Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Author: Circle of Hope (Page 1 of 401)

July 3, 2020 — Ziba: deceitful flattery 

Today’s Bible reading

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  — Matthew 5:43-45

When David had gone a little beyond the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth,was waiting there for him. He had two donkeys loaded with 200 loaves of bread, 100 clusters of raisins, 100 bunches of summer fruit, and a wineskin full of wine.

“What are these for?” the king asked Ziba.

Ziba replied, “The donkeys are for the king’s people to ride on, and the bread and summer fruit are for the young men to eat. The wine is for those who become exhausted in the wilderness.”

“And where is Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson?” the king asked him.

“He stayed in Jerusalem,” Ziba replied. “He said, ‘Today I will get back the kingdom of my grandfather Saul.’”

“In that case,” the king told Ziba, “I give you everything Mephibosheth owns.”

“I bow before you,” Ziba replied. “May I always be pleasing to you, my lord the king.” — II Samuel 16:1-4

Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” the king asked him.

Mephibosheth replied, “My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best. All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honored me by allowing me to eat at your own table! What more can I ask?”

“You’ve said enough,” David replied. “I’ve decided that you and Ziba will divide your land equally between you.”

“Give him all of it,” Mephibosheth said. “I am content just to have you safely back again, my lord the king!” — II Samuel 19:24-30

More thoughts for meditation

This story takes place late in David’s life, when he had to flee Jerusalem during the rebellion of his son, Absalom. David and Ziba had known each other a long time and in this story Ziba played David for a fool. 

Early in his life David’s enemies were people who wanted to kill him. In the middle of his life his enemies were people who were waging war against him. Later in his life, his enemies included people who flattered him and tried to curry favor with him. Enmity comes in all forms.

Even though Ziba did this, David didn’t punish him. He didn’t seem to want to prove a point to Ziba or prove that Ziba had slandered Mephibosheth. He wanted to be fair to Mephibosheth and that was it. There was no revenge, even on behalf of another. He righted the wrong, he made sure to meet Mephibosheth’s needs, and then he let it be.

In this story, David doesn’t seem to be concerned with proving points or with asserting his authority or with not being deceived. He’s just concerned with justice and then he moves on. In the New Testament David is called a man after God’s own heart. In this story, Mephibosheth calls him an angel of God, and he trusts him to do what he thinks is best. Maybe this simple act of cutting off vengeance – even vengeance on behalf of another – is one way to follow God’s heart and to be like an angel of God.

This seems very much in the vein of “he sends sunlight on the good and the evil; he sends rain on the good and the evil.” David didn’t punish Joab. He’s not punishing Ziba. He lets them live. He lets God give them sunlight and rain. Rather than be concerned with punishing the wrong-doer, David is concerned with meeting the needs of the one wronged.

Suggestions for Action:

When you see someone else wronged today, pay attention to your thoughts. Do you begin to think about correcting, judging, or punishing the wrong-doer? Or do you think about meeting the needs of the one who was wronged?

Pray: “Dear One, You ask us to love our enemies. You ask us to pray for those who wish to harm us. You give sunlight to the evil and the good. You send rain to the just and the unjust. Help me to have a heart after your heart.”

July 2, 2020 — Abner: waging war

Today’s Bible readings

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  — Matthew 5:43-45

Read  II Samuel 3-4

[Excerpt] That was the beginning of a long war between those who were loyal to Saul and those loyal to David. As time passed David became stronger and stronger, while Saul’s dynasty became weaker and weaker. As the war between the house of Saul and the house of David went on, Abner became a powerful leader among those loyal to Saul. . . . 

Joab and some of David’s troops returned from a raid, bringing much plunder with them. When Joab arrived, he was told that Abner had just been there visiting the king and had been sent away in safety.

Joab rushed to the king and demanded, “What have you done? What do you mean by letting Abner get away? You know perfectly well that he came to spy on you and find out everything you’re doing!”

Joab then left David and sent messengers to catch up with Abner, asking him to return. They found him at the well of Sirah and brought him back, though David knew nothing about it. When Abner arrived back at Hebron, Joab took him aside at the gateway as if to speak with him privately. But then he stabbed Abner in the stomach and killed him in revenge for killing his brother Asahel.

When David heard about it, he declared, “I vow by the Lord that I and my kingdom are forever innocent of this crime against Abner son of Ner. Joab and his family are the guilty ones. May the family of Joab be cursed in every generation with a man who has open sores or leprosy or who walks on crutches or dies by the sword or begs for food!”

So Joab and his brother Abishai killed Abner because Abner had killed their brother Asahel at the battle of Gibeon.

