‘The only way to get right with God is for someone to take our place for the mistakes we’ve made‘
Scripture: 2 Samuel 21:1-14
you can listen to the sermon here:
V1-2: David is back as king in Israel, but there is more trouble, in the wake of the bickering in ch.19 between the people of Judah and the 10 tribes. Sheba leads a rebellion. This is all related to troubles that David brought on himself by his behaviour in ch.11 – see 12:10.
V3: David shows remarkable lack of creativity as a leader here, to condemn these women to such a life.
V4-13: David knows that Joab is a terrible thug, a murderous brute, though loyal to him and very efficient. He has wanted to sack him as head of his army for years, but has not managed it, and he doesn’t manage it here. Yet again, as with Abner years before, he appoints someone else in Joab’s place and that poor person gets killed, and in a manner that brings out fully the ghastly and duplicitous side of Joab in his wounded pride – calling Amasa “my brother” and taking his beard with his right hand while getting the dagger ready in his left. Why does David sacrifice Amasa needlessly? Amasa is inefficient, incompetent; and David has not got down to dealing effectively with Joab. He should sack him properly or back him and just let him stay as army leader. So David leads poorly here; and Amasa is a weak army leader; and Joab is a murderous thug.
But the nameless man in v11-13 is a different matter – he has the foresight and the guts to unite the main army under Joab and on David’s side, and then when everyone is getting distracted by Amasa’s dead body, he takes it out of the way!
V14-22: Sheba hides in a town presumably fairly loyal to him. Joab charges up to it in the North with the army, and to begin with doesn’t do any talking or negotiating; he has lots of troops so just starts getting ready to flatten the wall of the town and kill everyone inside, or at least all the men. And the people in the town are scarcely much wiser at first – they batten down the hatches and hope to survive the siege by Joab and co.
Then up pops another unnamed person, this time a woman who is repeatedly called wise. She also cares about herself and her fellow citizens not getting killed, and she has enough courage to take some risks – the risk of appearing at all above the city wall to talk to Joab, and then the risk of promising him the head of Sheba before she has got the agreement of the leading men of the town. What a leader or at least what an act of leadership – like the man who was just one of Joab’s men in v11, she is not a person in leadership position, but she proves herself to be a better leader than all those who were.
V23-26: the chapter ends with a list of those where were in leadership in Israel in David’s latter days – the message of this chapter as a whole is not that total chaos should reign and there should be no recognised leaders in certain positions. We all need that; that is good; but the necessity of recognised leaders goes along at the same time with the message of v1-22:
Anyone who believes in God can exercise good leadership, to bless others – like the nameless man of Joab, the wise woman of Abel, and indeed like our Lord Jesus whom they resemble a little bit.
In saying this, I am using Walter Wrights’ definition of leadership on p2 of his book Relational Leadersihp: “…leadership is a relationship – a relationship in which one person seeks to influence the thoughts, behaviours, beliefs or values of another person.” Now let me use these 2 people in 2 Samuel 20 to show four prominent elements in good leadership:
1. It means you care:
The man in v11 cared about there not being a full-on civil war. The woman in v14ff didn’t want all the people, or at least all the men in her town, to be killed by Joab. A few years ago The Guardian carried a story about a woman in her 40s who was trapped under a London cab with damage to her leg and pelvis. People were standing around watching; the first paramedics to arrive had only managed to put a pillow under the poor woman’s head. The cab driver “was actually leaning on the cab with his phone in his hand just waiting.” But a passer-by called Laura Fares took action: asked the paramedics if it would be safe to move the cab, and on finding out it would, she starting shouting at the crowd and saying “Hey, everybody, we have to push this car now. Hurry, she is dying.” And so 60 seconds later there were 30 people lifting the car off the woman.
Do you care about the lonely or the poor or those who are clueless about life or those who are homeless or hurting? And about those who are lost vis-à-vis God and are in fact heading, without the Lord Jesus, along the broad road that leads to eternal destruction?
Now, Jesus cared – that is why he came into this world and took on our human nature in Mary’s womb, and then lived a life of service and compassion, (see mention of his compassion before the feeding of the 5000 and of the 4000), and then went up to Jerusalem that final time knowing he would be put to death. The Son of God loved us, and gave his life for us.
