BOOK 3: PSALM 76 OF 89 – HUMBLE YOURSELF OR BE HUMBLED

This Psalm is written to be accompanied with stringed instruments, and specifically described as a ‘song’.  In other parts of Scripture, stringed instruments are often used in the context of revival, of worship in new creation: Isaiah 38:20; Habakkuk 3:19.

In particular, there is something unique about this Psalm, different from those preceding it.  Whilst the previous Psalms speak of the persecuted seeking refuge, and the destruction of the wicked, this Psalm shares a different message altogether.

At vv 1-3, Asaph powerfully commences the Psalm by referring to the known God whose name is great in Israel, having established an abode and dwelling place in Salem and Zion.

It is interesting that Asaph refers to God’s dwelling place as Salem, since such reference is rarely used in Scripture and only in two other books: see Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7.  Interestingly, it is King Melchizedek, one of the most mysterious figures of the Old Testament, who hails from Salem.  Otherwise it is a region without history in the Bible.

The meaning of the name for this mysterious region is “peace“.  Which is why it is telling that the capital of the promised land Israel, is Jerusalem, strictly meaning the city of peace.

Then there is the more commonly used new creation name of the promised land – Zion, frequently referred to as the city of David.

This sets the context of the Psalm.  Asaph is deliberately referring to a time when God’s victory is secured.  It is not going to be established in Salem, his dwelling place is not going to be in Zion, but it has been and is in Salem and in Zion.  It is the city of Jesus, the man who came to deliver the message of eternal peace and a renewed creation for the men and women of God to dwell in.

It is also in that place (v.3 refers to the action taking place ‘there‘ i.e. in Salem/Zion) that He broke the flashing arrows, shield, sword and weapons of war.  In new creation, the vocabulary of war is utterly removed.  The lion and lamb shall lie together: Isaiah 11:6.

As Spurgeon says:

“Without leaving his tranquil abode, he sent forth his word and snapped the arrows of his enemies before they could shoot them. The idea is sublime, and marks the ease, completeness, and rapidity of the divine action. The shield, and the sword, and the battle. Every weapon, offensive and defensive, the Lord dashed in pieces; death bearing bolts and life preserving armour were alike of no avail when the Breaker sent forth his word of power. In the spiritual conflicts of this and every age, the like will be seen; no weapon that is formed against the church shall prosper, and every tongue that rises against her in judgment, she shall condemn. Selah. It is meet that we should dwell on so soul stirring a theme, and give the Lord our grateful adoration,—hence a pause is inserted.”

The subsequent verses develop this theme further.  God’s glory and majesty (v4) is compared with the men of war who are stouthearted and rely on their hands and strength (v5).  One rebuke and the storms lay still (Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24); so also one rebuke the powerful rider and horse shall lay stunned (v6).

The warriors of this Psalm are almost described as synonymous as those who do not fear God.  V.7 makes that assumption – i.e. that God is to be feared, and yet there there those who try to stand before Him when they should be kneeling in humility.

If one rebuke can stun nature, what about when He utters judgment?  Asaph describes the earth as fearing and standing still.  Can we imagine what that looks like?  When we are riddled with natural disasters, hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, to name the least; the image of ‘Mother Nature’ humbling herself before God in judgment is but another way of telling us — if even powerful forces know when to take heed to God’s judgment, how much more ought we be humble?  For only the humble of the earth shall be saved (v.9).  If creation waits eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-24), then ought we not humble ourselves and eagerly await for peace and revelation of those who are saved, to come after the Last Day?

Then comes the interesting verse – surely the wrath of man shall praise you.  Why would man’s sinful wrath turn into praise?  Only by God’s hand: Genesis 50:20; only He can turn a curse into a blessing, a weapon into worship.  Spurgeon says:

It shall not only be overcome but rendered subservient to thy glory. Man with his breath of threatening is but blowing the trumpet of the Lord’s eternal fame. Furious winds often drive vessels the more swiftly into port. The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, and then the Lord fashions it for his own purposes. Let men and devils rage as they may, they cannot do otherwise than subserve the divine purposes. The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Malice is tethered and cannot break its bounds. The fire which cannot be utilised shall be damped. Some read it “thou shalt gird, “as if the Lord girded on the wrath of man as a sword to be used for his own designs, and certainly men of the world are often a sword in the hand of God, to scourge others. The verse clearly teaches that even the most rampant evil is under the control of the Lord, and will in the end be overruled for his praise.

In the present age, we have simply forgotten about ‘fearing’ God.  The non-Christians are nauseous at the idea of a God who judges and destroys; the Christians are quick to clarify that we believe in a God who loves unconditionally.  Neither are correct.  God loves conditionally – the one condition being Jesus’ work on the cross, the ultimate act of self-humility.

Outside of that love, he does judge and destroy.  Inside that love, we are freed from our shackles and we are freed from the wars of this world.  Outside of that love, we are required to be warriors, equipping ourselves with the shield, the sword and weapons of this world in order to survive.  Inside of that love, we rid ourselves of those tools as we are equipped instead with the spiritual armour to fight spiritual battles (Ephesians 6) and advance His kingdom of peace, telling the story of Salem.  Outside of that love, we label ourselves as princes, princesses, kings and queens of our own kingdoms, and we give gifts to ourselves; inside of that love, we are labelled by Him as His co-heirs of the eternal kingdom and we freely give gifts to others – and bring gifts to Him (v.12).

