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On a bulletin board in the basement of my childhood church there was a poster. As far as I can remember, the poster showed a little child helping a fallen butterfly onto a flower. An anonymous quote on the side proclaimed, “The smallest good deed is better than the grandest intention.” Corny poster or not, the quote is true.
As followers of God, our intentions may be grand, but our actions inevitably fall short. Promises we make go unfulfilled. Situations tempt us to compromise what we know is right. We foolishly put our trust in things other than our loving LORD. Our intention to center our hope and life on the LORD’s can get damaged as we go about this thing called life.
But there are some Christians we look up to. Followers of God who seem to get it right more often than not. People who refuse to compromise with evil. David was one of those.
Today, we continue our look at the life of this Old Testament king. David was no perfect man. He was a sinner like you and me. But in our reading for today, we’ll see that he was a just king.
This is the fourth sermon in a series of eight dealing with the life of David. So, first of all, let’s get a feel for where we are in his life.
In our last message we saw David prove his innocence to the then ruling king Saul. Saul was the first king of Israel, and he was desperately jealous and afraid of David. He thought that David wanted his throne and would rebel at any moment. As a result, Saul tried to hunt David down and murder him.
But when the LORD gave David the opportunity to strike Saul down, David refused. Saul was the LORD’s chosen king, and David would not raise his hand against the LORD’s anointed.
But after David showed his innocence, and Saul returned home to the palace, Saul changed his mind. He renewed his hunt for David.
In the course of events, David was given yet another chance to end Saul’s life. It happened this way. Saul was encamped in the open with his warriors. Though surrounded by defensive forces, they were all asleep, and David crept into the camp and stood over the slumbering king. A warrior at David’s side offered to kill the king with one thrust of the spear, but David again refused to raise his hand against the LORD’s anointed. To prove his innocence once more, David took Saul’s spear and water jug, which had been laying by his side, and then he addressed the king from the edge of the camp.
When Saul saw David’s mercy, he again realized how wicked his own actions had been, and he broke off his pursuit. But after returning home, Saul again changed his mind and renewed the hunt.
To end this cycle, David fled to the land of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. He lived there for over a year, forcing king Saul to tend to other matters.
Then the Philistines mustered their forces to invade Israel. Uncertain of what action to take, Saul asked the LORD what to do. But the LORD was no longer answering his prayers. His faithlessness had severed him from the LORD’s help. And so Saul turned to other ways of answering his questions. He sought the help of a medium called the witch of Endor. The LORD used this unusual encounter to reveal to Saul that he would die in battle the very next day.
But when the news of Saul’s death came to David, he didn’t celebrate. Instead he was grief stricken and he openly mourned until evening.
Saul’s end had come like this. Saul had been mortally wounded by Philistine archers. As they approached to finish him off, Saul tried to commit suicide by falling on his own sword. It didn’t work quite like Saul intended, and as he lay there dying, he saw a man approaching from another direction. He asked this man to kill him before the Philistines could finish the job, and the man complied. The man then took the crown and the armband of the king and rushed to bring the news to David.
David’s first act as the now reigning king was to have this messenger struck down because he had killed the LORD’s anointed. Perhaps the man had thought he would get some reward from David for killing Saul, but what he got instead was justice.
From that point on, it was not all smooth sailing for David. Saul’s general, Abner, had Saul’s last remaining son declared king. Saul’s last son was named Ish-Bosheth. Though not selected by the LORD for the kingship, Ish-Bosheth reigned in Israel for two years before meeting his end, which is the subject of our study today.
Before we read our text, we should note that David had promised Saul that he would not try to wipe out Saul’s family after Saul was gone. This was a promise that David intended to keep.
2 Samuel 4:1-3, 5-12 (NIV)
4 When Ish-Bosheth son of Saul heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel became alarmed. 2 Now Saul’s son had two men who were leaders of raiding bands. One was named Baanah and the other Rekab; they were sons of Rimmon the Beerothite from the tribe of Benjamin—Beeroth is considered part of Benjamin, 3 because the people of Beeroth fled to Gittaim and have resided there as foreigners to this day.
5 Now Rekab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. 6 They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rekab and his brother Baanah slipped away.
7 They had gone into the house while he was lying on the bed in his bedroom. After they stabbed and killed him, they cut off his head. Taking it with them, they traveled all night by way of the Arabah. 8 They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to kill you. This day the Lord has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.”
9 David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, 10 when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! 11 How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!”
12 So David gave an order to his men, and they killed them. They cut off their hands and feet and hung the bodies by the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-Bosheth and buried it in Abner’s tomb at Hebron.
At this point, I probably don’t have to remind you that these were harsh and violent times. But in the midst of the carnage of civil war and war with the nations all around, David still shows himself to be a man after the LORD’s own heart.
