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A must have virtue

Sermon passage: (2 Samuel 9:1-12) Spoken on: June 11, 2017
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Samuel

Tags: 2 Samuel

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About Rev Enoch Keong: Rev. Keong is currently serving as a pastor in the youth, young adult and young families ministries in Jubilee Church.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: A must have virtue
Date: 11 & 18th June 2017
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

Let me begin with something that sounds trite. Life is much about making choices and facing consequences. Some have it easier, some have it harder, some borrow extra help to do it better.

This morning we are starting a new sermon series. We will look at the latter half of David’s life by reading Second Samuel and the opening chapters of 1 Kings. First and second Samuel are much about choices and consequences. The Israelites made the choice to have for themselves a human king, instead of upholding God as their king. And the books of Samuel in turn ask a question for the people to reflect upon. The question is, “Is it really a blessing to have a king?” The books answer its own questions through telling the story of Saul and David. And the short answer is, “It is a blessing to have a king, but only if the king obeys Yahweh.”

In other words, the books of Samuel highlight the importance of human choices. People get what they ask for, blessings or judgment – from God – based on the choices made. The books of Samuel therefore tell us about this interaction of human choices and divine will.

What we are trying to do here is to see how this takes place in the latter half of David’s life. We start this morning from 2 Samuel 9 and go all way till the end of the book in subsequent weeks. We will then crossover to the opening chapters of 1 kings, because David’s story only ends there. And by looking at David, a fellow human being, the choices he makes and the consequences he faced, we believe we will learn something more about our own desires and longings, our hurts and fears, our hates and hopes, and of course about God’s holiness and graciousness.

That much we will say about the new sermon series.

In the chapter we are reading today, we find King David making the choice to exercise a certain virtue. It a ‘must have’ virtue according to the bible, and we will spend some time looking at it this morning.

What do we think is the single most important virtue in the Old Testament? If I guessed is correct, it is expressed with the word hesed. Hesed is a Hebrew word that does not have an exact equivalent in the English language. It is translated into English as kindness, we find this translation in today’s text. Hesed is at the same time translated as gracious, mercy, steadfast love, loyalty, commitment and covenant faithfulness in the English language. We can see from the list that the word hesed is rich in terms of meaning, but we also find ourselves running into a little problem. Hesed, according to the list, can at the same time refer to gracious and to commitment, which are two different kinds of virtue. In other word, we don’t readily get a single and clear picture when we try to understand the term in English.

But let’s try again to understand the term with David’s story.

By the time we come to 2 Samuel 9, David is already sitting quite securely on the throne as the king of Israel. What else do we know about David? The previous chapter reports that he had made a name for himself. He did so by killing 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. The same chapter also reports that he took the lives of 22,000 Syrians in another war. And in that war, David also did something that will make animal lovers very unhappy. He cut the hamstrings of most of the enemy’s chariot horses; only horses enough to pull 100 chariots were left unharmed. We are not too sure why he did such a thing, but he probably wanted to reduce the cost and manpower required to upkeep the extra horses he didn’t find useful. In 2 Samuel 21, we read about David acting ruthlessly against 7 members from Saul’s family. He handed the 7 Saulites over to the Gibeonites to be hanged. And then, in today’s text, he shows kindness to 1 surviving Saulite.

Killed 40,007, spared 1. Why not kill 40,008 lives? Why spare that 1 live?

The last 4 English translations on hesed point out for us David’s reason. David has made a covenant with Jonathan to show him and his house steadfast love (1 Sam 20:14-15), and he is honoring that commitment made in today’s text. He does it by restoring unto Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, all the land that belonged to the grandfather, appoints for him servants to till the land and allowed the former prince to eat at his table. Of the 3 acts of kindness, the last one: hosting the former prince perpetually for dinner is something David did with some risks. There’s a possibility that Mephibosheth was thinking of reviving Saul’s kingdom. Saul’s still had supporters in Israel, and Mephibosheth could potentially coordinate a revolt from within the palace. True enough, Mephibosheth is crippled in both feet and can never accent the throne. But let’s not forget that David also took in Mephibosheth’s young son Mica, and the boy is a real threat to David’s dynasty. David is incurring risk here.

But that’s exactly what showing hesed is about. To show hesed is to honor the commitment made. It is to stick to the terms and conditions agreed upon even when it is not going to be a win-win situation, as we see in David’s case. To show hesed involves being gracious, kind and merciful, in accordance to details of the covenant that was made. Hesed basically means covenant faithfulness, expressed through showing kindness and so forth, and that’s why we have the 7 English translations just for this one Hebrew word.

Does David’s practice of hesed have anything to tell us? David killed many and shows kindness and mercy to one family. He hands are full of unkindness, yet the bible does not consider him unfit to show hesed. 2 Sam 9-10 in fact paint David in a good light, before telling us about his sins and his decline from chapter 11 and onwards. Hesed is the single most important virtue in the bible, David dirtied his hands like anything, yet he is celebrated herein as a person who shows hesed. The passage, I think, is saying that we who are imperfect like David, are to also go and show hesed.

