God Does Not Always Give What We Ask (Peterson)

First and Second Samuel (Westminster Bible Companion) by [Eugene H. Peterson]

Eugene Peteterson’s commentary on 1st and 2nd Samuel is not an exegetical commentary. It’s not a longer and detailed commentary. And it’s not a technical scholarly commentary. But I like it! Peterson often has a good way with Bible stories in that he sees angles and aspects that others might miss. I don’t always agree with Peterson’s conclusions. But I like reading this commentary because it well highlights the nuances in these OT stories.

One great example of Peterson’s insight is found in his comments on the story where David begs God to spare his son (2 Sam. 12:15-25). Remember the story? After David sinned in various and major ways, God told David that among other punishments, his infant son would die. David fasted, mourned, and cried out to God for a week praying for the life of the child. But the child died. Here are Peterson’s comments on this story:

Not all sincere prayers are answered on our terms. David, the most notable pray-er in the history of faith (the Psalms provide the documentation), does not get what he asks for in his prayer. David prays for the healing of his sick child. It is a prayer soaked in repentance for his sin; it is a prayer undergirded and intensified with seven nights of fasting; it is prayer supported by “the elders.” And the child dies.

With this prayer, we are in the company of other notable prayers of puzzling outcome: Job’s prayer for an answer to his suffering, Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer (Mark 14:36), Paul’s prayer for the removal of his “thorn” (2 Cor. 12:8-10). It is not quite accurate to say that these prayers were not answered; they were answered — Job’s out of the whirlwind; Jesus’ in “What you [Father] want”; and Paul’s in “My grace is sufficient for you.” Magnificent answers, each one, but not exactly what was asked for. And David? The death of his prayed-for baby send him devoutly “into the house of the LORD,” where he worships (v. 20), and then in compassion to his wife Bathsheba, whom he “console[s]” (v. 24). He has just emerged from an episode in which he has been all but oblivious of God, attempting to assert his own mastery of life, and in which he has been cruelly indifferent to the people around him: Bathsheba was an object; Uriah and obstruction; Joab a tool. The “answer” to David’s prayer is his rehabilitation into a person capable of humble prayer before God and tender love for others, qualities that he had “loved long since, and lost awhile….”

Eugene Peterson First and Second Samuel, p. 187-188.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015