Healing a Divided Nation

I think it would be accurate to say that, in recent years, our nation has become deeply divided.   Now, I understand that politics are politics.  There’s always been name calling and choosing up sides, gridlock in Congress and all that stuff.   But it just seems different now.  It’s worked its way out of Washington, D.C., and now it’s dividing our communities, it’s dividing our families, it’s dividing our churches.

            It’s common now to see people yelling at each other in school board meetings, calling each other names on the radio and social media.  People no longer trust anyone who has a different perspective.  People are increasingly socializing only with people they agree with.  This division is not insignificant — it is devastating people’s lives and relationships.

            As just one small sampling of how this is affecting us, I saw a poll recently that said that, of preachers who are considering quitting the ministry, 38% of them say that it’s because of the current political division. 

            Now, I’ll leave it to others to address the question, “How did we get so divided?”, but instead, I want to focus on the more important question, and that is, “How do we change things?”  Because unless something significant changes, things are only going to get worse.  So, we’re left with the question:  What do we do?  And it’s important for us to see that the question is not: what should they do?  The question is: what should we do?  And this morning, we’re going to try to find the answer to that question as we continue to take a look at the life of King David.

            We’ve been working our way through 2 Samuel, and last week, in chapter 18, we saw that Absalom led a revolt against King David, his father.  There was a war between Absalom’s army and David’s army, and 20,000 soldiers died.  More importantly, Absalom himself was killed in battle.  David was absolutely devastated as any father would be over the death of his son, and he was just about inconsolable. 

            But, in chapter 19, our story turns, and David now has this huge task of trying to re-unite the nation of Israel and bring everyone together.  Even though Israel was one nation, there were a lot of different factions.  For starters, there were the people who fought with Absalom and the people who fought with David.  And then, on top of that, there were two other groups that didn’t get along with each other.  There were the people of Judah in the south, and then there were the other tribes of Israel in the north.

            Those people in the north were trying to figure out what they should do.  When Absalom started his rebellion, most of them followed Absalom and they fought for him, but now Absalom is dead.  So, what should they do?  Should they go back to following David?  Should they find someone else to be their king?

            In verse 9, “Throughout all the tribes of Israel there was much discussion and argument going on.  The people were saying, ‘The king [they’re talking about David] rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines, but Absalom chased him out of the country.  Now Absalom, whom we anointed to rule over us, is dead.  Why not ask David to come back and be our king again?’” (2 Samuel 19:8-10)

            So, there was a lot of disagreement among the people of Israel.  Some of them probably said, “We had David as our king before, and we weren’t completely happy with him.”  But the others said, “Yeah, I know, but you have to admit David did a lot of good things for us.  He defeated all of our enemies.  And there’s really not a better choice at this point.  Let’s just go ahead and tell David we want him to be our king again.”  And that’s what they did.

            Then, David turned to the tribe of Judah and he sent a message to the elders there.  He said, “Why are you the last ones to welcome back the king into his palace? For I have heard that all Israel is ready.  You are my relatives, my own tribe, my own flesh and blood!  So why are you the last ones to welcome back the king?” (2 Samuel 19:11-12)

            The tribe of Judah is where David was born.  A lot of David’s relatives were there, so David says, “You’re my family.  Why haven’t you invited me to be king like everyone else has?”

            My guess is that Judah was hesitant to welcome David back because they had also fought on Absalom’s side, and if David regains the power, he might punish all of them.  And that was a legitimate concern.  Which may have been the reason that David that made a significant leadership decision.  David told Amasa that he was going to appoint him as commander over his armies.

            To understand the significance of that, I need to explain a couple of things.  Two of David’s commanders were Joab and Abishai.  They were brothers.  Amasa was their cousin, and all three of them were David’s nephews.  When Absalom started his rebellion, Joab and Abishai stayed with David, but Amasa, their cousin, went over to Absalom’s side and he was the commander for Absalom’s armies.

            And so now, David says to Amasa, “I’m going to demote Joab, and I want to put you in charge of my armies.”  Now I think there were probably a couple of reasons David did that.  At this point in the story, I think David knew that Joab was the one responsible for putting his son Absalom to death.  So, this may be David’s way of punishing Joab.  There’s been a long tension between these two and maybe David’s just tired of it, and he demotes him. 

