Last Man Standing — Part Two
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Last Man Standing — Part Two

2 Samuel 4:1–12  (ID: 3463)

After cruelly murdering Ish-bosheth, Rechab and Baanah brought his head to David, claiming they’d done the Lord’s will and hoping to gain the king’s favor. Instead, David had the brothers put to death. The evil actions of wicked people are not the work of God, Alistair Begg clarifies—though He can surely use them to advance His purposes. As we wrestle with this great mystery, we do so knowing that God’s final judgment is certain.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 5

The King and the Holy City 2 Samuel 1:1–6:23 Series ID: 109015

Sermon Transcript: Print

We left ourselves unfinished again in 2 Samuel 4. I’m making a bad habit of this. But we’re going to return there now, and I’ll read the chapter once again, and we will come back to it later on, now, tonight. It’s the story, the record, of the murder of Ish-bosheth and reads as follows:

“When Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, heard that Abner had died at Hebron, his courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed. Now Saul’s son had two men who were captains of raiding bands; the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab, sons of Rimmon a man of Benjamin from Beeroth (for Beeroth also is counted part of Benjamin; the Beerothites fled to Gittaim and have been sojourners there to this day).

“Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.

“Now the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, set out, and about the heat of the day they came to the house of Ish-bosheth as he was taking his noonday rest. And they came into the midst of the house as if to get wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. When they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedroom, they struck him and put him to death and beheaded him. They took his head and went by the way of the Arabah all night, and brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, ‘Here is the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life. The Lord has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.’ But David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, … sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, ‘As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when one told me, “Behold, Saul is dead,” and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?’ And David commanded his young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner at Hebron.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Father, thank you that even just for a moment, the curtain is pulled back, and we get a sense of what it will be to be in your presence and to see you and to be made like you. And as we sing in this way, thinking about serving you as the host above—not only the angelic host but those who have gone before us, who have paved a way, as it were—and we thank you tonight for those who have marked our lives, who have touched us by the fragrance of their Christlike behavior, who have been bold enough to chide us when we’ve stepped out of line, who have prayerfully urged us on to love and to good deeds; and as we reflect upon, in many cases, their memory, or as we are saddened by their absence, so we ask again that you will make us into the people you’ve designed us to be. We thank you that those whom you have called you have put in the process of being transformed into the image of Jesus, and that that is an ongoing business. And sometimes we feel as though it’s one step forward and two steps back. But we thank you that you will bring to completion the work that your goodness has begun.[1]

Bless us now, Lord, as we turn to this passage. We need your help, both in speaking and in hearing, so that we can understand and make sense of things and live in the light of its truth. So help us, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

So, we are in 2 Samuel and in chapter 4. And as we began this morning, I laid out what I said was my planned plan of attack: that we would look at verses 1–4 under the heading of disintegration, referring to the collapse of the house of Saul; it’s just falling apart bit by bit and piece by piece, and now this dreadful end that we witness in this chapter. The disintegration then followed by the record of the assassination, for assassination it is. And this grisly event and this gruesome murder is recorded for us here, a reminder to us, again—as we have said before, but it bears reminding ourselves of it—that there is no airbrushing in the Scriptures. It has not been cleaned up in any way. It is obvious to us that the people who are part and parcel of this ongoing journey are fallen folks. They’re people like ourselves. They are those who are buffeted back and forth by every kind of wind, and they also are wrong in and of themselves, except for and apart from the intervention of God. And so we have this dreadful story here.

Disintegration. Assassination. And then I said that we would proceed to the conversation that then follows—the conversation between these two individuals, Baanah and Rechab, and David, who is the king. But I did take a diversion. I didn’t have that in my notes this morning, but that diversion was purposeful on my part. I don’t know if it was meant for one individual in the entire world, but I was absolutely convinced that I should do it. It put pressure on you and it put pressure on me in a number of ways, not least of all in being adequately prepared here. But nevertheless, the diversion, as I say, was purposeful.

The Brothers’ Conversation with David

But now we come to this conversation. And it is recorded for us there in verses 8, 9, 10 and 11.

The reason that we have this conversation is because these two characters have murdered Ish-bosheth, and this is recorded for us in a very straightforward and important way in verse 7: “When they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedroom,” you’ll see there’s three verbs here, actually, all to drive home the nature of what had happened: “they struck him,” they “put him to death,” and they “beheaded him.” And having done so, they then make the journey from where they are in Mahanaim to Hebron. And they make the journey bringing with them the head of the man whom they have murdered. They have now arrived in Hebron, essentially displaying Ish-bosheth’s head as a trophy. And it is quite remarkable, isn’t it, the very matter-of-fact way in which this is recorded? “And [they] brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, ‘Here is the head of Ish-bosheth.’” “Oh, really?” “Yes. Here he is.”

