This God Has Made My Way Blameless
2 Samuel 21-24
16th Sunday after Pentecost–September 24, 2017 (am)
This morning we’re going to hold our Scripture Reading until the end of the sermon. Some passages of Scripture just seem meant to speak for themselves—to be heard as they were written. Of all the genre in Scripture, narrative, and especially poetry, often seem like they should just be granted their voice. We exposit them, but only to establish their context and clarify different matters that may have become cloudy over time since they were written.
Shakespeare is not appreciated most when he’s explained. He’s appreciated most when He’s unleashed! When his writing is spoken well, with understanding, by someone who knows what he meant, that is when his genius emerges from the shadows and comes out into full light! Have you seen The Taming of the Shrew? Have you witnessed the dialogue between Petruchio and Katherina in Scene 5 of Act IV, when he presses her to admit that the sun is actually the moon? It’s just silly nonsense as you read the words on the page. But when it’s delivered well, in the flow of the story, it confirms that the crisis is past, and at the same time it brings some of the loudest laughter in that whole hilarious comedy! But have you also seen Lady Macbeth, sleepwalking in Act V, Scene 1, wringing her hands, growling at the invisible blood-stains? Out, damned spot! Out, I say! These scenes are meant to be witnessed, not explained, not dissected! They’re meant to be heard, in context, and received through eyes and ears directly into our souls! And that’s just Shakespeare. That’s not King David. That’s not God’s Word like we have here in 2Sa.21-24.
For the past five-and-a-half months we’ve been moving through these fifty-five chapters of Scripture—a text that introduces the monarchy in Israel, a dynasty that will extend eternally into the future, having been foreknown from eternity past! Today’s text puts the finishing touches on this story. It can best be seen as a chiasm, an ABCC′B′A′ structure (cf. Baldwin 302, Leithart 268).
A David Addresses a Problem of Saul’s Doing – 211-14
B Great Victories, and Some Mighty Men – 2115-22
C David’s Song of Deliverance – 221-51
C′ David’s Final Song – 231-7
B′ Mighty Men, and Some Great Victories – 238-39
A′ David Addresses a Problem of His Own Doing – 241-25
So, this passage opens and closes spotlighting David, Israel’s greatest king as a man who both inherited problems (21:1-14) and also created them himself (24:1-25). Then, he is seen as one who fought and achieved… victories over his enemies with the help of many others who are celebrated here (21:15-22; 23:8-39). And at the center of this text, Israel’s celebrated king is seen as a man whose joy and strength was his God, whom he praised with total abandon because of everything he was and everything he had achieved was to be attributed to the faithful Lord and God of Israel (22:1-51; 23:1-7) (Baldwin 302). There is the best outline of our passage today.
But now I want to do three things. I want 1) to remind us of the whole of this story toward appreciating its unity, then 2) to zero in on the song of deliverance David sang in remembrance of his reign (c.22)—it’s used as the closing bracket of this history that’s anchored to songs beginning (1Sa.2), middle (2Sa.1), and end; then 3) we’ll just listen to this poem of worship, praise, and remembrance.
Reviewing Some Themes from 1&2 Samuel
The scrolls of Samuel open with a desperate woman, Hannah, grieving her barrenness, yet doing so precisely the way she should: she called out to God in prayer. 1Sa.1:11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and… give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life….” God gave her a son, Samuel. He served the Lord all his days. He was used by God to bring to a close a very dark period in His people’s history, and to initiate a new one by anointing a king, as God promised (Deu.17:14). Hannah sang praise to God in language so beautiful that it seems her experience may have been told only in order to hear her song, and let it begin this story! She sang of the great reversals that are accomplished by the true and living God who grants salvation (1Sa.2:1) to His people. 1Sa.2:2 There is none holy like the Lord, she proclaimed: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. … 4 The bows of the mighty are broken—we saw that with Jonathan and Saul (2Sa.1:18, 22)—but the feeble bind on strength. 5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. …, Hannah sang! 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. This is the Lord her God! He had brought a great reversal in her life!
