Study in 2 Samuel
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: 2 Samuel 2-4
Preached on: Sunday, September 17, 2017
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
A few words about how we’re going to handle this this morning. You’re saying 3 chapters, man, we’ll be here until supper. That’s what you’re probably thinking there, right? I’m just going to take some time to divide the text and kind of walk you through it in a narrative story format. I’ll draw your attention at some point to 2 main verses, explain those and kind of show you that they really are the central verses of this narrative section. I’ll take maybe 1 or 2 questions about the text so if you have them, feel free to text them in. And then I just kind of want to make sure that we’re on the same page as far as what God did then and how he does that now. I think we’ll rejoice in what I think is a fundamental trait of God’s and something that we can rest in and rejoice in, okay?
So let’s tackle these three chapters, first of all. This is the situation when David is currently king of Judah. Saul has died and God is actually leading now the people and David to where he will eventually be king over both Israel and Judah. So how does that happen? We’re going to see how God kind of unfolds that in what my wife said this past week when we were talking about it, it’s a pretty bloody section of 2 Samuel. There is a lot of violence. There are a lot of stories like, man, how do these fit? How do they connect? What’s going on here? Let’s find out together.
I’ve kind of divided this up into really nine events, we can call it three sections within those nine events, of both positive and negative circumstances, okay? Some of them will be consequences, you could call them events, but there are nine events and they are divided in three sections. You might even say it like this: we see a step forward and then we see a step backwards. You see one good thing, two bad things. One good things, two bad things and yet we’re seeing that in all of these nine events that comprise these three chapters, God used everything to lead them to their king.
Let me walk you through it, can we? 2 Samuel 2:1-7, we see first of all, David’s obedience. You can call it David’s step of obedience. You see verse 1, “After this David inquired of the LORD.” So Saul had been mourned, a lamentation had been written. They were kingless and David did not usurp the throne, he didn’t make a move out of arrogance, he didn’t make any kind of assumptions. David was a very humble and I would say kingly thing, he seeks the Lord. But Abner in verse 8, actually makes a move of disobedience. You’ll notice he takes Saul’s remaining son, Ish-bosheth, and he makes him king over certain areas of that territory, and so really what you have now is two kings: you have David, king of Judah; you have Ish-bosheth, king of Israel, but Ish-bosheth was a false king kind of pushed there by Abner. I don’t know why Abner did this. It appears he did not want to submit to what he knew God was doing. We’ll discuss that in a moment. But it does kind of pit Israel against itself.
We could call it civil war and so you have the sons of David, the sons of Saul, and what happens next is Abner and Joab, who is on David’s side, they convene various men from these two sides and they have a fatal competition. This is pretty bloody. It’s pretty disgusting, to be frank with you, but they basically line up men side by side and they fight to the death. It’s like Ninja Warrior on steroids. I mean, they’re just going at it. The last man standing wins.
Well, in the course of this there is anger and men’s tempers get out of control and so they begin to chase, I believe it is Abner, and they’re chasing him and he warns the folks who are running after him, “Quit chasing me. If you don’t, this won’t end well.” Sure enough, that happens at the end of that chase. He takes his spear and he plunges it to the person chasing him and it goes all the way through the person. He dies right there. Joab hears about that and he’s upset. So somewhere in the course of all this fatal competition, we see that there is some peace made. So a positive step is made. That begins around verse 28 of chapter 2. Do you see that? Joab blew the trumpet. All the men stopped and pursued Israel no more nor did they fight anymore. So we’re thinking, “Here’s a good thing.” So you almost see in these stories, that’s a bad thing, ah, that’s a good thing. That’s a bad thing, that’s a good thing.
So all kinds of things are happening as there is this initial peace, at least it looks like but doesn’t last very long because in chapter 3 we see that a long war actually breaks out. So there is this civil war and rivalry going on and it lasts a long time. While the civil war is going on between Ish-bosheth, who is the king of Israel and his people, and then David, king of Judah and his people, that would also be Joab and Abner. Keep those guys separate. The king, Ish-bosheth, makes an accusation against Abner. Now remember, Abner is the one that put Ish-bosheth in place. While he put him in place, he begins to take advantage of the king’s concubines, of the king’s, and I’ll use the phrase here, cultural advantages. So Ish-bosheth makes an accusation against Abner, like, “Hey, you’re sleeping with the concubines of my father.”
