D.A. Carson Posts – The Gospel Coalition https://www.thegospelcoalition.org The Gospel Coalition Thu, 19 Oct 2023 12:35:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 1 Kings 22; 1 Thessalonians 5; Daniel 4; Psalms 108–109 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-22-1-thessalonians-5-daniel-4-psalms-108-109/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-22-1-thessalonians-5-daniel-4-psalms-108-109/#respond Thu, 19 Oct 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-22-1-thessalonians-5-daniel-4-psalms-108-109/ The last chapter of 1 Kings, 1 Kings 22, many believers find troubling. For here God himself is presented as sending out “a lying spirit” (1 Kings 22:22) who will deceive King Ahab and lead him to his destruction. Does God approve of liars?

The setting is instructive. For once, the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel are pulling together against the king of Aram, instead of tearing at each other’s throats. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, comes across as a good man who is largely desirous of adhering to the covenant and being loyal to God, yet is a bit of a wimp. He treats the prospective military expedition as if it were an adventure, but he does want Ahab, king of Israel, to “seek the counsel of the LORD” (1 Kings 22:5). After the false prophets have finished, Jehoshaphat has sufficient smarts to ask if there is some other prophet of the Lord, and Micaiah surfaces. Yet despite Micaiah’s warnings, he goes off with Ahab, and even agrees to retain his royal robes while Ahab’s identity is masked.

But the heart of the issue turns on Micaiah. Observe:

(1) Implicitly, Ahab has surrounded himself with religious yes-men who will tell him what he wants to hear. The reason he hates Micaiah is because what Micaiah says about him is bad. Like all leaders who surround themselves with yes-men, Ahab sets himself up to be deceived.

(2) When Micaiah begins with a sarcastic positive prognostication (1 Kings 22:15), Ahab instantly recognizes that Micaiah is not telling the truth (1 Kings 22:16). This hints at a conscience more than a little troubled. After all, God had previously told Ahab that because of his guilt in the matter of Naboth, dogs would one day lick up his blood (1 Kings 21:19). He thus expected bad news someday, and at a deep level of his being could not really trust the happy forecasts of his domesticated “prophets.”

(3) When Micaiah tells him of impending disaster, he also provides a dramatic reason for the coherence and unanimity of the false prophets: God himself had sanctioned a deceitful spirit. Ahab’s time has come: he will be destroyed. God’s sovereignty extends even over the means to send Ahab’s tame prophets a “strong delusion” (compare 2 Thess. 2:11–12). Yet the fact that Ahab is told all this demonstrates that God is still graciously providing him with access to the truth. But Ahab is so far gone that he cannot stomach the truth. In a ridiculous response, he believes enough of the truth to hide his own identity in the hordes of common soldiers, but not enough to stay away from Ramoth Gilead. So he dies: God’s sovereign judgment is enacted, not least because Ahab, hearing both the truth and the lie, preferred the lie.

1 Kings 21; 1 Thessalonians 4; Daniel 3; Psalm 107 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-21-1-thessalonians-4-daniel-3-psalm-107/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-21-1-thessalonians-4-daniel-3-psalm-107/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-21-1-thessalonians-4-daniel-3-psalm-107/ 1 Kings 20; 1 Thessalonians 3; Daniel 2; Psalm 106 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-20-1-thessalonians-3-daniel-2-psalm-106/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-20-1-thessalonians-3-daniel-2-psalm-106/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-20-1-thessalonians-3-daniel-2-psalm-106/ 1 Kings 19; 1 Thessalonians 2; Daniel 1; Psalm 105 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-19-1-thessalonians-2-daniel-1-psalm-105/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-19-1-thessalonians-2-daniel-1-psalm-105/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2023 06:45:08 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-19-1-thessalonians-2-daniel-1-psalm-105/ Doubtless Elijah expected that, after the triumphant confrontation on Mount Carmel, Israel would turn back to the living God (1 Kings 19). As he had executed the false prophets, so Queen Jezebel herself would be eliminated—by the popular demand of an outraged populace determined to be faithful and loyal to the covenant. Perhaps even King Ahab would repent and come on board.

It doesn’t work out that way. King Ahab reports everything that has happened to Jezebel, and Jezebel lets Elijah know that he is as good as dead (1 Kings 19:2). The people are nowhere to be seen. “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3), we are told. In fact, a textual variant (which may be original) reads “Elijah saw, and ran for his life”—i.e., he now saw the dimensions of the whole problem, and ran. He heads south to Beersheba on the southern edge of the kingdom of Judah, drops off his servant, and keeps on going. Eventually he arrives at Mount Horeb, the site of the giving of the Law. He is so deeply depressed he wants to die (1 Kings 19:4). Worse, he succumbs to not a little self-pity: everybody else has rejected God, all the Israelites have broken the covenant, all the prophets except Elijah have been put to death—“I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10).

One can sympathize with Elijah’s despair. In part, it is grounded in unfulfilled expectations. He thought that all that had taken place would trigger massive renewal. Now he feels not only isolated, but betrayed. And yet:

(1) He has his facts wrong. He knows that at least a hundred of the Lord’s prophets are still alive, even if they are in hiding (1 Kings 18:13).

(2) He is not in a fit state to judge the hearts of all the Israelites. Some may be loyal to Yahweh, but terrified of Jezebel, and therefore keeping their heads down. After all, isn’t that what he himself is doing?

(3) God himself assures Elijah that he has “reserved” for himself seven thousand people who have never bowed to Baal and never kissed him (1 Kings 19:18). Here is the beginning of a major biblical theme—the doctrine of the remnant. The covenant community as a whole may become apostate, but God Almighty still “reserves” for himself a faithful remnant—which in the fullness of time will become the nucleus of the fledgling New Testament church.

(4) God sometimes works and speaks in quiet ways, not in massive confrontation (1 Kings 19:11–13).

(5) Sooner or later even the strongest leaders, especially the strongest leaders, need a younger apprentice and helper to come alongside, shoulder part of the burden, and finally take over the work (1 Kings 19:19–21).

1 Kings 18; 1 Thessalonians 1; Ezekiel 48; Psalm 104 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-18-1-thessalonians-1-ezekiel-48-psalm-104/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-18-1-thessalonians-1-ezekiel-48-psalm-104/#respond Sun, 15 Oct 2023 06:45:03 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-18-1-thessalonians-1-ezekiel-48-psalm-104/ It is tempting to comment further on the Pauline triad found in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (see meditation on October 11), but the confrontation on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18) beckons.

The most shocking thing about that confrontation is that it was needed. These are the covenant people of God. It is not as if God has never disclosed himself to them. The corporate mind of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom has all but abandoned its heritage. When Elijah challenges the people with the words, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21), the people say nothing.

Yet before we indulge in too many self-righteous musings, we need to reflect on how often the church has moved away from her moorings. The Great Awakening was a powerful movement of the Spirit of God, yet a century later many of the churches that had been filled with fresh converts, robust theology, and godly living had degenerated into Unitarianism. Who would have guessed that the land of Luther and the Reformation would have given us Hitler and the Holocaust? Why is it that twentieth-century evangelicalism, as it mushroomed between, say, 1930 and 1960, soon bred varieties of self-designated evangelicals whom no evangelical leader of the earlier period would have recognized as such? The sad reality is that human memory is short, selective, and self-serving. Moreover, each new generation begins with a slightly different baseline. Since all its members need conversion, the church is never more than a generation or two from extinction. If we forget this simple point, it becomes all too easy to rest on our laurels when we are comfortable, and somehow lose sight of our mission, not to say of our Maker and Redeemer.

The setup on Mount Carmel was spectacular: one prophet against 850, Yahweh against Baal—and Baal was often thought of as the god of fire. It is as if Elijah has set up the contest on Baal’s turf. His mocking words whip up the false prophets into an orgy of self-flagellation (1 Kings 18:28). By God’s instruction (1 Kings 18:36), Elijah increases the odds by soaking the sacrifice he is preparing. Then, in the evening, his own brief prayer brings down explosive fire from heaven, and the people cry, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39). And in response to Elijah’s intercessory prayer, the rain comes again to the parched land.

Something deep in the hearts of many Christians cries, “Do it again!”—not, of course, exactly the same thing, but a focused confrontation that elicits decisive and massive confession of the living God.

But did even this change Israel? Why or why not?

1 Kings 17; Colossians 4; Ezekiel 47; Psalm 103 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-17-colossians-4-ezekiel-47-psalm-103/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-17-colossians-4-ezekiel-47-psalm-103/#respond Sat, 14 Oct 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-17-colossians-4-ezekiel-47-psalm-103/ 1 Kings 16; Colossians 3; Ezekiel 46; Psalm 102 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-16-colossians-3-ezekiel-46-psalm-102/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-16-colossians-3-ezekiel-46-psalm-102/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-16-colossians-3-ezekiel-46-psalm-102/ First and 2 Kings narrate the declining fortunes of both the northern and southern kingdoms. Occasionally there is a reforming king in one realm or the other. But on the whole the direction is downward. Some orientation (1 Kings 16):

(1) Although 1 and 2 Kings treat both the northern and the southern kingdoms, the emphasis is on the former. By contrast, 1 and 2 Chronicles, which cover roughly the same material, tilt strongly in favor of the kingdom of Judah.

(2) In the south, the Davidic dynasty continues. During its history, there are, humanly speaking, some very close calls. Nevertheless God preserves the line; his entire redemptive purposes are bound up with continuity of that Davidic line. The stance throughout is well expressed in 1 Kings 15:4. Abijah king of Judah, who reigned only three years, was doubtless an evil king. “Nevertheless, for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong.” In the north, however, no dynasty survives very long. The dynasty of Jeroboam lasted two generations and was then butchered (1 Kings 15:25–30), replaced by Baasha (1 Kings 15:33–34). His dynasty likewise produced two kings, and then the males in his family were wiped out by Zimri (1 Kings 16:8–13), whose reign lasted all of seven days (1 Kings 16:15–19). And so it goes. If the Davidic line continues in the south, it is all of grace.

