David at His Best
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Bible Passage: 2 Samuel 8-10
We are in the middle of 2 Samuel and if you remember from last week, David received tremendous grace in chapter 7. He wanted to build God a house and God responded with a dozen promises of what He was going to do for David.
This morning we are going to find out how David responded to that grace as God begins fulfilling some of those promises. We are going to cover three chapters today, because they are all connected in the story. I’m not going to read every verse. We won’t have time to look at every detail, but the big picture is worth it in this case. And this will be the only time in the book I plan to cover 3 chapters at once.
Chapter 8 begins with a summary of David’s military victories. I’m going to skip to the end of that section just to give you the idea.
13 And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. 14 Then he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.
The Edomites lived in the South. By this point, David has conquered enemies on all sides – north, south, east, and west. The writer intentionally breaks down the battles by these regions to show that God is expanding David’s kingdom in all directions.
It’s also helpful to know that God is using David as an agent of His judgment. The word “striking down” in Hebrew is the same word used when God struck down Uzzah. God is now using David to bring judgment on other nations.
But the point of the chapter is that God continues to bless David.
15 So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people.
This is an important verse. The writer is telling us that David is a good king. This is David at his best. This is perhaps Israel at its best.
It says that David administered justice and equity to all his people. This is the highest praise the Bible could possibly give to a king. Those two words are used together dozens of times in the Old Testament and hundreds of times separately.
There’s been a lot of debate about those two words recently and how they relate to the modern concept of social justice. But the debate is mostly about the application of those words, not their meaning. The meaning is clear, at least it is to me.
Mishpat, or justice, means treating people fairly. In this context, it means that David was a good king because he punished wrongdoing and protected the rights of everyone equally. Notice the phrase at the end of the verse – “to all his people.” Rich or poor, the people could trust David to do the right thing.
Tzadekah, which is translated here by the ESV as equity, is normally translated righteousness. But in this context, it means that David was a good king because everyone under His care experienced blessing, or peace. The concept of righteousness is closely tied to the concept of peace, or shalom in the Old Testament. Righteous living before God results in peace and prosperity. The people living under David’s rule were experiencing the flourishing of a good king and a just society.
The controversy comes over how Christians today should apply this. We are not living in a theocracy. None of us has the kind of kingdom influence that David had. No one in the world today lives in a society that is perfectly just, because of sin – which operates both publicly and privately in the hearts of men and women.
But as Christians, we do live under the rule of a Jewish King – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And He commands us to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him. As representatives of our King, we are called to administer justice and righteousness to people in our spheres of influence – to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our neighbors, our coworkers, to anyone God puts in our path.
And frankly, I don’t care much about what the kingdoms of this world get right or wrong. It’s totally fine to debate the role of the Christian in government and the application of Biblical principles within our spheres of influence. But our hope is not in human institutions on the left or the right. Our hope is in a King and a Kingdom, not of this world.
Jesus is the greater David. At his best, David was only a snapshot of justice and righteousness. But he is an important snapshot, because he reveals something about the heart of God. And in the next two chapters, the writer gives us two examples of David at his best.
9:1 And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
David is the kind of king who goes looking for someone to bless. Specifically, David is looking for someone to bless from Saul’s family. And you need to know that this is 15-20 years after the covenant he made with Jonathan!
Do you remember the boy named Mephibosheth we read about a few weeks ago? He was Jonathan’s son. When Saul died, the boy’s nurse dropped him while they were fleeing the city. Both of his legs were injured so that he would never be able to walk again.
Well, David tracks him down, brings him to the palace, and then shows him inexplicable kindness. Let’s read the story.
6 And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.”
7 And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”
9 Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. 10 And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat.
But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11 Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons.
12 And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. 13 So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
I want you to notice that David goes far beyond the terms of his covenant with Jonathan. All David had to do to honor that covenant was spare the boy’s life. Instead, David offers the young man protection, provision, and even a position in his own household. Don’t be afraid. Eat at my table. Live like my son.
The writer intentionally stresses Mephibosheth’s physical condition and his heredity to reinforce the fact that David is showing him amazing grace. David gets nothing out of this relationship. He’s giving and getting nothing in return.
I want to suggest that this kind of compassion only makes sense in light of chapter 7. David shows grace in measure and response to the grace he received. I think that’s the lesson here.
And it fits with the message Jesus proclaimed.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” – Luke 12:48
“Freely you have received; freely give.” – Matthew 10:8
David seems to understand that HE has no business eating at the king’s table. Remember, David’s house was provided by God. David did not earn it. And because David knew that he was humbled by it. And then he extends the grace of God even further.
This is the correct way to think about the Christian life. Our primary motivation to show compassion and generosity towards others is the grace of God towards us. Every other motivation is rooted in pride or from guilt.
Helping someone in poverty, for instance, will only be an opportunity for us to look good or feel good about ourselves. It will be nothing but virtue signaling. But that changes if we believe that we don’t actually deserve anything we have! I have nothing and I am nothing outside the grace of God!
I’m convinced that the people of God who believe that will have the greatest impact on the world.
But what happens when someone rejects the grace of the king? That’s the story in chapter 10.
10:1 After this the king of the Ammonites died, and Hanun his son reigned in his place. 2 And David said, “I will deal loyally with Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father dealt loyally with me.” So David sent by his servants to console him concerning his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the Ammonites.
3 But the princes of the Ammonites said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think, because David has sent comforters to you, that he is honoring your father? Has not David sent his servants to you to search the city and to spy it out and to overthrow it?”
4 So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half the beard of each and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away. 5 When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return.”
In this story, David tries to show kindness towards the Ammonites, the cousins of the Israelites. But these are not David’s people. They were Gentiles and David had no obligation to show them kindness.
And as we saw, they rejected David’s kindness and provoked a war. To us, it sounds like a bad prank. But to ancient Israelite men, this was deeply shameful to be sent home half naked and without a beard. It was an act of war and that’s what follows in the chapter. David wins, of course.
But there’s an important thread tying these three chapters together. David shows us what a gracious king looks like. But what happens when the grace of the king is rejected?
David tells us in Psalm 2. He writes:
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
When we read them together, these three chapters present us with a challenge. Will we receive the grace of God and response to it with gratitude? Or will we reject the grace of God and suffer His wrath?
In the church, we speak of the cross as a message of grace. This is what Jesus did for us. This is what He offers us. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Adoption. A Hope and a Future. Just like Mephibosheth, we are offered a place at the table of the king – a place we don’t deserve.
But that message can be, and often is, rejected.
1 Cor. 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
2 Cor 2:16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
The same message is life to some and death to others.
But as you think about what it means to reject God’s grace, please remember who you’re rejecting.
You know how it’s much more difficult to watch someone suffer when you have a relationship with them? The war in Ukraine hit me hard this week because I spent an entire summer in Ukraine. I have friends living in that country. This war on the other side of the world feels different than all the other wars on the other side of the world… at least for me.
And in a similar way, I think the message of the cross has to be made personal for us by the Spirit. Perhaps that’s part of what Paul means when he talks about entering into Christ’s suffering.
The Ammonites sent David’s men back naked and ashamed. They scorned the king by humiliating his men. They were his men. David responded by bringing the wrath of God down on their heads.
But Jesus, our King, was scorned by being humiliated in our place – naked and ashamed on a cross… and God’s wrath fell on His Son… His Son… instead of on me.
And here’s one last detail that I don’t want you to miss… even David at his best still deserved the cross. He never earned the grace of God – not even the best king of Israel. And if that’s true, then Jesus really is our only hope.