Summary: God desires that we depend on Him rather than on our own skills and strength.
Sue and I had a relaxing time at the Pastor/Spouse Retreat last week. We heard an excellent speaker, experienced fine fellowship, and ate good food. In a get-acquainted exercise we were asked to answer the question, “What is one thing about you that your congregation back home doesn’t know about you?” And I realized that there may be something about me that some of you don’t know. So this morning it is confession time.
Most of you know that Sue and I spent 15 years in Japan as missionaries. In 1981 when we returned to the U. S., we decided to live in Chicago one year. In some ways that was a wonderful year. We participated fully in a large congregation that accepted us and loved us. When I say fully, I mean Sunday school, choir, invitations to people’s homes and even as their paid janitors –because we had no job. What’s more the co-pastors were a husband and wife. He was also a public elementary school principal. They became role models for us. In that sense it was a wonderful year.
But in another sense it was a difficult year. I could not find a job. I sent out resumes all over the U.S., applying to colleges, universities and companies. I had not finished my Ph.D, yet, so colleges couldn’t use me. I had too much education for some jobs and those companies didn’t want me. “Over qualified,” they said. It was the subject of our prayers every day. In the meantime, one church member hired me to help him do odd jobs. Pastor Joe hired me at his elementary school as temporary janitor. And I taught some courses at the community college, but I could not find a permanent job. I was embarrassed, depressed, and discouraged.
I know that some of you have experienced those feelings. You have tried and tried to get a job and nothing opens up. You have filled out resumes. You have gone to all the right places. You have prayed about it. And you are tempted to give up or to take a job that is illegal or immoral. I know how that feels. I was getting desperate.
Finally, I decided to take things into my own hands. I thought there must be some employer out there who needs someone with my qualifications. They just don’t know about me. So I prepared an ad for the Chicago Tribune.
After all, I was fluent in Japanese. My training was in communication. And I almost had my Ph.D. I got half a dozen calls. The one I remember best was the one that went something like this. “We are a company that has clubs all over the world and we’d like to open some in Japan. Would you have any objections to working for Playboy?” Short conversation. Some of you didn’t know that. In some ways, I suppose it served me right.
We have come to the final message from II Samuel. If you have followed David’s experiences through this book you have seen that his life took a nose dive. He was anointed king over Israel, but he became a moral failure and a bad example. In his psalm in Chapter 22 he says, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer…” These words express his trust in God. He recognized how dependent he is upon God. But, unfortunately, in Chapter 24 he takes things into his own hands instead of depending on God.
It seems to me there is a fine line between pride on the one hand and desperation on the other. When we are proud we depend upon our own strength, skills, and abilities to get things done instead of trusting God to work things out for us. When we are desperate, what do we depend on? Our own strength, skills, and abilities AND maybe manipulating people and circumstances to get our way.
I’m not quite sure which it was for King David. He had come through some difficult times. His sons almost wrenched the kingdom away from him. They certainly made his life miserable. His future looked bleak. Maybe it was desperation.
On the other hand, he had also achieved several military victories and in Chapter 23 he was able to list 30 strong men. Whichever it was, the picture we get is that his trust turned toward human strength, rather than depending on divine power and he commanded Joab, his military commander, to take a census of the soldiers. That decision got him into a lot of trouble. Let’s take a closer look to see what we can learn for our own walk of faith.
First, we learn that David sinned in counting these soldiers. He sinned against God. He went against God’s will. It wasn’t the counting of people that was wrong. In other places in the Bible God asked for a numbering of the people. The problem seems to be his motive. Why did he want to know how many soldiers he had? Was he comparing his military might with nations around him so he could boast that he had the largest army? Did he want to establish confidence that if he dug himself into a hole his military might would get him out? Was he trying to congratulate himself on his military victories so he could put another trophy on his shelf? Or was he so desperate he felt he needed to know how much strength he could muster? Either way, it was a sinful attitude in God’s eyes, because he was depending on military strength instead of on God’s strength. Isa. 31:1 “Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the holy one of Israel or consult the Lord!” Again and again we read in the O.T. that it was God who fought the battles for the Israelites. When they won a battle they were tempted to think it was their strength that won it. They were like the woodpecker that was pounding away on a dead tree and suddenly lightning struck the tree and split it down the middle and the woodpecker died of a heart attack. He thought he had done it.