January 17, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell
**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
The spoken version usually varies somewhat from the printed version. In some cases (like this one), it is quite different.
We are in a series studying kings in the Bible. And while that may sound like a big history lesson, or something that is not particularly relevant to your everyday life, I believe there are significant points of application. For each of us will, at some time in our lives, have the opportunity and responsibility to lead other people. That may be in the workplace, at school, with your family, or among your friends. And you may be an adult, a teenager, or even a child. But it’s the nature of human relationships that you will, at some point, have the opportunity to lead and influence another person. So that’s the big lesson I want to draw from the kings of the Bible. When you have that opportunity, how do you go about it? What role does faith and God have in that moment? What dangers and pitfalls are there? How can you be a godly leader, parent, mentor, or friend?
Last week we looked at Saul, the first king of Israel. We learned five facts about him and then focused on one key characteristic of Saul: he was an extraordinarily talented and capable warrior, but failed as a servant of God. While he and his people had reason to trust in his physical abilities, they were not enough to save and deliver them in the end. So we talked about the need to look to God as our ultimate King and to recognize our earthly resources in proper perspective to God’s strength and wisdom.
Today, we are looking at David, the second king of Israel. Again I’d like to share five facts with you – things you should know about David. Then we’ll focus in on one key aspect of his life and relationship with God.
1. David was the youngest of eight brothers and brought up to be a shepherd (1 Sam 17:12ff). As such he learned courage (1 Sam 17:34-35) and came to understand God as Shepherd (Ps 23).
2. David fought and killed Goliath, the Philistine champion, and earned Saul’s jealousy (1 Sam 17; 18:7-9). From then on, Saul tried to kill him.
3. When Saul died, David ruled his own tribe for 7½ years in Hebron, then later moved to Jerusalem to rule the twelve tribes once Saul’s successors faded (2 Sam 3-5). He ruled there for 33 years (starting in 1000 B.C.).
4. David enjoyed great military and strategic victory and growth, but his religious zeal outshone it, with the return of the Ark and beginnings of plans for a Temple for worship. He wrote many of the Psalms, used for worship.
5. David is known and remembered also for his sins of adultery and murder with Bathsheba and Uriah; but also for his significant repentance.
Those are five facts to know about David. I’d like to look more in depth at something probably less well-known about David, but perhaps the most significant thing about him. It is recorded in 2 Samuel 7.
Re-Upping the Covenant (2 Samuel 7)
The concept of covenant is relatively obscure to us, but one of the most prominent features of the Bible. We have talked about it here on a number of occasions, however, so I hope the word is familiar to you. It is a form of promise with legal, personal, political, and relational overtones. But it is more than a contract; it is more like a vow with very high stakes. In fact, the kind of covenant prominent in the Bible is one in which lives are at stake.
The closest thing we have to the biblical covenant is the marriage vow, and even that is more and more treated like a legal contract these days than the covenant it is supposed to be. But think of the vows – to love, honor, cherish, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, and so forth, until death parts us. The biblical covenant was very much like that, with at least one (or both) parties making similar vows, sealed not with “until death parts us” but with “if I break this vow, may God take my life.”
The most familiar covenant is the Abrahamic covenant, in which God vows Himself to Abraham and his descendants and promises land, children, and blessing. In many ways it is a one-sided promise, with God wielding the power and God vowing His own reputation and existence on the outcome. And the really significant thing about the covenant is that God pledges to be faithful, period. God’s faithfulness doesn’t hinge on Abraham’s performance or faithfulness, but on God’s own character. There are consequences, to be sure – curses and blessings for Israel as they exhibit faithfulness or not. But the covenant itself, and God’s faithfulness to His vows, are unconditional and unwavering.
There is another covenant in the Old Testament, lesser known than the one God made with Abraham. It is the one God made with David in 2 Samuel 7. David was significantly different from Saul in that Saul was everything the people demanded in a king. Saul was a mighty warrior. But David was what God required in a king. He trusted in the Lord and listened to His voice. He also turned out to be strong and courageous, but was victorious (as against Goliath) because of listening to the Lord, not solely because of strength of arms.
And God chose to make another covenant. It didn’t replace the one with Abraham, but re-pledged and re-committed. God took another step toward the human race. God renewed the promises to Abraham and made them again to David. He vowed land – a home for Israel – in 2 Samuel 7:10, “I will also appoint a place for my people Israel….” God vowed to preserve David’s descendants in verse 11, “…the Lord will make a house for you.” And God vowed blessing, that one of David’s descendants would establish David’s throne, in service to God, forever. Listen to verses 12-13: “…I will raise up your descendant after you… he shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
While aspects of that covenant were fulfilled by David’s son and successor, Solomon, what you are hearing is the specific promise for the Messiah – a Savior and King to come from the line of David, not to establish an earthly kingdom (which cannot last forever), but a spiritual kingdom. Now all of that wasn’t clear in this passage, but becomes clear with Jesus. That is one reason the Gospel writers take such pains to trace Jesus’ lineage back to David. Jesus is the fulfillment of this great covenant promise of God!
