The Wheel of Justice

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Listen to “The Wheel of Justice” by Fred Smith

 

I’ve hummed along with Billy Joel’s song “Only The Good Die Young” for years. It’s an infectious tune and the lyrics soon fade into the background – unless you have girls and then every “Billy” you see becomes a threat!

“They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait.
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t.
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.
The sinners are much more fun.”

Another reason to look at the lyrics is teaching from stories in the Old Testament about men in power who would not wait. We all know about David and Bathsheba. Despite the legal consequence for adultery for her – death – he had Bathsheba brought to him knowing he was now above the law. She might pay for his indiscretion with her life but he would be protected. After all, he was a man after God’s own heart. He had become accustomed to privilege and along with it the flattering and fawning. Loyalty was everything to David. He earned and returned it when he was young. But, power trumps loyalty and affords the opportunity to surround yourself with people who do what you say and make a living by keeping your secrets. It means having fixers, like Joab, who make unpleasant problems go away – until the fixer turns on you. It means taking what you want because you can – without considering the devastation for innocent others. Lives are shattered. Reputations destroyed. Friends betrayed. People who are inconvenient or in the way are abandoned and sacrificed. David only sees character as an obstacle to overcome. Honor has become the enemy. Truth needs to be silenced.

I’m not convinced David’s flaw is as much lust as the abuse of power. Recall what he says to Saul’s daughter Michal when she criticizes him. “You may think I am nothing but it was me rather than your father or anyone from his house when the Lord appointed me ruler over the His people.” In other words, I am somebody. I am important – someone to be reckoned with.

Have you heard the phrase “Catch and Kill”? It is when a publisher wants to cover up a scandal. They buy the story and then bury it. Sleazy tabloids do this regularly – especially when protecting friends in high places. That’s exactly what David tried to do. He ended up murdering an innocent man but not killing the story. Too many people knew. Servants and staff likely knew everything going on with Uriah’s wife and David but no one says anything to Uriah. They are covering for the King. They are all implicated either out of misplaced loyalty, cowardice or wanting to protect their own positions and careers. Other than Uriah, everyone in the story is reduced by their part in it. Everyone is compromised and dirtied. As the saying goes, “If you lay down with dogs you will get up with fleas.”

But then, at the end of the story, a new actor walks on.  It is one who has been waiting silently offstage watching until now. “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” Yes, it displeases me as well. It makes me angry and ready to see justice done. It makes me want to punish David and have him disgraced and dethroned. One of my favorite phrases is, “The wheel of justice turns slowly but grinds exceedingly fine.” It’s grinding time.

But, displeased does not mean anger flaring for God. Instead, it means full of grief. It is the same grief the Lord experienced when he saw “how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth and his heart was filled with pain.”

God grieves and is hurt by all of it. While David has no immediate remorse, God is full of it. He is shaken and weeps. In the midst of all the separation, collusion, treachery, murder, lust, decay and betrayal God grieves. He is not distant or detached. He does not shout or call down lightning but, instead, He weeps. Not only for what David has done but for the loss of what would have been his future. There is a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest that sums it up for me. “There is not only disgrace and dishonor in that… but an infinite loss.” And for that God weeps. The loss of a man once after his own heart. The loss of true greatness.

T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not in a bang but a whimper.” And as it is true for worlds so is it for men who become consumed with pride, arrogance, power, grievances, and lust. They end not in a bang but a whimper.

 

 

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder and President of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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Showing 8 comments
  • Fonda Latham
    Reply

    Wow! Thanks! Justice, or the apparent lack of it can certainly be a mystery! As I heard Anthony Evans say (in a piece their family did on grief) I am coming to accept that God does not let me in on the secrets of timing. Clearly God does not let me in on His plan for justice either. Sometimes it is hard to mind my own business!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Fonda – As I was reading your comment I started thinking about sibling rivalry and the way small children complain to a parent about the slightest perceived annoyance or offense. That is how we seem to be with God. “God, he’s breathing my air.” “God, she gave me a bad look just now!” What is God supposed to do about those things?

  • John
    Reply

    I recently preached on David and Saul (and will soon be preaching about David and Absalom), and as I was studying I had some thoughts. What if the Israelites hadn’t asked Samuel for a king? How long would Samuel have continued as the leader of Israel? And what if David had been his successor? Would we have had all of the good from David, but the bad would have been reduced because the power of being king wouldn’t have corrupted him to the extent it did? In essence, how would Judge David have been different from King David?

    Power does, indeed, corrupt. Even the little bit of power I have in my little world corrupts me. I do my best to put myself into accountability relationships and examine myself through prayer and repentance, but I also know the temptations I have to take advantage of the positions I have in the community.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      David and Absalom is my next lesson. The whole series is pitiful, isn’t it?

      • John
        Reply

        I’m re-reading the book “The Tale of Three Kings” as I prepare, but I think it’s missing the point of Absalom’s righteous indignation at David’s inaction with Amnon and how hit grew into something awful. It’s a little like the villain in Black Panther. He had a reason to be angry, but his solution was terrible.

        • Fred Smith
          Fred Smith
          Reply

          I’ve not seen Black Panther and not likely to! I’ll take your word for it. It’s too easy for me to psychologize the Biblical people and I tend to despiritualize them more than necessary but I do like to them of them as real people and not merely stick figures or characters with no real content. So, I do love sitting around on Saturday thinking about Amnon, David, Tamar, Joab, Nathan, Ahithophel and Absalom!

  • Lisa Wen
    Reply

    Thank you for boldly sharing what Godnhas put on your heart. A very sobering reminder for us all who seek to bring joy rather than sorrow to the heart of our Abba Father💖👆

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lisa. I had never realized before what the word “displeased” meant. It is more difficult for me to think of making God weep than to make Him angry.

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