Saturday, July 31, 2010

Only Son (part 3)

Before we can delve into what Nicodemus is supposed to think when he hears Jesus say “This is the way God loved the world…” (John 3:16a), we first have to examine other parts of the conversation, as this is a building process. We have already heard Nicodemus speak to Jesus about the signs that He is doing, with an indication of an assent on his own part that Jesus “has come from God” (3:2b). Again, it cannot be said enough that this was a time of great expectation. Israel is expecting God to act on their behalf. They are expecting a messiah. A wide-held understanding about the messiah was that he would be the physical embodiment of Israel’s God. When he speaks of Jesus as coming from God, Nicodemus speaks from within this expectation. Nicodemus seems to be make a rather subtle inquiry as to whether or not Jesus was (or at least thought He was) the messiah. His own words about God being with Jesus indicate that he believes that this is a strong possibility.

How does Jesus respond? He does so by making reference to the Jewish, messianic hope that God was going to fulfill His promise and establish His kingdom. Keeping things simple, this would entail firstly, the removal of Roman oppression, and secondly, the subjugation of Rome to Israel, as Israel was to be elevated above all nations, with its messiah as king. Jesus is fully aware of the Jewish hope. Indeed, by His own words that are to come, we see that He believes that He is fulfilling the Jewish hope of kingdom. In demonstration of this awareness, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3). After a response from Nicodemus which shows us just how truly puzzling this statement was, with its inclusion of being “born from above,” Jesus continues and says, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (3:5). Clearly, Nicodemus is confused by Jesus’ speech here, but we would have to imagine that he would not be alone in his confusion. Even Jesus’ own disciples, though they are with Him all the time and had the chance to hear Him speak on a regular basis, as He likely made such intriguing statement on that same regular basis, were routinely perplexed by what He had to say, and were in need of private explanations. Granted, as a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, Nicodemus was no doubt part of the elite and educated citizens of Israel, but we also find that Jesus routinely stumped even the most elite with His statements and His questions. One can only imagine the confused expression that rested upon Nicodemus’ face, prompting Jesus to say “Do not be amazed” (3:7a) at these things that I have said to you.

Now, putting aside the statements about being born from above and born of water and spirit, what would have been more significant for Nicodemus was Jesus’ multiple use of the term “kingdom of God.” This would have been Nicodemus’ concern. This is what he was after. Was Jesus the Messiah? Was He the One through Whom God was going to work to usher in His kingdom? As we think about the thoughts and emotions that this would have been stirring in Nicodemus, his response about a man entering into his mother’s womb and being born a second time (3:4b) almost seems like an effort to focus on something besides Jesus’ talk about the great Jewish hope, so as to obfuscate his own tremendous excitement at what this might very well mean. The same could possibly be said about Nicodemus’ words of “How can these things be?” (3:9a) Remember, Nicodemus was not there for a theological and philosophical dissertation. He came for information. He wanted to know what Jesus thought about Himself. His concern was the kingdom of God, and whether their God was now fulfilling His promise through this man that had been so demonstrative at the Temple, and who had done many signs while at the feast of Passover.

This too is significant. We should not lose sight of the fact that the signs to which Nicodemus is referring were being performed by Jesus in association with Passover. Passover, of course, was the yearly celebration of God intervening on behalf of His oppressed people, conquering their enemies, and leading them out of Egypt (in confirmation of His promise to Abraham) under the leadership of their great deliverer, Moses. The juxtaposition of signs at Passover, along with His actions in the Temple, would not have been lost on anybody, especially a Pharisee who was also a member of the ruling council. A person doing such things in conjunction with the feast conducted in celebration of the time when God gave His people liberation from their oppressors who were keeping them outside of the promised blessings of their God, was effectively declaring that he was, at the least, a messianic figure. This would serve to inspire great hope and arouse great passions among the people. This sparking of hope and passion could go two ways. One way would be the establishment of God’s kingdom, through a glorious display of His saving power. The other way would be a rebellion that resulted in being crushed by Rome, along with executed messiah. Nicodemus needed to know more about this Jesus. That is why he was there.

Only Son (part 2)

So what was it that Nicodemus was supposed to understand from these famous words of Jesus? Undoubtedly, when Jesus speaks these words, He is clearly being self-referential. However, we should not imagine that such was supposed to be immediately clear to Nicodemus. To think such a thing would be an unreasonable assertion on our part. Also, to treat him as anything less than a well-learned, well-respected individual, simply because of what seem to be odd responses to the questions and statements that Jesus is putting to him, would be an unwarranted reading of our own theological pre-suppositions (and unfortunately ill-informed prejudices), along with the tangible benefit of the theological treatise of the Gospel of John, back on to the Scriptures.

The bottom line is that Nicodemus is no fool. When we first meet him, he is identified as a Pharisee. Not only that, we are informed that he a “member of the Jewish ruling council” (John 3:1b). As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would not only have been well-versed in the history of Israel, but he would have also stood as a guardian of its covenant-related identity markers. He would have been very much concerned, and very much looking forward to the time at, and the means by which, Israel’s God would intervene on behalf of His chosen and faithful people, delivering them from their long-running exile (foreign subjugation, which was connected to God’s curses upon His people for failure to obey His commands and to fulfill His purpose for them). As a Pharisee, and therefore, as a member of the group of people that was informally charged with the maintenance of the faithfulness of the people when it came to the marks of Jewish identity (covenant markers: circumcision, food and purity laws, Sabbath-keeping), he would have found the existing situation, with Israel under the heel of Rome, untenable and highly undesirable, no matter how many benefits Rome might bring, and no matter how much “freedom of religion” was offered to them by Rome. Anything short of total autonomy, with Israel ruling itself, was ultimately unacceptable.

As a member of the Jewish ruling council, he would have been in an officially sanctioned position of religious and civil influence among the people, walking in the world of Judaism (religious) that was attempting to keep the people faithful to their covenant God as they lived in a state of great expectation, while also attempting to keep those same expectant people from running afoul of Rome and its power (civil), while awaiting another exodus similar to that which Israel experienced under Moses. We must remember, as we attempt to gain a more thorough understanding of what Jesus means with the words of John 3:16, that not only are the words offered in the context of a larger discourse, but that they are offered in a political, historical, cultural, social, and theological context as well. So it will not do to simply examine the verses that come before and after, rather, the entire setting in which the words were spoken must be taken into consideration, which will allow us to gain an insight into the possible mindset of Nicodemus. We do this so that we can understand first what Nicodemus may have thought when Jesus spoke these words, and then also the things to which Jesus might be referring upon speaking these words. Then, if we have traversed the material correctly, though relatively briefly (and certainly not exhaustively), the words will have a more correct, and perhaps, deeper meaning for us as well, as we see the way in which they fit into what it is that it is the great and over-arching plan of God for this world and for the beings that had been made in His image.
The very first thing that Nicodemus to Jesus is “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him” (3:2b). There is, of course, a great tradition of the giving and receiving of signs within Israel’s history. Abraham, of course, asked for a sign from God. Moses asked for a sign that would demonstrate that the One speaking to him was truly the God of his forefathers. Gideon would request and receive a sign from God. There are, of course, numerous other instances of people asking for signs, so this was not simply limited to Jesus’ day and to the people of the time. With his statement, Nicodemus fits neatly within this long tradition. First, he acknowledges that Jesus seems to be quite special, and then, he references signs. To this point, the record of the Gospel of John does not have Jesus performing a large number of “signs.” What were the signs, according to what has been presented by the author, of which Nicodemus would be aware, and to which he would be making reference? In the second chapter is the story of Jesus turning water into wine. We read that “Jesus did this as the first of His miraculous signs, in Cana of Galilee. In this way He revealed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (2:11). Following that, we are able to read about Jesus’ dramatic actions in the Temple. It was to this drew the attention of the Jewish leaders, and they said to Him, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” (2:18b) In response, Jesus speaks about the destruction of the Temple and its being rebuilt in three days. He offered this as a sign. We then go on to read that “while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, many people believed in His name because they saw the miraculous signs he was doing” (2:23). So it is His activities in the Temple, together with the signs (symbols of Messiah-ship?) that He was performing during the feast, that prompts the conversation with Nicodemus.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Only Son (part 1)

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (NET)

Jesus spoke these words to a man named Nicodemus, referring to him as a “teacher of Israel” (3:10). With such words, we are reminded that Israel had a story, and that its teachers communicated a vast, important, and powerful story to the people that thought of themselves as the chosen people of the one true God. That story took root in the tale of the exodus, as evidenced by the fact that, within his communications to Nicodemus, Jesus specifically mentions Moses, saying that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (3:14).

The lifting up of the serpent took place while Israel made its way to its land of promise, after exodus-ing Egypt. This land had been promised to Israel in the promise that was made to Abraham. “The Lord said to him, ‘I am the Lord Who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess’.” (Genesis 15:7) Therefore, though the story of Israel was rooted in exodus, the exodus story would have no meaning apart from the story of Abraham, and of promises made to him by the covenant, creative, and providential God. Yes, the exodus gains its meaning from the story of Abraham, as Abraham received word from the Lord that the promise being made to him would ultimately be confirmed by another promise. Abraham (then still Abram), had said to the Lord, “O sovereign Lord, by what can I know that I am to possess it?” (15:8) The Lord’s response was the aforementioned promise, as He said, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions” (15:13b-14). This promise is dramatically fulfilled in the events of the exodus, as God’s powerful judgments rained down on those that oppressed His people; and as, following the tenth and final blow to fall upon Egypt (the death of the firstborn), Israel was quickly ushered out of Egypt. Before leaving, however, “they had requested from the Egyptians silver and gold items and clothing” (Exodus 12:35b). In response, “The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they wants, and so they plundered Egypt” (12:36).

