Refuge & Rebellion: Responding to the rule of God’s King

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

2 Samuel 8-10

 

Resisting Reality

Some of us are early adopters when it comes to change and new things: keen and happy to stand out, embracing the latest fashions and technology. And some of us are the opposite – we’re the ‘late adopters’ – begrudgingly accepting change when there’s no longer any real choice. And many of us are somewhere in the middle, embracing change, trends and new technology once momentum picks up and it doesn’t seem so risky anymore.

In one sense, as consumers, it doesn’t really matter. Each approach to adopting the ‘new thing’ has its strengths and weaknesses. But as businesses, seeking to survive in an evolving market, you can’t be a late adopter in your own market. You can’t resist the reality of change. In fact, to survive and grow, you need to anticipate it and be somewhere near the front.

Blockbuster Video is probably one of the greatest examples of a business failing to grasp the reality of a changing market in the modern world. The movie and video game rental giant was founded in 1985 and was probably the biggest and most well-known brand in that market. I remember when Anna and I were first married, on a Friday night after work we’d drive down to Blockbuster and spend half an hour wandering down the aisles trying to decide on which movie to rent out… (and would we go with the special for 5 weeklies? Or just get one new release? Hard decision!) If you wanted to watch anything other than what was being broadcast on public TV, you either went to the cinema, or you went to the video store. That was reality.

Apparently at its peak in 2004, Blockbuster employed over 84,000 people worldwide in over 9,000 stores. But because they were unable to transition towards a digital model, the Blockbuster empire collapsed and they filed for bankruptcy in 2010. And to make matters worse, Netflix actually approached Blockbuster at the turn of the century, offering to sell their company to Blockbuster for $50million. At the time, the CEO of Blockbuster wasn’t interested in such a ‘niche business’ that would never really make money. In 2018, Netflix brought in a total of $16 billion… a failure to grasp reality – the instinct to resist the reality of change and cling on to what they knew – had massive consequences.

What we see in 2 Samuel 8, followed in more detail in chapters 9 and 10, is the reality of God establishing his King over the nations. And we see some people recognising and accepting this reality, and so seeking refuge under the rule of God’s king. And we also see people, nations, resisting this reality – rebelling against the rule of God’s king and paying the price. Chapters 8-10 of 2 Samuel are a glimpse in history of God fulfilling his promises to establish his kingdom, through his anointed ruler, for the sake of bringing justice to the nations – ultimately bringing redemption to the nations. And as a glimpse of this reality in history, it points to the ultimate fulfilment of these promises in Jesus Christ, and it reminds us just how important it is for us and for those around us to recognise that God has and will establish Jesus as his King over the nations. We want to seek refuge in him and his rule, rather than resist and rebel. This is one area of life where we want to be early adopters.

 

God establishes his King (Chapter 8)

Now, as we first read through Chapter 8, no doubt we’re drawn to the grotesque details of David executing 2 out of every 3 men from the Moabite army, and hamstringing thousands of chariot horses. We’re swamped by details of names of kings, nations and towns. It can feel distant, random and frankly irrelevant to our own circumstances. How is this God’s word to us?

Well, the first thing is to appreciate that it’s an ancient text, describing the reality of warfare in the ancient world. This passage is describing, in a very ‘matter of fact’ manner, the reality of Israel emerging victorious from battles with neighbouring states. It’s not glorying in men being executed or horses being hamstrung – those details are the reality of nations at war in this time and place.

And then, as we pay closer attention to just what is being reported to us, we can see that these are not just random details of random battles. This is God establishing his people under his rule, through his anointed king, and freeing them from the oppression of the surrounding nations. This is God fulfilling his promises to David to establish his throne forever that we read about last week in Chapter 7, ultimately for the sake of all humanity. In Chapter 7, we see God promising to ‘make [David’s] name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth’ in verse 9. And then in verse 10, promising to ‘provide a place for my people Israel’ and to ‘plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed’. And finally in verse 11, to give David and the people of Israel ‘rest from all your enemies’ so that they are not oppressed by wicked people any longer. This is exactly what we see in chapter 8. Each of these promises is fulfilled.