            But it’s also possible that this was a good political move.  Israel and Judah, they’re all afraid.  What’s David going to do?  Is he going to take vengeance on all of them because they joined up with Absalom?  So, David takes Amasa and puts him over his troops, and that sends a message to everyone that says, “I have no intention of punishing those of you who fought with Absalom; we just need to come back together and be one nation again.”

            So, now it’s time for David to go back to Jerusalem and pick up the pieces.  Remember, when David was running away, he crossed the Jordan River headed east.  Now, he crosses back over the river and over a thousand people join him.  And basically, they form an escort, a parade, a celebration that will take them the twenty miles back to Jerusalem where they can reinstall David as king.

            Now, what’s interesting to me is that back in chapters 16 and 17, the narrator tells us about several people that David encountered on his way out of Jerusalem.  And now, as David is going back to Jerusalem, he is going to encounter the exact same people on his way.

            The first person he meets is Shimei.  Remember Shimei was the guy who chased after David, threw rocks at him, cursed him, and accused him of killing King Saul.  And when he did that, Abishai said, “Let me go up there and cut off his head.”  But David said, “No, leave him alone.” And they went on their way.

            So, imagine you’re Shimei.  Absalom is now dead.  David is coming back to be reinstalled as the king.  After what you did to David and what you said to him, you’re thinking, “I am in so much trouble.”  

            Verse 18, “As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. ‘My lord the king, please forgive me,’ he pleaded. ‘Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind.  I know how much I sinned.  That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.’(2 Samuel 19:18-20)

            “David, I don’t know if you remember me or not.  I’m that guy who threw rocks at you and cussed you out.  I just want you to know that I am so, so sorry for what I did. Please forgive me.”

            But before David can say anything, Abishai  speaks up in typical fashion, “Shimei should die, for he cursed the Lord’s anointed king!” (2 Samuel 19:21).   Once again, he wants to kill this guy.  Abishai had a quick temper and it seems like he was always ready for a fight.  He was just like his brother Joab.

            David said, “Who asked your opinion, you sons of Zeruiah!…This is not a day for execution, for today I am once again the king of Israel!” (2 Samuel 19:22).

            David said, “What’s the problem with you two guys?  You always want to start fights!”  So, David made it known there will be no fighting today.  He’s not going to kill Shimei.  He has mercy on him and he moves on.  You can only imagine how much conflict and fear would have resulted if David had allowed Abishai to kill Shimei.  David was on a mission, and that mission was to pull this nation back together as one again — and killing Shimei would not help that at all.

            The next person David talks to is Mephibosheth.  Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, the grandson of King Saul, and he was crippled.  You remember back when David left Jerusalem that Mephibosheth’s servant, Ziba, gave David donkeys, food and provisions for him and his family.  When David asked Ziba where Mephibosheth was, Ziba said that Mephibosheth had betrayed him, he stayed in Jerusalem, and he was trying to use the political unrest to put the family of Saul back on the throne.  

            So now, while David is on his way back to Jerusalem, Mephibosheth shows up.

            “Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king.…. ‘Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?’ the king asked him.

            “Mephibosheth replied, ‘My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me.  I told him, “Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.”  For as you know I am crippled.  Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come.  But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best.  All my relatives and I could expect only death from you, my lord, but instead you have honored me by allowing me to eat at your own table!  What more can I ask?’

            “‘You’ve said enough,’ David replied. ‘I’ve decided that you and Ziba will divide your land equally between you.’”  (2 Samuel 19:24-29)

            So, Ziba tells David one story and Mephibosheth tells him another story, and David is left trying to figure out who’s telling the truth here.  But David has neither the interest nor the energy to try to figure this thing out.  David is on a mission to re-unite the nation, and he simply has no time to be sidetracked by this squabble between Mephibosheth and Ziba.  So basically, David divides the property in half, and then he moves on.

            The third encounter David has is with Barzillai.  Let me remind you who he was.  When David was fleeing with his people, they were tired; they were hungry; they were hanging on by a thread.   They finally made it across the Jordan and there were these three men who met them and offered them refuge, offered them food, gave them what they needed to regain their strength and ultimately win the battle.  

            Barzillai was one of those three men.  So, David wants to reward his loyalty.  He says to him, “I want you to come back with me to Jerusalem and I’ll give you everything you could ever imagine, I’ll treat you just like you’re part of my family.”  But Barzillai says, “No, I’m 80 years old, I’m tired.  I just want to go home and die.  But I think my son would like to go.”  So, David takes his son to Jerusalem with him.  