However, a “teacher of Israel” would not only teach a story of Israel that had the exodus as its foundation, and which also looked to the story of Abraham as the foundation of the exodus, but he would also look further back, to the story that provided context for God’s choosing of Abraham (and ultimately his descendant(s)) as His personal representative in this world. Yes, Abraham had been called out of Ur and promised a land, and given promises in association with that land, but why had this taken place? The brief answer is found in chapter twelve of Genesis, when God says to Abraham (Abram), “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (12:1-3). So yes, God chose Abraham so that through Abraham, the nations and families and the whole of the earth could be blessed. A teacher of Israel would have been quite familiar with this. This, however, is not a sufficient answer.

God’s words to Abraham merely beg the question as to “why.” Why did God need to choose Abraham? Why did God need to make Abraham into a great nation? Why did God want to bless him? Why make his name great? Why was there a need to exemplify divine blessing through Abraham? Why this talk of blessing and cursing in association with Abraham? Why indeed? The reason for this is to be found in what comes before our introduction to Abraham. What comes before, of course, is the presentation of God’s ordering of the creation, the pronouncement at every stage that this ordering was “very good,” and His placement of man, the divine-image bearer, into that creation so as to steward it, to be a reflection of His glory into it, and to remind the whole of the creation of its Ruler, that being God (Genesis 1 & 2).

The record of these events is quickly followed by the record of man’s first act of idolatry, rebellion, violation of God’s commandment, the exile of man from the role to which he had been assigned by his Creator, and the exile of the creation from the condition and state in which it had been created, as it shared in the cursing brought about by the one appointed to its rule (Genesis 3). Subsequently, we find the first murders (Genesis 4), the fathering of a son in man’s likeness rather than in the image of God (Genesis 5), the growing wickedness of mankind (Genesis 6), a worldwide flood of judgment (Genesis 7), the curse of Canaan (Genesis 9), and the culmination of man’s self-idolatry, rebellion, and defiance of God, which was the construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). It is at this point that God reaches down into history to choose Abraham, and to begin His project of the restoration of His fallen creation. Communicating this story would be part and parcel of being a “teacher of Israel,” and it is in such a context that Jesus delivers the words of what has come to be the most famous words in the whole of Scripture.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 61)

With Absalom’s approval of Hushai’s plan, events begin to unfold rather quickly. David is advised to move quickly, lest he be caught, and he does so, along with all his people. Ahithophel, who appears to be sensing oncoming defeat in addition to having his advice ignored in favor of that of Hushai, kills himself. David and those with him have crossed the Jordan River, symbolically leaving the land of Israel, and going to Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24a). Following the plan, “Absalom and all the men of Israel had crossed the Jordan River” (17:24b) as well.

We may read by that quickly, but perhaps we should not. Crossing the Jordan was of tremendous significance in the history of Israel. Following the exodus and their time in the wilderness, the crossing of the Jordan meant that they had crossed over into the land of God’s promise. It was, in a sense, the completion of the exodus, though exodus is never truly complete, as it is an ongoing process of deliverance, rescue, redemption, and salvation, which must be worked out diligently. Even after Israel crossed into their promised land, they still had to take the land, drive out its occupants, and crush the rampant idolatry (which they did not do). In the days of John the Baptist, baptism in the Jordan River was a clear signal of a new exodus movement and a submission to the claims of the coming kingdom of God, just as baptism in this day, is a sign of departure from exile, into a life of exodus (a constant entering into God’s mission and purpose) and submission to God’s King, Jesus the Messiah. David, already in a self-imposed exile from Jerusalem and his throne, crosses the Jordan as he flees Absalom, who is now, unfortunately, intent upon killing his father.

This does carry some meaning for David, though it carries far greater meaning for Absalom. After crossing the Jordan River, in his pursuit of his father, as he leads the men of Israel in this pursuit, and as he goes forth to violently raise his hand against his father, he is going into exile. With his exile, and what it is going to mean for him, his father is now being rescued from subjugation. Absalom has reversed the exodus that he has experienced. He has completely reversed the Moses-oriented narrative that he had created for himself. Having made this crossing, he will never cross back. It is not insignificant that Absalom’s crossing of the Jordan, coincides with blessings beginning to come David’s way. We read that “When David came to Mahanaim,” men came to him and “brought bedding, basins, and pottery utensils. They also brought food for David and all who were with him, including wheat, barley, flour, roasted grain, beans, lentils, honey, curds, flocks, and cheese” (17:27a,28-29a).

Remarkably (or perhaps not so remarkably), this provision of food and supplies for David and the people with him sounds like what we find in Deuteronomy. There, where we have spent so much time examining the curses that have come Israel’s way, we also find the promise of blessings. We find it said, “If you indeed obey the Lord your God and are careful to observe all His commandments… the Lord your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field. Your children will be blessed, as well as the produce of your soil, the offspring of your livestock, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your mixing bowl will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out” (28:1-6). We can imagine David reflecting upon these promised blessings as he receives the items that are being brought to him at Mahanaim.

If he is thinking in such ways, then it is at this point that he knows that his God has turned things in his favor, and that truly, he is still the Lord’s anointed, and that Absalom should not have raised his hand against him. After contemplating the blessings related to sustenance, David could go on to consider what follows in Deuteronomy, which is “The Lord will cause your enemies who attack you to be struck down before you; they will attack you from one direction but flee from you in seven different directions… The Lord will designate you as His holy people just as He promised you… Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you” (28:7,9-10). It is after he receives the gifts that, for him, serves to indicate the return of God’s favor and to remind him of the anointing and promise of God that had been placed upon his life and his rule, that “David assembled the army that was with him. He appointed leaders of thousands and leaders of hundreds. David then sent out the army” (18:1-2a).

He knew that God was going to be with him and that his return to the throne was a foregone conclusion. With full knowledge that the change of events was instigated by Absalom’s agreement to unnecessarily raise his hand in violence against his father, when David sends out the army he says, “For my sake deal gently with the young man Absalom” (18:5b). This, of course, does not happen, as Joab, David’s general (who has no fear of reprisal from David), has Absalom executed at the first opportunity to do so, which presented itself relatively quickly. In fact, Absalom was struck down in the very first military engagement of his kingship, which is extraordinarily telling. As was said before, once Absalom crossed the Jordan, departing from his exodus and going into exile, he would never cross back. The only thing that was waiting for him on the other side was the completion of the curses of exile, which was death---dragged into the subjugation of that great and foreign power.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 60)

While it is true that we have spent a great deal of time and space dealing with Absalom, it simply must be said that his story is truly and fascinatingly compelling, as it presents and ties together (as we have seen) multiple themes that run deep in Scripture. Therefore, his story lends itself to drawing many conclusions about God’s working, God’s mission, and what God desires for His people (for all time), as it serves as something of a climactic turning point in the history of Israel.

Now, we have concluded that Absalom’s downfall came because he agreed with the idea of raising his hand against God’s anointed, thereby demonstrating that he did not fully trust God and the promises of God upon which he may very well have been relying. Is this sort of conclusion justified? Apart from the example of Moses and Israel, which was an example and path from which Absalom was deviating, was there another example that he could have followed? Of course there was. It was the example that had been set by his own father, before he had been corrupted by the power of the throne. In the first book of Samuel, there are two occasions on which David had the opportunity to kill Saul, his oppressor and subjugator. However, he did not seize upon either of those opportunities to do so. In fact, David felt guilty for cutting off an edge of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:4). Of course, to this point Absalom had not even gone that far. In response to his own action, David said, “May the Lord keep me far away from doing such a thing to my lord, who is the Lord’s chosen one, by extending my hand against him. After all, he is the Lord’s chosen one” (24:6).

A short while later, David calls out to Saul and says “Even though I have not sinned against you, you are waiting in ambush to take my life” (24:11b). In the case of Absalom, up until the point that Ahithophel and Hushai speak, there has been no talk, on either the side of David or Absalom, about one attempting to take the other’s life. Certainly, we can say that part of the judgment of God that came upon Saul was related to his ongoing desire to physically and violently raise his hand against one that God had anointed. Absalom should have continued in the attitude modeled by David and said, “May the Lord judge between the two of us” (24:12a), which had already apparently been happening in Absalom’s favor based on the fact of the peaceful exchange of power. David continued with words upon which Absalom should have seized, saying “may the Lord vindicate me over you, but my hand will not be against you” (24:12b).

Absalom already had the support of the people, and David himself was willing to accept Absalom’s exaltation as king. David had been disgraced and humiliated. The last thing that Absalom needed to do was to take action that would draw attention, and perhaps even sympathy, upon David. Instead, it may very well have been better to completely forget about his father. Surely, his attempted actions against David might have been perceived as a spiteful type of “kicking a man while he is down,” which would serve to elicit the sympathy and condolences of the people, while creating an unfavorable opinion of Absalom, as an oppressive ruler that, after all, is not all that interested in justice. Now, David will be able to turn his words against Absalom, and paint him as a king who has had the hand of God removed from him, like that which Saul experienced, and say “Who has the king of Israel come out after? Who is it that you are pursuing? A dead dog? A single flea? May the Lord be our judge and aribtrater. May He see and arbitrate my case and deliver me from your hands” (24:14-15). David will now be able to turn the tables on Absalom, and make his plea for justice, when such, to that point, has been Absalom’s cry.