The most obvious point of the passage is that God gives David victory over his enemies. In fact, the narrator has purposefully compiled this list of victories to highlight that David subdued nations in every direction. It’s not a chronological sequence – it’s designed to make a point. The passage reports to us David subduing nations to the West of Israel (the Philistines in v1), East of Israel (the Moabites in v2), North of Israel (Hadadezer of Zobah and the Arameans of Damascus in v3-6), and finally South of Israel (the Edomites in verse 13-14). And as the narrator draws these accounts together and reports them to us, he explains not once, but twice, that ‘The Lord gave David victory wherever he went’ (verses 6 and 14). These battles are interpreted in light of God’s promises and plans – this was God giving David victory. This was God establishing his King and giving him rest from all his enemies so that God’s people might experience the blessing of his rule.

And in the process, David ‘becomes famous’ (literally, makes a name) after striking down the Edomites in verse 13. In fact, as we read in verses 9 and 10, Tou, the King of Hamath is so impressed by David’s victories that he sends his Son to honour David and voluntarily offer tribute. And the outcome of it all, stated in verse 15, is that ‘David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.’ God established his people under the good and just rule of his king – David did what was just and fair for all his people. Israel rests in their own land, no longer oppressed by people who wanted to take the land for themselves and enslave them. They enjoy the rule of God’s king.

This is the vision of the kingdom, the promise of God to Abraham, way back in Genesis 12. It’s the hope of the nations. It’s a glimpse of God’s desire for the nations of the world – to experience the blessing of living under his good rule, rather than resisting and rejecting it. It’s a pointer to the reign of Jesus over the nations as the risen Lord of all – a king who rules with justice and compassion. It’s a pointer to the rule of Jesus that has begun already with his resurrection from the dead – as he explains in Matthew’s gospel, that all authority in heaven and earth has now been given to him. And it’s a pointer to the rule of Jesus that will be fully revealed on the final day, when every knee shall bow and tongue confess that he is Lord.

And in the following 2 chapters of 2 Samuel, we see that the desire of God’s anointed King is indeed to bless those who will seek refuge under his good rule, even to those who could be seen as enemies, but in the end, people will be brought under his rule one way or another. And so the message is to seek refuge now while it is offered, rather than making the mistake of digging in and resisting. In chapter 9, David extends mercy to a descendant of Saul, his former persecutor, rather than securing his position by killing him off. And in Chapter 10, we zoom in on one of the accounts of victory from chapter 8, the defeat of the Hadadezer of Zobar and the Arameans he hired to help him. And what we see is that they brought their destruction on themselves, totally unnecessarily, by resisting the rule of God’s King and rejecting his offer of peace.

Take Refuge under the Rule of God’s King (Ch 9)

After the summarised reports of David establishing the kingdom in chapter 8, the narrative zooms in on David in Chapter 9, now safe and secure, turning to consider any remnant of the house of Saul. Normally the reason a new king from a new family line might turn his attention to surviving members of the old regime was to kill them off – to get rid of any remaining threat this his throne! This was normal practice at the time of David, and we’ve seen it played out through history again and again.

But David turns his attention to the house of Saul to see if there’s anyone left to whom he can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake. Jonathan was the son of Saul – heir to the throne. But he was best friends with David. They loved each other like brothers. And unlike his father, Jonathan recognised that God had chosen David. He acknowledged David’s right to rule, and didn’t fight it. Instead, he pledged his allegiance to David and asked David to promise not to destroy his descendants, but to show kindness to his family. (You can read about it in 1 Samuel 20). And now, with Saul gone, his enemies subdued and his throne secure, David remembers his promise, his covenant, with Jonathan and wants to honour it.