(3) These successions in the north are brutal and bloody. For instance, after Zimri the citizens of Israel face a brief civil war, divided as they are between Omri and Tibni. The followers of the former win. The text wryly comments, “So Tibni died and Omri became king” (1 Kings 16:22). In short, there is perennial lust for power, few systems for orderly hand over of government, no hearty submission to the living God.

(4) From God’s perspective, however, the severity of the sin is measured first and foremost not in terms of the bloody violence, but in terms of the idolatry (for example, 1 Kings 16:30–33). Omri was a strong ruler who strengthened the nation enormously, but little of that is recorded: from God’s perspective he “did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him” (1 Kings 16:25). Building programs and a rising GDP do not make up for idolatry.

(5) Details in these accounts often tie the narrative to events much earlier and later. Thus the rebuilding of Jericho (1 Kings 16:34) calls to mind the curse on the city when it was destroyed centuries earlier (Josh. 6:26). The founding of the city of Samaria (1 Kings 16:24) anticipates countless narratives of what takes place in that city—including Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4; see March 14 meditation).

1 Kings 15; Colossians 2; Ezekiel 45; Psalms 99–101 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-15-colossians-2-ezekiel-45-psalms-99-101/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-15-colossians-2-ezekiel-45-psalms-99-101/#respond Thu, 12 Oct 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-15-colossians-2-ezekiel-45-psalms-99-101/ 1 Kings 14; Colossians 1; Ezekiel 44; Psalms 97–98 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-14-colossians-1-ezekiel-44-psalms-97-98/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-14-colossians-1-ezekiel-44-psalms-97-98/#respond Wed, 11 Oct 2023 06:45:08 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-14-colossians-1-ezekiel-44-psalms-97-98/ 1 Kings 13; Philippians 4; Ezekiel 43; Psalms 95–96 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-13-philippians-4-ezekiel-43-psalms-95-96/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-13-philippians-4-ezekiel-43-psalms-95-96/#respond Tue, 10 Oct 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-13-philippians-4-ezekiel-43-psalms-95-96/ 1 Kings 12; Philippians 3; Ezekiel 42; Psalm 94 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-12-philippians-3-ezekiel-42-psalm-94/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-12-philippians-3-ezekiel-42-psalm-94/#respond Mon, 09 Oct 2023 06:46:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-12-philippians-3-ezekiel-42-psalm-94/ The division of the unified kingdom into two unequal parts—the kingdom of Israel with its ten tribes in the north and the kingdom of Judah with two tribes in the south (1 Kings 12)—once again presents us with a remarkable dynamic between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

God had already predicted, through Ahijah the prophet, that Jeroboam would take away the ten northern tribes from Solomon’s successor (1 Kings 11:26–40). Jeroboam was explicitly told that if he then remained faithful to the Lord, the Lord would establish a dynasty for him. Yet the first thing that Jeroboam does, once he secures the northern tribes, is erect golden calves at Bethel and Dan, and consecrate non-Levitical priests, because he does not want his people making the trek to the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:25–33). Doesn’t he realize that if God has the power to give him the ten tribes, and the concern to warn him about disloyalty, he certainly has the power to preserve the integrity of the northern kingdom even if the people go up to Jerusalem for the high festivals? But Jeroboam makes his political judgments, refuses to obey God, and shows himself ungrateful for what has come his way. His only enduring legacy is that throughout the rest of the Old Testament he is designated as “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin” (e.g., 2 Kings 14:24).

More inexplicable yet is Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Solomon may have been a skilled administrator of justice, but by the end of his life his enormously expensive projects were wearing down his people. Their representatives assure Rehoboam that they will be loyal to him if only he will lighten their load a little. The elders assure Rehoboam that their request is reasonable: he should adopt the stance of being “a servant to these people and serve them,” for then he will discover that “they will always be your servants” (1 Kings 12:7). With massive insensitivity and piercing stupidity, Rehoboam adopts instead the wretched advice of “young men” full of themselves and their opinions, with no understanding of people generally and of this nation in particular (1 Kings 12:8). So Rehoboam responds harshly, not only rejecting the people’s request but promising more demands and increased brutality. And suddenly the rebellion is underway.

Yet the writer comments, “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite” (1 Kings 12:15). God’s sovereignty (see, for example, the meditation for June 3) does not excuse or mitigate Rehoboam’s stupidity and Jeroboam’s rebellion; their stupidity and sin do not mean that God has lost control. Such mysteries of providence make it difficult to “read” history; they also prove immensely comforting and make it possible for us to rest in Romans 8:28.

1 Kings 11; Philippians 2; Ezekiel 41; Psalms 92–93 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-11-philippians-2-ezekiel-41-psalms-92-93/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-11-philippians-2-ezekiel-41-psalms-92-93/#respond Sun, 08 Oct 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-11-philippians-2-ezekiel-41-psalms-92-93/ In few places does the word however have more potent force than in 1 Kings 11:1: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women.” In those days, the size of a king’s harem was widely considered a reflection of his wealth and power. Solomon married princesses from everywhere, not least, the writer painfully explains, “from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods’” (1 Kings 11:2).

That is exactly what happened, especially as Solomon grew old (1 Kings 11:3–4). He participated in the worship of foreign gods. To please his wives, he provided shrines, altars, and temples for their deities. Doubtless many Israelites began to participate in this pagan worship. At the very least, many would have their sense of outrage dulled, not least because Solomon was known to be such a wise, resourceful, and successful king. Eventually his pagan idolatry extended to the detestable gods to whom one sacrifices children. Thus Solomon “did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:6). Of course, David himself failed on occasion. But he lapsed from a life of principled devotion to the Lord God, and he repented and returned to the Lord; he did not live in a stream of growing religious compromise like his son and heir to the throne.

The sentence is delivered (1 Kings 11:9–13): after his death, Solomon’s kingdom will be divided, with ten tribes withdrawing, leaving only two for the Davidic dynasty—and even this paltry remainder is conceded only for David’s sake. Had Solomon been another sort of man, he would have repented, sought the Lord’s favor, destroyed all the high places, promoted covenant fidelity. But the sad truth is that Solomon preferred his wives and their opinions to his covenant Lord and his opinion. During the closing years of his reign, Solomon had plenty of signs that God’s protective favor was being withdrawn (1 Kings 11:14–40). Nothing is sadder than Solomon’s futile effort to have Jeroboam killed—evocative of Saul’s attempt to have David killed. But there is no movement, no repentance, no hunger for God.

There are plenty of lessons. Be careful what, and whom, you love. Good beginnings do not guarantee good endings. Heed the warnings of God while there is time; if you don’t, you will eventually become so hardened that even his most dire threats will leave you unmoved. At the canonical level, even the most blessed, protected, and endowed dynasty, chosen from within the Lord’s chosen people, is announcing its end: it will fall apart. Oh, how we need a Savior, a king from heaven!

1 Kings 10; Philippians 1; Ezekiel 40; Psalm 91 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-10-philippians-1-ezekiel-40-psalm-91/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-10-philippians-1-ezekiel-40-psalm-91/#respond Sat, 07 Oct 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-10-philippians-1-ezekiel-40-psalm-91/ The visit of the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10) has often been spiced up in books and films until it has become a royal love story. Not a hint of love interest or sex scandal peeps out of the biblical text. The function of the queen of Sheba is to demonstrate by a concrete example that Solomon’s reputation had extended far and wide, and that that reputation was grounded in reality. Some observations on the encounter:

First, at a rather superficial level, this account provides an opportunity to say something about the nature of truth in the Old Testament. Some have argued that the Hebrew word for “truth,” ‘emet, really means “faithfulness” or “reliability,” and that it has to do with relationships and not propositions. Indeed, some argue, Old Testament writers simply do not have a category for true propositions. Like most errors, this one has a modicum of truth (if I may use the word) to it. Certainly ‘emet has a broader range of meaning than the English word truth, and can refer to faithfulness. But words can display faithfulness, too. The queen of Sheba tells Solomon that the report she heard in her own country about his achievements and wisdom was ‘emet: it was “true” (1 Kings 10:6, NIV); more literally, because the report was faithful, i.e., because the propositions conformed to the reality, the report was the truth. Away, then, with a reductionistic analysis of what ancient Hebrews could or could not have known.

Second, much of the chapter provides succinct descriptions of Solomon’s wealth, military muscle, successful trading expeditions in seagoing vessels, musical instruments, and more. Yet space is reserved for several explicitly theological themes. Royalty visited Solomon to listen to his wisdom—and this wisdom God himself had put in his heart (1 Kings 10:24). Indeed, Solomon enjoyed an extraordinary reputation for maintaining justice and righteousness in his kingdom, so much so that the queen of Sheba thought his achievements in this regard demonstrated “the LORD’s eternal love for Israel” (1 Kings 10:9).

But third, all of this is in some ways a setup for the next chapter. Despite all the blessings, wisdom, power, wealth, prestige, and honor that Solomon enjoyed, all received from the hand of God, the sad fact of the matter is that his own conduct was paving the way for judgment and the undoing of the Davidic dynasty. These convoluted developments await tomorrow’s meditation. Here it is enough to reflect on the fact that extraordinary blessings do not necessarily signal faithfulness. Because God is so slow to anger (surely a good thing!), the judgments that our corruptions deserve are often long delayed. Do not be hasty to assume that present blessings signal present fidelity: the terrible fruit of faithlessness may take a long time in coming.

1 Kings 9; Ephesians 6; Ezekiel 39; Psalm 90 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-9-ephesians-6-ezekiel-39-psalm-90/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-9-ephesians-6-ezekiel-39-psalm-90/#respond Fri, 06 Oct 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-9-ephesians-6-ezekiel-39-psalm-90/ 1 Kings 8; Ephesians 5; Ezekiel 38; Psalm 89 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-8-ephesians-5-ezekiel-38-psalm-89/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-8-ephesians-5-ezekiel-38-psalm-89/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-8-ephesians-5-ezekiel-38-psalm-89/ The dedication of the temple in Jerusalem and Solomon’s prayer on that occasion (1 Kings 8) overflow with links that reach both backward and forward along the line of redemptive history.