Returning to the text of Absalom’s story, we find that Hushai, after gaining Absalom’s ear, passes along to David the news of both his and Ahithophels advice, along with Absalom’s response to that advice. Knowing his own history, and reflecting upon his previous time in exile, this must have been somewhat heartening for David. Obviously, there would be a level of sadness, in that he now learns that his son thinks that is a good idea to have him dispatched from existence, but there would be a level of encouragement, because he could see this as a sign of God’s favor returning upon him. He could reflect upon the fact that he did not raise his hand against Saul, and he was ultimately rewarded for his restraint. He could think about the fact that Saul came out after him, and though Saul’s efforts at striking David down proved unsuccessful, Saul’s efforts clearly proved to be less than beneficial. In this unwarranted plan to attack David without provocation, as David has not actively said or done anything to defeat what he feels might very well be the work of God, Absalom has now turned oppressor. He is no longer, Moses, but rather, Saul. He is no longer rescuing the people from subjugation, but instead, attempting to subjugate his father, who is also now his subject. Yes, David and the men with him are now Absalom’s subjects, and therefore, it is incumbent upon Absalom to secure blessings for them. This is quite difficult to do if one is plotting to bring death.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 59)

Hushai, the one that had sent back to Jerusalem, by David, to serve as a “double-agent” in Absalom’s court, suggested a different strategy than that of Ahithophel. He reminded Absalom of the fact that his father was, most certainly, a warrior, and that the men with him were quite brave (2 Samuel 17:10). In that light, he suggests that “all Israel from Dan to Beer Sheba---in number like the sand of the sea!---be mustered to you, and you lead them personally into battle” (17:11b). How interesting it is that Hushai just happens to toss in, almost as an aside, a description of the people of Israel as being as numerous as the sand on the seashore. In his advice to Absalom, which was really part of his service to David, he invokes the memory of the covenant promise that God originally made to Abraham. It is probably this, more than anything else that he said, that inspires Absalom to be partial to Hushai’s advice. After all, what proud, self-respecting Israelite would not be moved to act when regaled with such speech, as the person on the receiving end of such words would now be connected with the great patriarchal father?

Hushai adds: “We will come against him wherever he happens to be found. We will descend on him like the dew falls on the ground. Neither he nor any of the men who are with him will be spared alive---not one of them! If he regroups in a city, all Israel will take up ropes to that city and drag it down to the valley, so that not a single pebble will be left there!” (17:12-13) Hushai is definitely engaging in some pronounced hyperbole here. Though we know that he does not believe or desire that such things will happen, he uses terms such as “All Israel,” and, in reference to those with David, says that “not one of them” will be spared. These things are quite unlikely, yet for some reason, they are appealing to Absalom. “Absalom and all the men of Israel said, ‘The advice of Hushai the Arkite sounds better than the advice of Ahithophel” (17:14a). So Absalom is heeding advice that is directed towards attacking and killing his father and his father’s men. This is his fatal mistake.

Following the report of the favorable response to Hushai’s advice, the author adds what is obviously a retroactive application of what was ultimately manifested as Divine displeasure with Absalom, no doubt because of the course of action that was now going to be undertaken, saying “the Lord had decided to frustrate the sound advice of Ahithophel, so that the Lord could bring disaster upon Absalom” (17:14b). This is the first negative connotation that we can find, from either the Lord or from man, in the story of Absalom’s insurrection and coming to power. To this point, Absalom could very well lay claim to being a leader and deliverer for Israel in the mold of Moses. To this point, the portrayal of David as being similar to Pharoah, David’s removal as being similar to Pharaoh’s loss of power over Israel, and Absalom’s exodus from his own exile as akin to Israel’s exodus from Egypt under Moses, was effective, and perhaps, knowing what we know about David, even appropriate. However, it is at this point that Absalom, for some unknown reason, though he was receiving advice to do this, departs from the epic narrative that he has been creating for himself.

As we think back to the story of Israel’s exodus, the one thing we do not find is Moses taking it upon himself to raise his hand against the one from whom Israel was being delivered. Remember, Moses had attempted to start the revolution in Egypt, on behalf of Israel, with his killing of the Egyptian taskmaster. This failed to accomplish the goal that Moses had in mind, and he was sent into his own personal exile. When he returned, he was gifted with the ability to lead an exodus that was peaceful, at least as it related to the actions of the people. As we have seen, Absalom has effectively mirrored this. Though he was not, as far as we are told, attempting to start a revolution through his killing of Amnon, it was that killing that resulted in his own exile away from Jerusalem. It was during that time, no doubt, that the seeds of a plan to take the throne began to germinate, because he was treated unjustly due to his execution of justice.

Returning to the exodus story, let us be clear that Israel conducted no demonstrations of violence against Egypt. The Egyptians, on the other hand, experienced the violent power of Israel’s God, which serves to remind us of the fact that Moses left it to the God of Israel to bring judgment and destruction, in the way that He saw fit. Then, after the death of the firstborn, which saw Pharaoh finally relent from his stubborn stance and practically demand that Israel depart from Egypt, the last things Moses was going to do was turn around and attempt to kill Pharaoh. In that case, God had already judged Pharaoh, so what good would that do? What would that prove? Even after Pharaoh came out after Moses and Israel, Moses did not send men to confront Pharaoh and his army. Rather, he continued to trust the God that delivers to fight on behalf of His people. Had Moses and Israel raised their hands against Egypt in any way, things might have turned out quite differently, as it would have been an indication that they did not fully trust that their covenant God was able to rescue them from their foreign subjugation.

Absalom would have been wise to heed this example. Instead, because he believes that it is now incumbent upon him to go out after his father, he is forsaking the power of God to solidify his kingship and to carry out His promises to David through Absalom. Israel did not turn back and fight against Egypt, rather, they looked forward, preparing themselves to face the enemies to come. Absalom should have done the same, looking forward as well, in a spirit of thankfulness, rather than allowing for the entrance of a spirit that has to be described as nothing more than vengeful. Had he not been vindicated already? Had he not been exalted? Had God not fought his battles for him? Absalom should never have turned back, so as to bring further suffering on his deposed father. It is this that would ultimately bring David vindication through suffering (from exile to exodus), while bringing suffering to Absalom in the wake of what had been his vindication (exodus to exile).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 58)

Absalom appears to be enjoying God’s favor upon his life and his kingship. He has suffered in exile, and now, he has been vindicated from that suffering. He has been delivered to the kingship of God’s covenant people. It could be said that he had “taken the land.” The demonstration of that ongoing theme of exile and exodus has been well demonstrated, and above all things, it shows that he is not only now of kinship with Moses, but also Israel itself (from Egypt to the Promised Land), of Jacob (to Haran and back to Canaan), and Abraham (from Ur to Canaan, and from Egypt to Canaan). It cannot be emphasized enough that he can consider himself to have been vindicated by God Himself, with evidence of such, following his long ordeal, that he is hailed as Israel’s king. It must be further emphasized, quite strenuously, that his ascension to the throne (the completion of his personal exodus journey) has been accomplished without resort to military operations.

As has been previously pointed out, he has not had to raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. The people can freely support him, in good conscience, knowing full well that David appears to have abdicated willingly. If indeed the Bathsheba/Uriah incident has been made public knowledge, which seems like a reasonable proposition because of Absalom’s actions with David’s concubines (wives) in sight of the people, that was meant to be a demonstration of the judgment pronounced against him by God through the prophet Nathan, then David’s peaceful abdication would have seemed altogether appropriate, with Absalom’s peaceful taking of power (in this context) completely understandable.

Then, the unraveling begins. Absalom quickly moves from the place of apparent favor and blessing of God, with an implicit sanction of his kingship (because of his role in delivering prophesied and embarrassing judgment for David), with David slinking quietly away into the background, into the opposite situation. Almost immediately upon becoming secure upon the throne, Absalom begins to see his station begin to slip from him. To a point, he had been growing in favor with man (and apparently) with God, but this now turns. Absalom starts to fall into God’s disfavor, and David begins to regain in favor. This can’t simply be because David had been anointed by God to replace Saul and lead God’s people, as God is free to work through Absalom (according to the promise to David) to cause His people to be a light to the nations and to reflect His glory into the world, so there must be a signal reason why this takes place. Did Absalom have his own Bathsheba situation? Not as far as the Scriptures tell us. Did he fail to execute justice as did David in the situation with Amnon and Tamar. Not as far as we know. So what was it? Why is God’s blessing suddenly removed from him? What is it that causes the people to slowly begin to turn from Absalom and reinstitute their support of David?

We find the answer in the first few verses of the seventeenth chapter of the second book of Samuel. What does this passage say? We read, “Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Let me pick out twelve thousand men. Then I will go and pursue David this very night. When I catch up with him he will be exhausted and worn out. I will rout him, and the entire army that is with him will flee. I will kill only the king and will bring the entire army back to you. In exchange for the life of the man you are seeking, you will get back everyone’.” (17:1-3a) What was Absalom’s response to this? In what should be a surprise to us, based on how things have gone and what has been accomplished to that point, we read that “This seemed like a good idea to Absalom and to all the leaders of Israel” (17:4). Though Absalom would also seek out further advice, and eventually act upon advice contrary to what was offered by Ahithophel, the point is that this seemed like a good idea to Absalom.

