CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

His Testing

2 Samuel 2


It is a wonderful thing when a wayward believer is brought back to his place of fellowship with God, as David had been, though it necessarily involves added obligations. It is sin which causes us to leave that place, and though at first sin be a sweet morsel unto the flesh, yet it soon turns bitter, and ultimately becomes as wormwood and gall unto him who has yielded to it. "The way of transgressors is hard" (Prov. 13:14): the wicked prove the full truth of that fact in the next world, where they discover that "the wages of sin is death"óa death agonizing in its nature and eternal in its duration. But even in this life the transgressor is usually made to feel the hardness of that way which his own mad self-will has chosen, and especially is this the case with the believer, for the harvest of his ill sowings is reapedómainly, at leastóin this world. The Christian, equally with the non-Christian, is a subject under the government of God, and doubly is he made to realize that God cannot be mocked with impugnity.

Strikingly and solemnly was this fact exemplified in the history of Israel during Old Testament times, this principle supplies the key to all Godís governmental dealings with them. The history of no nation has been nearly so checkered as theirs: no people was ever so sorely and so frequently afflicted as the favored descendants of Jacob. From the death of Joshua unto the days of Malachi we find one judgment after another sent from God upon them. Famines, pestilence, earthquakes, internal dissensions and external assaults from the surrounding nations, followed each other in rapid succession, and were repeated again and again. There were brief respites, short seasons of peace and prosperity, but for the most part it was one sore trouble after another. God did not deal thus with any other nation during the Mosaic economy. It is true that heathen empires suffered, and ultimately collapsed under the weight of their lasciviousness, but in the main God "suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16), and "the times of this ignorance God winked at" (Acts 17:30).

Far otherwise was it with His own covenant people. This has surprised many; yet it should not. Unto Israel God said, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." Yes, and that has been commonly recognized by readers of the Old Testament, but what immediately follows has very largely been lost sight ofó"therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). Ah, it was not "You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I wink at your sins, excuse your faults, and pass over your transgressions." No, no; far from it. It was unto Israel that God had revealed Himself, it was "in Judah He was known," and therefore would He manifest before their hearts and eyes His ineffable holiness and inflexible justice. Where they were loose and lax, despising Godís authority, and recklessly and brazenly breaking His laws, He would vindicate His honor by making it appear how much He hated sin, and hates it most of all in those who are nearest to Him! See Ezekiel 9:6!

That is why another of Israelís prophets announced unto those who had, under a temporal covenant, been taken into a bridal relation to Jehovah, "she hath received of the Lordís hand double for all her sins" (Isa. 40:2). Does that strike the reader as strange? But why should it? Are not the sins of the professing people of God doubly heinous to those committed by them who make no profession at all? What comparison was there between the sins of the nation of Israel and the sins of the heathen who were without the knowledge of the true God? The sins of the former were sins against light, against an open and written revelation from Heaven, against the abounding goodness and amazing grace of God toward them; and therefore must He, in His holiness and righteousness, make the severest example of them. Make no mistake upon that point: God will either be sanctified by or upon those who have been taken into a place of (even outward) nearness to Himself: see Leviticus 10:3.

Thus, Amos 3:3 becomes a prophecy of Godís dealings with Christendom. The great difference which existed between the nations of Israel and the Gentiles, finds its parallel in this era between Christendom (the sphere where Christianity is professedly acknowledged) and the heathen world. But with this additional most solemn consideration: increased privileges necessarily entail increased responsibilities. Under this Christian era a far higher and grander revelation of God has been made in and through and by the Lord Jesus Christ, than ever the nation of Israel had in Old Testament times. If then Israelís despising of God in His inferior revelation was followed by such awful consequences to the temporal welfare of their people under the old covenant, what must be the consequences of the despising of God in His highest revelation under the new covenant? "See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven" (Heb. 12:25).

But what has all the above to do with the life of David? Much every way. God dealt with individual saints, who had been taken into spiritual nearness to Himself on the same principles, governmentally (that is, in the ordering of their temporal affairs), as He treated with the nation as a whole, which enjoyed only outward nearness to Himself. Hence, as David sowed in his conduct so he reaped in his circumstances. As we have seen in the last few chapters, God had acted in marvelous grace with the son of Jesse, and following his repentance and putting things right with the Lord, had unmistakably shown Himself strong on his behalf, ending by bringing him to "Hebron" which speaks of fellowship. Thus, David had now reached the point, where God said to him, as it were, "sin no more, lest a worse thing came upon thee" (John 5:14).

Should it be asked, "But what has all of this to do with us? We are living in the ĎDispensation of Grace,í and God deals with people nowóboth nations collectively, and saints individuallyóvery differently from what He did in Old Testament times." That is a great mistake: a glaring and a horrible one. Glaring it certainly is, for Romans 15:4 expressly states, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning": but what could we "learn" from the ways of God with His people of old if He is now acting from entirely different principles? Nothing whatever; in fact, in that case, the less we read the Old Testament, the less we are likely to be confused. Ah, my reader, in the New Testament also we read that "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). Christians are also warned, "Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). Horrible too is such teaching, for it represents the immutable God changing the principles of His government.

What has been pointed out in the above paragraphs is something more than an interesting and instructive item of historical information, explaining much that is to be met with in the Old Testament Scriptures, throwing light upon Godís dealings with the nation of Israel collectively and with its prominent men individually; it is also of vital moment for Christians today. "Righteousness and judgment are the habitation" of Godís "throne" (Ps. 97:2), and our temporal affairs are regulated and determined according to the same principles of Godís moral government as were those of His people in by gone ages. If the distinguishing favors of God do not restrain from sin, they most certainly will not exempt us from divine chastisement. Nay, the greater the divine privileges enjoyed by us, the nearer we are brought unto God in a way of profession and favor, the more quickly will He notice our inconsistencies and the more severely will He deal with our sins.

