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The Praise of an Old Man

In the midst of all sorts of troubles, David still found comfort and rest in God.

Shortly after David came to power, he brought the ark to Zion. The ark was a box about the size of a piano bench, and in it were some famous artifacts. It was really a symbol. It was, to the thinking of a typical Hebrew, the place where God met with them. On top of the ark were these cherubim with outstretched wings overshadowing this slab that was the lid of the box. It was there that the priest would sprinkle the blood. That's why we have the wonderful expression, "Under the shadow of his wings." The place where propitiation has been made, the place where the blood has been sprinkled, satisfying God and averting his wrath.

After David brought the ark home, he established a couple of choirs, one in Zion, the other in Gideon, and gave them each a hymnbook. I think we have these hymnals in the first two books of the collection of five books we call the Book of the Psalms.

It wasn't as if David had a contract with Word or some other publishing company to churn out some songs every year. He wrote these under pressure of circumstances. They reflect his walk with God and also at times his backsliding, and this psalm is one of those.

A lot of people think that the TThird Psalm is the psalm of a young man. They would put this at the time of his life when he was a shepherd boy.

Some boy. He killed a bear and a lion on a couple of different occasions. We know what kind of a young man he was when that giant was threatening all the armies of Israel. David was probably a bit arrogant (most young men are a bit arrogant, but they get that knocked out of them as they live a little while).

He asked, "Who is this uncircumcised crumb bum threatening the armies of the people of Israel? I'll take him on." Of course, he did, and we know the conclusion to the story.

But this is the psalm of an older man who's gone through life's experiences. We know that because of this statement, "He leads me beside quiet waters." (Young men don't want quiet waters.) But it is especially evident in the phrase, "He restores my soul."

Those who analyze this book will give you a list of psalms that are called penitential, in the sense of confessing sin. Actually, David wrote more than half of the Psalms, and I would guess that half of those are penitential. Most of them echo something in his life that he regretted.

David was running from Absalom.

This is the story from 2 Samuel 17, of David's flight from Absalom, his son. David had bad luck with his sons. Luck, of course, isn't the right word. The oldest of his sons raped his half sister, Tamar; and then he, in turn, was murdered by one of David's other sons, Absalom. David did nothing about the first sin. He didn't deal with his son, and he did virtually nothing about the second sin except to say, "Send him away from me." And he eventually brought Absalom back with that crime of murder unavenged.

Of course, he secretly felt that his first son had gotten what he had coming to him. David's mind was at peace because Absalom had done what he, the king, should have done but did not do.

Later on there was another of his sons whom Solomon was going to put to death because he tried to seize the kingdom. There is that fascinating statement, that his father David never said to him, "Why are you doing this?" or "Why are you doing that?" He never corrected him. So David was not what you would call a model father. He did not rebuke them.

There was also that tragic sin he committed with Bathsheba, which he attempted to cover up by something sin of murder of her husband, Uriah. So the very things David rape of a woman, the murder of a things were reproduced by his children. It's one of the most frightening stories in the Bible.

This devilishly handsome Absalom, charming and utterly immoral, attempted to win the kingdom for himself. He was willing to go so far as to murder his own father. But he began by talking to the people, listening to their complaints and feeding their dissatisfaction with king.

"Well," he said, "if I were king, here's what I would do. But what do you expect from David? He's had it. He's a . He's shot."

The rebellion gained tremendous momentum, and a lot of people went over to Absalom, who staged a coup. That's what's described in these chapters. There's something tragic about the story in 2 Samuel, about David fleeing from them. It says, "He went up the hill with his hands on his head weeping." That's an Oriental custom. Where we lived in Africa, nobody wept like we do in the West. They would put their hands on the tops of their heads. As they walked, they would weep like sign of great distress. So off David went into exile. The anointed king fleeing from the usurper. These chapters describe the way the plot began to develop and eventually unravel.

Ahithophel was David's adviser. One of the Psalms talks about him, and David says that "we walked to the house of the Lord together." He talks about the sweetness of his fellowship with Ahithophel. But Ahithophel betrayed him and went over to Absalom.

You know why he did it? You can find a lot of genealogies in the Bible, and some of them are extremely boring. But if you pursue your way down those genealogies following , you find out something interesting every once in a while. What you find about Ahithophel is that he was Bathsheba's grandfather. That explains, I think, his forsaking David and switching sides. He felt that David forfeited the moral right to the throne.

Of course, you often find people like this: those who will betray a former friend and collaborate in regicide, the killing of the king, while at the same time taking a lofty moral tone and talking about God and about sin and evil and other people. Always be suspicious of somebody who talks too piously. You wonder what he or she is covering up.

In 17:1 we read: "Ahithophel said to Absalom, 'I would choose twelve thousand men and set out tonight in pursuit of David. I would attack him while he is weak and weary. I would strike him with terror, and then all the people with him will flee.' "

Then verse 4: "This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel. But Absalom said, 'Summon also Hushai the Arkite so we can hear what he has to say.' And when Hushai came to him, Absalom said, 'Ahithophel has given this advice. Shall we do what he says? If not, give us your opinion.'

"Hushai replied to Absalom, 'The advice Ahithophel has given is not good this time. You know your father and his men. They are fighters and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter. He will not spend the night with the troops.' "

The upshot is that Absalom opted for the advice Hushai gave, and Ahithophel knew the game was up. They would lose this opportunity to get David while they could. David would prevail. So Ahithophel went and saved David the trouble of killing him. He hanged himself.

