Posts tagged murder
Maybe it’s the voice of God, or maybe it’s just my brain doing funny things after a long and exhausting few days, but when I read today’s reading, there was one thing running through my head. The problem is, it doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with these chapters from Jeremiah. It came to me, however, when I read these verses from chapter 7:
If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:6-7)
The language seems pretty straight forward, and yet, I couldn’t shake the notion that God was trying to speak something new and fresh to me – something that i had never considered before. I kept coming back to those words “do not shed innocent blood.” Of course, he’s talking about murder. But there was something deeper stirring in me. As I wrestled with what it was that caused me to linger on these verses and this particular phrase, it hit me. Murder is horrific, but there is something even more horrific: being a barrier to someone’s relationship with God.
I’ve given a lot of thought recently to how we, as followers of Jesus, should respond to those we disagree with or who’s ideals, theologies lifestyles don’t align with our understanding of God’s desire. Obviously, first and foremost, we have to be willing to admit that, in many cases, we might have it wrong (and they might have it right). But what if I really am right?
That’s where I felt God speaking to me through this verse (or perhaps around this verse) in Jeremiah. What I began to understand is that we are shedding innocent blood all the time – murdering people spiritually. Let’s take a hypothetical:
Imagine that, based on my understanding of the Bible, I believed that chewing gum was wrong. I believed it wholeheartedly and never even considered putting a piece of gum in my mouth. I was appalled when I saw others chewing gum, especially friends or family members. I even chose, on occasion to confront them about their choice to chew gum.
Now imagine my relative, blindsided by my insistence that he not chew gum. His understanding of the Bible doesn’t prohibit gum chewing. His experience with God is completely unrelated to chewing gum. Sure, he knows there are people like me that spiritualize gum chewing, but that just isn’t his deal. He loves God and gum. If I, then, (because, you know, I’m a pastor) convince him that he has to choose between God and gum, there are only a few possible outcomes.
First, he could choose God and leaves gum behind. Perhaps that’s a good choice, but it isn’t one made out of personal conviction or the leading of the Holy Spirit, but is one made out of a need to follow the rules – rules that don’t make any sense to my relative.
Second, he could ignore me and continue to love both God and gum.
Or third, he could choose gum and decide that any God who would keep him from chewing gum is not a God he want’s to have a relationship with.
It is the third possibility that is the most frightening to me. Now, obviously, gum chewing is a silly example (some of my best friends are gum chewers), but hopefully you see my point. We all have those issues that we are convinced we are right about and, very often, our natural instinct when dealing with someone who disagrees with us is to try to force them into choosing between God and whatever it is that they’re into.
That’s where the spiritual murder thing comes into play. To return to my silly example, if my relative chooses gum over God and walks away from that relationship, then I have had a hand in a spiritual murder. I have become an obstacle between this individual and God – hindering or perhaps blocking him from having such a relationship. Ultimately, it is spiritual homicide.
On the other hand, what if I didn’t worry so much about that thing we disagree on? What if I decided to be OK with the fact that he thought something was OK that I didn’t. What if, instead of making him choose, I simply encouraged him to pursue a deeper relationship with God? What if I really trusted that such a relationship would bring about any necessary change (in him and in me).
As I said yesterday, too often, we have more faith in ourselves than we do in God. In this case, we sometimes trust in our own judgement of people more than we trust God’s judgement. He loves everyone and we try to classify people by their beliefs and behavior. We serve as judge, jury and, yes, executioner when we should be taking up the mantle of advocate, mentor and friend – helping others come closer to God and trusting him to sort out the details.
Contrition causes us to change our tone, doesn’t it? Do you notice the different in the tone of voice used when David is asking God for forgiveness compared to the tone he uses when asking God to strike down his enemies? When confronted with his own misgivings, David writes and sings about God’s perfections.
You see, as we come to grips with our own darkness, the light of God is evermore clear to us. And as we see that contrast, we are drawn away from our own dark places and toward God’s light. David here, caught in an adulterous affair and outed as a murderer, was having to come to grips with the fact that as “righteous” as he may have been, he had some unrighteous parts, too.
The result is that he is drawn back to God:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:10-12)
I wonder why it so often takes a disastrous even for us to come to the realization that we really need God. Shouldn’t we be asking God to create a clean heart in us and to renew a steadfast spirit each and every day? Shouldn’t we recognize and verbalize the fact that we are spiritual weaklings living in a spiritual war zone? Can’t we just admit that we need some help?
But we don’t, do we? We ask for help only when things are really bad. We seek God only when we’ve run out of options. We have a reactive faith, rather than an active faith. And then, when something really bad happens, we re-prioritize. Well, what if we didn’t have to re-prioritize when something tragic occurs? What if we had our priorities right every day?
Too hard? Yeah, probably. But that’s why these words of David are so important. You see, we can try to have a clean heart (and we will fail miserably) but God can actually create in us a clean heart. So, as you go about your daily activities, would you join me in asking God to create clean hearts in us?
If we rely on him to do the work , and if we make the request, I am confident that he will respond.
Jehu’s deception of the followers of Baal is an interesting read. In fact, the entire episode of Jehu’s rise to power reads more like a modern novel or movie script than an ancient religious text. But this one meeting of all of the followers of Baal is unique. Here, an appointed servant of God is intentionally deceiving (and then murdering) an entire group of people.
Ethical and moral questions abound. Was it right for Jehu to lie and murder these people? Was this truly God’s will? If so, are there applications for us? I mean, hopefully you’re not planning to go out and kill anyone (I’m definitely not condoning that!) but are there situations in which it is OK to lie in order to advance God’s cause?