2. It means you have some practical wisdom and exercise it by thinking:
The man in v11 was clever twice – in getting the troops united under Joab after Amasa’s murder, and in getting the body moved from the road (there are times when a dreadful and painful event has to be moved on from rather than wallowed in, for the sake of the good of the whole).
The wise woman of v14ff was indeed wise – the Holy Spirit speaking through the Biblical author is quite explicit about her wisdom in v22; in those circumstances it was for the common good that a summary execution took place, there was not time for normal due process and summary justice is better, often, than no justice. She was also wise in her ways of handling Joab – calming him down at first in v17, and then bringing various reasons and emotional considerations in v18-19, in order to get him to spare the town as a whole; brilliant.
The woman in the taxi cab story was wise in that she didn’t just scream at the crowds but first ascertained from the paramedics that getting the taxi off the woman on the ground was indeed a good idea.
And the Lord Jesus was supremely wise: he did not come and just blast us for our sins; that would have resulted in the destruction of the whole human race. Instead he became one of us and identified with our sins and guilt, and actually took our guilt, somehow, on himself, and carried that guilt to the cross where he suffered for it and paid the price, thus securing not only forgiveness but also freedom from death and the devil. Hence his resurrection and one day ours!
Oh, loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
Oh, wisest love! That flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive, and should prevail.
(John Henry Newman)
Yes, some of us are very mentally lazy, we just want to have someone else do the thinking and tell us what to do or how to do it; but part of leading and blessing others is to listen to people and really understand, to think about the situation hard and put ourselves in their shoes, to see things from their point of view, at least insofar as we can; and so become wiser.
At a fairly minor, you might say trivial, level, a number of years ago I, who am not generally renowned for my practical wisdom in getting things done (!), did in fact manage to exercise a bit of creative craft in order to get a string quartet going that I play in with great pleasure to this day about 12 years later. What got my wisdom-juices going? I cared – I really wanted to play quartets. And though I’m not very practical, even I had a good idea about how to get the players together (I paid someone to give me a violin lesson just before the first quartet practice so it was very easy for them to try us out). I also took the initiative which is my next point (and there was a very small element of risk too, which is point 4).
3. It means taking the initiative:
The man in our passage did this, as did the wise woman of Abel. So did Laura Fares. And so did our Lord – he came, though we did not ask him to, in fact we are very prejudiced against being rescued from our selfishness and sins; we want to sort things out ourselves as much as possible, and retain control.
Now sometimes people in churches who are not official leaders can think that their perspective is ignored or there is no way for them to have any significant input or to minister to others in the church. Sometimes this is true; and leaders should mend their ways. But often it is not. For example, I have said in something like 15-20 emails to you all over the past few years “If you have something to share with the congregation, something you believe God has shown you or something he has done for you that might bless us, please just have a word with me or the service leader, if possible before Sunday morning, and the chances are high that you will be able to share it in the service.” Very few have taken us up on this! And yet one does sometimes hear complaints that people are not asked for their input or insights. But the ball is in your court. Please take the initiative enough to hit it back!
4. It means taking risks:
Our man in v11 risked someone not agreeing with his advice that following Joab was supporting David, and they all had swords in their hands – risky! And the wise woman in Abel wasn’t just wise but also not averse to taking a risk: a risk with Joab, and then a risk with the leaders in the town. She didn’t ask Joab to wait until she had consulted the town council and given them 3 days to consider what they might like to do with Sheba – there was not time for normal procedures and the following of generally good guidelines like that. She had to operate – as I would suggest all leaders do on occasion – on the basis that “it is easier to get forgiveness than permission.” Of course, that proverb is not always applicable; but sometimes it truly is.
An outline of the passage:
The King returns to the kingdom:
V9-15: strife in Israel, but they ask David back
V16-23: Shimei (who had previously cursed him) meets him, grovelling – and is spared
V24-30: Mephibosheth (who had been slandered by Ziba) meets him, explaining – and is believed and semi-restored to his land
V31-39: Barzillai meets him kindly – and is offered anything
V40-43: David comes back – more strife in Israel
In many ways great things are happening – now God’s chosen king is getting back into the promised land, to reign there again, and the people are united about having him back, even if they are falling out with each other a bit. So good things are happening for the kingdom and work of God on earth.