First of all, David was TRUSTWORTHY. He had promised Saul that he would not try to wipe out Saul’s family. And so, when Abner set Ish-Bosheth up as a rival king against David, David didn’t try to kill him. Even though David was the rightful king, chosen by the LORD, he sought to keep his promise to Saul.
Secondly, David was now serving as the rightful king of the LORD’s chosen nation. And as king, it fell to him to maintain JUSTICE in Israel. And so when men came running to David with the head of Ish-Bosheth, he wanted no part in this evil. Sure, having Ish-Bosheth out of the way would help unify Israel under their rightful king, but David knew that murder and intrigue was not the way the LORD would have this accomplished.
Solomon would later write,
“When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NIV).
So, David quickly administered justice to the murderers. They had run to him—no doubt expecting a reward for their so-called service to the king. But instead, David ordered them executed immediately.
Even the gruesome way in which their bodies were displayed to the people spoke a message of justice. We’re told that David’s men hung their dead bodies near the pool of Hebron with their hands and feet removed. Those hands had secretly murdered an innocent man in his own house, and on his own bed. Those feet had run all night to make their deed known. At the pool of Hebron the message was clear to the people. King David would not tolerate wickedness of this kind. It would be quickly and mercilessly dealt with. This also communicated to the people that David had no part in this intrigue. David continued to TRUST IN THE LORD to secure his throne. When the LORD makes a promise, it’s worth the wait.
TRUSTWORTHY. JUST. FAITHFUL TO THE LORD. These were traits of David. And like we saw last Sunday, we find these same traits in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Like David, JESUS KEPT HIS WORD. Jesus had said that he would go to the cross and suffer punishment for the sins of the world. And he did just that. He kept his promise even when it meant shame, ridicule, pain, and mockery. He kept his promise even when faced with the horror of experiencing hell on the cross, and death as a common criminal.
Like David, JESUS WAS JUST. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for misleading the people of Israel in spiritual matters. He openly told the crowds that they needed to be more righteous than the Pharisees if they expected to escape hell. They needed to trust in God’s promised Messiah, not the political Messiah the Pharisees had made him out to be.
And the Bible tells us that on the Day of Judgment, it will be Jesus himself who will stand as judge of the world, dispensing justice and punishing evil once and for all. It will be Jesus who will divide the sheep from the goats. Jesus will invite all who trusted in the LORD’s promise of forgiveness into the Father’s house. It will be Jesus who will turn away all who rejected the Father’s gracious offer.
Like David, JESUS TRUSTED HIS HEAVENLY FATHER. When Satan offered Jesus the world and all it’s glory, Jesus refused. Instead he trusted his heavenly Father to secure his eternal throne AFTER the cross and after the tomb.
When we look at OUR OWN character, we find that we have not been so trustworthy, just, or faithful. Like I said earlier, we have often failed to do the things we’ve said we would. We’re all to quick to accept and tolerate evil in our lives if that evil gets us something we want. We quickly turn to the philosophies and ideas of men instead of just waiting for the LORD to keep his promises.
Worst of all, when it comes to our own guilt and sin, we are tempted to comfort our consciences with the good things we do. As if social consciousness and acts of kindness can somehow scrub away the endless record of our sins. The sinful human heart insists that salvation from sin and hell has to be won, at least in part, by what we do, or how we act, or what we say. But it’s not. Only a perfect sacrifice can atone for the sin in our lives. Only the sacrifice of God’s perfect Son has the power to remove our sins, and make us clean before the just God.
David trusted that the LORD would secure his throne, as he had promised. We are called to trust that the LORD HAS secured our place in heaven, as he has promised—in the Gospel of Christ.
It’s true that the smallest good deed is BETTER than the grandest intention. But only a life where EVERY deed is perfect could reach the standard of what God calls “good.” And only Christ has attained that. He has attained it, and has given it to the world as a gift. He has given his pure life to be yours. And in Christ, you stand forgive of EVERY failure, EVERY sin.
Dear Christians, as you seek to be trustworthy in your promises and just in your dealings, seek first to trust in the LORD’s promise that in Christ you are forgiven.
PRAYER: Father in heaven, help us to have the heart of David. A heart that seeks to simply let our yes be yes, and our no, no. A heart that seeks to be transparent and true to all people. Help us also to have David’s desire for justice. Though we are not kings ruling over nations and administering judgment on the wicked, help us to seek justice in our own stations in life. Give us the courage to speak up against injustice, and to stand up for the oppressed. But most of all, nourish and grow our faith in your Son as the one who has secured our place in heaven by suffering the punishment for our sins. Until we see him face to face at your side, keep the grip of faith holding tightly to the Messiah you have given us. Amen.