The neat and tidy answer – the one with the cute little bow on top – would be, “No, there is no need to lie. You must always be truthful and trust that God will make a way.” Well, George Washington, that logic works if you chopped down a cherry tree and are facing parental discipline, but what about when the stakes are a little higher?
What if you’re smuggling Bibles into a country where they are illegal? If somebody asks you if you are bringing anything illegal into the country, what do you say? How about if you are leading a house church in a country where church gatherings have been banned. If your neighbor (or the authorities) ask you who has been visiting your house, do you spill the beans?
For those who are living in these realities every day, the story of Jehu can actually be a source of comfort. When we read the books of the law in the Old Testament, including the 10 Commandments, the number one law that should govern our actions is to honor and serve God. Deception and even outright lying has been a tool used by God’s followers (and sanctioned by him) since the beginning of time.
Even God’s grand plan to save humanity in the form of Jesus relied on deception in order to work. A form of God who looked like a mere human was placed on this earth and only a few were let in on the rouse. Even the great deceiver himself, Satan, was fooled into believing that he had won when Jesus was crucified. It was all a big con.
And so, though most of us will rarely, if ever, have a justifiable reason to lie, there are certainly those times when it is appropriate – when in direct obedience to God’s wishes. So, the next time you tell you’re kids “It’s never OK to lie,” just remember that at a security checkpoint half way around the world, there might be a “Bible mule” who disagrees with that moral lesson.
Sin is contagious. I don’t know all the details of how it works, but I know that sin begets sin. We’ve already seen this in the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now we look a little further down the line and see the same issues befalling David and his sons. It is amazing how often, in that ancient world and in ours, that the sins of the son mirror the sins of the father.
In this case, you have Amnon, overcome by lust, just as his father was. And while Amnon’s lust isn’t for a married woman, his situation is arguably as bad or worse. He is infatuated with his own sister (or half-sister) Tamar. And, just like his father, his lust leads him into a series of actions including deception, rape and then hatred of his sister (something that she certainly didn’t deserve.)
As a result of those events, another of David’s sons, Absalom, has his own issues to deal with. Again, the sins of the son mirror those of his father as Absalom devised a ruse to have his brother killed. David then – the lust-ridden, deceptive murderer – has sons who are lust-ridden, deceptive and murderous.
Not only that, but now his household is beginning to look a little like his mentor, Saul’s house. After a period of exile (and another deception devised by Joab) Absalom returns home, only to attempt to divide the kingdom of David and to take control as king of Hebron. It’s a mess and David knows that it all started with him.
Now, remember, David was a wise man, a strong king. He walked closely with God. And yet, through a series of events, he found himself and his sons spiraling fast. The question I always ask myself is this: If it could happen to him, why couldn’t it happen to me? The answer, of course, is that it could happen to me…or to you.
That is why we can’t let our guard down. We can’t become complacent or lazy. We can’t become selfish. We have to constantly be on guard against our own selfish, destructive desire. If we are, and if we avoid falling into the traps along the way, I’m sure that our kids and grandkids will thank us for it (and it might save them some therapy bills!)
Each of us is a complicated mess. In every person you meet, there is some good and some bad, something holy and something evil. That may sound a little extreme, but consider David. Here is a guy who has proven himself to be not only an upstanding citizen, but also a loyal follower of God and a man who honors others.
Sure, he’s killed many people, but all at the instruction of and for the honor of God. The armies that David fought against were those who opposed God’s people. This time, however, things are different. That little spark of evil that resides in David is fueled by lust for a beautiful woman. That lust not only leads to an inappropriate relationship with this married woman, but, ultimately, leads to a contract murder of one of his own men.
This is a guy who, not long before, had embraced the disabled (and culturally outcast) son of his former enemy. He had no problem following the instructions and wisdom of God, even at the expense of his own convenience or reputation. What could have possibly happened then to cause David to fall so hard, so fast?
I think we can take a clue from verse 1 of chapter 11 (emphasis mine):
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1)
This was a time when kings typically went off to war. David, however, chose not to go off to war himself. Instead, he sent Joab, the commander of the army out on his own. David stayed in Jerusalem. Now, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the seeds of evil rarely do. What David had actually done was to become somewhat lazy or complacent. He had in mind to become “fat and happy” as king, rather than doing the job he was supposed to do. Now, he may have never put it in those terms, but his actions here (and forthcoming) speak for themselves.
So, while David’s army is out fighting, this newly lazy, complacent king has a lot of time on his hands – time, evidently for more carnal pursuits. He becomes a bit of a peeping Tom and spies a pretty lady on a rooftop taking a bath. Now, for a king with plenty of wives and concubines, adding one more wouldn’t have been a big deal. And so, David set his mind to do just that. There was only one problem: Bathsheba, the beautiful woman on the roof was already married.
And this is how evil takes root. You see, David probably didn’t know that Bathsheba was married when he first saw her, or when he sent for her. And by the time he discovered this little fact, his lust had already taken over. He had imagined himself being with her. It was a done deal in his mind. And so, he would ultimately be with her, setting of a chain reaction of events that would leave two people, Bathsheba’s husband and later, her son, dead.
How could all of this have been avoided? Well, David could have gone off to war like he was supposed to. Or, he could have occupied himself with something other than gazing out his window. Or, he could have avoided the temptation of watching the woman bathe (he could be forgiven for accidentally stumbling upon the scene if he had simply averted his eyes). He could have resisted the urge to send for Bathsheba, resisted the temptation to sleep with her, and on and on. But as you see, the temptation gets harder and to resist the further into the mess we go. And that’s how people find themselves ensnared in all kinds of moral failure.
It has been said that idle hands are the devil’s playground. In the life of David, that seems to be true. His entire, disastrous, affair with Bathsheba may have been avoided if David had simply chosen to not be lazy and to simply lead his troops in battle as he had done so many times before.