And He was about to do the same again and again in the lives of His chosen people. They wanted a king, so they were with God on that point. But they wanted a king for very different reasons. They asked in such a way that it displeased Samuel. But God said to him: 1Sa.8:7 Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. So, God gave them just the sort of king they wanted. And that didn’t go well for them, or for him, as we saw in 1Sa. Saul was the man. And he was as pitiful in character as he was impressive in appearance. He looked just like you’d want a king to look. But he couldn’t live like a king should live. He eventually died in disgrace such that the only suitable song that could be sung for him was one of lament, and in relative secrecy. 2Sa.119 Your glory, O Israel, is slain on the high places! How the mighty have fallen! 20 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult. … 27 How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished! 1Sa.2:4 The bows of the mighty are broken….
Long before this took place, however, God had identified His choice as king. Samuel had been troubled ever since he had to deliver the news that Saul was out. But soon after, 1Sa.16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” What was the difference? 1Sa.16:7 … Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. And 1Sa.13:14 … the Lord (had) sought out a man after his own heart…. David, a young shepherd, was that man! He wasn’t perfect. But he walked in humility and repentance and faith before the Lord. God established him as king, and made him a promise, saying: 2Sa.7:8 … I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. … 11 … Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. … 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.
David was overwhelmed! He responded, saying, 2Sa.7:18 … Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 19 … And yet this was a small thing in your eyes…. Another great reversal! God raised up a shepherd and made him king, proving yet again what Hannah had sung: 1Sa.2:9 … Not by might shall a man prevail. Indeed, as spoken through Zechariah the prophet: It is Zec.4:6 … not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
And that is just how David ruled. A man’s last words often set the standard by which his character is remembered. I’ve long been moved by some of D. L. Moody’s final words. His son Will was at his bedside when Moody said: “Earth recedes; Heaven opens for me.” Will assumed his father was dreaming and attempted to awaken him. “No, this is no dream, Will. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me and I must go” (Dorsett 380). Listen to David’s last words, grander still, and included in Scripture: 23:2 The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. 2 The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, 4 he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass sprout from the earth. 5 For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. … And even though David slipped up again at the end of his life, (numbering) the people of Israel (24:1), seeking to discern her strength as though it were measured by the size of her army, yet again he responded as a man after God’s own heart (2Sa.13:14). Given a choice of three more years of famine like they’d just experienced (21:1), or three more months (against his) foes, or three days of pesti-lence (24:13) measured by the hand of God, 24:14 … David said to Gad the prophet, “… Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” Even God in His anger (24:1) is more to be trusted than the unpredictability of man or nature!
We need not rehearse any more events in David’s life, here. We’ve been studying that for most of this series. And God forbid that while striving so hard to hear His heart in these texts, I should mute it by going on and on retelling things we’ve been discovering together from the start. What I want to do instead is let God’s Word speak to us. Let David, the sweet psalmist of Israel (23:1), speak to us in his own words from his song of deliverance (22:1-51). I will set it up in such a way that we can hear what He says most poignantly. And God has purposed to have His servant, His chosen king [who operates among His people like prophet (2Sa.23:2), priest (2Sa.24:25), and king] write this passage in beautifully crafted poetry.Let me just mention a few things about 2Sa.22. Then I want to read it to you, and let that stand as God’s Word to us this morning, finishing these books.
Reflections on David’s Song of Deliverance See the slide.
I. David Opens and Closes with Joyous, Grateful Praise – 2-4, 47-51
This poem also appears in the Psalms, with just a few adjustments, as Psa.18. V.1 here is the superscription there, so there is one verse difference in number. But there are a few other slight differences as well, to look at another time.
This bracketing in praise, though, flavors the whole poem. You’ll hear sympathetic resonance between these two sets of verses (2-4 and 47-51). They spotlight God as a rock and… a fortress, stability and protection—especially seeing God as David’s salvation from his enemies, and from death. Listen for that in the opening and closing as we read, remembering in how many circumstances he was saved by the Lord, beginning with the lion and the bear when he was young, as he mentioned to Saul the first time they met on the day he fought Goliath (1Sa.17:36). But he was also kept safe in all those battles he fought under Saul, and then from Saul himself as the king grew jealous and began to hurl his spear (1Sa.18:11).
Finally, where this psalm appears at the end of this history allows the reader to see that God’s protection of David was amazingly gracious and merciful. Even after his grievous failure with Bathsheba and Uriah, after his failure to administer justice in the matter with Amnon and Tamar, and so much more, God protected David, and his reign as king. Truly, God was his 3 … shield, and the horn of (his) salvation….
