Adversity

Reflections on II Samuel 15-19 —

I love watching my kids play basketball.  I’m normally a mild-mannered man, but when my kids are playing basketball, there is nothing mild in my manner.  I transform into a crazed fan.  And the referee…well, he is the enemy.  One bad call and I am all over him, sometimes waiting until a hush in the crowd before uttering some really well-thought, cutting remark that comes from that spot on my brain that never seems to be in touch with reality.  The referee may think he’s just wearing black and white strips and earning minimum wage blowing a whistle and calling fouls.  But in the warped world of my brain, he is my adversary, doing his best to draw out all the immaturity hidden deep in the recesses of my heart.  It’s only after the game I realize I’ve been an absolute idiot and become remorseful, ashamed, and profusely apologetic.

I thank God for bringing adversity into my life — sending those referees to expose the hidden ugliness in my heart, and to remind me I am still very human, very much in need of redemption.  A gifted speaker once said God’s testing– the adversity He brings into our life–is like shaking a glass full of water.  When the glass is shaken, some of the contents spill out, and you see what’s inside.  The same is true of God’s tests.  When He shakes you, some of what’s inside of you spills out, and you have an opportunity to see what’s really going on inside your heart.

I am at my worst when I am comfortable.  I need a little adversity from time to time.  The same was true for David.  In the peak of his career, he grew comfortable, complacent, lethargic, and uninspired.  In sharp contrast to the boldness and vigor of his early days, David the middle-aged man was distant and distracted.  In this forgettable chapter of his life, he made senseless, desperate choices and his neglect of his unwieldy children still makes us shake our heads in disbelief.  What David really needed  was some adversity.

Adversity in David’s life was just what God had in mind.

One of the things many people don’t understand about God is that He is a God who tests.  There are multiple references in scripture to God as a tester or a refiner, including Psalm 11:4, Psalm 66:10, Isaiah 48:10, Proverbs 17:3, Job 23:10, Jeremiah 9:7, Jeremiah 17:10, and many more.    Like a silversmith, God tests His people with refining fire that separates impurities from the pure metal.  He does not like seeing us suffer for long, and He doesn’t just bring adversity out of some sick pleasure.  He does it because He sees potential for a better, richer, and fuller experience for us.  He sees we can be better than we are.  When God calls one of us to be His, He is not content to watch us flounder, to wallow around aimlessly, to act foolishly, selfishly, or spitefully.  He wants to take us to a deeper level–to know the depths of His limitless compassion, the joy of loving people unconditionally, and the thrill of applied knowledge in wisdom.  That’s why He brings adversity.

God brings adversity in many forms — referees, flooded basements, rebellious teens, a leaky roof, a bad review with the boss.  Perhaps the worst form of adversity comes from within–strife among family members.  We carry exceptionally heavy burdens when our children go astray, make bad decisions, become argumentative. Those kinds of adversity can take us through the lowest valleys, and those were the kinds of adversity God brought into David’s life.

First, a child conceived in sin by David and Bathsheba died at childbirth (II Samuel 12:15-23).  Next, in a scandalous act of incest, David’s eldest son Amnon forcibly raped his half-sister, Tamar (II Samuel 13:1-22). Consequently, Tamar’s brother (and David’s third son) Absalom plotted and had Amnon murdered (II Samuel 13:24-33).  Absalom, a troubled, ambitious youth, proceeded to rise up in rebellion against his father.  Absalom’s rebellion grew quickly–his appeal was widespread and strong.  When news of the rebellion reached David, he was compelled to abandon the luxury of his palace in haste and flee for his life on foot (II Samuel 15:13-18).  He suffered an indignant retreat over rocks and streams, a renegade completely dependent on faithful subjects who risked their necks to bring provisions.  He was exposed to nature, sleeping in the open.  Perhaps the greatest adversity bore by David was when Absalom sexually violated the concubines from David’s royal harem, performed in a tent pitched above the palace, in full view of everyone.  The humiliation David experienced at that point broke his heart and shattered his world.

