Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Ruler Without a List

But the Lord was displeased with what David had done. So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: “There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.” David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own. (2 Samuel 11:27 – 12:10, NLT)
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This is NOT the Sunday School version of David’s story. In fact, if you study David’s life directly out of the book of Samuel, it stops sounding like the Sunday School story way earlier than we would imagine. David is still a “man after God’s own heart”, but he also serves as a coarse lesson in the realities of a life lived outside of God’s guidance. And that part is the focus of this particular passage – and the rest of David’s life.

We certainly know the story of 2 Samuel 11. David was at the pinnacle of his kingly time. It is likely about twenty-five years into his reign, his kingdom has expanded and is now about 60,000 square miles (about the size of the state of Georgia and bigger than over half of the other states). The neighbors who would have a friendly tendency are paying tribute and working on behalf of Israel. Those who remain combative are regularly being put back in their places. David has conquered, built, expanded, and now he’s ready to rest. And that is where the trouble sets in.

My friends in my men’s Bible study group analyzed it this way. Billy noted that David had finished his list and failed to consult God on what would be next. In his early life, especially when he’s running from Saul, we find David consulting God via priests, ephods, prayer, fasting, and all kinds of methods. He had a vision for the kingdom God promised him and went about accomplishing it. He sought out Mephibosheth so he could show kindness to the memory of Jonathan. He captured Jerusalem and built a palace the likes of which the world had never seen. And then, one Spring, with his list accomplished, he finds himself in his palace when his army is off fighting.

As if to emphasize the change in David, my friend Todd pointed out that David stopped acting like a leader and started acting like a ruler. Up to this point, we’ve seen David able to command the respect and admiration of men to the point where they would seek him out and join him in an exile’s cave, follow him around the country side without question, and even be willing to climb up the garbage chutes of Jerusalem to conquer it and establish his throne in Israel. And now, he’s dictating memos to send troops off to war, fetch Bathsheba despite multiple warnings, and arrange a cheap hit on Uriah when he showed more integrity drunk than David did sober. All the kind of things a leader who has finished his list would do … and all deadly in the end.

But why don’t we turn the focus from David to ourselves. We have been given a grand opportunity not only to consult God but to learn from David’s mistakes. We can seek Him early and often and constantly check our motives, our goals, and our leadership against His standards. There is no need for a guessing game, and certainly no need to run out of things to do. God has placed us on Earth to reflect His glory and share His message and grace with others around us. We don’t need a special ephod or a priest or some other talisman. We have example after example of men such as David whom God directed and who have provided examples for us to follow (or avoid as the case may be).
So go ahead and finish your list … then start a new one. Continue to lead and resist the urge to just sit back and rule. Be happy for your accomplishments, but seek God and find out what He would have you do next. Don’t let the idleness that David experienced invade your life and make a place for sin. Stay steadfast, whether the path seems crooked or smooth. And remember to consult God every step of the way.
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  1. What does your list look like? Who has authored or suggested most of the items on it?
  2. Have you seen tendencies in your life to stop leading and start ruling? How would others rate you, as a leader or as a ruler?
  3. Have you become complacent and idle, thereby giving room for the Enemy to invade your life and bring you to points of temptation? Are you satisfied with the Sunday School version of David’s life, or are you willing to learn from all of it – including the dark years in the latter half of his reign?

NLT – Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

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