So there we have an answer. This, as we should well understand by now, was completely un-necessary. Seemingly, David was not a threat to Absalom. David had resolved to leave his destiny in the hands of his God. Along with that, and based on the mournful response that David makes when he eventually (after the unfolding of the events to come) receives word of Absalom having been struck down and killed, we can even imagine that David asked for God’s blessing and favor to fall upon the one whom He (God) had seen fit to place in the role of king, having given him favor with the people of God. No, David did not and could not have seen himself as being unlawfully or unjustly removed from the throne of Israel; and if he truly was the man after God’s own heart, and if he truly served under a special anointing of God, it would have been incumbent upon him to seek and to serve God’s will, even if that meant that he was not to be the king. Based on what he had done and had not done, as he delivered oppression and usurped justice (with morality-related mistakes to which fallen humans are prone as secondary issues), David would have been justified in believing in this way, and acting accordingly.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 57)

Everything was going well for Absalom. He had taken the throne. He has secured the support of one of his father’s chief advisors. His efforts at fostering a sense of justice and peace through brotherhood with the people had been effectual, as Absalom had “won the loyalty of the citizens of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:6b). The narrative of exile and exodus that he had been creating for himself had paid off, as “the people were starting to side with Absalom” (15:12b). Even his father had been told that “The men of Israel are loyal to Absalom!” (15:13b).

Due to this loyalty and support, Absalom entered Jerusalem peacefully (15:37b), apparently encountering no resistance. To go with all of this, Hushai the Arkite, another one of his father’s servants, came to Absalom in Jerusalem and said “I will be loyal to the one whom the Lord, these people, and all the men of Israel have chosen. Moreover, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son? Just as I served your father, so I will serve you” (16:18b). Now, Absalom did not know that Hushai had attempted to go with David, and had gone back to Jerusalem at David’s request, for the expressed purpose of countering the advice that Ahithophel would provide to Absalom (15:34). So as far as Absalom would have been concerned, these words from Hushai, that were actually words of deception that were put in Hushai’s mouth by David, were simply further evidence that his plan had been successful, and that the God of Israel was favoring him in his efforts.

As we read through this story (which seems to have a place of importance in the life of David and the history of Israel), even David himself seems to have been resigned to the possibility that Absalom’s exodus to kingship, and his own exile from the throne, was part of the Lord’s will, as again, the promise to David was that he would have a dynasty on the throne. The rule of Absalom most certainly fit within that framework, and to go along with that, David would have been none too surprised that this was part of God’s judgment upon him for his failures as king (Uriah, Amnon). He has taken only mild measures to retain his position, involving Zadok, Abiathar, and Hushai in that effort.

Thinking about this for a moment, when David employs Zadok and Abiathar (along with their sons) as spies, it is a bit of a perversion of their role (as priests) to represent the people before God. Nevertheless, this resignation is partly indicated (among other things that we have already explored) by the fact that David sends the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, and his saying, “If I find favor in the Lord’s sight He will bring me back and enable me to both see it and His dwelling place again” (15:25b). That was said together with “However, if He should say, ‘I do not take pleasure in you,’ then He will deal with me in a way that He considers appropriate” (15:26). Additionally, the words that David spoke in the wake of being cursed and assaulted (rocks thrown) by Shimei, only points to his understanding that all of this might very well have been the Lord’s will.

So as was said, everything was going swimmingly for Absalom. He had led his peaceful insurrection, and it has been accomplished by winning the hearts of the people. In essence, he was Moses, and he was leading Israel in a new exodus movement, with the Lord on his and their side. Indeed, Absalom, if so inclined, could stand before the people and say “just as the Lord fought for Israel in Egypt, rescuing a people by the acts of His mighty hand, so He has again fought for Absalom and Israel, delivering me to the throne of His people, by the singular working of His powerful, saving might.” Reinforcing such a thought, he has now even heard it said, by one of his father’s trusted servants, that he (Absalom) was anointed by both the Lord and the people. To that point, any such mention of anointing (in the mold of Saul and David) had been completely absent from the narrative.

Upon this, his revolution was complete. Absalom was king. God was going to fulfill the promises to David through him. Then, in the midst of this, the tide turned. Everything changed. Events began to unfold that would unravel Absalom’s victory.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 56)

After Absalom has entered Jerusalem, he sought the counsel of Ahithophel, saying “Give us your advice. What should we do?” (2 Samuel 16:20b) Ahithophel provides a two part answer. The first part of his answer is “Have sex with your father’s concubines whom he left to care for the palace” (16:21a). Absalom, quite pleased with this suggestion, seizes on the idea and follows through on it. We read that “they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom had sex with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (16:22). Why does Ahithophel suggest this? Why does Absalom do it? It is suggested and undertaken because of what it was that the prophet Nathan had said to David, after David’s taking of Uriah’s wife and life. Through Nathan, God had said to David, “you have despised Me by taking the wife of Uriah the Hittite as your own!” (12:10b)

Though it does not provide a direct correlation, it would not be too far-fetched to suggest that this despising of God by David bears very little difference from Israel’s forsaking of God and worshiping of idols, by which they despised Him. If this is correct, then it is only right that David experience what God promises to His people for idolatry, which is cursing (exile). So Nathan continues, saying “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on you from inside your household!’” (12:11a) Certainly the Absalom situation, which has been created and fueled by the Tamar and Amnon situation and the resulting fall-out, could be described as disaster from inside the household. Furthermore, God says, “Right before your eyes I will take your wives and hand them over to your companion. He will have sexual relations with your wives in broad daylight!” (12:11b) Why? Because “Although you have acted in secret, I will do this thing before all Israel, and in broad daylight” (12:12). This is obviously fulfilled.

In the Deuteronomic curses, Moses informs God’s people that one of the curses that will come upon them for their failure to obey God’s commands (of which David was certainly guilty) would be that “You will be engaged to a woman and another man will rape her” (Deuteronomy 28:30a). This is not strictly analogous to what Nathan has told David, or to what it has been suggested that Absalom do, as neither God’s threat through Nathan nor Ahithophel’s suggestion to Absalom carries with it (at least on the surface) the connotation of violence or force, but it can probably be thought of as being connected closely enough to drive home the point to David that he has violated God’s commands. Additionally, Ahithophel sees a close enough connection in that it will play well into Absalom’s ongoing effort to show himself as a true deliverer in the mold of Moses, thereby allowing him to continue co-opting the most powerful story of Israel’s history for his own purposes. Furthermore, it adds to Absalom’s claim to be a just man and the one that is used by God to deliver justice to Israel. This is especially and strikingly so if he is the means by which the prophecy related to cursing that had been delivered to David by Nathan is fulfilled. This merely cements the notion that David is no longer fit to be king, while also pointing to the fact that the story of Bathsheba and David, and the oppression and injustice that the story entails, has been made known in Israel. If it has not, then there is no real point in Absalom engaging in sexual relations with his father’s concubines, unless it is also being used to indicate that just as David has forsaken these wives of his, that he has also forsaken his care of the people of Israel as well.

The second part of Ahithophel’s response to the request to provide advice to Absalom is to say that “All Israel will hear that you have made yourself repulsive to your father. Then your followers will be motivated to support you” (16:21b). Yes, Ahithophel suggests that this will be viewed by the people as Absalom being willing to be cursed by his very own father, if it indeed means justice for Israel. Absalom will be seen to be willing to bear that pain and shame on behalf of the people. In a society based upon honor and shame, this is a calculated move (though also prophetically fulfilling) to win further sympathy from the people. Does this aid Absalom in his desire to be seen as Moses? Absolutely! Moses was willing to forsake his father’s (Pharoah’s) house, so as to identify himself with the people suffering under the oppression of the king. Thinking beyond that, however, this might also be an attempt to entice David to retaliate against Absalom, who, up to this point, has not lifted up his hand (nor asked anybody else to lift up their hand) against his father. David has left willfully. He has abandoned his throne and fled from Jerusalem, and Absalom has peacefully entered to take that throne. If David now turns and raises sword and spear against Absalom and his supporters, then David is to be likened to Pharaoh, who allowed Israel to depart from Egypt and from his oppression peacefully, but then had a change of heart, and set out to recover the Israelites (and his power) violently.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 55)

Furthermore, as we examine the potential of Absalom positioning himself as a new Moses and leading a new exodus, we remember that Israel’s Egyptian exodus was carried out with no bloodshed. Moses had attempted such and failed, earning only a personal exile, which eventually resulted in his calling by God. Israel did not rise up en masse to overthrow and defeat Egypt by means of violence. They did not have to resort to war. Rather, their God worked for them. He brought Israel low through plagues and the eventual death of the firstborn. The only blood that was shed throughout the entirety of the time in which the plagues ran their course was that of the lambs that were shed on behalf of the households of Israel. The only bloodshed that preceded deliverance and exodus was that of sacrifice. What bloodshed do we see in the run-up to Absalom’s insurrection? Only that of sacrifice, when Absalom offered sacrifices in Hebron (2 Samuel 15:12). Quite rightly, if we desire to take a step here to make a connection to Jesus, Jesus could have spoken to a people that considered themselves to be a people in exile, under oppression, and reminded them that God delivered Israel and gave them exodus without the people having to rise up in rebellion in order to cast off that yoke.

Following the death of the firstborn in Egypt, Pharaoh sent Israel out of the land. Their exodus was begun through the intervention of God alone. Israel did not have to resort to the force of arms for even a single moment. Neither did Absalom. David departed from Jerusalem, going into exile much like Pharaoh, his army, and the land of Egypt (which was soon to be over-run by the Amalekites), and Absalom entered into Jerusalem without having to physically raise his hand against his father (15:37). Absalom could use this fact to point out that yes, God was showing favor upon him, and by extension, showing favor to Israel, delivering a kingdom into his hand. This could have been used as evidence that he had, in fact, been raised up like Moses, and that David had been deposed from the position of power, much like Pharaoh. Beyond that, Absalom could make it very clear that he did not lift up his hand against the Lord’s anointed, following the noble example that had been set by his previously non-oppressive father, who, when give the chance, had refrained from striking out against Saul.

