exact some over-the-top, extreme justice. Actually it’s not justice, it’s vengeance. It’s disappointing to see David intending to act so rashly
Thankfully, a heroine emerges into the narrative in the nick of time: Abigail. She who’s been married to a foolish man saves David from becoming one himself… She won’t let innocent people die over a little food and some rash words. She appeals to the heart of the future King, the faith of the future King in this humble and courageous gesture.
It’s crazy isn’t it? A chapter before, David had a justifiable reason (reasons even) for killing Saul – and doesn’t. Yet here he’s ready to bring death and destruction over this guy’s being selfish and ungrateful. It doesn’t make sense.
It shouldn’t. Sin never does make sense. The temptations of the mind and heart, the irrationality of hurt feelings left to stew can cause even the noblest, holiest of people to have a significant and precarious fall. Who knows how badly this could’ve gone not just for Nabal and his family, but David and his entire future.
Which is a good reminder for us… of the importance to be always vigilant in the face of sin and temptation. Particularly as Catholics, it’s kind of easy in the season of Easter to let that focus on our need for repentance and conversion to recede in this season of joy. And while we should be celebrating Easter with as much if not more energy as we entered into the penances of Lent, we can’t ever let our guards down in protecting our own hearts and souls. Especially when we suffer some injustice, or hurt, or slight… as they linger and we start to think, and over think them. It’s then, hopefully we have an Abigail to help snap us out of becoming what has just hurt us.
DAY 117 – 1 Samuel 26 Psalm 56
No doubt a lot of our fellow journeyers are thinking that with this passage from 1 Samuel. Saul, the weepy, grateful king of two chapters ago after trying to kill David, having the roles reversed and being spared by David decides, “on second thought, yeah, let’s try to kill the king-in-waiting.”
One initial thought – had this just been some made-up tale or story, no author would come up with such stupidity. To repeat practically the entire story of chapter 24 in chapter 26 – without any debate or provocation preceding it would just seem illogical. Which is what makes the narrative so much more accurate on a human level. Much of what we do doesn’t make logical sense!
But it gives pause to a few thoughts:
1 – We do the right thing, what God calls us to do, because He calls us to do it – not because we believe we’re going to be rewarded in this life. So often, we can delude ourselves into thinking that people will return “good for good.” That the charity, the compassion, the generosity we pour out will be received and transform someone’s perspective: win them over for Christ; cause some conversion or reversion, or at a minimum cause them not to be such a jerk. But if that’s our motivation, we’re deceiving ourselves. Oftentimes, that can be a catalyst for someone to encounter the Lord, but that’s not always the case as we see here. Saul’s heart has not been changed by the gift of mercy. Did he go back to the palace and feel humiliated by the position he was previously in by David? Did his twisted thoughts return even more twisted than before? We don’t know. The reality is, David – and each one of us has to constantly keep front and center that the call to act justly, lovingly is for God and Him alone.
2 – It’s important that we’re cautious about who we’re listening to. Think about the last two days of readings. Both Abishai and Abigail (from yesterday in 1 Samuel 25) in their own way are being friends to David. How easy it would have been for David to have seen in the offer of Abishai a “loophole” in terms of killing Saul? Abishai is acting out of anger over Saul’s second attempt to kill David, as well as loyalty and friendship for David. David could have been swayed by the words, deluding himself that “technically I didn’t kill Saul.” In his heart of hearts though, David knew that would be a lie he was telling himself. Just as yesterday Abigail appealing to David’s goodness and what he knows to be true spoke to his heart of hearts. Friends are just as human as we are, and because they hold such a privileged place in our lives, it’s important to reflect on whether they are building us up and bringing us close to God or not… Just because someone’s a friend, doesn’t mean in friendship we need to listen (or even should continue to listen) when they gossip, tear people down, are negative influences
3 – Building on that point, it’s better to deal with sin in the smaller battles than allowing them to add up. Think about how much more important was Abigail in the previous chapter in protecting David. Having previously demonstrated such a beautiful example of God’s Mercy to Saul, which wasn’t just for his own holiness and righteousness, but had impacts on those who were journeying with him and for those who will one day be under his reign – imagine him giving into that moment of impetuousness and anger? Would he have been able to resist the temptation this time to give Saul what he deserved? Would he be filled with anger at himself for such a massive moral failure and use this as an opportunity to take it out on a convenient and somewhat deserving scapegoat
The devil loves to trap us in a vicious cycle of sin, where we allow one bad choice to lead to another and already thinking I’m a mess, I’ve screwed up – other lies like God will never forgive me now are more easily believed and can lead us into deeper sin and temptation. It’s why the Church makes such a point in saying yes there’s a difference between venial and mortal sins… but they are all sin, all evil, and all of them have to be repented of… and much better when their venial than mortal.
As we kind of reflect on God’s presence and activity in both David and Saul’s life, hopefully, we’re able to see the successes and failures more objectively in their story, so we can learn and make the adjustments we need to be “righteous” and truly desiring to be after God’s own heart.
DAY 118: 1 Samuel 27-28; Psalm 34
TWO DESPERATE KINGS
You almost have to feel sorry for Saul. Having turned his back on God, having tried to plot and kill David twice, having lost his only spiritual conscience in Samuel, he’s a man alone. He knows his days are numbered and the irrational, self-inflicted fears he was suffering from before have now turned into legitimate threats for the isolated king. Hearing nothing but silence as he cries out to God, he decides to break some more of God’s laws and commandments by consulting with a medium to summon the recently deceased Samuel. I kind of had to laugh reading the story as Samuel sounds kind of ticked off and impatient as he says “Bro, if God’s not answering you, what good am I going to be for you?” (That might not be an exact quote)
Desperation makes people do silly, illogical things. Saul has brought all this on himself, and what makes it somewhat amazing is he doubles down, triples down, quadruples down on his foolishness. His few moments of realization where he’s a recipient of mercy from David, instead of taking it as an opportunity to truly repent and ask God for forgiveness, he’s constantly calculating and trying to find some other way to protect himself and his priorities. The moments of recognition of offending God sound more like statements of fact rather than prayers of contrition.
What’s interesting though, is that King-in-waiting David is also acting a bit desperately as well. Having faced down the threat from Saul directly twice to his face, we see him cutting and running to the Philistines. And as he does, he brings a crew with him raiding other regions, lying to their king. Why the sudden similarity between the two kings? In David’s case, we can have a bit more understanding recognizing the guy is burnt out. Having been hunted down, betrayed by some of his own men, he’s weary and, like his present king, does some silly, illogical things.
Would not the God who had given him strength, wisdom, insight so far continue to guide and strengthen him in this his hour of understandable human need? Which is what makes David such a relatable figure. How often do we go from a place of faith and trust to suddenly believing now we have to fix something, now we have to go it alone, we better take over, take control over this particular situation
We’ll see how things resolve themselves for both of these kings in the coming days – but we already have a good idea of the trajectory that they are on and how things will end up for Saul and for David. May we be just as clear and self-aware ourselves 🙂
DAY 119: 1 Samuel 29, 30, 31 Psalm 18
A TUMULTUOUS END
While we have read chapters that are far more breathtaking in just evil perpetrated by some of God’s creation on others of His creation, there’s something that makes today’s conclusion to 1 Samuel right up there in terms of difficult passages to read. No one is innocent. There’s Lies, Betrayals, Deception… Suicide. David we will see, once again how he is saved from himself and some really awful options he was tempted to take and Saul, well we knew it was going to end badly for Saul, but I doubt most first-time readers would’ve predicted his taking his own life.
A student studying these chapters in a college course I was taken came in loaded for bear about how unjust God was. That he seemed to have a grudge against Saul from the very start, that he was more protective of David. As he went through his litany of things, he was making a compelling case to which our professor simply let him go. When he finally finished all the professor said was “Chapter 8.” What??? 1 Samuel 8… The Lord warned them not to desire a King…
Yes in God’s wisdom and knowledge – as mysterious as it is for us to comprehend – He saw what was coming. He pleaded with His people to listen to His counsel. When He relents, He still tries to guide and direct and warn Saul who consistently dismisses them. The ripple effects of Saul’s self-centered reign will ultimately ruin everything that ever mattered to him – and the collateral damage on the people of Israel is significant
No sin is private. It’s another lie of the devil as he is seducing us with the latest temptation to delude ourselves that we can get away with something, that the corner we cut, the loophole we conveniently find for ourselves isn’t that big a deal (remember Saul arguing with Samuel “I did what the Lord asked” when he obviously had not – and foolishly thought God would have thought ‘oh my bad, I must have missed that…’)
This past Lent, reading a daily devotional, the author, Fr. Mark Toups observed – the two people who know you best is God and the Devil. It would be highly recommended if you’re the third. Saul didn’t… David will fair better… What will be our story – and will we take this providential moment to avoid it becoming a tumultuous end as well?