Before we say something about going and showing hesed, let us first answer a question. Why is hesed the most important virtue in the bible, why is it so big?

The reason is fairly straightforward, hesed is a virtue that must infuse all aspects of life and governs it. Hesed is on the one hand a man to man thing. When one honors the covenant made with another human being, there will most likely be fairness, peace and stability. But when someone fails to honor the covenant made, there will likely be grievances, which may even lead to bloodshed. So showing hesed is big because without it, relationships and the society malfunction.

Then, hesed is at the same time a man to God and God to man thing. In term of man to God, the bible takes very seriously the promise a person made to God. A person who refuses to fulfil a vow or a covenant made to the Lord would be regarded as committing sin.

And when we consider the God to man aspect on showing hesed, we really see its bigness, its value. The descendants of Adam had never been very consistent when it comes being kind to one another and being faithful to the Lord. To be sure , we have never been totally successful in such things. We need forgiveness from above, and God’s hesed is his reason for granting us what we need. Numbers 14 makes this clear. And we in God’s church knows that his hesed, his steadfast love, stretches to the point that he gave us the New Adam, so that we who need a lot of divine forgiveness to continue as followers of Christ may keep having second chances to do so.

And then, why do we pray to God for help, wisdom and the strength? Why do we intercede for people we care, for protection, opened doors, eternal life and more? Isn’t it because of God’s hesed? We pray because the good God who covenanted with Abraham and his descendants to bless and to lead them, honors the terms and conditions of the covenant. And we in turn enjoy God’s goodness and count our blessings. In other words, we can have hope, in good and bad times, because God shows hesed.

And as we are on the topic of hesed, let’s turn to a well-known passage in Exodus 34. Our focus is on verse 6 which says, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness”. What do we understand from the verse? Israel asked for a human king, but the Kings of kings is still Yahweh. And Yahweh confesses here his nature, that he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in hesed and faithfulness, and with these virtues he rules his people. We may not find God ruling with his steadfast love to be something striking because life has been as it is today; we are surviving all the while on God’s steadfast love till we don’t think very much of it. But can we imagine that life wasn’t like how it had been? That instead of a God who rules with steadfast love, we have a king like David, who kills 7 and spares only 1 from Saul’s family? Did no harm to useful animals, but those he found useless, chop. Don’t think we need go on in this. But I believe enough is said to remind us that we should always be giving thanks to God for his steadfast love.

We may have setbacks and pains and worries and fears, that’s life. But the bible tells us that in life we have God’s hesed. So we pray, we hope, we give thanks, because God’s hesed tells us he is persistent in working something good out of what we are going through.

Apart from praying, hoping and giving thanks, there’s one other thing that hesed is calling us to do. The CGs are now reading the book of Acts, a book that shows how the hesed of God has extended beyond the original group of chosen people, and gentiles of different origins and nationalities were included into the fold of God. In other words, God’s hesed is shown to his people and also to the larger world. God’s hesed reaches to people we call our own, people whom we have a preferential bias to see them enjoying God’s grace. But hesed is also to reach to those that we have yet to call our own. The friends and relative and colleagues that we like and don’t quite like, God wants to show them hesed.

Our Lord Jesus urges us to be communicators of God’s intent by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know that Jews dislike Samaritans, but the feeling of dislike is actually mutual. Yet the Samaritan, who is not even regarded as people of the covenant, showed mercy to the Jew, who is to Samaritans, an outsider. And Jesus ended the parable by saying, “You go, and do likewise. (Luke 10:37)"

The calling is clear, the question is how to do it. David’s story encourages us to just do it, but within reasonable limits. It would not make sense for David to give the kingdom back to Saul’s descendants, to Mephibosheth or Mica. But he can work within reasonable limits in showing hesed, he can take risks, he can let potential usurpers of his throne stay right next to him. And he did exactly that.

Friends, when it comes to showing hesed to outsiders, or what we commonly called outreach, how do we go about setting our reasonable limits? There are Christian who are ready to outreach to other, only if 2 things remain uncompromised – convenience and self-preservation. They set their reasonable limits by ensuring that these 2 aspects are not being affected. There are Christians at the other end of the spectrum, they habitually overstretch themselves; their reasonable limit is as long as they have not collapsed. Along this spectrum, where do we find ourselves? I like to invite us to take this day, before Monday comes, to reflect prayerfully on one question: When it comes to outreach, is our reasonable limit reasonable? Pray and think through and rework on our reasonable limits.

“You go, and do likewise” says the Lord. To do likewise and to do it more effectively, some of us may need to stretch ourselves a little more, some of us may need to hold back our enthusiasm a little, some of us should just continue on what we have been doing. But let’s take this day, to quieten down ourselves before the Lord who asks us to go and to do, and may our prayerful reflection help us to become more willing and more effective communicators of God’s hesed.

I think I should stop talking about hesed for now, and we all go and show to other God’s hesed.

2 Samuel 9:1–12 (Listen)

9:1 And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. 10 And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11 Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. 12 And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants.

(ESV)