2 Samuel 3:1-12 – Which One Would You Follow?

The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.

Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second, Kileab the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream the son of David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron.

During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

Abner was incredibly angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So, he answered, “Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oathand transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.

Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, “Whose land, is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.” (New International Version)

“Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”

World War II British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976)

Our inner character is a combination of what we do, why we do it, and how we go about it. Personal character is seen in the reactions and responses of life events and situations. And Holy Scripture is concerned and attentive to all our attitudes and actions in the world.

Stories in the Old Testament are largely designed to help us, as readers and listeners, to compare and contrast the mindsets, motivations, and morals of the principal actors in those narratives. We are meant to understand the difference between godly and ungodly people through how the story shakes out.

Three leaders are paraded before us in today’s Old Testament lesson. The story is arranged so that we will take a look at their manner of life. The lesson begs us to implicitly ask: Which of the three characters would you follow?

David

King David was a true leader, having G-d’s calling, inquiring to G-d continually, and using his ruling authority to extend kindness, like G-d does. Because of David’s character, his reign became stronger and stronger. David neither planned to annihilate all of Saul’s heirs as rivals to this throne, nor did he set out to make their lives miserable – despite the fact that most people of the time would actually expect him to do that.

Ish-Bosheth

Whereas David was initially ruling only Judah, Ish-Bosheth was a son of Saul and king of Israel. He was a mere figurehead. Abner, the army’s general, was really calling the political shots in Israel. Ish-Bosheth was too fearful to challenge Abner, and so, never exerted a significant influence. Instructive for us as readers is the absence of this king’s prayers or efforts to do anything helpful or constructive for his people.

Ish-Bosheth’s name essentially means “Master,” a dignified word which is meant to communicate respect. The incongruence between Ish-Bosheth’s ascribed name, and his actual attitudes and lack of action, betrays a double-minded person, divided in decision-making, not knowing quite what to do, so doing nothing of substance which helps anyone.

Contrasting Ish-Bosheth with David, we clearly see that David is no figurehead but the leader of his people. Unlike Ish-Bosheth, David is no washrag and is no one’s puppet but takes charge of situations by inquiring of G-d, then acting.

Confidence comes from knowing the Lord and stepping out in faith, which is precisely what David’s pattern of kingship was like.

“God grant that men of principle shall be our principal men.”

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America (1743-1826)

Abner

Israel’s general, Abner, was neither like David nor Ish-Bosheth. Although Abner had the qualities of confidence and taking charge, unlike David, he was a self-serving leader.

Abner used his position to gain for himself power and prestige. He was willing to quickly switch his loyalties when it was no longer helpful for him, personally. Although Abner did right by working toward uniting the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (a good thing) he did it for all the wrong reasons (a bad thing).

Compared to David, Abner has only self-interest, not the common interest of all citizens. He acts for what he can personally get out of it – which is just the opposite of David, who has an eye which scans the horizon to do what is best for the common good of all the kingdom’s subjects.

Conclusion

When we read today’s story, the guided narrative wants us to arrive at the conclusion of saying, “I don’t want to become or follow somebody like Ish-Bosheth or Abner. I want to become and follow someone like King David.”

David listened to G-d, prayed to G-d, and acted with justice and kindness because of G-d. There’s likely no better approach to the spiritual life than that.

Grant us, Lord G-d, a vision of our world as your love would make it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the benefits of abundant life are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in tolerance and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. And give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Above statue of King David by French artist Nicolas Cordier, c.1610

2 Samuel 2:1-11 – A Devout Leader

In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord. “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.

The Lord said, “Go up.”

David asked, “Where shall I go?”

“To Hebron,” the Lord answered.

So, David went up there with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David also took the men who were with him, each with his family, and they settled in Hebron and its towns. Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah.

When David was told that it was the men from Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to them to say to them, “The Lord bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the people of Judah have anointed me king over them.”

Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.

Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David. The length of time David was king in Hebron over Judah was seven years and six months. (New International Version)

Leadership today seems more complicated and compromised than ever. Narcissistic leaders appear to be everywhere. Leaders with competence and integrity struggle to maintain self-care and self-confidence in a sea of belligerent and polarized people.

And yet, there has never been a time with more resources for leaders in the form of podcasts, websites, seminars, books, education, etc. There seems to be an inconsistency, a disconnect between the availability of knowledge and the actual lived experience of leaders.

King David was a great and famous leader. We still talk about him three-thousand-years later! Three essentials made David, and can make us, godly and effective leaders.