II. David Called Out in Distress and God Showed Up to Deliver – 5-20
David began this portion of his song (5-6) in language that sounds like Jon.2. But in v.7 he calls out to God with an intensity that can be heard across the centuries. And what follows is not just an answer from the Lord, but a response that is cast in the language of theophany (8-16). God shows up in response to the pleas of His servant. 10 He bowed the heavens and came down…. 17 He sent from on high, David wrote, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
III. David Recognizes God’s Enabling, and the Blessing It Brings – 21-46
This is a long section that could easily be subdivided along several different lines. But I believe it hangs together well under this one heading. It opens in vv.21-25 with some statements that can make us uneasy in light of David’s experiences in the whole second half of 2Sa. And these verses form one of the reasons why some believe David wrote this song before those events transpired. But almost certainly he’s speaking here of the disposition he had toward Saul during most of the time the king was pursuing him. He acted (righteously) toward the Lord’s anointed, and kept his (hands clean) in that matter. He didn’t seize the crown even after he’d been anointed as Israel’s next king. But also, God did deliver Israel through David, again and again! And what follows in his celebration here fills in any gaps that might remain: these virtues are God’s work in him! 31 … He is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. Or: 33 This God… has made my way blameless. Or again: 40 … You equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. And: 44 … You kept me as the head of the nations…. David isn’t assuming credit for anything in his life that drew God’s blessing! And if God can do all this through a fallen, sinful king like David, what can He do through a perfect and holy King like Jesus?
IV. This Song Is for the Nations, Not Just for David or Israel – 50-51
50 For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. David vows to praise God among the nations for the greatness of all He has purposed to do in and through and around David! And with v.51, the clear implication is that the salvation David enjoys is also for the nations! 51 Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.
This past January our pastoral staff attended the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders up in Minneapolis. Gospel Ambition (cf. Rom.15:20) was the theme: Advancing Gospel Glory Deep and Wide. John Piper preached from Rom.15, saying it is the greatest chapter in all the Bible for addressing frontier missions. It was a compelling message that I’d highly recommend. But what strikes me most at the moment is that Paul quotes verse (50) here in Rom.15:9 as the first in a series of four prophecies to show that Christ came for the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Rom.15:8-12). While David may have thought only of Yahweh’s fame spread abroad, wrote Derek Kidner (Psalms 114), his words at their full value portray the Lord’s anointed (51), ultimately the Messiah, praising him among—and in fellowship with—a host of Gentile worshippers.
And more, offspring (51) here is singular, just like in Gal.3:16! The steadfast love of the Lord is upon his anointed (Messiah) forever, and so is upon all of us who are in Him by faith!
So, let’s let this sink in! As David was being carried along by the Holy Spirit to write this psalm in praise and celebration of all that God had done in his life and reign—a psalm that would be used to draw this profound work of redemption history, 1&2Sa., to a conclusion, but would also be included a second time in Holy Scripture!—he brought his reflections to a closing crescendo using a series of expressions that not only 1) captured the grateful joy of his own heart, but 2) would eventually capture the imagination of the Apostle Paul in his passion for world missions, and 3) would also spotlight the unique Person and work of his promised offspring Who’s been eternally purposed by God to bring about your salvation and mine! Every enemy, every trial, every obstacle, every disappointment and weakness and loss—all of it is overcome through David’s promised offspring! 22:33 This God is (our) strong refuge and has made (our) way blameless. 22:4 (We) call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and (we) are saved from all (our) enemies. David was. And so are we! All of this is present in this psalm of praise by the time David lays down his pen. Great reversals!
Refreshment from the Reading of God’s Word
With this in mind, then, let’s now listen with undivided attention to the Word of the Lord to us this day, given through His servant, David. Let’s listen in full assurance that His God is our God. Let’s listen knowing that when we receive David’s promised offspring by faith—when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ, great David’s greater Son, as our Savior and Lord—we enter in to the forever steadfast love of this God, and the expressions of 2Sa.22, of Psa.18, become ours. 22:33 This God… has made (our) way blameless. Read 1Sa.22:1-51.