Back to David, and back to his exilic experience, we meet up with him as he “reached Bahurim” (16:5). “There a man from Saul’s extended family named Shimei son of Gera came out, yelling curses as he approached. He threw stones at David and all of King David’s servants, as well as all the people and the soldiers who were on his right and left. As he yelled curses, Shimei said, “Leave! Leave! You man of bloodshed, you wicked man! The Lord has punished you for all the spilled blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you rule. Now the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. Disaster has overtaken you, for you are a man of bloodshed!’” (16:5b-8) Those that were with David, understandably, did not appreciate being cursed at and having stones thrown at them. One of them, Abishai, ever the loyal fellow, said “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head!” (16:9b) Not only did David not allow him to do this, he said “If he curses because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David!’, who can say to him, ‘Why have you done this?’” (16:10b) To that David added, “Leave him alone so that he can curse, for the Lord has spoken to him. Perhaps the Lord will notice my affliction and this day grant me good in place of his curse” (16:11b-12). With his final remark, and its mention of affliction, we get a small glimpse of to David’s insight into this exile.

Surely, the curses and stones being hurled at David from this man served as a vivid demonstration of the Deuteronomic curses and the exile in which those curses are enfolded. Thus, this man, as David rightly surmised, was being used by God (at that point), to bring David’s failures to mind. Additionally, Abishai’s use of the term “dead dog,” which the author was sure to mention here in the telling of this story, had to have been a reminder to David of Mephibosheth’s response to David, when he was restored to his lands and given a place at the king’s table. He referred to himself as a “dead dog,” undeserving of such treatment by the king. That event, perhaps more so than any other in the life of David, saw him demonstrating the compassion of God, in a way that would most definitely have served to allow him to shine as a light to the nations and to reflect the glory of God into the world, as he lifted up the grandson of his enemy. If that was a consideration, David could not then help but be reminded of the way he had honored his God and his kingship, before he began robbing (wives and lives and justice) from his people. Yes, to return to an issue previously raised, which was that of David himself going into exile, in light of a later promise to Israel that the sign of their exile would be the eternal rule of a Davidic king, we know that David was eventually returned to Jerusalem and re-established as king. If David himself could go into exile and be exodus-ed from that exile and restored to the kingship, then so too could Israel (Judah) be exiled to Babylon and subjected to a foreign nation, while trusting in their God’s promise to return them to their land.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 54)

It is not to be left unnoticed that we are here looking into an exile (albeit temporary) for David, in the context of our examination of the over-arching promise by God that has been the catalyst for this entire study. The book of Jeremiah informs a people that are nearing a time of exile and foreign subjugation to not lose heart or forget the covenant faithfulness of their God. Their God has delivered a solemn promise, saying “When the time for them to be rescued comes… I will rescue you from foreign subjugation. I will deliver you from captivity. Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them. But they will be subject to the Lord their God and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them” (30:8-9). Ironically, or perhaps not ironically, as has become very clear by our trek through the Scriptures, it is King David---the very one to whom is made reference by the term “Davidic ruler”---is himself going into exile. He is, in a way, going under foreign subjugation. Why? Because, like Israel itself, he had taken his eyes off of his God. Because, like Israel itself, he had forgotten his purpose. He had begun to treat the people of Israel as if they were there for him, rather than remembering his role and that he was there to be a servant to God’s people.

How could he serve them best? By being a testimony of what it looked like to be a light to the surrounding nations and so reflect the glory, into the world, of the God Who had anointed him and delivered him a kingdom. How could he do that if he was oppressing his own people, taking their wives, and killing them? How could he do that if he was showing favoritism to his own son and not executing what justice demanded? How could he do that if he allowed the relationship with another son to deteriorate to the point that that son could feel the need to turn the people against his father and take the kingdom for himself? David had become a king for himself and for his own glory, rather than for his people, for the world, and for the glory of Israel’s God. This was David’s idolatry, and it had earned him an exile.

This exile that David was experiencing had several of the marks of the curses promised in Deuteronomy. We read that “As David was going up the Mount of Olives, he was weeping as he went; his head was covered and his feet were bare. All the people who were with him also had their heads covered and were weeping as they went up” (2 Samuel 15:30). Does this not sound like the way that slaves would be carried off by a conquering foe? Do we find this paralleled in Deuteronomy? There we read of “hunger, thirst, nakedness, and poverty” (28:48a). David, with all of his riches, was fleeing Jerusalem with nothing. In fact, this is evidenced by the fact that shortly thereafter, “Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth… had a couple of donkeys that were saddled, and on them were two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred raisin cakes, a hundred baskets of summer fruit, and a container of wine” (16:1b), so as to provide for the king and his people during their journey into exile.

In the midst of the travel of his travail, David, having begun to recognize where his faults had been and what it was that had brought him to this horrible predicament, begins to strategize. He has already sent the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, for good reason, and implores God to turn the advice of one of his chief advisers, Ahithophel, who was now supporting and advising Absalom, into foolishness. In addition, he employed the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, to serve as his spies within Jerusalem. As David begins to remember the God of Israel and His faithfulness, he also begins to be fully cognizant of the exilic nature of what is happening to him, and vice versa. No doubt this experience is going to serve him well, if in fact God does restore him to the throne, which at this point, was certainly not a foregone conclusion. Remember, even if David is removed from the throne, the promise is that God would make a dynasty of his house, which he could very well do through Absalom, who, at this point, has carried out a successful rebellion and insurrection without shedding any blood.
In considering that, we once again make note of the strategy which might very well have been being employed by Absalom. Absalom has, quite possibly, positioned himself as a new Moses, leading a new exodus for Israel, with a delivery from a new Pharaoh, that being David, who had become an oppressor in Israel. Remember, Israel began to suffer oppression in Egypt when a Pharaoh came to power that did not know Joseph. Naturally, it was not so much that he did not know Joseph, as that he had forgotten what had been wrought on behalf of Egypt, with Egypt gaining an empire, through the power and deliverance of the God of Joseph and Israel. In making his case, Absalom could certainly point to David’s less than just actions and point out that David had forgotten the faithful, powerful, delivering, kingdom giving God of Israel---the very God that had delivered him from Saul and from his own time of exile and oppression.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 53)

“So the king and all the members of his royal court set out on foot” (2 Samuel 15:16a). This is Israel’s exodus from Egypt, but applied in reverse. It is the oppressive king that is fleeing, rather than the people. This is the king of Israel, who represents the people, going into exile, rather than leaving them to and in their promised land. David, whether directly or indirectly, through the situation that he created by not dealing with Amnon, and by not dealing with Absalom, is delivering the people that are loyal to him, into exile. Their march is not one of exodus, in power and glory, but rather, one of fear and shame. Not all of the members of the royal household left Jerusalem however, as “the king left behind ten concubines to attend to the palace” (15:16b). This becomes significant later on, as this allows for the fulfillment of a prophecy that had previously been given to David.

Like Israel, but again in reverse, “The king and all the people set out on foot, pausing at a spot some distance away” (15:17). This should cause us to reflect upon Israel’s flight from Egypt, in that they paused at the Red Sea, and then again, at the mountain of God. It should also serve as a contrast to what it is that is happening with the two events. Drawing attention to the fact that he knew that he was going into exile, “the king said to Ittai the Gittie, ‘Why should you come with us? Go back and stay with the new king, for you are a foreigner and an exile from your own country… Today should I make you wander around by going with us?’” (15:19,20b) David asks Ittai, who already lives in a state of exile, why he wants to continue in exile, and then uses the language of wandering, which present thoughts of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after their faithless response to the call to enter the land of promise. Ittai, however, refused to leave David, saying “As surely as the Lord lives and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king is, whether dead or alive, there I will be as well!” (15:21) Clearly, not all is lost for David. This response from Ittai seems to boost David’s spirits a bit. Perhaps he began to think that if this man would not forsake him, then perhaps the Lord had not completely forsaken him either.

We must take note of a startling fact. That fact is that the first mention of the Lord, related to David’s situation, in the midst of Absalom’s insurrection, comes from this foreigner Ittai, who is living in exile. It seems that David had forgotten about the Lord. To make the point, the author does not have David mentioning the Lord since the twenty-second verse of chapter twelve, in connection with the death of the first child that was born to he and Bathsheba. As we can be sure that these books of Samuel are both historical and theological treatises, this mention of the Lord by Ittai is quite striking. It seems to jar something within David.

After this reminder of the Lord, we learn that “All the land was weeping loudly as all these people were leaving. As the king was crossing over the Kidron valley, all the people were leaving on the road that leads to the desert” (15:23). This is understandable. Jerusalem, after all, is the capital of the country. Many that lived there would have served the king in official government positions. With David fleeing and a new king on the way, it would not be unreasonable for these people to believe themselves, at the least, as out of a job, and at the worst, as liable to be put to death by Absalom, so that he can appoint his own people into government positions---people that he can trust to be loyal to him and to serve him well. Along with that, “Zadok and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the Ark of the Covenant of God” (15:24a). For some reason, they were taking the Ark of the Covenant with them, as if somehow it was only David that could legitimate its presence there in Jerusalem, rather than the other way around, with the Ark serving to legitimate the rule of God’s people by its presence near the throne.

