Forgiven But Unforgotten

II Samuel 13-14 provides some difficult material concerning Absalom, Tamar, and Amnon. Amnon attempts to court Tamar and ends up sexually assaulting her. David does nothing about this for two years until Absalom (Tamar’s brother and Amnon’s half-broter) kills Amnon for his crime against Tamar. Abaslom is indeed guilty of murder, but some of the blame falls on David. Remember, according to II Samuel 13:23, David neglected justice for two entire years.

Absalom flees to Geshur, and David desires to destroy Absalom for Amnon’s death according to verse 39. (The Hebrew word translated as “go out to” in most English translations, more literally means “to consume.”) In chapter 14, however, Joab sees this preoccupation growing in David, and he puts a plan into action to restore David’s family. He hires a wise woman of Tekoa who relates a story very similar to the events of his own life, begging for mercy for her son’s life. David acquiesces to mercy, and, in II Samuel 14:12, she begins to lead David into making application of her story to himself and Absalom. In verse 14, she reminds Him that God shows mercy and does not always require life for life. David should be so merciful.

Forgiving Without Forgetting

This message applies to David on multiple levels. Not only does it apply to his current conflict with Absalom, but David himself is worthy of death for his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. He sees God’s mercy in his own life, recognizes his life being spared, and decides to do likewise with Absalom. The story, unfortunately, does not end here, though.

In chapter 14:24, David orders Absalom to come back, but David keeps him in a state of household exile for another two years. His punishment is not physical exile, but he treats him as such. From the point of Absalom fleeing until he sees David again, five entire years pass. Is it any wonder Absalom begins to conspire against his father? Do you think David’s actions do not weigh on Absalom’s heart?

Mercy, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation

These chapters are really about mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. David had been forgiven by and reconciled to God in His mercy. David does not do the same for Absalom. This chain of events begins because David ignores Amnon’s wrongdoing, prodding Absalom into taking matters into his own hands. We cannot let our own past sins prevent us from addressing wrong as David’s history with Bathsheba clouds his judgment with Amnon.

Finally, we should be as merciful with others as we hope God would be with us. We cannot “forgive” and continue to punish after repentance. Remember the adulterous relationship Paul condemns in I Corinthians. Once the issue is resolved, Paul writes in II Corinthians 2:7 that the repentant sinner’s brothers and sisters should comfort him and confirm their love for him. David’s perpetual punishment makes room in Absalom’s heart for sin. Paul says we should never allow that opening to form. We cannot continue to punish after we forgive. DOing so is detrimental to our relationships and our souls, and it is not how we would want God to treat us.

When we repent, God shows mercy, forgiving us and reconciling us to Him. We should be so merciful when those close to us repent of their sins.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Misusing Our Blessings

David is a very positive figure in the Old Testament, but we are familiar with a couple very significant missteps in his reign. He falls into sins that are unique to the resources and opportunities he has through his position, and we can learn much from how he falls into these sins – and ultimately how he reacts to and deals with these shortcomings.

In II Samuel 11, David remains in Jerusalem while his armies are at war. He sees Bathsheba bathing while he is up on his rooftop, sends messengers to find out who she is and bring her to him. II Samuel 24 records God’s anger in David’s insistence of conducting a census. Even Joab tries to deter David, citing the Lord’s strength over man’s. In both cases, David walks into sin. He takes negative advantage of his position, but David also maintains his relationship with God because of his reaction to the realization of his sins.

Taking Advantage of Blessings

In both of these cases, does God set David up to sin? We might say if God had never promoted David to king, he would have never had the position or resources necessary for these sins. I think we understand that blessings from God are not evil, even when those blessings open up opportunities that might lead to sin. Many of us are greatly blessed by God in so many ways, ways we may not even understand or appreciate. We can then either use those positions for good, or we can take advantage of those positions. In I Peter 5:1-5, for example, admonishes spiritual leaders to avoid taking advantage of their authority position. Also, James 3:1-2 warns in caution regarding teaching. With the opportunity to guide comes the danger of misguiding.

