On Mother’s Day 2018, I preached from Psalm 1, focusing on the phrase in verse 3, “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water.” Our Mother’s Day worship service included dedicating the newest member of our faith family, 8-week old Ella Kaitlyn Hall. It was a great Sunday, and I hope yours was, too! Here’s the audio of the sermon from last Sunday:
Last Sunday I preached from Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 NIV. Amazingly, the circumstances in Isaiah’s day in 742 BC were similar to those in 21st century America. Politicians disagreed on how best to provide security for the nation of Judah. Strategic alliances to combat national enemies such as Assyria, and even Israel, were formed and then dissolved. The nation’s economy was rigged in favor of the well-to-do, and the weakest in Judah’s society — widows and orphans — were being cheated and oppressed.
But, in the midst of political, economic, and spiritual turmoil, God has a word for his people. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God condemns their religious practice because it was not consistent with their conduct. Or maybe their worship was consistent with their conduct because both were lacking in obedience to God and compassion toward others. Here’s the audio of the sermon:
The Old Testament reading for Sunday, August 9, 2015, is about the tragic relationship between David and his son, Absalom. I’ve titled it, “When Your Chickens Come Home To Roost.” I hope you have a great Sunday!
When Your Chickens Come Home To Roost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 NIV
5 The king [David] commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
The Back Story
Wow. Today’s story needs a lot of context, so let’s get started.
First, let me identify the players: The king is David; his son is Absalom; and, Joab, Abishai, and Ittai are commanders in David’s army.
Throughout the entire summer series of sermons, we have been looking at the stories of Samuel, Saul, David, and soon David’s son, Solomon. But today we come to a pivotal moment in the David story.
You remember the plot that brought us to this part of the story, don’t you? Here it is:
- The people of Israel and Judah demand that Samuel find them a king.
- Samuel warns them that they don’t really want a king because a king will take their lands, their herds, their sons, and their daughters.
- But after the people insist that they do want a king, because they want to be like other nations, Samuel anoints Saul as God’s chosen.
- Saul pretty quickly fails in his obedience to God, and God withdraws God’s Spirit from him.
- Samuel then anoints David, although Saul is still king. Awkward, to say the least.
- Finally, Saul is killed in battle and David ascends to the throne of both Judah, and then Israel, uniting the northern kingdom of Israel with the southern kingdom of Judah.
- Everything is running along just fine, until one day David sees Bathsheba. Unfortunately, Bathsheba is another man’s wife. So, David takes Bathsheba, sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant. This is bad, even for a king so David has her husband Uriah killed to cover up his adultery.
- Nathan the prophet confronts David, and pronounces judgment on David and his household for his wanton and willful sin against God, Bathsheba and Uriah, and the nation.
And, that’s where we pick up our story today. Oh, one item I forgot to mention. Nathan’s confrontation of David includes this prophetic pronouncement of the consequences of David’s sin:
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” — 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NIV
Which brings us to Absalom. Absalom is David’s son by his wife, Maakah, daughter of the king of Geshur, and he was born in Hebron. When Absalom grows up, he defends the honor of his sister, Tamar. Tamar was violated by her half-brother, Amnon, who is also half-brother to Absalom. Eventually, Absalom kills Amnon, which alienates him from David.
David, however, appears to have a soft-spot in his heart for Absalom. After three years in exile in Geshur, David allows Absalom to return to Jerusalem. However, Absalom repays his father’s kindness — and weakness for him — by betraying his father, David.
Absalom and his entourage set up camp near David’s palace. When people from Israel come to David for justice, Absalom intercepts them, welcomes them, and hears their cause. He tells everyone that because his father David favors Judah, there is no one in Israel to hear their concerns and do justice for them.
Of course, this endears Absalom — who is a handsome guy — to the Israelites from the north. Eventually, Absalom gathers an army, proclaims himself king of Israel in his birthplace of Hebron. Absalom then marches toward Jerusalem.
David, hearing that Absalom is headed toward Jerusalem with a huge army, flees his palace, leaving ten of his concubines in charge of the palace. Concubines were sort of like second-string wives in David’s day.
Absalom is advised to ravish his father’s concubines, and thereby humiliate David before the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Absalom sets up a tent on a balcony of David’s palace, so all Jerusalem can see that he is taking his father’s harem for himself.
And so the words of Nathan the prophet are fulfilled —
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
David’s chickens had come home to roost. I am told that that phrase was a shortened version of a longer saying that went something like this — “Curses are like chickens. They soon come home to roost.”
And so it was with David. Not only had David’s sin against God with Bathsheba cost the life of their baby, it had also cost him humiliation by his own son, who was seeking to kill him.