Yet, when you look carefully, though God is truly at work, there are all sorts of unideal, imperfect and sinful things going on at the same time. Shimei is very hypocritical and political in his adherence to David – and should David in fact have spared him and promised no punishment? Mephibosheth is clearly honest and had been robbed of his inheritance by Ziba, yet David only restored half his land to him, probably a political and pragmatic move to keep the powerful Ziba and his troops on side. And the bitterness between Israel (the 10 Northern tribes) and Judah does not bode will – there is in fact a fresh rebellion in the following chapter that grows out of this dissension.
God grows his kingdom by means of the good, the bad and the indifferent – good and bad people, good and bad events.
Think of how this was even so at the cross of Jesus – he is the righteous Son of God, laying down his life in love, but just about everyone else in the situation is failing, many of them in terrible ways (Judas betraying, Peter abandoning, the leaders in Jerusalem plotting and unjustly condemning out of envy and hatred, the Roman authorities being moral cowards and violent). In the midst of this sin and imperfection, God is dealing with people wisely, powerfully and very graciously – identifying with our sin, and in the end taking it on himself to deal with it, and not expecting us to reach his standard before he comes into our lives and employs us in the outworking of his wonderful saving plan.
1. This is very encouraging. We don’t have to be perfect or even nearly perfect before God will use us or use our church. One hears of churches that want ministers and don’t call anyone to be theirs for year after year because they have perfectionist standards and huge lists of boxes that need ticking. One comes across Christians sometimes who think: God cannot bless my church because it doesn’t pray enough or witness enough or have enough hospitality or the right music or….. And one comes across Christians – perhaps you are like this yourself, I have been and still sometimes slither into a bit of it – who feel that God cannot fully be for them or fully delight in them or really smile on their service for God because they are not quite right. A story is told of a woman whose father, when she was a child, rejected a shirt of his that she had dried on a rusty lawnmower, with the best of motives; and she projected such severity onto God and felt he could never be fully for her or fully delight in what she did for God. No! The Lord is gracious. As John Calvin put it long ago:
“The second part [of Christian freedom], dependent on the first, is that consciences observe the law, not as if constrained by the necessity of the law, but that freed from the law’s yoke they willingly obey God’s will. (para 4) … Those bound by the yoke of the law are like servants assigned certain tasks for each day by their masters. These servants think they have accomplished nothing, and dare not appear before their masters unless they have fulfilled the exact measure of their tasks. But sons, who are more generously and candidly treated by their fathers, do not hesitate to offer them incomplete and half-done and even defective works, trusting that their obedience and readiness of mind will be accepted by their fathers, even though they have not quite achieved what their fathers intended. Such children ought we to be, firmly trusting that our services will be approved by our most merciful Father, however small, rude, and imperfect these may be.” (para 5 of Calvin, Institutes 3:19, McNeill and Battles edition)
2. Secondly it rebukes our perfectionism – give it up! In terms of God smiling on you and using you and what you do and using your church before it’s perfect, give it up; and give it up in other matters too – don’t drive friends or family half crazy by making them walk miles or pay for Ubers to get one perfect scone or cup of tea or pint of beer!
3. If you don’t actually know Jesus as Saviour in your heart and life yet, realise that he has invited you warmly to come now to him as you are; and if you are willing to come on his terms (so, after coming you will belong to him and go his way and change, with his help), you can call on him today and ask forgiveness and invite him into your life, and he will come in! As the old song had it:
Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou biddst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.
A recent study here in the UK found more church members than not disbelieve the resurrection. One can imagine then that their religion and faith finds Jesus inspirational, but little else. Indeed, society often tells us that there is no way we can know that Jesus really rose or that any miracle actually occurred, we must take these things by faith-blindly, hopelessly. Better yet just chuck out the extraordinary bits of Bible because there is simply no proof. But the Bible says faith isn’t the absence of evidence, actually faith fully trusts where the evidence leads. This Easter Sunday as we’ve considered the death and rising of Jesus we ask ourselves why would we believe in what seems so extraordinary? God doesn’t call us to blind faith, rather he tells us that our hope in the resurrection is provable, personal and powerful.