Then David said to Joab and all those who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on burlap. Mourn for Abner.” And King David himself walked behind the procession to the grave.

More thoughts for meditation

To understand this story it helps to know a little about the characters:

  • Abner had commanded King Saul’s troops; David and Abner knew each other well from the time when David was aligned with Saul. 
  • Joab was commanding David’s troops. Joab was David’s nephew and he had two brothers: Abishai and Asahel. During the civil war between those who followed David and those who followed Saul, Abner killed Asahel in battle. 
  • Abishai, Joab’s older brother and David’s nephew, is by David’s side throughout his life. Abishai is with David when they went sneaking into Saul’s camp (yesterday’s story) and he’s with David later in David’s life when David flees Jerusalem (Saturday’s story). 

In this story, David has his enemy, Abner, completely at his mercy. He could have killed him and ended the war. He could have punished him for supporting Ishbosheth. He could have made an example of him for all of Israel. But he didn’t do any of that. David didn’t take revenge.

Joab did take revenge. Which is understandable, because Joab saw Abner as an enemy for two reasons: First, he’s the commander of the enemy troops. Abner and Joab have met a lot on the battlefield. Second, and much more visceral, Abner is the one who killed Joab’s brother. So when Abner has his chance to take revenge, he leaps at it. And then Abner is dead.

Now the story is even more complicated, because Joab has disregarded his king’s wishes. So David would have been well within his rights to punish Joab – to take revenge on him for his disobedience. He was angry enough to curse him. But he was the king – he could have gone far beyond cursing. 

Instead, the action he takes after he exclaims his own innocence and curses Joab is to have Joab join him in mourning. It’s restorative, in a way. David had love towards Abner and mourned him wholeheartedly. David had love towards Joab and restored him, inviting him into mourning rather than breaking off his relationship with him.

Suggestions for action

When you are wronged today (and you will be, sometime today), you might notice that you’re cursing the person who wronged you. When that happens, tell God. Make it a prayer. Let God know your thoughts. Then consider what action you could take that would be restorative, even in the midst of your anger and frustration.

Pray: “Dear One, You ask us to love our enemies. You ask us to pray for those who wish to harm us. Help me to pray for those who wish to harm me. Help me to come to you with my anger and my curses. Help me find a path towards restoration.” 

July 1, 2020 — Saul: attemped murder 

Today’s Bible readings

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  — Matthew 5:43-45

Read I Samuel 26

[Excerpt] So Saul took 3,000 of Israel’s elite troops and went to hunt [David] down in the wilderness of Ziph. Saul camped along the road beside the hill of Hakilah, near Jeshimon, where David was hiding. When David learned that Saul had come after him into the wilderness, he sent out spies to verify the report of Saul’s arrival.

David slipped over to Saul’s camp one night to look around.  . . . David and Abishai went right into Saul’s camp and found him asleep, with his spear stuck in the ground beside his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying asleep around him.

“God has surely handed your enemy over to you this time!” Abishai whispered to David. “Let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t need to strike twice!”

“No!” David said. “Don’t kill him. For who can remain innocent after attacking the Lord’s anointed one? Surely the Lord will strike Saul down someday, or he will die of old age or in battle. The Lord forbid that I should kill the one he has anointed! But take his spear and that jug of water beside his head, and then let’s get out of here!”

So David took the spear and jug of water that were near Saul’s head. Then he and Abishai got away without anyone seeing them or even waking up, because the Lord had put Saul’s men into a deep sleep.

David climbed the hill opposite the camp until he was at a safe distance. Then he shouted down . . . Saul recognized David’s voice and called out, “Is that you, my son David?”

And David replied, “Yes, my lord the king. Why are you chasing me? What have I done? What is my crime? But now let my lord the king listen to his servant. If the Lord has stirred you up against me, then let him accept my offering. But if this is simply a human scheme, then may those involved be cursed by the Lord. For they have driven me from my home, so I can no longer live among the Lord’s people, and they have said, ‘Go, worship pagan gods.’ Must I die on foreign soil, far from the presence of the Lord? Why has the king of Israel come out to search for a single flea? Why does he hunt me down like a partridge on the mountains?”

Then Saul confessed, “I have sinned. Come back home, my son, and I will no longer try to harm you, for you valued my life today. I have been a fool and very, very wrong.”

“Here is your spear, O king,” David replied. “Let one of your young men come over and get it. The Lord gives his own reward for doing good and for being loyal, and I refused to kill you even when the Lord placed you in my power, for you are the Lord’s anointed one. Now may the Lord value my life, even as I have valued yours today. May he rescue me from all my troubles.”