Galatians 5 warns against how we view our spiritual liberty in Jesus. Freedom in Christ does allow for indulgence in sin. Paul contrasts between living by the flesh and living in the spirit, and he keeps returning to the importance of love in our spiritual liberty. We are in a great position to be free in Christ, and we need to be willing to share that freedom with others rather than gloat over it. I Corinthians 8 reminds us to avoid being puffed up in our knowledge of Christ and that there will be differences in opinions and values that will not interfere with our ability to come to God. Verses 7-10 specifically address simple misunderstandings that can cause others to stumble. We should be sensitive to those.

Reconciling with God

Just like David, we will eventually take advantage of our blessings in a negative way. James 3:2 assures us that stumbling happens. How we react is what defines us. In II Samuel 12:13 and II Samuel 24:10, David acknowledges his errors. He chooses to submit to God’s judgment. He takes personal responsibility, and He puts Himself entirely in God’s hands.

God has provided us with hope and salvation, with fellowship with Him and fellow Christians. He has given us life from death and all that we have. We are who we are today because of Christ’s influence. Let’s use those blessings to His honor and glory and praise God in all we say and do.

lesson by Ben Lanius

Giant Killing

The story of David and Goliath is a familiar one. In I Samuel 17, Goliath poses a threat to the nation of Israel. He defies the armies of Israel. He defies the power of their God. For forty days, none rise up to face Goliath until David intercedes. Many tell him he is unable to overcome, even the king, but David places his trust in God. In his confrontation, David demonstrates faith and trust in God despite a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. His companions focus on the difficulty, but David focuses on God. His attitude contrasts from those who would shirk away or discourage him. Instead, David seeks to glorify God in facing Goliath, and he takes action. He meets his challenge with God on his side.

Facing Our Own Giants

We face giants in our own lives. We all come up against obstacles we perceive as insurmountable. These distract us from our service to God; they take our focus from Him; they derail our faithful service. We may be caught up in secular interests that consume our time and our energy. We may be consumed with desire and lust. We may be dealing with discouragement, or we may just lack purpose or focus, not knowing how to move forward.

I John 2:15 warns us against getting caught up in the things of this world, for all of it is temporary. Our time on this world is limited. Jesus, in Matthew 6, reinforces the temporary nature of this world, but we may be like the young ruler who is unable to simply let go of the power his possessions have over him. Luke 12:15 records Jesus warning us against covetousness, for our worth is not defined by our things. From here, Jesus tells a parable of a man who begins to trust in and focus on his material successes. He forgets all else in the face of his possessions, but that wealth does nothing to save him when his time expires.

Regarding our fleshly desires, I Peter 2:11 tells us these battle over our souls. Paul, in II Timothy 2:22, encourages the young Christian Timothy to replace those passions with faith, love, and peace. In Romans 13:11, Paul calls on us to wake up from the desires and immorality that might have guided us in the past. Rather, we should seek refuge in Christ, turning to Him to help us defeat that giant in our lives.

We may battle discouragement, but Isaiah 35:3 reminds us that God can strengthen and encourage us when we are weak or afraid. Acts 11:23 records a man named Barnabas who is well-known for his role in encouraging others. I Thessalonians 5:14 then reminds us that we should be fulfilling that same role. We should be looking for those who need encouragement, and, when we need encouragement, we should be able to know we can turn to one another for edification.

Finding Our Direction

One more obstacle is one of focus – or the lack thereof. Returning to I Samuel 17, David finds purpose in defeating Goliath. He discovers the rewards the king will bestow upon the one who defeats Goliath, and he also seeks to glorify God in removing the obstacle of Goliath. David sees a goal; he prepares for the upcoming conflict; and he runs toward his challenge. He identifies the giant in his life, but he does not hide from it.

