The type of person God blesses
Think of a time when you went for a job interview. What was your prospective new employer looking for? How did you make sure you were ready for the interview? If I can ask, did you get the job? Spend some time thinking about the qualities people look for in their employees.
This week we are starting a new series where we look at the psalms and relate them to the life of King David. It’s only natural to begin by looking at the reason why David was chosen as king, and to see what lessons we can learn about the type of person God chooses.
So without further ado, please turn to Psalm 1. We don’t know if this was a psalm of David, or not. It’s more likely it was written later as a kind of introduction to the whole psalter, to sum up the lessons God teaches us through the words of this wonderful book. We shouldn’t also forget that in our English Bibles it comes immediately after the book of Job, where the whole argument in that book revolves around what it means to be blessed by God. And whether the psalm looks forward, or looks back, the main thing to realise is that the lessons it teaches are ones that have been proved by experience. If we want to know God’s blessing, if we want to have confidence in our salvation, then the message is clear – we need to take the words of this psalm to heart.
Let’s then look at Psalm 1 in more depth:
1. The psalmist begins in verse 1 by expressing the path of blessing negatively. What might it mean for you to avoid the temptations outlined in this verse?
2. Do you delight in the law of the Lord (verse 2)? Why or why not? How can you increase your enjoyment of God’s word?
3. What lesson can we learn from this image of a tree bearing its fruit in season (verse 3)? Have you seen evidence of this fruit in your own life?
4. How is it true that the wicked are blown away like chaff? How would you answer someone who saw little evidence of the Lord judging those who reject Him?
5. How can you attest to the truth of verse 6 in your own life?
Now let’s link this psalm in with the life of David, as we turn to 1 Samuel 16:1-13, 1 Samuel 17:32-37
This passage begins just after the Lord has rejected Saul as king. There is a situation vacant in God’s kingdom, but you don’t want to upset the existing king by publicly advertising the vacancy! So Samuel goes in secret to Bethlehem to choose a new king. As Jesse is invited to the sacrifice, his sons come in one by one with their father, and the selection process begins …
6. Why did Samuel think Eliab was the right one? What lesson had he not learnt? (Don’t forget that Saul was equally impressive in appearance (1 Samuel 9:2-3) but in the end the Lord rejected him!)
7. In a world where people are so often judged on our appearances, how do we make the right decision about people?
8. What led Samuel to anoint David as king? David too was handsome in appearance, but what made him different from his brothers?
9. Read 1 Samuel 17:32-37. What evidence does David show of a saving faith? How does he show he is the right choice as king over God’s people?
“The Lord looks at the heart”. As a new year begins, think how you stand before the Lord, and pray that you might grow in a delight for God’s word, and learn to walk in the path of blessing.
Trusting God when trapped
Last time we left David about to go out and confront Goliath and we all know the story of what happened next. With nothing more than five smooth stones and a sling he cuts down the mighty Philistine warrior and cuts off his head. It’s a story told countless of times which reminds us how faith in the Lord can overcome even the biggest obstacle.
What we don’t often realise is that it’s the same incident which puts David’s life at risk. Up until now Saul has only known David as the harpist who comes in from the country from time to time to soothe his bad moods and bear his armour (1 Samuel 16:14-25). Now it is clear that David is far more than a jobbing musician and part-time squaddie. And that presents a problem to Saul, because he can see that this young lad is a threat to his throne. Particularly when a catchy little ditty tops the charts where everyone sings: Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands (1 Samuel 18:7)
So in the next few chapters we see Saul’s growing obsession with killing David, despite every effort of his son Jonathan who loves David so dearly (1 Sam 18-20). To cut a long story short, David is forced to flee for his life, leaving everything behind.
Read 1 Samuel 21
Now we’ll come back to the first part of the story, and in particular Saul’s head shepherd, otherwise known as deputy Doeg. But I want you to focus for now on the second part of this chapter, David’s stay in Gath. We don’t often think of David drooling like a madman and leaving graffiti on the city gates. We tend to think of him as a shepherd boy or a great king.
But it’s worth reflecting for a while on this episode. What had led David to such desperate measures? The obvious answer is that he was in great fear for his life. There was no place for him to hide. But look a little deeper and pause for a moment to ask – who is missing from the story?