Now, what they were doing in the producing of this head was essentially making a sort of visual presentation of what they were affirming in their words: namely, the fact that they carried with them the head of Ish-bosheth, who was the rival king of the northern tribes, was a statement, was a visual statement, of the fact that they were now devoted entirely to David. Otherwise, they would have stayed there in the company of Ish-bosheth. But they haven’t done so. So, the head stands as an evidence of their devotion and presumably as a basis for the reward that they hope to gain.

Now, the conversation is straightforward. Look at what they say: “Here is the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul.” Well, we knew that, and David knew that as well. Why do they have to say… Is it because he might have thought it was another Ish-bosheth? No. It is because, as we said this morning, Ish-bosheth is the last man standing. He’s the last man standing, as it were, in between David and becoming on the throne of all of Israel. And what these fellows are essentially saying is this: “You know, he had to go, Ish-bosheth. And we brought this here because we thought you’d be pleased.” Because not only is he “the son of Saul,” but they also identify him as “your enemy.” Now, once again, they’re not telling David something that he doesn’t know. But they don’t grasp, really, what’s going on.

Now, the record has recorded for us on more than one occasion the fact that Saul hated David. That is unequivocal—that he was, in 1 Samuel 18:29, “David’s enemy continually.” So in one sense, what they state is absolutely accurate. But in another sense, they’ve missed the point entirely. And that is because, although from Saul’s side he opposed David in this way, from David’s side he did not regard Saul as his enemy. And if he had done so, he would have taken the action that others had prompted to him along the way. He had consistently refused to treat Saul as his enemy.

For example, in chapter 24—that is, of the first book—24, and in the encounter in the cave: “See, my father… ” This is David speaking now. “See, my father”—he refers to Saul in this way, the anointed of God—“see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it.”[2] “I understand you regard me as an enemy.” “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you”—notice this—“but my hand shall not be against you.”[3]

And then, down in verse 19, Saul is now speaking, and he is remarking on the fact of David’s kindness in this regard. And he says, “For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day.” You see what he’s saying there? “If I was really your enemy, I wouldn’t be able to go away from here safe.” Saul recognizes that from David’s perspective, he is not opposed by David, and certainly not opposed by David in the hope that he might move him aside and gain ascendancy to his throne.

Also, he is not only “the son of Saul,” “the son of Saul, your enemy,” but he is “the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life.” In other words, these fellows think, by reminding David of all of the opposition that came from Saul, he would therefore be happy to realize, as he looks upon them in this sorry spectacle, that the threat of all that was represented in Saul’s opposition has now gone. But they don’t understand the nature of what is taking place.

And then they play the ace. What do you mean? Well, look at the next sentence there in the balance of verse 8: “The Lord has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.” So, their pragmatic approach is now couched with a little theology. What they’re essentially doing is making a pious claim. They’re claiming that they were actually doing the work of the Lord—that “we were actually taking care of something that would please God and must inevitability please you.” In other words, they were trying to put their crime in a favorable light, claiming a kind of divine justification for their dreadful act. In other words, they’re claiming divine sanction for their treachery.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is a significant thing.

Don’t be too quick to judge them. Dale Ralph Davis has a wonderful couple of sentences when he says, “They come with blood on their hands but theology on their lips, expecting … the latter”—that’s the “theology on their lips”—“will magically bleach the former”—that is, the “blood on their hands.” And then he says, “Murder always seems more pleasant when wrapped in religious considerations.”[4] They know exactly what they’ve done. They know it is wrong what they have done. They are motivated obviously by a desire to be put in the best of lights with David, and so they’re able to approach him with this little speech: “Pragmatically, after all, you know, we took care of Saul—Saul, your enemy; Saul, the one who was constantly opposing you. And we’re able to acknowledge, too, God’s part in all of this.”

You say, “Well, that’s an interesting and perhaps significant observation.” Well, I think it is worthy of further consideration, worthy of our pondering when we have a chance on our own. Because there is a very clear warning here, I think, about our attempts—yes, our attempts—to use the Bible to justify our actions, using theology to justify things that we should never have done. Woodhouse says, “An opportunity to do evil is never a gift from God.”[5] That’s a good sentence. Right? It’s like James 1: “When a man is tempted, he should not say that ‘God is tempting me,’ for God cannot tempt anyone to sin.”[6] Therefore, when it rises in our hearts, we can know that this is not coming from God. When they asked Luther, “How do you know the difference between God and the devil speaking?” he said, “My God speaks with sweet reasonableness. The Evil One comes to insinuate.”

