Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 28 September 2022:
2 Samuel 23:1 — Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
This is a difficult Bible verse to understand, an apparent contradiction in God’s word. Did God “tempt” or force David to sin? 1 Chronicles 21:1 says, “Now Satan [rather than God] stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.” And James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” Simply stated, the Lord tests and Satan tempts:
- Psalm 11:5 — The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
- Psalm 26:2 — Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
- Psalm 66:10 — For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
- Proverbs 17:3 — The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:4 — …but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Nothing happens outside of God’s Sovereignty. He governs all things. God is perfect in holiness and cannot sin or cause people to sin, but He does use evil and evildoers to test us and to accomplish His will – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good [even evil things], for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28, 29)
God allows (actually ordains) trials in your life, and He tests your heart and mind, not to tempt you but rather to draw you closer to Him and to develop in you Christ-like character. When you are tested, it is not so God can see the truth of your character (He already knows it), it is so you can see it, both the noble and ignoble. Sometimes God needs you to see where you lack faith and need to grow. Sometimes God tests you because He wants you to see the faith you didn’t even know you had in order to encourage you, build you up stronger in faith, reveal Himself to you in a greater way, and bring glory to Himself – “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son.” (Hebrews 11:17) In fact, James said that with faith in God, we should actually rejoice in our trials – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Sometimes, as in the case with David today, God will test your heart and mind to expose your sin, idolatry, and hypocrisy. God’s will in your failures is to bring you to humble repentance, to draw you closer to Him, to sanctify you, to conform you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), and to prepare you for greater faithful service in love. His desire is not to condemn you and destroy you but rather to reconcile you – “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
- Jeremiah 12:3 — But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you.
- James 1:12 — Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Temptation is another matter. Temptation is an enticement to sin and to dishonor God, and it comes from three sources: the world (2Peter 1:4, Galatians 1:4, 1John 2:15), the flesh (Romans 7:18, Galatians 5:19 – 21, James 1:14 – 15, etc.), and the devil (Ephesians 6:11, James 4:7). As James teaches, temptation, unlike testing, does not come directly from God, as it would be contrary to His holy essence.
Again, God allows temptation in order to expose the truth of people’s hearts – you can’t really be tempted with what your heart doesn’t desire or detests. The Father allowed the ‘temptation’ of Jesus by Satan in the desert in order to expose the truth of Jesus’ righteous heart and bring glory to Him. Jesus was tempted externally by Satan, but He was not tempted internally, proving to be wholly faithful and the Son of God.
On the contrary, David was tempted both externally by Satan and internally within his own heart, exposing the pride that remained in both him and the Israelites. There was nothing inherently sinful about conducting a census, God had directed it before. What was sinful was not the conduct of the census but rather David’s motivation for conducting a census. God fully knew David’s heart and the sinful pride of the people, but they could not see it in themselves, so God had to expose it. So, when David wanted to conduct a census for all the wrong reasons, God essentially said, “Do what is on your heart,” turning David over to His own sinful desires that he would face the consequences.
When failure occurs, repentance inspired by faith in God’s grace leads us to discipline and sanctification rather than condemnation. As stated in Jeremiah 12:3, God’s intent is to test you “toward” Him and as Romans 8:29 says, so you may “be conformed to the image of his Son.” In today’s story, David repents and the plague is averted. Remember in the New Testament, both Judas and Peter betrayed Christ. Judas couldn’t bring Himself to repent and accept the forgiveness of God, and He killed himself. Peter, on the other hand, repented, accepted forgiveness, and was used mightily by God. Similarly, Paul, formerly Saul who had made a career of persecuting Christians, repented and went to his death boldly proclaiming Christ and glorifying Him. Repent when you fall short, have confidence in God’s grace, and glorify God boldly as a living testimony to the Gospel.
2 Samuel 2:8 — “But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim.”
Ish-bosheth took matters into his own hands and only caused divisions. His plan was contrary to God’s and ultimately futile.