The answer – and it may surprise you – is the Lord. As you go through the latter chapters of 1 Samuel you will find passages where the Lord seems to be absent. They normally coincide with the lowest episodes of David’s life. So had the Lord given up on David? Where was He when David needed Him most?
We need to turn to Psalm 56 to find out some answers:
1. Read verses 1 and 2. It seems that David was under both physical attack from those who sought his life (verse 1) and verbal attack from those who were slandering him (verse 2). To what extent should we expect opposition because we follow the Lord? How should we respond? (see also Luke 6:20-26)
2. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (verse 3). Yet the initial impression from 1 Samuel 21 suggests David panicked when he arrived in Gath. Why do we sometimes find it so hard to trust God when the chips are down?
3. What can mortal man (literally “flesh”) do to me? (verse 4). The short answer is quite a lot, really. But what enables David to have a different perspective on his troubles?
4. Read verses 5-6. In this kind of situation how can we follow Jesus’ advice to love our enemies and do good to them? (Luke 6:35)
5. Read verse 8. What gives David confidence that the Lord will hear him in his distress? Do you know this comfort for yourself?
6. David believes he will see the Lord directly intervene on his behalf (verse 9). How do we keep trusting God when apparently our prayers have not been answered?
7. Read verses 10-13. What do we do to express our gratitude when the Lord delivers us? Why do we sometimes find it so hard to be thankful?
At the end of the study, it would seem good to spend some time supporting those in our group who are facing situations that are hard to resolve, and sharing testimonies of how the Lord has delivered us. Use this psalm to shape and mould your prayers, and your praise.
Trusting God when betrayed
Some people will forever be associated with one notorious deed, and are destined only ever to be remembered for some hideous act of infamy that left a stain on history. We wouldn’t have heard of Lee Harvey Oswald, for example, if he hadn’t shot John F Kennedy, or James Earl Ray, if he hadn’t assassinated Martin Luther King. History is littered with the names of bad guys whose actions have left on a stain on its pages. And in this respect Old Testament history is really no different.
Last time we read how David fled to the town of Nob and asked the resident priest there, Ahimelech, for assistance. Almost in passing we are told: Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the LORD; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd. (1 Samuel 21:7) At this point of the narrative this little detail is not developed but with hindsight we discover the supreme irony in the fact that, when we first meet Doeg, he is performing some religious duty. Deputy Doeg may have fulfilled his religious obligations but that certainly didn’t make him a good person.
Today we move on to 2 Samuel 22:6-23. (Read the passage). By this stage King Saul has become quite a pathetic figure. Here he is, ranting and raving that no-one tells him anything, that no-one is concerned for his welfare. I guess the court officials are quite embarrassed by this distinctly unregal outburst.
But in this kind of situation there is usually one person who opens his mouth and starts telling tales. Doeg knows what Saul wants to hear, and so he spins him a story about Ahimelech equipping and arming David for rebellion. Doeg’s words are music to Saul’s ears. Saul has Ahimelech and his whole family hauled before him, and despite Ahimilech’s protestations condemns the whole family to death.
Quite naturally the king’s officials are reluctant to slaughter the priests of the Lord. But Doeg is more than happy to step up to the plate. In fact (verses 18-19) he goes further and slaughters the whole town of Nob, including the livestock.
How did all this affect David? What’s remarkable is when you read the end of the chapter David says to Abiathar – Ahimelech’s son – Stay with me; don’t be afraid; the man who is seeking your life is seeking mine also. You will be safe with me (verse 23). We need to examine the source of David’s confidence, so let’s turn now to Psalm 52 …
Read verse 1. David doesn’t hold back from expressing his opinion on Doeg, and in the same kind of vein both John the Baptist and Jesus were not afraid to call the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7, 23:33). When is it right to express our anger in this kind of way? What should we do with our anger?
Read verses 2-4. Look at the example of Doeg – why are words so destructive? How do we avoid our own sins of the tongue? (Look at James 3:1-12).
Read verse 5. Why was David content to leave matters in the Lord’s hands? To what extent do we have the same perspective when others betray and hurt us?
