Category Archives: 1 & 2 Samuel

Ministry on the Cheap

However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I wll surely buy it from your for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.”  So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.  David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.  Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel (2 Sam 24.24-25).

With swelled head David ordered a census to determine just how many people he ruled.  Joab’s protest went on record but he complied with David’s order nonetheless.  Nine-and-a-half months later the tally was in.  David was the proud ruler of 1.3 million able-bodied men.  That news did not excite David as expected.  It rather disturbed him instead.  His stunt earned God’s disfavor and David pled for mercy.

God gave David three options: a seven-year famine, three months on the lam, or three days of pestilence.  Knowing God would be far more merciful than 1.3 millon starving men or his chop-licking enemies, he chose door #3: a three-day plague from God.

Three days and 70,000 funerals later God stayed his hand at Jerusalem’s city limits.  The plague reached the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (i.e. Jerusalemite) before David stood in the breach, pleading that God take the shepherd rather than another innocent “sheep” (v17).  God commanded David offer a sacrifice on Araunah’s threshing floor in order to stave off any further progress of the plague.

Imagine Araunah’s surprise as he looked out his window to see a huge dust cloud along his driveway.  As the cloud dissipated he noticed the motorcade strangely resembled the king’s entourage.  What in the world could King David possibly want with little ol’ Araunah?  Little did Araunah know he would be king for a day!

David informed Araunah that he must buy his threshing floor in order to prevent the plague from taking any more life.  Araunah thought this proposterous.  Buy his threshing floor?  The king could have it for nothing and all that was required for the burnt offerings.  Everything Araunah owned was at the king’s disposal to use as he saw fit.  Who would be so arrogant as to profit from the king’s and Jerusalem’s desperation?

David would have none of it.  Sacrifice must be costly and he would not take the easy way out.  He’d done that far too much, which is what caused their trouble in the first place.  Araunah received the king’s silver.  David turned the threshing floor into an altar.  And 2 Samuel ends with God’s mercy.

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EXCURSUS

As a theological sidebar, note that God had promised the plague would last no more than three days (vv13, 15).  Yet God demanded sacrifice be made to end it.  God ordained the plague and the means by which the plague would be stopped.  The presumption is that had not David offered burnt and peace offerings the plague would’ve leveled Jerusalem as well.  God has his people from eternity but sacrifice must be made to save them.  Election does not save (and sharing the doctrine of election is not evangelism), but marks those for whom Christ sacrificed his own life.  They must not only be chosen, but died for, if God is to have them at all.  God sovereignly saves through sovereignly ordained means; namely, the cross.

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David understood the gravity of God’s mercy.  The ministry God deserved in response to his promise of mercy could not be offered on the cheap.  God’s name wasn’t an afterthought trinket you picked up at the checkout counter after you’ve bought a cartful of the world.  No. David must buy Araunah’s threshing floor and all the oxen to boot, or else.

How easy has modern church commitment become?  How much does God’s name really cost us?  How much is God’s mercy really worth?  Ironically, we have facilitites and gadgetries that cost us everything to have ministries that cost us nothing.  There is no need to choose between the world and worship because they’re nearly one in the same.

“Come when you can.  And when you come we’ll do everything for you.  In fact, don’t even bring a Bible because Screen will give you what you need.  When you leave we’ll demand little of you as long as you stay sober, heterosexual and Republican.  We promise to stay out of your business because you’re important to us.  Don’t worry about investing the gospel in your kids because we’ve got that covered for you as well.  All you have to do is drop them off and pick them up.  If the world offers you something better then let us know.  We’ll try to provide a similar experience or opportunity so you don’t feel like you have to choose between the two.  We don’t want you to feel like you must trade fun and entertainment for church membership.  After all, why buy Araunah’s threshing floor when you could get it for free?”

I don’t suggest worship and church commitment (i.e. membership) should be painful and laborious.  But, it should be costly.  Churchmanship is not dull but it is sober.  It’s not that we attempt to repay God for his mercy but that he’s bought our devotion with the life of his Son.  Christ’s blood did not come cheap and neither does the worship he is due.

William Edgar writes in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (p346):

C.S. Lewis says somewhere that he could tell what kind of person you are by whether you began the day reading the newspaper or the Bible.  Becoming disentangled with the world is more than following a list of rules.  It means radically changing one’s behavior patterns.  Often that means looking into the deep fabric in the surrounding culture.  David Inge famously remarks, “If you marry the spirit of the age you will soon find yourself a widower.”  Marriage is a good analogy, here.  This present evil age is not manifest simply with a few clearly perceived idols.  Avoiding the world’s seductions is not simply a matter of rejecting certain temptations to sin.  Rather, since the attachment is like a conjugal alliance, the remedy is divorce!  And following divorce, we must continue to avoid any compromise, any ambiguous relational patterns.

It is no honor to a man’s wife to have his mistress praise her.  And it is no honor to Christ to use the world’s cheap wares to praise him.  We must not offer worship to the LORD our God which costs us nothing.