(1) The structure of the temple is a proportionate reproduction of the tabernacle. Thus the rites prescribed by the Mosaic Covenant, and the symbol-laden value all that God prescribed through Moses, continue: the altar, the table for the bread of consecration, the Most Holy Place, the two cherubim over the ark of the covenant, and so forth.

(2) Most spectacularly, after the ark of the covenant has been transported to its new resting place and the priests withdraw, the glory of the Lord, manifested in the same sort of cloud that signaled the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle, fills the temple. Not only does God approve the temple, but a new step has been taken in God’s unfolding purposes. While the symbolism of the tabernacle is retained in the temple, no longer is this edifice something mobile. The wandering years, and even the uncertain years of the judges, are over. Now God’s presence, manifested in this solid building, is tied to one location: Jerusalem. A new set of symbol-laden historical experiences adds rich new dimensions to the accumulating wealth pointing to the coming of Jesus. Here is a stable kingdom—and the kingdom of God; Jerusalem, and the new Jerusalem; the glorious temple, and the city that needs no temple because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). Here are tens of thousands of animals slaughtered—and the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

(3) At his best, Solomon is thoroughly aware that no structure, not even this one, can contain or domesticate God. “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27).

(4) But that does not stop him from asking God to manifest himself here. Above all, Solomon knows that what the people will need most is forgiveness. So in wide-ranging and prescient descriptions of experiences the people will pass through, Solomon repeats some variation of the refrain: “Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30ff). That is exactly right: hear from heaven, even if the eyes of the people are toward this temple, and forgive.

(5) Solomon’s forward glance includes the dreadful possibility of exile (1 Kings 8:46–51), followed by rescue and release. Further, while Solomon urges fidelity on the people (1 Kings 8:56–61), he also echoes a prominent point in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:3): Israel must be faithful “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60).

1 Kings 7; Ephesians 4; Ezekiel 37; Psalms 87–88 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-7-ephesians-4-ezekiel-37-psalms-87-88/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-7-ephesians-4-ezekiel-37-psalms-87-88/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-7-ephesians-4-ezekiel-37-psalms-87-88/ 1 Kings 6; Ephesians 3; Ezekiel 36; Psalm 86 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-6-ephesians-3-ezekiel-36-psalm-86/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-6-ephesians-3-ezekiel-36-psalm-86/#respond Tue, 03 Oct 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-6-ephesians-3-ezekiel-36-psalm-86/ 1 Kings 4–5; Ephesians 2; Ezekiel 35; Psalm 85 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-4-5-ephesians-2-ezekiel-35-psalm-85/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-4-5-ephesians-2-ezekiel-35-psalm-85/#respond Mon, 02 Oct 2023 06:45:08 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-4-5-ephesians-2-ezekiel-35-psalm-85/ 1 Kings 3; Ephesians 1; Ezekiel 34; Psalms 83–84 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-3-ephesians-1-ezekiel-34-psalms-83-84/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-3-ephesians-1-ezekiel-34-psalms-83-84/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-3-ephesians-1-ezekiel-34-psalms-83-84/ Christians sometimes ask why, if Solomon was so wise, he married many wives, ended his reign rather badly, and eventually compromised his loyalty to God.

The answer partly lies in the difference between what we mean by wisdom and the various things the Bible means by wisdom. We usually mean something pretty generic, like “knowing how to live well and make wise choices.” But whereas wisdom in the Bible can refer to something broad—such as knowing how to live in the fear of God—very often it refers to a particular skill. This may be the skill of knowing how to survive in a dangerous world (Prov. 30:24), or some technical know-how (Ex. 28:3). But one of the skills to which wisdom can refer is the skill of administration, not least the administration of justice. And transparently, that is what Solomon asks for in 1 Kings 3.

When he responds to God’s gracious offer to give him anything he asks for, Solomon acknowledges that he is only a little child and does not know how to carry out his duties (1 Kings 3:7). What he wants therefore is a discerning heart to govern the people well, not least in distinguishing between right and wrong (1 Kings 3:9). God praises Solomon because he has not asked for something for himself, nor even something vindictive (such as the death of his enemies), but “for discernment in administering justice” (1 Kings 3:11). God promises to give Solomon exactly what he asked for, along with riches and honor (1 Kings 3:12–13). The account of the two prostitutes each claiming the same live baby and denying that the dead one is hers, and Solomon’s resolution of their case (1 Kings 3:16–27), proves that God answered the king’s request. The entire nation perceives that Solomon has “wisdom from God to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28). Certainly most Western nations today could do with a few more people similarly endowed.

As much as God praises him for his choice, this does not mean that such wisdom is all that Solomon needs to walk in fidelity to the covenant. Indeed, quite apart from the wisdom, wealth, and honor that he will bestow, God tells him that “if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life” (1 Kings 3:14). But already clouds threaten: to secure his southern border, Solomon marries an Egyptian princess (1 Kings 3:1). Because they are popular, he does not abolish the proscribed “high places,” but participates in worship there (1 Kings 3:2–4).

God sometimes bestows wonderful gifts of wisdom—technical, social, administrative, and judicial skills—but unless we also receive from him a heart attuned to loving him truly and obeying him wholly, our paths may end disastrously.

1 Kings 2; Galatians 6; Ezekiel 33; Psalms 81–82 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-2-galatians-6-ezekiel-33-psalms-81-82/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-2-galatians-6-ezekiel-33-psalms-81-82/#respond Sat, 30 Sep 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-2-galatians-6-ezekiel-33-psalms-81-82/ 1 Kings 1; Galatians 5; Ezekiel 32; Psalm 80 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-1-galatians-5-ezekiel-32-psalm-80/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-kings-1-galatians-5-ezekiel-32-psalm-80/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-kings-1-galatians-5-ezekiel-32-psalm-80/ The transfer of regal authority from David to Solomon (1 Kings 1) is messy. One of David’s sons, Adonijah, confers with Joab, the head of the military, and tries to take over. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, reminds her ailing husband of his promise that Solomon would be the heir, and the complicated account plays out.

Once again the chronic family failure of David stands out. The author of 1 Kings draws it to our attention in the parenthetical comment of 1:6. Referring to Adonijah, who was attempting the coup, he remarks, “His father had never interfered with him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’ He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom”—as if good looks bred a kind of easy arrogance that thought everything, including the crown itself, was his by right.

Of the many important lessons, we may highlight two:

First, even gifted and morally upright believers commonly manifest tragic flaws. Occasionally a Daniel arises, of whom no failure is recorded. But most of the best in Scripture betray flaws of one sort or another—Abraham, Moses, Peter, Thomas, and (not least) David. The reality must be faced, for it is no less potent today. God raises up strategically placed and influential leaders. The odd one is so consistent that it is very difficult to detect any notable fault line. But usually that is not the case. Even the finest of our Christian leaders commonly display faults that their closest peers and friends can spot (whether or not the leaders themselves can see them!). This should not surprise us. In this fallen world, it is the way things are, the way things were when the Bible was written. We should therefore not be disillusioned when leaders prove flawed. We should support them wherever we can, seek to correct the faults where possible, and leave the rest to God—all the while recognizing the terrible potential for failures and faults in our own lives.

Second, once again the sovereignty of God works through the complicated efforts of his people. When David is informed of the problem, he does not throw his hands into the air and pray about the situation: he immediately orders that decisive, symbol-laden, and complex steps be taken to ensure that Solomon ascends the throne. Trust in God’s sovereign goodness is never an excuse for inactivity or indolence. Long years of walking by faith have taught David that whatever else “walking by faith” means, it does not warrant passivity. If we are to avoid acting in defiance of God, or in vain efforts to be independent of God, we must also avoid the pietism that is perennially in danger of collapsing trust into fatalism.

2 Samuel 24; Galatians 4; Ezekiel 31; Psalm 79 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-24-galatians-4-ezekiel-31-psalm-79/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-24-galatians-4-ezekiel-31-psalm-79/#respond Thu, 28 Sep 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-24-galatians-4-ezekiel-31-psalm-79/ 2 Samuel 23; Galatians 3; Ezekiel 30; Psalm 78:40–72 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-23-galatians-3-ezekiel-30-psalm-7840-72/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-23-galatians-3-ezekiel-30-psalm-7840-72/#respond Wed, 27 Sep 2023 06:45:03 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-23-galatians-3-ezekiel-30-psalm-7840-72/ 2 Samuel 22; Galatians 2; Ezekiel 29; Psalm 78:1–39 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-22-galatians-2-ezekiel-29-psalm-781-39/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-22-galatians-2-ezekiel-29-psalm-781-39/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-22-galatians-2-ezekiel-29-psalm-781-39/ 2 Samuel 21; Galatians 1; Ezekiel 28; Psalm 77 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-21-galatians-1-ezekiel-28-psalm-77/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-21-galatians-1-ezekiel-28-psalm-77/#respond Mon, 25 Sep 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-21-galatians-1-ezekiel-28-psalm-77/ 2 Samuel 20; 2 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 27; Psalms 75–76 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-20-2-corinthians-13-ezekiel-27-psalms-75-76/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-20-2-corinthians-13-ezekiel-27-psalms-75-76/#respond Sun, 24 Sep 2023 06:45:08 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-20-2-corinthians-13-ezekiel-27-psalms-75-76/ 2 Samuel 19; 2 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel 26; Psalm 74 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-19-2-corinthians-12-ezekiel-26-psalm-74/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-19-2-corinthians-12-ezekiel-26-psalm-74/#respond Sat, 23 Sep 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-19-2-corinthians-12-ezekiel-26-psalm-74/ 2 Samuel 18; 2 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 25; Psalm 73 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-18-2-corinthians-11-ezekiel-25-psalm-73/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-18-2-corinthians-11-ezekiel-25-psalm-73/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2023 06:45:09 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-18-2-corinthians-11-ezekiel-25-psalm-73/ 2 Samuel 17; 2 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 24; Psalm 72 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-17-2-corinthians-10-ezekiel-24-psalm-72/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-17-2-corinthians-10-ezekiel-24-psalm-72/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-17-2-corinthians-10-ezekiel-24-psalm-72/ 2 Samuel 16; 2 Corinthians 9; Ezekiel 23; Psalms 70–71 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-16-2-corinthians-9-ezekiel-23-psalms-70-71/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-16-2-corinthians-9-ezekiel-23-psalms-70-71/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2023 06:45:08 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-16-2-corinthians-9-ezekiel-23-psalms-70-71/ 2 Samuel 15; 2 Corinthians 8; Ezekiel 22; Psalm 69 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-15-2-corinthians-8-ezekiel-22-psalm-69/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-15-2-corinthians-8-ezekiel-22-psalm-69/#respond Tue, 19 Sep 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-15-2-corinthians-8-ezekiel-22-psalm-69/ 2 Samuel 14; 2 Corinthians 7; Ezekiel 21; Psalm 68 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-14-2-corinthians-7-ezekiel-21-psalm-68/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-14-2-corinthians-7-ezekiel-21-psalm-68/#respond Mon, 18 Sep 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-14-2-corinthians-7-ezekiel-21-psalm-68/ What a twisted thing sin is. Its motives and machinations are convoluted and perverse.