Now whether or not that was true, we don’t know. The only indication we have would be in verse 6 of chapter 3 where it says that Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul. Do you see that phrase in 3:6? You could say, “Well, that’s just a military political statement that he was using the regime to make himself a mighty figure.” Possibly but it’s interesting to me that after that phrase, the very next paragraph is about an accusation sexually. So it could mean that he was actually just taking advantage of all the concubines and the king didn’t like that. He confronts him and he accuses him. Abner denies that he did it, so we don’t know really what happened but we know that how God used it: Abner changes sides. He’s frustrated now with the guy that he put in charge. He betrays Ish-bosheth and he goes over to David.
So you find this accusation, this betrayal, and the beginning of the middle part of chapter 3, Abner says to David, “Hey, listen, I’m done with Ish-boseth. I want to work with you.” So the two men that were fighting, Joab and Abner, are now going to be on the same team it looks like, right? Abner says to David, “I’m going to come over to your side. I know that God anointed you to be king after all.” You see that in chapter 3, verse 18. It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? Did Abner know that back when he put Ish-bosheth in place? I think he did but I think out of disobedience and rebellion, he’s just going to get the man in place he thinks should be the king.
He realizes this is not going to be a good move. He goes to David’s side and he tells David, “I’ll gather all of Benjamin together. We’ll get all of Israel together and we’ll make this work to where you’ll be the king.” And as you read the end of 3, or at least the middle of 3, it appears that that was working, by the way?
Joab hears about it, says to David, “Oh, no, no, no, this won’t work. Abner’s lying to you. He’s really trying to come in and sabotage your kingdom. We should get rid of Abner. Don’t let him change sides.” David is not sure who to believe. While he’s debating this, the Bible says that Joab then took Abner outside to this private conversation, this is 3:27, and struck him in the stomach so that he died. Isn’t that interesting?
Now I’ve got a question for you. Let’s just pause in the middle here and take a poll. You all need to use your app here, okay? Let’s take another poll about lying today. Can we do that? In the middle of this terrible story about civil war and all that’s happening with the rivalry, David gets two messages: one from Abner saying, “I’m done with Ish-bosheth. I’m coming to your side. I can get Israel to come with me and the people of Benjamin. Trust me.” Joab says, “No, no, no, that’s not true. He’s lying to you.” I have a question of you: which one is really lying? Is Joab lying? Is Abner actually helping David with the kingdom in an honest way? Or is Abner lying and he’s really trying to sabotage the kingdom? Take a minute and vote, would you?
Here’s where we are so far among the first service: 78 folks have voted. So far 68% say Joab was lying and about 32% say Abner was lying. You may have got a little clue from the first service crowd about the right answer. I don’t know but go ahead and take your best theological guess, would you? Now your answer on this won’t determine heaven or hell so don’t worry. You’re in good shape here, okay? In fact, this is not even that important but I think it’s an interesting way to teach how to study the Bible because I’ll show you why I believe what the answer is, okay? We’ll just give you maybe five more seconds to vote. You can vote and it will show up in real time kind of how it’s going. Of course you have to have the app to do this. This is a little bit of a motivation to get the app. Hint. Hint. Are you with me there?
Alright, here’s what we’re looking at. Who was lying? Abner or Joab? I believe Joab was lying but let me show you why. Look in your Bibles at the end of the verse I just read for you, verse 27. He took him out, had a conversation with him and he struck him in the stomach so that he died, and then watch the next phrase, “for the blood of Asahel his brother.” You see, Asahel is the one who was chasing Abner and Abner kept warning him, “If you keep chasing me, this won’t end well.” Then he stuck his spear through him and killed him and Joab has always been mad about that. This is vigilante justice, a little bit of revenge. Verse 30 even says it more clearly. Look at verse 30, “Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner, because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon.”