Sadly, the story reveals even more tragedy. David’s forces win a decisive victory over Absalom’s army. As he flees, Absalom’s long, thick hair — for which he is notoriously famous — gets caught in the low-hanging limbs of a tree as he rides under it.
Hanging there helpless, David’s men see Absalom and take their chance to kill him, despite David’s plea to his commanders to “Be gentle with the young man Absalom, for my sake.”
When word reaches the king that his beloved Absalom is dead, David is inconsolable. So grief-stricken is he, that David’s soldiers slink back into Jerusalem under the cover of darkness because they are afraid of what the king might do to them.
Joab, ever the tough general, berates David for his grief for Absalom, while ignoring the valor of his own men who have saved his life. Joab tells David to get out there and greet his troops and give them his royal approval for having saved his life. David then appears to his troops and the Absalom chapter in the story of David comes to a close.
A Lot of Chickens Have Come Home To Roost
And so what is the point of this story? Well, I think one point is that King David, who was so successful in battle and so revered by his people, was perhaps not a very good father. He loved Absalom, but somewhere along the way, Absalom came to despise David, his own father. Perhaps it was because Absalom was one of six sons David had while in Hebron, all from different wives.
David may be a larger-than-life figure, but in some ways he was a colossal failure. Relationships with women or his children didn’t seem to go to well for him.
But I’m thinking today of another point to this story. A point that we might miss if we just focus on David as an individual.
David’s sin affected not only his life, Bathsheba’s life, but it affected the life of the united kingdom that David ruled. When Amnon, Absalom’s half-brother and David’s son, violated Tamar, David knew about it and did nothing. Maybe David thought that it would appear hypocritical of him to discipline his own son for the same sin he had committed.
Whatever the reason, David’s failure to obtain justice for Tamar infuriated Absalom. So Absalom waited, plotted, and finally took his revenge on Amnon two years later.
Disobedience to God not only affects the present, but it also affects the future. And sooner or later, our chickens come home to roost.
We live in a society whose problems are enormous. Many of those problems had their genesis in the past. But, while we are not to blame for the original problem, we are responsible for repairing the sins of the past in the present.
They’re Our Chickens Now
In other words, when those chickens come home to roost, somebody has to deal with them. And that’s not always easy. David had to deal with his own chickens — his sin with Bathsheba had far-ranging consequences that affected him, Bathsheba, his kingdom, and his relationship with God.
But sometimes, we have to deal with someone else’s chickens who have come home to roost.
When our grandson Ezra was born a little over 3 years ago, Debbie and I stayed at the farm and kept his brother, Ollie, while Amy was in the hospital. Part of life on the farm was getting all the chickens in the chicken coop for the night. At that time, Amy had about 30 chickens. That’s a lot of chickens, especially when they’re all free range and roaming about the place.
So as dusk came on that first night when we were alone at the farm, I grabbed the bucket of chicken feed from the feed room. I filled it full and rattled it vigorously and loudly. The chickens recognized the bucket as the one that contained their food, and came running toward me. Which was scary in itself.
By that time I had made it to the chicken coop. In one smooth motion, I opened the door to the chicken coop and threw a handful of chicken feed on the ground inside the coop. True to form, the chickens went into the coop, pecking at the feed on the ground. Quickly, I shut the door.
I felt pretty proud of myself, until I turned around and saw one chicken standing there all by herself. I dropped a few morsels of chicken food in front of her, to lure her closer to the door. Then, in one final, fluid move, I opened the door, threw chicken feed over the heads of those in the coop so they would run to the back, and then threw some in front of Chicken Little, but inside the coop. I fully expected her to step right in. But she didn’t. She just stood there.
By this time, the chickens in the coop had turned back and were coming toward the bucket and me, again, so I quickly shut the chicken wire door.
And there we were. Chicken Little and me. I suppose I could have picked her up, but I really didn’t want to do that. I’ve never picked up a chicken, and that was not the evening for a first experience.
So, I left her there. I was sure a coyote or raccoon would eat her. But such is life on the farm, I decided. However, the next morning when I walked to the coop to open the door for the day, there she was, standing right where I had left her. Defiant until the end.
My experience with chickens is not a perfect illustration, but here’s the idea: Those chickens that have come home to roost may not be your chickens, but you and I have to deal with them.
We may not be responsible for the problems of our family, our friends, or out society, but those are now our chickens. They’ve come home to roost, and all we can do is deal with them in the most helpful ways we know now.
The consequences of David’s sin and Absalom’s revolt was not Joab’s problem. They were David’s chickens that had come home to roost. But, because David was not treating the soldiers who had saved his life with gratitude and reward, Joab realized those were now his chickens to deal with. Joab confronted David, David came to his senses, and made the situation right.