A Devout Leader Has a Calling from G-d

David was the youngest sibling in his family. No one saw an aspiring leader, let alone one of the most famous kings in history, in David. While David was tediously tending sheep out in the backwaters of Judah, nobody was aware of his potential greatness. But G-d saw. And the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint him as king.

Through a long series of events, the people of Judah recognized David’s gifts, abilities, and potential. And they affirmed those abilities and chose to place David in authority over the entire nation as king – confirming his anointing from years earlier.

Not everyone is called to a high position. Yet, we are all called to exercise leadership in our respective places and positions. Whether a parent, teacher, church deacon, factory worker – or any other role or vocation – we are in those positions through a divine call. So, we are to be daily mindful of that personal calling.

A Devout Leader Inquires of G-d

King David took his leadership cues from the Lord, and not just on what he believed was the best thing to do. David was both principled and pragmatic – rarely losing sight of principles just to get things done, nor short-sighted on the practical effects of decision-making.

David was able to hold both his biblical principles and keen pragmatism through inquiring of G-d. He was a person of prayer, constantly and consistently asking the Lord about everything. The times David failed to act on principled conviction and pragmatic practice are the events in which he simply did not look to G-d, but instead, rested on his laurels or relied on his position.

A Devout Leader Is a Servant to G-d

Perhaps one reason our world has a lack of good solid leaders is that we aren’t looking for followers who exhibit humility to the Lord through serving the common good of all persons.

David learned leadership through being a servant and a follower of G-d. Once becoming king, David used his authority and position to show steadfast love to the people in his kingdom – rather than focusing on consolidation of power or ensuring the people were serving the king.

A devout leader uses their influence to extend mercy and kindness – making the world a better place through attention to justice and systematically providing for the needs of others.

“True leadership is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

J. Oswald Sanders

Conclusion

A true leader of G-d is called by G-d, inquires of G-d, and seeks to extend grace to others with the same grace extended from G-d to them.

In other words, character is the essential element for leaders. And that principled leadership is expressed through the competence of loving G-d and neighbor.

Leadership devoid of spiritual awareness will inevitably result in short-sighted and self-serving leaders. Conversely, devout leadership which evidences an integration of mind, emotions, and spirit will surely bring life and happiness to many.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NIV)

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.

O Lord our Divine Leader, bless human leaders throughout our world, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to one another. Lord, keep the nations under your care. Give grace to your servant leaders, O Lord, and grant them wisdom and mercy in the exercise of their duties. Give courage and foresight to provide for the needs of all people. Help leaders to fulfill their obligations.

And finally, teach people everywhere to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name. For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

*Above painting: King David Playing the Harp by Dutch artist Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

**Above statue of King David by Italian sculptor Adamo Tadolini, 1856

1 Peter 5:1-5 – Humble Service

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”(NIV)

Today’s New Testament lesson addresses two groups of people: Leaders and followers, the older and the younger, shepherds and sheep. Both have their distinct roles and places, yet both are to share together in the virtue of humility. Whether pastor or parishioner, mentor or mentee, humble service is to characterize all.

I spent a good chunk of my ministerial life working with college students and twenty-somethings. One of the reasons I like being around young adults is that they have a very well attuned barometer to hogwash coming from older folks. Unlike children and more mature adults, this group of people live in a nexus between an emerging awareness of the world without having yet been crusted over with bitterness or disillusionment. They can spot a disingenuous person across the room like an eagle eyes the difference between a fish and a rock at five-thousand feet in the air.

All of us have likely had the experience of not being able to explain why, but a certain interaction with a person just seems off – it smacks of being a bit too contrived and manipulative. The other person might talk a good line, yet your instincts tell you different. So, for example, if a church pastor or leader seems to be just going through the motions as if the work is a necessary evil, then there might be something behind it. It is always a good idea to stop and listen to your gut speak.

Difficult for many people is that life is not so much about learning a certain skill set, as if we were in a trade school. The skills approach relies upon learning to say certain things, do certain things, and press certain buttons in others, and then get a solid expected outcome. That kind of approach is where the finely attuned baloney meter goes off in others. They sense that this person talking to them is not bringing anything of themselves to the discussion; they’re just talking without listening; they just go on without a sense of dialogue in which they learn from you or reveal anything of themselves to you.

I genuinely believe humility is the cornerstone of all virtues and the foundation to effective personal interactions and group dynamics. Without humility, there is no sense of the majesty and dignity of the other person – there is only competition and a twisted hierarchy of those with power and those without. If humility is absent, life is a trade school in learning to get what I want on the backs of others.