At one level the account of 2 Samuel 14 is pretty straightforward. At another, it is full of thought-provoking ironies.

David adopts the worst of all possible courses. At first he cannot simply forgive Absalom, for that would in effect be admitting that he, David himself, should have taken decisive action against Amnon. On the other hand, David cannot bring himself to ban Absalom decisively, so he secretly mourns him. After Joab’s ruse with the “wise woman” (2 Sam. 14:2), he resolves to bring Absalom back. Even here, however, he is indecisive. If he is going to allow Absalom back in the country and the capital, why does he exclude him from seeing David—and thus intrinsically from family gatherings and the like? By the end of the chapter there is a reconciliation. But at what cost? The issues have not been resolved, merely swept under the table. On the other hand, if David is determined to forgive his son, why does he leave him in limbo for a few years? How much does this treatment by his own father foment the rebellion described in the next chapter?

There is no small irony in the fact that the man who convinces David, via this “wise woman,” to bring Absalom back, is the very man whom David should have disciplined years before (see September 9 meditation). If David had disciplined Joab, where would he have been at this point? Probably not manipulating the king’s counselors and petitioners.

On the face of it, Absalom is willing to go to some extraordinary lengths to get an audience with Joab and eventually be restored to the good graces of the king. Burning down a man’s standing grain is a pretty big step (2 Sam. 14:29–32). Yet despite all of his sincere passion to be readmitted to the king’s court and presence, it will not be long before Absalom attempts to usurp the throne (chap. 15). That is the supreme irony. After so much effort, Absalom is finally admitted to David’s presence: “he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam. 14:33). He had gained what he wanted. So what kind of power-hungry resentment is it that mounts the vicious insurrection of the next chapter?

People who have been following the story right along will not only perceive all the proximate causes of the rebellion, the understandable connections among all the personal failures that brought about the terrible conclusion. They will also recall that God himself had predicted, as a matter of judicial punishment on David over the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah, that he would bring calamity on him from someone in his household.

2 Samuel 13; 2 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 20; Psalms 66–67 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-13-2-corinthians-6-ezekiel-20-psalms-66-67/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-13-2-corinthians-6-ezekiel-20-psalms-66-67/#respond Sun, 17 Sep 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-13-2-corinthians-6-ezekiel-20-psalms-66-67/ The threat to David’s reign predicted by the prophet Nathan begins with a sordid side-tale that nevertheless betrays exactly what is wrong with David’s rule (2 Sam. 13).

The multiplicity of royal wives meant that there were many half brothers and half sisters. This sets up the wretched rape of Tamar. The profiles of the people involved, with the exception of Tamar, betray what today we would label a dysfunctional family. Of course, only two of the brothers, Amnon and Absalom, are seen close up. But David’s handling of them—or better, his utter failure to handle them—is of a piece with the way he had earlier failed to handle Joab (see meditation on September 9).

Amnon is lustful, immature, irresponsible, deceptive, and brutal. One of the most revealing statements about him is what is said immediately after he has raped Tamar: “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her” (2 Sam. 13:15). We are dealing with a spoiled child who has become an evil man.

If at this point David had exercised the justice he should have displayed in his role as head of state, the history of the next few years would have been entirely different. He shares the sin of Eli (see 1 Samuel 3 and the August 13 meditation): he sees his sons doing evil, and does nothing to restrain them. If he had required Amnon to face the full force of the law, not only would he have fired a shot across the bows of any other potentially wayward son, he would have proved he cared for what had happened to his daughter, and he would have drawn the horrible bitterness and vengefulness that Tamar’s full brother Absalom now brings to a boil.

At this point Absalom is a tragic figure. He rightly holds Amnon accountable. Unable to find redress in the legal system that his own father has short-circuited, he opts for vengeance, then has to flee his father’s wrath. Doubtless he should not have slain Amnon, but up to this point he is presented as a more attractive and principled character than the man he assassinates. Yet he knows that even David cannot ignore this particular murder, so he flees, leaving his father to look foolish and indecisive.

Relationships between fathers and sons are rarely both rich and straightforward. But the pattern of David’s life, juxtaposed with Eli’s but a few short chapters earlier, illustrates the kinds of disasters that befall families where the father, however loving, indulgent, godly, and heroic he may be, never holds his children to account, never disciplining them when they go astray. David’s failure with Amnon and Absalom was not a first: it was the continuation of a moral and familial failure begun when the boys were in diapers.

2 Samuel 12; 2 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 19; Psalms 64–65 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-12-2-corinthians-5-ezekiel-19-psalms-64-65/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-12-2-corinthians-5-ezekiel-19-psalms-64-65/#respond Sat, 16 Sep 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-12-2-corinthians-5-ezekiel-19-psalms-64-65/ In Nathan’s dramatic confrontation with King David (2 Sam. 12), the prophet’s courage was mingled with a formidable sagacity. How else could a prophet grab the attention of an autocratic king and denounce his sin to his face, apart from this oblique approach?

Certain features of this chapter must be reflected on.

First, the fundamental difference between David and Saul is now obvious. Both men abused power in high office. What makes them different is the way they respond to a rebuke. When Samuel accused Saul of sin, the latter dissembled; when Jonathan questioned Saul’s policy, a spear was thrown at him. By contrast, although Nathan approaches his subject obliquely, the sin is soon out in the open: “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). Yet David’s response is radically different: “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13).

That, surely, is one of the ultimate tests of the direction of a person’s life. We are a race of sinners. Even good people, people of strong faith, even someone like David—who is “a man after God’s own heart” (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14)—may slip and sin. There is never an excuse for it, but when it happens it should never surprise us. But those who are serious about the knowledge of God will in due course return with genuine contrition. Spurious converts and apostates will string out a plethora of lame excuses, but will not admit personal guilt except in the most superficial ways.

Second, only God can forgive sin. When he does so, sin’s proper punishment, death itself, is not applied (2 Sam. 12:13).

Third, even when sin’s ultimate sanction is not applied, there may be other consequences that cannot be avoided in this fallen and broken world. David now faces three of them: (1) that the child Bathsheba is carrying will die; (2) that throughout his lifetime there will be skirmishing and warfare as he establishes his kingdom; (3) that at some point in his life he will see what it is like to be betrayed: someone from his own household will temporarily seize the throne, exemplified by sleeping with the royal harem (2 Sam. 12:12–13). Each is piquant. The first is bound up with the adultery itself; the second is perhaps a hint that the reason David was tempted in the first place was because he had not gone forth to war along with Joab, but had stayed home (2 Sam. 11:1), clearly longing for peace; and the third treats David to the betrayal that he himself has practiced.

Fourth, David’s response to the most pressing of the judgments is altogether salutary. God is not the equivalent of impersonal Fate. He is a person, and a person may be petitioned and pursued. Despite his massive failure, David is still a man who knows God better than his numerous critics.

2 Samuel 11; 2 Corinthians 4; Ezekiel 18; Psalms 62–63 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-11-2-corinthians-4-ezekiel-18-psalms-62-63/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-11-2-corinthians-4-ezekiel-18-psalms-62-63/#respond Fri, 15 Sep 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-11-2-corinthians-4-ezekiel-18-psalms-62-63/ Here is David at his worst (2 Sam. 11). In the flow of the narrative through 1 and 2 Samuel, it is almost as if adversity brought out the best in David, while his chain of recent unbroken military and political successes finds him restless, foolish, and not careful.

The sins are multiple. Besides the obvious transgressions of lust, adultery, and murder, there are deep sins scarcely less grievous. His attempt to cover his guilt by bringing Uriah home fails because Uriah proves to be that most exceptional of men: an idealist—an idealist who sees even his military responsibilities in terms of his covenantal faith (2 Sam. 11:11). And all this from a converted Hittite! Worse, David’s extraordinary manipulation of the military and political levers of power shows that this king has become intoxicated by power. He thinks he can arrange anything; he thinks he has the right to use the state to advance and then cover up his own sin. The name of that game is corruption.

There are other remarkable elements in the narrative.

First, almost nothing is said of Bathsheba, except that she was beautiful, was seduced, and eventually married David. Of course, at one level she was no less guilty than he. But of this the text does not say a word. Elsewhere the Bible can record the exploits of good women (Ruth) and evil women (Jezebel); indeed, toward the end of David’s life Bathsheba herself plays a significant role. Perhaps in part the text does not cast blame on her here because she has been manipulated by a figure far more powerful. More likely the silence signals not relative degrees of blame but primary focus: the account is of David, and ultimately of David’s line.

Second, it is astonishing that David thought he could get away with this. Even politically, too many people had to know what he had done; the story could not be kept quiet. And how could David imagine, even for a moment, that God himself would not know? Was he at this point badly alienated from God? At the very least, this chapter provides a dramatic witness to the blinding effects of sin.