Just remember — We may not be to blame for the chickens coming home to roost, but we are responsible for dealing with them when they do.
God doesn’t look at things like we do. That’s a simple statement, but a profound theological thought. And, that is the point of the reading from the Old Testament for this Sunday, I Samuel 16:4-13. Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow on that theme, and I must admit, this sermon had a mind of its own and took me in a completely unexpected direction.
God Doesn’t Look at Things Like We Do
I Samuel 16:4-13 NIV
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
The Story of David’s Anointing As Israel’s King
I must confess: I love this story! And who wouldn’t? The text we read this morning continues the lesson from last week. The backstory is that the people of Israel began to demand that before Samuel died, he would find a king for them.
Samuel talked to God about their request. Despite God’s objection, God gave Samuel permission to get them a king, but with some dire warnings first. Samuel, as God instructed him to, warned the nation that God would take their sons, their daughters, their herds, their fields, and anything else a king could get his hands on for the king’s own purposes.
Despite that, the people said, “Yep, that’s what we want because we want to be like other nations who have kings.” That’s my paraphrase, but that sums it up.
Israel had come from the bondage of Egypt led by Moses; had been led into Canaan by Joshua; had been led both civilly and militarily by a series of judges, both men and women. Samuel becomes the last of these judges.
But Samuel isn’t just any old judge. Samuel himself has heard the voice of God as a small boy in the charge of the priest, Eli. Samuel has responded to God by saying what Eli tells him to say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” At least, that’s how I learned the story when I was a small boy.
So, Samuel becomes for the nation both the last judge and the first real prophet they have ever had. But Samuel’s sons, like Eli’s before him, aren’t cut out of the same cloth as their father. The people of Israel know this.
Their concern not to be ruled by Samuel’s corrupt sons, and to be like other nations pushes Samuel to take the whole matter to God.
Now, don’t miss this part. God says to Samuel, “It’s not you they’re rejecting, it’s Me!” But then God goes on to grant reluctantly their request.
We could stop right here because here is the Bible saying that God is making an accommodation to Israel that God does not want to make. What does that say to us about God? Does God change God’s mind? Does God grant requests that God knows are not going to turn out well? Interesting questions, but that’s not what we want to focus on this morning. But, at a minimum these questions ought to make us a little more humble about what we think we know about God.
But back to the issue at hand and the story. The problem Samuel has is that he has already anointed Saul as king of Israel. Unfortunately, Saul isn’t working out and by this passage we read today, God has rejected Saul as king. Unfortunately, again, Saul refuses to step down.
So, Samuel has to slip around and disguise his trip to Jesse’s village, Bethlehem, as an occasion for sacrificing to God. At this point, remember, Jerusalem is not the center of Israel’s civic or religious life. There is no Temple, and Shiloh, and other worship sites are prominent. David eventually will make Jerusalem the capitol of both government and worship, but that won’t happen for several more years.
But, back to the story. Samuel invites Jesse and his sons to join him for the sacrifice. At this point, Samuel sees Jesse’s son, Eliab, and thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
God quickly corrects Samuel’s presumption, and Samuel looks at all seven of Jesse’s sons, none of whom God has chosen. Samuel asks Jesse, “Do you have anymore sons?”
“Only the youngest, but he’s out tending sheep,” Jesse replies.
Samuel says, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
Well, apparently they do sit down because when David arrives, God says to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
And, so Samuel does.
Why Do We Love This Story?
So, why do we love this story? I think first we love this story because of the characters in it: Samuel, the beloved prophet, priest, and judge; the wicked King Saul, who is being replaced; and, of course, David the shepherd boy who walks from the pasture into the presence of God and the Kingdom of Israel.
If there is ever a rags-to-riches story, this is it. And, the story of David is built on this idea of the underdog, David, who defeats Goliath, the giant Philistine. We all root for the underdog.
And, in this passage, the Bible tells us that David was a healthy, strong, good-looking kid. That only makes this story better. And the message I got as a kid was “be like David.”
But, if that’s why we like the story, we have missed the whole point of it.
The Key to the David Story
Even though David was a good-looking, healthy kid, that’s not why God chose him. Quite the contrary actually. The key verse to understanding this story is verse 7. When Eliab appears before Samuel, he’s a good-looking kid, too. And Samuel makes the assumption that his maturity and good looks, and being the oldest, mean that God has chosen Eliab. But, listen to what God says about Eliab:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Don’t take his appearance or his height into account, Samuel is told. Why? Because God doesn’t look at things like we do!
And that is the key to understanding this whole passage. God doesn’t look at things like we do.
Of course, the temptation for preachers right about now is to tell you how God sees things. But of course, if we knew how God saw things, then we would see things like God does, and this whole story and verse 7 wouldn’t make any sense.
