When things change there is always a period of transition. In most cases we want that transition to be as smooth as possible.
We hope for a smooth transition when we get a new President or a change in the makeup of Congress. We desire a smooth transition when a new ownership team takes over a business; when schools merge together; when an organization moves into a new facility; or when we move to a new town or job. We want a smooth transition when two families are brought together to form a new family.
This morning we will look at a time of transition in the nation of Israel. It is the account of the transition of power between Saul and David. David was probably anointed to be the next King in his mid to late teens. He worked in Saul’s administration and then spent many years on the run fleeing the jealous King. Now at age 30 (2 Samuel 5:4) David finally becomes the King. But this didn’t happen as easily as it sounds.
As 1 Samuel comes to a conclusion we are told of Saul’s death. The Israelites were at war with the Philistines and during the battle the archers shot Saul. The King knew he could not escape without being captured by the enemy. He anticipated torture so he asked his armor-bearer to “finish the job” and put him out of his misery. The armor bearer refused to kill the King. Saul “fell on his own sword” and died. Three of Saul’s sons were also killed in battle, including Jonathan.
We want to pay attention to what David does. His example can teach us a great deal about character and about effecting smooth transitions in the changes of life.
David Showed Honor to His Predecessor
David and his men had just returned from their own battle with the Amalekites after they had razed Ziklag, the hometown of David. An Amalekite arrived with word on the battle between Israel and the Philistines (the battle where David almost had to fight for the Philistines). He reported that Saul and his three sons were all dead. It was a devastating victory for the Philistines.
David asked the man how he knew this to be true and the man said he saw Saul himself and took pieces of his armor to give to David (it is interesting that he seemed to know David was destined to be the next King). The Amalekite also told David that he found Saul on his sword, in agony. Saul asked him to finish him off, and he obliged. We don’t know whether this is true or whether the Amalekite was embellishing the story (most likely) in order to (he thought) enhance his standing with the King.
We are told,
David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. (2 Samuel 1:11-12)
Isn’t this interesting? There is no celebrating. There are no parties. David had been chased by Saul for years and yet when Saul died he mourned. Not only that, David had the Amalekite executed for his testimony that he put the King to death. Even if David suspected the man was lying he could not have spared a self-confessed killer of the King. Fear of God must be maintained and no one should be allowed to be rewarded for killing the one the Lord has anointed.
What David does next is filled with tenderness, love and wisdom. David composed a memorial elegy (a song of mourning). The main phrase is one that has been repeated many times over the course of history, “how the mighty have fallen”. In this song David extols Saul’s leadership and accomplishments. He also mourned the loss of his dear friend Jonathan.
There is an important lesson here: the best way to make a good transition is to speak honorably of your predecessor. I think it says something negative about a man when he has to constantly put down the one who came before him. Why is this necessary? Even if you disagree with policies or practices of the one who came previous to you, what is gained by tearing them down? The only thing such character assassination does is alienate those who supported and loved the predecessor and it makes you look small.
By speaking of Saul in an honoring way David built a bridge to those who had followed Saul. What a way to build true bipartisanship! It is never a mistake to show respect to others . . . even those with whom you disagree. It says a great deal about the character of a person who chooses to spotlight the strengths of his opponent rather than his weaknesses; who focuses on his gifts rather than his liabilities.
Do you need to apply this lesson somewhere in your life? It may be at home, at work, at school, or in the community. Though some errors must be confronted directly, they are not as many as we think. One of the ways we demonstrate the love of Christ is by the honor, respect, and love we show to our enemies. We can do this by,
- Affirming what you hold in common rather than focusing on disagreements
- Extending the benefit of the doubt rather than attributing the worst possible motives
- Spotlighting strengths rather than weaknesses
- Being silent rather than be negative
Let me repeat the principle: it is never a mistake to show respect and honor to another….even if it is not returned.
David Sought God’s Will in His Planning
In 2 Samuel 2 there is a contrast between David, a man of God and Abner, an opportunist. Though many looked to David as the new King, David didn’t presume anything. Instead of barging ahead, David inquired of the Lord. He called for the priest and sought God’s guidance. God told him to go to Hebron, a famous city of Biblical history. David then waited for the men there to make him King.
