Christianity 201

January 13, 2015

Our Death is not God’s Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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This week we got to hear author Mark Buchanan, and he shed some light on a particular scripture verse I had previously rushed through.

2 Samuel 14:14 Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him. (NIV)

The whole chapter is more than interesting. Basically, Joab finds a woman to deliver a prophetic word to King David in a situation that somewhat parallels David’s encounter with the prophet Nathan. (At one point David basically says, “Did Joab put you up to this?)

The MacLaren Commentary:

David’s good-for-nothing son Absalom had brought about the murder of one of his brothers, and had fled the country. His father weakly loved the brilliant blackguard, and would fain have had him back, but was restrained by a sense of kingly duty. Joab, the astute Commander-in-chief, a devoted friend of David, saw how the land lay, and formed a plan to give the king an excuse for doing what he wished to do. So he got hold of a person who is called ‘a wise woman’ from the country, dressed her as a mourner, and sent her with an ingeniously made-up story of how she was a widow with two sons, one of whom had killed the other, and of how the relatives insisted on their right of avenging blood, and demanded the surrender of the murderer; by which, as she pathetically said, ‘the coal’ that was left her would be ‘quenched.’ The king’s sympathy was quickly roused-as was natural in so impulsive and poetic a nature-and he pledged his word, and finally his oath, that the offender should be safe.

So the woman has him in a trap, having induced him to waive justice and to absolve the guilty by an arbitrary act. Then she turns upon him with an application to his own case, and bids him free himself from the guilt of double measures and inconsistency by doing with his banished son the same thing-viz. abrogating law and bringing back the offender. In our text she urges still higher considerations-viz. those of God’s way of treating criminals against His law, of whom she says that He spares their lives, and devises means-or, as the words might perhaps be rendered, ‘plans plannings’-by which He may bring them back. She would imply that human power and sovereignty are then noblest and likest God’s when they remit penalties and restore wanderers.

Mark Buchanan pointed out that verse 14 is richer, that the woman breaks into a commentary here on the purpose of God for mankind. Outside the realm of Bible commentary, someone might say that verse 14 is more philosophical.

Matthew Henry writes:

Here are two great instances of the mercy of God to sinners, properly urged as reasons for showing mercy:

First, The patience he exercises towards them. His law is broken, yet he does not immediately take away the life of those that break it, does not strike sinners dead, as justly he might, in the act of sin, but bears with them, and waits to be gracious. God’s vengeance had suffered Absalom to live; why then should not David’s justice suffer him?

Secondly, The provision he has made for their restoration to his favor, that though by sin they have banished themselves from him, yet they might not be expelled, or cast off, for ever. Atonement might be made for sinners by sacrifice. Lepers, and others ceremonially unclean, were banished, but provision was made for their cleansing, that, though for a time excluded, they might not be finally expelled. The state of sinners is a state of banishment from God. Poor banished sinners are likely to be for ever expelled from God if some course be not taken to prevent it. It is against the mind of God that they should be so, for he is not willing that any should perish. Infinite wisdom has devised proper means to prevent it; so that it is the sinners’ own fault if they be cast off. This instance of God’s good-will toward us all should incline us to be merciful and compassionate one towards another, Matt. 18:32, 33.

For more depth on this verse, check out The Biblical Illustrator commentary at this link. It can be a bit overwhelming. Most of the print commentaries I own tended to skip over it, and much of the online discussion has to do with challenges to the translation itself.  Still, I find something in this passage that I think can speak to us, and to end, I’ll leave us with a few other renderings of it:

14 We are all going to die; we are all like water that is poured on the ground and can’t be gathered up. But doesn’t God forgive a person? He never plans to keep a banished person in exile. (GW)

14 We all die sometime. Water spilled on the ground can’t be gathered up again. But God does not take away life. He works out ways to get the exile back. (Peterson)

14 All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him. (NLT)

14 Everyone dies—we are like water spilled in the dust that can’t be reclaimed. But God will not waste a life—He won’t allow the banished one to be exiled permanently from His presence. (The Voice*)


*Here, I think The Voice may go beyond what the other versions are saying; it might be thought to presuppose universalism; whereas the NIV and GW speaks of God’s ideal intention, and Peterson and the NLT seem to leave it open to us to respond, which was also in keeping with Buchanan’s sermon about saying ‘yes’ to God.

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