So I think what has happened here is this: I think when Joab realized Abner was honestly changing sides and going to gather all of Israel and Benjamin together with Judah to be one kingdom, he thought, “I’m not going to work with a guy who killed guys that were with me earlier so I’ll take him out.” So he tells David, “Hey, you know, this won’t work. He’s lying to you,” to try to get rid of him that way. That didn’t work and so he just kills him. But I think Joab here is like, “I think Abner actually did have right intentions about bringing the rest of Israel and Benjamin under Judah.” So Joab took him out. So if you ask me who’s lying, I would say Joab is because of verse 27 and 30. But the real issue is not who is lying, the real issue here is look how God is bringing people into the right place and using circumstances and even consequences to get all of Israel and Judah under one king, the one he chose, David. It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Let’s work our way through the end of chapter 4. We’ll see that there is this potential bit of unity coming up, then there’s betrayal, there’s the murder, of course, of Abner. So we see murder and sorrow to close out the two sections here. First of all, the murder of Abner and David’s sorrow. And then we see the murder of Ish-bosheth and David’s sorrow. I think this is quite intriguing because you may wonder, why did Ish-bosheth get murdered by his own people? Do you see that in chapter 4? Do you see it in verse 1? He’s the last of Saul’s remaining sons. The other ones were killed in the battle. Here this one is now king and yet his own men kill him. Why is that?
Here’s my take on this section of verses. It says that Ish-bosheth when he heard that Abner had died, his courage failed. Do you see that? If you couple this with the fact that Ish-bosheth was actually king, you’ll begin to realize, and he was not king by his own doing, he was kind of shoved into being king by Abner, I think the reason that this one of Saul’s sons was on the battle because he may have been more of the weak personality, maybe more of the soft spying demeanor, maybe he wasn’t really fit for the battlefield. In that case in this culture, for sure, he wouldn’t have been fit to be king because kings were generals. They were the one to lead the way in the battles. And so for some reason he was kind of thrust into this kingly opportunity not by his own doing, and so just as when things got hard in battle and he wasn’t there, I think when things got hard in the kingdom, he said, “I’m not ready for this.” And I think the two men who were heads of his raiding bands, it says here, as well as the rest of Israel, they realized, “Wow, we’ve got a king who is losing courage in a time we need him to stand strong.” So my sense is these two contrived a conspiracy to take out their leader. “Like, this is not the guy that should be leading us.” I’m not saying it’s right. I’m giving an account of some of the why behind it.
So they break into his house. The Scripture tells us that they kill him and they come back to David and say, “Hey, we took out the weak king. We’re kind of with you now. Let’s just all band together.” And what does David do? He does an intriguing amazing thing, he actually takes them and kills them because they killed their king. Now watch this, church, listen very carefully: if you look at these three chapters, you’ll find that they are bookends that describe David’s commitment to honoring authority on both ends.
It’s quite an interesting way to couple these chapters together. In chapter 2, it begins with David blessing the men of Gibeah for rescuing Saul’s body. Was Saul David’s enemy? Yes. He hunted him and yet David humbled himself under God and knew that God was doing things even apart from David’s understanding and he wasn’t going to balk against that and so he said to these men, “You’ve honored Saul. You’ve honored God’s authority structure so we’re going to bless you.” At the end of chapter 4 to these men who usurped authority and killed Ish-bosheth, David executed them and I think his statement is this: you can’t just unseat and set a coup against people that you don’t like for reasons that are wrong. In both cases, David I think is honoring, showing loyalty to God’s providential sovereignty and he’s holding true to I think his role and these are kind of the two bookends of these three chapters in which we see many things happening both good and bad.