We sometimes talk about what we should do, about what others should do. If we have the faith found in I John 5:4, if we have the trust we read of in I John 4:4, if we have the humble attitude we find in Philippians 2:5-8, and if we are able to put our faith into action as in James 2:15-18 – then we can rise up like David and face down the giants in our own lives. Philippians 4:13 assure us we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. David brings down Goliath with God’s help. We can face those giants in our own lives with Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Seeing Our Reflection

Lately, we’ve been revisiting the Old Testament in our Bible classes, and we understand that, while we are no longer bound to that law, studying the triumphs and failings of God’s people can benefit our own spiritual growth. As Paul writes in Romans 15:4:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

I want to take some time in this lesson to look at a few individuals from the Old and New Testaments. What will we see in them? Will we see characters to judge and condemn, or will we see reflections of ourselves – the same faults, the same misplaced priorities, the same desires, the same misdirection, and the same stumbles we all share? If we can see ourselves in them, then we will be able to see our reflections in one another and handle the sins in our lives and others all the better.

Seeing Ourselves in Them

We know the figures of King Saul, King David, and the Apostle Peter pretty well. We’ve studied their lives time and again, and I don’t think this lesson is going to shed any new light on these individuals. I want us, however, to be self-reflective as we take a look at specific events from each of these lives.

  • King Saul (I Samuel 13:5-12). Scared of the impending doom he perceives and anxiously impatient for Samuel’s arrival, Saul takes it upon himself to make an offering to the Lord. The problem is that it is not his place to do so, and he acts outside the authority of God’s word.
  • King David (II Samuel 11:3-5). David sees a woman bathing and desires her. He goes to great lengths to have her and to greater lengths to cover his sin, resorting to lies and murder to prevent the knowledge of his indiscretion from spreading.
  • Peter the Apostle (Matthew 14:22-33). Peter walks on water to reach Jesus, but his faith falters. He begins to sink, and Jesus must pull him up, chastising him for a lack of faith.

What do we see with these individuals? Do we only see the rebukes and the consequences their actions inspire? Do we only focus on their failings? Do we sit back and judge, patting ourselves on our back that we are not as bad as them?  Do we just see Saul as an impatient egomaniac; David as a womanizer; Bathsheba as immodest; Peter as faithless? It’s very easy to look at these people as mere character whom we can academically dissect and discuss while failing to see our own reflection in them. Can we not see that you and I are no different today? Should we not be learning about ourselves as we are learning about them?

When we examine Saul’s action in I Samuel 13, we can see our own fears and insecurities in him. How often do we want God to work on our own timeline? How often do we feel when need to do His work for Him? After all, Christians are fond of quoting Benjamin Franklin: “God helps those who help themselves.” With David, it’s easy to throw blame all over the place in those events, but do we not see our own struggles with lust and desire in him? Are we not as guilty of increasing our own sins to cover our own faults? Finally, in the case Peter, we all have our moments when our faith meets its limits and falters. At least in Peter’s case, he turns to the right source for salvation. At times, I am Saul. I am David. I am Peter, and so are we all.

Forgiving Others

If we can empathize with these distant historical figures, it should be all the easier to be compassionate and forgiving toward our fellow man. Jesus’ ministry is filled with moments of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness – especially toward individuals with whom we might have a hard time relating – activists, tax collectors, prostitutes. The Hebrew writer gives us some insight into this empathy in Hebrews 4:15-16:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has     been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may     receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus can empathize with our struggles and shortcomings, and we should be able to do the same with our fellow man. Just like we often say we should be quick to hear and slow to speak, we should be quick to care and slow to judge others’ sin. After all, if we look closely enough at their problems, we might just see a reflection of our own.

Forgiving Ourselves

If we can forgive David, Peter, and Saul their failings, we should be able to more easily forgive our own. If we are quick to criticize and condemn those we see in the Bible, what will we do when we see our own reflection in them? If we are too harsh on them, will we be too harsh on ourselves? II Corinthians 7:10 warns of falling too deeply into regret over our sins.

If we want to beat down individuals like David, Peter, and Saul for their faults; if we want to beat down others around us for their faults, how will we handle it when we fall into the same traps? Will we be like David and try to conceal our sins, regardless of the cost? Will we beat ourselves down for these failings? Instead, we should be helping each other up, turning to each other for that help, and ultimately allowing our Lord to lift us up when we begin to sink into the despair of sin.

