Why God Puts You Through the Fire

It is good to know that the kingdom of God is coming on earth. But it is important that you know how it is coming on earth. The kingdom of God does not land smooth and fancy like Tonya Harding used to land that triple axel on the skating rink. It arrives amid imbroglio, like that other event involving Ms. Harding and Ms. Kerrigan, hitmen, gold-medal lusts, metal batons to the shins, dashed-dreams, and dirty money. None of that holds the kingdom of God back. The kingdom of God comes in the midst of the dirt, with a jolt, and often the result is a dust up. So it was in 2 Samuel chapter 2.

The Text – A Summary

King Saul was dead. And God would give the kingdom to a better man. But that transfer of power was not like the sleek baton pass at the Olympic 4x100m relay. It was more like the passing of a hot potato on a pirate ship in the middle of a tornado while being attacked by the British navy. And for good measure, we’ll say that all of this was being done at night . . . during a new moon.

David inquired of the Lord after hearing of Saul’s death. And the Lord told him to go up to Hebron in the south. The men of Judah gathered there and anointed David king over Judah. But, Abner, captain of Saul’s army made Saul’s son Ishbosheth king over Israel in the north. 

One day, Abner went out with his men and met David’s men, including Joab who would soon become commander of David’s forces. The two units of soldiers faced each other, a pool of water separated the two forces. Abner called out to Joab, saying some of the soldiers should face off. Joab agreed. And twelve men from each side prepared for battle. The battle was joined. Each man grabbed his opponent by the head and drove his sword in his enemy’s side. The result was all twenty-four men fell dead.

War broke out. And one of Joab’s brothers named Asahel pursued Abner. Asahel was as fast as a gazelle. And he was no common soldier. He was one of David’s thirty mighty men. Abner fled. And he was no common soldier either. This was the top commander of the northern regime’s military.

Abner looked back and saw that it was Asahel pursuing him. Or at least, he thought it was because he cried out, “Is that you, Asahel?” Asahel replied that it was. Abner told him to turn aside and take the armor of one of the young men. But Asahel continued the pursuit. Abner called out again, telling Asahel to turn aside. Abner didn’t want to have to face Joab after killing his brother. But Asahel kept closing in on Abner. So Abner turned and struck Asahel with the back end of his spear. Asahel was coming at him with such speed that Abner’s spear went right through him, and came out on the other side.

All in all, David’s men won the battle, losing twenty men, while Abner and Ishbosheth lost three hundred and sixty.

A Topsy Turvy Triumph

You’ve got to be prepared for how messy the advance of the kingdom can be. We pray for it. We work for it. And when God brings it, he brings it with thunder: good people die, war breaks out, saints get persecuted, and sacrifices are made. You must learn to read God’s providence by faith. With faith, you will see the gold being refined by the flames. Without faith, you will only see the fire. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley show the way. They went to the stake to burn for the faith. Guards bound them with a single iron chain. The men were surrounded by wood and straw. The executioner came toward them with a flaming torch. And as he did, Latimer said, “Be of good cheer Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day by God’s grace, light such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out.”

It should come as no surprise that gospel preachers exhort the saints to continue in the faith. Whoever said the Christian life is like a trip down the lazy river was doing a little thing called lying. Paul and Barnabas exhorted early Christians to to press on in the faith, saying, “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). 

The tumult is not in vain. God has a very good reason for putting you through trials—“the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:3-4).