DAY 120 2 Samuel 1; 1 Chronicles 1; Psalm 13
THE REST OF THE STORY
Today we begin “2nd Samuel” and the book of Chronicles. It’s probably good to point out that the authorship of Samuel isn’t possible since he died a few chapters ago in first Samuel. It’s not uncommon that contemporaries of these figures would continue following the writings of a fallen great prophet like Samuel as part of the manuscripts and writings. So the author of 2 Samuel is anonymous (although scholars will point to some possibilities). As does the author of Chronicles, which is a unique book in the Old Testament. We’ll be covering some similar history that we have heard /will hear in the books of Samuel, but with added details and from a different perspective. But we shouldn’t see it as historians battling out ideologies and specifics. Biblical writing is always recounting God’s centrality and activity in the ongoing story of human history. Particularly for the books of Chronicles, the writer is reflecting on the reality of Israel’s present situation (it is written in the 5th Century Before Christ) and recognizing the greatness of Israel was in the past – but that the importance of Who God is, Who they are as His people, Their origin, Their history, Remembering these things was key for their present and future. So don’t be hard on yourselves if you speed Fr. Mike reading through all those genealogies – but it’s good for us to have some appreciation why they’re there.
As we begin Second Samuel though, there’s interesting second account of the death of Saul. 1st Samuel ends with him committing suicide and 2nd Samuel begins with this tale of this Amalekite coming forward to tell David he killed Saul (for which he is immediately punished). So which is it? Scholars have argued about this inconsistency for centuries. There are different schools of thought – were there conflicting accounts that were in the different sources that make up these books? Did the amalekite man lie thinking by claiming credit for killing Saul (removing the obstacle for David to ascend the throne himself) he would be rewarded? That latter theory would explain the presence of the two stories. And it also underscores David’s consistency in complete reverence and awe for the Lord’s anointing saying that it is not for man to decide to take vengeance on the King of Israel. Which we see beautifully expressed in David’s Lamentation
Despite Saul’s disastrous end and irrational jealousy and hatred for the heir-in-waiting, there’s no trace of that in his words for the dead. He doesn’t canonize Saul. But he doesn’t dismiss the good, the noble parts of his story that could have easily been forgotten in light of the more recent failures that were known. Turns out David is good enough to even honor Saul’s request that he would honor his legacy.
It’s hard to speak kind words of people who may have been hurtful in a lot of different ways – let alone tried to kill you. Yet in this example we get another glimpse as to what makes David one who is after God’s own heart and a challenge for us if we desire that to be said of us.
DAY 121: 2 Samuel 2; 1 Chronicles 2; Psalm 24
THE REIGN OF KING DAVID
With little fanfare, the mourning is barely completed and David is on the move in ascending as King. It seems strange doesn’t it that there’s no real coronation or ceremony. Particularly after having waited so long for this moment to occur.
Yet the more we think about it, it makes sense. David had already been anointed as King – by Samuel, ordained so by God. Someone had asked back at that point, why didn’t David ascend to the throne there and then? It’s a good question. It was already obvious that Saul had failed God continually which resulted in this bold move to skip “the heir apparent” Joshua for David. But that’s one of the characteristics that God admired in the heat of David. Receiving the anointing from the Lord, he knew it was the Lord’s to give and take away. Which is what animates his constant deference for predecessor (who really didn’t deserve it). David was secure in his knowledge of who he was, and who had made him that – and was in no rush to move God’s plans along, instead choosing to let himself be moved and directed by the Lord. Which is why it’s good to note that immediately He goes in prayer to the Lord -asking for direction and then following His command.
Would that each of us could be as confident in who God calls us to be, and deferential to letting Him give us the next step, and the one after that….
DAY 122: 2 Samuel 3; 1 Chronicles 3-4; Psalm 25
THE LETTER OF THE LAW
Some days back we had learned about the cities of refuge that were set up as Israel was entering into the promised land and God was laying out his plans for how the kingdom would operate. That included the “cities of refuge” were meant to be a place where if someone killed someone unintentionally, to escape the “ancient” sense of immediate justice of an “eye for an eye” (or rather vengeance) the cities of refuge were set up to give a person to go. They were safe there so that they could lay their case out and explain – and that they were to be adjudicated in those settings. This was one of those ways that the Lord was “taming and training” the people to become His people.
There had been tension between the houses of the previous King Saul and the new King David. Abner, a member of Saul’s family, had come to a point though that he wanted to help move things along and was working to transfer power to David. Joab who was from David’s family, was still understandably angry that Abner had killed one of his brothers (which we heard about yesterday) which was done in self-defense.
Joab didn’t care – which as a brother, you could understand. Yet as a member of David’s family, as a member of God’s people he had a responsibility to care. And Joab knows that deep in his heart as well. We read that in the slight note made in verse 27 where they explain that he took him right outside the city gate of Hebron, whch had been one of the cities of refuge.
Abner had not wanted to kill Asahel – He warned him to stop pursuing him, he gave him an out, and only killed when Asahel continued to pursue him. Joab basically sets the guy up, knowing after meeting with David, he’s feeling a degree of safety… not expecting to be killed. Technically, Joab was within his “legal” rights by doing this. Yet we see David isn’t at peace with that “letter of the law.” He goes into mourning for Abner. He’s not just mourning the death of this man, but underlining the damage that unchecked anger and bitterness can bring.
King David is once again charting out a different course that will impact his people. He shows his repulsion for the cycle of violence and anger… he demonstrates that there is no “honor killing.” And by publicly mourning Abner, underscores that the man had a God-given dignity. And in the process demonstrates, once again, how David is a man after God’s own heart as well. Who as Christians, has called us to an even higher letter of the law, in the ’ law of love.
May we take this as a moment of reflection- thinking about hurts, angers, unresolved issues we’ve experienced and ask ourselves who can we relate to more – Joab or David?
DAY 123: 2 Samuel 4; 1 Chronicles 5 &6; Psalm 26
THE VICIOUS CYCLE CONTINUES
The violence just goes on and on. Despite David’s very public and profound acts of mercy towards his enemies, attempts at reconciliation, even mourning his enemies the message hasn’t quite clicked in the hearts and minds of the people: “Here is the head of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy…” they begin in their presentation.
Who’s enemy was it really? David never once gave that indication. Perhaps these individuals trying to spin the tension that existed (solely on Saul’s side) to have an excuse for this gross act of destruction.
What’s a bit surprising is hearing David leveling a capital punishment on these brothers – particularly to an extreme of cutting off hands, feet and hanging the bodies. It seems a pretty extreme response from a man who’s been so leveled and compassionate. One scholar connects this to a verse in Proverbs (chapter 6) which describes things that are an abomination to the Lord – “hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
[and] feet that make haste to run to evil”.(Proverbs 6: 16-18)
David isn’t just shaming these men, but more importantly their wicked acts and reiterating once again that his reign is not honored by those seeking vengeance in his name. Especially in light of yesterday’s reading, where David goes to great lengths to separate himself from these very depraved acts. That this lesson was not learned, understood and heeded is what brings about this final judgment.
In this, as uncomfortable as it can be for people to reflect on, we see another example of David foreshadowing the “son of David” Jesus at the end of time with the final judgment. There are consequences to sins, especially those that are not repented of. The bodies of Rechab and Baanah were meant to be a warning – that those to whom continue to perpetuate this vicious cycle of violence will become victims of that cycle themselves. May we heed the warning ourselves!
DAY 124: 2 Samuel 5; 1 Chronicles 5-6; Psalm 26
THE PEOPLE’S CHANGE OF HEART
For one short chapter, 2 Samuel 5 is packed with information – it’s an A.D.D. person’s nightmare to try to focus 🙂 – just to name a few:
+ David becoming he King of all Israel (up until now it was the King of Judah in the City of Hebron) + King David dealing with threats from the Philisitines – both times consulting God – who interestingly gives him two different remedies that both work (once by confronting them, the second not confronting them – the point being God is in control, and obedience to God is paramount) + Jerusalem becoming the capital of the kingdom and a better appreciation of the historic importance of the “City of David” to the people of Israel.
One area that kind of stood out though is how the people themselves have grown in their knowledge and love of God. Think back to when this kingship began with Saul. There reason for wanting a King? They were being attacked by foreign powers. The reason they were being attacked? Because they had not listened to God and grow more disobedient and obstinate. Their remedy for that? Not the repentance that Samuel was calling them to – WE NEED A KING LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE – When God (through Samuel) points out their hypocrisy – that they are looking for deliverance WITHOUT repentance, they double down, insult God even more by insisting they want a King. Saul turned out to be a worthy representative for the people of Israel at that time.
We’ve heard for some time that David was a man after God’s own heart though. And finally, the people are starting to notice. David does not confront the people, demand obedience, invoke his divine given authority in order to take the throne. The people COME TO HIM. “We are bone of your bone and flesh…” They remember what David had done “when Saul was King over us, it was You that led out and brought in Israel.” And most importantly, they were listening to the Lord: “the Lord said to you, ‘you shall be shepherd of mypeople Israel and you shall be prive over Israel.’”
After centuries of family infighting and jealousies have consistently threatened and undermined the people, here we see the people themselves coming to obedience and submission to God and His will. We need to take a moment to appreciate the beauty and sacredness of this moment. It sets the environment for all the things that are beginning to unfold and that we will continue to hear about tomorrow.