            Then, we get to verse 40.  At this point, things start to look a lot like our politics in this country.  You’ve got this petty fighting that’s going on between Israel and Judah.  Basically, the question is: who’s going to get the more prominent position in this parade back to Jerusalem? 

            “The king then crossed over to Gilgal… All the troops of Judah and half the troops of Israel escorted the king on his way.

            “But all the men of Israel complained to the king, ‘The men of Judah stole the king and didn’t give us the honor of helping take you, your household, and all your men across the Jordan.’

            “The men of Judah replied, ‘The king is one of our own kinsmen.  Why should this make you angry?  We haven’t eaten any of the king’s food or received any special favors!’

            “‘But there are ten tribes in Israel,’ the others replied. ‘So, we have ten times as much right to the king as you do.  What right do you have to treat us with such contempt?  Weren’t we the first to speak of bringing him back to be our king again?’  The argument continued back and forth, and the men of Judah spoke even more harshly than the men of Israel.” (2 Samuel 19:40-43)

            The men of Israel say, “We don’t understand why Judah gets to take the lead in this parade.    We were the first ones to decide to bring David back as king, so we should have the more prominent role.”  Judah’s answer was, “Well, we’re kin!  We’re blood; we’re family, so we should have the more prominent role.”  Israel responds, “But there are ten tribes in us and only one in you; therefore we should have the place of honor, not you!” 

            The chapter ends with a very clear statement that this nation is deeply divided, and you get the feeling something dramatic is about to happen.  And something dramatic does happen, and we’re going to find out what it is next week.

            But, for this morning, what’s happening here in this passage?  What’s happening is that once David gets back on his feet, gets his wits about him and realizes he’s still king and there are thousands of people expecting him to do his job, he needs to step up.  And so, his grand mission is to somehow reunite this nation together as one nation under God. 

            And the lesson I think we can learn from David is this – once you know what your mission is, don’t allow anything to distract you.

            When Shimei comes to David, David makes it clear that he’s not going to engage in some personal agenda to get even with this guy.  Even though that might have been tempting, you can only imagine the damage that would have created — additional, unnecessary conflict.  So, in a wise leadership move, David granted Shimei him mercy and forgiveness. 

            David has two nephews — Abishai and Joab — who are determined to start a fight every chance they get, and once again, David stops them and he rebukes them and says, “What is wrong with you two?  You always want to start fights.” And David calms them down.  

            Then David runs into Mephibosheth and Ziba, and he’s faced with the question – who’s telling the truth?  Who really is on my side?  There are two different stories.  David has neither the time nor the energy to get sidetracked by this domestic dispute, and so he divides the land because he’s got a bigger, grander mission to attend to. 

            The nation of Israel was deeply divided, and David had a lot of work to do.  So, what is the relevance to us? 

            First, let’s statement the obvious that there are a lot of differences between Old Testament Israel and modern-day America.  For starters, Israel was a monarchy.  Technically, it was a theocracy which means that God was their king.  But Israel was run by a monarch, a king.  And a monarchy could either be good or bad.  If the king was good and he said, “We’re going to follow God”, nobody argued with him.  That’s the direction the whole country took.  But, if the king was bad, then he just led people away from God and everyone suffered the consequences.


            In this country, we don’t have a king, we have a representative democracy.  But here’s the problem – when all of these different leaders go off in different directions because they all have different agendas, it turns into gridlock, and nothing really happens.  This is not insignificant.   When those who have been called to be leaders can’t get along well enough to make important decisions, everyone in this country suffers the consequences.

            And I think this is a concern that most people have.  I don’t believe there’s anyone in this room who would say, “I think everything in this country is working just great.”  So, it leaves you with the question — what needs to happen for things to really change?  And I want to offer a suggestion to you.  Is it possible that the answers to the concerns that matter most to us are not found in Washington, D.C.?  Is it possible that the solution is not in Washington?  Is it possible that that’s not where our help is going to come from, but we need to realize that our help comes from somewhere else?

            Is there anybody here this morning who thinks we can solve the nation’s problems with more laws, with more policies?   Is that what’s going to solve the problems that matter most to us?  No!  The Bible is clear.  Law doesn’t have the ability to change the human heart. The answers are not in Washington — they never have been, they never will be. 

