Messy People

I.      Introduction

Sometimes I read the bible and the message is so easy.  Just one God, honor your Ma and Pa, don’t take things that ain’t yours, that sort of thing.  Other times, the message is obscure and difficult to plow through.  Ever sat down to read the bible and read it cover to cover?  How many of us got stuck in the begats, as in “Adam begat Seth, Seth begat Enos, and Kenan and Mahaleel and hundreds of other unpronounceable names?”

Today’s study sort of starts that way, the message in the Word seemed esoteric, and I’m not even sure what “esoteric” means.   For instance, here’s our first study verse for today in 2 Samuel 3:8 –

Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman.

My first thought when I read this was, “what?”  But the key to understanding scripture is context, or as a pastor I heard put it, “location, location, location.”  I think we need some background before we can begin to understand this verse.

II.      Background of Messy People: David

So just in this first verse, I see at least 4 people discussed by name.  There’s Abner, Ish-bosheth, Saul, and David.  There’s also a woman mentioned, as well as brothers and friends of Saul.  I read ahead over the next several scripture verses – sometimes I do that when I’m studying – and there are several more people that will be mentioned later.  There’s another woman named Michal, a man named Paltiel the son of Laish.  And there’s at least two names that aren’t mentioned, Jonathan and Joab, that influence the events in today’s scripture. 

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Of all the names listed, David is probably the most familiar.  He’s also one of the most complicated.  David was a horrible failure and David was a wonderful success.  David committed murder in his later years and had an affair with Bathsheba.  And yet, David was described as a man after God’s own heart.  Sometimes when I read stories on David, I wonder what I’m missing. 

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But I think a key to understanding David is to recognize the sinner in all of us.  Are we a people after God’s own heart?  We might look at our own lives and say, well, no, It doesn’t look like I’m not a man after God’s own heart.  Look at all the things I’ve done that are bad.  If they could see who I really am, they would know me for what I am.  A sinner.  Just like David.

But God teaches us that what is important is not so much what we do, but what’s inside.  Back in 1 Samuel 16, the prophet Samuel was seeking a king over Israel.  The Lord sent him to Bethlehem because the Lord had selected a son of Jesse to be king.  When Samuel got there, he saw Jesse’s son Eliab who apparently looked like Thor and said, “whoa…

“Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord answered in verse 7,

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Slide4And there’s the answer.  David’s heart, despite his sinful nature, was always pointed at the Lord.  When confronted about his sin, David didn’t just confess his sins, he repented and went to the Lord for forgiveness.  When faced with overwhelming odds like when he faced Goliath the giant, David trusted in the Lord.  David meditated on God’s word and wrote over half of the Psalms.

       III.      Background of Messy People: Saul

So the Lord chose David to be king of Israel, but like I said, people are messy.  There was already a king in Israel, his name was Saul.  Saul also demonstrated successes and failures like David, but there was a big difference.  Even when Saul knew what the Lord’s will was, he often would do something else.  Including trying to kill David because of Saul’s jealousy. 

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Saul had 4 sons and 2 daughters.  Of the sons, Jonathan was the oldest; then came Abinadab, Malchishua and Ish-bosheth.  There’s some confusion that in 2 Samuel 21:11, 7 sons of Samuel are put to death, but those include grandchildren because at least one of them was a son of Jonathan.  And the two daughters, Merab and Michal.

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Saul’s jealousy was complicated; he seemed to alternate between loving David as a son and trying to kill David as an enemy.  David was close to Saul’s family; David’s best friend as a child was Jonathan, and Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David.  In 1 Samuel 18:17, Saul promised to give his oldest daughter Merab to David as a prize for killing Saul’s enemies.  But Saul double crossed David and gave Merab to some other man. 

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But since Saul was jealous of David and knowing David was in love with the younger daughter Michal, Saul promised David he could have Michal if David attacked the Philistines.  Saul was hoping David would be killed in the attack, but David won, so Saul had to give Michal to David for his wife.