DAY 125: 2 Samuel 6-7; 1 Chronicles 9; Psalm 89
FATHER AND SON
Some years ago, I remember going out to dinner with my Mom and Dad. In a kind of quick move I was able to grab the check to take them out. While my Mom was very touched by the gesture, my Father was kind of reserved about it. When we got home later and Mom was in another room, he brought it up again. Not that he wasn’t grateful for it – but I couldn’t quite tell if he thought as a priest I couldn’t afford to do something like that for my parents, or if it was an Italian pride thing (which I remembered similar “fights” over the check going on between my Grandfather and my father)
Reading Chapter 7 of 2 Samuel though, that memory came to mind. David’s heart is sincere, genuine, grateful… He joyfully and ecstatically brings the Ark, the “presence” of God into “the City of David” and recognizes in all humility all that the Lord God has done for him. Enemies vanquished, his faithfulness been rewarded and now at peace in a palace. He wants to return the favor. He wants to do something in return. His heart is in the right place thinking if I have such a house, the Lord God deserves one.
The response from the Lord at first feels like my Dad not fully appreciating my gesture of “picking up the check.” But what is the Lord saying to David? David you can’t pay me back by building me a house… not for nothing son, you couldn’t even if you wanted to – I am the creator of all creation… I don’t think David intended it to be seen that way – but there’s something beautiful in this exchange between God and David… between a Father and Son.
For my Dad, his taking his son out to dinner was a way of his continuing to “take care” of his son just as he had all my life. He simply wanted me to be the best son, and the best “father” as a priest that I could be in return. That was the only gift he really wanted. That was what made him proud.
For David, and for all of us, what do you give to the God who has everything? We can hear it and read it in this chapter, as God lays our his promises in response to David’s offer. God wants our heart. He wants our faithfulness and obedience. All the gifts and successes David has enjoyed are attributed to that. The Lord knows how difficult that will be for David (as we’ve seen for over 124 days now, plus how many years we’ve lived) and rejoices simply in that. Our faithfulness.
DAY 126: 2 Samuel 8; 1 Chronicles 10-11; Psalm 60
We hear that line “The Lord gave David victory everywhere he went” in 2 Samuel 8 repreated twice. For those joining late to the story, it seems like a bold affirmation and quick fulfillment from yesterday’s reading from Chapter 7.
But for those journeying daily, we have to remember that this has been years in the making. David, the lowly shepherd boy, the one disparaged by his older brothers, the one dissed by the previous King whom he had fought valiantly for – all of those experiences could have been moments where doubt, denial, fear entered in and consumed David. Turning him bitter, impatient, or imprudent – like his predecessor.
Between 2 Samuel and now after 9 chapters of names, we’re entering a narrative section of Chronicles where we get another perspective on the history of the first two kings of Israel – we’re revisiting Saul’s legacy. Something he was so anxious about securing, has indeed been noteworthy for all the wrong reasons. His death is recounted, as well as what made him notorious: Saul died for his unfaithfulness… he was unfaithful to the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, consulted a medium, seeking guidance and did not seek guidance from the Lord. You get the sense the author of Chronicles is most definitely not a fan.
Yet that’s not simply an author bias. In the chapter from Samuel, we get this whirlwind of accounts of all these battles that David had to fight. Why? Well in short, because of Saul. The promised Land, the Kingdom was overrun by all these forces who were enemies of God and His people.
All of this underlines the importance for patience in the spiritual life. Personally it’s easy for frustration to creep in when that vision from the Lord is clear, but the everyday, the obstacles, the ones fighting his will all seem to be undermining that vision. I want the Lord to be “victorious,” yesterday. That impatience reveals a desire for my will, not His. God’s promises will be revealed in His time.
DAY 127: 2 Samuel 9; 1 Chronicles 12; Psalm 28
First off, for people looking for a unique baby name, how come Mephibosheth hasn’t made it to any of those lists? The poor kid might not get out of first grade having to learn how to spell his name, but it sure is memorable 🙂 (sorry, can’t help the A.D.D. moments from time to time)
This is one of the King David stories that I’ve always loved. You have this poor man Mephibosheth (going to call him “bo” from this point forward since it turns out it’s hard for this 47 year old to keep typing his name correctly as well ) Grandson of King Saul, and son of David’s best friend Jonathan who is physically handicapped. You get the sense by his being kind of off the grid and radar from everyone else and the reaction he has when he enters David’s presence, that Bo is feeling pretty down and isolated. He’s no doubt heard of all that has happened to the family of Saul – as well as his grandfather’s irrational hatred for David. Having this physical handicap has further left him feeling disconnected and alone.
Which is what David does for Bo even more moving. At this point, David has gone above and beyond in terms of showing respect for Saul, simply because of the office, the title he held as King of Israel. In dealing with all the residual stuff that continued with relatives since Saul’s death as well as having to clean up the mess that Saul left him, you would think that David has done enough. Yet this extraordinary kindness is bestowed on Bo by David.
To me this always stood out as one of those moments where David is Christ-like and foreshadowing the future Messiah. David goes out of his way to remember, to search out and to attend to this remaining relative of the family of Saul. In that, we are reminded that to the Lord- no one is forgotten. That the trials and tribulations of the past don’t determine their future. That God’s love, mercy and favors continue to confound humanity, upend precedents, and leave us not just in wonder and awe – but hopefully motivated to imitate the selfless, sacrificial love of Christ ourselves.
Who’s the Bo in our corners of the world whose life can be transformed by our remembering, our searching them out, our attending to them?
DAY 128: 2 Samuel 10 ; 1 Chronicles 13 ; Psalm 31
CHOOSING FAITH OVER FEAR
What is it that guides our decisions, our responses to things that we encounter in life – is it from a place of faith or fear? In 2 Samuel 10, David offers this kindness of sending these representatives to console a grieving son over the death of his father, the King of the Ammonites. A group of princes immediately are suspicious and sow seeds of doubt, convincing the son that this is simply an attempt to plan an attack and overthrow their kingdom. They humiliate the servants of David, and then are filled with even more fear that David will retaliate them for this unjust attack, that they plan a pre-emptive attack on Jerusalem with the Syrians.
What’s fascinating though is in reflecting on Joab, David’s general’s response. He plans his best defense and then puts the rest in God’s hands “may the Lord do what seems good to Him.” The God who can move mountains, bring walls down, cause seas to part has proven that there is nothing impossible for Him. So while most military experts would be understandably concerned and possibly operating out of a place of fear themselves (whether they are honest enough to admit that or not), Joab’s entrusting this to God’s hands – knowing that Israel had not done anything unjust that caused this threat; and also that the land he Ammonites were dwelling in was part of the land promised to Abraham’s descendants. God was on their side, and by coming from a place of faith, Israel was as well. Which is what brings about their “unexpected” victory.
These scriptures are good reminders that when we’re trying to respond to whatever challenge, crisis or trial – whether it’s a global experience or something far more local and personal – the best response we can offer is to follow that pattern – work as hard and best as we can with the information and resources we have, and then completely put it in God’s hands knowing nothing is impossible for Him.
DAY 129: 2 Samuel 11; 1 Chronicles 13-14; Psalm 32
THE DAILY BATTLE
How many of you felt shocked reading or listening to this story of David’s adultery and all the manipulations he goes through to cause this to happen. Setting Uriah up to have him killed so that he could try to cover up his sin. After walking with King David who’s demonstrated himself in so many beautifully generous, somewhat unexpected ways his righteousness, it’s kind of an understatement to say this chapter leaves “David fans” disappointed. It seems so out of character on so many levels to hear of David’s lack of self-discipline, giving into these lustful desires and creating these schemes resulting in the shedding of innocent (and aggrieved) blood of Uriah.
In some ways, though it’s not surprising. We’ve seen for all his noble qualities and characteristics, David has struggled in this area (taking multiple wives and concubines) That has never been confronted (at least not recorded in scripture). Which never meant God was “okay” with those sins and indiscretions. And David surely knew this was wrong. Did he fall into the sin of presumption, thinking God was giving him a pass for those things? Did he fall into the awful temptation of comparison thinking that his predecessor did far worse and he was so faithful in so many other ways – that, what? He was entitled to a few “free passes?”
It’s crazy how our human nature can easily succumb to those lies and distortions that the devil likes to whisper – making a loophole, coming up for some justification for something we know is wrong, is sinful, is evil. And often times it’s something that starts out on a smaller level.
For example, the faithful Catholic who went to Mass every Sunday doesn’t just stop going one week. There’s a Sunday when maybe there was some unexpected obstacles or things that came up that made it difficult or perhaps impossible to get there. And whatever legitimate things that are there, our compromise there makes it easier the next time there’s even a fraction of those issues that caused our missing that one time. We see that we haven’t been “smote” for this mortal sin that we become almost comfortable with this sin.
David’s fault was not just this one day with Uriah and Bathshiba – it was neglecting those sinful impulses earlier when they were smaller; it was deluding himself that because he got away with them in the short-term that there wasn’t something sinful about what he was doing. David’s biggest enemy isn’t the Syrians or the Philistines – it’s the same one we all have to contend against – the evil one. And that’s an ongoing, daily battle that’s best fought without compromise in the smallest of battles.