Where exactly do we stand before Him?  Are we humbling ourselves, kneeling before the king, and through that we are exalted into a realm of peace today and inherit his kingdom (Matthew 5:5)?  Or are we clinging onto our sword, by which we shall be rebuked into servility or submission; or otherwise live a life that only leads to death (Matthew 26:52)?

 

 

 

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BOOK 3: PSALM 76 OF 89 – HUMBLE YOURSELF OR BE HUMBLED

Nehemiah 4-6: Christ the Builder

Chapter 4

The work of building the walls of Jerusalem is but a shadow of the work of the Spirit protecting us in spiritual warfare, protecting us from the enemy (c.f. Ephesians 6).  It is strange that such an apparently defeated nation as Israel should pose such a threat to the Samarians, Arabians and Ashdodites (Ashdod being one of the cities of the Philistines assigned to Judah (Joshua 15:47) but never subdued), in particular Sanballat and Tobiah, the picture of Moab and Ammon plotting together to fight against Jerusalem and causing confusion (v.8; c.f. 2 Chronicles 20), which is but seen by God as a joint council to break the bond between the Father and the Son (Psalm 2).  Not unlike the fear of the majority of the spies at Jericho (Numbers 14), the men of Judah in the midst of their persecution have need to turn to Nehemiah who reminds them of the “great and awesome” Lord (v.14).  Nehemiah acts as the typological Christ, comforting us in our persecutions whilst pronouncing judgment on those who stand outside of Israel (v.4-5), a picture of judgment on those standing outside of spiritual Israel (Romans 11).

Immediately upon Nehemiah’s encouragement, v.15 emphasises that “God had frustrated their [the enemies’] plan”.  It is important for us to learn from the subsequent verses the life of the church – “half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail.  And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall” (v.16-17).  This continued even untilt he stars came out (v.21), guarding by night and labouring by day (v.22), such persistence of faith (1 Timothy 6:12) fuelled by the “great and awesome” Lord, by His steadfast faithfulness (Nehemiah 1:5) rather than the faithfulness (or lack thereof!) of the men of Judah.  This is again emphasised by the trumpet call – for although each had their own ministries, the call (Revelation 1:10, 4:1, 8:7-12, 9:1-14, 10:7, 11:15) shall bring the scattered Israelites together again – a picture of the global Church fighting their own fights against the enemy in their respective ministries, but the Day when Christ returns is the same Day when we gather but not to fight with our own might.  Rather, God will fight for us (v.20).

Chapter 5

V.1-13 almost track the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector exactly (see especially Luke 19).  The domino effect of the famine and the interest to manage one’s wealth selfishly was despicable in the eyes of Nehemiah – such enslavement to the state not a result of the famine or the king but a result of the Israelites’ decision to subject themselves to such enslavement rather than relish in the freedom from Babylonian captivity and continue to live under such freedom.  The question Nehemiah posed is key – “The thing that you are doing is not good.  Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?”.  We ought to – and we ought even to display a community of shared wealth (c.f. Acts 5:3) just as Christ displayed the greatest Trinitarian community of shared glory (John 17), shaking out those (v.13) who preach a false gospel of Unitarian theology.

Thus, Nehemiah’s life testimony is a witness to the fear of God (v.15) despite the hard times falling on the Israelites – all the while continuing with the work on the wall, a reminder that we should never sway from our set goal of new creation despite worldly circumstances, just as Christ never swayed from his goal of redemption despite the tempting of the enemy (Mark 1).  Yet, the highlight was not the work – but the nourishment of the Jews and the officials (which, I expect, to include the very officials enforcing the food allowance of the governor) as an act of loving his enemies – a precept so clear to Nehemiah taught by God’s faithfulness (v.19).  This is the freedom preached by Nehemiah (Galatians 3-5).

Chapter 6

Yet, the persecution continues in v.1-14.  Though true that there is a king in Judah (v.7), Nehemiah clarifies that no such thing is done (v.8) – for the “rebellion” and “kingship” does not lie in Nehemiah’s leadership – but in the One he worships.  This is identified ever so clearly in his refusal to hide in the temple, the Holy Place (v.11), in order to embrace the precepts which Ezra so painstakingly laid down in the previous book.  Even on appearance, Shemaiah the prophet, Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets could not deceive Nehemiah who “understood and saw” that God had not sent them for they preach fear rather than freedom – such insight and perception only capable with the Holy Spirit (c.f. Luke 5:22).

Finally, the wall is complete on the 25th day of Elul, which means the building began in the month of Av and ended in the month of preparation for the Day of Atonement and Day of Judgment – symbolised quaintly by the blowing of the trumpet to announce the return of Christ.  Even the enemies saw that the walls of Jerusalem, the walls and the Body of the Ancient Church, were completed only with the help of God.  Although Tobiah’s stature placed him in a position to ridicule and humble Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s reliance and comfort has not ceased to be on or from Christ, the true builder of the global Church.

Nehemiah 4-6: Christ the Builder

Nehemiah 1-3: Gates to the Gospel

Chapter 1

In Ezra, we see the heart of man being circumcised as the law is written on the hearts of those who now return from the long exile. Nehemiah builds on this rebirth by looking at Ezra’s work from the outside, the cupbearer who identified with the Church – weeping and mourning for days, fasting and praying before the LORD (v.4), repeating the refrain (c.f. 2 Chronicles 7) that the LORD is the one who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. Nehemiah immediately is the mediator, the intercessor on behalf of the church, understanding the work of the Mediator – the Christ who is also the Comforter, the name which “Nehemiah” matches. He recognises that even in Egypt, it is the LORD who saved first before we became His servants (v.10 – they are your servants and your people, who you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand). So Nehemiah, the Comforting Intercessor and type of Christ the Mediator, stands before the king whilst his heart yearns for the church whom he is very much part of despite the geographical limitations.