Read verses 6-7. Is it right for the righteous to laugh at the misfortune of others?
Read verse 8. What does David means when he compares himself to an olive tree? (You might like to refer back to our previous study on Psalm 1). Do we continue to trust in the Lord’s love when someone rightly makes us angry?
So after all that has happened, David still finds reason to praise God (verse 9). Do you find that surprising? Why or why not?
However, just because the Lord delivers from one situation, this does not mean we won’t face the same kind of issue again. If you have time, either as group or individually, read the story of how not long afterwards the men of Ziph betray David to Saul in 1 Samuel 23:19-29, and look at how David responds in Psalm 54. You might want to think how even then David maintains his faith in the Lord.
And then spend time praying for one another as we bring our own real life situations to the Lord. Just as Jonathan helped David find strength in God (1 Samuel 23:16), so ask how you might strengthen and encourage one another as you pray for the “Doeg”s in your lives.
Trusting Against the Odds
In many ways David’s affair with Bathsheba forms a turning point in his life. Up until that affair his kingdom had been moving towards peace and safety. Victories had been won, plans put in place for a new temple for the ark to dwell in. But all this progress was put in jeopardy by one deadly act of adultery. And as with any sin, the consequences of David’s actions were more far-reaching and more pernicious than anyone at the time could have realised.
From the end of 2 Samuel 12 the focus of the book switches to David’s children. And what we find there is the same lack of discipline and the same tendency to sexual sin that their father exhibited. It all begins in chapter 13 where Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar. David is furious, but seems unwilling or unable to discipline Amnon. So Absalom, their brother, takes matter into his own hands and kills Amnon. Absalom flees but David’s only response is to mourn for Absalom.
So after three years the army commander Joab brings Absalom back. There is a brief reconciliation but then Absalom is left to his own devices. For the next four years Absalom builds up his own following, until finally he gets himself proclaimed king in Hebron. It’s a drama worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster, and just as compelling. The very future of the nation hangs in the balance. Would matters have been different if David had not succumbed to temptation in the first place? We don’t know but it’s been downhill ever since the Bathsheba incident.
And now David faces his biggest challenge. He doesn’t want to fight his son, but he can’t stay in Jerusalem either. And so he flees with some of his closest friends, up the Mount of Olives and away from danger, at least from the time being.
Read what happens next in 2 Samuel 15:13-37; 2 Samuel 17:17-23 (Don’t worry too much about the names!). As you do so, look at how David prays in this situation, and then turn to Psalm 3:
Read verse 1. David was faced with many foes. His own son Absalom had turned against him. His most trusted advisor, Ahithophel, had gone over to Absalom’s side. How does our faith in Jesus Christ help us when we are betrayed in this way?
Read verse 2. Presumably many people were saying that David had received his just desserts for all that he had done wrong. (Let’s not forget he had committed adultery and murder!) What is wrong with the idea of believing people get what they deserve?
Verse 3 should read: But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. What story can you give of the Lord’s protection?
Read verses 5-6 (and Psalm 4, verse 8). What enabled David to sleep soundly at night? Why do we sometimes find it hard to experience this same peace?
Read verse 7. What is your reaction to David’s prayer? How do we reconcile Davis’ prayer with Jesus’ request to pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:45)?
“From the Lord comes deliverance” (verse 8). I guess this is something we all know in theory. So why is it we are so often so slow to turn to the Lord when we are in need?
Life lessons learnt
Over the past few sessions we have seen David in all sorts of trouble:
- When he was trapped in the city of Gath and had to feign madness to escape (Psalm 56; 1 Samuel 21:10-16)
- When he was betrayed by Doeg who slew Ahimelech, and the whole town of Nob (Psalm 52; 1 Samuel 22:6-23)
- When he was threatened by his son Absalom who proclaimed himself as king (Psalm 3; 2 Samuel 15:13-37)
And these are only a few of the incidents in David’s extraordinary life. Yet in spite of everything David still survived. He could not point to a single incident in his life when his faith in the Lord had let him down.
