Monday, April 20, 2009

"[The] Word of God is not rightly divided [between Law and Gospel] when a description is given of faith, both as regards to its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times." (emphasis added)
-- C.F.W. Walther, Thesis XVII, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Psalm 3 in Homiletics

I was given the opportunity to tell another "Bible Story" in Homiletics class last week. This time I chose the story of David and Absalom; however, as I prepared for it, I decided to emphasize the overlap between this story and the psalm David wrote as a response to it. The manuscript below is not exactly what I presented in class. I made a number of changes at the last minute in class before presenting; in particular, I distributed the psalm "verses" differently than in what follows. -- Brian

You have heard it said that the psalms are a prayer book for God's people: a wealth of prayers we take on our own lips in times of plenty, need or distress. The psalmists call out to Yahweh with honesty: they cry about their needs, their feelings of abandonment, and their anxieties about how long they must suffer. They praise Him for justice, deliverance and His mighty deeds.

Consider Psalm 3, which was composed by King David when he fled Jerusalem from a conspiracy led by his own son, Absalom. How does this man, who has been promised an everlasting throne, react to this unfortunate turn of events?

Absalom had been playing the "man of the people" for four years and turning their hearts to himself! Unbeknownst to David, Absalom makes arrangements for the tribes of Israel to acclaim him as king while he is at Hebron. Afterwards, a messenger takes word of this conspiracy to David at Jerusalem. Surely David is caught off guard, but he is forced to action. He chooses to leave Jerusalem, rather than risk the city falling by the sword.

Oh LORD, how many are my enemies!
Many are rising against me

David understands that the LORD works at his own time and by the means he chooses. He may benefit from the LORD's servants; he may fall before the LORD's representatives; or he may serve as a tool in the LORD's hand!

As his company leaves Jerusalem, Abiathar the priest and Zadok of the Levites offer to bring the ark into exile with him. David's reply: 'If I have found favor with the LORD, I will return to this city to see both it and you.'

More news of the conspiracy arrives. Ahithophel, David's own valued counselor, has joined Absalom. David has such a high view of Ahithophel's counsel, he immediately petitions the LORD to turn that counsel to foolishness!

Further from Jerusalem, a man from Saul's house named Shimei hurls curses and rocks at David's company. He claims the success of the conspiracy and David's displacement by his own son is the LORD's repayment to David for his own path of blood. David wonders: Was this what Yahweh meant, when he said that the sword would never depart from his house?

Many are saying of my soul -
there is no salvation for him in God.

Yahweh is not behind Absalom's treachery; He is already fighting on David's behalf through Ahithophel's bad counsel! Instead of immediately pursuing David's company into the wilderness, Ahithophel advises that Absalom focus on adding insult to David's injury by sleeping with his concubines. Only then does he suggest that he pursue David while his company is tired and demoralized.

But you, Oh LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.

David's friend and servant Hushai had sought to join him in exile, but David commanded him to return to the palace as a spy and enter Absalom's service. Absalom had initially challenged Hushai's change in loyalties, but then accepted him into his court. So now that Ahithophel is finally advising pursuit, Hushai is quick to intervene. He counsels caution: If David's mighty men were to engage a smaller force, the report of the battle might melt the heart Israel's men before they could gather in force. When Absalom accepts his advice, he passes word to David.

I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill.


On word from Hushai, David's company crosses the river and heads into the wilderness. Weary from the journey, but safer after crossing the river, David's company rests at the city of Mahanaim. Here they receive shelter and provisions.

I lay down and slept.
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

After the men of Israel finally assemble, Absalom leads them down against David. They camp in the land of Gilead as David musters his men in Mahanaim. Even though David wishes join his men in battle, his commanders insist that David remain behind, because the opposing forces would be most concerned with striking David down in order to establish Absalom on the throne.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of men
who have set themselves against me
all around.

The battle is joined in the forests of Ephraim; on that day twenty thousand men die. More die to the forest, they say, than to the sword.

Arise, Oh LORD!
Save me, oh my God!
You strike all my enemies on the check,
you break the teeth of the wicked.

The servants of David are victorious, but David knows from whom victory truly comes.

Salvation belongs to the LORD
Your blessing be upon your people.