Conclusion

The Bible story is one of redemption and reconciliation, and time and again we see that anyone, regardless of their pasts and their faults, can take advantage of God’s grace. Saul could have turned back to the Lord instead of sinking deeper and deeper into bitterness. David and Peter do ultimately grow. My mind keeps coming back to the imagery of Peter sinking beneath the waves; he knows who to appeal for salvation. There are many lost and wandering in the world, sinking in sin, and we can be that rescuing hand if we can look upon them with the love and compassion demonstrated in our Lord. Conversely, we will need that mercy at times. We will need a brother or sister pull us up, and we have to be able to forgive ourselves when that happens.

It all starts with what we see when we look into God’s word. If we can see ourselves reflected in the people within, with all their faith and all their faults, then we can better forgive others and ourselves for their faults. We all have David moments. We all have Saul moments. We all have Peter moments. The measure of our spirituality comes when see those moments in ourselves and others. We can look into that flawed reflection and see a soul that Christ loves and for which He was willing to sacrifice Himself. We can see the value of our own souls and those of others, and, in so doing, we can see the need for our Savior in our own lives and theirs. What will you do with others when you see them sinking in sin? What will you do when you need rescuing? It depends on what you see when you look into the mirrors in God’s word and those all around us.

A Refreshing Resolution

Sometimes we make resolutions, but our hearts are just not in them. There is benefit in recognizing a time of renewal as we perhaps saw with the dawning of a new year. It is beneficial to sinner and saint alike. In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a crippled man, and they take the opportunity to preach Christ to the amazed crowds, and Peter speaks of seasons of refreshing from the Lord in verse 19. He encourages these people to make a conscious change in their lives, made possible through the forgiveness of sins – refreshing our souls.

In David’s life, he needed seasons of refreshing as he was fleeing from Saul who sought his life. In Psalms 32 and 51, however, we can see that his greatest relief comes from forgiveness from those sins he confesses to God. He pleads to be washed and purified of his iniquities, asking for a clean heart and a renewed spirit. Like all of us, David is keenly aware of the sin he carries with him in these verses, and he finds renewal in God taking that burden from him.

Finally, in I Peter 5:10, Peter makes reference to the God of grace who will restore, establish, and strengthen His faithful. Perhaps some of us are glad to have one year behind us with a new one before us, a new start, a fresh slate. We can accomplish a new start in our own lives by cleansing our hearts in the grace of God, allowing Him to restore us and renew us in His love.

lesson by Tim Smelser

What Is Man?

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

For generations man has looked upward toward the heavens and have marveled. The stars seem to go on forever! Not a few ancient cultures considered the moon to be divine. Many believed that the stars represented divine ancestors. The night sky has always been a source of myths and wonder.

David also looked up into that night sky and marveled at the mighty hand of the One True God. That night sky caused him to reflect on his own existence and he is struck by his relative insignificance. He marvels that God would even give pause to consider such a little creature as man since He created such massive and distant objects.

That feeling is entirely understandable, and for many people, extremely uncomfortable. We do not like being reminded that we are insignificant and small – we like to think of ourselves as something significant, important, and meaningful, and have done so since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). But all it takes is one look back up into the heavens to bring us back down to earth. We are small. We are insignificant. We do not deserve the time or the attention of the most holy Creator of the universe.

And yet, as David understands, God has considered our estate. He has granted us glory and honor even though we do not deserve it. We have been given the opportunity to rule over the earth and all that lives in it (cf. Psalm 8:6-8). We have been made a little lower than God, having the ability to think and reason and create (cf. Genesis 1:27-28).

Unfortunately, sin has devastated that relationship and has marred our ways of thinking (Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 5:12-18). Too many are willing to arrogate for themselves the position of the “greatest in all the universe” after attempting to remove God from the equation. As opposed to realizing how small and insignificant we are, and therefore to give thanks for the opportunity to even be recognized by God, too many are willing to stand and believe that they are the masters of the present universe and refuse to humble themselves.

The creation around us, however, manifests the power of its Creator, as David confesses here and Paul in Romans 1:19-20. We have not deserved any of the blessings God has given us – life, stature, salvation, and even association with Him (cf. Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 1:3). God has done all these things for His glory and His praise, and it is right to honor and glorify Him for His wonderful work. Let us remember who we are and praise the God who gave us life and stature!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry