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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

The Humble Exalted



David says, ‘I will celebrate before the Lord’. Last time, we considered the joy that David had when he embraced this time of celebration, as the ark of God was brought to Jerusalem. David’s joy was striking. He ‘was dancing before the Lord with all his might’ (v.14). David’s joy grew out of his disappointment in the past. Three months before he had failed catastrophically in his aim to bring the ark of God to Israel’s chief city. Everything had unravelled.


Yes, David had failed. He had failed to follow the instructions of his God in the way that the ark was transported and, consequently, failed to achieve his objective. How our lives will look like this at times. How often are we found downhearted, miserable, conscious of our shortcomings, unsure about the future. But, the Lord didn’t forsake David and, as Hebrews 13: 5 assures us, ‘never will I forsake you.’


What a source of hope there is in this account, as David’s life moves on to this moment of rejoicing.


But David’s joy is not enjoyed by everyone. David’s wife, Michal, takes a very different view. At one time there was a closeness between these two people. At one time Michal loved David. We read of this in 1 Samuel 18. In fact, that chapter, and those that follow, should give us some sympathy towards Michal. Her past also played a part in the way that she thought and behaved now.


The bible does not hide ugly truth. It doesn’t hide the ugly truth that was at times evident in David’s life. And there was neglect and sorrow evident in Michal’s life.

Her father was Saul, king of Israel. His behaviour must have hugely impacted his daughter’s life. He traded his daughters in marriage. He gave them to men for a price. They were just objects, sold to bring benefit to him. David’s treatment of Michal is also wanting. We are told that ‘Michal loved David’ (1 Samuel 18:28). Of David, we are only told that ‘he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law’ (v.26). Also, there was the sad time of separation that she experienced for many years, while David was on the run from Saul, and for the first few years of David’s reign over Judah. During this time, Michal was married off again by her father, to a man that we know truly loved her from the account in 2 Samuel 3.


When David requests that his wife is given back to him he could have pointed to the Law of Moses, but he didn’t, possibly because, by this point, David had gained a collection of other wives for himself. When he demands the return of Michal his argument appears to be more along the lines of ‘she is mine, I paid for her’ (see 2 Samuel 3: 14).


The bible contains some ugly truths and we should not just brush them under the carpet. In fact, if we want to avoid ugly truth then we might as well shut our bibles now. The bible is full of it. But it is more full of God’s glorious solution to human shortcoming and failure and ruin. It says this, ‘but as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant’ (Romans 5 20).


And the bible is clear on Michal. Yes, there are things in her life that should sadden us and give us compassion for her. But, in the account of her judging of David, Michal was wrong.


David’s joy, his celebration on that day, grew out of his past, as we noticed before. His joy was also found in the present. David had something in his present possession that overcame the errors of the past. David had a true relationship with the Lord. David’s relationship with God was much more than just words, and there were times when his joy in the Lord really stood out.


There is a wonderful promise in Isaiah 51: 11, given to those that the Lord will rescue and bring into restored relationship with him. I think that on this day in Jerusalem, that city partly built on Mount Zion, David was a beautiful pictorial example of this promise. Isaiah says this, ‘Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.’


David’s behaviour that day was based on something solid. But Michal harshly judged him. We are told that she ‘despised’ him (v.16). When she meets David her words are sarcastic, as she attempts to ‘cut’ her husband with words - ‘how the king of Israel has distinguished himself today’. David’s behaviour was rooted in truth. Michal judges it as being rooted in foolishness. According to her, David was acting in a way that was not befitting a king. He had left behind his royal robes and had worn lowly garments. He was more exposed, more vulnerable and human. He was on the level with the common man, acting, as Michal points out, ‘like any vulgar fellow would’ (v.20). Why would he chose to do this? Was he mad?


And so, we get to David’s response. He begins with this theme of relationship. Why am I behaving like this? It’s because God chose me. ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel – I will celebrate before the Lord.’ How others think we should behave may be very different to how the Lord demands that we behave. We may feel pressure, particularly from those close to us relationally. But it is the Lord’s view that should always count.


And David deals with Michal’s accusation of debasement; that he had behaved in a way that appeared beneath his station in life. His words are, ‘I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes’. David says, in effect, ‘You may judge me as being foolish, as being debased, even. You may despise me. You may think that my words and my actions come so short when compared to your wise judgement and your measured behaviour. You may put me beneath you in your estimation. But it doesn’t matter because my estimation of myself is lower than your estimation of me. And my estimation of myself is based on my understanding of the Lord and the relationship that I have with him.’


Michal accuses David of dishonourable behaviour. She points to the different levels that exist in civilised society, as she sees it. David is king. He has servants beneath him. Those servants have slaves beneath them. David had lowered himself to a level where even these slaves would feel that his behaviour was beneath them. According to Michal, David had lacked class and given up privileges that were his by right. But he tells Michal a profound truth. ‘... I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour’.


Michal’s view is the world’s view. Recently, we considered what 1 Corinthians teaches us about how the wisdom of God stands opposed to the wisdom of this world, and vice-versa. Michal believes that pride in oneself, maintaining position and status, exalting our wisdom and knowledge, proving ourselves to be worthy by our own endeavour, looking good, these things are really important. But David recognises that God’s truth is different. Humility is a quality. It is a non-virtue to many. But David says that his own humbling of himself, his reducing himself to the level of the lowly person, is what will actually recommend him to people of low status. The lowly slave girls will hold him in more honour because of his humility, than if he had behaved with the pride and pomp normally associated with earthly rulers.


