Grasping for Mercy

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 1:51
Then Solomon was told, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon and is clinging to the horns of the altar. He says, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’”

Reflection: Grasping for Mercy
By Erin Newton

Sibling rivalry is common. In David’s house, it reached extreme levels. Strife between siblings continued until the king’s dying days. By now, the reader can see how Nathan’s prophecy of judgment upon David’s house was painfully accurate.

The succession of the throne is the focal point of the final tension between David’s sons. Adonijah was the oldest living son and according to birthright standards, the next heir to the throne. However, David favored Solomon and through the work of Bathsheba and Nathan, his regency was secured.

Adonijah was arrogant, convinced he deserved the throne and schemed to gather support from leaders. This attempted coup reached a pivotal point as Solomon was publicly announced as the next king. Adonijah feared Solomon’s retribution, ran to the sanctuary, and grabbed the horns of the altar.

The altar stood as a consistent reminder of the need for mercy and forgiveness of sins. Priests sacrificed animals on the altar as a means of cleansing impurities and granting atonement for the offending person. Often, blood was placed on the horns of the altar, the outer edges which were easily defiled through contact with sinners. Adonijah reached out to touch the altar in recognition of his need for mercy.

In much the same way, the story of the bleeding woman in Luke 8 echoes the same urgency for mercy. The woman with a bleeding disorder lived as an outcast of society and was consistently barred from worshipping in the temple because of her impurity.  In desperation, the woman reached to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. She was instantly healed. When questioned about her actions, Jesus comforted her, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

In the sacrificial system, there was never enough blood to grant permanent forgiveness. Lamb after lamb was required. Even asylum in a city of refuge was not a permanent solution. Grasping the horns of the altar was Adonijah’s only hope.

In desperation, we reach out to grasp the edges of mercy. Through Jesus, forgiveness is at our fingertips. Jesus is not only the source of mercy but the sacrificial lamb; we are instantly healed by his blood. Solomon charged Adonijah to continue proving he was worthy of the mercy granted to him. But through Christ, we are healed by faith. The final sacrifice has already been paid. Receive the permanent atonement and go in peace. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
But I will call upon God, and the Lord will deliver me.
In the evening, in the morning, and at noon day, I will complain and lament,
He will bring me safely back…God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me… — Psalm 55.17

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 1 (Listen – 7:52)
Galatians 5 (Listen – 3:22)

Read more about Have Mercy
Pray this pluralized version of Psalm 51…confessing not only our individual sins but the sins of our communities, churches, and nations.

Read more about Hope for Mercy
There is a glimmer of mercy in the promises of today. Salvation through Jesus Christ: “The Lord has taken away your sin.”

Hope for Mercy

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 18:33
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” 

Reflection: Hope for Mercy
By Erin Newton

My mom yelled at us in the backseat, “Stop pestering each other or I will pull over right now!” I didn’t think she was serious, but then I found myself on the side of the road on a hot Texas afternoon. One of the first rules when dealing with children is to never threaten a punishment you are not ready to fulfill. There is the hope for mercy, but punishments usually follow disobedience.

When the prophet Nathan confronted David in 2 Samuel 12, he told the king that the sword would always be upon his family. The judgment unfolded with painful precision. The first son of Bathsheba died. Tamar was sexually abused by Amnon. Absalom killed Amnon as retribution. Lastly, Absalom usurped his father’s throne.

Surprisingly, David desired to protect Absalom. He commanded the men to grant mercy and spare his son’s life. Instead, Joab dispensed merciless judgment and inflicted fatal blows to Absalom’s defenseless body. The news of Absalom’s death brought inconsolable grief to David. Despite the insurrection by Absalom, David wept for his son.  

Readers who follow the story of David know to expect a tale of pain and suffering. Judgment was promised. But Nathan also offered a word of mercy, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” The sweetness of this promise is a small taste of hope amid the judgment proclaimed.