But even though we don’t see things like God sees them, and more importantly, God doesn’t see things like we do, we can still take some hints from this story of David about what that means.
Some Hints About How God Sees Things
So, how can we tease out from this story, how God sees things? Here are some thoughts that stand out to me:
- We look at outward appearance, God looks at the heart.
Obviously, that is not an original thought of mine, because God clearly tells Samuel exactly that. But, here’s the problem — when David appears the writer of this story describes David’s outward appearance!
“He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” — I Samuel 16:12 NIV
Now, of course, this verse makes it sound like that David is chosen because of his “fine appearance and handsome features.” I wish the writer of this story had said something like, “Even though David was short and stubby, and a little scruffy looking, God said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
That would have made more sense. But we have to let the writer be human, and humans do what? Answer: humans look on the outward appearance. So, the writer illustrates God’s point with his own description of David.
But, what does God see in David’s heart? Well, it can’t be that David will be completely obedient to God, can it? Because if you know the story of David, you will remember that after David has become king, when he was supposed to be out fighting with his men, he’s lounging around his palace in Jerusalem. Looking from his palace down on the modest houses around the palace, David spots a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing on the rooftop of her house.
You know the rest of this story. David sends for Bathsheba, commits adultery with her. But that’s not all. To cover up the evidence of his adultery, David has Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed in battle. Of course, eventually Nathan the prophet confronts David, and David repents of his sin. David’s repentance is captured in Psalm 51, in one example.
So, it cannot be that David’s heart is pure, or even obedient. What does God see in David’s heart?
That brings us to the second way God’s view of things is different from ours.
- We look for power, God looks for possibility.
David, God knows, will become powerful. It is David’s power that becomes his downfall. No one else in his kingdom could have taken another man’s wife except David himself. But, as powerful as he was, David was also able to see his own sin and repent. Unlike his predecessor King Saul, David’s heart was open to change, to repentance, to conversion, to transformation.
God isn’t looking for self-sufficient power. Rather, God is looking for spiritual possibility. Which is the same kind of thing Jesus was saying when he said about 1,000 years after David:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You don’t have to be rich, strong, full or powerful. It’s the upside-down kingdom, this kingdom of God. Where possibility trumps power, where the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. It’s a contradiction to our culture and every culture. It’s what God is looking for.
If God Doesn’t See Things Like We Do, What Hope Do We Have?
Well, first of all, just because God doesn’t see things like we do, doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to see things like God does.
Listen to that again, very carefully: just because God doesn’t see things like we do, doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to see things like God does.
I think that is the point of Paul’s great hymn about Jesus, from Philippians 2:5-11 KJV:
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” I like the King James Version. In other words, “think like Jesus.” Other translations say, “Have the same attitude as Jesus..”
Regardless of translation, Paul’s point is that we can see things the way God sees them. And that mindset, that attitude, always leads to self-sacrificial love.
Secondly, if we can have the mind of Christ — his attitude, his perspective, his love — then it will change us and our conversations and conduct.
If we can look on the hearts of those around us, like God does, and see in each heart the possibility of this person loving God, because they are God’s creation and Jesus died and rose again for them, then that might change us.
It might change the things we say on Facebook, it might change the comments we make to co-workers, it might begin just ever so slightly to nibble away at our cultural prejudices, our knee-jerk reactions, our critical natures, and our divisive rhetoric.
God doesn’t look at things like we do, but we can look at things like God does. At least a little more than we used to. Each day.
And when we look at people’s hearts, just as God looked at David’s, we realize that sick hearts can be healed, broken hearts can be mended, rebellious hearts can be turned, hard hearts can be softened, and black hearts can be made white as snow.
That’s what God sees. Not our perfection, but our potential. May we see with the eyes of God those around us. Amen.
Here’s the message I preached on Sunday, September 14, 2014, titled “The God In-Between.” The lectionary reading for that Sunday was Exodus 14:19-31, and continues the story of God with the nation of Israel from Abraham through the Exodus experience. Click the arrow to play the podcast —
This is the message I preached on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Taken from the lectionary reading, Genesis 45:1-15, it’s the story of Joseph and how God intervened to save both Joseph and the nation of Israel. It’s a great story with wonderful insight into how God transforms us and our circumstances as part of God’s plan for our lives. The podcast is about 26 minutes. Hope you enjoy!
Sometimes Scripture is complex and difficult to understand. But, sometimes it’s just simple. Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 is an example of the simple. Isaiah says to the nation of Judah, “…stop doing wrong. Learn to do right…” Pretty simple, and amazingly difficult. Here’s the audio of my sermon last Sunday from this passage. It’s titled, “Stop doing bad stuff, start doing good stuff.” Can’t get simpler than that!