Chapter 2

Nehemiah begins immediately with the sickness of his heart – sickness for the rebuilding and the reformation of the Ancient Church. Yet, the LORD’s hand was with him (v.8), that even Artaxerxes should provide materials for the meek to inherit (Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5) and to build the gates of the fortress of the temple and for the wall of the city and for the house that he shall occupy. Such timber is not provided by the Israelites themselves, but through Artaxerxes’ resources by the grace of God. From hearing the news of the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem where the laws are being written on the hearts of tender souls young in their rebirth upon returning from decades of exile, Nehemiah was there three days to rebuild the walls (c.f. symbolism of the third day when Christ resurrected). This is a very different story to Ezra who built the heart mind and soul of the Israelite; whereas Nehemiah built the foundation and the armour protecting the Israelites’ from external onslaught, the spiritual warfare realised on a national level (c.f. Ephesians 6:10-20).

V.11-16 is quite peculiar as it appears that on the evening of the third day, Nehemiah enters Jerusalem in the stillness of the night to:

(i) the Valley Gate, then (ii) to the Dragon Spring, then (iii) to the Dung Gate, then (iv) inspected the walls of Jerusalem (v.13). This is followed by (v) the Fountain Gate and (vi) to the King’s Pool (where there was no room for the animal to pass and (viii) inspected the wall and (ix) turned back and entered by the Valley Gate. These various steps are meaningless to the officials, yet v.17-20 reveals all: Nehemiah intends to remove Jerusalem of its derision and that the LORD will make the Ancient Church prosper (v.20) in face of difficult persecution. Yet, for all who jeer at the work the Lord has tasked us (v.19), they would have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem (v.20). Are you rebelling against the earthly king? Or are you fulfilling the command of the One King, the Lord of Lords, to plead the protection of your heart?

Note however have Nehemiah only visits the southern part of the wall – the furthest part from the Temple. Incidentally the area he visits is where the brook Kidron is, commonly associated to weeping and cleansing throughout Scripture (see 2 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 2:37; 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 23:4-12; 2 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Chronicles 29:16; 2 Chronicles 30:14; Jeremiah 31:40 and finally John 18:1, where Christ was betrayed). It is here that Nehemiah recalls the pain and suffering Israel had undergone as a refinery of the nation’s faith in Christ, that through this brook are our sins cleansed entirely and completely renewed as represented by the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. To this, we turn to chapter 3 where the rebuilding begins and portrays with even more clarity how such cleansing is brought about through Nehemiah’s plan which is but a shadow of God’s plan of global redemption.

Chapter 3

1. Sheep Gate (v.1) – this reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; it is the only gate without “locks or bars”, and the only gate that was specifically sanctified as it was repaired and edified by the High Priest and other priests – the door through which the saved walk (see John 10);

2. Fish Gate (v.3) – fishers of men, who are akin to lost souls (i.e. fish; see Habakkuk 1:14 and Mark 1:17);

3. Gate of Yeshanah (Gate of the old city) (v.6) – old wine replaced by new wine; old wineskin replaced by new wineskin; Jerusalem replaced by New Jerusalem (Luke 5:37-38);

4. Valley Gate (v.13) – for we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the affliction through which we experience our life here and yet have a taste of new creation (Psalm 23:4)

5. Dung Gate (v.14) – where the dung of our lives are cleansed (Jeremiah 9:22);

6. Fountain Gate (v.15) – followed by the filling of the Holy Spirit, the true fountain of life (John 7; 14)

7. Water Gate (v.26) – following on from the Fountain Gate, the water of life the Word of God (Revelation 22:1), the seventh gate indicating the rest found in Christ alone and the only gate that required no repair;

8. Horse Gate (v.28) – reminder of the white rider on the horse in Revelation (Revelation 19:11), the return of Christ;

9. East Gate (v.29) – this return is symbolised by God’s glory returning “from the way of the east” (see Ezekiel 10:16-22, 11:22-25, 43:1-5);

10. Muster Gate (Gate of Judgment; Hammiphkad Gate) (v.31) – the word “miphkad” (קד ְפ ִּמַה) represents “appointment, account, census, mustering”, not so different from the “census” in the book of Revelation on the Day of Judgment (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:10-20; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15);

Then finally returning to the Sheep Gate (v.32) – as the Lamb is the Alpha (the first gate), so also the completion of the Muster Gate returns to the Omega – which is also the Sheep Gate, the Passover Lamb.

Nehemiah 1-3: Gates to the Gospel

1 Chronicles 8-11: The City of Jesus

1 Chronicles 8 begins with the genealogy of Saul with some notable Christians such as Jonathan and Merib-baal (Mephibosheth, the “contender against Baal”, he who was exalted by David in 2 Samuel 21:7).  It is interesting that v.29-40 are repeated in chapter 9, as if to emphasise the mighty descendants of Benjamin, the son of Jacob.  Yet, it is in the prophecy and in their names that we realise the promise of the Seed will not be fufilled through Benjamin.  This “ravenous wolf” who in the morning is devouring its prey, and in the evening dividing the spoil (c.f. Genesis 49:27) is but the proper presupposition with which we see Saul’s lineage.  His genealogy focuses not on Jonathan or Mephibosheth, the significant characters which seemingly redeems Saul’s posterity; rather, it ends with “the sons of Eshek” – which is means the sons of “oppression“.  Ulam, Eshek’s firstborn, being both “their strength“, yet also “their folly“.  These were indeed mighty warriors of Benjamin, having many sons and grandsons – emphasising once again from which son of Israel they descend in v.40.