However, with humility, who we are as people matters. I bring my feelings, my thoughts, my beliefs, my experiences, and my questions into the conversation or situation and seek to, in turn, discover what you think and feel. Then, together, we come to a third way of seeing that honors our collective sharing and consulting of one another with fresh collaboration which blesses the world. This is less a skill set, and more of just being a good human being.

Humility is a posture, not a skill to leverage for what we want. A humble disposition pursues learning, growth, and development. It sits with uncertainty and mystery so that genuine relationship has a real go at happening. Humility sits on the floor at Jesus’ feet and discovers something about self, God, and the interaction between each.

The humble emptying of oneself is necessary in awakening to a new awareness of God’s presence. It may not mean that shepherds and leaders have clear assurances and certain plans, yet it will surely involve living in the awkward in-between of assurance and uncertainty, being loved but not knowing where that love will take you, and following Jesus without a pre-negotiated plan. 

No one can malarkey their way through the Christian life; everyone needs the posture of humility. Jesus will be our Teacher, yet we will need to bring ourselves to the mix because Christianity is not dispassionately taking notes and then forensically regurgitating it all on an exam. Instead, Christianity is a dynamic spiritual encounter between God and self through the person of Jesus. It begins with humility. And the rewards of such living are permanent and eternal.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, give us the humility which realizes its ignorance, admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice, and accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticize, to sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy, and to think of people at their best rather than at their worst. This we ask for your name’s sake. Amen.

Philippians 3:13-4:1 – Follow My Example

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Join in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! (NIV)

Many years ago, while driving through an intersection, a car turned in front of me and caused me to slam my brakes. After getting on my way (and proud of myself for not saying a word) my daughter, who was five years old at the time, leaned forward from the back seat and asked me, “Dad, is that guy an idiot?” 

Kids often imitate their parents in everything, whether good or bad. This is no less true for adults. When it comes to Christianity, faith is passed on not just from individuals reading their bibles in seclusion; it is handed down from person to person. Christians learn from leaders and respected persons how faith is lived out and practiced – and this comes primarily through imitating what they see. 

Therefore, it is good for us to ask the question: “Who do I imitate?” because we mimic and pass on things we learn from others. So, it is imperative we learn from people who demonstrate the values and ideals we aspire to possess ourselves. In the people we listen to either virtually or in person, as well as the authors we read, we are to walk according to the example of virtue, sacrifice, and commitment.

We must imitate those Christian leaders who have a proven character in persevering in faith in the face of pain and suffering and have done it with great humility. This does not necessarily mean we emulate those who eruditely speak the Word of God, have superior gifts and abilities, and enjoy success in ministry. It does mean, however, we ought to imitate, and have as mentors, those persons who imitate Christ. We can leave behind those who are self-promoting peacocks and pursue admiration and praise. 

We are to mimic those who have proved themselves in hardship. A Christian leader who has not undergone fiery trials and been purged of sinful pride are more easily seduced by their own importance. However, leaders who have seen their share of hard circumstances, pain, and suffering, and have come through it loving God and serving others out of grace and humility, are leaders worth imitating. They will likely serve well as good models of faith and ministry.

It is also good to consider the kind of example we ourselves are displaying for others. In all our words and behaviors, whether we recognize it or not, we are modeling what is genuinely important to us. And sometimes what we do not say, or choose not to do, says as much or more about our character, beliefs, and ethics.

It takes a lot of confidence in our way of life to say to another, like the Apostle Paul did, “follow my example.” If we have learned with humility and curiosity the words and ways of Jesus, and lovingly put them into practice, then we can be emboldened to mentor others in the faith and demonstrate for them what laboring for justice, righteousness, holiness, and godliness looks like in this fallen world.

More than ever we need a cadre of solidly committed folks who have been mentored well in the ways of grace to serve as a beacon of light in the darkness of this world’s besetting sins of structural racism, hedonistic consumerism, discriminatory ageism, oppressive patriarchalism, biased hierarchism, disparity classism, religious anarchism, and a hundred other “isms” which keep people from flourishing in this life as God intended.

It is vital we learn from and emulate others who have a proven track record of promoting the common good of all persons. And it is equally important we become part of the ranks of those who are good examples of citizens in God’s benevolent and ethical kingdom.

Almighty God, may I stand firm in faith through all the challenges and travails of this life. Enable me to incorporate the love of Christ in my life to such a degree that it proves to be an example of grace and peace. Give me a heart willing to sacrifice and serve the common good of all. Give me a broader and deeper understanding of the lessons I need to discover from others wiser than myself. Allow me to learn all I must from this painful, yet blissful life, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.