So there’s the list of the nine things from obedience to disobedience, competition, rivalry, civil war, sorrow, murder and then some good things, potential unity, some peacemakers. And yet here’s what we find in all of this – watch this, church – all of this is being used by God to lead them to their king, and by that I mean David. Now maybe you’re wondering exactly how. Let me give you a simple statement that will help you kind of bring this kind of underneath kind of one umbrella. I think God is allowing and ordaining and using natural circumstances and consequences to position people and fulfill his promise. Did you catch that? Listen very carefully again because we have difficulties kind of reconciling all this stuff: good, bad, right, wrong, evil, righteousness. So let’s just kind of summarize what we know to be true: that God is allowing, ordaining and using natural circumstances as well as consequences to position people and fulfill his promise. In many ways, some of the murderous acts here were how Saul’s line became extinct from the earth. In other ways, it’s natural consequences: rivalries and civil wars and so men in their wickedness take out other men. Other times, it’s God’s ordaining and positioning people in his own way and by his own wisdom, moving folks from the tribe of Benjamin by the way, which is Saul, to where it’s the tribe of Judah, that’s where the Messiah comes from, the line of the tribe of Judah. How did God do all that? In a very natural way and yet in a very sovereign way through circumstances and through consequences but make no mistake, church, listen very carefully: God is moving all of this and just like he did in Steve’s life, we see him doing in Israel’s life and he does it in your life. He uses everything to lead you to your King.
I think the best way to sum up these three chapters are with the two verses in chapter 3. Let me just show you these again. In some ways a summary but also as a way to kind of make sure we understand the flow of these three chapters. Look at chapter 3, verse 1. I want you to see this a little more in depth. This would be what I would say would be the summary verse of these three chapters. “There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David.” That describes what we just read and kind of conversed about, doesn’t it? Civil war. Rivalry. Murder. Betrayal. There’s this long war happening but look how God explains the reasoning behind it, “And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.” You may even circle the words “stronger and stronger” and put a positive sign by that. You could take the words “weaker and weaker” and put a negative sign. And God is using both the positive and negative, both the good and the bad, to accomplish something, bringing David to the place of strength and the throne, and reducing Saul and his line to where they are no longer a threat as king.
Abner knew this, by the way. Look at 3:18 and my gut feeling says if Abner knew it, other folks knew it too. Abner knew this in his betrayal. He actually says to David and the elders, “the LORD has promised David.” Do you see that in verse 18? Here’s what the Lord said, “By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel.” So I don’t know all the answers to some of these questions. Why did Abner not go with David to begin with? I don’t know but when he betrayed Ish-bosheth, he knew God had made a promise and he knew God would fulfill it. In fact, I find Abner at least in this exact conversation, to be very similar to us. Can I bring you even deeper into this situation? Have you got your air tanks on because we’re going to be diving somewhat deep into some things that are going to be very frustrating mentally and theologically?
Watch what he says, Abner actually says to the elders of Israel, “Now then bring it about.” Do you see that phrase? He’s calling for them to act and to do something, “Hey, make this happen.” You’ve heard that phrase in our culture, “Hey man, just make it happen,” right? So we take action. We own something. We’re responsible. But I have a question for you: could those men really bring something about if it wasn’t God’s will? So the answer to that is no, but if it’s God’s will, wouldn’t God be bringing it about? Yes. So why are they bringing it about?
I think this is a good illustration of sometimes our own lives. We know we’re involved. We participate. We’re part of what God’s doing. We’re the ordained means by which God accomplishes things and yet we also know God doesn’t need us to get his will done. Have you ever tried to row that boat with one paddle going that way and one the other way? Have you ever been in that? Raise your hand. I hope all of your hands are up. Yeah, because sometimes the balance like, where is this balance? It’s hard to find. I think Abner kind of voices that. “Hey, guys, bring this about. I knew God said it would happen and yet in my own life, I kind of chose not to go along with God’s will earlier.”
You see, in the story Abner is kind of the villain and the victim, isn’t he? Initially he’s this villain putting this weak man in a place of a king. Then the king kind of shows a moment of strength in an accusation, true or false, we don’t know. Abner then runs. He actually then is used by God to kind of bring the kingdom together and he’s murdered. So I don’t know how to take Abner sometimes or Joab or Ish-boseth or sometimes David, to be frank with you. The story is full of people – watch this – a lot like us who sometimes we do just really well, don’t we, and other times we really strike out.
