Victory in the Midst of Defeat

Oliver Cromwell once told a painter commissioned to do his portrait: “I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.” Similarly, the Bible does not airbrush its heroes but rather depicts them “warts and all.”

With this in mind, notice what the Chronicler does not mention in today’s chapter. The opening statement of verse 1 will be familiar to anyone who knows the story of David, as it surely would have been to the writer’s original audience: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, Joab led out the armed forces.” This is how 2 Samuel 11 begins the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba. But instead of describing David’s fall, the Chronicles account speaks of Joab’s victories over the Ammonites and Philistines. The reason has to do with the writer’s purpose in this section. The fact that the next chapter describes David’s “great sin” of numbering the people is proof that the author is not trying to whitewash David’s record. The focus of this section is on David’s military victories.

The fact that David experienced so much military success at what was arguably the lowest point in his spiritual life should sober us. Success and prosperity are not proof of God’s acceptance or of our spiritual health. Success can make us arrogant. In our prosperity we can be less aware of our need for God. Is it possible that David misinterpreted God’s blessing? Did he come to believe that he could do no wrong?

Apply the Word

David’s experience of victory in the midst of spiritual defeat should encourage us. God does not abandon us, even when we fail Him: “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). Even at our lowest, God continues to care for us and provide for our needs.

BY John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody) and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

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