Let me be clear: Not all bad events in life are the judgment of God. However, we daily wrestle with sin and sometimes we fail. Because we are tethered to this world, our sins can bring earthly consequences. I think that is why God gave us a Bible full of mortal failures. It is within the great cloud of witnesses (full of liars, murders, and adulterers) that we see redeemed, yet sinful, servants of God. Despite their errors, it is consistently “by faith” that they persevere through hardship.

There is a glimmer of mercy in the promises of today. Salvation through Jesus Christ: “The Lord has taken away your sin.” Promise of eternal life: “You will not die.” The gospel promises that Jesus has paid the price of our sin and eternal death is not in our future. That is our buoy in the waves of life. Continue in faith. Do not forget that the blood of Jesus speaks a better word than that of condemnation. (Hebrews 12.24)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me know be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.19-20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 18 (Listen -6:16)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen -4:46)

Read more about The Consequence of Carelessness — Readers’ Choice
Israel’s tendency toward neglect would be a festering wound resulting in more errors and consequences.

Read more about Like Father, Like Sons
Sin always sets in motion more sin to follow. Often, the sins of fathers and mothers have lasting effects.

Ancient #MeToo Story

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 11:27
…But the thing David had done displeased the Lord

Reflection: Ancient #MeToo Story
By Erin Newton

Not long ago, my former youth minister was convicted of sexually abusing minors. My friends were victims. He was a spiritual leader, a person in authority. Girls believed he was safe. In reality, he manipulated that trust and abused his power. And for decades, it remained hidden.

Stories of abuse are difficult to read. Some misuse 2 Samuel 11 and place blame on Bathsheba for somehow enticing David to sin. The truth is, this is a story of the gross abuse of power. Although painful, it must be told.  

The story of David’s sin against Bathsheba is one filled with moments of moral failure and compounding sin. David neglected his military duty. Instead, he lusted after the unclothed, married woman he didn’t know. He inquired about her and wielded his authority, sending an invitation that could not be refused. Selfishly embracing sin, David slept with Bathsheba and sent her home. The incriminating results followed: Bathsheba was pregnant with his child. 

David schemed to create reasonable doubt that Uriah could be the father. In contrast to the sinfulness of the king, Uriah upheld his integrity and resisted the lure of comfort and pleasure. When these schemes failed, David organized Uriah’s death and secured the anonymity of his prior sin. Covetousness, adultery, lying, and murder — David, once a man after God’s own heart, was deeply entrenched in sin. 

The text does not indicate why David succumbed to this temptation. Some blame the corruption of power. Maybe it was bad company, spiritual apathy, or the unresolved temptation of lust. We can only conjecture, but it might be beneficial to meditate on how sin can be so easily embraced. No one is immune to sin. Sin is always crouching at the door. 

Recent investigations revealed that churches have been guilty of enabling abusive leaders and attempting to cover up sexual assaults. As with David, authority has been used as a tool to shift blame to the victim, silence any witnesses, or hide the crime in darkness. These schemes to preserve the image of the institution corrupt the witness for Christ. Where do we go from here? 

The next step must be to seek justice. The bold voice of Nathan was needed to bring the king to a place of repentance. Bathsheba deserved an advocate. We listen, we believe, and we speak out. Truth must be revealed in places where sin is hidden. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
How sweet are your words to my taste! They are sweeter than honey to my mouth. — Psalm 119.103

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 11 (Listen – 4:25)
2 Corinthians 4 (Listen -3:02)

Read more about Reflection: Have Mercy—Guided Prayer
David sinned against God by bringing harm to those God cared for, who included Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and the entire nation.

Read more about From Shameless to Blameless
Did he not take vengeance, commit war crimes, commit adultery by taking multiple wives and concubines in addition to taking (and possibly raping) Bathsheba?

Not So Random Acts of Kindness

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 9:8
8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” 

Reflection: Not So Random Acts of Kindness
By Erin Newton

I enjoy looking at posts tagged #RAOK. Random Acts of Kindness. It has become popular to capture these moments and highlight the goodness of humanity. For most, these actions are seen as going above and beyond what is required in social interactions. As Christians, extreme kindness should be part of our everyday life.