But I have good news for you, church, God is not frustrated or limited by your success or failure. I hope that brings a smile to your face and comfort to your heart because who here hasn’t had moments where, “Man, I did that great!” And moments where you’re like, “Boy, I really botched that one.” Guess what? God is not limited or frustrated or thwarted by your success or failure. He is sovereignly, absolutely, providentially in charge and he will, just as he did historically with Israel, he will keep his word.
Now maybe you’re wondering: what is the word that he gave to Abner? Abner seems to know that God promised something to David, how did he know that? It’s really a fulfillment of 1 Samuel 16:12-13. Look at these verses with me, would you? Here’s the anointing of David by Samuel when David’s about 12 or 13. Now I want you to follow me, okay? Keep your ears on. Have your engines in fifth gear here with me, okay? This is back in 1 Samuel. This is about 15 to 18 years prior to our time in 2 Samuel 2. Abner must have known that in some way because he says God made a promise, here’s the promise, when he said, “Arise, anoint. This is he. This is the king who will take Saul’s place. Here’s the one I’m leading my people towards.” And so between that time when David’s about 12, 13 or 14, he’s now 30 as king of Judah. Lots of things happened. He’s on the run. He wins battles. He loses battles. Here he watches civil war within his own country. He loses men. He gains men. Both good and bad happen in this span of 15, 16, 18 years and yet, church – listen – David knew something: God is using everything both good and bad to lead our people to his king.
In fact, I think he makes this statement in chapter 4, verse 9. This is what I think is a real statement of David’s sovereignty. Can you look at the end of this chapter with me? Look what he says here, “David answered,” these are the two men that killed Ish-bosheth, look what David says and this is really a statement of how he knows that God is the one in charge in doing and leading and ordaining and allowing and using all of this. He says, “As the LORD lives, yes, the one who has redeemed my life out of every adversity.” Why would he say, “God has gotten me out of every single thing negative and adversity”? It’s because he wants to give David some kind of like feel good theology? No, he’s saying that, “God’s not done with me. There’s a point to God always rescuing me and it’s because he’s got me in line for the kingship.” David knew God was in charge. God was leading him. God was orchestrating the events, directing people, positioning situations and circumstances and consequences. This is how confident David was in the Lord’s sovereignty. This is why he knew he would redeem him out of every adversity because he was leading him to be the king, to fulfill his word, and leading the people of Israel to be under his kingship.
So here’s what we’d say as a simple take home truth about this historical account. These three chapters, again, I gave an overview of and then a few singular verses that God used everything. Say that word with me: everything. How many things? Everything. Good things? Yes. Bad things? Yes. How many things? Everything. This is important theology. You don’t have a part-time God. You don’t have a “some things” God. You have a God who uses, what church? Everything to lead them to their king. That’s how sovereign, providential and powerful he is.
Let’s make this personal and present tense, can we, because what this shows us about God is true for us today. It was true in Steve’s life. He does not change. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever, the writer of Hebrews says. So let’s just make this personal and powerful present tense, can we? Read it with me, ready? God uses everything that happens to lead us to our King and in this case, we’re talking about capital “K” King. That was true for Israel. David was just the type of the fulfillment. He was the shadow, Jesus Christ the Messiah was the fulfillment, the reality. But just as God used everything in these three chapters to bring them to David, their historical physical king, he also throughout the history of the Israelites used everything to bring them to their Messiah King.
Church, listen to me: including the cross. If you read Luke’s record of the crucifixion, you’ll find an interesting account in which the writer says the cross was that place where God’s will was performed in the crushing of his Son, and yet it was done at the hands of murderous men. Who is responsible? The men who murdered him, yes, but did God use it, ordain it, allow it? Yes. Do I get both of those? N-o, no. Now this is where I think as Christians we derail ourselves. Listen very carefully: is we spend too much time trying to figure out the how instead of rejoicing in the what.
So this take home truth that we draw from these three chapters which is supported throughout the Bible, seen historically not just in David’s life but in the life of Israel and of Christ, and we see it pictured in our situations. That take home truth is astounding. It’s hard to grasp. It’s hard to understand but I think we derail ourselves when we start saying, “Well, how does God do that? I think I want to figure that out.” And suddenly we become beyond in awe. There is a place when you can wonder how and it can lead you to awe and wonder, right? That’s a good place. But sometimes in our places of awe and wonder about how God uses everything to lead us to Jesus, there is this fine line that suddenly we begin to doubt the what and we begin to actually wonder, “Well, maybe God’s not really in control.” And I would say to you the moment you begin to deny the sovereign authority of God, you have begun making yourself God.
