Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Pleases God

Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him. – 2 Samuel 10:12

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.  -- Psalm 115:3

The verse from Second Samuel is a statement by David’s general, Joab.  If I had been writing the Bible, I would probably have left Joab out or at least left out some of his contradictions and complexities.  As it is, the character fascinates me.  I may have said this before.  As best I can tell, Joab is kinfolk -- David’s nephew, the son of David’s sister Zeruiah (1 Chronicles 2:16).  Joab seems very often to know the will and ways of God better than David and is unfailingly loyal.  He is also vengeful, conniving, and ambitious.  He is both a courageous warrior and a pragmatic, cold-blooded politician. 

Here we see an example of Joab who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Ammonites had foolishly provoked Israel to battle.  Joab when out to fight them only to find that they had multiplied their forces by hiring the Syrians, surrounding the army of Israel.  Rather than panic, Joab divided his forces, putting some of the army under command of his brother, Abishai, to attack the Ammonites while he, with a handpicked cadre, would assault the Syrians.  In the end, Joab was wise enough to reckon that “the battle is the Lord’s”. 

If God is going to do “all that He pleases”, what is our responsibility?  Why should we worry about anything?  We were pointing in the previous post that worry is needless.  Does that mean there is no part for us to play?  Moses held up his staff and the sea parted.  Did Moses do that?  Moses did his part.  Joshua and the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, blew their trumpets and the walls fell down.  Who knocked down those walls?  Joshua did his part.  Gideon and his three hundred broke their pitchers, blew their trumpets and shouted, and the Midianites fell into confusion, slaughtered one another and fled.  Gideon did his part.  David faced Goliath and slung a stone.  Joab and his army attacked. 

I trust God to provide for me, but I get up every morning and go to work.  If I wanted to find a job, I’d trust God, but I’d also go out and look for one.  God doing what he pleases and our doing what we can are not contradictory concepts.  God’s sovereignty does not interdict man’s free will and responsibility.  He did not create puppets but people, and what He really wants is for us to delight to do His will. 

I am afraid that one of the reasons Joab has such a strong appeal for me is that I am too much like him.  Loyalty and courage are the two virtues I admire almost more than any.  I'm actually pretty good at loyalty.  I could never call myself brave, but I would like to if I could.  Love, by contrast, seems almost self-serving because the one who loves gains so much joy from it.  Love ought to hurt – as it sometimes does.  People should -- more to the point, God should respect my self-sacrifice and unselfishness.  That seems right to me.  Nevertheless, I am wrong.  In “The Weight of Glory” Lewis says: 
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love.  … The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. 

It irks a part of me that God does not recognize Joab as the better man.  Joab is out doing what needs to be done, stabbing people and cutting throats.  David is nearly a sissy by comparison -- whining around about all the blood shed for his benefit, just about swooning before God.  He loved God, praised and served Him for the pure joy he found doing so.  To Joab, the Lord was someone to appease and, usually, obey rather than someone in whom to delight.  Yes, I am wrong.  

David was flawed, often weak and prone to mistakes of misplaced empathy, mercy, and compassion.  Yet, in this, he is more like God, closer to the heart of God than old canny, practical Joab me. 


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Wow! Lots of wisdom in today's post, Mushroom!

I never really thought too much on what Joab said, so thanks for clarifying that.
So essentially, both Joab and David sinned, but the big difference between them isthat David loved God so much he would praise him in the most beautiful ways while, as you said, Joab was merely appeasing God.

Joab couldn't seem to grasp that love goes much deeper than loyalty, honor, courage; all great traits to have, but without love they are hollow.

mushroom said...

I think that's it, like 1 Cor. 13 -- if I give away all I have and give up my body to be burned and don't have love, I gain nothing.