Yet, almost immediately, we are shown the genealogy of the returned exiles.  From the glory of Saul’s days, his warriors which seem to be his lineage’s stronghold, the focus is not on the returned Benjaminites.  Rather, the focus is firstly the priests, the Levites, and the temple servants (1 Chronicles 9:2).  The meaning of the name of the chief of the gatekeepers, Shallum, is in contrast to Eshek or Ulam.  Where Shallum means retribution or a restoration of sorts, Eshek and Ulam are both folly and oppression – explaining why the Spirit does not inspire the narrator of 1 Chronicles 9 to focus any longer on the folly of Saul’s bloodline, the spirit of whom was followed continuously by the rebellious kings of Israel.  Rather, the Levitical focus of Chronicles reminds us of the importance of the Priesthood and the chosen tribe Levi – such as the Korahites (c.f. Numbers 26:58; 2 Chronicles 20:19 – musicians of the Lord).  Their work of service, their fathers being “in charge of the camp of the LORD” (v.19), their “duty of watching” (v.27) – all summed up in David and Samuel’s joint election (v.22).  Note once again that such genealogies were not elected by Saul – but by the prophet and the first king after the LORD’s own heart, the man who modelled his life after the Second LORD of his worship (c.f. Psalm 110; Matthew 22:45).  So also the work of the kinsmen of Kohathites (who had been the focus of Numbers chapter 4 in their service of the tabernacle), are brought to the fore.  It is not until a full exposition of the glory of the LORD’s restoration of Israel through the priesthood that the narrator seems to strangely return to Saul’s genealogy.  Yet, the purpose is apparent in comparing the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 9:35-44 with 1 Chronicles 8:29-40.  Verses 39 and 40 are removed from chapter 9:35-44 – no longer does the narrator focus on Eshek or Ulam or even the warriors or bowmen of Benjamin, for these things are useless in the face of restoring Israel after its captivity in Assyria / Babylon.

The folly of Saul’s lineage is made even more apparent in chapter 10, which opens with the death of Saul and his sons, and Saul’s plan to preserve his ego and reputation by falling upon his own sword rather than being overwhelmed by the Philistines.  Saul is accordingly diminished, whilst David, Samuel and the Levites are appropriately exalted.  The author of Chronicles is clearly intent on remembering the Lord as the Author of Israel’s life, and Refiner of Israel’s rebellion.  Chapter 10 therefore ends with “So Saul died for his breach of faith.  He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance.  He did not seek guidance from the LORD.  Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (v.13-14).  Instead of seeking guidance from a medium, he should have sought after the Mediator; instead of satiating his lust of self-preservation, he should have satiated his need to be preserved by Christ in the Father’s wrath.

Thus, as we turn to chapter 11, we come to understand why Jerusalem is not the city of Israel; nor is it the city of Saul.  For the true character of this city was not defined by the physical first king, nor from Israel, but from the LORD of the kings and the LORD of the nation.  David embodies the character of Jesus in taking over Jerusalem, the once city of the Jebusites, with the support of Israel declaring herself as David’s “bone and flesh“, reminiscent of the relationship between Christ and the Church in Genesis 2:23 and Ephesians 5:22-33.  Just as Israel submits herself to her king David, so also David’s victory came from seeking the Mediator’s guidance contrary to Saul’s actions – and of all the notable events of David’s life (such as his slaying of Goliath), the narrator opted to focus on the renaming of Jerusalem as the city of David (v.4-9), for this city is essentially not David’s city, but the city of the One Whom David’s worshipped – the city of Jesus.

For David to become such a great man in the LORD (v.9), it was befitting that he was supported too by mighty men as described in the remainder of chapter 11.  The emphasis, however, is not on how mighty they were; contrarily, their efforts cannot hold a candle to David’s sacrifice (c.f. v.18-19).  For it is David’s lifeblood which gives these men their life, not vice versa – “”…Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men?  For at the risk of their lives they brought it.”  Therefore he would not drink it.”  Indeed, the only cup that Christ shall drink is the cup of the Father’s wrath, pouring out His lifeblood for the mighty men.  Although the followers of Christ are co-heirs and perhaps mighty kings and mighty men, their exaltation comes from the humbleness of the One who poured His lifeblood out to us, so that we may drink of His blood and feast on His flesh (Matthew 20:28).  It is in this light that we are to read about the lives of such mighty men, their might hinging on the One whose might is in His weakness; whose might does not lie in men’s sacrifice, but in His sacrifice for us first.

1 Chronicles 8-11: The City of Jesus

2 Kings 21-22: The Reformation

II Kings 21:

1  Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. 2  And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. 3  For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. 4  And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” 5  And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. 6  And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 7  And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the LORD said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. 8  And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” 9  But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.