Are you listening to me? Don’t get distracted, please. I understand the conversations over chips and salso, diet Coke, Fresca, coffee and you’re asking, “How does God do this?” And you’re like Paul, his ways are unsearchable. They are beyond finding out. I’m down for those, okay? We can have those all day long because they lead us to doxology, trying to figure out theology should lead us to doxology. I’m with that. Amen. But sometimes we find ourselves in those moments of debate and then they turn to denial and we say, “Well, do you know what then? Since I can’t figure it out, I’m just done with it. God must not be in charge.” And we kind of push upon God our own ideas and parameters. “Well, he couldn’t do that if he was God. Well, that’s not what I think he should have done.” And we make ourselves to be God and we try to take him out of his place of sovereign, providential Ruler and Creator.
That’s a scary place to live, church. I admit to you, I don’t know how God does it all. Can I be that transparent with you? I don’t know how. I read the verses like you do. I study the examples. I love to dig apart the text. There is just not a ton of information about how he does it all. It’s part of his character. It’s who he is. He works all things for our good. I get that but how, I don’t know to every detail but I am confident of this: that God works everything according to the counsel of his will and so I want to cement my feet in the what, I’m going to rejoice in that. I’m not going to let the lack of my details on the how take me out of that ship because when I get out of that ship and try to make myself God, that’s not the place to be. Are you with me? So I want to encourage you with this. I admit to you, there is a lot of the how we don’t get, but let’s rejoice in the what. And what is the what? That God uses everything that happens both good and bad to lead us to our King.
Before I give you a few words that define this, let me see if you have any questions about the text. Are there any questions? Okay, no specific questions about the text. I want to give you that opportunity, at least.
Let me instead, now, give you a couple of words that I think will help you put some handles on this. This is a pretty big suitcase, I admit. Some large chapters. A lot of information here. I hope your mind is kind of intentional, like, “Man, this is a lot to wrestle with.” I agree. Here are a couple of words that will help us: it’s the word sovereignty and providence, okay? Two suitcases. They’re packed full of theology, illustrations of it throughout the Bible, verses that state it in the Bible. How can we kind of carry all that around with us? Here are two good words and we say these words a lot. We are big big fans of God’s sovereignty and God’s providence, okay? They speak to his authority in this way and I haven’t gotten these out of a book. I didn’t copy these. I’ve been wrestling with how can I express this even to our family and even to our church family in a way that’s kind of on my level. Just real simple, kind of the lower cookie shelf kind of place and here’s the best way I can come up with to describe these two words. So we’re reading the Scriptures and just trying to soak all this in and refer to the people, I sense and kind of see sovereignty as God’s authority, and this is how the Bible would describe it as well, God’s authority that is subtle but still supreme. It’s much like the book of Esther. You don’t find the name of God anywhere in the book but you find his hand everywhere.
There are times in life when you can’t explain what’s happening but you can see God just moving all over the situation, right? It’s not like with a loud voice. It’s not like with the label that, “God did this.” There are no blinking lights but somehow you can see God is moving things to where they’re going toward his purpose and his will. That’s what’s happening. It’s God’s authority in place. Sovereignty speaks of what is. God is just in charge. He doesn’t live by committee. He doesn’t live by a vote. He’s not looking for your input. He’s not looking to hire a consultant. He’s God and so we want to have a very high view of God and his sovereignty.
But how do you see sovereignty? I think that’s the other suitcase. Sovereignty is something that’s in place but we see it through what I call providential authority. Providential authority is that kind of authority that really it’s God’s sovereignty on display. It’s the natural way that things unfold. You use this word sometimes, “Well, isn’t that ironic?” And two or three things happen and you’re like, “Man, who could have thought that would have happened?” And God’s like, “I would have thought I did that.” That’s what he’s thinking, right?
