Sunday 10th December – Psalm 35
1 Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take up shield and armour;
arise and come to my aid.
3 Brandish spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
‘I am your salvation.’
4 May those who seek my life
be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
be turned back in dismay.
5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
6 may their path be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
7 Since they hid their net for me without cause
and without cause dug a pit for me,
8 may ruin overtake them by surprise –
may the net they hid entangle them,
may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
9 Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
and delight in his salvation.
10 My whole being will exclaim,
‘Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.’
11 Ruthless witnesses come forward;
they question me on things I know nothing about.
12 They repay me evil for good
and leave me like one bereaved.
13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
14 I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
as though weeping for my mother.
15 But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
They slandered me without ceasing.
16 Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked;
they gnashed their teeth at me.
17 How long, Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
among the throngs I will praise you.
19 Do not let those gloat over me
who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason
maliciously wink the eye.
20 They do not speak peaceably,
but devise false accusations
against those who live quietly in the land.
21 They sneer at me and say, ‘Aha! Aha!
With our own eyes we have seen it.’
22 Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
Do not be far from me, Lord.
23 Awake, and rise to my defence!
Contend for me, my God and Lord.
24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God;
do not let them gloat over me.
25 Do not let them think, ‘Aha, just what we wanted!’
or say, ‘We have swallowed him up.’
26 May all who gloat over my distress
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who exalt themselves over me
be clothed with shame and disgrace.
27 May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, ‘The Lord be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.’
28 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
your praises all day long.
David had enemies all his life, from Shepherd boy to King of Israel, and although their differences varied over the years there were plenty for whom he was not ‘flavour of the month’ and some even wanted him dead. Our readings in 2 Samuel this week will show us some and how David handled them.
In this Psalm David is praying to God about his enemies beginning with, “Contend Lord, with those who contend with me …. Arise, come to my aid” (v1,2). He tells of what they have done despite the fact that he had been helpful to them in the past – ”when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting” – and he adds that when his prayers for them didn’t seem to be answered, “I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother” (v13,14). Yet, on the other hand when he stumbled, they gathered in glee (v15).
In all this David does not say that he plans revenge, but he prays to God to vindicate him. There was one time related in 1 Samuel 25 where his temper flared up and he planned bloody revenge against Nabal the churl who refused to give him needed help at an important point in his life but Abigail, Nabal’s wife, turned him away from it and he was thankful for her intervention.
In this Psalm David gives us an example for whenever we feel the barbs of those who do not like us. Our need is for God to vindicate us in whatever way he sees fit not for us to ‘take arms’ against those who do not like us. Pray for that this morning and every morning.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday 2 Samuel 2:1-7
After the death of Saul there was a question as to what David would do and where he would go – remember he was still at Ziklag in the area of the Philistines. The first thing David does is enquire of the Lord what he should do, should he return to Israel and to the land of Judah, his own tribe. The answer of the Lord is yes, he should go back and to the town of Hebron. This David does with all of his men and at Hebron the men of Judah anoint him King but we note this is over Judah, not the whole country of Israel. The whole country has to consider what it wants to do and it will be some years before David is accepted as King over the whole country.
The first thing David does when he hears of the valour of the men of Jabesh Gilead in recovering the bodies of Saul and Jonathan and giving a decent burial to their bones (1 Samuel 31:11-13) is to send a group of messengers to them telling them ‘May the Lord bless you’ and ‘may the Lord show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favour because you have done this’ (v6). They might have thought that being supporters of Saul David would be against them.
Jabesh Gilead was the first town Saul saved from the Ammonites when he became King (1 Samuel 11) and one would imagine that their sympathies would lie on Saul’s side. David however constantly shows himself to be a man of grace and kindness to both friends and enemies alike.
Tuesday 2 Samuel 2:8-32
Now that Saul is dead the succession is a matter of importance for the nation. David has been accepted by Judah but we find Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, taking Ish-Bosheth, the son of Saul, and having him crowned over the rest of Israel. This was going to be the beginning of a struggle within the land for a number of years and will show what division means.
It may be worthwhile to ponder the name of Saul’s son. Ish-Bosheth means ‘man of shame’ which seems a strange name to have but in the later book of Chronicles he is called EshBaal which means ‘man of Baal’. The Israelites used the word ‘Bosheth’ or shame for things they felt ashamed of and the word Baal, the Canaanite god, would probably be avoided in designation such that Saul’s son was probably “Son of Baal” but they would not like to use that despised name. The indication may hint at him not being a man of Jahweh, the covenant name of the Lord of Israel, but a worshipper of Baal. This syncretic mixture of faiths was going to become endemic in Israel down the years.
What happens between the men of David and the men of Saul is put in the story of the champions of either side killing each other leading on to the following battle between the two armies. The personal nature of the struggle is seen in the death of Asahel who was a younger brother of Joab, the captain of David’s army. He pursued Abner, the commander of the Israelite army, and eventually fell to him despite Abner trying to persuade him to turn aside wanting to avoid a combative meeting. When Asahel was seen as having fallen Joab and Abishai, his brothers, pursued Abner for revenge until Abner called out, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?” (v26) and Joab came to his senses and the pursuit ceased.