This didn’t mean that David simply trusted in the Lord and everything was all right. He learnt the hard way that hiding among the Philistines was asking for trouble. He had to bear responsibility for the death of Ahimelech and his entire town. And above all the civil war with Absalom could perhaps been avoided if only he hadn’t had that affair with Bathsheba, or shown himself to be a better father.
This explains why this chapter – 2 Samuel 22 – focuses on the Lord as the Rock (see verses 2,32,47). It is His mercy and His grace which has been the constant factor through every difficult circumstance, and through every act of disobedience. David couldn’t trust in his own ability or his own sinlessness to get him out of trouble. But he knew he could trust in the Lord, come what may.
So let’s take a closer look at David’s “rock anthem” and see what lessons we can learn for ourselves.
- Read verses 1-4. What words would you choose to describe God? What words does David use here? What can we learn from his choice of words?
- Read verses 5-7. What do we learn about David’s relationship with the Lord? Is your relationship with the Lord like this?
- Read verses 8-20. Why is the Lord angry when He hears that David is in distress? Why does David spend so long describing the way the Lord answered His prayers? (You might like to look at Eph 6:12 to help you find an answer to this question)
- Read verses 21-25. After all that has happened, isn’t David kidding himself? Or should we read these verses with an eye to the New Testament, to Jesus?
- Read verses 26-30. What lessons has David learnt about the way the Lord deals with people? What lessons are there here for us?
- Read verses 31-37. What is unique about the God we worship? Why is it important to insist that our God is different from other gods?
- Read verses 38-46. How did David’s victories point to his faith and trust in the Lord? How are David’s victories relevant to our lives today?
- Read verses 47-51. If you were asked to write a prayer of praise today, what would you include? Spend some time thinking about the way the Lord has worked in your life, and what you want to tell others.
The present and future king
Up until now we have looked at David’s life and drawn parallels with his experience and our own. We have learnt much about praying in situations where we are betrayed or trapped or up against the odds. But there is also another side to David’s life that we haven’t yet considered – how the life of David points forward to the coming of the greater king – Jesus, Son of David, Messiah.
We can see this aspect of David’s life when we come to the covenant the Lord makes when David is established as king (2 Samuel 7). A covenant is an agreement where the Lord makes promises out of His own mercy and goodness, not through any merit of our own. It is through the covenants of the Bible that the Lord reveals His totally undeserved grace and binds Himself to act upon our behalf. And with any covenant there is blessing for those who respond in faith and obedience, and punishment for those who disobey and reject what the Lord wants for their lives.
We don’t have opportunity here to go into the whole background of the covenant the Lord makes in 2 Samuel 7. Suffice to say, it builds on the promises the Lord makes to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-7 and to the people of Israel through Moses in Exodus 19-20. Each new covenant is a stepping stone towards Jesus, and this covenant with David is no exception.
So let’s take some time now to read through 2 Samuel 7:1-17 and look more closely at what the Lord promises. If we study it carefully, we find that the Lord promises four things:
- A name which will make David great (verse 9)
- A place for God’s people (verse 10) and a kingdom (verse 12)
- Rest from enemies (verse 12)
- Offspring, literally a “seed” (verse 12)
To some degree these promises are fulfilled in the lives of David and Solomon. But it doesn’t take too much knowledge of the Old Testament to see how these promises point forward to the life of Jesus. So how were these four promises made to David fulfilled by Jesus? You may want to look at the following verses:
How does knowing the Old Testament background help us appreciate the significance of these verses?
So, turning back to the psalms, whenever we read a royal psalm about a king we always need to have two perspectives in mind. First of all, the way in which the psalm literally describes the reign of David, or another king, and secondly, how it points forward to the reign of Jesus.
Let’s look at Psalm 21
An important theme of this psalm is victory. In what way has Jesus already been given victory? In what way is this victory still to come?
Reflect on verse 4. What difference does God’s gift of eternal life make to you?
Look at verses 6 and 7. How should our faith in Jesus give us confidence in a fast changing and uncertain world?
Look verses 8-12. Why is it so important to believe in future judgement?
What is the psalmist’s response to the victory of the king? (verse 13). What is your response?
As we finish, let’s go back to 2 Samuel 7:18-29, and as you hear it read, reflect on your own response to the greatness and goodness of the Lord shown to us through His holy covenants.