 

Hezekiah’s work, unfortunately, is thus undone by Manasseh – the young king whose mother is ironically called Hephzibah, the symbolical name of Zion, representing the LORD’s delight in Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:4).  This heretical king thus built altars in the house of the LORD, building altars for Baal and made an Asherah, burning his son as an offering, using fortune-telling (Deuteronomy 18) and omens and mediums and wizards – this is the same king of Judah who followed in the vein of the practices of the neighbouring countries and failed to walk a life circumcised in the Spirit.  The irony that this same image of Asherah is now set in the same house where the LORD promised to both types of Christ, David the man after the LORD’s heart and Solomon the Wisdom of the LORD, that this is where the LORD shall put His name forever (v.4 and 7 repeated; c.f. 1 Samuel 7, 1 Kings 9).  Yet, His Name and the throne on which this anointed and prophesied son of David and King of Israel are one and the same – this is the LORD Jesus Christ, the Name of the Father (Exodus 23:21), who shall reign on the throne of Israel forevermore.  Thus, the LORD speaks – “In Jerusalem will I put my name”, thus meaning – in Jerusalem will the name of Christ be stamped as the true identity of this rebellious nation.

 

But they did not listen” (v.9) – and Manasseh thus successfully led them astray to do more evil than the neighbouring destroyed nations.

 

10  And the LORD said by his servants the prophets, 11  “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12  therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13  And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14  And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15  because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.”

 

Thus, the LORD intends to replace the plumb line of the house of Ahab, the measuring line of Samaria (v.13) with the plumb line of righteousness (Isaiah 34:11); but not until Jerusalem is wiped and turned upside down.  For the plumb line of Jerusalem is that of the house of Ahab – for the anointed city is walking in sin.  It would seem like the promise made to Adam in Genesis 3:15 will come to an end here – and never before has Israel faced such a dire threat; this is truly a dark moment in Israel’s history, far more than the imminent death of Christ (which, by comparison, is but a step towards greater light and hope).  Ironic, therefore, that he slept in the garden of strength and his son the builder (Uzza and Amon) reigned in his place, when Manasseh was truly deranged in his abuse of his strength as king of Judah who failed to build Judah up from Hezekiah’s day:

 

16  Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.

 

17  Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did, and the sin that he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 18  And Manasseh slept with his fathers and was buried in the garden of his house, in the garden of Uzza, and Amon his son reigned in his place.

 

19  Amon was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Meshullemeth the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah. 20  And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, as Manasseh his father had done. 21  He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. 22  He abandoned the LORD, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the LORD. 23  And the servants of Amon conspired against him and put the king to death in his house. 24  But the people of the land struck down all those who had conspired against King Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place. 25  Now the rest of the acts of Amon that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 26  And he was buried in his tomb in the garden of Uzza, and Josiah his son reigned in his place.

 

Unsurprisingly, Manasseh did not exhibit Christ-like leadership in his family; Amon is thus led astray, a man who could have re-built Jerusalem but instead led Judah to further downfall.  Instead, his life was brought to a short end at 24 years old when the servants of Amon conspired against him and killed him in his own house (typical of the manner of the kingdom of corruption – 1 Kings 15:27, 16:9, 16:16; 2 Kings 9:14, 10:9, 15:10, 15:25, 21:23-24).   Would Josiah, the new king brought to the fore by those who struck down the conspirators, bring the lamp back to Jerusalem?

 

II Kings 22:

1  Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. 2  And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

 

Now we come to the life of Josiah (healed / supported by Jehovah), the young king and son of the one beloved by Jehovah (Jedidah), the daughter of Adaiah (adorned by Jehovah) of Bozkath (a city of Judah in the lowlands).  This is a man lifted up by the LORD in his reign over Jerusalem for 31 years, walking in all the way of David, the type of Christ.  He is surrounded by men like Shaphan, the son of he who is near the LORD (Azaliah), son of Meshullam (befriended) – the secretary to the house of the LORD.  At the tender age of 26, he immediately restarts the restoration of the Temple by directing the portion of Jehovah, Hilkiah, trusting that the carpenters, builders and masons deal honestly:

 

3  In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the LORD, saying, 4  “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money that has been brought into the house of the LORD, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people. 5  And let it be given into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the LORD, repairing the house 6  (that is, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons), and let them use it for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. 7  But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

 

8  And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9  And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD.” 10  Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.

 

This is a stark contrast to Manasseh and Amon’s lives – the first recorded instance of Josiah’s kingship is the restoration of the house of the LORD.  This cleansing is coupled with the description in 2 Chronicles 34:1-7:

 

1  Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. 2  And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 3  For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. 4  And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. 5  He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. 6  And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, 7  he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.

 

However, his task is far greater than that of mere physical restoration; the LORD planned for a spiritual reformation through the young king Josiah – restoring the true meaning of what the house of the LORD was for.  It is befitting of such a king from an ancestry in Judah to tear his clothes in his utter disappointment that the LORD had been disobeyed by His anointed nation for so many years – and it is indeed a fitting commentary for the entire books of 1 and 2 Kings, that the fathers of the kings of Israel have not obeyed the words of the Torah.

 

11  When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12  And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, 13  “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

 

Immediately, Josiah’s trusted men (Ahikam, Achbor / Abdon (c.f. 2 Chronicles 34:20), Shaphan and Asaiah, bearing names indicating their faithful servant-heart to the LORD their God) go to the prophetess of the LORD, Huldah , the wife of Shallum (whose name indicates retribution, as it is the LORD’s retribution against Israel v.16-17 for their faithlessness).  However, the hope is to stay with Judah – Josiah, whose heart was “penitent”, who “humbled [himself] before the LORD, when [he] heard how [the LORD] spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse (in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28:37)”.  Just like Hezekiah (c.f. 2 Kings 20:19), Josiah also will not see the imminent disaster, despite the penitence and faithfulness of these kings of Judah – for the LORD’s destruction shall come to bring true refining in the fiery furnace to usher the dawn of reformation where Christ shall fulfill all the shadows which the nation Israel should have always been pointing to.