Does David get a sense of this? Did he realize that the Ark was being treated as a talisman and an idol? This had happened once before, during the time of the judges, when Hophni and Phinehas, the corrupt sons of Eli, brought the Ark into the presence of the Israelite army, as they were being threatened by and were fearful of the army of the Philistines. What happened to the Ark in that instance? It was captured by the Philistines. Israel fell to the Philistines in battle, Hophni and Phinehas were killed, Eli fell over and broke his neck when he heard the news of the Ark’s capture, and Phinehas’ wife gave birth to a son and named him Ichabod, saying that “The glory has departed from Israel, because the Ark of God has been captured” (1 Samuel 4:22). Understandably, David did not want to be on any side of that issue. He did not want to treat the Ark as an idol. He did not want to leave the people in a vulnerable position, without the presence of God, and thereby effectively in exile. He did not want to be thought of as somebody who had captured the Ark, and therefore caused the glory of the Lord to depart from Israel, nor did he want to experience the exile-like curses that came upon the Philistines because they presume to possess the Ark of the Covenant God. So “the king said to Zadok, ‘Take the Ark of God back to the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s sight He will bring me back and enable me to see both it and His dwelling place again. However, if He should say, “I do not take pleasure in you,” then He will deal with me in a way that He considers appropriate’.” (15:25-26) This represents a turning of the tide for David. Once he actively recognizes the Lord’s hand in all of these things, matters begin to turn out better for him and worse for Absalom.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 52)

As we move forward to David’s response to Absalom’s proclamation as king at Hebron, it is interesting to look at it in the light which has been created for it by Absalom, while also looking at it from the perspective of the God that had anointed David as king over His people. Immediately after learning that the people were siding with Absalom, we read that “a messenger came to David and reported, ‘The men of Israel are loyal to Absalom!” (2 Samuel 15:13) What is David’s response? Does he assert that he is king? Does he attempt to derail the coup that is taking place? Not at all. Rather, “David said to all his servants who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Come on! Let’s escape! Otherwise no one will be delivered from Absalom!’” (15:14a) This would play nicely into the story that Absalom is attempting to create. His father, when challenged, flees. This would be a clear sign for Absalom’s supporters that the protective and supporting hand of Israel’s God had been removed from David and was being transferred to Absalom, though he, unlike Saul and David (and every other previous leader of Israel) had not been anointed to the position of king. Absalom could point to this response and make the point that exile was coming to David. This would have been poetic justice for Absalom, in that it was he who previously had to flee from Jerusalem. At the same time, let us not forget that his being able to tell his story, which included fleeing, must have been quite important in his gaining influence and favor with the people.

David is clearly fearful. Perhaps he too feels that rule is being stripped from him, as the Bathsheba incident would certainly have never been far from his mind. Indeed, if Saul had been rejected as king for not following out God’s orders and executing all of Amalekites (along with their animals), then should David be surprised if he ultimately comes to be rejected as king because of his oppressive and high-handed actions against Uriah? Yes, the prophet Nathan had informed David that God had forgiven him and that he would not die as a result of what he had done, but nothing had been said about his own kingship in that incident. He had received the promise that the Lord would build him a dynastic house (7:11), but that was before he had Uriah murdered, and besides, Absalom was his very own son, so God could very well be faithful to His promise in that regard by showing favor to Absalom and removing David as king.

Sometimes we have a tendency to forget that these stories in the Bible are being told about people that were very much flesh and blood individuals. They had thoughts that are not recorded by the Biblical authors, insecurities, and doubts about their place and role in God’s mission in the world, right along with all of the problems and concerns of life lived in what would have to be described as less than comfortable conditions. Though conditions change and mindsets change, human nature remains unchanged, and this fact is what allows us, along with a sensitivity and attunement to culture and custom, to enter these stories and to read them for all that they are worth.

Getting back to the light in which Absalom might be hoping that these events are seen, as we remain aware of not only the narrative structure of the Bible that constantly points to themes of exile and exodus, but also that Israel was always especially cognizant of the story of the exodus under the leadership of Moses, we find David saying “Go immediately, or else he will quickly overtake us and bring disaster on us and kill the city’s residents with the sword” (15:14b). If Absalom is indeed painting David as a new Pharaoh, and if the author is comprehensive of that, then David’s order is quite interesting. It takes us back to chapter twelve of Exodus, following the plague which brought the death of the firstborn (remember, all of this is connected with the death of Amnon, David’s firstborn). There, in fear of what might happen next, “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, ‘Get up, get out from among my people, both you and Israelites! Go, serve the Lord as you have requested! Also, take your flocks and herds, just as you have requested, and leave. But bless me also’.” (12:31-32) In addition, we find that “The Egyptians were urging the people on, in order to send them out of the land quickly, for they were saying, ‘We are all dead!’” (12:33)

Though they are not identical, the words of David have a strange affinity with the words of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Regardless of the non-identical words, they share a nature and the point is clear. What is going to follow is an exile and an exodus. God will later promise His people that the curses that will fall upon them for violating His commandments would be similar to the plagues that He brought upon Egypt. So Egypt, by retrojection, has already experienced something like exile (though they are not God’s people). Furthermore, owing to what would take place at the sea, the plague of death (exile) would be further visited upon the Egyptians. The exodus to follow, of course, would be that of Israel. With David and Absalom, exile and exodus were also coming. David was going to leave Jerusalem, in a self-imposed exile, as it seemed that his power over God’s people had been broken like that of Pharaoh. Absalom, at the head of a loyal populace, was exodus-ing his long exile, and heading for the throne, which he saw as his promised land.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 51)

It would not be difficult to imagine that, along with the telling of his own story of what he considered to be poor treatment at the hands of his father, that Absalom also “went public” with the Bathsheba incident, in order to continue the efforts towards painting his father as an oppressive ruler in the mold of a Pharaoh that needed to be defeated by God, through another Moses.

After receiving the approval of his father to go to Hebron to offer the aforementioned sacrifice, “Absalom sent spies through all the tribes of Israel” (2 Samuel 15:10a). Here again, we have another allusion to Moses and the exodus of Israel, in that Moses sent spies into the promised land. Yes, Absalom wanted to be seen as a great deliverer within Israel, raised up by their God to liberate from oppression and servitude, and this sending of spies would play very well into the narrative that he was attempting to create. Not only that, but this sending of spies might also very well cause the people to remember the other famous sending of spies, which would have been to Jericho, before that city was defeated. This, of course, would invoke thoughts of Israel’s great general, Joshua, and the people’s actual entering into and conquering of the promised land under his leadership.

Remember, Absalom has been quite patient. It has been at least four years since his coming before the king, at least six years since his return to Jerusalem, at least nine years since his flight to Geshur, and at least eleven years since his brother raped his sister. With such a patient demeanor on display, without a doubt we must also consider him to have been an astute observer of the people and of Israel’s history. His time spent at the gates, as he was gaining the respect of the people, would have put him in a position to ascertain what types of symbols and symbolism would resonate with the people when the time came for him to lead another exodus of sorts. If such was his mindset, then part of his interaction with the people---if he was indeed positioning himself as a Moses/Joshua type of leader, with his increasingly out-of-touch father as a new Pharaoh---would have been an insistence that, under David, Israel was in something of another exile (or at least heading that way), with all of the curses of exile that would be sure to follow if the people failed to rally around him and support his leadership, while encouraging others to do the same. So the spies were sent through the land and instructed “When you hear the sound of the horn, you may assume that Absalom rules in Hebron” (15:10b). The breadth of Absalom’s influence is further demonstrated in that he “sent for Ahithophel the Gileonite, David’s adviser, to come from his city, Giloh” (15:12b). Ahithophel is a highly respected adviser to David, and if he has been convinced that Absalom is the one to follow, then we can well understand the words that followed, which inform us that “The conspiracy was gaining momentum, and the people were starting to side with Absalom” (15:12c).

What was it about Absalom that attracted the people to him and away from David? Was it because “in all Israel everyone acknowledged that there was no man as handsome as Absalom,” and that “From the sole of his feet to the top of his head he was perfect in appearance” (14:25)? While this is an “attractive” option, it is unlikely. David himself, when we first meet him, is said to have “attractive eyes and a handsome appearance” (1 Samuel 16:12b). When Saul is introduced as king of Israel, he is described as standing “head and shoulders above them all” (1 Samuel 10:23b). Further, Samuel says, “Do you see the one whom the Lord has chosen? Indeed, there is no one like him among all the people!” (10:24b) In the case of both Saul and David, the case could be made that both were attractive in appearance, but it was not their physical appearance that drew the people to them, but rather, their leadership. We do the people of Israel in Absalom’s day a grave injustice by treating them as creatures of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, who are bombarded with images of beauty on a daily basis, and asked to follow the leadership (in various areas of concern) of those that are thought of as “the beautiful people”. Absalom’s culture was not one of mass media. Indeed, we can imagine that Absalom would have been unknown, by appearance, to the majority of the people over which he desired to rule.

With that said, there must have been something far more substantial to Absalom’s position and to his claims, that would win the allegiance of so many within Israel. An appeal to their history, set against the possibilities of sharing in either God’s blessing or cursing, and presented within the context of Israel’s great story of redemption from Egyptian bondage---if Absalom could successfully make the desired exile and exodus connections in the hearts and minds of the people---would have a powerful effect within the nation. An additional benefit is that this would enable a revolution that could consist of very little bloodshed, with their God acting on behalf of them and their new leader, just as He had done against Egypt and Pharaoh.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 50)

Absalom continued his efforts at building the respect and loyalty of the people, doing so through both sharing with them his own complaints with the king, while commiserating with them in their complaints. For the people, these complaints may not initially begin against the king, but in the end, Absalom would be sure that such would be the case. The increase in his support then, was due to the mutual sympathy of two aggrieved parties. It is inescapable to notice that, contrary to all of the deliverers and judges and kings that came before him, Absalom is attempting to gain a leadership position within Israel without being anointed to that position. He is trying, like Moses, to kill the Egyptian guard in order to “rally the troops” around him, and we’ll find that this only succeeded on a short-term basis.

