CHAPTER 17. —DAVID (CONTINUED)
David reigned forty years after his divinely-directed arrival in Hebron. The various events that led to the extension and consolidation of his power from the time of his arrival till the day he sat enthroned in Jerusalem, undisputed monarch of the whole country from the Euphrates to the river of Egypt, would be interesting to follow: but they would not be sufficiently relevant to the object of these chapters. As a fact, they would illustrate the ways of providence with David, but they would not enunciate them in that positive, definite way which we aim to attain. There are several features of his reign that do so. The first is not so direct as others, but still useful to consider. We refer to the circumstances leading to the covenant made with David.
This covenant occupies a prominent and important place in the economy of the divine purpose. David referred to it, in his last words, as affording the groundwork of “all his salvation and all his desire” (2 Samuel 23:5). Jehovah places importance upon it by offering to extend it to every one who submits to Him, saying—
“I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure (or covenanted) mercies of David” (Isaiah 55: 3).
He refers impressively to it thus:
“My covenant will I not break nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips. Once have I sworn by My holiness that I will not lie unto David: his seed shall endure for ever and his throne as the sun before me” (Psalm 89: 34-36).
Peter also refers to it in his address on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:29); and Paul indirectly alludes to it in speaking of “the covenants of promise” to which the Gentiles are by nature strangers (Ephesians 2:12).
Now the striking fact in the case, as illustrative of the ways of providence, is, that this covenant with David—(one of the chief pillars, as we may say, of the city having foundations)—was brought about, so far as David was concerned by David’s own natural spontaneous meditations and intentions concerning the work of God. We are told that the Lord having given David rest from all his enemies, he began to grow uneasy at the fact that while he dwelt in a palace, the ark of God was under a tent. He mentioned his feelings to Nathan the prophet, as much as to intimate that he begrudged his own personal comforts and enjoyments while the things of God were less well appointed; and that he would like to put up a substantial edifice for the divine service and honour. Nathan encouraged David in his view:
“Go, do all that is in thy heart; for the Lord is with thee” (2 Samuel 7: 3).
But that night, a different light was put upon the subject by the message that came to Nathan. David was forbidden to build the contemplated temple. Having shed much blood, he was declared unsuitable, in the divine fitness of things, for undertaking a work of worship and peace. He was commended for entertaining the idea:
“Thou didst well that it was in thine heart to build an house to My name. Nevertheless, thou shalt not build the house” (1 Kings 8:18).
“Also, the Lord telleth thee that He will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thine own bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever . . . Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee. Thy throne shall be established for ever” (2 Samuel 7: 11-16).
This, doubtless, had reference to Solomon, in whom also it had a preliminary fulfilment: but we have the authority of the Spirit of God, both in the prophets and the apostles, for giving it a much remoter, larger, and more glorious application to the “greater than Solomon,” the Son, the Lord of David, the antitype and substance of all the allegories contained in the first covenant and its surroundings. What is worthy of special consideration is, that this important institute of the kingdom of God should have found the occasion of its introduction in David’s own faithfulness, working in quite a natural way.
There are several illustrations of the same thing. The glorious vision of Daniel 2—revealing the course of human affairs from the days of Babylon to the setting up of the kingdom of God in the latter days—was communicated in answer to Daniel’s faithful prayer for deliverance from impending peril. Who knows if such a revelation would ever have taken place if Daniel, instead of having earnestly “desired mercies of the God of heaven,” had supinely cowered in God-forgetting concealment? The appearance, of John the Baptist, though a matter of God’s deliberate and prophetically-enunciated purpose, coincided in the same way with the entreaties of a man and woman who were “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1: 6). The angel, who announced John’s coming birth to Zacharias gives us to understand this.
“Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth (who was ‘barren and well-stricken in years’) shall bear thee a son.”
So also the call of the Gentiles began with a man to whom the angel could say,
“Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.”
The illustrations would point to this conclusion that more depends upon our attitude towards God than is commonly imagined. People think that the work of God is independent of man: so it is in a sense. They think it will come to pass quite irrespective of human disposition or human action. So in a sense it will. His great and mighty purposes conceived and executed “after the counsel of His own will” will be accomplished, whoever might fail or try to hinder. At the same time, His work, in its individual application is evidently affected by individual conditions. The words are not idle words which are uttered by James,
“Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you.”
David by the Spirit, declares the truth when he says,
“With the merciful man thou wilt show Thyself merciful, . . . with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward” (Psalm 18:25).