 

14  So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her. 15  And she said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16  Thus says the LORD, behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17  Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18  But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19  because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. 20  Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king.

2 Kings 21-22: The Reformation

2 Samuel 24: Costly grace

2 Samuel 24:  Costly grace

As if the end of chapter 23 does not already indicate and maximize the sin of David as the shadow-king of Israel by referring to Uriah as among one of David’s thirty mighty men (murdered by David’s lustful adultery and scheming), once again David’s weakness is the subject of chapter 24.

2Sa 24:1-25  Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”  (2)  So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.”  (3)  But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?”  (4)  But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel.  (5)  They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer.  (6)  Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon,  (7)  and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba.  (8)  So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.  (9)  And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.

v.4 – “presence of the King”; began from Aroer to Gad to Jazer to Gilead to Kadesh (land of Hittites) to Dan to Sidon to Tyre to Hivites / Canaanites to Negeb of Judah at Beersheba.  Why, again, is the “anger of the LORD kindled against Israel” (v.1) (chapter 21:15-20)?  There is no explanation in the narrative, but it is apparent that Israel has succumbed to disobeying the LORD.  Let us turn to 1 Chronicles which explains how this has happened:

1Ch 21:1-7  Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel… (5)  And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword.  (6)  But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.  (7)  But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.

Note how Satan is the one who stood against Israel; but it is the LORD’s anger which was kindled against the visible church.  Neither narrative explains exactly what had caused Satan to be permitted to stand against Israel (c.f. Job 1-2) but one thing is clear.  This chapter is a fitting end to the two books of Samuel: while Samuel began with the unexpected election of this young priest over the House of Eli, we move quickly to the unexpected election of the young shepherd David over the House of Saul, and now we move once again to the House of Araunah the Jebusite (v.16) over the House of David.  In each instance, we see how God has narrowed down the elected offspring through whom the Christ would come; from the form of priesthood and kingship firstly rejected and then typologically portrayed by its replaced shadow, as a witness to the true fulfillment of the priesthood and kingship by the Angelic Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5-7).

Under this overarching and underlining agenda of the 2 books, it is important that Satan stood against Israel, and that God permitted Satan to do so.  Though it is not explicitly explained as to why Satan stood against Israel, what is displayed is the act of sin which David commits by numbering the visible church as incited by Satan.  In this act of listening to the enemy, David has identified himself as a type of Christ and not the promised King Himself.  It is therefore important to see man’s struggle with Satan since the books of Genesis to 2 Samuel, for no man has struggled successfully against Satan and crushed him definitively.  Even David and his mighty men only defeated Satan’s children, be it the great Egyptian, the remnant of the Rephaim, the Goliath, amongst other fear-inducing enemies – but The Enemy could only be bound (Matthew 12:29) by The One Chosen to crush him truly at his head (Genesis 3:15).  The victories of David are but shadows of Christ’s victory against the Satan; but they are at most shadows.  David is not the Christ Himself, for David must also rely on Christ as His Second LORD and Mediator (Psalm 2; 110 ; c.f. his Christ-centered in chapter 22).

Even Joab, the man who was not mentioned among the David’s mighty men, this schemer and murderer found David’s decree abhorrent (v.6).  For how can David puff up his pride in counting the visible church when the LORD has left a true holy remnant in Christ?  Such is the reason why Levi and Benjamin are not counted amongst the census – according to the Hebrew of these two tribes’ names, the Levites who are joined to the priesthood are not to be joined to this unholy census, just as the Benjaminites, the children of the right hand should not be equally included.  Yet, it is the Benjaminites and the Levites who are among those who receive the most ominous prophecies of Jacob in Genesis 49.  Where do they actually stand?  Are they really the joy of Christ’s childbirth, or are they truly riddled with warfare and ravenous wolves?  It is perhaps likely that focus on the lack of inclusion of these two tribes is to highlight the seeming confusion of the silver lining between the unseen and seen Church – very much the subject of this chapter.

It is then clear in v.10 that David’s heart struck him (or, more viciously, killed him – nakah נכה) after he had numbered the people – that the Holy Spirit grieved (Isaiah 63:10 / Ephesians 4:30), and quite right that he accepted how he had sinned greatly and pursued the LORD to take away David’s iniquity.  David did not, nor through a priest, sacrifice an innocent animal according to the Levitical laws for his sin.  He knew very well that these animals could not take away people’s sins (Psalm 51; Hebrews 9:23) – only the LORD could take away the iniquity (Mark 2:7).

(10)  But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”  (11)  And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,  (12)  “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.'”  (13)  So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”  (14)  Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

So in verses 10-14 we see the LORD presenting three choices to David – all of whom will be done to David by the LORD Himself: three years of famine, three months of persecution, or three days of pestilence (v.13).  Though in the first two options we see the LORD withholding his provision (be that provision of natural resources in the famine; or his protection from external or internal strife), it is only in the third option that the LORD is directly and positively inflicting pestilence on Israel.  David would rather “ fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but… not fall into the hand of man”.