More thoughts for meditation

David had a prior chance to kill Saul when Saul came into the cave where David was hiding. He didn’t kill him. In this story, he gets a new chance. And he doesn’t kill him. Stepping away from vengeance towards our enemies isn’t a one-time decision. We have to choose it again and again and again. Loving our enemies is ongoing work.

David approaches this in much the same way as he does with the story in I Samuel 24. He leaves room for doubt. He considers that perhaps Saul is right, acting according to God’s will (“If the Lord has stirred you up against me . . . “) and he considers that perhaps Saul is wrong (“if this is simply a human scheme . . . “). Saul is trying to murder David and even so David leaves room to consider that maybe Saul is not wrong.

When David steps out of the enmity cycle, he opens up room for Saul to repent. Saul doesn’t have to defend himself against David. David’s judgment of Saul is cut off and this gives Saul space to hear the voice of God and to admit that he has sinned.

David was able to break the cycle of enmity by holding onto his belief that his God is a God who rescues us from our troubles and that God will value our lives. Even so, David still leaves room for God’s deity and offers his belief as a prayer: The Lord gives his own reward . . May the Lord value my life . . May he rescue me from all my troubles. David knows he is not cutting a deal with God. He is not sparing Saul as a quid pro quo. He trusts God to give God’s reward and he seems poised to accept the good given, whatever it is. He entrusts his life to God, and he receives whatever mercies God gives.

Suggestions for action

When you hear a voice in your mind telling you to take revenge on someone, imagine that it is Abishai’s voice, and answer it firmly, “No. The Lord forbid that I should___[take revenge]_____.”

Pray: “Dear One, You ask us to love our enemies. You ask us to pray for those who wish to harm us. Please help me when I feel tempted to take revenge. Help me remember that you give your own reward for doing good and being loyal. Value my life. Rescue me from all my troubles.”

Today is Harriet Beecher Stowe Day! Honor the influential abolitionist at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

June 30, 2020 — Nabal: sneering ingratitude 

Today’s Bible readings

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  — Matthew 5:43-45

Read I Samuel 25

[Excerpt] One of Nabal’s servants went to Abigail and told her, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he screamed insults at them. These men have been very good to us, and we never suffered any harm from them. Nothing was stolen from us the whole time they were with us. In fact, day and night they were like a wall of protection to us and the sheep. You need to know this and figure out what to do, for there is going to be trouble for our master and his whole family. He’s so ill-tempered that no one can even talk to him!”

Abigail wasted no time . . She packed [gifts] on donkeys and said to her servants, “Go on ahead. I will follow you shortly.” But she didn’t tell her husband Nabal what she was doing . . When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him. She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say. I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent.

“Now, my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lord has kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands, let all your enemies and those who try to harm you be as cursed as Nabal is . . .Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch! . . .

David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. For I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.” Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.”

More thoughts for meditation

Nabal’s enmity with David was different than Saul’s. Nabal wasn’t trying to kill David, but he was full of sneering ingratitude. This is the kind of enmity we are likely to encounter all the time in the course of our daily lives. It made David really mad. It makes us really mad. 

When Christ talks about enemies, he’s not just talking about those who are trying to kill us. He’s also talking about those who interact with us who are full of sneering ingratitude. He’s talking about those people who everyone agrees – everyone, even their own partners and families – are wicked and ill-tempered fools. These enemies, too, are to be met with love. 

If it’s true that murder in response to murder is evil, then it’s also true that insult in response to insult is evil. Jesus tells us that emphatically. Right before the passage about loving your enemies is the passage about insult and murder: 

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.  But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

David did not kill Saul because he knew that to do so would mean to lose his soul. He was so mad at Nabal, though, that he forgot he was in danger of losing his soul. And this is where friends come in. When we’re interacting with wicked and ill-tempered fools, we’re especially tempted to be our own source of judgment and punishment. David needed Abigail to remind him that punishing Nabal would mean to lose his soul. We need friends to help us hold onto our souls, too. 

Suggestions for action

Pay attention to your heart when you find yourself around wicked and ill-tempered people today. Do you feel yourself starting to justify your own small evils in response to their small evils? Find a friend and talk to them about it. 

Pray: “Dear One, You ask us to love our enemies. You ask us to pray for those who wish to harm us. You teach us that to insult or curse each other is to lose our souls. Help me to love my enemies, even those who insult me. Help me to let go of vengeance and to hold onto my life and onto my soul.”

« Older posts