            Is there anybody here this morning who honestly thinks that the people in Washington can pass a law that will cause a white man, a black man, a Middle Eastern man and a Hispanic man to genuinely love and trust one another?  Is there anybody here who thinks we can pass a law that will force someone to love your neighbor as yourself?  Is there anyone here who thinks that somehow, out of Washington, we can make laws that create righteous people, people who are willing to make sacrifices and serve other people?

            And I think we’re all honest enough to say, “No!”   We recognize that the only way that’s going to happen is through a radical encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.  Only Jesus has the power to radically transform a human heart and genuinely, authentically, bring about lasting change.  And Paul told us that that’s our mission. 

            “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).

            Only God has the power to change people, to get rid of the old way of thinking and the old way of living and create something new.  And it begins by getting our lives right with God, being reconciled with God.  And God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.  That means that God has given us the job of healing the divisions in our country, the divisions in our communities, the divisions in our families, and the divisions in our churches.

            But we’ve got to start by understanding that the answer is not in government; it’s not in Washington.  It never has been.  The answer lies in the church, and it is the church’s responsibility to share the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ.  We can spend our lives criticizing what the people in that other party are doing, but before we get too critical about anybody in Washington, let’s remind ourselves that God has called us to be the stewards of the gospel, to bring forth the message of the crucified and resurrected Christ in order to bring about true and lasting change. 

            Now I would guess that if I went around this room, every Christian here would agree with that.  We know that the ultimate answers don’t come out of Washington.  But I would suggest to you, we don’t know that.  We must not know that.  Because if we really understood that, and we really believed it, then why are we so obsessed with Washington?  Why are we so obsessed with politics?  Why do we spend so much time investing ourselves in something that cannot bring about the lasting solution?   And it seems to me that some of us must think that’s where our help comes from, or else we wouldn’t spend so much time dwelling on it.

            Why is there so much anger and strong opinions in social media, if we don’t think that’s where the solution comes from?  There are Christians who are determined to put up angry posts, take a couple of verses from the Bible, pull them out of context and, “See, God’s on our side!”  Most of these issues are far more complicated than that.  And I am absolutely convinced that if Christians were as passionate about the gospel as they are about politics, we would see some real and lasting changes in our community.  And so, at some point, we’ve got to stop and ask ourselves, “Where does the answer come from?”  Our mission is to bring about reconciliation, and we can’t afford to get sidetracked on stuff that doesn’t help do that.

            And this where we need to learn a lesson from David.  Like David, we have opportunities every day to get distracted.  We all run into people like Shimei, who want to throw rocks at us, to curse us, accuse us of all sorts of things that aren’t true.  The fight is always there if we want it.  But we need to have the discipline and the wisdom of David to say, “I’ve got a more important mission, and I choose not to engage in that fight, because there is a bigger mission, and that has to be my focus.” 

            And, sadly, there are always people like Joab and Abishai that are out there, who are always ready to start a fight.  Or, if they didn’t start it, they’re going to make sure they finish it.  It seems to me that some people aren’t happy if they aren’t involved in some level of conflict.  And when Christians get in the middle of that, it makes our job in the church a lot more difficult.  It distracts us from our mission of reconciliation.  It makes it so much more difficult to have meaningful conversations with people about Jesus when you’ve got hot heads who just can’t stop arguing and fighting.

            And then you have people like Ziba and Mephibosheth, people who are arguing with each other and you can’t figure out who is telling the truth and who’s not?  At some point you just have to realize, “I don’t have the time or the energy to figure all this out.  I’m not going to get sidetracked with this.  I have a bigger, grander mission—an assignment that God has given me.”

            It is our mission to bring reconciliation to this world by bringing people to God.  Our goal is to bring people to Jesus Christ, so that as they submit themselves to the lordship of Christ, it will change the way they live, it will change the way they talk, it will change the way they think.  And brothers and sisters, that is the only thing that will heal the divisions in this country and bring about lasting change.   Anything…anything that we say or do that puts any kind of a barrier in the way of accomplishing that mission is a step in the wrong direction.  

            It starts with God.  The only way there’s going to be true and lasting change in this world is if there is first a reconciliation between sinful people and a holy God, made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ.  It’s only when people are truly reconciled to God that they have taken the first meaningful step in true reconciliation among people. This is our mission, this is our assignment. 

            Baptism is an important step in that process.  Through baptism, we experience our own death, burial and resurrection, and we rise up out of the water a new creation, reconciled with God and ready to reconcile with others.


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