True Oaths to Keep

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 9.3, 8
3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”
8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Reflection: True Oaths to Keep
By Erin Newton

Last week we explored the dynamics of David’s eulogy for Saul. David’s relationship with God motivated any kindness extended to Saul’s memory. David’s allegiance was not bound to political authority. He sought to honor God above and beyond the actions of the king.

After all his national conquests, David’s heart was turned toward kindness again. The motivation was “for Jonathan’s sake.” David had made an oath to Jonathan that his lineage would not be cut off (1 Samuel 20.13-17, 42).

The type of person who can dwell with the Lord knows the price of keeping an oath. “The one whose walk is blameless…who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind” (Psalm 15.2,4).

Jonathan was dead. If David changed his mind, he would not have Jonathan nearby to rebuke him or urge him to fulfill his duty. However, David’s relationship with God guided him to be like the blameless person the psalm described.

Fulfilling David’s promise meant seeking out someone to bestow favor. The answer to the oath was not knocking on his door. It was not waiting for him. Keeping his promise meant acting, not just reacting.

Fulfilling David’s promise meant giving up his possessions. The text tells us that all the land once owned by Saul would be restored to Mephibosheth and he would always eat at David’s table. Even with resources and financial security restored, Mephibosheth would partake of David’s resources at every meal. David gave what was owed and then gave of his own.

…keeps an oath even when it hurts…

In many ways, this oath could have been painful for David. He restores a relationship with the descendant of Saul, although for the sake of Jonathan whom he loved. There is an element of humility in which the opposing families are reconciled by the willingness of David to show kindness.

The oath was financially painful in some ways. David could have given only what was easily afforded or could have been used in a way that continued to benefit him. The gift secured Mephibosheth’s finances and physical needs indefinitely.

When we hand our lives to Christ, we trade our nature for his. Jesus, who gave all he had to others—food, health, time, space, reputation, pride, power, life—bids us to make an oath to love our neighbors. And to that oath we must keep our word, even when it hurts.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “In truth I tell you, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land—and persecutions too—now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life. Many who are first will be last, and the last, first. — Mark 10.29-31

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 8-9 (Listen 4:51)
Revelation 17 (Listen 3:19)

Read more about Not So Random Acts of Kindness
Eating at the king’s table, Mephibosheth was treated as an equal to David’s sons.

Read more about Loving God by Loving Others — Guided Prayer
In all these things, may we bring glory to God by loving others.
May we love you, Lord, by loving others.

The House God Desires

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 7.12-14
12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.
Reflection: The House God Desires
By John Tillman

Building a “house” for God can be interpreted as an immature understanding of God. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where will my resting place be?” (Isaiah 66.1-2)

However, God often bears with our immaturity and limited understanding. God accepts the immature like children and leads those who will listen toward growth and maturity. (Mark 4.9) He led immature slaves across the desert. He used imperfect and flawed leaders to guide imperfect and flawed people. 

At the time of David’s request to build a house for the Lord, God is bearing with the immaturity of a nation that refused to be led by God and yearned for a king to be placed over them. Saul was a king in their own image. He was selfish, driven by anger and jealousy, unspiritual, untruthful, and ignorant of how to follow God.

Nathan’s prophecy in response to David’s proposal to build a “house for God” is multifaceted. It touches the immediate future and our future in eternity with Christ simultaneously. The son Nathan refers to is not only Solomon but all the kings of Israel, ending ultimately with the King of Kings, Christ himself. 

Despite Israel’s weakness, God chose to show his strength in them.
Despite rebellious immaturity, God chose to set over them (and us) a better king—one in his image.
Despite childish thoughts of God needing a house, God stooped to enter Solomon’s Temple.
Despite the sinfulness of David’s line, Christ lowered himself to be born the Son of David.

It is in Christ, Paul tells us, that all of God’s promises are, “Yes” and “Amen.” (2 Corinthians 1.20) We, like Israel and David, are loved and used by God despite our immaturity and are called toward growth and development of greater faith.

The house we must build for God is in our own hearts.
We build it in hope, with humility and obedience, with repentance and faith.
He stands at the door and knocks. (Revelation 3.20)
When we make room for God in our hearts and lives, he will enter.
And when our lives are over, we will awake in the house of God.