It would be so tempting I think for David to decide that it just wasn’t realistic for him now to continue to show kindness to the house of Saul. He had a throne to keep secure, and Jonathan was dead now anyway… why bother showing kindness to the descendants of a man who had tried again and again to kill him? But David understands that he has received his position by God’s grace for the sake of establishing God’s kingdom, not his own. He didn’t grasp hold of his place on the throne, and he doesn’t need to cling onto it now by being ruthless. He knows that he is king because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises, and that God expects him to be faithful to his own covenant promises. His position is for the sake of God’s rule, not his own ambitions.

So in verses 2-5 we read about David questioning a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba, and finding out about one remaining descendant, a son of Jonathan, who is tragically crippled in both feet. And when David has this man, who has the unfortunate name of Mephiboseth (which means something like, ‘he scatters shame’), when he has this man brought before him, and Mephibosheth bows at his feet, David says, “Don’t be afraid.”

As I’ve explained, Mephibosheth has every natural reason to be afraid being summoned before David. But actually there is no reason to fear. Instead of revenge, David is offering refuge and restoration.  “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth is rightly shocked, and can’t quite grasp why David would show this kindness to him. “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” He fully appreciates the reality of his social status as crippled member of the old regime. And he’s blown away at what David is offering him.

And immediately we see it isn’t just talk. David makes arrangements with Ziba, Saul’s servant, to manage the land and household of Saul for Mephibosheth’s sake. And in the final verses of the chapter, we read that “Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.”

We are meant to see here a shadow, a glimpse, of the gracious love of God in Jesus Christ. We, who have every reason to fear being summoned before God’s King, are offered restoration and refuge. We who are born into a humanity at war with God since Adam and Eve first rejected his rule, a humanity that put God’s son on the cross and killed him… we are invited to eat at his table as sons and daughters. The desire of God’s king is to offer mercy to those who don’t deserve it. The purpose of God’s rule is to bring restoration to a world in desperate need of it.

When Jesus came as the great, great grandson of king David, exercising authority and claiming victory over evil, sickness and death, he did something that surprised everyone. He began eating with ‘sinners’… He began eating with ‘the enemy’. By sharing a table with people who had been rejecting God’s rule, he invited them to repent and seek refuge in God. He invited them to come and eat at the King’s table, just as Mephibosheth ‘ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.’ This is the wonder of the gospel, that Jesus exercises his Lordship, his rule as God’s king, here and now, by extending the offer of a seat beside him at his table. Through the sacrifice of Jesus as God’s true son, we are invited to become sons and daughters of God alongside him. The sensible thing, or course, is to accept that offer – to gratefully, humbly seek refuge under the rule of God’s king and take your seat at the table.

 

See the Folly of Rebellion (Chapter 10)

But not everyone does take up the offer do they? Some of us continue to be sceptical of God’s intentions. Some dig in and try to resist the rule of God’s King, desperately holding onto control of their own lives. In chapter 10, the narrative draws us back into the victories of David over his enemies, before the events of chapter 9, and reveals a little more detail about how and why one particular battle unfolded. And what I think we’re meant to appreciate, especially in connection with what we’ve seen in chapters 8 and 9, is the folly of rebelling against the rule of God’s king.

1 In the course of time,” the narrator explains, “the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. 2David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

The circumstances and exact motives are different from his interactions with Mephibosheth, but David is essentially doing the same thing. He’s extending loyal kindness to someone who could be considered an enemy. It’s the exact same word as he uses for Mephibosheth – ‘Hesed’, which is often translated as ‘loving-kindness’ – the gracious, faithful love God shows to his covenant people. It underlines that David’s desire is not to conquer for the sake of conquering. The intention of God’s king is to rule for the sake of peace – to bring the justice and peace of God to the nations.

But how does Hanun respond to David’s olive branch of peace? When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites,3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” 4 So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.

You don’t need to be an expert in ancient near-eastern culture to detect that this was pretty offensive and humiliating treatment of these men. It was a clear and arrogant rejection of David and his authority. In humiliating these men, Hanun was scorning David and telling him to stay away.