While this will cause damage on a human and spiritual level for David and all those around him, the Good News is that God’s love and mercy won’t end for David even with this catastrophic fall he experiences. Nor do they ever end for us… as David himself will later recall: “Many are the panges of the wicked: but steadfast love surrounds him who trusts in the Lord.” Psalm 32: 10
DAY 130: 2 Samuel 12 ; 1 Chronicles 16; Psalm 51:
GLIMMER OF HOPE
Have to admit to feeling sad revisiting these chapters of David’s story. The flashbacks to the young shepherd boy humbly, diligently at work, completely unassuming and unaware of the greatness that was within… the confident, God-fearing and God-loving servant who through that vision was able to level a giant, escape murderous plots, lead victories over enemies – that man seems so distant to who we’re talking about now, in the matter of just the last two days.
David gave into delusions of greatness which made him believe he didn’t need to go fight for the people, for his people (lower case and uppercase on “His”). That entitlement grew as he allows his lustful desires to grow into even more vile sins where he forces himself on Bathsheeba, gets her pregnant, tries to cover that up by trying to convince her husband to abdicate his military responsibilities and go home to her – and when Uriah proves more faithful and honorable to his duties, David arranges for him to be killed.
Where has that David we knew and loved gone?
Perhaps we have (or had) people in our lives that we feel the same way about – they’ve changed, they’ve failed, they’ve let us down – repeatedly – to the point that we feel like they were people we never knew…. Perhaps we’ve been people like that ourselves. We can relate to Nathan’s revelation to David about the truth of what precisely he’s done, and how devastating it can be to experience those scales falling.
While the chapter is filled with continued sadness – the death of an innocent, not to mention the terrible fallout that will afflict his entire household from this evil – there’s a glimmer of hope.
No that doesn’t magically make everything better. It doesn’t prevent the death of the infant, or bring Uriah back to life, nor undo any and all of the mess that David finds himself in. Sin has consequences. Serious consequences. And some of those consequences are irrevocable
But what’s not is God’s love for us… and the potential that He sees deep within. That’s the glimmer of hope in the midst of what could be a pit of utter despair for David. Unlike so many before, David owns his sin, he makes penance and contrition – and will experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. God won’t fix everything for David. And David won’t be able to either. Sin has consequences. But in pouring out His mercy and forgiveness, God will equip David to step out of that pit… to begin again… to trust again – himself and God. And with that Hope, perhaps David can lead again.
May we take comfort that as far gone as we can oftentimes feel as we wallow in our examinations of conscience, that is the last thing God wants us to do. The devil wants that… he would love for us to wallow and believe that’s it, we’re done and there’s no hope. But as David reminds us, a humble contrite heart, the Lord will not spurn.
DAY 131: 2 Samuel 13; 1 Chronicles 17; Psalm 35
Sorry there’s not a way to prepare people for the uglier chapters that we encounter in the Old Testament. It was bad enough the last two days to read about David’s moral failures, but probably few were prepared for this chapter (I’m pretty positive this chapter never appears in our daily or weekend lectionary, so you’re not mistaken if you’ve never heard this horrific saga) Just for clarity sake – we don’t really have a definitive number of the wives and concubines of King David. When we read chapter 3 of Chronicles a couple of weeks ago, we could count almost 20 sons from 8 different women. Amnon was the first born – meaning he would have been the crown prince… and Tamar, was his half-sister (and her brother Absalom, would have been his half-brother) To read how David’s first born, the “crown-prince” rapes his half-sister is so jarring and disturbing.
Equally jarring is David’s lack of response to this. Oh we read he was “very angry” (verse 21) – Really? That’s it? Did he give him a firm talking to? Ground him? What did he do for Tamar? If there was any response it had to have been pathetic enough that scripture is silent for two years. Two long years Tamar had to suffer and be overwhelmed with feelings of shame, being violated, being isolated. Two long years her brother Absalom stewed in righteous anger turning into understandable rage and hatred for the crown-prince, and probably for his father, King David.
Some speculate that David feel neutered, remain silent because how could he condemn the rape of Tamar which was basically what he had done to Bathesheba… and the killing of Absalom being the exact thing he had done to Uriah? But the failures began much earlier than those two previous chapters. They began whenever he found an attractive woman and possessed them, some as wives, some as concubines. God from the earliest chapters of the Old Testament told us: Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife (singular) and the they become one flesh (Gen 2: 24). There’s never been an excuse or exemption made for Kings or anyone else for that matter. So this ugliness isn’t the direct result or some “karma” from the awful chapter on Bathsheeba and Uriah – but far earlier. David’s failures as a husband and a father have created a relativistic environment in the most important and intimate of spaces – his own home.
We’ve heard it said, “no sin is private” (in fact, that’s one of the reasons we as Catholics go to confession where we admit that our sins, despite the temptation to justify some of them saying “no one knows” or “I only hurt myself” in fact hurts the entire body of Christ) We see in gory detail how sin causes selfishness, objectification of people, and for things to metastasize all from David’s initial giving into his carnal desires with reckless abandon.
This is all difficult to reflect on (especially those of you who are reading this first thing in the morning… hope you had a cup of coffee or two) But may the Holy Spirit speak into our hearts as we do read this chapter. Some in our own group here might have had to contend with equally painful attacks in their lives or in the lives of those they loved where this can be too painful to read. As a community who is called every day by Father Mike to pray for each other, in a particular way today, we’re being called to pay attention to these atrocious sins and not look away because it’s ugly and uncomfortable… we should be angry at David’s silence and those who continue to be silent whenever people are so cruelly mistreated by others, particularly those in positions of power. It’s only when we confront evil, that true healing, and eventually reconciliation can begin.
DAY 132: 2 Samuel 14; 1 Chronicles 18 ; Psalm 14
IGNORE THE PROBLEM…
And it goes away? It would appear King David seems to think so. First he lets 2 years pass without confronting Amnon for the rape of his sister – then after Absalom kills Amnon and flees Jerusalem. Absalom returns (thanks to the manipulations of Joab) to Jerusalem… David allows his unchanged, unrepentant, rebellious son to return without a word said – Simply forbidding him from his presence… for another 2 years.
As I’m sitting here reflecting on the seeming insanity of the whole situation – is David sulking? Blind? Thick-headed? How will the silent treatment do anything to rectify anything? Yet, how often does that happen to us – confronting someone who’s hurt us? We allow those feelings to override the most basic of steps in finding any resolution to whatever troubles us: communication. “She knows what she did…”“The phone works two ways, if he wants to apologize he knows the number” – as the couple start down a path of mutual destruction.
In David’s case, we start to see things will start to devolve as this chapter ends. To get his father’s attention, Absalom starts a fire… at which point, David basically pardons the kid without ever addressing any of the awful chapters this family has endured. The unspoken tension will only intensify and the ripple effects will be catastrophic.
For us, perhaps this is an opportunity to search our hearts and see what unresolved difficulties with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers have gone on for too long and ask why? Is it pride or fear holding us back? Is it that we don’t want the resolution, we’ve almost gotten comfortable with the anger? As difficult as this can be, for those of us who wish to “seek God” – one of the first places for him to be found is in our humbling ourselves. May we have the courage to make a step to do so – today.
DAY 133: 2 Samuel 15; 1 Chronicles 19 & 20; Psalm 3
Reading some of the comments from the last few day’s reflections, it’s understandable how these scriptures have been difficult on a lot of levels for people to read and reflect on. One recurring comment has been the challenge it is to read the Old Testament compared to the New Testament and the continued perception that God seems “meaner” in the Old compared to the New.
One consideration: in the New Testament the focus is on Jesus who is fully Human and fully Divine – so we’re not going to see character flaws, sinful inclinations, brokenness in Jesus because he doesn’t have any. That doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t suffer, encounter temptations, and experience the full range of human emotions. But as God and Man, He knows how to perfectly navigate them. So in the New Testament, we’re not going to read of the flawed, fellow human like King David who will be one of the “main character” in this, God’s story. Oh we will still encounter gross betrayals (Judas) moral failures (Peter) individuals who will need to make massive conversions and repentance (Saul/Paul). We will see those who fail to respond to God’s calls in their lives (the Rich Young Man; the disciples who when Jesus tells them they need to eat His flesh and Drink His blood – depart and leave Jesus’ company) But because Jesus is very much front and center in every page of the New Testament, our perception is different in terms of the scriptures themselves.
But God isn’t the one who changes – it’s us humans who do… and sometimes multiple times throughout our lives – The power hungry, ambitious one who puts on the air of being faithful when in fact the desire is for prestige and authority… The faithful but flawed one who becomes a tragic figure watching the effect of their sinfulness undermine their lives and the lives of those that mean the most to them. Yes we can identify these descriptors as Absalom and David… but those are, sadly, not uncommon stories for those of us who are living under the New and Eternal Covenant of Jesus Christ.
It’s heart breaking reading these chapters… Yet scripture is meant to always expand our vision. This isn’t just about these two individuals – Absalom and David. It’s also the fickle people who are easily swayed from following their King (lest we forget, the one they demanded) to the charismatic but rebellious son luring them to follow him instead. We are also to see and learn from the tug of war going on in David’s life where he’s made a mess of things – notice we haven’t seen or heard of him consulting God before his moves as of late? It’s an important thing to highlight! Instead his trying to respond to them, mostly on his own. He’s showing signs of repentance and remorse, and is still trying to respect God and His law, but we can see he’s feeling the isolation.
