Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Heart of Man (II Samuel 11-12)

In Deuteronomy, the people were left with this warning:
Take care…lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God.
So falls the greatest king of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. We see the danger signs from the very beginning:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.
Bathsheba’s husband is off fighting in the war that the King ought to be leading, and so David can take her with little effort. But soon he hears the news that she is pregnant with his child.

His first act is to recall Uriah home to report on the war, hoping that the man will sleep with his wife while in town. But Uriah is a total boy scout:
The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.
Ouch. This foreign-born soldier is more righteous here than the King of Israel. And so, knowing that Uriah is right before God, and that his own works are evil, David goes the way of Cain, and arranges for Uriah to die on the field of battle.

The story of confrontation is so famous that I have little to add to the drama. It is the classic exposal of a hypocrite. The prophet Nathan reports to David of a rich man who steals the sheep of a poor man to feed his own guests. David, stirring with righteous indignation, swears an oath to the Lord that the rich man deserves to die. Nathan then points his finger straight at the king:
You are the man!

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’
David is struck to the heart. He has sinned, not against some no name foreign soldier, but against the Lord himself – no less than if he had struck the Lord’s anointed. By pasturing himself on his sheep, he has shown utter contempt for the shepherd in whose name he rules. And, if Psalm 51 is to be believed, he repents with an agony and sincerity that has since been a model to sinners throughout the ages:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
Nathan declares that David will be spared, at the cost of the life of the child conceived by the illicit union. Furthermore, the sword will never leave his house, and his own wives will be ravished in public, for all to see.

David prays desperately for the child – hoping that the Lord will change his mind. I can’t help but wonder about the line in the psalm about being conceived in sin. How can one stand before God if his own existence is an act of murderous evil? And yet, he still holds out hope.

But it is futile. The wretched child dies. And a broken, stoic king quietly returns to the house of the Lord to worship.

What are we to make of David? Had ever a servant of God ever risen to such heights? Had one ever before fallen into such grave sin? Had anyone ever repented so passionately?

Though far from perfect, David is a perfect fit for Israel. His heart is their own. It is a heart recklessly and lovingly devoted to God, and yet also riddled with evil intentions from the very beginning. But it is also a heart which clings to the mercy of God, against all odds, despite how very deserving of destruction it may be. It is a heart that believes that somehow God could forgive a child brought forth in iniquity, even with the curse of death hanging over his head.

Click Here to Continue Reading this Post...

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Amazing Toxic Asexual Bunny Mutation Simulator

Lest any of you get the impression that I am a one-trick pony, and write on nothing but the Bible, I'm linking to an essay I guest posted over at Telic Thoughts.

As a Computer Scientist, I never was terribly impressed by the notion of "junk DNA". The idea that 90% of our DNA has no function is counter-intuitive at best. The human genome already seems to be surprisingly small to specify all the information required to describe how to build a human being from a single cell (implying to me some pretty good compression), and further reducing this to the information content of Microsoft Office is not what I would expect. But then again, life isn't always intuitive. Stranger truths have been found in nature, so I suppose we need to keep an open mind.

Then I remembered that we have around 96% genetic similarity to the chimpanzee - meaning large chunks of our genome can be matched up with chunks of the chimp genome almost exactly. These things seem completely at odds to me. If a portion of the genome is junk, than there should be no selective pressure to keep this portion the same. In fact, there may be a functional advantage in removing it altogether (the organism can get by with less nucleotides in its cells). Over 5 million years, it certainly feels like these junk sections would become completely scrambled, rather than maintaining almost total similarity.

So, what better way to demonstrate this than with the clear irrefutable scientific proof of a toxic asexual bunny mutation simulator?

Read the entire essay at Telic Thoughts.

Click Here to Continue Reading this Post...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An Unfading Crown of Glory (II Samuel 1-10)

After the death of Saul, David leaves the Philistines and is crowned king of Judah. Abner, Saul’s general, then proceeds to crown one of Saul’s sons, Ish-bosheth, as king over the other tribes. Thus begins a civil war between the house of David and Saul over the throne of Israel.

David comes out on top. Really it is very little contest – David is a great warrior and a strong leader. His general, Joab, proves a suitable second-in-command, consistently beating Abner in battle.

Eventually, Abner mutinies when Ish-bosheth insults him over one of his father’s concubines. David is pleased to have such an accomplished general now on his side, but Joab will have none of it (Abner had killed Joab’s brother in battle). He lulls Abner into his confidence, and then knifes him in the gut.

David is apparently not powerful enough to execute his right-hand-man, but he makes it clear what he thinks of such behavior.
Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and mourn before Abner.” And King David followed the bier. They buried Abner at Hebron. And the king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept.

So all the people and all Israel understood that day that it had not been the king's will to put to death Abner the son of Ner. And the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?...The Lord repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!”
Soon afterwards, Ish-bosheth is murdered by his own men. The culprits run to David, expecting a reward, but instead get put to death themselves. Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth expects to be killed, seeing as he is of Saul’s royal bloodline and a potential challenger – but instead is honored by the king as his own son.

Here again, we see the heart of David. Abner may have been his enemy, but he is a prince of Israel. Ish-bosheth may be his rival, but he is the son of the Lord’s anointed. Mephibosheth might be a threat, but he is the son of his dear friend Jonathan. This is not someone consumed by political ambition. This is a king who tends his flock like a shepherd, carrying the lambs in his arms. David loves the Lord, which fuels his love for Israel, and thus he loves even those who might be his enemies.

I can’t help but reflect on the nature of this mercy. It isn’t a sappy sentimentalism – the notion that people ought to be nice to people even if the people aren’t nice. It is a mercy rooted in looking at people on the basis of their standing before God.

Of course, this love for Israel also means fierce fighting against their foreign enemies. Under David’s reign, the Philistines are defeated, the Ammonites are crushed, the Edomites are subdued, the Syrians are routed, and cities like Jerusalem (which never fell in the initial conquest) are finally captured.

In the middle of all this glorious culmination, God himself speaks to David:
I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom…I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you…Your throne shall be established forever.
It's a key moment - an expansion of the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham. David, deeply moved, and shaking with emotion, replies:
Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? …For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God…For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.
Never has there been a leader who mirrors the heart of the Lord for his people so fully. The story has finally moved forward, after stalling in Judges. The conquest is complete, the kingdom is established, and the Lord's anointed is seated at his right hand.

Click Here to Continue Reading this Post...