Contrast this with Abner. Listen to the contrast,
Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel. 10 Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The length of time David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months. (8-11) (italics mine)
It appears that Abner saw an opportunity to gain and advantage. He made Ish-bosheth (Saul’s fourth son who probably escaped the battle with Abner) King over Israel. Because of the losses to the Philistines it probably took 5 ½ year before Ish-bosheth actually was king over all of Israel(excluding the tribe of Judah).
We need to learn two principles from David and Abner: First, Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something. David never viewed Saul as his obstacle to the throne. David believed God’s timing was what kept him from the throne. David sought the Lord’s direction rather than trying to make things happen on his own. Think about this,
- Just because you can change jobs doesn’t mean you should
- Just because you can have a relationship with someone other than your spouse doesn’t mean it is good to do so
- Just because you can “get away” with taking money from the company does not mean it is right
- Just because you can get support for a position of leadership or you have the votes to win a contest doesn’t mean it is the wise thing to do
- Just because you can cheat and get a better grade doesn’t mean that’s what you should do
Corrie ten Boom asked this pointed question: “Is prayer your steering wheel, or is it your spare tire?” In other words do we seek God’s guidance as a regular course or only when we are spiritually flat or there has been a blowout in our life?
Prayer should be the thing that guides our daily lives. I can’t help but wonder how many churches have split because a church pushed ahead with some change when the congregation wasn’t ready. I wonder how many homes have been weakened because one person pushed ahead with their agenda rather than seeking the Lord’s will. It is always a good policy to seek the Lord’s guidance before you move forward. Sit before the Lord in prayer and search the Scriptures. If the way is not clear seek counsel, evaluate circumstances, and move forward carefully.
Second, we see that it is possible to know truth yet not submit to the truth. Abner knew David was meant to be King but he refused to submit to that truth. In 2 Samuel 3:9 Abner confessed that he knows God had promised David the Kingship with an oath. It is a sober reminder of what is true for so many: they know the truth about Jesus; they know He is God’s Son and is the only One who can save, but they will not submit to that truth.
I believe David knew that a King was not to multiply wives. But he did it anyway. As a result, David experienced all kinds of family turmoil and heartache.
Think about people driving a car. They may know all the safety rules. They know they are to wear their seat belts, they are to keep a safe distance between cars, they should keep both hands on the wheel, they should not drink and drive. However, many people don’t follow those rules. They don’t wear seat belts. They drive while talking on the cell phone, sending texts, combing their hair etc. They have a few drinks and conclude they are OK to drive. These people know the truth but do not submit to it. Sometimes these people crash badly and sometimes fatally.
It is the same with the Lord. We can go to church, learn the lingo, master Bible facts, be involved in the church as an organization, and still not embrace or submit to God’s truth in the way we live our lives. Instead of doing things God’s way, we ignore His Word unless it supports what we want to do.
How can we tell if we are among these people? Look at you desires, your calendar, your checkbook, your relationships with others and what you do in the secret times of your life. Do you see God’s heart and priorities taking over these areas of your life or is God an afterthought? If He is an afterthought you may be more like Abner than David.
David acted with wisdom and patience toward the people
After David was declared King over Judah he had to wait another 7½ years! He still had a number of obstacles to overcome before he would be King over all Israel.
David had to navigate through a civil war. Once Ish-bosheth and Abner were in power they came to fight David (2:12). A civil war is a devastating time because it pits brother against brother. It leaves scars that last for generations. In this case it led to the death of Joab’s (David’s commander-in-chief) brother reluctantly by Abner.
Through the murder of Abner. When Abner took for himself one of Saul’s concubines, Ish-bosheth saw it as Abner trying to make a claim to the throne. An angry Abner (who was either hurt or busted) now determined to give his allegiance to David.
After a number of negotiations, David and Abner met. Abner agreed to throw his support behind David. However, as Abner was leaving his meeting with Abner which concluded negotiations, Joab brutally murdered Abner. He did so as pay-back for the death of his brother.