How interesting it is that David still sees the LORD’s mercy in the midst of these three options which will afflict the nation as a result of David’s failed mediation as the righteous king of Israel.  David saw ahead that the LORD’s mercy in the three days; but he did not see any comparative benefits from the other two choices which will result in a combination of the LORD’s and men’s wrath.  Only in the third choice will we see sin personalized as between the church and the LORD (Psalm 51:4), the breaking of the covenant affecting first and foremost that God-man relationship.

(15)  So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men.  (16)  And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  (17)  Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”  (18)  And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”

What is interesting is that the LORD’s pestilence has spread from “Dan to Beersheba”, the same geographic spread of people from David’s census in v.2; and it is akin to the pestilence elsewhere in Scripture, be it in the days of Noah by the global flood (Genesis 7); in the days of Abraham by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24); in the days of Moses by the ten plagues (Exodus 8-12); and this is but another way of sifting the spiritual Israelite from the visible Israelite, the symbolic sweep over the same people who had been counted part of David’s church in the earlier verses of this chapter.

Yet, we must not forget the imagery of what is shown here – and this is the very crux of the consolidated message and thrust of the two books of Samuel.  The Angel of the LORD by the threshing floor (quote) of Jerusalem – this place is symbolic not only because it is the Hebrew for the “city of peace”, but that commentators have recognized this place as Moriah, the place where the Christ would be crucified and where Abraham had foresaw that the LORD would provide a lamb for the burnt offering (Genesis 22; 2 Chronicles 3:1):

“This place is supposed to be Mount Moriah: on which, according to the rabbins, Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices; where Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, and where the temple of Solomon was afterwards built.” – Adam Clarke

(19)  So David went up at Gad’s word, as the LORD commanded.  (20)  And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground.  (21)  And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people.”  (22)  Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.  (23)  All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.”  (24)  But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.  (25)  And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.

And thus the chapter ends not on David’s victory; not on Israel’s faithfulness; but rather quite an opposite note.  The plague, caused by David, and inflicted upon Israel (upon whom the perfect rounded number of 70,000 were taken away from the visible church), could only be propitiated by the burnt offerings and peace offerings given on Moriah on the third day of the pestilence.  What a grand gospel picture that has been underlying 1 and 2 Samuel’s message!  It isn’t men who inflicted our Christ on the cross; it isn’t Satan who induces the wrath and punishment on David for he is but a tool of the Father in tempting David to sin; it is, in actuality, the Father in heaven who inflicts this wrath on the Son!

It is on this second altar, far away from the legitimized altar of the tabernacle but instead is placed on the exact location of Christ’s crucifixion, that we see the light of the world – the Son of God – break into the dim pestilence and wrath of the Father which would have otherwise continued to wipe out the visible church.  Yet, the Father had planned for the Angel to have mercy upon arriving at Jebus (the ancient Jerusalem) for this is where election is displayed for the world to see – the alpha and omega of election in Jesus Christ to be risen on the third day on the cross at Moriah.

The brazen altar which Moses made was at Gibeon (1Ch_21:29), and there all the sacrifices of Israel were offered; but David was so terrified at the sight of the sword of the angel that he could not go thither, 1Ch_21:30. The business required haste, when the plague was begun. Aaron must go quickly, nay, he must run, to make atonement, Num_16:46, Num_16:47. And the case here was no less urgent; so that David had not time to go to Gibeon: nor durst he leave the angel with his sword drawn over Jerusalem, lest the fatal stroke should be given before he came back. And therefore God, in tenderness to him, bade him build an altar in that place, dispensing with his own law concerning one altar because of the present distress, and accepting the sacrifices offered on this new altar, which was not set up in opposition to that, but in concurrence with it. The symbols of unity were not so much insisted on as unity itself. Nay, when the present distress was over (as it should seem), David, as long as he lived, sacrificed there, though the altar at Gibeon was still kept up; for God had owned the sacrifices that were here offered and had testified his acceptance of them, 1Ch_21:28. On those administrations in which we have experienced the tokens of God’s presence, and have found that he is with us of a truth, it is good to continue our attendance. “Here God had graciously met me, and therefore I will still expect to meet with him.” – Matthew Henry

And standing by this cross is not easy.  It is not cheap.  It is in fact very expensive – Luke 14:27.

Cheap grace is not the king of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.  Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.  Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Cost of Discipleship”

2 Samuel 24: Costly grace

1 Samuel 21: Living paradox

When we come to chapters 21 and 22, we are faced with an ethical split over David’s “lie” to Ahimelech, the priest of the tabernacle.  Was David’s “lie” justified, in order that he may eat consecrated bread to fill his hunger?  Surely not, since David’s “lie” led to Ahimelech’s death!  (chapter 22v.16, c.f. chapter 22v.22 – where we see David’s sorrow over himself occasioning (סבב sabab – to bring about / around) the death of the priests).

Yet, upon the recounting of this piece of history, Jesus looks upon David’s actions favourably in comparison to the strict law concerning the bread of presence.  “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7), as “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), in order “to save life” (Luke 6:9).  What is also important to note is that though Ahimelech said to David, “Why are you alone and no one with you” in v.1, what he meant by that is why David was not with men who served in Saul’s courts.  There are indeed companions, as recounted in the gospels by Jesus (as well as implied in David asking for five loaves of bread (v.3), and Ahimelech’s response about the holiness of the young men who stand before him (v.4-5)); and these men along with David were hungry.  They did not seek for food in the wilderness, but sought for holy bread in the house of God.  It is here that we find the direct contrast between the mercy of God, so that men are saved; and the tyranny of Saul, in enforcement of the law.  The law pointed towards faith and grace in the Christ found by David eating the bread of presence which represented the Anointed One in the Holy Place; and by Christ could David and his companions live in grace.  Yet, Saul lived by the twisting of the law, tyrannising those who could not abide with it strictly, as we shall see in chapter 22.