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Saul tried to kill David outright at this point, but David’s wife Michal helped David escape.  That apparently made Saul mad, David not dying like he was supposed to, escaping with the help of his daughter.  Saul declares the marriage null and void, then Saul then gave Michal to different man, and Michal was married to Paltiel, son of Laish.

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Despite Saul trying to kill him, David didn’t retaliate against Saul.  If David was aware of the New Testament (which he wasn’t), he might have considered this verse, Romans 13:1-2,

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

David may have been selected by God to be king, but David respected the office of King Saul.  David spent years hiding in deserts and caves while Saul hunted him.  One of my favorite stories about David is in 1 Samuel 24.  Saul is hunting David, and had to stop and tinkle.  So he went into a cave, but David was already hiding there.    While Saul is tinkling in a corner, David sneaks up and cuts a corner off of Saul’s robe to prove that David could have killed Saul but didn’t.  What I find funny about that story is that David feels guilty about it.  He should have never cut a piece of garment off of the king’s robe, that’s just wrong, even if the king is trying to kill him.

David had another chance to kill Saul in 1 Samuel 26.  Saul is hunting David, again, but Saul gets tired, so that night Saul lays down to sleep, but he has a bodyguard, Saul’s cousin Abner.  David sneaks into Saul’s camp, finds Saul sleeping next to a spear.  He could have easily killed Saul with Saul’s own spear, but instead David takes the spear, runs over to the next hill and taunts the bodyguard.  “Hey Abner!  Is that how you guard your king?  I could have killed him, but instead, I have his spear!  Neener neener neener!”

This goes on for many years, Saul hunting David and David hiding, but Saul has another set of enemies, the Philistines, and there’s a big battle brewing between Saul and the Philistines at Mount Gilboa.  Saul of course seeks spiritual advice, but Saul believes the Lord has stopped talking to Saul, probably because Saul is trying to kill the Lord’s anointed king, David.  So Saul consults a witch instead.  I’m going to suggest that if for some reason you cannot hear the Lord speaking to you, then spend time in the Word until you do.  Don’t consult a witch, ok?  In fact, let’s take a quick look at 1 Chronicles 10:13-14,

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

Slide24So, don’t consult a witch, ok? 

 IV.      Background of Messy People: Abner and Ish-Bosheth

So Saul is dead, and David is finally king, right?  I told you people are messy.  Abner, Saul’s cousin and bodyguard, is very well-connected.  David becomes king over the tribe of Judah, but Abner takes Saul’s remaining son Ish-bosheth, and makes Ish-bosheth king.  Abner is able to get the other 11 tribes to unite around Ish-bosheth.  And I wish Ish-bosheth had an easier name to pronounce because saying Ish-bosheth several times in a row is a real tongue-twister.

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Actually, Ish-bosheth does have another name.   When Ish-bosheth was born, his name was Eshba’al which means “Man of the Lord.”)  Here’s a rabbit hole we’re going to follow for just a wee little bit: the definition of “ba’al” means “lord,” or alternatively “master” or “husband.”  The word had been around in early Hebrew as a generic term, but in later years the Canaanites started using “Ba’al” as the proper name of their pagan god.  The Philistines eventually started worshipping Ba’al but changed his name to Beelzebub.  In later Old Testament scripture, “Beelzebub” became known as a major demon, and Christians know the name Beelzebub as another name for the prince of demons.  In the year 1818, Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy wrote a book called “Dictionnaire Infernal” or a book on demonology who described Beelzebub as having the ability to fly.  He then became known as “The Lord of the Flyers,” or later, “The Lord of the Flies.”

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Anyway, yuck.  That’s enough of that rabbit trail.  Back to Eshba’al, Saul’s remaining son established by Abner as king over 11 tribes of Israel, the Northern Kingdom couldn’t bear to call him Eshba’al because it sounded like a profanity, being ruled by man of demons.  So they changed his name to Ish-bosheth which translates as “man of shame.”  Not exactly a flattering name, “man of shame,” but better than sharing the name of a demon.