So God is orchestrating and now watch this, and I admit there is a word usage that we don’t fully understand here. There is God ordaining, there is God allowing, there is God using, all of those are true. Some folks would try to trap me in the past, “Todd, do you believe that God ordains all things?” Yes, I do. “Todd, do you believe God allows certain things?” Yes, I do. “Todd, do you believe God uses some things?” Yes, I do. That’s the answer, people. I could show you verses that describe all of those so instead of trying to trap ourselves and corner someone and say, “We’ve got to figure this out exactly,” let’s just admit God ordains, allows, uses, orchestrates and directs everything to lead us to Jesus. That’s what’s going on here. He’s done it historically, prophetically. He does it often in a very nature way.
So sovereignty is God’s authority in place. Very subtle. Under the radar. It shows up providentially when we see it. So for instance, Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Difficult. Destructive. Disastrous moments. People died in those events but there are also people who in those events came to Christ, wayward folks who returned spiritually. So how does God do that? I don’t know but Irma and Harvey didn’t catch God off guard, okay? Does he ordain it, allow it, use it? Yes. Yes. Yes. You can go back to Katrina. You can go back to earthquakes, volcanoes. You can personalize it in your own life. Deaths. Unemployment. Divorces. And let’s flip the coin over, the very good things. The birth of children. A marriage. A promotion. You see, often we think God’s really in control when it’s bad, but you know God is really in control when it’s good? And this is really what I’m trying to say this morning. I think we need to see God as sovereign in both good and bad. He is over it all and all of it is being used to lead us to our King.
I wish you could have been with me when I was talking with one of our members just this past week. I won’t mention his name but he just came through a very very traumatic time in his family, something that none of you would wish upon your own family and that you hope you never have to do. So he’s away this weekend dealing with that. He talked with me Wednesday about it and we prayed together. He said, “Todd, as hard as this has been,” and he’s got tears in his eyes, he’s kind of leaning on his knees in a chair and he’s crying, he says, “Hard as this has been,” he said, “I am closer to God now than I’ve ever been in my life.” He said, “I made a room in our home, the place where every morning that I go and I read God’s word. I lay my prayer requests out.” He said, “You know, Todd, I for years never read the Bible. I would tell you I was. I’d raise my hand in church. I would nod like I’m praying,” he said, “but, Todd, I just lied to you guys, pretended.” He said, “But I’ve learned more about God. I have sensed the closeness of the Holy Spirit,” he said. And he said, “This would never have happened had God not put us through this incredibly traumatic experience.” Do you see what he’s saying? God’s using everything to lead him to the King.
So it happens individually. It happens as a church. This week we’re celebrating and I wouldn’t say celebrating because no one really knows much about it, but I know this week 13 years ago we planted First Family. I see Sarah there. They were a part of that, T. J. and the whole crew and other folks here. Our crew and other folks were here and it was a brand new church. About 60 folks or so were gathered together and we launched First Family. There are some good things that happened in these 13 years by all means. I thank God for each one of you and most of them have a name like your name. Good things have happened here. Are there some tough things that happened? There sure are. In fact, there are some things that I wish had never happened. Did you know that? Most of them are because I just wasn’t a good leader and I was a dumb young pastor and I bear the responsibility for most of them. But either way, no matter how you cut it, there are some things I wish had never happened and yet I can stand here today and tell you that in theses 13 years, God is doing all of that and using, ordaining, allowing every bit of it to lead us to Jesus. Amen? None of it caught him off guard. There were no accidents or oops. There is no divine oops.
He also does this nationally and I want to express this to you because I think sometimes we want to see God this way and so we do and we work that and we think of our own life in that way, but I want you to see God as operating this way on a historical level. Individual level, yes, but not just even in your life but throughout history and Israel’s and even – watch this – even in America’s history. In fact, I want to read to you what Abraham Lincoln said about sovereignty and providence in regards to the Civil War. You’ll be shocked at how he realized that he really may not have known what was happening at that time, he knew what he saw but he said something bigger may be happening. I never read his second inaugural address until this past summer when I was in Washington with the family and we were at the Lincoln Memorial and so it was just up there and I’m like, “Hm, I should read that.” So I read it and after I read it, I thought, “This is more of a sermon than an inaugural address.” I mean, I can’t imagine today any President saying this at the Capitol on that January day. I’d be like, “Wow, that’s some bravery.”