Third, the chapter ends—somberly and powerfully—with the simple sentence, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Sam. 11:27). Doubtless David was quietly congratulating himself for his clever cover-up. He had sinned and gotten away with it. Some of his more servile lackeys may even have congratulated their master. But God knew, and was not pleased. Believers who are walking with their Creator and Redeemer never forget that God sees and knows, and that what pleases him is the only thing that really matters; what displeases him will sooner or later catch up with us.

2 Samuel 10; 2 Corinthians 3; Ezekiel 17; Psalms 60–61 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-10-2-corinthians-3-ezekiel-17-psalms-60-61/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-10-2-corinthians-3-ezekiel-17-psalms-60-61/#respond Thu, 14 Sep 2023 06:45:03 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-10-2-corinthians-3-ezekiel-17-psalms-60-61/ 2 Samuel 8–9; 2 Corinthians 2; Ezekiel 16; Psalms 58–59 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-8-9-2-corinthians-2-ezekiel-16-psalms-58-59/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-8-9-2-corinthians-2-ezekiel-16-psalms-58-59/#respond Wed, 13 Sep 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-8-9-2-corinthians-2-ezekiel-16-psalms-58-59/ 2 Samuel 7; 2 Corinthians 1; Ezekiel 15; Psalms 56–57 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-7-2-corinthians-1-ezekiel-15-psalms-56-57/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-7-2-corinthians-1-ezekiel-15-psalms-56-57/#respond Tue, 12 Sep 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-7-2-corinthians-1-ezekiel-15-psalms-56-57/ After his palace is built, David recognizes that he is living in splendor in comparison with the small and unostentatious tabernacle. He desires to build a temple, a “house” in which to place the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 7).

Through Nathan the prophet, however, God puts the shoe on the other foot. David wants to build a “house” for God, but God declares that he himself will build a “house” for David. The word house can refer to a building, but it can extend to household and even to a dynasty (e.g., the house of Windsor). David hopes to build a “house” for God in the first sense; God tells David he is building a “house” for him in the third sense. Although David’s son Solomon will build a “house” for God, in the last analysis God himself is the ultimate Giver, and the “house” he proposes to build will prove more enduring.

In this context, then, God makes some remarkable promises to David. “The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you” (2 Sam. 7:11), God says. To continue David’s line after his death, God adds, “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12–13). The referent goes no farther than Solomon. In the storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel, Saul serves as the prime example of a king who reigned and whose throne was not secured, whose “house” was not built. But it will not be so with David. His offspring will reign. When Saul sinned, in due course God rejected him. But when David’s son does wrong, God says, “I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. [So this “son” is certainly not Jesus.] But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul” (2 Sam. 7:14–15). So far, then, Solomon occupies the horizon.

But then once again God takes the long view: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). This either means that there will always be someone on the throne in the line of David, or something more powerful. In the course of time, the prophecies about the coming “David” or “son of David” become freighted with much greater promise. Isaiah foresees someone who “will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,” but who is also called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” (Isa. 9:6–7). Here is an heir to David who maintains the Davidic dynasty not by passing it on, but by his own eternal reign.

2 Samuel 6; 1 Corinthians 16; Ezekiel 14; Psalm 55 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-6-1-corinthians-16-ezekiel-14-psalm-55/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-6-1-corinthians-16-ezekiel-14-psalm-55/#respond Mon, 11 Sep 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-6-1-corinthians-16-ezekiel-14-psalm-55/ David would doubtless make many of us uncomfortable if he lived today. He was such an intense man—exuberant in his pleasures, crushed in his discouragement, powerful in his leadership, unrestrained in his worship.

(1) One occasion that displays much of the man displays no less of God, viz. bringing the ark of the covenant, and presumably the entire tabernacle, up to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). David does not send down a few clerics—the designated Levites—and no more. He gathers thirty thousand crack troops and representatives from the whole house of Israel, to say nothing of musicians and choirs.

(2) When Uzzah stretches forth his hand to stabilize the ark because the oxen pulling the cart have stumbled, the “LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Sam. 6:7). That certainly put a damper on the festivities. David is both angry with God (2 Sam. 6:8) and afraid of him (2 Sam. 6:9). For the time being he resolves not to bring the ark of the Lord up to Jerusalem. Certainly there is something in most of us that silently thinks David is right.
Yet all along God has been profoundly concerned to eradicate any hint that he is nothing more than a talisman, a controllable god, some godlet akin to other neighborhood godlets. One of his strongest prohibitions was not to touch the ark, or look inside it. Indeed, on the latter point seventy men of Beth Shemesh had paid with their lives a bare generation earlier (1 Sam. 6:19–20; see the meditation for August 15), when they had ignored the edict. Our text calls Uzzah’s act “irreverent” (2 Sam. 6:7). What made it “irreverent” or “profane” was not that Uzzah was malicious, but that there was no reverent fear before his eyes, no careful distinction between all that God says is holy and what is merely common. The horror of profanity is identical: people say they do not mean anything by it when they take the Lord’s name in vain. That is precisely the point: they do not mean anything by it. God will not be treated that way.

(3) The ark remains with Obed-Edom for three months, and he experiences so much blessing that David becomes interested again (2 Sam. 6:11–12). Blessing and reverence go hand in hand, and David—and we—had better realize it.

(4) Michal turns out to be her father’s daughter: she is more interested in pomp, form, royal robes, and personal dignity than in exuberant worship (2 Sam. 6:16). She despises David precisely because he is so God-centered he cares very little about his persona. People constantly fretting about what others think of them cannot be absorbed by the sheer God-awareness and God-centeredness that characterize all true worship.

2 Samuel 4–5; 1 Corinthians 15; Ezekiel 13; Psalms 52–54 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-4-5-1-corinthians-15-ezekiel-13-psalms-52-54/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-4-5-1-corinthians-15-ezekiel-13-psalms-52-54/#respond Sun, 10 Sep 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-4-5-1-corinthians-15-ezekiel-13-psalms-52-54/ Clearly the writer of 2 Samuel (whose identity we do not know) thinks it important to record the various steps by which David came to rule over all Israel. Canonically, this is important because it is the beginning of the Davidic dynasty that leads directly to “great David’s greater Son” (see the May 17 meditation). Within this framework, I wish to reflect on several features in these two chapters (2 Sam. 4–5).

(1) It is quite stunning to observe how David was prepared to wait for the throne, without taking the kind of action that would have secured it for him more quickly. Not least impressive is his stance toward Ish-Bosheth. Ish-Bosheth’s murderers, Baanah and Recab, who think they will curry favor with the rising star by their vicious assassination (in line with the common standards of the day), learn that David’s commitment to justice ensures their execution. The only slightly sour overtone is the double standard: these murderers pay a just penalty for their crime (2 Sam. 4), while in the preceding chapter the murderer Joab, because of his power, is publicly shamed but does not face the capital sentence.

(2) This book carefully chronicles how “all the tribes of Israel” (2 Sam. 5:1) approach David at Hebron and invite him to become their king. In God’s providence the evil assassination by Baanah and Recab brings about the fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

(3) David’s capture of Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:6–12) has to be recorded, for this not only becomes David’s capital city but in due course becomes the resting place for the tabernacle. During the reign of his son Solomon it will become the site for the temple. Enormously important theological issues revolve around Jerusalem and the temple. These are taken up in turn by the prophets (before and after the Exile), by Jesus himself, and by the New Testament writers. Reflect, for instance, on John 2:13–22; Galatians 4:21–31; Hebrews 9; 12:22–23; Revelation 21–22.

(4) Above all, when the Israelites invite David to become their king, they say, “And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler’” (2 Sam. 5:2). The “shepherd” theme is more comprehensive than the “ruler” theme, and is developed in various ways. At the outset of the Exile, God excoriates the false “shepherds” who are more interested in fleecing the sheep than in securing and nurturing the flock (Ezek. 34)—a phenomenon not unknown today. So God repeatedly promises that he himself will be the shepherd of his people; indeed, he will send forth this servant “David” (three-and-a-half centuries after David’s death!) to be their shepherd (Ezek. 34:23–24; see the meditation for March 20). In the fullness of time, the rightful heir of David’s line declares, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).

2 Samuel 3; 1 Corinthians 14; Ezekiel 12; Psalm 51 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-3-1-corinthians-14-ezekiel-12-psalm-51/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-3-1-corinthians-14-ezekiel-12-psalm-51/#respond Sat, 09 Sep 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-3-1-corinthians-14-ezekiel-12-psalm-51/ Even after the death of King Saul, David did not immediately become king of Israel. At first David is anointed king over Judah (2 Sam. 2:1–7), and only Judah: even Benjamin, which remained with Judah following the division between “Israel” and “Judah” after the death of Solomon, at this point was allied with the other tribes (2 Sam. 2:9).

Abner, the commander of what was left of Saul’s army, installed Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s surviving son, as king of Israel (2 Sam. 2:8–9). Skirmishes multiplied between David’s troops and those of Ish-Bosheth. Many battles in those days brought the opposing troops together in a fierce clash, followed by a running fight: one side ran away, and the other chased it. In one such clash, one of the three sons of Zeruiah—Asahel, from David’s forces—is killed by Abner (2 Sam. 2:17–23). The killing was “clean,” i.e., within the rules of warfare and not a murder. Nevertheless, this death precipitates some of the most important actions in 2 Samuel 3.

Bringing the different parts of the country together into united allegiance under David was a messy and sometimes ignoble business—a reminder that God sometimes uses the folly and evil of people to bring about his good purposes. Abner sleeps with one of Saul’s former concubines (2 Sam. 3:6–7). This was not only a breach of moral law, but in the symbolism of the time Abner was claiming the right of royalty for himself. It was a major insult and reproach to Ish-Bosheth. Thus Abner’s reasons for taking the eleven tribes over to David seem to have less to do with integrity and a desire to recognize God’s calling than out of frustration with Ish-Bosheth and some lust for power himself. Then Abner is murdered by Joab and his men (2 Sam. 3:22–27), Joab being one of Asahel’s brothers. But this really is murder, and a defiance of David’s safe-conduct.