Anyway, Ish-bosheth was sort of a puppet king over 11 tribes of Israel, controlled by Abner, and between them continued to wage war against David, the king of Judah.

I think they got tired of fighting so often.  In 2 Samuel 2, Abner’s men meet David’s men, led by David’s captain named Joab, at the pool of Gibeon, and they decide rather than everybody fight, each side would select 12 people to fight each other.  It says in 2 Samuel 2:16,

Each one of them seized his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side; so they fell down together.

It sounds to me like everybody died, but commentaries say that David’s captain Joab won the battle.  Abner and his men run away, and David’s men start to chase.  Joab has a brother named Asahel who spots Abner and chases him, but when he catches up to Abner, Abner abruptly stops and kills Asahel with a spear.  Joab is inconsolable and vows to kill Abner some day, but for now, Abner escapes back to safety.  These two sides fight for the next 2 years with David’s army generally winning and Abner’s side generally losing.

So Abner gets back to Ish-bosheth, and Ish-bosheth makes an accusation.  The old dead king Saul, Ish-bosheth’s father, had a concubine named Rizpah.  Apparently Rizpah belongs to Ish-bosheth now, but Ish-bosheth accuses Abner of having an affair with Rizpah.  All of this background information just to bring us to the first scripture we’re supposed to study today, 2 Samuel 3:8 which we looked at earlier:

Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman.

Slide2Ah, now I have a better understanding of what’s going on.  Location, location, location.  Abner has spent his life playing political games, first with Saul and then propping up Ish-bosheth as the so-called king.  And this is how Ish-bosheth repays him, by accusing Abner of having an affair with Rizpah the concubine?  Abner is furious. 

I re-read this scripture several times and couldn’t help but notice Abner said he was innocent of the charges.  He’s just mad that he’s been accused.  In fact, Abner is so mad, he tells Ish-bosheth that he’s going to give the 11 tribes of Israel to David so David can finally be the king over all Israel, just like the Lord said he would. 

And Ish-bosheth is too scared to say anything.  What could he say?  Abner had all the power, Ish-bosheth was just a puppet.

             V.      Background of Messy People: David and Michal

So Abner goes to David and tells David, “hey, let’s stop fighting.  You agree not to kill me, and I’ll agree to give you the rest of Israel.”  David goes, “hmmm…. Let me think.”

And David agrees, on one additional condition.  Remember Michal?  Saul’s youngest daughter than Saul gave to David for his wife, then took Michal away and gave to another man named Paltiel?  David wants her back.  Abner can come work for David, and all David wants is all of Israel and his wife Michal back.

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Abner agrees.  I mean, it’s not like Abner is giving away anything of his own, right?  David sends a message to Ish-bosheth, and without Abner telling him what to do, Ish-bosheth doesn’t know what else to do.  Of course David can have Michal.  I mean, it’s not like Ish-bosheth is giving away anything of his own, right?  2 Samuel 3:15-16,

Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish.  But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” So he returned.

Aww. People can be pretty messy.  David might have loved Michal, but Michal had a new husband, and Paltiel loved her very much and followed her like a lovesick puppy until Abner stopped him and told Paltiel to go back home.

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All David’s conditions are met, Abner has surrendered, David has Michal back as his wife, and our study scripture for today ends in 2 Samuel 3:20-21a,

Then Abner and twenty men with him came to David at Hebron. And David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him.  Abner said to David, “Let me arise and go and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may be king over all that your soul desires.”

And David finally becomes king of all Israel, fulfilling the Lord’s selection as king.  I thought this was kind of a weird spot to end or story today, though.  Most soap operas continue week after week after week, but we get about 30 minutes, and we have a lot of unanswered questions.  Did they all live happily ever after?