"He that despised Mosesí law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28,29). Here is a statement of the broad principle which we have been seeking to explicate and illustrate. True, in this particular passage the application of it is made unto apostates, but the fact is plainly enough revealed that the greater the privileges enjoyed the greater the obligations entailed, and the greater the guilt incurred when those obligations are ignored. The same principle applies (though the consequences are different) in the contrast between the sins of the Christian and the non-Christian. The sins of the former are more heinous than those of the latter. How so? Because God is far more dishonored by the sins of those who bear His name than by those who make no profession at all.

The same principle, as it applies to gradation by contrast, holds good of the individual Christian in different stages of his own life. The more light God gives him, the more practical godliness He requires from him; the more favors he receives and privileges he enjoys, the more responsible is he to bear increased fruit. So too a sin committed by him may receive comparatively light chastisement; but let it be repeated and he may expect the rod to fall more heavily upon him. In like manner, God may bear long with one of his backslidden children, and though the path of recovery be a thorny one, yet will he exclaim "I richly deserved far severer treatment." But when the backslider has been restored and brought back into communion with God, another departure from Him is likely to be attended with far worse consequences than the former one was.

"But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared" (Ps. 130:4). Yes, "feared," not trifled with, not that we may the more confidently give free rein to our lusts. A true apprehension of the divine mercy will not embolden unto sin, but will deepen our hatred of it, and make us more earnest in striving to abstain from it. A spiritual apprehension of Godís abounding grace toward us, so far from begetting carelessness, produces increased carefulness, lest we displease One so kind and good. It is just because the Christian has been sealed by the Spirit unto the day of redemption, that he is exhorted to watchfulness lest he "grieve" Him. The more the heart truly appreciates the infinitude of Godís wondrous love unto us, the more will its language be, "How can I do this great wickedness against Him!"

"But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared." Not a slavish and servile fear, but the fear of the Lord which is "the beginning of wisdom": that fear which reverences, loves, worships, serves and obeys Him. Genuine gratitude for Godís pardoning grace will move the soul unto suitable filial conduct: it works a fear of being carried away from the heavens of His conscious presence by the insidious current of worldliness. It is jealous lest anything be allowed that would mar our communion with the Lover of our souls. Where the pardoning mercy of God is thankfully esteemed by the soul, it calls to mind the fearful price which was paid by Christ so that God could righteously forgive His erring people. and that consideration melts the heart and moves to loving obedience.

"But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared." Yes, once more we say "feared," and not "trifled with." The word unto backsliders, who have been pardoned and graciously restored to fellowship with God, is "Let them not turn again to folly" (Ps. 85:8): that is, let them beware of any cooling of their affections, and slipping back into their old ways; let them pray earnestly and strive resolutely against a sinful trading with Godís mercy and a turning of His grace into lasciviousness. We serve a jealous God, and must needs therefore be incessantly vigilant against sin. If we are not, if we do "return again to folly," then most surely will His rod fall more heavily upon us; and not only will our inward peace be disturbed, but our outward circumstances will he made to sorely trouble us.

That principle was plainly enunciated in the threatening which the Lord made unto Israel of old: "And if ye will not be reformed by Me by these things, but will walk contrary unto Me; then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins" (Lev. 26:23,24). If the first sensible tokens of Godís displeasure do not attain their end in the humbling of ourselves beneath His mighty hand and the reforming of our ways, if His lesser judgments do not lead to this, then He will surely send sorer judgments upon us. Ezra recognized this principle when, after the remnant had come out of Babylon, he said, "After all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserved, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break Thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not Thou be angry with us till Thou hast consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?" (Ezra 9: 13, 14). Then let us beware of trifling with God, particularly so after He has recovered us from a season of backsliding.

Instead of taking up the details of 2 Samuel 2:9-32 (the passage which immediately follows the verses considered in the preceding chapter), we felt this topical one would prove much more helpful in paving the way for those which are to follow. Those verses record an encounter between the rival factions, The gauntlet was thrown down by Abner, the general of the followers of Ishbosheth (Saulís son), and the challenge was accepted by Joab, who headed the military forces of David. Neither side brought their full army into the field, and the slaughter was but small (v. 30). The men of Abner, the aggressor, were routed, and at the close of the day their captain begged for peace (v. 26). Knowing the pacific intentions of David, and his-loathness to make war upon the house of Saul, Joab generously called a halt (v. 28); and each side made their way homeward (vv. 29-32).

And now a word upon the title we have given to this chapter, and we must close. David was now located at Hebron, which signifies communion or fellowship. The men of Judah had made him their king (2 Sam. 2:4), which though a step toward it, was by no means the complete fulfillment of the promise that he should be king "over Israel" (1 Sam. 16:1, 13). David made kindly overtures unto "the men of Jabesh-Gilead," the followers of the late Saul (v. 5), expressing the hope they would now show fealty to him (v. 7). Would the Lord continue showing Himself strong on his behalf, by turning the hearts of the rival faction toward him? The need for this was evident (vv. 7-10), yet it was easy for God to heal that breach and give David favor in the eyes of all. Would He do so? How far will the present conduct of David warrant this? for God will not place a premium on sin. David is now put to the test: how he acquitted himself we must leave for the next chapter.