Get Behind Me, Satan! Peter and Abishai.

Biblical Theology for Wednesday, December 31 (’14)

Who do the people say that I am?” Jesus asked his disciples this, and the question-markanswers came back: “He’s Jeremiah!” “It’s John the Baptist back from the dead!” “No, you dufuses, he’s Elijah!” Maybe the disciples reported these things with amusement. If so, the mood probably sobered up quick when he asked them directly: “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Bar-Jonah famously spoke up for the group and replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus approves of this, goes on to make promises about a rock and a church and the gates of Hades, and everything is glorious, but before ten verses have passed, we get this word directed at Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a scandal to me.”

This story, with Jesus’ rebuke of Peter after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is fairly familiar (Matthew 16:13-23). But there is a less familiar Old Testament story to which it has several clear and intriguing parallels. That story is in II Samuel 19:16-23.

Towards the end of the long epic of King David, Absalom’s rebellion is over and Absalom is dead. The king is making his way back to Jerusalem and encounters on the road several characters with whom he had previous dealings, and the first of these is Shimei, a member of Saul’s deposed household. When the rebellion started back in chapter 16, when David first fled2-Samuel-16-Shimei from Absalom, Shimei had come out and cursed David as a “man of blood” while throwing stones at him. Shimei was of the opinion that Saul’s house was now being avenged, with David the usurper getting some well-deserved comeuppance. Abishai, one of David’s men, had proposed slaying Shimei on the spot for this show of impudence: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?” but David rejects this and lets Shimei go on cursing. But now three chapters later, post-rebellion, David is returning to Jerusalem, royal authority still in his hands. Out of fear or out of sincerity we don’t know, but Shimei comes and falls down before David, asking forgiveness and pardon: “Let not my lord hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem.

Abishai, apparently a trigger-happy man, one again proposes swift execution: “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed Yahweh’s anointed?” David again says no, and tells Abishai that he’s acting like an “adversary” (“satan,” in Hebrew). David tells Abishai that no one will be put to death that day, “For do I not know that I am king over Israel?” David knew that God had given him the kingdom and had made with him an everlasting covenant. So righteous David was trusting in God’s care, and wouldn’t make the satanic move of seeking to seize or re-assert his own honor and glory by way of coldly killing a repentant man.

The parallels with Matthew 16 are several:

1) Abishai had just acknowledged David to be the Lord’s anointed-messiah-christ in 19:21, as Peter had just acknowledged Jesus to be the Lord’s Anointed-Messiah-Christ in Matthew 16:19. David was the Lord’s man, and so was Jesus, and Abishai and David knew it and sincerely confessed it.

2) At issue in both cases was the Lord’s messiah being cursed or persecuted (or the prospect of it) by scoundrels: by Shimei in II Samuel 16:5-8, and by the priests and scribes in Matthew 16:21. David is being attacked and defamed, and Jesus was about to receive the same treatment.

3) Abishai and Peter both react to this cursing of God’s messiah by seeking to defend their lord’s honor – Abishai suggesting vengeance, and Peter simply denying that Jesus should have to suffer at all. “Far be it from you, Lord!” Abishai and Peter are both of the mindset that the Lord’s christ/Christ should not have to face suffering or put up with insubordinate rebels. Again, the motives of both appear to be good, even if they don’t know what spirit they are of.

4) The spirit they are of is satanic, as David and Jesus both respond to these suggestions by calling Abishai and Peter “satan,” an adversary.

Peter was acting like Abishai, both zealous for the honor of the king, but seeking to establish it illegitimately: through cruelty in Abishai’s case, or bypassing appointed suffering in Peter’s. Whatever good intentions there might have been on Abishai or Peter’s part, the move was Satanic. It was Satanic because it’s exactly what Satan tried to get Adam to do in the garden, and tried but failed to get Jesus to do in the wilderness: to grasp at honor and glory prematurely, bypassing the means God had appointed. God meant for Adam and Eve to learn obedience and maturity through experience and endurance, same as Jesus. A kingdom and authority was promised to Adam as it was promised to Jesus. The serpent tried to get Adam and Eve to become as gods – to grasp at equality with God. That’s also what Satan tried to get Jesus to do in the wilderness, to receive all the kingdoms of the world and their glory through a shortcut, through bending the knee instead of suffering in the Father’s appointed way.

apollyonPhilippians 2:5-11, Jesus’ own self-emptying and subsequent exaltation to the right hand of God is a well-known text, but it’s often missed that the reason Paul details all those things about Jesus is so that the Philippians can model themselves after him: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” True exaltation and glory only comes in the way of self-emptying and faithfulness to the point of death. Refusal to suffer in the way of faithfulness, or even to try to lay claim to our “rights” (even if they are in fact our rights) is to succumb to Satanic temptation. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian recognized this when confronted by Apollyon on the road to the Celestial City (especially the highlighted portion):

Apollyon: Whence came you, and where are you bound?

Christian: I have come from the city of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and I am going to the city of Zion.

Apollyon: By this I perceive you are one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that you have run away from your king? Were it not that I hope you may do me more service, I would strike you now at one blow to the ground.

Christian: I was, indeed, born in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death; therefore, when I came to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out if perhaps I might mend myself.

Apollyon: There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose you; but since you complain of your service and wages, be content to go back, and what our country will afford I do here promise to give you.

Christian: But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I with fairness go back with you?

Apollyon: You have done in this according to the proverb, “changed a bad for a worse;” but it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do so too, and all shall be well.

Christian: I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how then can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor?

Apollyon: You did the same by me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now you will yet turn again and go back.

Christian: What I promised you was in my non-age: and besides, I count that the Prince, under whose banner I now stand, is able to absolve me, yea, and to pardon also what I did as to my compliance with you. And besides, O destroying Apollyon, to speak truth, I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country, better than yours; therefore leave off to persuade me farther: I am his servant, and I will follow him.

Apollyon: Consider again, when you are in cool blood, what you are like to meet with in the way that thou goest. You know that for the most part his servants come to an ill end, because they are transgressors against me and my ways. How many of them have been put to shameful deaths! And besides, you count his service better than mine; whereas he never yet came from the place where he is, to deliver any that served him out of their enemies’ hands: but as for me, how many times, as all the world very well knows, have I delivered, either by power or fraud, those that have faithfully served me, from him and his, though taken by them! And so will I deliver thee.

Christian: His forbearing at present to deliver them, is on purpose to try their love, whether they will cleave to him to the end: and as for the ill end you say they come to, that is most glorious in their account. For, for present deliverance, they do not much expect it; for they stay for their glory; and then they shall have it, when their Prince comes in his and the glory of the angels.

Apollyon: You have already been unfaithful in your service to him; so how do you think to receive wages of him?

Christian: How, O Apollyon, have I been unfaithful to him?

Apollyon: You did faint at first setting out, when you were almost choked in the gulf of Despond. You did attempt wrong ways to be rid of thy burden, whereas you should have stayed till your Prince had taken it off. You did sinfully sleep, and lose your choice things. You were almost persuaded also to go back at the sight of the lions. And when you talk of your journey, and of what you have seen and heard, you are inwardly desirous of vainglory in all that you say or do.

Christian: All this is true, and much more which you have left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful, and ready to forgive. But besides, these infirmities possessed me in your country, for there I sucked them in, and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.

Apollyon: Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, “I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people: I have come out on purpose to withstand you.”

Christian: Apollyon, beware what you do, for I am in the King’s highway, the way of holiness; therefore take heed to yourself.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

– Revelation 12:10-11 (ESV)



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