When David settled into his role as the king of Israel, he turned his attention to honoring the friendship he had with Jonathan. The conflict between the house of David and the house of Saul nearly wiped out an entire extended family. David asked to find any living heir of Saul. The sole survivor was Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan who was now lame because of the conflict.

The disabled community suffered greatly in the ancient world, often expelled as outcasts. Lameness required the disabled person to rely entirely upon fellow citizens. Mephibosheth, the heir of a former king, was one of these minorities. His lineage threatened David’s claim to the throne, but David did not treat him as an enemy. David was focused on creating peace and showing kindness.

Mephibosheth knew his limitations and came to David with humility. David did not have divine power to cure the man’s lameness, but he had the power to bring stability, security, and an inheritance to the son of Jonathan. Eating at the king’s table, Mephibosheth was treated as an equal to David’s sons.

Jesus is a greater king than David, never failing to minister to those in need. He did more than honor the outcast, he cured their disease. He did more than honor his fallen friends, he resurrected them. Jesus brought former enemies to his table as friends. Even today, he grants eternal security, everlasting peace, and an inheritance as a son or daughter of God. 

Our lives should reflect the work and person of Jesus Christ. He was never slow to cross the boundaries of social norms to meet the needs of the outcasts. Even when the worst of his enemies were abusing him, he prayed for their forgiveness. Loving our former enemies should not be conditional. We must do whatever we can to love our neighbors. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Proverbs 3:27 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting

Be exalted, O Lord, in your might; we will sing and praise your power. — Psalm 21.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 8-9 (Listen – 4:52)
2 Corinthians 2 (Listen -2:13)

Read more about Praying Priestly Blessings — Readers’ Choice
One of the primary purposes of humanity, upheld throughout the entirety of scripture, is being a blessing to others.

Read more about Loving God by Loving Others — Guided Prayer
When we act in God’s name to show love to others, we are also loving God by bringing glory to his name.

Conflict’s Aftermath

Scripture Focus:  2 Samuel 2:26
Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?”

Reflection: Conflict’s Aftermath
By Erin Newton

Polarized. This word is the constant summary of our life lately. Every area seems to be weighted down in conflict.  When we reflect on the darker parts of our history, we like to think they are moments in time, isolated and spontaneous. There is a failure to see the slow progression of change from good to bad. And the even slower progress back to peace.

If Israel’s monarchy was portrayed on a TV episode, the death of Saul would be followed by a short commercial break and the reign of David would begin triumphantly. David was anointed in Hebron but his reign as the king of Israel was slow and filled with more turmoil. The conflict between Saul and David personally had ended but the ramifications continued. More hate, more blood. The house of David and the house of Saul were eager to carry out vengeance and retribution in the name of the lords they served. David was the rightful king and Saul was no longer a threat. The conflict should have ended.

Often there are rippling effects and continual consequences to mindsets that are hardened through a prolonged conflict. Racial discrimination, political rivalry, gender inequality, denominational intolerances, and the suspicion of public healthcare measures are areas that can fester conflict and hatred deep into a soul. Even when bridges are mended briefly, there are those who will continue to seek the destruction of perceived opponents. This can happen through what we say or what we encourage. It can be through our actions to cause pain or the turning of our eyes from someone in pain.

Still, some conflicts have found no lasting resolution. In these times, believers can look to the moment we shifted our allegiance from this world to Christ. This should alter how we function among those who are constantly at war. When did we forget he is the Prince of Peace? Let us ask God to replace the festering anger in our hearts with love. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. — Psalm 84.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 2 (Listen – 5:07) 
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:23)

Read more about Blocking the Way of Wickedness
We don’t always have a choice about working with or living among wicked people, but we can choose how we respond.

Read more about The Best We Can Do
The best we can do—in our strength and wisdom—may not be God’s best for us.