Now David himself doesn’t seem to react aggressively at this point does he? In verse 5 we just read about him encouraging his men to stay at Jericho until their beards have grown back (and presumably found some new pants). He’s just concerned for his men. Surely offended and angry… perhaps sad that his offer of peace has been scorned. But he doesn’t do anything else yet.

The Ammonites, however, realise their actions have caused them to become a stench in David’s nostrils. As we read in verse 6, “When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.” Without waiting to see how David will react, they go on the defensive to fix the problem they’ve just created and hire an even bigger army of bullies.

So finally, enough is enough. Verse 7, “On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men.” Then in the following verses we read of the Ammonites drawing up their battle lines in front of their city, with the hired help, the Arameans out in the open country. And then Joab realises he’s caught in this pincer movement, being attacked from both sides, so he splits his army between himself and his brother Abishai to fight the two armies. And the description builds up this sense that things could go terribly wrong for them – they don’t know what’s going to happen, and they might need to pull back to help each other – all they can do is be brave, fight hard, and trust God to do what is good.

Joab finishes his speech to Abishai saying “Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” It’s actually quite a profound statement from an otherwise pretty ruthless guy. The reality is that we don’t usually have a promise of success in a particular situation. We have the promise that God is working to establish his good kingdom, but that may or may not involve success in this particular moment. All we can do is play our role as best we can, trusting God to do what is good in his sight.

And what does happen? It’s a wash out for David’s enemies. They don’t even put up a fight. Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. 14 When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem. Both armies flee before the two halves of the Israelite army. God is not mentioned again explicitly, but the message is clear – he has done what was good in his sight – he was establishing the kingdom of his anointed one.

But the Arameans haven’t had enough. Maybe they feel a little embarrassed about their retreat. And so the king, Hadadezer, gets even more men from across the other side of the Euphrates river to try again with an even bigger army. And so, verse 17, David goes to meet them with all Israel, battle lines are drawn up and they begin fighting. But again, it’s a wash out. From verse 18, “But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there. 19 When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them. So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.”

The Arameans lose. They are slaughtered, they lose their commander, and they flee for their lives. They came as the hired bully to help the Ammonites win a fight they picked, and they leave with their tail between their legs. They’ve not only lost the battle, but they’ve lost all their vassal nations – all the kings who had been paying tribute to the Arameans now scramble to pay tribute to David, the guy who’s clearly in charge. In the end the bullies are the ones who are afraid…

 

Why do the nations conspire?

What we see here in chapter 10, flowing out of Chapter 8, is really what we read about in Psalm 2. This Psalm is like a theological reflection on these events in light of the promises of God to his anointed King. As you read through it, you can almost see chapters 8 and 10 unfolding before your eyes…

1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”

4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”

7   I will proclaim the LORD’S decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. 8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

The Ammonites and the Arameans and the rest plot and band together against the LORD and against his anointed, seeking to throw off their shackles – their claim to authority over them… But what happens? God laughs. And then he terrifies them. He installs his king on Zion, in Jerusalem, who crushes these rebellious nations – he dashes them to pieces like pottery. They flee before him. 2 Samuel 8-10 reveals God establishing his King on Zion, and it reveals the folly of rebelling against his rule.

Because they didn’t need to did they? There was and is the opportunity to accept his good rule and bend the knee voluntarily. Back in Chapter 8, amongst the summaries of David’s victories, we read about the reaction of one king to what he sees happening… In 8:9, we read that “When Tou king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the entire army of Hadadezer, 10 he sent his son Joram to King David to greet him and congratulate him on his victory in battle over Hadadezer, who had been at war with Tou. Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold and of bronze.”