When arguments blow up people need to think of the future and how things will turn out. Internal feelings of hostility and rage are never things that lead to a happy end.
Wednesday 2 Samuel 3:1-21
The war between the house of David and the house of Saul lasted a long time, so begins chapter 3. It also details the growing family of David by different wives. It has sometimes been said that the Old Testament doesn’t say anything against polygamy but what it does is detail its results and let us take our own position. Jesus of course has his Father’s own particular and creative view – one man, one woman – Matthew 19:4-6. We shall see in the course of the Old Testament’s history the tragedies resulting from internecine difficulties and wars, however here the author is just concerned with the outcome of the houses of David and Saul.
During the course of time Abner, Saul’s commander, grew in power and influence over Ish-Bosheth the titular King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. When Abner took a concubine of Saul’s it was a step towards assuming leadership himself which Ish-Bosheth saw and immediately challenged him. Abner’s response was one of annoyance as he humiliates Ish-Bosheth telling him “Am I a dog’s head – on Judah’s side?” and then says that he will change sides and go over to David.
When he sends messengers to David seeking an agreement by which he will help bring all Israel over to David, David agrees but wants his wife Michal re-united with him (Saul had given her away after David became an outlaw to him (1 Sam 24). The arrangement is done and Abner does the job of bringing the Israelites over to David such that the whole of Israel will be united under David as King.
Thursday 2 Samuel 3:22-39
Trouble brews. For a number of years the people of Judah have been David’s backers having anointed him as King over them but the larger Israel, a bit leaderless since Saul’s death at the battle of Mount Gilboa, have been under Ish-Bosheth as titular King but whose power was wielded by the commander of the army, Abner. It was bound to be unstable and when the argument arose over Abner taking Saul’s concubine, Abner changed sides and met with David at Hebron to begin the union of the two elements of Israel.
Joab, David’s commander, was away while the meeting between David and Abner had taken place but when he returned he found out and remonstrated with David implying that Abner was insincere, however that was not enough for him. He sent messengers to bring Abner back as though David may have had further business with him but in secret he stabbed and killed Abner in revenge for the loss of his brother Asahel whom Abner had killed (2 Sam 2:18-32) & (2 Sam 3:30).
When David found out he was horrified and declared his innocence of the deed saying, “May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family” (v29) and instructed Joab and all the people to mourn and walk in front of the bier carrying Abner who was buried in Hebron. David wept and composed a lament for Abner as he had for Saul and Jonathan (v33,34) and fasted for the rest of the day. The people took note of David’s innocence here and of his whole behaviour and it pleased them. Although Joab and his brother Abishai were to remain in important positions in the land yet David grieves and says about them, “though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me”. (v39). David would probably have had Abner as his commander when the union of the two parts of the country took place but Joab’s selfish and vengeful act had put a stop to that.
There are times in our lives when we cannot always have kindred spirits around us all the time and we must live and work with those who are not of a kind with us yet God will help us if we continue to seek his will in all we do.
Friday 2 Samuel 4:1-17
After the death of Abner, the strong man behind Ish-Bosheth, Ish-Bosheth lost all courage and felt that his Kingly role was going to desert him, David was gaining in strength and reputation across the land. He had two men from Beeroth who were leaders of raiding parties who were thinking of deserting to David. Beeroth was part of Gibeon, the Hivite city which had deceived Joshua into making an alliance with them pretending they came from a far-off country (Joshua 9). They became integrated into the tribe of Benjamin.
The two leaders thought they would curry favour with David by murdering Ish-Bosheth which they did, killing him on his bed, cutting his head off and travelling to David obviously feeling over the moon that they would be blessed by David and possibly given important roles. Nothing could be further from the truth as David tells them that if he had executed the Amalekite who claimed (falsely) that he had killed Saul did they think that he would be in a different mind when it came to the killers of Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth? (v10). His sorrow over the death of Abner was added to by these cruel murderers and he had the head of Ish-Bosheth buried in Abner’s tomb.
We shall see David’s care for the family of Saul later but the beginning of the Chapter mentions that Jonathan had a son who was crippled called Mephibosheth who we will read about later in the story of David’s Kingship.
Saturday 2 Samuel 5:1-16
At last, after a period of Kingship over Judah, all the tribes of Israel now come together to invite him to be King over the whole people. They acknowledge that they know and accept his divine appointment by God to be the shepherd and ruler over them (v1,2) and they make a covenant with him and anoint him as King.
The next episode in the history of David is his capture of the city of Jerusalem, the city which was to become his capital and residence (v7). It was a strongly defended fortress but David takes it by sending men up a water shaft and opening the city to them defeating the confidence of the Jebusites who used to boast that “the blind and lame will not enter the palace” (v8)
David’s fame spreads beyond the land as his settled position becomes known and Hiram the King of Tyre sends both wood and carpenters to build a palace for him. His establishment however also includes him taking more concubines and wives. If only he had stuck to Abigail, Nabal’s wise and gracious widow.
When God blesses us in whatever way, we need to be careful not to relax but to heed his Word in everything so that we will not fall off the path.