Psalm 119:89-96 – Relying on the Eternal

Your word, O Lord, will last forever;
    it is eternal in heaven.
Your faithfulness endures through all the ages;
    you have set the earth in place, and it remains.
All things remain to this day because of your command,
    because they are all your servants.
If your law had not been the source of my joy,
    I would have died from my sufferings.
I will never neglect your instructions,
    because by them you have kept me alive.
I am yours—save me!
    I have tried to obey your commands.
The wicked are waiting to kill me,
    but I will meditate on your laws.
I have learned that everything has limits;
    but your commandment is perfect. (Good News Translation)

Our present life, currently in the here and now, is characterized by limitations and continual change. Whatever is up today can be down tomorrow, and vice versa. The people around us, as well as our own emotions, can be often frustratingly fickle. And our circumstances are constantly changing, not to mention our bodies and minds. For some, even their very life hangs in the balance due to either a personal enemy or the enemy of disease, disaster, or death.

In this orbit of revolving change, we are limited in our choices. We can make changes to our lifestyle that will hopefully extend the quality and quantity of life, yet every one of us will eventually die. There is decision-making we can make with our resources and finances, yet if a company closes and jobs are lost, or the market plunges and our investments tank, there is no nice seamless transition to getting back on our feet.

It might be easy to slide into discouragement, if we all we know is a domino effect of change, revolving circumstances, and an inability to influence very little of it all. Yet, there is hope because there is another side to the coin.

Although life situations change, and we experience limitations in both our choices and our abilities, there are some bedrock realities which will never change that we can bank and build our lives upon. God’s Word and God’s faithfulness are eternal; they will last forever.

Whenever it feels as if nothing is on solid ground, it is necessary to come back to the things we know which are permanent and reliable. Notice some of the unchangeable elements of God’s Word….

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears, and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13, MSG)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8, CEB)

Notice the unchangeable nature of God’s faithfulness….

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep;
    you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. (Psalm 35:5-6, NRSV)

This saying is reliable:

“If we have died together, we will also live together.
        If we endure, we will also rule together.
        If we deny him, he will also deny us.
If we are disloyal, he stays faithful”
    because he can’t be anything else than what he is. (2 Timothy 2:11-13, CEB)

It is possible to have peace smack in the middle of hardship and adversity. Racing thoughts do not need to be a given experience whenever there are those who oppose us or give us grief. Relying upon God’s Holy Word is the very ballast and rock we need. It will never fail nor pass away….

Just thinking of my troubles
and my lonely wandering
    makes me miserable.
That’s all I ever think about,
    and I am depressed.
Then I remember something
    that fills me with hope.
The Lord’s kindness never fails!
If he had not been merciful,
    we would have been destroyed.
The Lord can always be trusted
    to show mercy each morning.
Deep in my heart I say,
“The Lord is all I need;
    I can depend on him!”

The Lord is kind to everyone
    who trusts and obeys him.
It is good to wait patiently
    for the Lord to save us. (Lamentations 3:19-26, CEV)

This present life with all its change, limitations, and transience can and will give way to that which is permanent, unending, timeless, immortal, imperishable, and indestructible.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)

May you know the joy and peace of relying upon the eternal and changeless reality of God.

Our God and Father, thank you that in a world of despair that you are our hope. In a world of darkness, you are our light. In a world of sorrow, you are our joy. Help us to strengthen and encourage one another with your eternal faithfulness and steadfast love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 Kings 1:1-30 – Facing Death

King David was now an old man, and he always felt cold, even under a lot of blankets. His officials said, “Your Majesty, we will look for a young woman to take care of you. She can lie down beside you and keep you warm.” They looked everywhere in Israel until they found a beautiful young woman named Abishag, who lived in the town of Shunem. They brought her to David, and she took care of him. But David did not have sex with her.

Adonijah was the son of David and Haggith. He was Absalom’s younger brother and was very handsome. One day, Adonijah started bragging, “I’m going to make myself king!” So, he got some chariots and horses, and he hired fifty men as bodyguards. David did not want to hurt his feelings, so he never asked Adonijah why he was doing these things.

Adonijah met with Joab the son of Zeruiah and Abiathar the priest and asked them if they would help him become king. Both of them agreed to help. But Zadok the priest, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, Nathan the prophet, Shimei, Rei, and David’s bodyguards all refused.

Adonijah invited his brothers and David’s officials from Judah to go with him to Crawling Rock near Rogel Spring, where he sacrificed some sheep, cattle, and fat calves. But he did not invite Nathan, Benaiah, David’s bodyguards, or his own brother Solomon.

When Nathan heard what had happened, he asked Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother:

Have you heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has made himself king? But David doesn’t know a thing about it. You and your son Solomon will be killed, unless you do what I tell you. Go say to David, “You promised me that Solomon would be the next king. So why is Adonijah now king?”

While you are still talking to David, I’ll come in and tell him that everything you said is true.

Meanwhile, David was in his bedroom where Abishag was taking care of him because he was so old. Bathsheba went in and bowed down.

“What can I do for you?” David asked.

Bathsheba answered:

Your Majesty, you promised me in the name of the Lord your God that my son Solomon would be the next king.But Adonijah has already been made king, and you didn’t know anything about it.He sacrificed a lot of cattle, calves, and sheep. And he invited Abiathar the priest, Joab your army commander, and all your sons to be there, except Solomon, your loyal servant.

Your Majesty, everyone in Israel is waiting for you to announce who will be the next king. If you don’t, they will say that Solomon and I have rebelled. They will treat us like criminals and kill us as soon as you die.