And essentially what they do here is they take the Lord’s name in vain. I grew up in Scotland thinking that there was only one way to do this and dreading the thought that I ever would. But no, there are many ways to do this. What they’re doing is they’re taking the Lord’s name in vain as a mechanism to try and achieve their selfish desires or, actually, as a camouflage for their iniquities.

Now, I’m not gonna delay on this, but I’ll just let you know that in pastoral ministry—in pastoral ministry, especially amongst those who have a little bit of a knowledge of the Bible—it is not uncommon to be confronted by these circumstances whereby people seek to wrest the Scriptures to the basis of their own justification. And so it’s “I can see that this is God that is in this, because after all, God wants me to be happy,” or “I can see that you fellows must be wrong with your church discipline, because God is a God of compassion, and the Bible tells us that he is a God of compassion, and therefore, I can see that there is an illegitimacy about what you’re seeking to do here,” and so on. It goes like this all of the time. I don’t need to point it out in anyone else’s life, the temptation to seek somehow or another to manipulate Scripture to justify my deeds, either because I want something I don’t have or as a cover for something that I wish I’d never done.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is a significant thing. The writer of Ecclesiastes mentions it, doesn’t he? “When you draw near to the house of God,” you know, “go slowly. Go quietly. Don’t stumble in there.”[7] Calvin, of course, helps immensely with these kind of things: “When we speak of God,” he says, “[let it] be with all reverence; that we attribute nothing to him unless it is consonant with his majesty and in which he may be glorified.”[8] And that’s something as arguably trivial as people who should know better referring to Almighty God as “the man upstairs.” You’re taking the Lord’s name in vain. He is immortal. He is invisible. He is the only wise God. And these characters, having created absolute mayhem and destroyed this fellow, now show up not only to plead their case but to seek somehow to inculcate God in the process.

Well, that’s their part, and David now is going to answer. Verse [9]: “David [then] answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite.” You see how these fellows are recorded in this way in Holy Scripture. We know where they’re from, we know to whom they belong, and we understand that what has happened here is not that somebody has come out of left field to do this, but it has happened… It’s an inside job. The people who have done this are actually members of the same tribe. They’re part of the same extended family. And it really is quite dreadful.

Now, if they’ve used the name of the Lord incorrectly, David now uses it properly. And so he says, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity…” I think you can probably see a direct response to what they have just said to him: “Saul, your enemy…” Now we’re in verse, what, 8? The beginning, where they come to him and they say, “Saul, your enemy, who sought your life…” And he says, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life…” “He is the one who has redeemed me out of every adversity, the one who has got me out of every trouble I’ve ever been in.” That’s what he’s saying.

It’s a wonderful picture, isn’t it? David had never tried to work the program himself. He’d never tried to make a grab for the kingdom. No. No. And that is, of course, the wonder of this story: that you cannot advance the kingdom of God by human means; you cannot thwart the kingdom of God by human means. And so he looks immediately, in responding, to God himself, “the Lord who lives, who has redeemed my life out of adversity.” “I don’t need any help,” he says, “from anybody. And nobody can stand in the way of this. Because God has purposed it. I am so convinced of that,” he’s been saying, “that I have never once chosen to take matters into my own hands. And if you characters think that you can show up here and think that you’ve shut down the program, there’s a little more discussion still to be had.” No: “who has redeemed my life, who has kept me out of all adversity.”

Now, if you think about this—we needn’t rehearse it—we know this to be true, don’t we? The very beginning of David’s story, the great encounter with Saul: “Well, why would a wee boy like you think he could go out against a big giant like that?” And, of course, David doesn’t say, “Well, you know, I’m really quite remarkable. Not everybody knows how good I am.” No, he doesn’t say that to him at all. Remember what he says? He says, “Well, actually, the Lord delivered me. The Lord delivered me out of the hand of the bear and the paw of the lion and so on. I’m a testimony to the Lord’s deliverance,” he says.[9]

He had not only been delivered, but he had also been restrained. I don’t know if you remember the encounter with Abigail. And that little conversation that takes place there is really quite wonderful. Remember, she gets down from her horse, and she kneels before David, and she says, you know, her husband Nabal was having a bad day, and he’s a bit of a bad act in general, and so on. And then she says to David, “Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand[s], now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.”[10] In other words, she recognizes that in his humanity, just man to man, he had everything inside of him to be able to go out there and take care of the matter. And this lady looks at him and says, “You know, the only way I can explain what has happened here—especially in relationship to Nabal—the only way I can explain it is that the Lord has restrained you.”