What people of the Old and New Testament will ultimately learn is that until we surrender ourselves and our rebellious hearts to Him – totally and completely, that trail of tears, that isolation will inevitably continue. Thankfully, the God of the Old and New Testaments comes Himself to save us in Jesus Christ.
DAY 134: 2 Samuel 16; 1 Chronicles 21; Psalm 15
How disgraced and humiliated David has become. First we read of this attack by Shime-i who reviles and curses David as he passes by him. Then one of David’s closest advisors Ahithophel – having abandoned David in this time of tryial deciding to throw a dura-flame log on the fire of tension between Absalom and David with his suggestion that the renegade overtaking the throne also “take” David’s concubines. Ahithophel is obviously put his finger to the wind to see what direction things are blowing and decides to be on team Absalom now.
One thing that everyone seems to have forgotten: Saul. And how David treated him. Despite that King’s repeated sinfulness and lack of remorse, repentance and ever-growing arrogance, David never once went against the King. Even when the King irrationally tried to kill him TWICE. It was that type of honor, virtue and nobility that made David’s failures so catastrophic to all of us to read. And quite beautifully, we see that David recognizes that as well. He has been on this journey of tears, accepting the humiliations as a deserved penance for his failures. He is trying to somehow express to God his own sadness for his sins as he walks this path of repentance.
While it’s never a good thing for us to compare ourselves to some one else (I’m not as much a sinner as that person!) There is something to learn about how Saul was treated as compared to David. David was anointed the next King by Samuel. Absalom presumed to take that authority himself. David honored Saul despite his many failures simply because he saw that as a way of honoring the Lord and trusting that it was God who had first put him on that throne and it would be God who took him off. The lack of respect from son, country-men, even trusted confidants – not just for David, but for God is painfully obvious. In fact, the Lord is not consulted even referred to by any of these individuals. It’s all about worldly power, ambition, who’s on the ascent and who’s not.
No need for a spoiler alert. You’re all bright enough to know that removing God from the narrative is a recipe of disaster for the characters in our scripture that we’re traveling with. May we be humble enough to remember that in our own lives as well.
DAY 135: 2 Samuel 17; 1 Chronicles 22; Psalm 36
THE DYE IS CAST
Whats fascinating about this chapter with it’s double, double crossings (Ahithophel had traded on David for Absalom, now Hushai does the opposite) is how Absalom walks into the trap. On the surface it’s obvious that Ahithophel is giving much better, well rounded, rational advice in order to succeed. Taking into account the legendary status of David as a warrior, he tells him what’s necessary and lays out a strategy that makes sense.
Hushai’s gives the complete opposite advice – and the reason it appeals to Absalom is because it completely stroked his ego. Gather a bigger army, and lead them he tells him. Absalom can’t resist the desire to be seen out in front. The fantasy of leading an army to defeat – not just the king but his father – is too exciting for him to resist.
But what’s food for thought is recognizing how there’s seemingly not a moral fibre left in Absalom. His pursuits in life have been based on pride for some time. First simply in himself and his looks, then telling himself and anyone who would listen that he would be a better king, and now that he would be able to outsmart and outmaneuver David tomorrow. We’ll see how all that works out for him tomorrow (here’s a hint: not well). As we’ll read in Proverbs: Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (16: 18) This won’t be some divine justice or retribution that Absalom experiences. What happens to him is completely self-inflicted.
It’s a good reminder that so often when bad things happen that people attribute to God “Why did he do this thing…” or “Why didn’t he prevent such and such from happening” it’s dodging the obvious. What have we, collectively as humanity, done with our gift of free will? How have the choices we’ve made opened us up for God’s blessings or set-backs the result of those decisions?
DAY 136: 2 Samuel 18 ; 1 Chronicles 23; Psalm 17
As we’ve navigated through the Old Testament for over one-third of this calendar year (God Bless you all for your perseverance on that!!!) We’ve encountered, unfortunately, many instances of blood shed, violence, death and destruction in these most sacred of texts. Which has given us much food for thought, caused us to struggle with “where is God in the midst of this?” Which is a question that we still ask (or should ask) when we see those things in our day and age… whether it’s in what’s called “the Holy Land” or any of the rest of God’s creation, which by that fact alone, it being His creation, is also holy.
One thing that has been mentioned in these reflections has been that God never rejoices in the death and destruction of any of His creation. Yes there are “enemies of God” who by their choices have set themselves in opposition to His law and His will – and in these specific historic circumstances were subject to physical death (and we believe His ultimate judgment as they stood before His presence) But none of this causes God to rejoice.
We get a window into that as we read this chapter of 2 Samuel. Here is this “civil war” which is basically the forces aligned with David vs. those with the renegade son Absalom. The tension has been building to this critical crescendo for some time now. Absalom seemingly has never respected or honored his father. David’s sins not withstanding, the outright disregard for his Father, and for God the Father has been very much a key part of his attitude and actions for some time. So that this battle is finally coming about is not surprising in the least. Understandably the forces fighting for David feel vindicated that Absalom should find himself vulnerable and exposed (while the Bible translation we’re reading has his “head” caught, other translations have it as the infamous long hair that we’ve heard about for sometime having been caught in the tree – so you have to imagine somehow that mane of hair has him hanging helpless there when David’s soldiers deliberate how to handle it, and ultimately kill him).
Yes the threat is removed. Yes this will bring an end to the civil war (for now) within Israel. Yet, at the end, there’s no rejoicing. Instead we hear the mournful cries of a father for a son: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom…Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom my son, my son!
It’s jarring. There’s no rejoicing in the death and destruction of a child. After Absalom was so hateful, David’s heart is exposed where he makes that startling claim, that he would have died for him.
Which is where we’re left today to reflect and remember. Jesus does just that. Jesus dies for us – for the times we’ve been an Absalom, for our sins… to save us from that same pitiful state that left this man dead in a tree. That, is something to rejoice over- and more importantly change how we view and live our lives.
DAY 137 2 Samuel 19; 1 Chronicles 24; Psalm 38
NO TIME FOR GRIEF
One thing is for sure, we’re not going to nominate Joab as a model for grief counseling. It’s kind of jarring to hear him being so dismissive of David’s mourning for the death of his son Absalom. Yet, Fr. Mike made an interesting point that I hadn’t thought of until listening to the podcast yesterday. For some time, David never referred to Absalom as “my son” – but rather “that young man.” It was only in death that David recognizes that sacred relationship… recognizing what he has lost.
Joab is right in warning David. The armies who have suffered tremendous losses of their own to re-establish order and David’s rightful claim to the throne are standing there, post battle, conflicted as their King seems inconsolable. Joab is trying to point out to David, the mistakes he’s making, the failures he’s about to compound an already bad situation.
David’s leadership and authority was already in tatters. There were tribes that had sided with Absalom and made him their king – which not only on a human level, now, is seen as a mistake – but spiritually, they had no right to do. Only a prophet had the right to anoint a king. They’re unrepentant in the face of defeat. Meanwhile the leaders who have sided with David are fuming. As David is trying to bring family peace by restoring one of their own, Amasa, as a top General ignores the ones who were loyal in bringing an end to this civil, familial war.
Even the humble Mephilbosheth is unable to wake David up from making more disastrous moves. This simple soul, the remaining member of Saul’s family (Jonathan’s crippled son) was misrepresented to by Ziba. Rather than adjudicating that fraud who basically stole the poor mans estate, David deems it unsolvable and just decides that they should split the estate, with Mepholbsheth content to give it all, just rejoicing that David knew he would never have abandoned him and was happy to have him return as King.
So we end this chapter on an unresolved and tense note. King David for all the heroics and noble characteristics that had served him so well before, in a lot of ways is a broken man. As he will utter in the psalms “My sin is always before me…” (Psalm 51: 3). He’s a mess… his family is a mess, and now the kingdom is a mess.
Not that God would do a“told you so” – but this would be a good time if He wanted to. This was what God’s warning to His people about desiring a King. Not that the people had been perfectly obedient prior to that time, but they probably never imagined themselves as God’s chosen people now fighting and killing each other. What was it Samuel said when speaking of David – God sees the heart… which is true in goodness and sinfulness.
The Good News is in spite of this, God can, and will, always make a way of making things right. The question is, how difficult do we want to make it for Him?
DAY 138: 2 Samuel 20;1 Chronicles 25; Psalm 39
CLEANING UP THE MESS
Imagine your Sheba – your name actually makes it into scripture – for thousands of years God’s word has included you in the narrative. Then read the whole sentence – you’re remembered as a “worthless fellow.” That’s a rough assessment to ever get past. Chapter 20 starts off with that character and characterization describing how Sheba is basically continuing to sow the seeds of division we’ve been seeing and hearing about in the last few chapters. David seems to have paid attention to Joab’s counsel where he reminded the King he cannot let his mistakes as a Father now happen as King. The environment is ripe for continued division, hostility and tension and so David agrees that this needs to be addressed directly and quickly, otherwise “Sheba… will do us more harm than Absalom (v 6).”
