The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: “When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
A Benjamite named Sheba was the troublemaker I had to face next. Saul had been from the tribe of Benjamin and so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Just when everyone else was ready to accept me as their King again, Sheba caused a large contingent from the army of Israel to break away and follow him. The rest of the army including the troops of Judah remained loyal to me.
Being upset with Joab for killing Absalom, I had named Amasa the new head of my Army. After I returned to Jerusalem I became concerned that Sheba would cause more trouble for me than Absalom had, so I sent Amasa to re-gather the troops of Judah to join with the army in Jerusalem and chase him down before he could get settled in somewhere behind fortifications.
When Amasa hadn’t returned after the three days I had given him to muster Judah’s army, I told Abishai, Joab’s brother, to take the soldiers in Jerusalem and go after Sheba. This was the second time I had bypassed Joab who, unbeknownst to me, had mingled in with the troops. I told Abishai I would send Amasa and his men as soon as they showed up. They caught up with him at Gibeon and as Joab went out to greet Amasa, he pulled a dagger and killed him just like he had done to a previous rival, Abner.
Abishai rallied all the troops around his brother Joab and they continued after Sheba, catching him at Abel of Beth Maacah, a city in northern Israel. In another one of those ironies, Beth Maacah means “House of Pressure” which it would soon become for Sheba. As Joab laid siege to the city and began to batter down its gate, an old woman called to him, reminding him of the city’s noble history as a place of peace, a city where logic prevailed. Why was Joab trying to destroy it?
Joab responded that he was only after one man and if they handed him over the city would be spared. “We’ll throw his head over the wall,” she replied, and sure enough a short time later Sheba’s severed head came flying over the wall. End of siege, end of rebellion.
Shortly after Joshua began his conquest of the land some 400 years earlier, he had made a treaty with the Gibeonites, one of the indigenous peoples of Caanan, promising to spare them if they helped the Israelites. They agreed, and the Gibeonites became friends of Israel. But Saul got it into his mind to annihilate them and though he didn’t succeed it angered the Lord, Who now brought a famine across the land. He directed me to ask the Gibeonites what would appease them so He could take the famine away.
The Gibeonites said it would take the deaths of 7 of Saul’s direct male descendants to make things right, so I agreed to see to it. I skipped Mephibosheth, because of my covenant with Jonathon, but chose seven others including the five sons of Merab, my wife Michal’s sister. The Gibeonites killed them and laid their bodies out for all to see and as prey for the wild animals. In those days killing someone wasn’t the worst thing you could do to him. Denying him burial was the worst, and that’s what the Gibeonites did to Saul’s grandsons. His former concubine Rizpah protected the bodies while they lay there, driving away the carrion birds and animals.
I found out about this and collected the bodies of Saul and Jonathon from Jabesh Gilead, and the seven bodies of Saul’s grandsons, and had them all buried in Saul’s family tomb at Kish, his hometown. This satisfied the Lord and the famine was lifted.
Over the next few years there were several more attacks by the Philistines, and in the course of these battles the four brothers of Goliath were killed. All five were sons of Rapha, one of the Nephillim. Besides Goliath, three of the others were named Ishbi-Benob, Saph (Sippai), and Lahmi, respectively. The fifth one, whose name I never learned, had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Having seen me kill Goliath, my soldiers were now emboldened to do the same. By the way, now you know why I picked up five stones on that day so long ago. These four were there when I fought their brother Goliath, and for all I knew I’d have to face them, too.
Again the Lord was upset with Israel because of the behavior of her first two kings, Saul and me. Satan took advantage of this and stirred me up to take a census of our troops. Taking a census was something you only did to prepare for war, like requiring everyone to register for the draft, and the Lord had not told us to go to war. It was a huge sin on my part, and when I confessed, the Lord gave me three options for punishment; three years of famine in Israel, three months of defeat by our enemies, or three days of plague. I chose the plague to get it over quickly, but even so 70,000 men of Israel died.
I had committed the sin of pride in wanting my army numbered. The bigger the army, the more powerful the king. You might ask why, if this was my sin, was the punishment borne by the people? Remember, the Lord was upset with them, too. Their sin was in wanting a human King, an imperfect man who would mistreat them and cause them pain as Saul and I had done, instead of staying with the Lord, Who had been their King. He had Samuel warn them against this, but they insisted. This was their punishment for disobeying Him.