And like the other covenant, God pledges to remain faithful, whether David is faithful or not. Like the other covenant, there are consequences if David or his children are unfaithful. There are blessings and curses. But God will not abandon His Word and promise; God will prove faithful to this promise.
Putting God to the Test
Well that sounds all nice and pretty and God-like on the front end. But what happens when David abandons any pretense of godliness? You don’t have to go much farther in 2 Samuel to read of his adultery with Bathsheba and then his murder of her husband, Uriah. There’s no question about whether this covenant rests on God’s faithfulness. It’s not like David puts on a good show but has some minor sins to deal with. He commits two of the worst offenses possible. On top of that, the nature of this covenant shifts somewhat with the kingship. In Abraham and Moses’ day, all of Israel were expected to be faithful to the laws of God – the covenant expectations. While the people still were to be faithful to the Law, this new covenant was specifically with David and his house. David was the representative for all of God’s people. He was to be the king, the example of faithfulness. He failed himself; he failed his people; and he failed the Lord.
By any standard of fairness, God should have walked away and kept looking for another king. Saul was too self-sufficient; David was too disobedient. God could have scrubbed the kingship or raised up another king. But God had spoken and given His Word. So, while there were dire consequences for David and his household, God stood by His promise and preserved the house and lineage of David. And when David was confronted by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 and offered sincere repentance, God granted forgiveness and a measure of restoration.
I chose these chapters because the covenant is relatively unknown and is most significant. And David’s sin is well-known, but not recognized in the context of God’s faithfulness. And it’s that point from which I want to make application.
Faithfulness as a Grace
I believe there are two great struggles people have with the God of the Bible. And by people I don’t just mean “out there” but people in here. I don’t believe our greatest struggle is intellectual, though I know those questions are floating around, too, especially in the wake of such a huge natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti.
Rather, I believe the greatest struggle we have with God takes one of two forms: either we don’t think we can do enough to measure up or we think we’ve already failed too badly. And really, both of those amount to the same thing: I’m not good enough for God.
That bottom-line thought can produce all kinds of misdirection. We can work and work and work to be “good people” but always live in doubt that we’ve done enough. Or we struggle with a huge burden of guilt that we’ve already failed and fallen too far to ever make it; and we give up.
The story of David – and God’s covenant with David – is a strong correction to either of those misdirections. And so interesting to find such grace in the Old Testament! Listen – this Word is a Rock; it is solid and true and unyielding. And this Word, this promise is not just for David; it is for you.
Three thousand years ago, and not for the first time, God promised to send a Rescuer and Deliverer to establish God’s Kingdom forever. That Savior would re-establish right relationship with God and be a faithful servant-King where earthly kings could not. And God’s promise to David was that nothing could undo or derail that plan.
Yes, disobedience and sin and evil have consequences, sometimes dire consequences. That is our guard and challenge against abusing God’s faithfulness. But God’s promise to send us a Savior-King could not and cannot be broken. If the one God originally made the promise to couldn’t turn God away with adultery and murder on the very heels of the great covenant, nothing you have done or could do can cause God to abandon that covenant.
The promise of God we have in Jesus is so very similar and tied to this covenant with David. By sending Jesus, God not only kept his promise to David, but holds forth a new covenant to us. It, too, is rooted in God’s faithfulness, not our own.
In Jesus Christ, God invites us to come, believe, follow, and serve. And here’s where God’s faithfulness and grace run up against those two struggles we have. God’s invitation to come, believe, follow, and serve, do not depend on our performance. If it did, we really would have no hope, because we can’t measure up and we do fall short! But hear the Good News: when you fall short, tune out, turn off, and outright disobey, God does not rip up your invitation and turn His back on you. He simply asks again, “Will you come, believe, follow, and serve me?”
In the New Testament, Paul warns against abusing God’s grace. Why not just sin and then come ask for forgiveness? May it never be! There are consequences to sin even still. But God does not turn away or give up. He proved that with David, and did receive the truly repentant David back as a King who believed, followed, and served Him. And God made good on every promise He made to David, just as He will with you.
What can we learn from King David, the second king of Israel? We learn that whether we have the opportunity to serve as leader, teacher, mentor, coach, or friend, we have a faithful, rock-solid, unyielding invitation from God to do so under the authority and blessing of Jesus Christ, the Savior-King. So in all of life, and specifically as you lead and influence others, continually ask yourself how to respond to the invitation of God to come, believe, follow, and serve. As you do so, you have the opportunity not only to serve God, but point others towards His amazing faithfulness and grace. Amen.