Yet we see very quickly Joab is really not an honorable fellow. Yes he gives good and sound advice, has some gut instincts that are spot on. But he’s disobedient too. One reason he was passed over as general (and Amasa was instead appointed) was for how he didn’t listen to the King’s order that his son not be killed. How does Joab react? First chance he gets, he guts and kills Amasa. It seems all the evil, the sins, the arrogance that has been unleashed is still ravaging through the Kingdom.
But in the midst of all that, there’s a short incident that we can’t overlook. David retruning to Jerusalem and recognizing “ah, I probably shouldn’t have concubines.” Glad he finally got the memo. But on a serious note, this is progress. He doesn’t disgrace or dishonor the women. He provides and protects them while starting to get a handle on his own selfish, self centered desires that he has let rule him.
It’s an important thing for David to do. Not just for his own dignity as well as the dignity of the women… but on a spiritual level. As David is reflecting on the mess that is his family and his kingdom – all of that had to have been overwhelming on many levels. Rather than despair, or lash out at others he makes a meaningful and essential first step. Cleaning up the mess that is his own spiritual life. The old adage “you can’t give what you don’t have” is important to remember. If he has any hope to bring healing, restoration, unity to those he loved and those he was called to serve, then it has to start with David himself. It’s a good reminder for us – when we’re troubled by so much division, tension in the world, in our nation, in our families – it can be overwhelming and we can feel helpless. God meets us when we humble ourselves and continue that ongoing work of conversion – and uses that to change the world, one soul at a time.
DAY 139: 2 Samuel 21; 1 Chronicles 26; Psalm 40
NOTHING IS ANCIENT HISTORY
I know, I know… you’re reading or listening to this and going to yourself “wait what? Where did this come from?” This whole chapter about the Gibeonites sounds so outlandish. That God would send a famine, that the thing that would break the famine was the death of 7 of the previous king’s relatives for this group of people who weren’t even “the Chosen People.” So a bunch of things to unpack –
First some scholars consider this chapter to be out of place “historically” – that this famine was most likely earlier in David’s reign and not after the recent transgressions. So even though it’s placed at the end of 2 Samuel (and towards the end of his life) it’s more likely that this was something that occurred much earlier.
This famine, which most likely was a drought that lasted for three years. For the land and region a year without an adequate amount of rain wasn’t without precedent, even two years. But by the third year, that’s when David is recognizing something is wrong on a deeper level, which causes him to call out in prayer. And the answer is given – Saul had committed a horrendous sin. Back when we were reading Joshua there was this encounter in chapter 9 when Joshua and the elders made a covenant of peace with the Gibeonites swearing by God’s name (without consulting God by the way) And remember, when we were going through those early chapters everytime there was these covenants there was the sacrifices of animals with those gross descriptions of those carcasses… that was a way that those making the covenant were saying “if we break this covenant, let this happen to us.” In short, covenants are a big deal. Even though this oath of peace was made 400 years before the time of King Saul, there’s no expiration date on a covenant, especially when God’s name has been invoked on it.
Unsurprisingly, Saul didn’t seem to troubled by that. We saw that he liked to play fast and loose with God’s commandments, and so he probably assumed “that’s ancient history” as he decides to shed the innocent blood of people that the Israelites had been at peace with. King Saul knew about this oath, but choose to blatantly and bloodily ignore it. Which also tarnished God’s good and holy name. So there is this sense of guilt that needs to be repented of.
Where it becomes problematic is that there’s a mix of pagan superstitions, middle-eastern traditions thrown in here with God’s law. Notice that David does consult God to ask why there’s a drought, but then He goes to the Gibeonites to ask for the remedy. While they are legitimately the aggrieved victimized party here, they’re demand for the death of members of Saul’s household is understandably shocking to our ears. Especially when we realize that this atrocity by Saul had to have taken place some 30 plus years before, so most of the 7 didn’t take any part in this. Innocent blood to pay for innocent blood doesn’t make for divine justice. But again, they’re not consulting God. They’re correct in noting the importance of a covenant, and honoring that (which is why David protects Mephibosheth, who he had made an oath to protect) But this “remedy” is born of those other factors, not by adhering to God’s laws or asking for His remedy.
My mind is fast forwarding to Jesus’ when He is questioned about whether to pay the Roman tax and He asks for a coin, points out Caesars face on it and says “Give to Caesar what is Caesar…” In short, Jesus is pointing out that by carrying the coins, the Jews who were complaining about the Romans had already bound themselves to the “Roman law” evidenced by their carrying the coin. They had “danced with the devil” – they can’t now cry foul to God for the unfair price of that dance. I think that is what’s at play here which is what makes it such an unsatisfactory chapter to read. God’s ways are better than man’s. How many reminders of that reality do we need?
DAY 140 2 Samuel 22; 1 Chronicles 27; Psalm 41
BEST OF TIMES – WORST OF TIMES
PRAISE GOD ALL THE TIME
As mentioned yesterday, chapter 21 of 2 Samuel is almost like an “appendix” that didn’t necessarily follow the historic time line that had preceded it. This chapter, “David’s Song of Thanksgiving” is also found (more or less) in Psalm 18. It’s not exactly David’s last words, but there is something a reflection over his life that you can hear and sense in these words.
What is his observation? That through the roller coaster of life with it’s dizzying, exhilarating highs to the despairing lows – God has been “my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer.” This again is what differentiates David from his predecessor Saul. That despite whatever happened – unfair or unjust; the result of his own sinfulness and brokenness; the unprecedented triumphs and successes – David never lost sight of God. David might have felt ashamed in God’s presence, for good reason. But even with that, in it’s own way witnesses to this conviction of God’s steadfast presence in His life: David recognized his failings and mourned them in light of God’s consistent goodness.
To imagine that at the close of his life – the shepherd boy named king; loved by throngs from every end of the kingdom while despised and undermined by his own son; a God-fearing loving man who wrote Psalms to one who’s sins wreaked havoc in every relationship human and divine – for him to come to this point of reflection – of praising, thanking God… Digging deeper to continue to find those blessings missed in the moment,- is a powerful example worthy of emulating. How can we brag on God’s greatness that is there, animating each and every one of our lives?
DAY 141: 2 Samuel 23; 1 Chronicles 28; Psalm 43
As we near the end of David’s life, there’s some memories shared in this chapter. One that stood out to me was this episode in vs 13 – 17. This was during the period that David was fleeing King Saul’s murderous intent and is overheard longing for “water to drink from the well of Bethlehem.” These mighty men – his right handed protectors who journeyed with him are the ones who over hear this prayer and set out in this dangerous mission to procure this water to please the future King.
When they do and present it to him, he dumps it out. They just travelled 50 miles round trip, through enemy territory for this water. Trying to surprise him, console him during this rough time in his life, this seems on the surface ungrateful.
But there’s a couple of things going on here. First off, it was never about the water. He wasn’t dying of thirst in the midst of a drought. David was longing to return home. He was longing for the peace and comfort of his former life as a shepherd who probably frequented that well to take care of his sheep as well as refresh himself. He’s prayerfully laying his heart out to God – not complaining about what he was called to do, to be anointed the next King. It was a vulnerable moment where David was laying his heart out to God.
Not sure how these guys overheard this – (where they eavesdropping on his prayer?) But that had to have been somewhat awkward of a reaction. But once I stop laughing in doing a “lexio” exercise trying to imagine myself in the story and the varied reactions that run through my head – there’s something very beautiful.
First the amazing loyalty and selflessness of these “mighty men.” What truer (if somewhat reckless) friends could David have? To try to bring some sense of relief to their future leader, their friend by this radical gesture.
But there’s such an important thing in what David does here… this is a moment where he shines as a true king of Israel who has his priorities in right order. David recognizes God’s authority – that’s where he demonstrated being after God’s own heart. This will differentiate David from every other King, including his predecessor, Saul – who would have loved people making bold gestures such as this. David is telling the men – this incredible gift and sacrifice, where you risked your life – should not be offered to me as a mere human being, but to God and God alone.
While we’re in the Easter season, the practice of “Friday Abstinence” – where Catholics refrain from eating any meat is often times receded from memory and practice as a “Lent thing.” But I offer that as a challenge for us to think of making some sacrifice. Not because God needs it. But we do: Our human desires and longings are real, but when we bypass them, when we “offer them up,” we’re tapping into that deepest desire and longing for God in our hearts and souls.
DAY 142: 2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 29; Psalm 30
FINAL ACT OF PRIDE & MERCY
This is a bit of a confusing and mysterious chapter to navigate as we come near the end of David’s reign (and his life). One thing to remember is that we read this incident of 2 Samuel 24 about a week ago in 1 Chronicles 21. That account began “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited to David to number Israel.”
Why was this so egregious? Was this a lack of trust to the ancient promise of God to Abraham that his descendents would be numerous as the stars in the sky, grains of sand in the seashore? Was it that he determined some people “countable” and some not and determined they were people of valor? Was it simply an act of pride that the King was falling into a sin of his predecessor, Saul, of pride, of legacy? Scholars argue over which of these it might have been that kindled God’s anger.