Tou, the King of Hamath, a place even further north than the Arameans, a place that David would probably not even have turned his attention to… this King recognises the rule of David and sends tribute. He seeks refuge in the LORD’s anointed from his old enemies, rather than make an enemy out him. He’s example stands out against the reaction of the other nations and kings that resist David’s authority in chapters 8 and 10. His example reminds us of the final words Psalm 2…

10       Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. 12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

These chapters of 2 Samuel, alongside Psalm 2, impress upon all of us the folly of resisting the rule of the LORD’s anointed one. You don’t want to be like the Ammonites or the Arameans, clinging on to their own thrones, banding together to throw off God’s claims over your life. You don’t want to be like Blockbuster video, clinging on to rows and rows of DVDs, rejecting offers from Netflix, while internet speeds get faster and faster.

The offer of peace is there – the offer to seek refuge under the rule of Jesus and to enjoy a seat at his table. But if we’re determined to resist, defeat will come in the end. In the end, the offer of mercy from Jesus will be withdrawn. One day it will be too late. On that day Jesus will come as the conquering king. He will come to destroy sin and death completely, along with all those who have chosen to continue in sin by resisting his rule here and now. These chapters remind us, urge us, to kiss the son, to seek blessing and refuge in him now, rather than continue in rebellion.

If you’ve been holding Jesus at arm’s length, you need to consider seriously what these chapters are saying to us. Whether you’ve been openly and consciously rejecting Jesus’ claim over your life, or trying to figure out what you believe, or perhaps even coming to church for many years, kind of ‘adopting’ a Christian identity on Sundays, but never really embracing the rule of Jesus in your life… hear the warning and the encouragement: seek refuge under the rule of Jesus, don’t resist and rebel.

 

Expect to Suffer as Ambassadors of the King

But, just before we finish, alongside this central message we’ve taken note of, there’s one last thing I want to point out from these chapters. They remind us that those of us who have embraced the rule of Jesus should expect to suffer as ambassadors of the king as we take his claim of authority and his offer of peace to the world around us.

We read at the start of chapter 10 about the way that David’s men were treated by Hanun, king of the Ammonites, when they were sent as a delegation to express David’s sympathy over the death of Hanun’s father. He utterly humiliated them. Why? Because he didn’t like the look of their beards? Because he had grudges against them personally? No, because they came in David’s name. Their association with David, their role as his ambassadors, earnt them scorn and humiliation from their neighbours.

And you can perhaps already see how this could be foreshadowing the rejection that Jesus’ followers have often experienced through association with him – suffering and rejection that Jesus himself told us to expect.

But the link is even stronger when we remember the way that Psalm 2 is connected with these chapters.

You see hundreds of years after the events of these chapters – about a thousand years later actually – a gathering of Jesus’ followers reflected on the words of Psalm 2 after they had just been imprisoned and threatened for preaching in the name of the Risen Lord Jesus. In Acts chapter 4, the Apostles Peter and John return to the rest of the disciples after being ordered by the Jewish authorities not to preach in the name of Jesus. And then together they lift their voices and pray in the words of Psalm 2, seeing very clearly how the nations had banded together against Jesus, and how they continued even now to resist his rule by threatening them and ordering them not to preach in his name.

There is a flow from the story of David through the Psalm to Jesus and the experience of his Apostles, and through to our own experience of following Jesus and seeking to bring his gospel to the world around us. And it all highlights that we should expect people to resist his rule, and as a result, to reject us. The more clearly we align ourselves with the claim of Jesus to have authority over people’s lives, and the more openly and persistently we urge people to accept his offer of refuge, the more we will expose ourselves to the risk of rejection and humiliation. Not because we’re such awful people. At one level, it won’t matter how nice and polite you try to be. You can and will be hated by some, not because of who you are, but because of who Jesus is. It’s a reality we need to expect and be prepared for.

And as painful as it can be, it’s helpful to place ourselves in this story of David and his humiliated men… because their humiliation and their suffering was temporary wasn’t it? It was a small price to pay for being ambassadors of the King that God was establishing on his throne.

If and when you do experience this kind of rejection, remember the overriding message of these chapters – God has established his King, and blessed are all those who seek refuge in him. And remember that 2 Samuel chapter 10 finishes very differently from how it begins. We are not the ones who need to be afraid. Take refuge in the king, and trust in his victory.