Jesus intimates the same thing in saying,
“If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The effect of such doctrine is to make us take heed to our ways, and strive to preserve always towards God, a tender, willing, and obedient heart. Who can tell what blessings will come to us in this attitude, which would otherwise never arise? The restoration of Babylon found a Daniel praying for the fulfilment of God’s purpose, announced to Jeremiah long before, concerning seventy years of which Daniel had come to have understanding “by books.” Does not the current ending of the times of the Gentiles witness the earnest strivings and cryings of many watchmen whom Jehovah has figuratively set on Zion’s walls, and who can give Him no rest day nor night till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth? Thus are the ways of God interlaced with the ways of apparently mere nature, illustrative of and constituting the “ways of providence.” But to return to David.
In the height of his success and glory, David sinned grievously “in the matter of Uriah.” The prophet Nathan told him that “by this deed” he had “given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14). The jeers of a hundred generations have since attested the truth of this declaration. At the present moment, there is nothing more cutting and withering in the way of infidel opposition to the Bible than the taunts inspired by David’s sin. Is there nothing, touching the ways of providence, in the fact that David’s sin should be punished by the open exhibition of it to all generations in the full and unvarnished narrative written in the Scriptures? When David stands before “the great white throne” in the day of the judgment of the living and the dead, he finds that every individual in the mighty assembly is informed of his disgrace, and that the world has in every age resounded with the bitter taunt of the scoffer, shouting and execrating his name. But David was “a man after God’s own heart” notwithstanding, —his broken-hearted submission and abasement in this matter being witness. In the day of recompenses, his, not less than the holiest of the sons of God (and who is without sin?) will be the song:
“Thou hast loved us and hast washed us from our sins in thine own blood.”
David, confronted with his guilt in adroit parable, by Nathan, said,
“I have sinned against the Lord.”
“The Lord also hath put away thy sin: thou shalt not die.”
Notwithstanding that David’s sin was put away, it was judged needful that he should suffer for it—and suffer heavily:
“The sword shall never depart from thy house: because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine house . . . Thou didst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun”
(2 Samuel 12:10).
In the working out of this sentence, we are face to face with a plain and signal and unmistakeable illustration of the ways of providence. The evils to come upon David were to be the work of God—
“I will raise up evil,”
“I will do this thing,”
“The sword shall never depart.”
We trace the operation of the thing and we see only men at work so far as appearances and their motives go. David’s domestic peace is interrupted by his son Amnon’s behaviour to his daughter Tamar. The cloud brought on David’s house by this incident is immeasurably deepened by the murder of Amnon in the avenging of Tamar by command of his brother Absalom. A gap is made in the king’s domestic circle by the flight of Absalom consequent on this event. Absalom brought back after a three years’ exile, forms treasonable designs, and by artifice steals the heart of the people, and finally seizes the ripe occasion to have himself proclaimed king in the place of his father. David flees: civil war ensues, which, though ending successfully for David, does so at the cost of Absalom’s life, to the king’s unbearable grief, and the lives of many thousands of Israel. A second revolt on the king’s return, is headed by Sheba, the son of Bichri, and is only put down by a military expedition. Then there is a famine, at the close of which the Philistines make war with Israel, and David is nearly slain in battle. Then David, numbering Israel with wrong motives, comes under the divine lash, and has to accept a three days’ ravage of the pestilence. Finally his last hours are disturbed by a treasonable effort on the part of Adonijah, and he dies giving directions for the judicial retribution of the sins of Joab, Shimei, and others.
In this brief outline of events we have the practical illustration of God’s intimation to David:
“I will raise up evil, . . . the sword shall never depart.”
Apparently, God had nothing to do with it; for in the contemplation of all the events that fulfilled these sayings, nothing is seen but the play of human passion and human lust of power. Yet the evidence is before us that the whole trouble so developed was divinely caused by those angelic manipulations of human affairs which we had to consider early in these chapters, which are unseen by men and which are conducted without any interference with the freedom of human volition. Some have a difficulty in reconciling the two things; but the difficulty must come from want of reflection. When we consider how much depends, both in public and private matters, upon the moods and desires of particular individuals, and how easy it is for divine power to affect those moods without the person being aware of the cause, or that any cause at all is in operation, it is easy to realise how God can raise trouble or give peace without any apparent interference with the order of nature. A man has not yet learnt the ways of God thoroughly, who does not recognise that most of His dealings with the children of men in the present state of racial alienation, are performed with hidden hand, and from within the veil so to speak, by means of regulated natural circumstances which are none the less the work of God because under a mask.