How David handles this crisis reflects both his great strengths and one of his greatest weaknesses—strengths and weaknesses that will show up again. Politically, David is very astute. He distances himself utterly from Joab’s action, and insists that Joab and other leaders become part of the official mourning party of the slain Abner. “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them” (2 Sam. 3:36). On the other hand, David does not bring Joab to account, fobbing off his responsibility by protesting that “these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me” (2 Sam. 3:39). In other words, he shirked his responsibility—as he would do later with his son Amnon (2 Sam. 13), the consequences of which triggered Absalom’s revolt and almost cost David his throne. It is never God’s way to abdicate biblically mandated responsibility.

2 Samuel 2; 1 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 11; Psalm 50 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-2-1-corinthians-13-ezekiel-11-psalm-50/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-2-1-corinthians-13-ezekiel-11-psalm-50/#respond Fri, 08 Sep 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-2-1-corinthians-13-ezekiel-11-psalm-50/ 2 Samuel 1; 1 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel 10; Psalm 49 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-1-1-corinthians-12-ezekiel-10-psalm-49/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/2-samuel-1-1-corinthians-12-ezekiel-10-psalm-49/#respond Thu, 07 Sep 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/2-samuel-1-1-corinthians-12-ezekiel-10-psalm-49/ When David hears of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1), his grief is not merely formal. He could not help but know that the way to the throne was now open to him. Nevertheless, his sorrow is so genuine that he composes a lengthy lament (2 Sam. 1:19–27), sets it to music, and teaches it to the men of his tribe (2 Sam. 1:18) so that it will be sung for a long time as one of the folk ballads of the land.

Many elements of this lament deserve long reflection. Today I shall reflect on just one verse: “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice” (2 Sam. 1:20). Formally, the text is plain enough. Gath and Ashkelon were the two leading Philistine cities. David is saying, in effect, not to let the Philistines know of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, lest they be glad and rejoice.

Of course, the Philistines could not help but find out, and David, of all people, knew that. But his purpose in penning these words is not literally to keep the Philistines in the dark a little while longer. How could that be? They had already hoisted the body of Saul onto the wall of Beth Shan (1 Sam. 31:10) and sent messengers with the news throughout Philistia (1 Sam. 31:9). But if these lines from David’s pen do not function as literal advice, what is their function?

In part, it is simply a lament. It is a powerful way of saying that the opponents of the Israelites would be delighted with the news, and therefore their pleasure is a measure of the tragedy. But I suspect there is another overtone. When one of our leaders falls, conduct yourself in such a way as not to give strength to the opposition.

That is a lesson that must be learned again and again by the church. When a minister of the Gospel is caught embezzling funds or having an affair, then certainly the biblical principle for discipline must be brought to bear immediately. If the law has been broken, the civil authorities must be contacted. If families have been damaged, there may be a great deal of pastoral work to be done. But understand well that many unbelievers will be gleefully rubbing their hands and saying, “See? What can you expect? All this religious stuff is so hypocritical and phony.” Thus Christ is despised and the credibility of Christian witnesses diminished. Christians must restrain their tongues, watch what they say, and be especially careful about saying anything unnecessary to unbelievers. This is a time for mourning, not gossip. “Tell it not in Gath. . . .”

1 Samuel 31; 1 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 9; Psalm 48 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-31-1-corinthians-11-ezekiel-9-psalm-48/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-31-1-corinthians-11-ezekiel-9-psalm-48/#respond Wed, 06 Sep 2023 06:45:07 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-31-1-corinthians-11-ezekiel-9-psalm-48/ 1 Samuel 29–30; 1 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 8; Psalms 46–47 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-29-30-1-corinthians-10-ezekiel-8-psalms-46-47/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-29-30-1-corinthians-10-ezekiel-8-psalms-46-47/#respond Tue, 05 Sep 2023 06:45:08 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-29-30-1-corinthians-10-ezekiel-8-psalms-46-47/ 1 Samuel 28; 1 Corinthians 9; Ezekiel 7; Psalm 45 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-28-1-corinthians-9-ezekiel-7-psalm-45/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-28-1-corinthians-9-ezekiel-7-psalm-45/#respond Mon, 04 Sep 2023 06:45:03 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-28-1-corinthians-9-ezekiel-7-psalm-45/ There are several questions about the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28) that we cannot answer. Was the prophet Samuel actually called up by her mediumistic activity, or was this some sort of demonic deception? If Samuel was called up, was this an exception of what God normally allows or sanctions? And if it really is Samuel, why does he bother answering Saul at all, thereby satisfying Saul’s lust for knowledge of the future, by whatever means, even means that were specifically condemned in Israel?

While it is difficult to provide confident answers to some of these questions, certain points stand out.

(1) What is evil in spiritism is not that it never works (some of it may be manipulative hocus-pocus; some of it may actually provide answers), but that it plays into the hands of the demonic. Above all, it turns people away from God, who alone controls both the present and the future. To find guidance for one’s life by such means will not only lead one astray sooner or later, it is already a badge of rebellion—a terrible thumbing of the nose at God.

(2) Saul is playing the part of the hypocrite. On the one hand, he has banished mediums and spiritists from the land (1 Sam. 28:3); on the other, he desperately wants one himself. Had Saul lived longer, there is no way this two-facedness would have long remained hidden from the people. The very foundations of order and justice in a society are unraveling when the powers that be indulge not only in the personal hypocrisies that afflict a fallen race, but in public breaches of the law they are sworn to uphold.

(3) When God does not answer by any of the means he has himself designated (1 Sam. 28:6, 15), this does not constitute warrant for defiance of God, but for repentance, perseverance, and patience. There is something dismally pathetic about seeking God’s counsel while happily taking action that God himself has prohibited.

(4) The heart of Saul’s sin is what it has been for a long time. He wants a domesticated god, a god like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp, one pledged to do wonderful things for him as long as he holds the lamp. He somehow feels that David now holds the lamp and wishes he could get the power back, but does not perceive that the real God is to be worshiped, reverenced, obeyed, feared, and loved—unconditionally. Here is a man who thinks of himself as at the center of the universe; whatever gods exist must serve him. If the covenant God of Israel does not help him as he wishes, then Saul is prepared to find other gods. This is the black heart of all idolatry.

1 Samuel 27; 1 Corinthians 8; Ezekiel 6; Psalm 44 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-27-1-corinthians-8-ezekiel-6-psalm-44/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-27-1-corinthians-8-ezekiel-6-psalm-44/#respond Sun, 03 Sep 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-27-1-corinthians-8-ezekiel-6-psalm-44/ 1 Samuel 27; 1 Corinthians 8; Ezekiel 6; Psalm 44 APPARENTLY SOME CHRISTIANS in Corinth, secure in their knowledge that idols are nothing at all, and that all meat has been created by the one true God so that it is good to eat even if it had been offered to an idol, feel wonderful liberty to eat whatever they like. Others, converted perhaps from a life bound up with pagan superstition, detect the demonic in the idol, and think it unsafe to eat food that has been offered to them (1 Cor. 8). The thrust of Paul’s argument is...]]> 1 Samuel 26; 1 Corinthians 7; Ezekiel 5; Psalms 42–43 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-26-1-corinthians-7-ezekiel-5-psalms-42-43/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-26-1-corinthians-7-ezekiel-5-psalms-42-43/#respond Sat, 02 Sep 2023 06:45:13 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-26-1-corinthians-7-ezekiel-5-psalms-42-43/ 1 Samuel 25; 1 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 4; Psalms 40–41 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-25-1-corinthians-6-ezekiel-4-psalms-40-41/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-25-1-corinthians-6-ezekiel-4-psalms-40-41/#respond Fri, 01 Sep 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-25-1-corinthians-6-ezekiel-4-psalms-40-41/ 1 Samuel 25; 1 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 4; Psalms 40–41 DESPITE ITS GREAT INTEREST and deft characterizations, one must ask why the story found in 1 Samuel 25 is included. How does it advance the storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel? Once some of the social conventions of the day are understood, the account itself is clear. Apparently at this point David is not actively being pursued by Saul (see 1 Sam. 24), but relations are still so tender that David and his men keep right out of Saul’s way. Much of this culture was bound up with two values...]]> Despite its great interest and deft characterizations, one must ask why the story found in 1 Samuel 25 is included. How does it advance the storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel?

Once some of the social conventions of the day are understood, the account itself is clear. Apparently at this point David is not actively being pursued by Saul (see 1 Sam. 24), but relations are still so tender that David and his men keep right out of Saul’s way. Much of this culture was bound up with two values that many in the West rarely experience: (1) Every good deed must necessarily be repaid with another. The forms of courtesy extend to reciprocal gift-giving. Failure in this respect calls down shame on the person who defaults, and treats the other person with contempt. (2) The demands of hospitality mean it is unconscionable to turn another away. That would signal rudeness and greed. Mere courtesy demands that one offer one’s best to guests. This is especially true when one is wealthy.

So when David’s men arrive at Nabal’s door, they are not asking for protection money. When Nabal sends them on their way, he is not an upright man who refuses to be bullied by a brigand, but an ungrateful wretch who will take and take from everyone, never give anything in return, thumb his nose at the courtesies and conventions of the culture, bring down shame on himself without caring what people think, and treat the man who has contributed to the wealth and well-being of his operation with insufferable contempt.

Abigail cuts the best figure in the narrative. With grace and tact, she assuages David’s wrath and preserves the lives of her husband and the men he employs. David is a mixed figure. By the light of day, doubtless he had some warrant for the vengeance he was planning, but it could only presage more bloodshed and a style of leadership that would sully the throne he would one day occupy. All this Abigail sees—and winningly convinces him she is right.

So why is the account included? Superficially, of course, there are little hints that David is coming closer to the throne. Samuel, the prophet who anointed him, is dead (1 Sam. 25:1). David now heads an armed band of six hundred. Abigail represents the rising number of Israelites who recognize that sooner or later David will be their king (1 Sam. 25:28, 30). But above all, David is now heading in a different moral direction from Saul. As Saul’s power has increased, so also has his passion for vengeance. David is heading in the same wretched direction, until Abigail checks him, as he himself recognizes (1 Sam. 25:32–34). There are important lessons here for many powerful Christian leaders.

