Politics Didn’t Keep King David Up at Night

In the United States, we just had midterm elections, those falling between the presidential elections that happen every 4 years.  The end result of government divided between Democrats and Republicans likely has many wishing their preferred side had more power.  This post is a slightly edited version of one from this April, when anxiety about these elections began to heat up.  While in Psalm 2, God declares “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill,” where He laughs at the kings and rulers of the world who stand against Him, that declaration may be harder to take when events don’t appear to go our way.  Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” follows, and I don’t think it’s an accident because it records God’s king at the time, David, lamenting about being chased from power by his own son.  The story may provide comfort when things don’t look to be going God’s way here on earth.

Absalom’s Rebellion
The story of King David in the Bible is a very condensed version of his life but does not shy away from David’s serious failures and flaws.  The story of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is not swept under the rug, and eventually, Absalom’s rebellion against his father David was justified in his mind by those flaws.  Absalom harbored resentment for years after David’s lack of punishment for Absalom’s brother Amnon, who raped his sister Tamar.  One can imagine Absalom thinking about his father: “You’re the king of Israel, so why didn’t you protect Tamar, or at least punish Amnon?  If my sister and I don’t get justice, you don’t deserve to be king!”

David, on the other hand, was quite aware of the limits of being king.  In Psalm 131:1, David wrote:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
            my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
            too great and too marvelous for me.

Even while writing as divinely selected king of Israel, David knew many things were “too great and too marvelous” even for him.  Instead, David focused his heart on the God-given task before him, which did not include achieving perfection in this world.  That task belonged elsewhere.  Later, Psalm 131 was included in the Psalms (or Songs) of Ascent[1], which served as a liturgy for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals.  In those Psalms are reminders of God’s provision for things the world can’t provide, including salvation for our souls and a way to perfect righteousness.  The pilgrims did not go to Jerusalem to worship the earthly king, but to encounter God, and including Psalm 131 in that liturgy would always be a reminder that our worldly aims should always be rooted in humility.

When Absalom raised several hundred supporters and entered Jerusalem to violently overthrow his father David, “a messenger came to David, saying, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.’ Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ‘Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.’”  (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

David’s Response
After surrendering the throne and fleeing, David wrote Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” which says in full:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
            Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
            “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
            my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
            and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
            I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
            who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD!
            Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
            your blessing be on your people! Selah”

Knowing the background of this Psalm and its placement after Psalm 2 make it far more interesting.  David had suffered a massive political defeat, being humiliated and tossed out of Jerusalem by his own son.  Instead of despairing, he turned to God for his salvation because he knew even the king of Israel could not save the people.  He was only a temporary and provincial authority.  Even though God had promised David the throne, God was able to save David, and Israel, without David on the throne.  With the murderous and vengeful Absalom on the throne, was God defeated?  No, instead we have this Psalm as a reminder of God’s presence and provision of salvation in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

David, having cultivated over years an awareness of his own limitations as king of Israel, and the limitless power of God, “lay down and slept,” then “woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”  Surrounded by foes and removed from his throne, David slept soundly!  In contrast, Absalom broods upon every imperfection, plotting ways to force justice as he sees it on others, even if he must dishonor God.  You could say he is driven by a belief in a government that can solve all of our problems and shouldn’t rest until it does.

Conclusion
Jesus was not our midterm ballots, but flawed candidates of many types were.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.  A lesson from Psalm 3 is that we should be able to sleep at night in good conscience because no matter what the world looks like, God says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6) even when king David was on the run for his life.

The success of God’s plan does not rely on our political success. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” and He deserves our vote every time.


[1] I’m currently writing about those Psalms in a series, which began here.

Participating in the Psalms IV: Thanksgiving Edition

Often the writers of the Psalms aren’t just trying to teach us about God, but they are trying to share their experience of Him.  As in Psalm 96 and 100, included in earlier posts, Psalm 136 opens with encouragement, or even instructions, to join the Psalmist in thanksgiving:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
     for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
     for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
     for his steadfast love endures forever” – Psalm 136:1-3

All 26 verses of this Psalm end with the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever,” following something about God that is worthy of praise and thanksgiving.  This constant repetition is a reminder that it is “his steadfast love” for His people that drives His acts of creation, His works in history, and ultimately His death on the cross.  His works are all done by a person, for a people.  What God really desires is relationship with us. We are not alone in the universe.