And again, the Lord turned lemons into lemonade. He told the prophet Gad to have me erect an altar to confess my sin and petition the Lord for mercy on behalf of the people. Gad directed me to Araunah the Jebusite, who had a threshing floor on the level top of Mt. Moriah, the location God had chosen for the altar. Though he offered to give them to me, I bought Araunah’s threshing floor, wooden sledge, and oxen for 600 shekels of gold, about $100,000 in your economy, built the altar and worshiped the Lord there as I had been instructed. He sent fire from Heaven, burning up the wood and the animals, as a sign of acceptance of my offering. The plague ended and I was forgiven.
Through out my story I’ve recounted several instances like this where God has exacted direct and severe punishment upon individuals as well as the whole nation for their sins. The death of Bathsheba’s baby, the strife in my family, the killing of Saul’s grandsons, and this latest one punishing the nation for their insistence on having a human king, are clear examples of the Lord demanding punishment for human sin.
In their attempts to reconcile these events with so-called New Testament theology, some say they demonstrate a difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. In effect, they’re implying that God realized that His punitive methods weren’t working so He changed His approach toward men, using love instead of punishment to get us to behave.
But the Lord is the same, yesterday, today and forever. (Hebr. 13:8) He has always hated sin and can never overlook its occurrence. Just the thought of it stirs Him to anger. Being a just and righteous God, He cannot help but punish every last sin.
Neither can He express any one of his attributes at the expense of any other. In order to meet His need to show us the full measure of His love, He had to first meet His need for justice, and that’s what He did at the cross. Because He punished His Son for all of our sins, he’s now free to love us without reservation or condition. He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.(Colossians 1:22) It’s as if you’ve never sinned.
The contrast between Old Testament and New is not meant to show us that He learned to change His ways, but to show us the full extent of what was accomplished at the cross. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) If not for the cross, people would still be executed for pre- or extra-marital sex, or for working on the Sabbath, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. Look at your life in light of the Sermon on the Mount and thank the Lord on your knees for the cross.
Because of the plague, I now knew the House of the Lord would be located on Mt. Moriah. I also knew that though my son Solomon would be its builder, I was to begin accumulating the materials and drawing up the plans. Purchasing the ground on which the Temple would sit had been my first step. Next I got a large team of stonecutters together and put them to work making dressed stone for the exterior. I provided iron for nails, a huge quantity of bronze, and thousands of cedar logs from Lebanon.
Then I sent for Solomon, and told him of the Lord’s plans. I had wanted to build the Temple, I told him, but the Lord refused, since I was a man of war. He would be Israel’s next King and would be a man of peace, for the Lord would give Israel a time of peace and quiet during his reign. He would build the Temple. Since he was young and inexperienced, I was going to make all the preparations for him.
In addition to the iron and bronze, I set aside one hundred thousand talents of gold (3,750 tons) a million talents of silver (37,500 tons) and mountains of precious jewels from the national treasury. I recruited skilled craftsmen of every kind. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I developed the plans for the Temple’s construction down to the last detail, including all of its furnishings and utensils. I organized the priesthood into 24 courses, or divisions, to serve on a regular schedule, and appointed musicians, singers, gatekeepers, treasurers and other officials.
Lastly, to set an example for my countrymen, I gave all my personal wealth to a building fund I created to receive the gifts of Israelites from all walks of life. My commitment was reflected in the giving of the leaders who in turn inspired all the people to contribute as well. It was an amazing outpouring of generosity. In the presence of all the elders of Israel I raised my voice in gratitude to the Lord Who had placed this spirit of generosity in the hearts of the people. All the people joined me in praising the Lord and our voices rose into the Heavens to warm the heart of our Creator and Redeemer.
The next day my son Solomon was installed as King of Israel and for the first time sat on the throne in my place. I had reigned over Israel for 40 years, seven from Hebron and 33 from Jerusalem.
The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue. The God of Israel spoke,
the Rock of Israel said to me: “When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”
In spite of all my weaknesses and shortcomings, it was the Lord’s pleasure to make me that light for a brief moment in history. May His name be forever praised. Shalom.