II Samuel 9:1-13
A PROMISE TO KEEP
Scriptures: II Samuel 9:1-13; Psalm 103:1-12
Last Sunday in our 365 Bible stories David was on the run
from King Saul, who was trying to kill him out of fear that David would take over the throne. During this week we read that King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in a battle against the Philistines, and David was made king in Saul's place. That is where today's Bible story begins: II Samuel 9:1-13.
[Read II Samuel 9:1-13]
Let's start with a Bible trivia question: What is the most
frequently used word in the Old Testament to describe God? There are several possible candidates:
Old Testament words to describe God: [Slide 1]
Merciful (Hebrew word Rahum]: 11 times
Righteous or just (Hebrew word Sadiq]: 19 times
Mighty or strong (Hebrew word hazaq]: 24 times
Holy (Hebrew word Qadosh]: 63 times
The winner: Hesed which means "steadfast" or "faithful": 175 times
We saw it three times in our first scripture reading from Psalm 103:
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, . who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy" (v. 4)
"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (v. 8).
"For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him" (v. 11)
Every time in the Old Testament you see the phrase "steadfast love" it is a translation of the Hebrew word hesed.
This is important for understanding today's Bible story.
Two weeks ago we read about the friendship between David and King Saul's son Jonathan. Even though King Saul was trying to kill David, his son Jonathan was trying to save David. Jonathan believed that David was God's choice to be the next king of Israel, so Jonathan asks David to make this promise: [Slide 3]
If I am still alive, show me the faithful love [hesed] of the Lord; but if I die, never cut off your faithful love [hesed] from my house (I Samuel 20:14-15)
In the chapters that follow, both Saul and Jonathan are
killed in a battle against the Philistines, and later Saul's only other son, a man named Ishbosheth, is assassinated by two of Saul's generals. By acclamation the people crown David the next king of Israel. But David remembers his promise to Jonathan: [Slide 4]
David asked, "Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness [hesed="steadfast love"] for Jonathan's sake?" (v. 1)
This is an intentional echo of David's promise to Jonathan. When
Jonathan's son Mephibosheth is brought to him, David says to him,
Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness [hesed="steadfast love"] for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always (v. 7).
This is completely contrary to what most kings in that time
would do. As the son of the previous king, Mephibosheth would have been considered a rival to the throne. Even if he was lame, the followers of Saul could have rallied around him and used him to launch a rebellion against David. Later in the Old Testament when a king named Ahab dies, a man named Jehu takes over the throne and executes every one of Ahab's sons, 70 of them, to make sure that none of them will survive to claim the throne.
But that is not how David works. David searches for any
remaining heir of King Saul to whom he can fulfill his promise to Jonathan. David would rather risk his power than break his promise. He considers security less important than steadfast love.
And that is how God is. The New Testament tells us that God
showed love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In other words, God sacrificed status for steadfast love. God was willing to become a human being and die on a cross if that's what it took to fulfill God's promise to save us.
David knew that he became king only because God fulfilled a promise
made to him years earlier. David was king because of God's steadfast love. So he determines to show that same steadfast love to Jonathan's son, thereby fulfilling the promise he had made to Jonathan years earlier.
There is a powerful book by a seminary professor named Lewis
Smedes called Caring and Commitment: Learning to Live the Love We Promise. Early in the book he poses this question: Why should people make and keep lifelong commitments to each other? Circumstances change, people change. How can we make a lifelong commitment to someone when we cannot anticipate all the changes that will happen in a lifetime?
Here is part of his answer:
We can create a good life together only out of trust. And trust, to make it last, needs commitment. We need to know that people who promise to be with us are really going to be there. If we all lived as strictly free-floating, unfettered, self-enhancing individuals, we would all be left hanging in the vacuum of each other's undependability. We need something firmer. Commitments give it to us. They create small islands of security for us in the oceans of insecurity. They make enclaves of steadiness in the jungles of change. They give us the only human basis for trusting each other. For counting on each other (p. 24).
This is precisely which the Bible is so concerned about
God's steadfast love. Without it we are left in the vacuum of each other's undependability. Because even when you find someone you can count on, death or circumstances may take them away. But God's steadfast love gives us an island of security in the oceans of insecurity, an enclave of steadiness in the jungles of change. It gives us the possibility of trusting our lives to Someone who will be there, when no one else is. That's what it means to believe in God's steadfast love.
And when we show steadfast love to one another, like David
did to Jonathan's son, it demonstrates God's steadfast love, making it a little more possible to believe.
In the book Caring and Commitment Smedes tells the story of
John and Margie Cooper. John and Margie were married in 1941. Four years and two children later, Margie fell victim to polio. She spent the rest of her life in an iron lung.
In 1981 they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, and
someone who did not know John very well asked why he had stuck it out all those years. John looked surprised and said, "I am a Christian, and we try to keep our promises." When Margie died several years later, his son asked how he had managed it all those years, and he said, "I never thought of doing anything else. You just do it, and God helps you."
That may be the key. The only way we can keep promises to
each other is by God keeping promises to us. It is God's steadfast love that makes it possible to have steadfast love for one another.