But to me the key for us isn’t getting to the exact reason (as frustrating as it might be for us) – but rather that David knew whatever it was that made this such a sinful thing. We heard in verse 10: Davids heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done…” He’s not ignorant, or surprised – this was something serious that he knew and ignored.
But – what else is as clear in David’s mind? “…let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great…” (v14) He knows his actions demand justice, demand punishment – yet David knows its not “vindictive” – it’s not “mean God” memes people mistakenly attribute to the Old Testament. In the midst of another dark night for David, he knows that God’s love and mercy will follow this punishment, that He will make a way for reconciliation and healing.
So often that’s the hardest lesson for us to remember. When we’ve fallen and committed some sin, we allow ourselves to be further tormented by the Devil to believe it’s unforgivable, that we’ve gone to the well too many times, that God is done with us. David’s calling out is essential for us to remember. He won’t allow his sins paralyze him in fear or isolation, but even at another low in his life to remember that he can always call out to the Lord.
DAY 143: 1 Kings 1; 2 Chronicles 1; Psalm 43
Beginning two new books – First Kings and Second Chronicles, we’re in this transition period with the ending of David’s reign (and his life) something interesting stood out reading both of them. They both involve pivotal choices.
In 1 Kings, after Adonijah makes the ultimate of power-plays in trying to usurp the kingship for himself – which is not just insulting to his father, but even more importantly, to God. Did he think no one would mind, or care? That he could get by with his looks (obviously not his brain)? When the plan unravels by David anointing Solomon king, Adonijah’s fans all scatter. He’s left alone and says he fears King Solomon. Asking if the new King (and half brother) will spare his life, Solomon isn’t like his Father. He doesn’t make a blanket promise – it’s conditional – “if he prove to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the earth; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” Solomon has obviously been observing his father and knows the story all too well. Actions have consequences and he intends to hold his brother accountable.
Solomon himself faces an important choice in 2 Chronicles. Imagine God asking you in prayer “ask what I shall give you?” I can imagine a pretty lengthy list “God, can I have multiple wishes?” (Sorry, no God is not a genie). But seriously, Solomon didn’t have to come up with something selfish or self-centered. There’s a list of things that could have been worthy and noble things. Yet, he asks God for “wisdom.” He humbly recognizes the awesomeness of the task before him. He knows that this is God’s Kingdom, they are His people and so Solomon asks for a gift to make him a true and faithful servant.
For me, as we enter these narratives with this new figure, the Lord seems to be underlining the reality that each day we are constantly encountering new sets of actions and consequences. Oftentimes seemingly ordinary, routine and uneventful. Yet with God’s presence and the opportunity to allow Him to animate our daily actions and consequences, they don’t have to be so “ordinary” and can in fact be as monumental as Solomon’s prayer. Do we dare to make a pivotal choice to include our Loving Father this very day?
DAY 144: 2 Kings 2; 2 Chronicles 2-3; Psalm 62
THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY
Not to scandalize anyone, but reading 2 Kings 2 a thought was “this sounds like an episode of The Sopranos.” King David’s last words to King Solomon to “be a man” (now that sounds like The Godfather) was more of a challenge to remain strong and steadfast in his commitment to the Lord.
No sooner had David been buried, that his brother Adonijah shows he was not interested in living peacefully or as a “worthy man.” He asks his mother not only for Solomon to give his father David’s concubine to him as a wife – which is repulsive to not just our modern ears and sensibilities, but to Solomon as well – but he starts that request with his delusions of grandeur still in his mind and on his lips: you know that the kingdom was mine… that all Israel fully expected me to reign.” Solomon wastes no time in “wasting” his brother.
He also goes after Joab and Shimei, two men who caused incredible turmoil for David, and was on David’s “hit list” for Solomon for going against the family (ok, that’s the last mafia-reference for the day, I promise 🙂 ) This whole chapter has a lot more to do with politics, power, scandal. There’s something refreshingly honest while we’re discomforted seeing this uglier side of things. This is not behavior one should expect from the “anointed ones” entrusted to lead God’s kingdom on earth. We are not finding some white-washed version of events written to have a noble picture of David and Solomon.
Yet the reason we can rejoice is that God’s promise remains certain in spite of the failures of his “human instruments” to bring those promises to fulfillment. God had promised that the throne of David would be eternal. That’s a lofty promise and no doubt as much as David composed Psalms we continue to sing today – as much as Solomon prayed God would give him wisdom – they often fell back on their base human instincts in dealing with matters they found troubling, with threats they encountered. They were far from perfect.
When we’re continually assaulted by the failures of our leaders – both political ones and even worse, among our religious leaders, these scriptures are important to reflect on. It gets confusing and complicated at times as we’re scandalized, ashamed to hear and see some acting in ways that is nowhere near what they are expected to do. These scriptures aren’t justifying or excusing those failures and it’s not a “misery loves company” thing. God has a vision for humanity, for His people. Remarkably, He wants to use and utilize us in bringing that about… When we fail, He doesn’t give up. He might have to “recalculate” the GPS route again and again at our wrong turns, but He won’t stop doing so. May we, like our ancestors before, remain encouraged not to lose faith, not to lose hope in the God who is faithful to His promises, who tells us to put our hope in Him.
DAY 145: 1 Kings 3; 2 Chronicles 4-5; Psalm 64
WISDOM AND HUMANITY
The episode of the two women arguing who was the legitimate mother to this baby is one of the most well-known scriptures for both believers and non-believers. For example, I can’t get the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Elaine are arguing over who is the rightful owner of a bicycle, before a Solomon-esque Newman who orders the bike cut in two (yesterday I had mafia references running through my head, today, it’s Seinfeld 🙂 ) No doubt the unique answer by the King to the disputing women catches people’s attention, as well as the reactions and revelations of the true mother. It’s beautiful to see Solomon’s God-given gift in answer to his prayer for wisdom being put to good use. He’s able to show the one woman’s envy has consumed her to the point of trying to steal a child, and if she can’t have the child, is okay with the child being killed. It’s amazing to see how sin can blind us to such shocking depths.
No doubt it’s because of this story that Solomon’s often remembered as “the wise one.” Yet, for all his wisdom, he is very human… and can be blind to his own sinfulness as well. This chapter opens with a glaring example. Solomon goes against the command of Deuteronomy that Israelites were not to marry someone outside of the Jewish faith, let alone from Egypt. That’s such an essential story to the “Chosen People,” of how God led them from their slavery there. Not just their physical freedom, but spiritually. Remember how hard it was for the Israelites once they escaped Egypt for the Egypt to get out of them: The pagan gods, the idols, the divided hearts they initially had on their exodus and wanderings. That injunction was to protect God’s people from being lured into false worship (again). This wasn’t some secret, hidden, lofty knowledge or lesson that Solomon needed divine inspiration to know.
The lesson – it’s good to pray for wisdom, or any noble virtues for that matter, that will help us to actualize the potential God sees in each of us. And we don’t have to be royalty to as Jesus tells us to ask, seek, knock in pursuit of these things. God will readily, happily, generously answer those prayers. In the end though, we have to decide to utilize them or whether they sit like an unopened box put on the shelf.
DAY 146: 1 Kings 4; 2 Chronicles 6; Psalm 65
Fr Mike made the point in yesterday’s podcast (or the day before, I’ve lost track) we’re kind of at the high point for Solomon and his reign. His fame is spreading (the whole how to solve who’s the real Mom scenario most definitely got around) – the temple is about to be built.
The line that stood out for me is the very end of chapter 4 where we hear peoples, kings from all the earth came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. With that we have signs of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, over a thousand years earlier. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing…”
We’ve discussed before that God’s “choosing” the Israelites wasn’t a matter of favoritism. But that His intention is for all of His creation to be united into one faith, one family of God. The Jews were “chosen” to usher that about. So this observation from the writer of Kings isn’t idle praise. “Wisdom” was a serious thing in the ancient world – and Israel being surrounded by cultures that put a high value on it (like the Babylonians and the Persians). That this divinely given gift of wisdom to Solomon has caught the attention of the world is a way that the eyes, minds and hearts of the world are being opened to the Lord God Almighty… Recognizing something different about His people, about Him.
The same remains true today – when we utilize and share all the many different gifts, talents, blessings that God has poured out into us – generously, selflessly as the way to best glorify Him, we testify how we are “chosen people” as well. And plant a seed in others to imagine – they are too.
DAY 147: 1 Kings 5; 2 Chronicles 7-8; Psalm 66
I can still remember the first time I walked into our Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark. Seeing those two towers from miles away – rising from the heights of the hill it was built upon. Walking in those giant doors – my eyes darted from one end of the edifice to the other. The light streaming in those spectacular stained glass windows – each carefully, intentionally, deliberately crafted to convey some meaning, some lesson. The registers of pipes from the mighty organ blaring – all drawing your eyes upward – to the main altar, where Jesus’ body and blood are made real and present… in both symbol and reality, it’s a place where heaven meets earth.