These principles, that David’s life on this day bring to focus, are truly wise principles. They are utterly biblical principles too. In fact, they are at the heart of relationship with the Lord. They shine from the pages of the New Testament. Why? Because they are tied to the truth that the only way we can have a relationship with God is by humbling ourselves before him and trusting in his Son, who is Jesus Christ the Lord. They are rooted in Christ and are so important for Christ’s followers to strive to take hold of.


So, let us turn to the words of Jesus Christ. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5: 11-12). David is an example of one who was before us. He was insulted because of his relationship with the Lord and because of his subsequent behaviour, which was so misunderstood.


But who would be glad to be persecuted and insulted and falsely represented? Isn’t this foolish? It is foolish – according to the wisdom of this world. It is not – according to Jesus of Nazareth.


Who should we believe? Actually, another ugly truth that the bible does not hide from us, is that David easily lost sight of this truth of what it meant to be in relationship with the Lord. Move on only five chapters in 2 Samuel, to chapter 11, titled in the NIV, ‘David and Bathsheba’. This was a darker day in David’s life. He lost sight of his humble calling. He exalted himself. David saw himself as being above Uriah the Hittite, who was a man of exemplary character. David saw himself as king of Israel. He could chose who lived and who died. He could take what he wanted, regardless of the impact on the lives of others. His mind, his thinking was wrong. A man named Nathan was sent to him by God, to tell him a parable about a man’s behaviour. David ‘burned with anger’ (2 Samuel 12: 5) towards the man in Nathan’s story. Then Nathan brings to bear the sword of God’s word. He says to David (v.7), ‘You are the man!’ David is humbled. He realises his guilt. He pens one of the most extra-ordinary, heartfelt prayers that we will ever read, or ever pray, which the Lord has preserved for us in the text of Psalm 51. Verse 10 reads (AV), ‘create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.’


David needed the Lord’s choosing, the Lord’s work to make him right before. And he needed the Lord’s working to make him right again. He needed renewal, and so do we. David’s prayer should instruct us. How can we, with the inherent pride of our characters, ever hope to maintain a humble life in service of Jesus Christ? We need renewing.


Paul in Romans 12 1-2 says this, ‘I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ As believers, we stand on very shaky ground if we think that this renewing happens when we come to Christ, and then is done and dusted. No, it is a constant process. We have to be prepared to review our lives, to prayerfully critique our own habits daily. Otherwise pride will reign and humility will be consigned to the garbage, and we will witness only to our own characters, and nothing of the suffering Son of God will be seen in our lives. Paul goes on to exhort Christians to true humility in the following verse. ‘Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.’


Our minds need to be ready, with a renewed readiness in order to serve our Master. Naturally, we hate being insulted, being persecuted, being misjudged. We are quickly riled by it and respond accordingly. But to follow the Lord calls for different thinking. A fine example of this is found in Acts 5. There is a section from verse 17, titled in the NIV, ‘the apostles persecuted’. What was their response to persecution? Did they say, ‘I know my rights - I won’t stand for this treatment’? No, they did not. The religious leaders of their day had told them to stop what they were doing. But they couldn’t. They were called of God to follow Jesus and to publish his name. They said (v.29), ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’ The Jewish elders had them flogged and then let them go. They left, not riled, not surprised, or upset, or angry with their persecutors. They left rejoicing! ‘Rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (of Jesus)’ (Acts 5: 41). Their mind-set, in that moment, did not come from the wisdom of this world, but from the very mind of Christ.


In Philippians 2, the first section in our NIV is titled ‘imitating Christ’s humility’. I will read verses 5-8 as found in the NLT. ‘You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.’


Jesus Christ was God ‘manifest in the flesh’ (1 Timothy 3: 16 (AV). Jesus came to establish ‘the Kingdom of God’ (e.g. Luke 4: 43). But, he didn’t come in kingly robes. No, he came in the humble position of a slave and he suffered the death of a criminal.


Usually, criminals, when they are caught and judged, suffer punishment for their crimes. They have broken the rules. Consequently, they owe a debt to the human society that they live in. Christ did not owe a debt because of his own rule breaking. He owed a debt, though, because he took on the debt of his people. They had broken God’s rules. Jesus became the criminal for them and paid off what they owed. It was a huge debt, but it’s been paid in full.


So, there arises a question. If Jesus has paid what we owed, then what must we owe to him? The answer is everything. We owe him our all.


1 Peter 3 teaches believers to ‘suffer for doing good’ (v.17). ‘Do not repay insult with insult’ (v.9), it says. Why? Because of Jesus. He ‘suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (v.18). 1 Peter 4 contains similar exhortations. It tells us to ‘arm yourselves with the same attitude’ (v.1) as Jesus. It is about attitude. It is about the mind. It doesn’t tell us that the Christian life is easy. In fact, Peter calls it ‘a fiery ordeal’ (v.12). What should be our attitude? It’s the attitude of those Jesus followers in Acts 5. We should rejoice. Peter says, ‘rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’ (v.13). Are we willing participants? It will need much renewing to make us so.


Jesus was not ashamed of our ugly truth. God forbid that his people should be ashamed of him. And there is a joy that is coming. It is coming to all those whose confidence is in Christ. Tim mentioned it last week, when he looked at Titus 1 2 and the ‘hope of eternal life’ that the Lord’s people have by faith.


So, I’d like to finish by repeating those words from Isaiah 51. They have a connection to David on that day that he rejoiced in Jerusalem. But, how much greater is their relevance to believers, as they fix their eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12 2) and expectantly await his glorious return?


‘Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.’

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