Now, that’s what he’s saying here. The Lord had delivered him, the Lord had restrained him, and on the Lord he had learned to wait patiently. That’s where we began this morning: waiting patiently, through all of the different changing scenes of his life—twenty-five years since that anointing by Samuel outside of their homestead there. Twenty-five years is a long time! And still he waits.

I don’t know how it will be in a new heaven and a new earth. I don’t know if we’ll get to interact in the way… I can’t imagine that I could ever get a chance to talk with David, and there’ll be other people talking to him. But I want to ask him, you know, “When I was trying to explain 2 Samuel 4, I was quoting hymns. I don’t know if you know these verses.” And he’d say, “No, I don’t.” And then I’d tell him, I’d say, “Well, the hymn is called ‘Through all the changing scenes of life, in [sorrow] and in joy, the praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ.’ It’s a good hymn.” And this is what it says:

Of his deliverance I will boast,
Till all that are distressed
From my example courage take
And soothe their griefs to rest.

“Behold,” they say, “Behold the man
Whom providence relieved;
The man so dangerously beset,
So wondrously retrieved!”[11]

I think he would be happy to sing along, “Trusting in my father’s wise bestowment, I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.”[12]

And these fellows have got it horribly wrong, don’t they? Because they think they have come with great news that will be received with a warm welcome. It’s as if David is saying to them, “If you think that, showing up as you’ve done, you’re expecting a cabinet post in my government, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed.” And then you’ll notice he says in verse 10, “When one told me…” Well, we know who the “one” was. We know it was the Amalekite.[13] “This has happened before,” he says. “There was another fellow who tried the same approach. He thought that he was bringing good news. But I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news.” That’s my emphasis. I don’t know if he said it like that. He might have just said, “Which was the reward I gave him for his news.” But I think he probably said, “It was the reward I gave him. Because you haven’t got your reward yet. It’s about to come.”

And you can imagine the two of them looking at each other and going, “I’m not sure this is going exactly as we had planned.”

They go, “Why did you say, ‘Bring the head’?”

“Well, we had to bring the head. What were we going to do without the head? What would we say?”

“It was a bad idea. I can tell already.”

“Well, you’re the older brother, Baanah.”

“Yeah, but Rechab, you’re always the one that goes first. You’re always saying, ‘Let’s go do this.’”

And here they stand. And so he says, “Since I did that on that occasion”—here we go, verse 11—“how much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own bed, in his house, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?”

You see, the Amalekite cherished the idea that his wickedness, his lies, would open up doors of opportunity for him with David. And these two fellows are in the same position.

Do you notice how the Scriptures do not share any of our contemporary fearfulness or preoccupation with political correctness? It is wonderfully liberating to have your Bible and to read it, and to read the clarity of it: “Now, this is what God says. This is the law that God has given for the well-being of our humanity, for our lives to work as he’s intended, setting it in that beauty in all of the beginning, but marred now by our sins.”

It is wonderfully liberating to have your Bible and to read it, to read the clarity of it.

Wicked men. Wicked men. He’s already been referring to these wicked men. “The Lord repay the evildoer according to his wickedness!”[14] That’s the end of chapter 3. Remember, when he does his little eulogy or his little lament for Abner, he says,

Your hands were not bound;
 your feet were not fettered;
as one falls before the wicked
 you have fallen.[15]

What is he saying there? He’s saying that what Abishai and his brother did—Joab—was absolutely wicked. In other words, it is counter to that which God designs and desires.

In fact, back in chapter 24—and I made note of it here—in the conversation, again, that is taking place after David saves Saul’s life… Where is it here? “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you.” We just read that. I didn’t go on and read: “As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’”[16] There you have it in a phrase. That is what we were looking at this morning in the gospel. That’s what Jesus is saying: “It’s not what goes into a man that defiles a man. It’s what comes out of a man.”[17]

Why does wickedness come out of a man? Because man by nature is wicked. Because we live as fallen men and women, and yet loved by the God who pursues us; rebels against God, caught with our swords in our hands in our rebellion, and yet the response of God. He didn’t come to judge the world, Jesus. He will judge. “He didn’t come to judge the world, He didn’t come to blame, He didn’t [merely] come to seek; it was to save He came.”[18] Right? And so, what we find here is that this statement of their predicament is on account of the fact that they are wicked.