David gives us a lesson on the subject which is very impressive. During his melancholy flight from Jerusalem, from the presence of Absalom’s successful conspiracy—(the whole land “wept with loud voice”—2 Samuel 15:23)—Shimei, a man of the house of Saul, of violent temper, seized upon the fallen fortunes of the king, as he supposed, to pour public insult upon him. Following the king’s path, on the opposite side of the valley, he threw stones at the King’s company, and poured forth volleys of imprecations:
“Come out, come out, thou bloody man, thou man of Belial. The Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned, and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son. Behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man.”
Some of David’s supporters implored the king’s permission to go over and despatch the insolent fellow, who made all the king’s friends ashamed. David’s rejoinder to this proposal is one of the best recognitions of the ways of providence to be found in the scriptures.
“Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, wherefore hast thou done so? . . . Behold, my son who came forth out of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? Let him alone: let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look unto mine affliction and that the Lord will requite me good for the cursing this day” (2 Samuel 16: 10-12).
That God had not, in the specific sense, commissioned Shimei to curse David, is evident from the fact that on David’s return, Shimei made a very servile apology, and confessed having sinned in the matter. His words were:
“Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned. Therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph, to go down to meet my lord the king.”
If Shimei’s anathema of David had been in compliance with a divine command, it would have been no sin and Shimei would not have taken this attitude in the matter. David afterwards indicated the true nature of Shimei’s procedure as far as Shimei’s personal objects were concerned. He said to Solomon:
“Behold thou hast with thee Shimei, the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse, in the day when I went to Mahanaim. . . . Now, therefore, hold him not guiltless, for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him: but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood” (1 Kings 2: 8-9).
David would never have given such directions against Shimei if Shimei’s action had been the obedience of a divine commandment. And yet David accepted it as from God at the time, saying, as we have seen “Let him alone, God hath said unto him, Curse David,” from which it follows that the apparently contradictory proposition may be true, that a thing may be of God and not of God at one and the same time. This is not hard to receive, where the two sides of an action are taken into account. Those who recognise only man in the case, will doubtless find it impossible to receive it; but where a man sees the two actors, —man with his objects, and God using and over-ruling man’s action with other objects altogether, the proposition seems simplicity itself.
There are many illustrations of it in the Scriptures. Let us take but two. The crucifixion of Christ, so far as man was concerned, was a deed of pure wickedness. It is always set forth in this light (Acts 2: 23; 7: 52; 13: 27-29). Yet it was a matter of divine arrangement and execution, as is still more plainly and frequently declared (Acts 4: 27-28; Romans 3: 25). The afflictions of the Jewish race are referable on the human side to human malice and rapacity, as everyone knows by experience and as the Scriptures declare (Zechariah 1: 1-15; Obadiah 10-16). On the divine side, they were the designed punishment of Israel’s iniquities.
This double-sidedness of events will be found running through the whole course of scriptural narrative. Considering that these things were “written for our instruction,” the value of this fact is apparent. It helps us rightly to interpret our experience if we be of those who commit their way to God in well doing and constant prayer. It enables us to take suffering from the hand of God even when nothing but a human cause is discernible to the natural eye. Successful malice and pitiless disaster are thus deprived of half their sting. We can say of the Shimeis, “Let them alone: God has sent them”; or of the prevailing trouble, “It is of the Lord.”
“It may be the Lord will look on my affliction and bring me again to His habitation.”
We do not get to this point at once; but the study of the ways of providence will bring us to it, step by step, and day by day.
No case will help us more than the case of David. The lesson only ceases with his life. It comes out in the last incidents as well as the first. When he had the choice of three punishments from God placed before him, for vaingloriously numbering the people, he was asked:
“Wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies?” (2 Samuel 24: 13).
How simply and naturally the triumph of the enemy is here assumed to be of God. Had David chosen this, we should have seen a human picture to all intents and purposes—David in flight and his enemies active and successful; yet God would have been in it, distributing the weakness and the strength.
The closing scene of David’s life contains one of the most magnificent recognitions of the principle to be found in all the Scriptures. We cannot do better than conclude the case of David with the citation of it. Though not permitted to build the temple, he was allowed to prepare the materials for Solomon to use. In formally dedicating the immense and costly accumulation in the presence of the heads of Israel, he made use of the following words, in which he plainly acknowledges the divine participation in the process that had enabled him to come to great possessions:
“Both riches and honour come of Thee and Thou reignest over all. And in Thy hand is power and might, and in Thy hand it is to make great and to give strength unto all. Now therefore our God, we thank Thee and praise Thy glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of Thee and of Thine own have we given Thee. . . . O Lord our God, all this store that we have prepared to build Thee an house for Thy holy name, cometh of Thine hand and is all Thine own.”
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