David was in a delicate spot. This was a potential scandal of major proportion. This could certainly undermine the unity of Israel. David condemned the murder and publicly mourned Abner. He spoke at his funeral and fasted. David showed that he had not ordered the murder and the people respected David.
The Assassination of Ish-bosheth. After Abner was killed the real power behind the throne of Ish-bosheth was gone. Two other men thinking they were helping David, murdered Ish-bosheth as he took a nap. They cut off his head and brought it to David as a souvenir (yuck!). When they arrived at the home of David they said, “This day the LORD has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring. (2 Sam 4:8). In other words, they claimed they were doing God’s work.
Just recently a man went into a Unitarian Church in Tennessee and started shooting people. He said the church was not a true church (a true statement) and he thought such liberal thinkers need to be silenced. The man presented himself as one who was doing the work of God.
Religious zealots bomb abortion clinics. They are right that abortion is murder but to imply that they are doing God’s work when they bomb the clinic is a horrible offense against the character of God.
David saw through the plea of these men that they were serving God. An innocent man was killed in his own home, while he was sleeping! God was not behind such acts. David executed both men.
The point here is that David remained patient with his circumstances even as he was patient with the people of Israel. Because of his patience the rest of Israel came and made him their King. It was a smooth transition that lasted 40 years.
It is inevitable that you and I will face times of transition in our lives. We can influence how smoothly the change takes place whether we are the one provoking the change or responding to it. It may be on a board or committee or it may be in an organization or in your relationships. The simple guidelines we learn from David’s example can help,
- Refer to those who have gone before you in ways that are honoring. It is never wrong to treat others with respect.
- Seek God’s direction. We must remind ourselves that just because we can do something doesn’t mean it is right. We also need to remember that knowing the truth and doing the truth are two different things.
- Be patient with people and circumstances. Much of the interpersonal conflict in our lives is due to the way we insist on our own agenda and our unwillingness to give people a chance to grow. If we would be patient we could see God help us grow.
I want you to see something else. In these chapters we also see the pervasive nature of sin. We are startled that men are lying to each other, hating each other, and seeking to gain positions of influence. It is easy to be shocked by reading such things in the Bible but these things are also taking place all around us. Sometimes these things describe the tactics and behaviors in our own lives. These things are all evidence that sin is deeply ingrained in us as individuals and as a society.
We also see death reigning. Saul, his sons and Joab’s brother, Ashael are all killed in battle. Abner and Ish-bosheth are murdered. It is a potent reminder that life is temporary.
Last week Fred Winters entered his pulpit in First Baptist Church of Maryville. Ten minutes into his message he was murdered. It is foolish to continue to live our lives as if we have any guarantee of another day of life. We must face the reality of death and the ultimate issue of what lies beyond the grave.
The Bible is clear, after death there is judgment. Those who have failed to measure up to God’s standards will face judgment. The notion of “getting away with sin” is the thought of a fool.
Let me say one more thing. In this passage we also see the wonder of God’s grace. In the midst of the madness God was still at work. He prevented David from rushing ahead. He was willing to guide His servant. God fulfilled His promise.
It is through the line of David that God extended His greatest act of mercy. Into this sin-stained world filled with the smell of death, God sent Jesus. This descendant of David, God in human form, laid down His life for sinful people like you and me. Through his resurrection He has been ordained the ultimate King. He has been given authority by the Father to extend forgiveness and new life to all who will put their trust in Him.
He has not yet been recognized as Lord of all. As for now He waits patiently because “He does not want any to perish but all to come to everlasting life.” He waits for all His children to come to Him. However, in God’s timing, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Those who refuse Him will not enjoy the wonder of Heaven but will be forced to endure the torture of Hell.
If you are not following Jesus as your Savior and Lord there is still time; however, we don’t know how much time. We are reminded that those who trust, depend on, and follow Jesus now as Savior and Lord, do not need to fear the transition from death to eternity. They do not need to fear the Coming of the Lord. For those who have embraced Him it is sure to be a smooth transition.