Now, only the honors students will have even the slightest remembrance of Hannah’s prayer. But Hannah’s prayer, actually, is like a recurring theme—even, we find ourselves, into the second book. And at one point in her prayer she says, “He”—that is, God—“will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness.”[19] “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness.”

Here David sits as the faithful servant of God, aware of the fact that he has done nothing in order to circumvent God’s plan nor to seize control or to make a grab for authority. And yet he’s confronted by these characters.

David’s Retribution

And so, the conversation gives way finally to retribution: “And David,” verse 12, “commanded his young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron.”

Sin always brings destructive results. You can take that to the bank. Sin always brings destructive results. Death is not the natural process of humanity. Death is the judgment of God on sin. And “the wages of sin is death,” and “the gift of God is eternal life” through the Lord Jesus Christ.[20]

So, when we move through our days with our Bibles open, trying to understand this, trying to make sense of it, trying to apply it, we realize the cohesive nature of the instruction of the Bible in relationship to these things. Perhaps you would find yourself, as I did, saying to myself, “I wonder how many times that phrase comes in Proverbs.” And I didn’t complete my search. The phrase to which I’m referring is “There is a way [that] seemeth right [to] a man, but the end thereof [is] death.”[21] That’s the King James Version. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”[22] The wickedness of Rechab and Baanah could, as I said, neither usher in the kingdom, nor could they destroy the kingdom. Because in his time—which is why we sang it this morning—in his time, God is fulfilling his purpose.

Sin always brings destructive results. You can take that to the bank.

Does this twelfth verse make you recoil? It should. Does it make you shudder? It should. You notice how we see the verbs that were used in relationship to what they did? How they “struck him,” they “put him to death,” they “beheaded him,” and the young men “killed them … cut off their hands and feet and hanged them”? What is this? Well, their hands would never again kill another man, their feet would never be used for them to escape after their treachery, and their impaled bodies, on public display, would be a reminder and a severe warning to everyone else in the community that God’s righteous judgment would be meted out upon those who chose to disobey him.

A Mystery and a Certainty

Now, as I sat and looked at this, my mind went back to what I then found out was actually the twenty-second of December in 1960. I knew the day. That’s what I went back to. I knew there was a day, I knew where I was, and I knew and I remembered what had happened.

It was fairly early in the morning—maybe around nine o’clock or so—and I had been sent by my mother to the dairy for milk. I was standing in the dairy, a child in the middle of adults. And there was a great stillness, a kind of strangeness about what was happening there, not the usual banter. And then somebody said, “Yes, they hanged him.” That actually was the hanging of a guy called Anthony Joseph Miller. It took place at 8:02 in the morning in the Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. And I remember standing there as a child and saying, “How do you get hanged? I hope I never get hanged.” That was the last person to be hanged in a Glasgow prison. The last judicial execution in Scotland was three years later in 1963. The death penalty has been gone ever since. How are we doing?

In actual fact, the Bible tells us how we’re doing in relationship to this when Isaiah describes the circumstances of the day and he refers to the fact that “justice” has “turned back,” that “righteousness stands far away,” and the reason is that “truth has stumbled in the public squares,” and as a result,

  uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
 that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
 and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
 and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
 and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
 and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
According to their deeds, so will he repay,
 wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
 to the coastlands he will render repayment.
So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
 and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
 which the wind of the Lord drives.

And a Redeemer will come to Zion.[23]

Do you see what’s being said? Isaiah the prophet says, “Look at the predicament of humanity when it turns its back on God. When truth is removed, justice collapses.” The writer of Ecclesiastes says that when justice is long delayed, then iniquity abounds.[24] When you take eighteen years to have somebody in solitary confinement before you actually deal with the legalities involved in the death penalty, you ought not to be surprised that murder abounds, that the chaos ensues. And the fact is that what we see in this is both, number one, a great mystery. A great mystery. And the mystery is this: that these evil actions—these evil actions, for which each wicked person is responsible—these evil actions are actually advancing the purpose of God. That is a mystery. But it is the mystery of Christ on the cross. Read Acts chapter 2: “at the hands of cruel men, according to the foreknowledge of God.”[25] That’s the mystery.

You can’t make sense of the love of God without the wrath of God. You can’t understand the wrath of God except in light of the love of God.