Just then, Nathan the prophet arrived. Someone told David that he was there, and Nathan came in. He bowed with his face to the ground and said:

Your Majesty, did you say that Adonijah would be king? Earlier today, he sacrificed a lot of cattle, calves, and sheep. He invited the army commanders, Abiathar, and all your sons to be there. Right now, they are eating and drinking and shouting, “Long live King Adonijah!” But he didn’t invite me or Zadok the priest or Benaiah or Solomon. Did you say they could do this without telling the rest of us who would be the next king?

David said, “Tell Bathsheba to come here.” She came and stood in front of him. Then he said, “The living Lord God of Israel has kept me safe. And so today, I will keep the promise I made to you in his name: Solomon will be the next king!” (Contemporary English Version)

Death isn’t exactly a popular subject. You might think, since all of us will eventually experience it personally, and most of us have seen it up close through dying loved ones, we would talk it up as something to face and deal with squarely…. Yet, we don’t.

Death ought to teach us how to live, how to face our limitations, and how to accept hardship and the inevitable.  Through today’s Old Testament lesson, I want us to observe four differing responses to the impending death of King David:

King David’s Servants

The servants of David treated his downward health as a problem to be solved. They were essentially sidestepping the whole death situation. The servants knew the David who was vigorous and took on enemies and problems. They wanted him to act like a king, so they looked for the miracle cure of a virgin who would be some sort of fix for David. In the ancient world, a king’s vitality was always linked to his sexual vigor. The servants thought if they could arouse David, he would be back to his old kingly self. In other words, the servants were trying to avoid death. And, of course, it didn’t work.

King David’s Son, Adonijah

Whereas the servants were scheming a way to get the old David back in the saddle, Adonijah was impatient to see his father David in the grave. He wanted his dad, the king, out of the way so he could pursue his own kingship. So, Adonijah simply proclaimed himself king, maybe hoping to hasten David’s death. Adonijah was just looking for his own opportunity and ended up losing his own life for it. Adonijah never understood the true dynamics of life and death – that life is complicated, and death should be honored, not used for personal gain.

King David’s Wife, Bathsheba

Bathsheba wanted to make sure her son Solomon became king. Reading today’s narrative, you might wonder why King David needed a virgin – where in the world was his wife!?  Bathsheba shows up to see David, not because she wanted to keep him warm and comfort him, but because she was concerned for her son. For Bathsheba, David simply became a means to an end – someone who could help her negotiate a difficult situation.

King David’s Caregiver, Abishag

Throughout this story, we have no recorded words from Abishag. Everyone else had plenty to say. In contrast to all of the other people, Abishag is simply a witness to David’s deteriorating health, and eventual death. She is like a hospice worker, who exists to ease the person’s pain in the end of life. In this, we can perhaps learn more from Abishag than from anyone else – to be present, to listen, to serve.

Unfortunately, death brings out the worst in some people. But if we will face death and not view it as a problem to be solved, an opportunity to be seized, or a difficulty to be negotiated, I believe we will find the grace of God when we become sacred witnesses to death.

The Lord Jesus faced death. Christ didn’t try to avoid death. He wasn’t impatient to get it over with. And it was not a difficulty to stoically endure. Our Lord’s death is our life – and it has brought meaning to both our lives and to our own eventual deaths.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend all your servants staring death in the face today. We, your people, humbly ask that you acknowledge these sheep of your own fold, these lambs of your own flock, and these sinners of your own redeeming. Receive them into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

1 Samuel 8:1-22 – Be Careful What You Ask For: You Might Get It

Now when Samuel got old, he appointed his sons to serve as Israel’s judges. The name of his oldest son was Joel; the name of the second was Abijah. They served as judges in Beersheba. But Samuel’s sons didn’t follow in his footsteps. They tried to turn a profit, they accepted bribes, and they perverted justice.

So, all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So, appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed awfully bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.

The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So, comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”

Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:

“He will take your sons and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

Samuel listened to everything the people said and repeated it directly to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Comply with their request. Give them a king.”

Samuel then told the Israelite people, “Go back, each of you, to your own hometown.” (Common English Bible)

“No one but a fool would measure their satisfaction by what the world thinks of it.”

Oliver Goldsmith

In the days of the prophet Samuel, the people asked for a king. They had never had one before. Samuel, and others before him, served as Judges, leading the people in special times and acting as intercessors between the people and God. 

Samuel was quite displeased that the people asked for a king. Ever the wise and discerning leader, Samuel understood there were two realities behind such a request:

  1. Israel wanted to be just like all the other nations in having a king.
  2. Israel was rejecting God as their rightful king.

The ancient Israelites wanted from an earthly king what God was really supposed to do for them. Whereas an earthly mortal king can only rule partially and temporarily, the eternal sovereign God reigns supreme over everyone and everything. 

It is impossible for an earthly king to provide the totality of everyone’s needs within a geographical realm. Yet, even in this present day and age, all kinds of people still look to earthly politicians, pundits, presidents, prognosticators, pastors, and/or people in charge to meet their every need. That’s likely why so many people get upset and have strong visceral reactions to politics and the church – far too many of them expect a human authority figure to do for them what God is supposed to do. 

No other human being can fight your battles for you. No other person can do your relational and spiritual work for you. We must all take charge of our own lives and be responsible to develop and cultivate spiritual and relational practices which connect us with the God who is in charge of the universe. 

We can then ask God for what we need and want according to divine purposes, and not ask for what everyone else has that we don’t. God ended up giving Israel a king, even when it was not the best of ideas on their part. 

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

All-wise God, I look to you for the discernment to even know what I ought to be asking for in prayer. Guide me into truth and grace so that in everything I will make wise decisions that reflect your sovereignty over the church and the world. In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

**Above art comes from the Morgan Picture Bible, c.1250. The aging Samuel is approached by four elders representing the people of Israel who ask him to anoint a King so that Israel will be powerful like other nations. Samuel warns them of the dangers a king would pose to the liberties of the Israelite people.