1 Samuel 24; 1 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 3; Psalm 39 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-24-1-corinthians-5-ezekiel-3-psalm-39/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-24-1-corinthians-5-ezekiel-3-psalm-39/#respond Thu, 31 Aug 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-24-1-corinthians-5-ezekiel-3-psalm-39/ 1 Samuel 24; 1 Corinthians 5; Ezekiel 3; Psalm 39 IN CASE ANYONE WERE TO READ 1 Corinthians 4 and conclude that no standards whatsoever are to be maintained in the church—after all, maintenance of standards requires judging, doesn’t it?—the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 5, provides a case where Paul berates the church in Corinth for not exercising judgment and discipline. We must reflect a little on this case itself, and then on the way it is linked to the previous chapter. Paul insists that, with respect to the man he describes in 1 Corinthians 5:1, two evils are in...]]> 1 Samuel 23; 1 Corinthians 4; Ezekiel 2; Psalm 38 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-23-1-corinthians-4-ezekiel-2-psalm-38/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-23-1-corinthians-4-ezekiel-2-psalm-38/#respond Wed, 30 Aug 2023 06:45:03 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-23-1-corinthians-4-ezekiel-2-psalm-38/ 1 Samuel 23; 1 Corinthians 4; Ezekiel 2; Psalm 38 PAUL IN 1 CORINTHIANS 3 HAS BEEN telling the Corinthians how not to view servants of Christ. They are not to view any particular servant of Christ as a group guru, for that means other servants of Christ are implicitly inferior. When each different group within the church has its own Christian guru, there are therefore two evils: unnecessary division within the church, and a censorious condescension that pronounces judgment on who is worthy to be a guru and who is not. Paul insists that all that God has for...]]> 1 Samuel 21–22; 1 Corinthians 3; Ezekiel 1; Psalm 37 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-21-22-1-corinthians-3-ezekiel-1-psalm-37/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-21-22-1-corinthians-3-ezekiel-1-psalm-37/#respond Tue, 29 Aug 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-21-22-1-corinthians-3-ezekiel-1-psalm-37/ 1 Samuel 21–22; 1 Corinthians 3; Ezekiel 1; Psalm 37 THE TWO EXTENDED METAPHORS that Paul deploys in 1 Corinthians 3:5–15 make roughly the same point, although each carries a special shading not found in the other. In the agricultural metaphor (1 Cor. 3:5–9), the Lord is the farmer, Paul prepares the ground and plants the seed, Apollos waters the fledgling plants, and the Corinthians are “God’s field” (1 Cor. 5:9). In the context, which is designed to combat the Corinthians’ penchant for division based on attaching themselves to particular “heroes” (1 Cor. 3:3–4), Paul is concerned to show that...]]> 1 Samuel 20; 1 Corinthians 2; Lamentations 5; Psalm 36 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-20-1-corinthians-2-lamentations-5-psalm-36/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-20-1-corinthians-2-lamentations-5-psalm-36/#respond Mon, 28 Aug 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-20-1-corinthians-2-lamentations-5-psalm-36/ 1 Samuel 20; 1 Corinthians 2; Lamentations 5; Psalm 36 THERE ARE NOT MANY CHAPTERS in the Bible that devote much space to the theme of friendship, but 1 Samuel 20 is one of them. Strictly speaking, of course, 1 Samuel 20 is not about friendship per se, in the way that friendship is a theme to be explored by a gifted novelist. The account fits into the larger narrative of the decline of Saul and the rise of David, a major turning point in redemptive history. Yet the way that account unfolds turns in important ways on the relationship...]]> There are not many chapters in the Bible that devote much space to the theme of friendship, but 1 Samuel 20 is one of them.

Strictly speaking, of course, 1 Samuel 20 is not about friendship per se, in the way that friendship is a theme to be explored by a gifted novelist. The account fits into the larger narrative of the decline of Saul and the rise of David, a major turning point in redemptive history. Yet the way that account unfolds turns in important ways on the relationship between Jonathan and David.

Jonathan turns out to be a wholly admirable young man. Earlier he had shown considerable physical courage when he and his armor-bearer routed a contingent of Philistines (1 Sam. 14). When David became part of the royal court, one might have expected Jonathan to display many malevolent emotions: jealousy at David’s rising popularity, competitiveness in the military arena, even fear that David would one day usurp his right to the throne. But “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Sam. 18:1). He entered into a “covenant” with David that made David, in effect, his own brother (1 Sam. 18:3–4)—an astonishing step for a royal to take with a commoner. By the time we arrive at chapter 20, Jonathan is aware that David will one day be king. How he acquired this knowledge we cannot be sure. Given their friendship, David may have confided in Jonathan the account of his anointing at the hands of Samuel.

Not only does Jonathan not share his father’s malevolence, but, having once before effected a reconciliation between his father Saul and David (1 Sam. 19:4–7), he finds it hard to believe that his father is as implacably determined to kill David as David believes (1 Sam. 20:1–3). So the elaborate plan of this chapter is put into effect. Jonathan discovers that his own father is resolved on Jonathan’s best friend’s death. Indeed, his father is so enraged that Jonathan himself is in mortal danger (1 Sam. 20:33).

David and Jonathan meet. They renew their covenant, as they will do once more (1 Sam. 23:17–18). David, for his part, vows to look after Jonathan’s family if and when Jonathan is no longer around—a harbinger of things to come, and rather different from the normal bloodletting that customarily took place when a new king sought to wipe out the potential heirs of a previous dynasty.

But perhaps the most striking thing is that Jonathan stays in town with his father. For the fact of the matter is that we choose our friends, but we do not choose our family; yet our responsibilities to our families take a prior claim. Otherwise friendship itself becomes an excuse for a new form of selfishness.

1 Samuel 19; 1 Corinthians 1; Lamentations 4; Psalm 35 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-19-1-corinthians-1-lamentations-4-psalm-35/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-19-1-corinthians-1-lamentations-4-psalm-35/#respond Sun, 27 Aug 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-19-1-corinthians-1-lamentations-4-psalm-35/ 1 Samuel 19; 1 Corinthians 1; Lamentations 4; Psalm 35 EVANGELICALS REGULARLY DRAW a line between justification and sanctification. Justification is God’s declaration that an individual sinner is just—a declaration grounded not in the fact that he or she is just, but in God’s accepting Christ’s death instead of the sinner’s, in God’s reckoning Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. It marks the beginning of the believer’s pilgrimage. From the believer’s vantage point, to be justified is a once-for-all experience bound up with God’s good purposes in Christ’s once-for-all death. By contrast, sanctification in the Protestant tradition has normally been understood...]]> 1 Samuel 18; Romans 16; Lamentations 3; Psalm 34 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-18-romans-16-lamentations-3-psalm-34/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-18-romans-16-lamentations-3-psalm-34/#respond Sat, 26 Aug 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-18-romans-16-lamentations-3-psalm-34/ 1 Samuel 18; Romans 16; Lamentations 3; Psalm 34 THE KIND OF JEALOUSY described in 1 Samuel 18 is a terrible thing. (1) It is grounded in an ugly self-focus, a self-focus without restraint. In his world, Saul must be number one. This means that peers must not best him or he becomes jealous. Not for an instant does he look at anything from the perspective of others—David’s perspective, for instance, or Jonathan’s. Ultimately, he cannot look at anything from God’s perspective either. His self-focus belongs to the genus of self-centeredness that lies at the heart of all human sinfulness,...]]> The kind of jealousy described in 1 Samuel 18 is a terrible thing.

(1) It is grounded in an ugly self-focus, a self-focus without restraint. In his world, Saul must be number one. This means that peers must not best him or he becomes jealous. Not for an instant does he look at anything from the perspective of others—David’s perspective, for instance, or Jonathan’s. Ultimately, he cannot look at anything from God’s perspective either. His self-focus belongs to the genus of self-centeredness that lies at the heart of all human sinfulness, but in its degree and intensity it is so unrestrained that it simultaneously loses touch with reality and adopts the most elemental idolatry.

(2) It is triggered by endless comparisons, endless assessments of who’s up and who’s down. Thus if David’s successes redound well on Saul, Saul is pleased; but if someone starts making comparisons between Saul and David that are in any way invidious to Saul, he is jealous (1 Sam. 18:7–8). Insofar as David’s successes are an index of the fact that “the LORD was with David” (18:12–28), Saul is jealous because he knows that the Lord is not with him. The tragedy is that this recognition does not breed repentance, but jealousy. Even the love Saul’s daughter Michal has for David exacerbates Saul’s jealousy (1 Sam. 18:28–29). Inevitably, this kind and degree of jealousy is very much bound up with fear; again and again we are told that Saul feared David (1 Sam. 18:12, 15, 29). David has become an unbearable threat. Jealousy of this order cannot tolerate competence in others.

It has to be said that many leaders, not least Christian leaders, even when they do not succumb to this degree of malevolence, fill the positions around them with less competent people, thinking that they thereby preserve their own image or authority. They don’t, of course; they simply become masters of incompetent administrations. On the long haul, their own reputations are diminished. But jealousy is such a blinding sin that such obvious realities cannot be admitted.

(3) In the worst cases, this sort of jealousy is progressively devouring. It nags at Saul’s mind and multiplies like a cancer. It erupts in uncontrolled violence (1 Sam. 18:10–11); it slips into twisted schemes enmeshing Saul’s own family (1 Sam. 18:20–27). In the chapters ahead it settles into something beyond rage—implacable hatred that deploys the armed forces against one innocent man who makes Saul feel insecure.

A believer who above all wants the name of the Lord to be exalted, who genuinely desires the good of the people of God, and who is entirely content to entrust his or her reputation to God, will never succumb to the sin of jealousy.