Absalom also made it a point that he did not act like David. He thought that his father had been condescending towards him when he had had been summoned to the palace to finally appear before the king. Absalom bowed before David, as a sign of humility and respect, and David had merely kissed him. He was a prodigal of sorts, returned from a distant land, and that was all his father could muster. We think of the New Testament parable, and a son that had gone so far as to wish his own father dead, and there we also see a son that embraced, kissed, and re-seated in a position of honor, all at the hands of a loving and forgiving father. David, of course, could not muster such feelings towards Absalom. David was not this kind of father. Absalom hoped he could be so. “When someone approached to bow before him” (2 Samuel 15:5a), he did not treat that person as his own father had rather disdainfully treated him, without acknowledging the righteous behavior of his son that had prompted the exile that had now been brought to something like exodus. Rather, “Absalom would extend his hand and embrace him and kiss him” (15:5b), no doubt recounting the tale of his appearance before the king, the lack of the extension of a loving and compassionate hand, and the absence of a loving embrace. Without those things, the kiss could be positioned as little more than an insult---a customary and expected greeting that one might even offer to an enemy, if that enemy ever happened to reach the place of bowing.

“Absalom acted this way toward everyone in Israel who came to the king for justice” (15:6a). They were coming to the king for justice, and Absalom made sure that they received so much more. He gave them himself. “In this way Absalom won the loyalty of the citizens of Israel” (15:6b). They were going over the side of the son that had been exiled simply because he had attempted to defend his sister’s honor (within an honor and shame society) by punishing an evildoer. Yes, Absalom was even willing to raise his hand against his own brother in the defense of righteousness and in response to shameful acts. In the eyes of the people, that was probably to his credit. Accordingly, he was going to be their Moses, who had been raised in the royal house of Egypt, but was willing to take an Egyptian life if necessary. Just as Moses had killed for the sake of the honor of his countrymen, and was forced to flee to the wilderness, so too had Absalom acted, in the eyes of the people that were becomingly increasingly loyal to him.

In his exile, Absalom had obviously met God, and the people experienced the obvious result of his meeting of God when they experienced his warmth, his handshake, his embrace, and his kiss. His return to Jerusalem was a mirror of Moses’ return to Egypt, and accordingly, he was there to lead the people of God. To this end, for Absalom and his supporters, David had become the new Pharaoh---oppressing the people of God, just as he had oppressed his very own son---and he was rightfully going to be removed from his place of authority.

As before, Absalom was patient. He had waited two years from the rape of his sister before acting on her behalf. He spent three years living apart from his people, in Geshur. He spent two years in Jerusalem, living apart from the face of the king. “After four years” of winning the loyalty of the people “Absalom said to the king, ‘Let me go and repay my vow that I made to the Lord while I was in Hebron. For I made this vow when I was living in Geshur in Aram: “If the Lord really does allow me to return to Jerusalem, I will serve the Lord”’” (15:7-8). Notice the similarities to Moses’ encounter with Pharaoh. Moses, upon his return to Egypt from a long time of exile (it has now been eleven years since Tamar was raped, which was the catalyst to all of these events) went to Pharaoh and spoke to him of letting Israel go into the wilderness to make a sacrifice to the Lord. How does David respond? “The king replied to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So Absalom got up and went to Hebron” (15:9).

Can we continue the Moses/Pharaoh analogy here? Absolutely, we can, as it was when Pharaoh’s power had been completely broken that he eventually gave the command for Israel to go up out of the land to sacrifice. Absalom, if he was indeed positioning himself as a new Moses, and casting his father in the position of Pharaoh (and ruling God’s people unjustly), would use this to further his ongoing campaign to cement the validity of his own leadership in the eyes of the people. He had been enduring his father’s disdainful treatment long enough. He had spent years gaining the hearts of the people. This has all been well-calculated. He had built his grassroots support, and his coup was effectively rooted in the grand story of Israel’s flight from Egypt and God’s conquering of those that had become enemies of the people of God. Yes, Absalom was attempting to lead his own exodus, and with his departure to Hebron, the place where his father had initially been crowned and ruled, that effort had now begun.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 49)

Did Absalom feel as if his exodus was complete? We can say that it was, but only in a sense. We continue in our experience with Absalom as we now move into the story of his insurrection against David. Clearly, we know why it is going to take place. Absalom feels slighted by his father. As far as he was concerned, his father, having never spoken out against nor condemned his son Amnon for his heinous crime against Absalom’s sister (the rape of Tamar), was by extension in a complicit agreement with the action. Surely, Absalom felt, having waited two years, that his father was never going to take action in this matter, so he would have to take justice into his own hands. The fact that he had been forced to flee from home when he carried out what he saw as just retribution against Amnon, with his father not reaching out to him for three years, was galling. His self-imposed exile would come to be interpreted as a banishment, with Absalom never receiving the honor that he believed was due to him for avenging the shame that had been brought to his sister and his family. His actions, as far as he was concerned, constituted a measured response. He did not respond like Simeon and Levi of old, following the rape of their sister. He did not slaughter an entire community of men because of the actions of just one individual. No, he simply carried out that which should have been carried out by his father. Absalom could have reasoned that his father should have thanked him for fulfilling the obligation that he was obviously refusing to carry out, but he did not.

Even when he was called out of exile, and invited to return to Jerusalem, his father still maintained the position of banishment, forcing him to remain separate from the king and not allowing him to see his father’s face. When summoned from Geshur, surely, Absalom felt that his father had finally come to his senses, realizing that Absalom had acted justly, in dispatching Amnon with prejudice, with this dispatching taking place after a two year period of patient waiting. When finally summoned to the throne room, it had been seven years since the rape of his sister had been perpetuated, five years since he had dealt Amnon death’s fatal blow, and two years since he had returned to Jerusalem. Even then, the summon for Absalom had not been solely the desire of the king, but rather, had come at the request of Joab, who, having had his fields set ablaze by Absalom in order to gain his attention, reluctantly agreed to intercede to the king on behalf of his frustrated son, doing so because now the issue was of personal consequence. So when Absalom comes before the king, it was only because of Joab’s influence over David (which was significant because of what Joab knew about the Bathsheba/Uriah incident), which meant that David was still not going to look favorably upon his son.

While he must have been grateful to finally see him, as David kissed an Absalom that was bowed down before him with his face to the ground, based upon what follows, we can be confident that David’s response was not what Absalom had long desired. At this point, because of all that had happened (or not happened) in regards to the situation of the rape, it probably became quite clear, at least in Absalom’s mind, that his father had forfeited the legitimate and moral right to rule God’s people. Absalom would take matters to correct the prevailing issue of injustice as he saw it. We do not know how much time elapsed following his obviously less than amicable reunion with his father, but “Some time later Absalom managed to acquire a chariot and horses, as well as fifty men to serve as his royal guard” (2 Samuel 15:1). Slowly but surely, he was going to take up the mantle of kingship that he perceived to have been abandoned by his father. After all, a man that will not serve justice within his own family to defend the honor of his own daughter and to punish an evil perpetrated by his son, certainly could not perform that task for an entire people.

Much like we saw with Absalom’s patience with Amnon, having waited two full years between the rape of Tamar and the final delivery of the consequences for those actions, Absalom acted meticulously. First, there were the royal trappings. That would be the chariot and horses and a royal guard. Next would be gaining the trust and respect of the people. He probably did not imagine that such would be difficult, for if he saw the king as weak, then surely the people did as well. To effect this “Absalom used to get up early and stand beside the road that led to the city gate. Whenever anyone came by who had a complaint to bring to the king for arbitration, Absalom would call out to him” (15:2a), determine his city of origin, listen to his complaint, and respond by saying “Look, your claims are legitimate and appropriate. But there is no representative of the king who will listen to you” (15:3b). The natural corollary to this would be for Absalom to say, “If only they would make me a judge in the land! Then everyone who had a judicial complaint could come to me and I would make sure he receives a just settlement” (15:4). Naturally, we would have to imagine that Absalom’s commiseration with the complainer would also include his own sharing of his story of injustice and exile because there was no one, and especially not the king, that was truly interested in promoting the cause of justice for the people.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 48)

Joab, the general of David’s army, sees the pain of his king, seems to understand the exile that both he and his son are experiencing, and makes an attempt at intercession. He “realized that the king longed to see Absalom” (2 Samuel 14:1b). He sends a widow with a story of pain and heartache to the king, which evokes the response that Joab desired to hear, as his plan seems to be coming to fruition. The woman continues speaking to David, and speaking on behalf of Joab, who has knowledge of the king’s grieving over Absalom and his desire to see him because he has been consoled from the death of Amnon, she makes reference to the Absalom situation, inquiring why “the king has not brought back the one he has banished” (14:13b).

Now, this is the first that we are hearing of this. As far as we know to this point, Absalom has fled. He was not banished by the king, but appeared to have fled willingly. However, this use of “banished” actually points out David’s ability to take actions, and his lack of doing so, because the very fact that David desired to see Absalom, but did not make any moves to bring this to pass, was an ongoing act of banishment. Again, this causes us to perform a thoughtful consideration of the Genesis narrative, in that God both banished humanity from that for which it had been created, but without prodding on the part of anybody else (like Joab), God moved to end the banishment and restore the relationship that has been broken. With Joab’s influence, exerted through the woman that he has sent to speak to David, and after calling Joab to see him, David eventually gets the point and tells his general to “bring back the young man Absalom” (14:21b). With this, David makes a move to end Absalom’s exile, beginning to grant him exodus.