The resurrection is provable: The things in the Bible have been shown to be historical and not fairy tales. First century scholars, most of whom don’t believe, must concede that Jesus lived, died, was buried, the tomb empty, and the followers of Christ changed people believing him risen. They have no choice but to concede that less than 10 years after Christ’s death, a litany of people claimed Him risen and paid for that claim dearly with a shortened lives and execution for their faith. But why? Is it really a plausible argument then that they were wrong, lying or stupid? Isn’t it more logical that they really actually saw a dead man alive again and this explains their resolve to hold onto there faith? All the other explanations for the empty tomb and changed lives require bigger leaps than the straightforward evidence that they must have all(i.e more than a thousand different souls) seen something.
The Resurrection is personal: It’s not just a man dying painfully long ago, but a man dying on your behalf. Romans eight shares a courtroom scene. Your life is to be judged. But God pronounces you just, and Jesus through the resurrection stands always defending you–there is no way you will lose. Jesus is God’s way of showing that he personally loves you, after all Jesus is punished in your place.
The resurrection is powerful: It’s the only means to get to heaven, and it never fails to bring all who trust in it safely there as well as shape and change their lives. The Resurrection is proved in the countless lives that it has turned around. Turning losers into winners, desperate into hopeful, has beens into haves. The Resurrection isn’t fairy tales, its a factual and logical conclusion that we can rest on.
When we think about what Jesus has done for us in going to the cross, it can seem distant, boring, and unrelated to our actual life. That is why Simon of Cyrene is so important. He’s mentioned just briefly in three of the gospels and there they say virtually identical things. He’s forced by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross. He goes from celebrating with his fellow countrymen the Pesach (Passover meal), to being condemned, mistreated, and spat upon by an angry mob. Further, he must take a ten stone beam miles to the place Jesus will be executed. And yet it’s all God’s plan. God could have made Jesus strong enough on his own to make his way to Golgotha, but He didn’t, because he wanted each of us to get a taste of the humiliation, condemnation and shame He takes for us in Jesus. It should have been us who had to carry our cross, have abuse hurled at us, beaten within an inch of our lives and then lead on a parade of death that ends with our own execution. The Bible says the penalty of sin is death, and that all are sinners. We all have the condemnation of death upon us, but it is Jesus who will ultimately die. God appointed Simon so that we can see what we really would have received. What relief it must have been for Simon to have that heavy beam of judgement lifted off his back and put on Christ! The same happens for all who trust God. Simon walks away a changed man, his children and he start attending the first church and he’s likely part of the original group of Jewish people who leave Jerusalem to make the gospel known to Gentiles throughout the world. So therefore we can’t really be grateful of what Christ has given till we see very clearly that it could’ve been us, but not for the grace of Christ.
Listen to the whole sermon here:
These two are so different, and come to different ends. One was proud and cruel, the other relied on God, not perfectly throughout life but we meet him here at his high point of faith really, as manifest especially in this splendid little prayer. And what we learn about faith from it is this:
Faith is obsessed with God; real faith is conscious of his nearness, of his greatness and his objective reality. And it results not just in peace for Hezekiah but in him caring about God’s glory and desiring his praise.
What do you do when God takes your most cherished dreams, and life plans and says no to them? That’s the question we looked at as we considered Baruch’s life. Living during a low point of Israel’s history he had no ability to ‘make it big’. He was maltreated and dishonoured for his faith. He died in exile far from the country he loved. Yet God was indeed working and today He has a lasting legacy. Such is the case with all who will turn over the pen of their life into the hand of the best writer-the father.
Our faith is not supposed to be a one time event. As good as it is to walk forward at an altar call and give your life to Jesus, that is, in reality, just the beginning of the journey of faith. This last week we saw the Church of Sardis. They had a glorious history which made them think that right now things must be going fine, but they weren’t fine. Faith must be lived out each day, and the call of Christ is one of constantly taking up our crosses. It’s so easy to rest on our traditions, distant memories of commitments and assurance that we meant what we said in the past. But the truth is Christ is King for us today, he calls us to keep the faith. Lest like someone pulled in by the tide, we drift away.