And here, my friends, is the certainty. Here’s the certainty: a final day is coming. A final day is coming when God will descend upon the human scene, and he will execute his perfect justice. And on that day, all matters will be reckoned. And on that day, there will be no place to hide, and there will be nowhere to which we can run.

So what, then, does that mean for the declaration of the gospel? Well, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? That the God who is not indifferent to things… The worst would be a God who is indifferent, a God who doesn’t care, a God who says, “It’s okay, it’s all fine, we’re all good.” Everybody inside themselves knows that cannot be. God is not indifferent. And the God who will put all the matters to right on that day is the God who, in the person of Jesus, has stepped down into the human scene now, in order that the judgment that we rightfully deserve should not be ours to experience, because he has wooed us and won us in the person of his Son and has loved us and has bestowed his kindness on us and has welcomed us into his fold. His “justice like mountains high soaring above,” then the “clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.”[26]

And the people say, you know, “I’m so glad we’ve moved on from all that hellfire stuff that used to be part and parcel of things in the old days.” Well, you can’t make sense of the love of God without the wrath of God. You can’t understand the wrath of God except in light of the love of God. Are you just gonna go out and say to your friends, “Would you like a little something in your life? Would you like a little religion in your life? Would you like a little Christianity, a philosophy? What would you like? I mean, we have all kinds of things, different ways we can go at it.” You see, because our nation is no longer secular. Our nation is phenomenally religious. They’re just now religious, spiritual, about other religions and other ideas. They’re all filled up. Because a vacuum will be filled by some form of idolatry.

You see, the big piece in the puzzle is the piece we’re tempted to leave out: “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that comes judgment.”[27] So say to your friend in the office, “Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to? Where you gonna run to all on that day? Do you run to the rocks? The rocks won’t hide you.” There is no place to hide from him except the place that is found in him. For the God who executes his perfect justice in the death of his dearly beloved Son displays the vastness of his love in that divine transaction.

There is nothing like this anywhere in the world. We need to take it out onto the streets. We need to let the whole world know.

O Lord God, in a multitude of words we want to clear our own path to understanding the vastness of your love and grace and goodness. Thank you that you do not wink at sin. Thank you that the reset button is not pressed every couple of hours. We realize, Lord, that were it not for your redeeming grace, then we would be in the direst of predicaments. And that’s what our friends are: heading unwittingly to a lost eternity, like the one fellow on one side of Jesus on the cross, just shouting and screaming and abusing Jesus. And he goes down. And the other fellow says, “Hey, we’re getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Lord, will you remember me when you come into your kingdom, a rotten, stinking, thieving sinner?” And Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”[28] Why did he go up and the other guy went down? Because he accepted that what Christ had done upon the cross was payment for his sin.

Lord, help us with this. Help us in our own lives. Help us in seeking to share it with friends and neighbors. And keep us close to Christ, we pray, in these days, and to Christ alone. For we ask it in his name. Amen.

[1] See Philippians 1:6.

[2] 1 Samuel 24:11 (ESV).

[3] 1 Samuel 24:12 (ESV).

[4] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible (1999; repr., Fearn: Christian Focus, 2018), 53.

[5] John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 134.

[6] James 1:13 (paraphrased).

[7] Ecclesiastes 5:1 (paraphrased).

[8] John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel: Chapters 1–13, trans. Douglas Kelly (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 156.

[9] See 1 Samuel 17:33, 37.

[10] 1 Samuel 25:26 (ESV).

[11] Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, “Through All the Changing Scenes of Life” (1698).

[12] Karolina W. Sandell-Berg, trans. Andrew L. Skoog “Day by Day” (1865).

[13] See 2 Samuel 1:2–16.

[14] 2 Samuel 3:39 (ESV).

[15] 2 Samuel 3:34 (ESV).

[16] 1 Samuel 24:12–13 (ESV).

[17] Mark 7:18–20 (paraphrased).

[18] Dora Greenwell, “A Good Confession,” in Songs of Salvation (London, 1874), 27.

[19] 1 Samuel 2:9 (ESV).

[20] Romans 6:23 (KJV).

[21] Proverbs 14:12 (KJV).

[22] Proverbs 14:12 (ESV).

[23] Isaiah 59:14–20 (ESV).

[24] See Ecclesiastes 8:11.

[25] Acts 2:23 (paraphrased).

[26] Walter Chalmers Smith, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” (1867).

[27] Hebrews 9:27 (paraphrased).

[28] See Luke 23:39–43.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.