          VI.      They All Lived Happily Ever After.  Not.

Short answer:  No.  Not really.

Michal was not happy to be returned to David.  In the years they were apart, David wasn’t exactly pining away for her.  During the years they were separated, David took a 2nd wife and then a 3rd, each time making political marriages to secure money and supplies.  While David was living in the dessert, Michal’s affection for David began to fade.  When Abner sent for he and gave her back to David, Michal pleaded to stay with Paltiel, the lovesick puppy. 

By all accounts, Michal and David never regained intimacy; the scripture says that Michal remained childless.  The last time we hear about Michal is after she and David fight when the Ark of the Covenant is brought back into Jerusalem, and scripture doesn’t mention her again.

Abner probably had aspirations of becoming a powerful figure under David, but those aspirations were unfulfilled.  Joab, David’s captain, had been away during this time, but when he returns and finds Abner at the city gate immediately kills Abner in revenge for killing Joab’s brother Asahel.

Joab stayed in Israel for many many years, serving King David, until later in David’s life.  David’s son Solomon is set to inherit the title of King from his father David, but Joab offers his allegiance to David’s oldest son Adonijah and eventually flees, assassinated years later and buried somewhere in the wilderness.

Ish-bosheth was assassinated shortly by two of his own army captains shortly after Abner gave away Israel to David.  David honored Ish-bosheth as a king and had him buried in Abner’s grave.

       VII.      Conclusion

There are lots of little lessons in todays scripture.  Perhaps you saw something in one of those characters that resonated with you.  Broken dreams of love.  Aspirations of power to rule.  Revenge against those who hurt you.  I wanted to focus just on the history today, just to lay a groundwork of how messy people can be. 

Probably what I found so compelling is that everybody was messy, everybody had problems, everybody made mistakes.  And yet, our of all thes dysfunctional people, David was considered a man after God’s own heart. 

And it occurred to me that a good summary could probably be the same thing the Lord told the prophet Samuel when David was selected over his older brother Eliab.  People look at what we say and what we do.  The Lord look at our heart.  It doesn’t matter if we succeed or fail, the Lord loves us for who He created.

David did indeed become king of all Israel.  David begat Solomon, and then a great many begats occurred in Matthew chapter 1 until approximately 1000 years later, our Lord Jesus Christ was born to show us how non-messy people are supposed to live.  And He has invited us to invite Him in, so that we are not defined by our own failures, but by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ who lives within us.

I don’t know if I’m as messy as David or Abner or Michal.  I know I make my own messy mistakes.  But praise be to Jesus that I’m not defined by what I made, but by what He made.

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David was a man after God’s own heart, and received an earthly crown.  If we seek Jesus, we too receive a crown.  Scripture mentions the joy of receiving these crowns, the Crown of Righteousness, the Crown of Victory, the Crown of Life, the Crown of Glory, the Crown of Rejoicing.  In the times yet to come, the book of Revelation tells us we joyfully throw these crowns at the feet of Jesus when we all get to heaven.

When we all get to heaven

What a day of rejoicing that will be

When we all see Jesus

We’ll sing and shout the victory

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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2 thoughts on “Messy People

  1. Yes, We are a messy people who by all accounts do not deserve the Lord and His Love. Praise, Honor and Dominion to our Lord who has poured out His Grace and Favor to the children of men. Amen
    Every person who has ever been used by God in a mighty way has had deep character flaws. Noah was a drunk, Isaiah would strip down naked in the middle of the road and preach, David was an adulterer, and a murderer, Mathew was a tax collector and thief, Paul was the most injurious by his own words. Prostitutes, liars, thieves, scum of the Earth by societies witness and judgment And yet the Lord will Lift up what has been brought low when repentance, humility and humbleness are present in the heart of the person. May we always exalt the Lord thanking Him, for who can do the things He does in the children of Men.

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