It is interesting how it is noted that Doeg the Edomite was detained at the house of God.  Was he praying there?  Was he fasting?  Was he serving the Levites?  It is implied by the verb that he was restrained, detained.  Where Doeg did not seem to go to the house of God out of his own volition or out of an act of holiness, we have David seeking refuge firstly in Samuel, and now secondly in Ahimelech, knowing that it is in the priests that he finds living bread.  Where Doeg sided with Saul and wished to persecute his very Saviour (as Doeg was undoubtedly indebted to David’s great saving work by defeating Goliath) in the spirit of Judas, so we see here how David did not rely on his great sword of Goliath to cut his way through Achish.  Instead, we see him being treated like a madman – and in the words of Achish – “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a mad-man in my presence?”

The key verb here is behave.  In the Hebrew, it seemed that Achish understood David to have “played” the madman – meaning, David was not really mad.  Yet, to Achish, that is what he seemed.  Similarly, Doeg did not seem to read the situation between David and Ahimelech, for David kept the truth from Ahimelech, perhaps to protect Ahimelech from being held guilty before Saul – a likely possibility, given that David was unwilling to even have Jonathan pit against his own father (v.10).  It is thus in the spirit and correlation of this theme that chapters 20 and 21 are written.  Those who stand outside of Christ are not brought to understand or listen to the truth of the rejected king; those who stand outside of Christ are seething with murder (c.f. Doeg’s report to Saul and his subsequent murder of the priests in chapter 22); surrounded by madmen (like Achish); unable to perceive the status of this true but persecuted king who has already been anointed by Samuel.

It is therefore more likely for David who have placed fear in the heart of Achisch, as opposed to being afraid of Achish; v.11 would lead to this thinking, for the Philistines should fear this man who has induced fear into the Philistine hearts.  And it is not by the weapon of war, the weapon of Satan, that David speaks the truth; like our Christ who spoke in non-understandable parables (Matthew 13:13), David behaved like a madmen before them – the same manner in which Christ was reduced to before Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27).

Therefore, this chapter comes to enable us to understand three fundamental points: that David and his companions are fed by the bread of presence, the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ Himself; it is by His grace that refuge can be found in the tabernacle, where we see that the bread is but a shadow of Christ and in itself but a mere piece of bread.  Secondly, the LORD’s enemies do not perceive David’s hearts; that even though Ahimelech may not understand David’s ploy, Ahimelech understands David’s heart and is merciful towards him for that reason alone (c.f. chapter 22v.14-15) – in direct contrast with Saul, Doeg and Achisch’s comparable madness, their lack of relationship with the priesthood of Israel, the true king of Israel against the Spirit-less kings of both Israel and Gath.  Thirdly, David did not actively seek companions to rise up against Saul; he kept the matter to heart and did not wish for Ahimelech to be involved in ‘conspiring’ for David.

That is why Jesus looked upon David’s actions as a favourable example of the law being debilitated if the gospel is not inherently attached with it; the law cannot be apart from the mercy of the gospel love in Christ Jesus.  David perfectly portrayed this, his identity of the Anointed One taking refuge in the House of God against the identity of those who are not anointed, whom the Spirit has left (like Saul), against the house of Gath.  David desired mercy, and had few companions; Saul’s men were even at the house of God, and the nation of Gath filled with madmen.  David instilled fear into the hearts of all men as his words fell on deaf ears as he behaved like a madman himself and his righteous actions ignored by his neighbours.  What glory Doeg had witnessed, to see David feeding his companions!  Yet this picture of compassion did not strike Doeg as a starking contrast to the tyrannical nature of his lord Saul (1 Samuel 14).  Did not David carry the blade of Goliath while he instilled fear into the heart of Achisch?  Yet, he did not carry out murder; he left condemnation in the hand of God (Romans 12:20).

Being rejected from Israel; and not belonging in the house of Gath.  Holding the sword of Goliath, yet withholding murder.  Compassion to his companions, yet breaking the law of the bread of presence; making a covenant of love and relationship with the prophet Samuel and the priest Ahimelech and the brother Jonathan, yet becoming the enemy of the powerful Israelite and Philistine kings; and straddling in between heaven and earth is our Christ, the living paradoxical God-man.  In the words of Karl Barth in his “Dogmatics in Outline”:

…But since within this world there really exist an above and a below confronting one another, since in every breath we take, in every one of our thoughts, in every great and petty experience of our human lives heaven and earth are side by side, greeting each other, attracting and repelling each other and yet belonging to one another, we are, in our existence, of which God is the Creator, a sign and indication, a promise of what ought to happen in creation and to creation – the meeting, the togetherness, the fellowship and, in Jesus Christ, the oneness of Creator and creature.

This fellow, indeed, shall not go into Gath’s house (v.15) – but he should walk into the House of God, that sanctuary, in the land of Nob – the land of fruit in vicinity of Jerusalem.  It is therefore in between the two destinations of Gath and Saul’s house where David finds his true home in the house of peace, the house of Yahweh; he is the man seen as crazy, he is the man who is rejected – yet he is the man under whom that men from both houses shall be united.

1 Samuel 21: Living paradox