Christ, the true son of David, is building the house that God desires—a house with rooms for all his children. And he has prepared a place for us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm

Sing to God, sing praises to his Name; exalt him who rides upon the heavens; Yahweh is his Name, rejoice before him!
Father of orphans, defender of widows, God in his holy habitation! — Psalm 68.4-5

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 7 (Listen 4:26)
Revelation 16 (Listen 3:17)

Read more about Slavery to Maturity
In Egypt, the Israelites were well-fed physically but not spiritually. The same could be said of Western and American Christianity.

Read The Bible With Us
It’s never too late to join our Bible reading plan. Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

Irreverently Abusing God’s Presence

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 6.2-11
2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.
9 David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.

Reflection: Irreverently Abusing God’s Presence
By John Tillman

David and all Israel zealously celebrated…but they were zealously irreverent and Uzzah paid for it.

At first, it might seem like David and the Ark-keepers committed a minor infraction and Uzzah’s “irreverent act” was his well-intended steadying of the Ark. We need context.

For centuries, Israel properly cared for the Ark, the presence of God, and no one died. But, before Saul’s reign, Israel weaponized the Ark, taking it into battle where many Israelites died and the Philistines captured the Ark. (1 Samuel 4.3-11) The Ark, God’s presence, was a curse to the Philistines (1 Samuel 5.1-12), so they sent it away on a cart towed by animals. (1 Samuel 6.7-11) When the Ark returned, the Israelites disobeyed its regulations again, and more of them died. (1 Samuel 6.19-20) After that, the Ark was put under guard and rarely consulted. (1 Samuel 7.1-2; 1 Chronicles 13.3-4)

Scripture explicitly describes the Ark as God’s throne. It is “called by the Name,” meaning God’s name. Yet, David treated it just like the Philistines did—as a treasure or weapon to be transported by animals. Uzzah and David’s irreverent act was putting the Ark on the cart in the first place, not reaching out to steady it.

In fear, David leaves the Ark with Obed-Edom, the Gittite. The Gittites were one of the Philistine tribes from Gath—the same town and tribe Goliath was from. So David, using animals to carry the Ark as the Philistines did, returned it to Philistine care. But this time, its presence is a blessing. (After this, Obed-Edom’s sons were even included by David as gatekeepers at the Temple. 1 Chronicles 26.1, 4-8)

God’s presence no longer hovers between the Ark’s cherubim. His Holy Spirit is among believers. Jesus’ presence abides with “the least of these,” and how we treat them is how we treat him. (Matthew 25.40, 45)

Let us examine ourselves. Are we zealous for God yet irreverent of him? Do we abuse God’s presence? Do we take “the Name” in vain?

Do we weaponize God against enemies? Do we treat him like a magical charm? Or like a treasure we must hide and protect? How do we treat believers who are “called by the Name”? What about “foreigners” God blesses? How do we treat them? What “irreverent acts” like Uzzah’s do we commit against humans for whom Christ died?

May God have mercy on us, as he did on Obed-Edom, the faithful foreigner. It is better to be a gatekeeper in the house of God than dwell in wickedness. (Psalm 84.10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
In the morning, 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 6 (Listen 3:34)
Revelation 15 (Listen 1:29)

Read more about Undignified Weeping and Dancing
When we witness undignified worship, we would be wise to train our hearts to see and expect the best possible motives from others rather than the worst. 

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Ecce Homo — Readers’ Choice

Scripture Focus: John 19.5, 13-16
5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. 

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. 
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” 
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. 
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. 
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. 

From John: As we have in prior years, we’ll continue to share a few “bonus” Readers’ Choice posts from time to time this fall. We thank all of you for your responses, your reading, and your support.

Originally published on January 19, 2023, based on readings from John 19.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Jon, Hong Kong/TX — This is brilliant. That Ecce Homo debacle makes for a great illustration.

Reflection: Ecce Homo — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Pilate presented Jesus as innocent, saying, “Here is the man.” Ecce homo is the Latin Vulgate translation of this statement. The moment is recorded in many works of art.

In 2012, the 19th-century fresco, Ecce Homo, was in poor shape. Much of the paint had flaked away over time. An aged parishioner, who had seen it slowly deteriorating, decided to attempt to restore her favorite depiction of Jesus. Unfortunately, she had no formal art training and the result was…not good. The Internet swarmed with scorn for her work and memes of other famous artwork ruined in the same style.