God’s testing brought a reversal in David’s fortune, from comfort to suffering, from pride to humiliation. Yet, it is here, in the lowest point of David’s life, that David’s faith was renewed and His passion restored.  In II Samuel 15-19, David is once again a godly man rising up in the face of adversity.  He once again became a man refined by fire, shining bright in a dark and dreary hour.  He rose again to be the man God intended him to be.  Evidence of David’s rekindled faith is all over the pages of II Samuel 15-19.  We can see it in his fear of God and right treatment of people–with remarkable kindness, faith, effective leadership, righteous judgment, and contentment…all in the face of adversity:

  • Kindness – You’ve got to admire people who are going through adversity yet still are considerate of others.  In the midst of his hurried escape, David encounters Ittai and his family (II Samuel 15:19-23).  Ittai was a Gittite, a Philistine.  Most Philistines were sworn enemies of Israel, but Ittai was different.  He had pledged loyalty to David and had just arrived the day before to begin a life in exile. David, desperate for any help he could get, was nonetheless thoughtful enough to suggest that Ittai and his family turn back.  Life would be hard if Ittai followed him–there would be narrow escapes, deprivation, and toilsome treks through wilderness.  Ittai nevertheless determines to go with David, but at least David gave him a chance to withdraw with honor.
  • Faith – When David hastily fled Jerusalem, Zadok the priest came too, bringing the iconic ark of the covenant (II Samuel 15:24-26). Zadok planned to bring the ark into exile with David.  But David had experience with the ark and respected its purpose.  He knew it was not a secret weapon, not a mere good luck charm. He was not so high on himself to think he could bring it with him.  He knew the ark is God’s, that it belongs in God’s temple, and that God knows how to care for it.  Instead of trusting in the relic, David entrusted his fate to God.  If God favored him, He would find a way to bring David back, with or without an ark.
  • Leadership – Good leaders know how to delegate. David’s quick thinking and tasking of Hushai is an excellent example of successful delegation (II Samuel 15:27-29, 31-37; 17:1-23).  Hushai was a skilled advisor, and David put his skills to good use.  He sent him back with Zadok and Abiathar as a spy network, secretly relaying Absalom’s plans back to him.  In the end, it is Hushai and his clever advise to Absalom that bought time for David and ultimately saved the day.
  • Right Judgment – In David’s hour of trauma, Ziba, servant of the crippled Mephibosheth, saw an opportunity for himself.  He lied, calling Mephibosheth disloyal, and won David’s confidence and blessing (II Samuel 16:1-4).  Later, when David discovers the truth, he deftly keeps his ill-advised promise to Ziba while simultaneously restoring Mephibosheth (II Samuel 19:24-30).  David’s wise judgment is righteous–equally merciful and fair.  Such righteous judgment demonstrates David’s refinement through adversity.
  • Contentment – In his time of weakness, David was shamed and oppressed by Shimei (II Samuel 16:5-14).  But rather than forcibly silencing Shimei, David shows great understanding of his circumstances, seeing God’s hand behind Shimei’s actions.  He resigned himself to God’s judgment and discipline. This response of David is perhaps the most remarkable — he shows contentment with his circumstances, fully believing his circumstances are from God and for his best.  When David is restored, Shimei is moved to appear before him and apologize (II Samuel 19:16-23).  David’s mercy on Shimei is testament to the reinvigorated faith in David’s heart.

Adversity is hard in the present.  In the midst of adversity, it is important to recognize God’s loving hand on you, to imagine the greater depths of faith at the far end of it, where He is taking you.  This is the perfect result, the maturity and fullness James refers to in his famous statement:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”    —James 1:2-4

This is also the conclusion of Jeremiah, who in Lamentations 3 poured out the soul of a man weary with testing.  Jeremiah, in the midst of adversity, aligns his mind with the truth of God’s love, God’s compassion:

“For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.  For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.”  –Lamentations 3:31-33

In the midst of adversity, remind yourself of this promise.  God will not reject forever.  He hates causing us grief.  He will have compassion soon enough, and pour out His abundant lovingkindness at the end.

Praise God that He is loving enough to not let us be stagnant, content with mediocrity and shallowness.  Praise God that He shakes us, that He gives us an opportunity to see what’s inside us–good or bad.  Praise God that He gives us adversity so we can deal with the bad stuff and progress from immaturity to a higher form of love, a richer experience of trust, and fulfilling demonstrations of wisdom.

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