“So Joab got up and went to Geshur and brought Absalom back to Jerusalem. But the king said, ‘Let him go over to his own house. He may not see my face.’ So Absalom went over to his own house; he did not see the king’s face” (14:23-24). As we can see, this is the beginning of an exodus for Absalom. His exodus is incomplete. There is still a measure of exile in his return, as he is not allowed to see the face of the king. The broken relationship is not fully mended. This is similar to the experience of Israel as a whole. Even after the Egyptian exodus, their exodus is incomplete. First, they wander in the wilderness for forty years. Then, when they finally do enter the promised land, they must begin the process of subduing the land as a whole by driving out the inhabitants that God said were defiling the land. This proved to be a feat that, for them, could not be accomplished, as Israel never achieved a complete consolidation of both land and power. In a sense, then, their exodus, though very much real, and though very much a sign of God’s blessing upon them (so that they could be a blessing) was never complete. There was always one more battle to be fought, one more challenge to overcome, and one more temptation to resist.

This is how we are able to consider our own exodus (salvation, redemption) as well. Though we have been retrieved from exile, by an operation of grace and Divine favor, our exodus---though we have entered into the kingdom of God (just as Israel had entered into the place that God had for them)---will not be complete until that kingdom is finally consummated. There will always be one more battle to fight, one more challenge to overcome, and one more temptation to resist. More than that, there will always be evil that needs to be pushed back, which we do through one more act of the manifestation of Resurrection power and the Gospel at a time (caring for orphans and widows, giving up a cup of cold water or food or clothes to those in need). We will have to continually work out our salvation (our exodus), with fear and trembling, here within this world, with a constant desire to see the face of our King and our God. This brings us back to Absalom.

“Absalom lived in Jerusalem for two years without seeing the king’s face” (14:28). This was not good. We can be sure that neither the king nor Absalom reveled in this situation. Absalom sends for Joab, saying to him “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there” (14:32b). This does not sound at all unlike what Israel would say to Moses on numerous occasions during the time of their incomplete exile, with the regular refrain of “wouldn’t it have been better for us to have stayed in Egypt?” Absalom continues and says, “Let me see now the face of the king. If I am at fault, let him put me to death!” (14:32c) In response to this, “The king summoned Absalom, and he came to the king. Absalom bowed down before the king with his face toward the ground and the king kissed him” (14:33b). Thus, having seen the face of the king and not being put to death, Absalom’s exile was concluded, and his exodus was consummated. Those that live in this day as sons and daughters of the King, look forward to the same.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 47)

In the chapter that follows, we are given our first introduction to David’s son, Absalom. We are introduced to him by way of the story of the rape of his sister, Tamar. Chapter thirteen of second Samuel begins with “Now David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar” (13:1a). For some reason, Tamar is not presented as David’s daughter, but rather, as Absalom’s sister. We are told that Amnon, another of David’s sons “fell madly in love with Tamar” (13:1b). This “love” eventually resulted in her being raped by Amnon. Obviously, Tamar is humiliated and disgraced. A pall of exile is cast over her life.

Afterwards, “Tamar, devastated, lived in the house of her brother Absalom” (13:20b), and “Absalom hated Amnon because he had humiliated his sister Tamar” (13:22b). Absalom understood that Amnon, through his actions, had brought the shame of exile to his sister. She was suffering. In due time, he planned on bringing her vindication, through killing Amnon. Absalom held a grudge against Amnon for a considerable length of time, and we find that the story of Absalom’s revenge picks up “Two years later” (13:23a). Absalom conceived a plan by which he could secure his revenge, and send Amnon into the exile of death. We go on to learn that, after Amnon’s demise has been accomplished, “This is what Absalom has talked about from the day that Amnon humiliated his sister Tamar” (13:32b).

With Amnon’s death, Absalom most likely feels as if he has brought vindication to his sister, somehow relieving her of the shame and disgrace that she has experienced. However, in the process of doing what he believed would bring his sister’s suffering to an end, and thus providing her with something like exodus, Absalom brings exile upon himself. Surely, Absalom calculated this as part of the risk of what he was undertaking, and would have imagined that something like this might be necessary. We read that “Absalom fled and went to King Talmai son of Ammihud of Geshur” (13:37a). Absalom’s exile brought a measure of exile to David himself, as part of him was bound up with his son, so “David grieved over his son every day” (13:37b). Interestingly, Absalom’s self-imposed exile lasted longer than his grudge against Amnon. While he plotted against Amnon for two full years, Absalom remained in Geshur for three years (13:38). Throughout that time, “the king longed to go to Absalom, for he had since been consoled over the death of Amnon” (13:39).

This correlates rather well with the broad narrative scheme of the Scriptures that begins with the first exile---and exile that was truly self-imposed---which was that of Adam and Eve. Though obviously their exile began on a different basis from that of Absalom, in that they did not commit a vengeful murder, they did, in fact, bring death upon themselves and upon the whole of their progeny. It is not surprising then, to find that vengeful murder is in the heart of one of their sons, as evidenced by Cain’s jealousy-fueled murder of his brother Abel. Having brought death, Adam and Eve were exiled from the place of God’s presence, from the Garden of Eden, and from God’s good creation. Like Absalom, fleeing from possible punishment, their exile began with their attempting to flee from God by hiding themselves in the garden.

Adam, of course, represents all of humanity. Though humanity was in exile, we can be assured that God longed to have a relationship with the beings that He had created in His own image, as God was, most assuredly, bound together with His creation. We can be assured that the Creator God longed to see His creation, and longed to see humanity and the whole of His once good creation restored to goodness and right relationship with Him, because God would eventually summon Abraham so as to put in motion His project of putting things right in the world. Yes, just as David longed to go to Absalom, so too did the God of creation yearn for a restoration. David was consoled over the death of Amnon, however, he did not take action based upon this consolation, nor upon his desire to be with his son. God, desirous of consolation over the death that entered into the world and which had come upon mankind, and desirous of mending that broken relationship so as to recover what had been lost, entered into history in order to do something about it. God wanted to bring exodus to exile.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 46)

Having asked the incredulity-laced question of David, Nathan goes on to inform him that “the sword will never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10a). Why will this happen? Through His prophet, God says it is because “You have despised Me by taking the wife of Uriah the Hittite as your own!” (12:10b) This is akin to Israel’s despising their God by adopting the ways of the people around them, especially in the area of the worship of their gods. Also, based on the context of the story of the rich man and the poor man, and the taking of the poor man’s lamb, it is not so much the taking of another man’s wife for which God is providing this judgment upon David, but (in the search for the greater subtext in which we are to be engaged ) the oppressive behavior in which David has engaged that should gain our attention.

David was charged to protect Uriah, but rather, became a predator towards him. David was supposed to be a deliverer for God’s people, but instead, he becomes an oppressor. David is supposed to be used by their God, first and foremost, to bring the blessings of exodus. Instead, David becomes the bringer of death---that which represents cursing and exile---to an individual, and also to a child. David has presumptuously abused the power and the position that has been given to him by God, and therefore, judgment will come to him. The same thing happened to the Pharaoh of Egypt that forgot Joseph, and by extension, the blessings of the God of Joseph and his people that blessed Egypt and made it the powerful nation that it had become. Later on, the same thing would happen to Babylon and its king (Nebuchadnezzar), that would be raised up by God for a particular purpose in relation to His people, but then overstep the boundaries which God had set for it. With that, judgment came to Babylon, just as it had come to Egypt, and just as it was now coming, in a different measure, to David.

The language of cursing and exile is spoken to David, as, having already heard that the sword will never depart from his house, he also hears from the Lord that “I am about to bring disaster on you from right inside your own household! Right before your eyes I will take your wives and hand them over to your companion. He will have sexual relations with your wives in broad daylight! Although you have acted in secret, I will do this thing before all Israel, and in broad daylight” (12:11-12). In Deuteronomy, one of the curses to come upon Israel for its failure to abide by the Lord’s commands is that “You will be engaged to a woman and another man will rape her” (28:30). This may be harsh language, but this is about David feeling the weight of the boot of oppression, and experiencing humiliation, scorn, and ridicule (28:37). His is a greater responsibility, and with the words of Nathan, David is quickly brought to realize his failure to live up to that responsibility. He exclaims, “I have sinned against the Lord!” (12:13b)

David is fully aware of the oppression that he has wrought. He is fully cognizant of the fact that he has failed. He knows that all of the words that have been spoken to him---representative of exile---will come to pass, and that the sword will never depart from his house and that he will be humiliated before the people. He knows that he must suffer these things, and with the confession that he has failed to live up to what was expected of him, and that he has failed to be a light to his people and to the surrounding nations, and that he has failed to adequately reflect the glory of God into the world (that he has sinned), he hopes that he will be vindicated through the suffering and come to experience an exodus. Hearing David’s confession, Nathan says, “Yes, and the Lord has forgiven your sin. You are not going to die” (12:13c).

The finality of exile was not going to be David’s lot. These words of forgiveness do inform David that there will be exodus on the other side of the exile that he is going to experience. Yes, the sword will forever be there in his house. Yes, he was going to have his wives taken from him. Yes, he was going to be an object of ridicule. Yes, he himself was going to be subject to an oppressor in a physical exile, as the declaration in his regards to his wives would come about in connection with the rebellion of Absalom which was soon to come. The forgiveness of sin which, throughout Israel’s history, was always accompanied by a turning to the Lord, meant that God had responded favorably to His people’s confession and set about bringing their return from exile to pass, was now David’s experience as well. “Nonetheless,” says Nathan, “because you have treated the Lord with such contempt in this matter,” which was a clear allusion to Israel’s idolatry and therefore a sign to David that there was going to be judgment, “the son who has been born to you will certainly die” (12:14).