Despite affection for Jesus and good intentions, her depiction of Jesus was a blurry blob, with none of the details that gave the artwork meaning.

Many of us may have a blurry, blob of affection for Jesus. It is vital for us to return to the master artists of scripture regularly to see the details they skillfully composed for us.

The details John focuses on are legal, political, and damning. Until the ecce homo moment, Pilate had been speaking informally—like banter at a press conference. But when the politicking and bargaining were over Pilate sat in “the seat of judgment” called “the Stone Pavement.” 

The precise location is unknown but this was the official seat representing justice under the law. It would be like a U.S. president sitting down behind his desk in the Oval Office, or the justices of the Supreme Court taking their seats. It just got official. 

John has carefully presented Jesus’ signs and claims to be the one true king. Yet Pilate presented Jesus as king and he was rejected. Not just by the Jews. Not just by Pilate.  By the world. This moment is the essence of all sin.

Sin is not merely behavior. It is rebellion. Every sin you’ve ever heard of or committed is a result of rebellion—a follow-on effect of our conspiratorial coup against God’s kingdom.

Therefore, when we repent, we must not merely change behavior. We must return to the truth. 

We must return to Pilate’s words, “Here is the man,” adding, “He is innocent. I am not.”

With the soldier at the foot of the cross, we say, “Surely this was the son of God.” With the rebel on the cross, we say, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, “You are my God; listen, O Lord, to my supplication.” — Psalm 140.6

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 2 (Listen 5:07)
Revelation 12 (Listen 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 3 (Listen 6:35Revelation 13 (Listen 3:20)
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen 6:10Revelation 14 (Listen 3:51)

Read more about Were You There?
“Were you there?” is a question that asks us to reconcile our present with the past.

Read The Bible With Us
Now is a great time to invite someone on a joyful journey through scripture. Invite a friend to start reading with us today.

Eulogize your Enemy?

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 1.17-18
17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow…

Reflection: Eulogize your Enemy?
By Erin Newton

Would you write a eulogy for your enemy? If someone targeted your life, would you speak kind words in memory of their death? The questions sound absurd.

When God’s anointing passed from Saul to David, the king sought to kill him. With every turn, David’s life was in mortal danger. There was no peace between them. In the end, however, the news of Saul’s death stirred David to write a dirge, a funeral song.

The book of Psalms is filled with songs of lament that seek the favor of God and reflect upon God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness. This song is different. There are no calls to God or reflections of past hope. It is very much a eulogy for Saul and Jonathan. A funeral song for a man who hated David and a man who loved David—a friend and a foe.

It is little wonder that David felt compelled to sing praises of his closest friend. It is unthinkable that he would do the same for Saul. What compels David to give such honor to someone who, by all accounts, did not deserve it?

The answer is David’s relationship with God. The words were honoring Saul and Jonathan, but the motivation was to honor God. For all the years of hiding in the wilderness or dodging assassination attempts, David waited patiently to see the outworking of his anointing. He never raised a hand against Saul, though he was tempted on occasion!

How we speak of the dead reveals one aspect of our relationship with God. David likely struggled with hoping for Saul’s demise so that his future would be secured. He had enough reasons to be opposed to the king. His faith, however, would not allow him to act upon such thoughts.

Each person is born as the image of God. Each person dies as the same image of God. How do we easily honor new life at birth, pure and innocent, and dishonor the same life in death, ravaged by sin and broken? We cannot celebrate evil, but we must find space to honor God at death. It is a difficult task; one we may spend our lives trying to understand.

Like David, Jesus speaks words of grace about his enemies, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Perhaps, we can learn that relationships with our enemies are a reflection of our relationship with God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down you ear, O Lord, and answer me…
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful. — Psalm 86.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 1 (Listen 3:54)
Revelation 11 (Listen 3:24)

Read more about Eating With Enemies
When Christ leads us into the heavenly city, we will find ourselves dining and worshiping with people we harmed or who harmed us.

Read more about Do You Know The Enemy?
Do we remember who the real enemy is or are we too focused on the powers of this earth?