Back in the 1960s, the band The Monkees sang about how no one seemed to believe in absolute morals anymore. In Shades of Gray they sang:
When the world and I were young,
Life was such a simple game…
It was easy then to tell right from wrong…
Today there is no black or white,
Only shades of gray.
Now the expression ‘shades of grey’ has come to be associated with the notorious and controversial books and film with that name.
Many today no longer believe there is such a thing as absolute right or absolute wrong. Stark contrasts and black-and-white distinctions are not always easy to swallow in a society in which relativism is the order of the day. Everything is relative – a matter of degrees.
As followers of Jesus we cannot give in to these relativistic ideas. We must be open to the prophetic voice of Scripture, which often traces stark contrasts, urgent ethical choices and diverging paths in the midst of complex problems and situations.
The reality of right and wrong are very clear in today’s passages and there are stark contrasts between the two.
The only kind of ‘grey’ approved of in the Bible is ‘grey hair’, which is seen as ‘a crown of splendour… attained by a righteous life’ (Proverbs 16:31). Personally, I find this increasingly encouraging!
The psalmist is determined to finish well. He writes, ‘Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone… Even when I am old and grey, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come’ (Psalm 71:9,18).
This is in stark contrast to the fate of his enemies who he hopes will ‘perish in shame’ (v.13). From the New Testament perspective, this is probably not the right way to pray for one’s enemies! However, it is certainly true that some people seem to ‘perish in shame’. It is a tragic way for anyone’s life to end.
The psalmist contrasts himself with those who perish in shame. He writes, ‘but as for me…’ (v.14). He wants to continue to be close to the Lord to the end of his life. In fact, he wants the end of his life to be even more fruitful than the beginning. He says, ‘I will praise you more and more’ (v.14). Every generation has the responsibility of passing the baton ‘to the next generation’ (v.18). Succession planning is a key part of finishing well. It has been said that it is important to pursue a Paul and train a Timothy, be mentored by a Mary and prepare a Phoebe.
Lord, help me to finish well and to declare your power to the next generation. May my mouth tell of your righteousness and proclaim your mighty acts.
Again, we see a stark contrast. Here, it is between the disciples who are ‘all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (4:31) and Ananias and Sapphira. Peter says to Ananias, ‘How is it that Satan has so filled your heart’ (5:3).
First, we see the results of being filled with the Holy Spirit:
By stark contrast, in the second half of today’s passage we see the results of being filled by Satan. Peter uses very strong language when he says, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart’ (5:3).
There was no necessity for Ananias and Sapphira to give away their property or money: ‘Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?’ (v.4). They were not criticised for a lack of generosity.
Rather, the evidence that Satan had filled their hearts is not only that they lied (which could be a spontaneous act), but also that they conspired together to lie. Peter says to Ananias, ‘You have lied to the Holy Spirit’ (v.3) and he says to Sapphira, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?’ (v.9). This conspiracy was premeditated and prepared.
God gave Peter a ‘word of knowledge’ (vv.3–4). This exposed their sin. The fear of God came upon the people (vv.5,11). This type of fear was not fear of human beings or a slavish fear, but rather a holy fear. They ‘had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with’ (v.11, MSG).
This is not an easy story to read, and many of us struggle with the severity of God’s judgment in the passage. Ultimately, only God knows the secrets of our hearts, and we need to trust that his judgments are fair and just. It reminds us though of the awesomeness of God’s presence in our midst. The sense of God’s presence was so great that people feared that their sin might be exposed. But this presence of God and the Holy Spirit also brought about extraordinary conversions, healings, signs and wonders.
Lord, fill us with your Holy Spirit. May we be a church known for its bold proclamation, unity, generosity, power and grace.
In this passage we see strongly contrasting emotions. Amnon ‘fell in love with Tamar’ (v.1). He says, ‘I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister’ (v.4). David had many wives and many children. The boys would probably have been separated from the girls after the age of five or six; there would not have been a sense of belonging together that exists in a normal family today.
Amnon plotted to rape Tamar, who pleaded with him: ‘Don’t do this wicked thing’ (v.12). She even offered to marry him (v.13). The law forbade marriage to a half-sister. Possibly, this was not being practised at the time. More likely, Tamar was clutching at straws. Amnon ‘refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her’ (v.14).
The Bible does not ignore the issue of sexual abuse. Rape has always been, and still is, a horrific crime. Tamar describes it as ‘wicked’ (v.12). It is an act of a ‘wicked fool’ (v.13). It leads to ‘desolation’ (v.20) and it is a ‘disgraceful’ (v.21) act.
We see a glimpse of the terrible damage sexual abuse does to the victim: ‘Tamar poured ashes on her head, then she ripped the long-sleeved gown, held her head in her hands, and walked away, sobbing as she went’ (v.19, MSG). She became ‘bitter and desolate’ (v.20, MSG).
Instantly, it appears, ‘Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her’ (v.15). This led to further tragedy for David and his household. The violence is perpetuated – Amnon is killed and Absalom flees, separating him from David (vv.23–39).
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Amnon was ‘infatuated’ with Tamar. He may have been ‘in love’ with her, but he certainly did not love her. It is extraordinary, though true to fallen human nature and experience, that infatuation can quickly turn to hatred. Amnon’s love was certainly not true love.
‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).
Lord, deliver us from hatred. May we be filled, not by a superficial love, but by a love that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
2 Samuel 13:1–39
Here begins the family breakdown.
There seem to be some terrible decisions going on at this time. Jonadab, who was Amnon’s friend, gave bad advice (v.5). If David had punished Amnon for raping his sister, Tamar, it might have stopped Absalom taking the law into his own hands.
Jonadab, who should have been ashamed of himself as he was half the problem, clearly knew that it was Absalom’s expressed intention to kill Amnon. Yet he did not warn David. He only tells him afterwards. He was a bad friend to them all.
It is sometimes hard to tell people the truth rather than tell them what they want to hear. But it is important to give the right advice even if we risk the friendship.