The Road to Bethlehem (Part 2)
THE ROAD TO BETHLEHEM (2) 2 Samuel 23:8-17
The season of Advent is intended to be a time of soul-searching, repentance, and preparation for the coming of Jesus – the second time, as well as the celebration of His first arrival. When He comes to those who receive Him, their hearts become clean, pure, and forgiven by His blood shed on the cross, so Advent is a time to do housecleaning and return to our first love for Him. As we make this annual pilgrimage to Bethlehem ourselves, we are looking at others who also trod the road to Bethlehem, and the difference that it's made to them and us.
Today, we see how a nameless trio of David's mighty men took the road to Bethlehem under rather unusual circumstances. Although this incident is included in the story of David after the time in his life when he no longer went out to battle, it had obviously occurred at some earlier time when the Philistines were occupying Bethlehem. David and his mighty men were holed up in the cave of Adullam nearby. Perhaps he looked out over the valley towards Bethlehem and realized that he was thirsty.
2 Samuel 23:15 – And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!”
I suspect that he never thought that someone might actually go and do it. Perhaps, his mind had wandered to his early childhood days around the well, and he got a sentimental longing for a return to those simpler times without a lot of conflict, trials, and tribulations. But those hassles and situations over which we have no control are God's way of encouraging us to turn to Him in confidence and trust. Our hours of trial can turn into hours of blessing.
Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Oh! that God would give us longing hearts, thirsty for righteousness, for purity of heart, for spiritual refreshment and freshness – a desire to get rid of what make us tame, flat, and dull – a deep longing of the soul for more than ordinary water – the living water that only Jesus can give. Here is the gospel in this story. Any water would have satisfied David's thirst, but not his longing! Jesus is no ordinary water. He explained this to the woman at the well of Samaria:
John 4:10, 13-14 – If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, "Give Me a drink," you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.
Isaiah 43:20b – [God says] I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen.
God can pierce down through the layers of worldliness and corruption, through the sand, sawdust, and refuse of our lives, to the centre of our being and touch us there. The first time that this happens in our lives, God's living water washes away our sins and gives our longing souls a purity that we had never experienced before. Once we have experienced that cleansing and purity, we are never the same. We may wander far from God, but the longing persists. As William Cowper asked in his hymn, O for a closer walk with God, "Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?" Oh! that God would give us longing hearts in repentance – to come to Him for the first time or to return and get to really know Him, not by wider reading or deeper study, but just through a heart desire for fellowship with Him, spending time alone with Him.
Psalm 42:1-2a – As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
David's longing for water from the well of Bethlehem by the gate was heard and acted on.
2 Samuel 23:16a – So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David.
Three nameless mighty warriors took the road to Bethlehem, broke through the Philistine lines, and drew water out of the well. Here is more gospel: The whole reason for Christ's life on earth was to bring glory to God by breaking through enemy lines – the forces of evil, the gates of the kingdom of darkness – to gain the water of life for us.
But Jesus went even further. He not only broke through the evil one's enemy lines, but He defeated the enemy and drove him out. Now the city gate is open for us to enter ourselves!
Matthew 7:13-14 – Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
We enter heaven only through Jesus.
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
The three men brought water back to David as he had requested, but his reaction was totally unexpected.
2 Samuel 23:16b-17 – Nevertheless [David] would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord. And he said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it.
David saw that the water was in a cup marked with sacrifice, the blood of the three men, and it was too rich an offering to drink. Only one person would be worthy of such sacrifice – God alone – so it would be a sacrilege to drink it, and he poured it out as a holy offering to the Lord.
According to the laws of Moses, David would have believed that the blood was the life, and therefore too sacred to be drunk or eaten. In temple worship, blood was used for cleansing from sin. Here is more gospel, for in our communion services we remember the blood of Christ which was shed for our forgiveness.
Matthew 27:27-28 – Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
Our forgiveness was purchased at the cost of Jesus' life. Perhaps, we are too hardened to the loss of life, which happens so often that life becomes cheap, unless the life belongs to someone dear to us. Back in the mid-1960s, I helped to build the Peace River power dam. Thirty lives were lost in the construction of that dam, but when we flip on our light switches, do we value their sacrifice? On any other day than Remembrance Day, so we really value the freedom that those soldiers fought and died for? Do we really appreciate what Jesus died to achieve for us? Is He one who is dear to us?
David didn't consider himself worthy of the sacrifice of his mighty men. We are not worthy of the sacrifice of Jesus' blood for us either. We may even wonder why Jesus would give His life for the likes of us. All we can do is to accept His loving, free gift of forgiveness. In return, we can do as David did and pour out our lives as an act of worship to the Lord. What kind of sacrifice could we make to God? This Christmas is Christ on our gift list? What can we give Him? The first gift would be the gift of ourselves, in His obedient service. The ancient Puritan, Jonathan Glover once said, "God loveth adverbs; and cares not how good, but how well." In other words, God is not so much interested in what we do as how we do it. God cares more about the spirit in which we live than the concrete results.
Colossians 3:23 – And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.
What will we venture for King Jesus, after what He has done for us?
Isaiah gave a wonderful prophecy hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
Isaiah 12:3 – Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
David's sentimental longing for water from the well was really only fulfilled 600 years later when the well of salvation was opened there in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph took the road to Bethlehem, and Baby Jesus was born there and laid in a manger. Shepherds around a campfire heard the glorious angels announce His birth, and they took the road to Bethlehem to see the opening of the well of salvation. Before that, people had had only ordinary water to drink, but now, when Christ was manifest in the flesh, His well of living water was available for all people to drink from and really live. When Christ is born in the heart of one who receives His living Spirit, "out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). Christ intends for that supply of living water to flow out of us to bless those around us, so that they, too, can drink from the well of living water in Jesus. He gives us His great commission:
Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.
What will our trip on the road to Bethlehem mean for us this year?