Let me read part of it to you and you’ll see what I mean. He wasn’t near as concerned with the Civil War as was he concerned that they understood what God was doing. This will probably shock you but it shows the insight of Abraham Lincoln as well. Let me kind of jump in the middle of it. It’s only this long, by the way. It’s not very long. He says, “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease.” Speaking there of slavery. “Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.” Now listen to this, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces… The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.” His next line is this, “The Almighty has His own purposes.” And this is not a message about Abraham’s speech, okay? But I’m intrigued that our President at this time in history understood that there was more going on than he could even see. He knew sovereignty and providence were directing, orchestrating, ordaining, allowing and using everything that was happening.
He went on to explain it like this, “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove,” and do you see what he’s doing there? He’s actually saying, “All of what’s happening, it’s by God’s doing, both the good and the bad.” He’s affirming what was written here in 2 Samuel. He says that, “He gives to both North and South this terrible war,” He attributes the war to God’s doing. He may have been a better theologian than he was even a President. He says, he gives this war “as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?” What he’s saying is this: just because this war is tearing our country apart, do we then suddenly make God out to be something he’s not? He says, no, we hold to the truth about God, that he’s sovereign, that he has his purposes, that he’s providential. So he finishes up by saying this, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago,” here is where he’s speaking of Scripture, “so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'” That was an inauguration speech and not a sermon but when I read it, I’m like, “That’s some good preaching, bro.”
So guys, I just want you to know, 2 Samuel 2 through 4 show us that God uses everything to lead you to your King and history is replete with examples both nationally, congregationally and individually of God doing exactly that. Question: do you see your King today? Here’s what I’ve been praying this week, that someone in this room would be saying, “Oh, so that’s why that happened.” Like, ding, “Oh, I get it, Todd. That’s what’s going on in that situation.” Ding. “Oh, so that’s why that occurred.” Yeah, because God wants to draw you to himself and he will use everything both good and bad to do exactly that.
Do you see your King today? If you do, your immediate posture, I trust, will be one of, “Wow, God is so great. I’m not and will worship him.” If this morning you’ve never trusted Christ, you’ve never taken that initial posture of humility before the Lord and asked him to be your Savior, would you this morning do that? Let that be your first step of seeing God in all of his sovereignty and wisdom. Would you say, “So this is what’s going on.” This is why there was a broken home maybe like Steve. This is why there was a broken pipe. This is why there was a broken heart, because God was showing me, “I’m the answer. I’m the solution.”
See your King today in all of his sovereignty. Worship him. And when our vision is of God in that way, then the consumerism that drives the American church will quickly dissipate. God will not be a puppet on a string. He won’t be somebody we’re trying to leverage. He’ll be the Almighty, all in charge, providential, sovereign Ruler and we’re the sheep of his pasture. I trust you see God in the way the Bible describes him.
To that end, can you read some Scriptures with me and then we’ll close? I’ll have you stay seated for the first two, I’ll have you stand for the last one. Here’s how the Bible would state everything we’ve said this morning and I would encourage you to stand on it and embrace it. I don’t get the how of it. I can’t always fully explain it but I’m cementing my feet, “This is God.”
Here’s Isaiah 46, read with me, would you?
8 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
That’s a great God, isn’t it? Here’s how the New Testament would put it in Ephesians 1:11. Read with me.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things how many things, church? according to the counsel of his will,
That’s the God of the Bible. Would you stand now? Let’s read from Job, a man that we would all admit understood both the good and bad in life. At the end, a double portion from God but at some point in his life, he experienced great tragedy. Job grew to see a vision of God that we would all do well to embrace, a very vertical understanding that God’s in charge, he’s sovereign and providential. Listen how Job described God in the last part of this book. He came to know this is God. Read with me.
11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. 12 They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. 13 Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.