Giving thanks only makes sense if someone exists to thank, who is good, and has the power to provide what we are thankful for.  If creation is a mere accident, if wicked acts are never corrected and righteous acts are never rewarded, and if mankind can only hope in themselves, there is no reason to give thanks to someone, or something, else.  Many religions seem to acknowledge this, giving personality and reverence to created things – trees, the sun, the harvest, and so on – but in Christ we can know the Person who is behind it all, and who actually is a Person that loves us.

Therefore, today give thanks to the Lord who is good, and is above any god or lord of this world.  As we celebrate Thanksgiving today in the United States, be thankful above all else that Someone exists to thank, that He is good, and that He has the power, and love, needed to care for His people.  Now and forever.

Amen.


Earlier posts on Participating in the Psalms are here, here, and here.

Three Blessings to Count Today

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

Some say that grace stands for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, but what are these riches?  David says at the end of Psalm 144 that:

Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
            Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!”

The desire of the Lord is to bless His people, in part in this world, and fully in the next.  The verse above follows verses 12-14, which list three specific blessings: family, prosperity, and safety:

May our sons in their youth
            be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
            cut for the structure of a palace;
may our granaries be full,
            providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands
            and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young,
            suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!”

Knowing God is no immediate guarantee of these things, but we may ask Him for them, and know that when we do receive them, they come from Him.  He has paid for our riches and our blessings in full on the cross, so that in Paradise we will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), be eternally His family (Ephesians 1:5), and our pain and tears will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4).

Today, count these blessings, praise God for them, and pray that His people will hope in His provision forever!

Redeeming the Time

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca said that “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”  Unlike other resources, time cannot be replaced.  If I waste a dollar of my income, another dollar can be earned to replace it.  If I waste a minute, it’s gone forever.

Psalm 101, penned by David, contemplates what is worthy of our time.  Verses 1-4 say:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
            to you, O LORD, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
            Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
            within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
            anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
            it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
            I will know nothing of evil.

In our modern, media- and current event-focused culture, the statement “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” may be the most challenging.  Reading this verse recently, I had to ask myself whether the reason I look at worthless things is that I don’t think they are worthless?  If to “confess” means to say the same thing about something that God does, I have a lot to learn about what is valuable and worthy of attention.

Today, let us learn to love what God loves and hate what He hates.  Let us confess what really matters, and “sing of steadfast love and justice.”  Let us also “ponder the way that is blameless” that we may “know nothing of evil.

There’s no time to waste.

On Spiritual Mood Swings

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Life is often a battle with inconsistency.  We go from feeling good about our situations and God’s favor, to feeling like we are in a spiritual desert, and back again like a pendulum.  Knowing this, God provides verses like Psalm 126:4-6, which says:

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
            like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
            shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
            bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
            bringing his sheaves with him.

The metaphor is a comparison to the south of Israel, which has a very dry climate, yet experiences flooding in a rainstorm.  The Negeb also is mentioned in the story of Caleb and his daughter Achsah.  Her inherited land was in the infertile Negeb, and she asks him also for springs of water, which he gives her.[1]

Like Achsah’s father Caleb, our Father God also provides for us in our seasons of trouble.  Here, the Psalmist compares tears to seeds, reminding us that in the dry times as well as the times of overflowing blessing, God is with us, using those circumstances.  Our current loss is future gain, and our current time of suffering is bound and measured by God’s will, like the Babylonian exile was measured at 70 years[2] and the year of Jubilee came after every 49 years[3].  After our time, we will enter His rest and rejoice eternally.

In this life we may experience spiritual and emotional extremes, like drought and flood in the desert.  Don’t overreact to the pendulum swing but count your tears as seeds.  Pray that He will restore your fortunes and thank Him that our seasons are in His hands.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4


[1] Joshua 15:18-19
[2] Daniel 9:2, 9:24
[3] Leviticus 25:8