1 Samuel 17; Romans 15; Lamentations 2; Psalm 33 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-17-romans-15-lamentations-2-psalm-33/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-17-romans-15-lamentations-2-psalm-33/#respond Fri, 25 Aug 2023 06:45:03 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-17-romans-15-lamentations-2-psalm-33/ 1 Samuel 17; Romans 15; Lamentations 2; Psalm 33 THE NAMES OF DAVID and Goliath (1 Sam. 17) conjure up a story many have known from their youth. Sometimes David is made into a very little boy, though in reality he is at least a young man who has bested both a lion and a bear. But today the pair of names becomes evocative of little people and organizations taking on the “Goliaths.” Doubtless there are lessons to be learned about courage and boldness, but the most important lessons lie on slightly different lines. (1) Perhaps one should first reflect...]]> The names of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17) conjure up a story many have known from their youth. Sometimes David is made into a very little boy, though in reality he is at least a young man who has bested both a lion and a bear. But today the pair of names becomes evocative of little people and organizations taking on the “Goliaths.” Doubtless there are lessons to be learned about courage and boldness, but the most important lessons lie on slightly different lines.

(1) Perhaps one should first reflect on the slightly obscure chronology. At the end of 1 Samuel 16, David already appears in Saul’s court to play soothing music; yet after David’s fight with Goliath, Saul must still find out who the young man is (1 Sam. 17:55–58). Skeptical scholarship insists the problem cannot be resolved, and therefore infers that there is plenty of nonhistorical material here. Yet: (a) There is no particular reason why Saul should have made special inquiries into the background of just one more musician in the royal court, no matter how soothing he was. Saul may not have been motivated to find out until after the events in chapter 17. (b) More probably, the events in chapter 17 may have taken place before 15:14–23. Hebrew verbs do not convey time distinctions the way English verbs do, and it has been shown that there is no reason why we could not translate 17:1, “Now the Philistines had gathered …” etc., establishing important background for the relationship between Saul and David that occupies the attention of the succeeding chapters.

(2) Although David’s words to army personnel (1 Sam. 17:26) could be taken as the impetuous arrogance of untested youth (and certainly David’s brother Eliab took them that way, 1 Sam. 17:28), behind the brashness is a transparent concern for the glory of God, a concern that drives him to answer Goliath without a hint of personal bravado but with an abundance of faith (1 Sam. 17:45–47). Of course, manipulators sometimes hide behind God-talk. But David is not of that ilk. At this stage of life he might be faulted for lacking the polish of self-restraint, but at least his heart is in the right place.

(3) Above all, one must not read this chapter without remembering Samuel’s anointing of David: “from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power” (1 Sam. 16:13). There lies the source of the God-centeredness, the source of the courage, of the unerring aim, the great victory, and the elevation of the name and glory of God.

The text calls us not to admire David the man and no more, but to ponder what the Spirit of God may do with one person.

1 Samuel 16; Romans 14; Lamentations 1; Psalm 32 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-16-romans-14-lamentations-1-psalm-32/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-16-romans-14-lamentations-1-psalm-32/#respond Thu, 24 Aug 2023 06:45:04 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-16-romans-14-lamentations-1-psalm-32/ 1 Samuel 16; Romans 14; Lamentations 1; Psalm 32 THE ANOINTING OF DAVID as King over Israel (1 Sam. 16:1–13), even though his enthronement is years away, is full of interest. (1) Sometimes prophets and preachers are slower to let go of a bad leader than God Almighty (1 Sam. 16:1). This is not because we are more compassionate than God, but because inertia or nostalgia or personal bonds of affection blind us to the sheer damage the leader is doing. For all his compassion, God is never blinded. (2) Saul was elevated to the throne by God’s sanction. Is...]]> The anointing of David as King over Israel (1 Sam. 16:1–13), even though his enthronement is years away, is full of interest.

(1) Sometimes prophets and preachers are slower to let go of a bad leader than God Almighty (1 Sam. 16:1). This is not because we are more compassionate than God, but because inertia or nostalgia or personal bonds of affection blind us to the sheer damage the leader is doing. For all his compassion, God is never blinded.

(2) Saul was elevated to the throne by God’s sanction. Is he so foolish as to think that he can outwit God in order to keep it? It is terribly sad to find Samuel afraid to anoint the next king, because Saul will kill anyone, even a prophet of God, who threatens a dynasty that God himself has declared will never be established.

(3) Saul had looked very promising when he was first elevated to the throne. Now Samuel thinks he can detect kingly material in the sons of Jesse—Eliab, for instance, the firstborn. But God says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

This is a lesson that must be learned afresh, especially in our day, for our day loves images more than reality. Even some preachers devote more thought to how “to dress for success” and how to develop a compelling and authoritative voice than they do to maintaining a pure heart.

(4) The most important factor in the life and service of David is that the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him “in power” (1 Sam. 16:13). This is the regular experience of those prophets, priests, kings, and a few other leaders, who were given special roles under the terms of the old covenant. However difficult it is to be discerning in such matters, one cannot say too often or too loudly that what the church needs are leaders with unction—a word favored by the Puritans. It simply means “anointing,” i.e., an anointing by the Spirit. Is that too much to ask, in an age when under the terms of the new covenant all of the covenant people of God receive the Spirit poured out at Pentecost?

(5) Those who know their Bibles cannot help but feel a thrill of excitement at the simple words of 1 Samuel 16:12. There the Lord tells Samuel with respect to David, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” Indeed, David was the one. Here are the inauspicious beginnings of a major new step in the history of redemption, one that leads directly to David’s most eminent descendant—and his Lord.

1 Samuel 15; Romans 13; Jeremiah 52; Psalm 31 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-15-romans-13-jeremiah-52-psalm-31/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-15-romans-13-jeremiah-52-psalm-31/#respond Wed, 23 Aug 2023 06:45:05 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-15-romans-13-jeremiah-52-psalm-31/ 1 Samuel 15; Romans 13; Jeremiah 52; Psalm 31 SAUL ALREADY HAS A CHECKERED RECORD. On the one hand, he courageously rescued the city of Jabesh from the Ammonites and displayed an admirable restraint in the early use of his royal power (1 Sam. 11). Nevertheless it was not long before he starts treating the Lord God as a talisman, and his word as the equivalent of a magical or astrological hint of what he should do, rather than something that is first of all to be reverenced and obeyed (1 Sam. 13). By chapter 14, only the intervention of...]]> Saul already has a checkered record. On the one hand, he courageously rescued the city of Jabesh from the Ammonites and displayed an admirable restraint in the early use of his royal power (1 Sam. 11). Nevertheless it was not long before he starts treating the Lord God as a talisman, and his word as the equivalent of a magical or astrological hint of what he should do, rather than something that is first of all to be reverenced and obeyed (1 Sam. 13). By chapter 14, only the intervention of his own men keeps him from killing his son Jonathan over a promise that should never have been made and should certainly not have been kept (compare the meditation for July 28). Here in 1 Samuel 15, several traits of character ensure that Saul will not head a dynasty. He will be replaced by another king.

(1) Despite explicit instructions from the Lord regarding the Amalekites, Saul and his army spare the best sheep and cattle, and even the Amalekite King Agag, perhaps as a kind of trophy. Worse, Saul then lies about this to Samuel—as if God could be deceived. The lie betrays the fact that by this time Saul is thinking without reference to an all-knowing God; he is thinking like a mere politician, like a pagan or a secularist.

(2) Samuel understands the heart of the problem to lie in Saul’s changed perceptions of himself (1 Sam. 15:17): at one time he was small in his own eyes, and could scarcely imagine being king. Now he is ready to lie to God’s prophet and never, never, truly repent.

(3) Saul changes his tactics, and insists that the reason he kept the best sheep and cattle was to offer a great sacrifice to the Lord. There is nothing like a little religious patter to pull the wool over some people’s eyes. But not Samuel’s. “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” he asks. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1 Sam. 15:22–23). Such reminders need to be enshrined in contemporary evangelicalism.

(4) So Saul offers formal repentance—but makes the excuse that he was afraid of the people. He simply will not face his own responsibility—and Samuel sees this clearly (1 Sam. 15:24–26).

(5) Saul tries formal repentance once more; but once again he betrays his own heart when he shows that he finds it more important to be honored before the elders of Israel than by the God of Israel (1 Sam. 15:30–31). We are lost when human opinion means more to us than God’s.

1 Samuel 14; Romans 12; Jeremiah 51; Psalm 30 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-14-romans-12-jeremiah-51-psalm-30/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-14-romans-12-jeremiah-51-psalm-30/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2023 06:45:03 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-14-romans-12-jeremiah-51-psalm-30/ 1 Samuel 14; Romans 12; Jeremiah 51; Psalm 30 AMONG THE MAJOR POINTS that Paul has been making in his letter to the Romans is the sheer gratuity of grace, the amazing measure of mercy that has won Jews and Gentiles alike. Alike we are guilty; alike we are justified, forgiven, renewed, owing to the measureless mercy of God. In view of such mercy, Paul urges his readers “to offer [their] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1). We are so familiar with this verse that its strangeness no longer strikes us. In the ancient world,...]]> 1 Samuel 13; Romans 11; Jeremiah 50; Psalms 28–29 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-13-romans-11-jeremiah-50-psalms-28-29/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/devotionals/read-the-bible/1-samuel-13-romans-11-jeremiah-50-psalms-28-29/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2023 06:45:06 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/d-a-carson/1-samuel-13-romans-11-jeremiah-50-psalms-28-29/ 1 Samuel 13; Romans 11; Jeremiah 50; Psalms 28–29 ROMANS 11 HAS BEEN UNDERSTOOD in mutually contradictory ways. There is not space here to list them, let alone evaluate them. I shall simply lay out the flow of Paul’s argument as I see it. (1) Does Paul’s argument in Romans 9–10 mean that God has utterly abandoned “his people,” that is, the Israelites? Paul pens a hearty “No way!”—“By no means!” (Rom. 11:1). The first bit of counter-evidence (Rom. 11:1–6) is that Paul himself is a Jew, a Benjamite at that (one of the two tribes that did not break...]]>