What’s even more impressive is realizing how this was funded by poor immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. Italians, Irish, Polish peoples who were not the most welcome in our country at the time, when Catholics were routinely discriminated against as well, during two world wars and the great depression – they bought the property, they sacrificed, they built this most impressive place in the entire state of NJ (if not the Tri-state area). This wasn’t just a building campaign, an act of pride or defiance against hostile neighbors. This was and is a prayer in stone, glass, marble. This was an act of faith, hope and love of people for God – an act of thanksgiving for their blessings, supplication for their needs – meant to both humble and inspire generations to come.
Those memories came to mind reading the preparations for Solomon’s constructing the first temple. Archeologists who investigate what remains some 3,000 years later are still at a loss as to how the stones which each weigh hundreds of tons each were cut, moved, fit together so perfectly. This edifice saw thousands of men involved in the work; there was a “no expense to be spared” mentality, the massive effort on the part of the entire kingdom was truly a labor of love.
Critics argue such buildings are extravagant, unnecessary… “Why would God want that? Wouldn’t He rather you care for the poor?” Yes He does want us to care for the poor, He wants us to follow His law and His commands. But we as human beings need these visual reminders, we need these expressions of prayer in stone, we need beauty to see the glory of God displayed through the efforts of His people utilizing the fullness of creation – throughout this world of ours. To raise our eyes, our minds, our hearts to God – who then calls us to do all those charitable acts, to align our lives to His commands – and make each of ourselves living temples for the Lord.
DAY 148: 1 Kings 6; 2 Chronicles 9; Psalm 4
PUTTING GOD FIRST
As great and impressive as the temple being built was – there is an interesting detail that can be missed as we hear details surrounding when construction began, architectural specifications of the grandeur of the temple. It’s an exciting time and moment for the Jewish people. They are free people, living in the promised land. Despite God’s warning (and best judgment), they have a King. For a people that had been enslaved, and wandering in the wilderness, the construction of the temple was one of the high points of their history.
But as human beings, we know all too well how easy it is, when undertaking any massive thing, for one to get distracted, lost in our efforts to the point of forgetting why are we doing something. I’m thinking of couples preparing to get married who right after the engagement, get so bogged down in the details about preparing for the day, forget they’re supposed to be preparing for a lifetime.
God has that same concern. Sandwiched in this chapter, we have the word of the Lord coming to Solomon saying “Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” God doesn’t spell out what will happen if this doesn’t happen – by now he shouldn’t have to. God is reminding Solomon that He will dwell in this house, but is not confined to it – and what’s most impressive is when His law, His command reigns in the hearts and lives of those building and those who will come to the temple.
Trying not to read too much that this word seems to have little reaction from the King with the next verse being “So Solomon built the house…” Sometimes people just won’t listen and have to learn the lesson for themselves. May we not be so thickheaded 🙂
DAY 149: 1 Kings 7; Ecclesiastes 1 & 2; Psalm 5
CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY FOR
As Fr. Mike pointed out yesterday, we’re going to take a break from Chronicles and read Ecclesiastes which is considered part of the “Wisdom of Solomon” (although it was most likely not written by him later in Jewish history – perhaps it’s a culmination of his lessons passed down through the centuries) One of the reasons I like to imagine that is the case is to imagine that these are reflections the King had on his reign, on his life. Particularly as he is mentioning in the 2nd chapter the folly of “my great works, I built houses…” and then goes on a list of vanity projects that in the end, “all is vanity and a striving after wind.”
That stands out because today’s reading from Kings is another list of building reports, this time for Solomon’s house. For those paying extra close attention, you might have noticed that the Temple took 7 years to built, Solomon’s house took nearly double that length of time… While he fulfilled a hope, a dream, an expectation to build the temple, God’s house rated second in Solomon’s heart. There was even more attention, effort and time focused on his earthly palace rather than focusing on God – whether it was His palace here on earth (the temple), or wanting to remain focused on Him as the source of true happiness and fulfillment.
Solomon prayed for wisdom, which means he can’t claim ignorance of why he finds himself less than fulfilled… He can’t delude himself that he’s truly been attentive to what God has told him in how to honor God, follow God, and be an honorable King.
DAY 150: 1 Kings 8; Ecclesiastes 3 -5; Psalm 6
A HOUSE – NOT A HOME
Reading the account of the dedication of the temple by King Solomon, you can almost picture and imagine everything as it’s taking place. The throngs coming out to see and hear all that was transpired. It reminds me of attending the blessing and consecration of a new Church… The overwhelming joy of a family coming together not basking in what they have done, but recognizing they were returning back to God a portion of what He had given them and just in that sacrifice they were able to see this structure to His greater glory rise.
The excitement and healthy pride among the people seeing, what Solomon so beautifully describes: a dream that was placed in the heart of his father, but was to be fulfilled by him, David’s son. But there’s an important distinction that Solomon makes and that distinguishes this from any temple that might have risen in the ancient world. This was simply a house for God – not His Home. Yes for the Jewish people, the temple was of primary and central importance to their identity, how they worshiped and prayed as is outlined in that beautiful prayer Solomon offers. But Solomon knows that “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house which I have built.”
The temple, or our own churches – whether they are extravagant and historic or very simple – are merely houses for God that are made holy by His presence and the true worship from the sincerity of the hearts of the believers. He cannot be “won over” or manipulated by our sacrifices – because we are His creation and as the Psalms describe us “the apple of His eye.” While these houses are dedicated to God, they are more important for us. A reminder when we’re distracted and tempted by all sorts of “gods” competing for our attention, distracting and tempting us to pursue ambition, popularity, wealth, power – of the only God who matters – He who created, redeemed and continues to save us.
DAY 151: 1 Kings 9; Ecclesiastes 6- 7; Psalm 7
After a massive construction project which took years and tremendous resources to undertake, you would think that God mentioning that it could become a “heap of ruins” would be something that would catch Solomon’s ears and grab his attention, don’t you think? God who is eternal and loving is also very consistent. He has filled this temple with His very presence and promiesd “my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” His warning isn’t a new prescription or law being mandated, but a recurring one – don’t turn away from me – don’t dabble with other gods, be faithful to what has been given to your father and your forefathers before him. (You might even expect God to say “Solomon, just check out for all your ancestors how things go for them when they decide to go it their own way, and succumb to the very temptations I’m warning you about right now) The words of one of his ancestors is echoing in these pages “Choose this day who you will serve…” (Joshua 24: 15)
It seems awkward the very chapter after the dedication we would get this warning. Hasn’t Solomon already proven who he has chosen to serve? But in some ways, what Solomon doesn’t realize is that this very beautiful temple for God can quickly become an “idol.” He can fool himself that by doing this great deed, which had never been done before that he has an insurance policy protecting him from present or future sinful failures.
God had previously warned against having a King in the first place, pretty quickly shot down David’s desire to build God a house… As a good Father worn down by His children’s pleas, He eventually gives into these desires, but always coupled with the reminder that these things carry with them added responsibilities. More importantly, they never bypass what was God’s first and foremost desire – to be their God, and for them to be His people. That’s all God wanted. That’s all He still wants. And when the temple eventually is reduced to a pile of ruble (sorry, no spoiler) when the people are in disbelief and shock at how low they have fallen, well they recall how they got into the predicament in the first place? Will they have any remaining faith to turn back to Him, again?
DAY 152: 1 Kings 10; Ecclesiastes 8-9; Psalm 8
RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU
Because we’ve been traveling together for over 5 months (Congratulations everyone! That’s so awesome!!! Keep up the great work!!!) We have a bit of a recollection of something from Deuteronomy about silver and gold, and excesses of wealth… Deuteronomy 17: 14-17:
When you have come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, should you then decide, “I will set a king over me, like all the surrounding nations, you may indeed set over you a king whom the LORD, your God, will choose someone from among your own kindred you may set over you as king; you may not set over you a foreigner, who is no kin of yours. But he shall not have a great number of horses; nor shall he make his people go back again to Egypt to acquire many horses, for the LORD said to you, Do not go back that way again. Neither shall he have a great number of wives, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he accumulate a vast amount of silver and gold.
Keep that in mind as we look at Chapter 10 of Kings. We have this visitor, Queen Sheeba, who comes to visit because she has heard stories of Solomon’s wisdom and wants to see for herself. She ventures to pepper him with questions and is kind of left in awe at his ability to answer all of them. It moves her to confess her belief in the Lord God- recognizing how all that Solomon, all that Israel enjoys is “because the Lord your God has delighted in you and set you on the throne…” (V 9)
Meanwhile, Solomon receives this praise, these gifts from the Queen, and is enjoying the finer things of life more and more. Notice we haven’t heard much about the temple since the dedication was done. Now it’s about extracting more gold, more silver, more opulence for the throne, golden shields, ornaments for the palace.
For all the wisdom that is at work and at play here – it’s important to notice two very sad points. The Queen acknowledges all that the Lord God has and is doing. She professes a belief in Him – but makes no moves to worship the Lord God herself. Meanwhile, Solomon is hearing this testimony from an unbeliever and is becoming more blind and arrogant to his personal lack of following God’s commands. The most basic of commands that the Lord had repeated multiple times didn’t require any gift of divine wisdom different than what the rest of the kingdom already possessed.
There’s so much truth right there in front of both of these respected leaders and yet neither is making moves to embrace or be changed by the truth – that the greatest treasure is the glory of God.