2 Samuel 2:8, 9 – But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel.
When God calls you to a task, He does not necessarily remove all the obstacles or opposition.
2 Samuel 2:20-27 — Meaningless quarrels can quickly get out of hand and cause irreversible pain, suffering, and enmity.
2 Samuel 2:22 — Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?
Pride and anger cause dangerous divisions between people who know each other very well, and they work against God’s mission of reconciliation. If only Abner and Asahel had been obedient to God’s command of forgiveness and reconciliation, healing and peace would have spread to many.
2 Samuel 2:26 — Then Abner called to Joab, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?”
Abner wanted peace. The Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) No matter what has happened in the past. If there is an opportunity for peace, take it.
Hebrews 10:4 — For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Sin has very real spiritual and practical consequences which religious ritual cannot fix. The debt of sin cannot be paid by man; it must be forgiven by God. Then, a purified heart must stop sinning in the future.
Hebrews 10:16 — This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds….
A person will not obey laws that are not on their hearts. Only God can give you a heart for Him.
Hebrews 10:24-25 — And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The more united you are with God, the more united you will be with other believers. Christians naturally have a longing to be around other Christians who share in their priority of worship and mission. Who do you spend most of your time with? Are your friendships intentional partnerships in discipleship? Fellowship and unity are evidence of faith –
- 1 John 1:7 — but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin
- 1 John 4:12 — No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
- 1 John 1:3 — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
- Malachi 3:16 — Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name.
- 1 Corinthians 12:12 — For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
- 1 Peter 2:5 — You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
- John 17:22-23 — The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
- Hebrews 6:10 — For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.
Jesus prayed to the Father for our fellowship and unity. The Bible describes believers as members of a body and as stones of a temple. How united are parts of a body, and how close and connected are stones of a temple? How close and connected should we be with fellow believers? What would be your reaction if you saw a human body divided among its parts? You would naturally be horrified! How do you feel about disunity among believers? In John 15, Jesus tells His followers to abide in His love. John explains that we abide in His love when we love one another, and God’s love is perfected in us through this fellowship. (1 John 4:12)
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…. encouraging one another….” Our fellowship should be relationships of encouraging discipleship and mutual edification, practicing the “one-anothers” described in the Bible, and today, we need this encouragement for than ever – “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Today’s verses tell us to “consider,” to think about, how we can be more supportive to fellow believers. With whom do you spend most of your time? Are your closest friendships intentional partnerships in discipleship? Who are you consistently encouraging in Christ, and who is building you up in faith? How united are you with your church body? Are you committed to serving the saints?
- Romans 12:10 — Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
A final note: God’s love is perfected in us when we remain in close fellowship with those believers who are sometimes hard to love, those who may not yet be matured in love. Christian fellowship is often an opportunity for us to practice mercy and grace, to love as Christ loves us. When describing the church as a human body, Paul reminds the believers that all parts of the body are indispensable, even those vulnerable parts we would rather not expose to the public, metaphorically speaking. You know, those parts that have slang, profane names attached to them people sometimes call others who are disagreeable. Concerning these parts of the body, Paul says, “The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-27) Don’t use disagreeable people as an excuse to “stop meeting together.” Instead, see disagreeable people as indispensable parts of the body, a God-given opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ.
- Proverbs 18:1 — Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.
Hebrews 10:26-31 — For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon include these powerful verses. Have you? Grace demands obedience. Love demands obedience. Faith is revealed thorough obedience. A faith that isn’t displayed through obedience is no faith at all. Do you see your continued sin as a profane trampling of Jesus?
Hebrews 10:34 — For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
Do you display this sort of grace and joy?
Hebrews 10:38, 39 – “But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Don’t shrink back into sin, but have the faith to remain holy and pure.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 28 September 2022: Today, prioritize Christian fellowship and unit with the body of Christ, not just at church but also throughout the week.