He is the anticipation of Judas. The texts we find in the New Testament about Judas come from these Psalms in which David is talking about his betrayal by his friend Ahithophel. He betrayed his master, and he ended up killing himself, even as Judas is going to do later.

David was freed from fear.

Here's what we read as we continue in verse 26. "The Israelites and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead just a little bit north. When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi son of Nahash from Rabbah of the Ammonites and Makir son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim" (Here's a list from which to choose a name for your kids) "brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery.

"They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep and cheese from cow's milk for David and his people to eat. For they said, 'The people have become hungry and tired and thirsty in the desert.' "

Did you get that? That's the historical background to this verse in the psalm! "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." David was talking to God in prayer. He looked around, desperate. They crossed the river, and they could see the lights of the fires from this vast throng of people under Absalom twinkling in the distance, and they knew that tomorrow the battle would be joined.

That kind of battle was not the sort of thing that we have in modern warfare. It was all combat. It was like the movie Braveheart. I meet people who hated that movie. "It was so horrible." I usually say, "You ought to study the movie because that hacking and chopping and thrusting with swords and pikes and all the rest was the way of warfare until the eighteenth century." People were butchered as if they were animals.

David was anticipating that for the next day. But all of a sudden a couple of people came to him. These people were friends of friends of David. They were the children of friends of David. They came up and spread a table; they brought tons of stuff for David and all of his friends, depleting all of their pantries.

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." David is not gloating. He's thanking God because the enemies were in the distance. They were going to kill him on the morrow. And his son was at the head of them. And David says, "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies."

"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul."

We've got an Old Testament anticipation of that text in 1 John 1 that says "if we confess our sins he forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness." And here it is. "He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness." He does it for his name's sake.

David understood God's nature.

That little line "for his name's sake" has been a source of comfort to me more than once. It says there's more at stake than simply me or my life or my reputation. The honor of God is at stake. When it says "for his name's sake," he's telling you he's true to his nature. And the nature of God is to be forgiving and compassionate.

Near the end of his time, David committed a sin of numbering the people. God said, "Choose your punishment. You're going to catch it this time." And he gave him several options. David said, "I don't want to choose, except me not fall into the hands of men." David knew he'd get a better deal from God than he would from his fellow men. He said, in effect, "You choose. Whatever you do is okay by me. Just don't let me fall into the hands of men."

For his name's sake.

I talk to a lot of people on the telephone. I never see their faces, don't know their names. But I have come to believe that people desperately want a sense of security in the presence of God. They are filled with doubt about the final outcome of their lives. Will I get to heaven or will I not? Has God forgiven me, or has he not? These are the questions that trouble a great number of God's people.

If we could take a poll here tonight, and if we could induce you to tell the truth (that might not be easy), we'd probably find that many of you are not sure God has forgiven you. Many of you, in spite of the solid teaching you have had from the pulpit of the Wheaton Bible Church over many years, aren't sure.

Listen. "He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." For his name's sake.

He has an interest in me because of who he is, because of the kind of God he is. He always acts in ways that are perfectly consistent with his nature. So we can come to him in great confidence.

This fellow David, at this stage in his life, was carrying a burden you will never carry. There may be some adulterers among us, but there's not one who's covered it up by killing somebody. Isn't that right? Absolutely.

Whatever burden you may carry it's as nothing compared to the burden that this man carried. "He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

He's blotted out my transgressions. He's washed me with hyssop. Now he leads me in such a way that, as he says in the FFirst Psalm, "I'm going to tell sinners all about you."

I like that. Don't you?

There is one psalm in which David says that in the presence of the unrighteous, "I kept silent." Then he says, "My heart burned within me." He was silenced by memory of his sin. He couldn't talk. But then "my heart burned within me." He said, "I'll have to speak up and talk about God." And he did.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." That's where he was. If you go to Israel, you find a number of theories as to what the valley of the shadow of death means. I've been there several times. I remember one of the theories is a long valley that tracks along the side of the road to Jericho.

The valley of the shadow of death was what lay between David and Absalom and his army.

David said, "Here I am in the valley of the shadow of death. Tomorrow my son, with many of my former friends and followers, will try to kill me. But I will fear no evil." Why? "Because you're with me. And your rod and your staff comfort me."

Then he expressed his sublime confidence in the last verse where he said, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And I (not Absalom) will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." I will dwell. I'm going back home.

David thought, I'm the king, the anointed king. You anointed my head with oil. And you've never said, "I'm taking it back." And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

You can make that psalm yours as you reflect upon the mistakes in your life. Not just mistakes, but serious sins. All of us have blotted our copy book a thousand times. As you get older you have to cope with a growing sadness as you think of the many things that you should have done but did not do, and the many things you did that you should not have done.

Sometimes you feel blue. I do, often. Nothing makes me sadder than when someone will flatter me, or someone who doesn't know beans about human nature or anything else, will talk as though because I'm a preacher I'm godly. All I can remember are the failures. That's all that comes to mind.

But then I remember that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And in the meantime, he restores our souls, every day.

(c) Donald Cole

PreachingToday Tape #170


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Sermon Outline:


Psalm 23 is not the psalm of a shepherd boy, but of an older man who has known regrets.

I. David was running from Absalom.

II. David was freed from fear.

III. David understood God's nature.


Hope for the future.